Chapter 2

Laughter exploded from the couple and they touched their foreheads to one another.  “Yssile’s going to have to get in line,” Kaliana said in a throaty whisper, “I’m going to strangle that boy!”  Reluctantly, they parted and looked around to find their accuser.

Yssile exploded from the depths of the forge, spying her prey on the roof by the chimney.  There you are, you little imp!  When I get done with you …”

Wide-eyed, Jamie realized his error.  “Uh oh.”  He scrambled from his perch and disappeared.

His father chuckled.  “He’s fast for four-year-old, is he not?”

Almost four,” Kaliana agreed, “And much too smart for his own good … or ours.”  She gave a soft sigh, “he’s not average, our Jamie.  More like four going on forty-four.”  Arm in arm, they turned back to the wagon to find the brothers leaning against it with folded arms, content to watch the small family.

“You two should get a room.  Dyrsa and I can bring in the wood, y’know,” ventured Urlanth.

His twin jerked upright and gave him an incredulous look.  “By the Egg, Urlanth!  Are you insane or just stupid?  We already have one Jamie … do you believe we could survive two?

Urlanth blanched.  He looked at Dyrsa in a panic.  “She’s fertile?  Oh, Egg …”  He moved quickly to separate the laughing couple and pushed Tighe to the wagon.  “Come on, come on, let’s go … can’t waste the day … work to do, lots of work.”  He looked back over his shoulder at Kaliana.  “Can’t say when we’ll be back.  Lots of work.  He’ll be tired … probably too tired to, uh … y’know …”  Urlanth’s agitated ramble ground to a halt as he realized the other three were almost helpless with laughter.

“Oh, get on with y’selves.  It’s just that the boy is a handful … “

“Trust me, we have noticed that,” agreed his brother, throwing a bundle of steel and leather at Urlanth.  “Doesn’t mean we love him any less.”  He picked up another bundle and unwrapped it reveal a sturdy baldric supporting a katzbalger and matching dagger.  Dyrsa slipped it over his head and wriggled a bit to have it settle.  He looked to find his two companions similarly armed, with Tighe adding a short but powerful bow and a quiver of arrows.

Kaliana shook her head as she watched the three men.  “After all this time …”

Tighe grimaced in sympathy.  “I know, but better to have it and not need it …”

“… than to need it and not have it,” finished his wife glumly, “I know, I know!  I keep praying that we’ve been forgotten.”

“Forgotten … for the time being … but I’m afraid we’ll never be forgiven.”

Tighe walked to a position roughly two rods in front of the wagon hitch, the brothers flanking to either side.  With a parting look to his wife, he caught the eye of the lead horse and bid, “Come.”  The team immediately stepped off and the wagon began to roll forward.

Dyrsa called back to Kaliana, “Smoked boar for dinner, aye?”

She waved, “I promised, didn’t I?  It’s been on smoke since last evening.”  Dyrsa pumped his fist in celebration before returning his attention to the road ahead.

“Oh, and Urlanth?” Kaliana called in a syrupy voice.

“Yeah?”

She hitched her skirt to a hip, displaying a well-tanned and shapely leg.  “Tighe has never been too tired to, uh, y’know …”

His face red, Urlanth snapped his eyes back to the path while his brother brayed at his discomfort.  Tighe offered a parting wave, accompanied by a husbandly leer which warmed Kaliana and heightened Urlanth’s embarrassment.

Kaliana watched until the dense forest swallowed the wagon, then for a few moments more.  Memories warred, darting in and out, some a sharp stab, but others … most … a stalwart shield against those that would seek to haunt her.

“Tarsus’ blue balls, Jamie!  How’d you get through there?”

Kaliana was snatched from her reverie, thrust back into a mother’s reality.  She chuckled as she began to walk in the direction of Yssile’s latest outburst.  It’s more a question of whether I’ll survive them.  A cacophony of feathered fury from the chicken coop caused her to change her mind, choosing instead to check the progress of the night’s promised dinner.  Pick your battles, Kaliana … after all, Yssile had a big breakfast, right?  She loosed a most un-ladylike snort.  No reason to worry about that he’d only give her indigestion.

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