Matt waved to me as I came up the hill toward the forge, his face smudged with mud. I waved back, looking around to see where Phelan had dragged Thom off to.
They hadn’t gone far, just beyond the forge toward the edge of the ravine. Their heads were bent close to each other’s; they were already deep in conversation when I joined Matt inside the hip-high brick-and-stone enclosure for his forge.
“It’s looking good,” I said. The oven—the heart of the forge itself—had another coat of clay drying over the original brick enclosure. The bellows were mounted on either side already, propped up against wood and brick struts.
Matt nodded, wiping his hands on the seat of his jeans. “Yeah. We’re hoping that we’ll get everything enclosed before winter really starts—that way we can get work done when the weather’s foul. We’re going to need stuff, right?”
“More than likely,” I said. “Horseshoes, hammers, that kind of thing.”
“Bullets and swords,” my brother added with a wry twist of his lips. “I’m not stupid, Mar, and neither is anyone else. We’re going to be fighting for a long time.”
“I hope not,” I said quietly, looking away from him and toward Phelan and Thom. “But I have a feeling I’m wrong.”
Matt crossed his arms, following my gaze. “What’re they talking about, anyway? Phelan just kind of dragged him off when he got here and didn’t say why. Not that I’m not used to that kind of thing happening lately, but still…”
I shook my head. “Just something we’re going to do out by the burials tonight, Matt. Phelan wanted to be the one to tell Thom about it—maybe to try to get him to talk J.T. and I out of thinking it’s a good idea.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Just some rituals to honor the dead. It’s that time of year.”
“Almost November already?” Matt shook his head. “It’s easy to lose track of the days. I guess we’d better work faster. Maybe I can rope Rory into helping me up here so this shit can get done faster, before he first November storm. We still thinking they’re going to come early?”
“Probably,” I said, still watching Thom and Phelan. Thom turned back toward the forge and smiled when he saw me, lifting his hand to wave. I waved back. Phelan, meanwhile, started to walk away from us, toward the bridge.
Damn it, I thought, frowning. I squeezed Matt’s arm. “It’s a good idea, Matty. Y’should talk to him.”
“Where are you going?” he asked as I hopped the wall and headed for Thom.
“Hopefully to catch Phelan.”
I caught up with Thom first, his brows knitting as I stole a quick kiss before I started to walk on. He caught me by the arm, spun me back toward him.
“What’s your rush?” he asked.
God, they’re so frickin’ blue today. I swallowed, trying not to get distracted by the brightness of his eyes in the sunshine. “Phelan told you what we’re planning to do tonight, right?”
“He wants me to talk you out of it,” Thom said, nose wrinkling. “Wouldn’t tell me why, though. He’s pissed off because I said I thought it was a good idea, risk or no risk.”
That’s what I thought. I kissed Thom’s jaw lightly. “That’s why I’m in a rush,” I said. “Something’s eating at him, and I’m not sure it has to do with what we’re going to do tonight, but I’m going to find out—one way or another.”
“Oh.” He looked over his shoulder. “I guess you’d better hurry, then. He said he was going to go take a walk. Not down into the ravines, though—he gave me his word on that, but he said he didn’t want anyone to come with him. Breaks the rules, but…”
I squeezed Thom gently. “I’ll catch up to him. Think you can help Matt talk Rory into helping with the forge?”
Thom nodded. “Probably. Let me know what happened when you get back?”
“Of course.” I squeezed him again, then headed off after Phelan at a jog.
Halfway to the bridge, I caught up with him.
He glanced at me sidelong and blew out an annoyed sigh. “Go back to camp, Marin. I’m poor company right now.”
“I realize that,” I said evenly, falling into step with him. “But you’re not going to get rid of me that easily. What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m not sure I want to talk about it,” he said.
“That’s just too bad,” I said, shoving my hands into the pocket of my sweatshirt. “Because I’m not going to leave you alone until you talk to me.”
He made a sound that was half sigh, half growl, shaking his head firmly. “No.”
My hand snapped out of my pocket and locked around his arm as I stopped walking. He tried to jerk himself from my grip and failed, finally half-turning to glare at me.
“Why is it so damn important, leánnan? Can’t you just let it go?”
“No,” I said. “Something’s eating at you, Phelan, and I think I know you well enough now that if you don’t let whatever’s upsetting you out to see the light of day, it’s going to consume you. If whatever’s bothering you consumes you, you’re not going to be of any use to any of us. So tell me what’s wrong so we can make it right.”
He turned away again, shoulders hunching. “It’s happening too fast. I’m afraid a reckoning is coming, and I’m not ready for it.”
“Yes,” he said, his voice dropping to a bare whisper. “And I’m not ready to give up everything I hold dear in order to balance the sheets.”
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