Thom straightened as Marin’s fingers closed around the fabric of his sleeve. He craned his neck toward his wife, using his free arm to wipe the sweat from his brow that had gathered despite the day’s chill.
“What the hell is going on around here?” she hissed. “I’m up at the greenhouse out across the road for three hours and all of a sudden you’ve quit working on what you said you were going to be working on and you’re putting up a watchtower.”
“Did you guys have a good haul?” Thom peered past her toward the horses and the makeshift wagons they’d put together—plus the real wagon they’d acquired across the road. Tala was coordinating the unloading of what looked like mostly apples and potatoes.
“Decent enough. Don’t change the subject.” Her fingers tightened. “What’s going on?”
Hoofbeats pounded in the distance and his hackles rose, goosebumps rising, racing up and down his limbs. Another? Again, so soon? His lips thinned. Dragon warned us it could get bad this time. He thought of Marin, of Carolyn and the others. They would want to fight. How could he stop them? Appeal to their maternal instincts? That was what made them want to fight.
He glanced over the tower rail and saw the smudge in the distance. His eyes narrowed and he grabbed the binoculars. Two dozen riders, armed to the teeth—guns this time, not bows and blades.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered under his breath, then rang the bell. Twice, two loud, long peals.
Camp exploded into motion and shouts. No longer were they the disorganized rabble they’d been. They had enough of these fights under their belts to know what to do instinctually.
I wish we didn’t know what to do so well sometimes. It means we do this too often.
“Thom! What’ve we got?”
“Horsemen with firearms,” he said. “Angie needs to take the twins and the other kids down to the tunnel and the rest of us need to get set. I want Tala and Phelan up on the walls with the longbows.”
“What about Marin? She’s just as good.”
Thom winced. Matt squeezed his arm.
“I know what you’re thinking.”
“The needs of the many.”
Thom squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. “You’re right.” His brother, the pragmatist, right as usual. “Her too. Coordinate the ranged ones and I’ll rally everyone else.”
Matt flashed a thumbs-up and jogged off.
“Thom?” Marin’s hand was against his face now, bare and cold against his suddenly feverish flesh. He shivered slightly and covered her hand with his.
“J.T.’s ghosts,” he said quietly. “They warned him that someone’s coming. Someone human, probably violent. We need to be ready.”
Marin stared at him for a long moment before she shuddered. “Gods and monsters,” she breathed. “And you just saw something, too.”
“Not about what might happen today or tomorrow or the next day,” Thom said before h gathered her against his chest and squeezed her tightly. “Something that might happen on a day a long time from now.” He rested his chin on the top of her head for a moment before he gave her one more squeeze and released her. “I should get back to work.”
“What can we do?” Marin asked. “Once we’re done with the unloading, what do you need us to do?”
Thom considered it for a moment, then exhaled. “Just do what you’d usually do. There’s no way we can get more than one tower up in a day, and we’ve got this in hand. Make sure the weapons are somewhere near so we’re not in a mad scramble.”
“We need an armory.”
Another thing to add to the list. “I’ll add it to the list.”
Marin cradled his face between her hands. “This isn’t all on you.”
“No,” he agreed. “It’s on you and Kel and Matt, too. But we already knew that, didn’t we?”
Marin winced slightly and nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, we did. I wish we didn’t.”
He folded her into his arms again all too briefly, then released her. “Go on. “I’ve got work to do.”
“I’ll bring you all something to eat in a little while.”
He smiled. “Thanks.”
She smiled back crookedly. “Someone’s got to make sure that you guys don’t forget to do that. You concentrate on protecting everyone. We’ll keep an eye on your well-being.”
Thom wanted to go after her as she walked away. Matt clapped him on the shoulder.
“Quit staring at my sister and help me with this lumber, will you?”
Thom laughed and nodded, turning. “Right. Sure. Lumber.”
Watchtowers, to keep them safe. I just hope it’s enough. He had no way of knowing one way or another, but he had to hope it would be. After all, wishing for more time would only be some sort of exercise in futility. He didn’t even know how much time they had in the first place.
All I can do is hope it’s enough.