Winter – Chapter 20 – 02

            Jacqueline appeared a few minutes later and immediately took charge.  She brought Davon along to help her carry Thom back to the fire.
            “How’s it look?” she asked Carolyn as she crowded in between us.
            “Hasn’t stopped bleeding yet,” Carolyn told her.  “But I don’t think it punctured anything except muscle.  Hard for me to tell, though.”
            “Keep your hands on it while we move him.  Kel, grab his feet.” Jacqueline said, then glanced at me.  “Are you coming?”
            Matt appeared at my shoulder and touched my arm.  I glanced toward him, then back at Jacqueline.
            “Not yet,” I said.  “I’ll be there soon.  If it’s bad, send someone.”  My heart ached a little to not be with him, but Jacqueline was probably secretly relieved that I wouldn’t be following them toward the fire.
            Jacqueline took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly.  “Okay, then.  Dav, grab his shoulders.  Let’s get him over by the fire where it’s warm and I’ve got light to work with.”
            I watched them head back beyond the safety of the walls before I turned around and looked at Matt.  “Okay.  What’s up?”
            He jerked his head toward the wagons.  “Their prisoners want to talk to you.”
            The women and the teenage boy were in a knot next to Greg, watching Matt and I.  Paul carried an armload of weapons toward the foot of the wall, and our ranks of defenders were starting to climb down from the walls and get back to work.  The prisoners seemed a little battered at this distance, a little dirty, but otherwise intact.  Greg was still cutting the duct tape off their wrists.
            “What do we know about them so far?”  I asked Matt, leaning near, voice quiet so it didn’t carry on the breeze.
            He shrugged.  “Not much.  From the sound of things, they’re from northeast, somewhere between Muskegon, Bay City, and here.”
            “That’s a lot of ground,” I muttered as I began to walk toward them.
            “Not as much as it would be if I said between Traverse City, Bay City, and here,” Matt said, falling into step with me.
            That’s true.  Still, it’s a lot of ground.  Does it really matter that much?  I guess not, unless they were the only survivors from a settlement somewhere else.
            I stopped myself from shaking my head as we came up to the former prisoners.
            Two of the women were somewhere between twenty and thirty, though the youngest prisoner—the gangly teenage boy—seemed to be maybe fifteen.  The youngest girl probably wasn’t much older.  The eldest was a smaller woman with salt and pepper hair that looked enough like the teenage boy that I could guess that she was probably his mother.
            That last, the one with the salt-and-pepper hair, was the one that gave me a long, measuring look before she shook her head slightly, holding her wrists out to Greg for him to cut her loose.  “Thank you.”
            I shook my head.  “You don’t have anything to thank us for yet.  I’m Marin.  You’re welcome to stay with us, or you can take what you need from the raider’s supplies and move on.  It’s your choice.”
            “Are you the person in charge?” she asked, stripping the duct tape away from her wrists carefully, wincing as the tape yanked hair and a little skin away from her arms.
            I stifled a laugh.  Greg shot me a narrow-eyed look.
            “Yes,” he said as he folded up his pocket knife.  “Marin is one of the people in charge.  The other one is the one that got shot.”
            “Will he be all right?” one of the other women asked.  “It looked like Amos got a good piece of him.”
            “He should be okay,” I said.  I hope that’s not a lie.  I hope Carolyn’s right, that it’s mostly blood and just some muscle damage, maybe a broken rib.  I hope he’s okay.  I swallowed against the sudden lump in my throat.  “Come on over by the fire.  We’ll get some hot water going so you can get cleaned up and have a hot drink.”  I turned to walk back toward the walls, only to see Phelan standing near the gap, studying me with his head titled to one side.  I frowned and walked toward him, letting Greg and Matt lead the four women and the teenage boy toward the shelter of the tent where we were still cooking.
            “What’s that look for?” I asked Phelan once I drew near enough for him to hear me.
            His brows knit for a moment and he shook his head.  “It’s strange.”
            My heart tripped over itself, then got rolling again, starting to beat faster than before.  That’s never a good phrase to hear out of him.  “What is?”
            He gave me a brief, enigmatic smile.  “How quickly and strangely things begin to fall into place.”
            I stared at him for a long moment, then shook my head.
            “I don’t think I want to know.”
            He laughed and put an arm around my shoulders.  “Then I won’t tell you.  Come on.  Let’s see about fear fiach and his penchant for getting himself hurt.”
            I nodded and headed with him back into camp.

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