“You know,” Matt said as he plunged the shovel into the clay-laden dirt, “this would be a lot easier and a lot faster if you two could actually help with this part instead of just watching.”
“Jacqueline said she would string me up by my toenails if I ripped my stitches,” Phelan said, sitting cross-legged in the grass nearby, carving knife in one hand and his staff across his knees. “I thought Rory was going to help you dig.”
Matt nodded toward Thom. “He’s got him coordinating the wall building instead.”
“I actually have him keeping an eye on Leah,” Thom murmured, leaning against his crutches and letting the autumn sunshine warm his back. “He didn’t wake up to all of that stuff last night, so she’s not going to pay much attention if he’s the one watching her instead of say, J.T. or Jac or I.” His nose wrinkled slightly. “Besides, we can trust Rory not to pull any punches if he sees something strange going on.”
Matt paused, frowning. “Is it that serious?”
“Yeah,” Thom muttered, glancing at Phelan. “It’s that serious.”
Phelan rubbed his neck and grimaced. “I don’t understand it,” he said after a few minutes of silence between the three men, punctuated only by Matt’s shoveling and his carving.
“What don’t you understand, Phelan?” Matt flipped another shovelful of dirt off to the side of the space they’d gridded out for the forge.
Phelan kept frowning, eyes distant as his hands fell still against his staff. “The camazotzi attacked you guys before I made it here. Whoever disrupted the wards then was probably being influenced by them or by the Shadow Man you guys have told me about. Now, I’m not sure what or who that critter might be and I probably won’t figure it out until the eleventh hour if I do figure it out. Anyhow, nothing happens around here until Vammatar shows her ugly mug and then all of a sudden Leah is potentially trying to kill me and make it look like an accident.”
Thom frowned. “Which part doesn’t make sense?”
“Well, for one, Vammatar isn’t the type that shares well and I’m really not sure who she cold’ve formed some kind of unholy alliance with. On top of that, she probably wouldn’t have shown up here so fast if I hadn’t been here– and gods and monsters, do not tell Marin that I said that because I think we’ll all end up in trouble. Whoever his Shadow Man is seems to have claimed the area as his demesne and I don’t really foresee him being the sharing type, either. So what the hell is going on here?”
Matt frowned. “When you put it that way…”
“It sounds even worse,” Thom muttered. He looked around slowly, half expecting Vammatar or the Shadow Man to appear out of thin air somewhere nearby thanks to their conversation. “I don’t like this.”
“I don’t think any of us do, Thom,” Matt said.
Phelan grimaced and went back to his carving. “We just have to be vigilant. Keep our heads on straight.”
“Is that all?” Matt asked.
“And watch and wait,” Phelan said. “We have to be sure before we move.”
Thom shook his head slowly. “And keep her from figuring out we’re onto her, if it is her. Was her.”
Matt stared at Thom. “And if it is?”
Thom’s expression went slack. “I don’t know, Matt. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. It’s not just up to me.”
“Not yet,” Phelan murmured, then ducked his head at Thom’s sharp look.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Phelan lifted his head and looked at both of them, gaze long and measuring. It made Thom shiver, the way he felt like Phelan was looking into his very soul.
“What did it sound like it meant?” he asked quietly, laying his staff across his knees. “You tell me, Thom.”
Thom swallowed hard, tasting blood where he’d bitten his tongue in surprise. “Like you know more than you’re telling.”
Phelan smiled briefly. “It wouldn’t be the first time I’d been accused of that, or the first time that someone’s been right. In case you didn’t notice, there’s a bloodline trait that we share.”
“Wait, wait. Bloodline trait?” Matt grounded his shovel and leaned against the shaft, looking between Thom and Phelan. “What do you mean, bloodline trait?”
Phelan looked at Thom, who just shook his head. Might as well tell him. They both deserve to know, he and Mar both.
Phelan nodded slightly, as if he’d heard Thom’s thoughts, then spoke quietly to Matt. “Thom’s descended from my blood. Specifically from a girl whose husband died. She wanted a child more than anything, and more importantly, needed the child so her husband’s property wouldn’t end up going to some cousin of his—a real piece of work, that one. The cousin, I mean.” He sighed. “I happened to be living in the village at the time and…well. Don’t think that I’m wicked or awful, but I couldn’t say no to her when she asked me to play stud for her. It was close enough to her husband’s death, and her hair was like mine, so no one thought anything of it when she had her son. The boy ended up with his father’s holding, the girl had a child to love, and everything ended happily enough.” He shrugged helplessly, flinching a little under Matt’s aghast stare.
“You knew that?” Matt asked, looking at Thom.
“It came up,” Thom said carefully. “We talked about a lot that day, Matt.”
“Apparently,” Matt said dryly. “Have you told Mar yet?”
Thom shook his head. “Not yet. But I think you’ll agree with me when I say it’s not all that important to current circumstances.”
After a long silence, Matt nodded slowly. “Not yet, anyway.”
“Right. Not yet.”
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