Thom and I parted company when we got deeper into the main body of camp. He split off to head up toward where Matt and Phelan were working at the forge while I headed toward the cookfire, confident that I would find Kellin there—or at least, I would find someone who knew where Kellin had gone to there.
As it was, I found her there, sitting with Angie and Tala, both of them teaching the girl how to knit. It looked like they were working on some sort of blanket to me as I walked up and unceremoniously piled another log on the guttering fire.
Kellin glanced up from her work with a brow arched slightly. “Done already?”
“He let me bail out,” I said. “You and I have dispensation to skip learning sword skills—for now, anyway—because we’ve got to worry about the wards and we’re both capable of defending ourselves without blades.”
“I know how to use a sword already,” Kellin said with a perfectly straight face. “The pointy end goes in the other guy.”
Tala started to laugh. Angie’s face scrunched in an expression that was part frown, part confusion.
“Is that all you need to know about using a sword? I thought more than just the tip was sharp. I thought it was like a big knife, but with two edges instead of one.”
“That’s true,” I told her. “But it’s a little more complicated than that.”
“So it’s more than just the pointy end going into the bad guy?”
I smiled at her addition to Kellin’s previous statement and nodded. “Yeah. A little more than that.”
“I thought so,” she said, then bent her head to study the square of dark blue yarn that she’d managed to knit. It was knobby and a little messy, but it was still far better than anything I’d ever been able to accomplish. I glanced at Kellin.
“Can these two ladies spare you so we can get some work done?”
“I think so,” Kellin said, turning her gaze toward Tala, who shrugged.
“I think we’ve got things under control. Where’d Thom go?”
“Up to the forge to check on Matt and Phelan.” I offered Kellin a hand up and she grasped mine, letting me pull her upright in one smooth motion. “They’re working on some swords, though I’m not sure if they’re trying to work steel or just temper some iron.”
Kellin shook her head. “I’m not sure it’s going to matter all that much. I hope it doesn’t. It won’t if we do these wards right.” She headed for her shed and I trailed along in her wake, hands shoved deep into the pockets of my jacket. I’d worn it out into the field by the well for practice because otherwise, the wind would have cut right through me. Even sunny autumn days this close to the lake were cold.
“That’s what I’m hoping,” I said. “I’m hoping that we’ll luck out and the wards we set are going to keep Cariocecus and his camazotzi goon squad out of our hair.”
“We can only hope,” Kellin said as she ducked inside and dug around for her kit of chalk and herbs. She turned toward me for a brief moment, her face ghostly in the half-light cast through the open door. “You know, maybe you shouldn’t have opted out of sword practice.”
I raised a brow at her even as my stomach gave a sick little lurch. “Why’s that?”
She shook her head as she turned away again, rummaging around some more. “It just seemed like he was really gunning for you and Thom when he made that threat that day.”
Tell me about it, I thought bitterly to myself, lips thinning. I shook my head a little, though her back was to me. “I’ve been thinking about that, too,” I admitted. “But why would he warn us?”
“Fair play?” Kellin suggested, then gave a triumphant ah-ha! sound as she found her kit. “I’m not really sure, to be honest, she said as she turned back to me. “But that comes to mind.”
“Fair play,” I repeated.
She nodded. “What, you don’t think any of our enemies have a sense of that?”
“As a general rule? No.”
Kellin shrugged as she joined me outside again and began to lead the way toward the walls. “You might be right. Of course, the flip side of the coin is that he warned you because he wants a challenge, or maybe just because he wanted to see how you would react. Get a gauge of what you’re made of and all that good shit.”
“I’m not sure why he wants to take us down at all.”
“Well, we’re squatting on a nexus. There’s that.” Kellin tucked her kit and her hands into the pockets of her pullover sweater.
“Yeah, but then there’s no reason for him to threaten just Thom and I. He’d be threatening all of us.”
“Mm. You’re right.” Her brows knit. “I don’t know, Mar.”
Well, I thought. We’d better figure it out, because it’s definitely a matter of life and death.
“We think it is, at least,” I muttered under my breath, earning a sharp look from her.
“What do we think is something?”
I shook my head. “A matter of life and death. All of this.” My lips thinned. “It’s just a question of how many lives and how many endings. We’ll figure it out. We always do.”
“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Usually right before it’s too late.”
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