Almost from the moment we got back to camp that night, Thom became near-on obsessed with getting walls up around our settlement.
I suppose that none of us that had been out there that night could blame him, and seeing us bring Phelan back, battered and bloody, on a stretcher hadn’t done anything good for anyone else’s nerves, either. So people worked with little complaint, breaking up concrete, mixing mortar, laying brick and stone and fill along the lines Thom and Rory had marked out so many weeks before. Thom paced restlessly along the lines. There was just too much wall. We couldn’t build it fast enough. Most of us fell onto our mattresses were asleep a few minutes later every night after dinner by the campfire, then were up in the waning minutes before dawn to eat and get back to work.
As for me, I checked the wards with Kellin twice a day and helped Jacqueline and J.T. keep an eye on Phelan, who twisted and burned with a fever that they and Leah couldn’t explain. The wounds didn’t look infected—they were meticulously cleaned three times a day and rebandaged. After the first day, Leah started mixing poultices, just in case there was something deep in the wounds that they couldn’t see with the naked eye or feel by gently probing the wounds. She used every trick from the little notebook she kept, a legacy from her hedge-witch auntie who she rarely spoke about.
Nothing seemed to work. Phelan’s fever raged and he slept, on and on, and they fretted about keeping him hydrated and talking about what they could do if this went on for much longer. To hear them talk, things were turning bleaker than bleak with each passing moment of each passing day.
Thom fretted about the walls, about defense and our collective safety. Every day, Matt looked torn between screaming and crying, every day simply throwing himself into his work as if it was salve for some secret pain I was wholly unaware of.
And me? I just soldiered on, day after day, hoping and praying for some kind of insane miracle—or, at the very least, for some kind of understanding of what had happened that night by the burial mound.
Evening on the fifth day, just as the sliver of a crescent moon began to rise, I was sitting next to Phelan, sewing a fleece patch over a hole in someone’s sweatshirt. His eyes came open slowly and he stared at nothing for a few long seconds before he coughed.
“That bitch,” he mumbled, echoing his words of five days before, then closed his eyes again. He started to take a deep breath but brought himself up short with a wince as he seemed to notice he was in pain. “How many days this time, Brigid?”
“It’s Marin, Phelan.” I smoothed his hair back from his face. His flesh was still hot, though it seemed a little cooler than it had been earlier.
“Don’t play—not funny,” he mumbled, then opened his eyes again. He had to stare at me for a moment before his eyes came into focus and he exhaled with a slight shudder. “Marin.”
I nodded a little. “You’ve been out for days,” I said softly, groping around with my free hand for the canteen we’d been using to get water into him for the past few days. He looked older and frailer, I realized as my hand closed around the bottle, his eyes all sunken and his color bad. Part of that, of course, was thanks to the lamp flickering on a shelf above us, but part of that was the pallor brought on by fever, by illness.
He tried to push away the bottle as I brought it to his lips to drink. I wouldn’t let up until he’d had a few gulps and he seemed to realize that after a moment and gave up. Once he’d had something to drink, he coughed again and repeated, “How many days?”
“Almost five,” I said quietly.
Phelan closed his eyes and sighed, shifting a little on the mattress as if he was about to try to push himself up on his elbow. I touched his shoulder gently.
“Please don’t,” I whispered.
“Five days is too long,” he protested, but lay still.
“You sound like Thom.” I took his hand and put the canteen in it. “Drink some more. I’m going to get Jac or J.T.”
His other hand snapped out from beneath the blankets and caught hold of my wrist as I started to get up. “Not yet. Stay a minute. You have questions.”
I stared at him. “Of course I have questions! But they can wait until one of them gets a look at you.”
“There really isn’t much of anything they can do that they probably haven’t already done. So just sit a minute and let me talk.” His eyes slid shut again for a moment. “Besides, if you bring Jameson to me now, I’m going to have an even harder time telling now from then.”
Sitting back down slowly, I watched as he weakly popped the canteen open again and took a long swallow, wincing a little.
“What’s in this?”
“I think they dissolved some pills in it. For the fever.”
He shook his head slightly, a wry smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Okay, so they did something I hadn’t thought of after all.” He folded his hands on his belly and watched me for a moment in the flickering lamplight.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” he said softly after a few long moments of silence. “I never meant to bring any of that down on you. But since I did, since she followed me, I suppose you deserve to know the truth.
“They’re hunting us, Marin. Every single last one of us.”
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