Winter – Chapter 24 – 03

            He should have known that something was wrong right away when Rory sent Thom and Matt to go scout without having them consult with someone else.  Phelan frowned as he followed their resident flame caster down into the maze of sheds instead of toward the walls or the cookfire.
            “What the hell happened?” he asked.
            Rory glanced at him and momentarily appeared to be on the verge of clamming up, jaw tightening for a moment, then exhaling and relaxing by a fraction, as if a weight was being lifted as he spoke.  “Marin collapsed while we were working on the wards.  Not like any other time she’s blacked out, either.  I don’t think she’s seeing anything right now.  She’s just down.”
            “Down?”  His throat constricted and his heart started to beat a little faster.  That’s not good.  That’s really, really not good.  Phelan nodded for him to keep moving.  “Show me.  Who’s with her?”
            “Jay and Kel, though he maybe sent Kel to find Jac.”
            Phelan sucked in a couple of breaths, suddenly relieved that Thom was out beyond the walls by now with Matt, though already dreading sending someone after him.
            It’s too bloody soon if it’s what I’m afraid it is.  Damnation, Teague.  Fucking damnation.
            “She’s seeing something,” he said, keenly aware of how grim and angry his voice must sound.  “Trust me on that.  When she wakes up, she’ll have seen something, and Kellin will need to be near.”  And Thom, and quite possibly her brother and I.  Bloody hellfire, monsters, gods, and damnation!  He punched the corner of one of the sheds and cursed softly as the impact shivered up his arm and he skinned his knuckles against the rough wood.
            Rory spun at the sound of meat smacking against wood, eyes widening as he saw Phelan shake out his fist, spraying tiny droplets of blood from his now-bleeding knuckles.  “What the hell was that about?”  His eyes narrowed. “What’s going on?”
            “Things happening sooner than they should,” Phelan growled, then started to push past him.  “Are they in Thom and Marin’s?”
            Rory nodded, keeping his gaze on Phelan as the older man kept walking.  “What the hell is going on?”
            “That’s what I’m hoping to find out,” Phelan said.  “And I’m hoping that I’m wrong about what it is.”
            It’s too bloody soonWhat’s going on around here?  How did I not realize that things weren’t happening the way he thought they would?
            Not that it really matters, but…
            …well.  It might. It could.  He grit his teeth.  His cousin had seen a lot of things, warned him about others.  One of the things Teague had seen, had mentioned, was the long, on-and-off illness that Thom Ambrose had also forseen—the one that had forced him into denial, the one that had almost cost him his life and his happiness when he let that fear drive him away from Marin Astoris.
            But it was too soon, wasn’t it?
            Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe it’s some kind of attack.
            He never thought he’d see the day where he hoped something was an attack, not illness, not accident.
            The door to the space Thom and Marin shared stood partially open and Phelan shouldered his way inside, into the light of the lamps that J.T. and Jacqueline had lit.  Kellin leaned in a corner and looked at him sideways as he came inside.
            “What took so long?”
            “Distracting Thom and Matt temporarily,” Rory said from behind Phelan, giving him a shove to propel him deeper inside.  “Sent them out to scout.”
            Kellin nodded.  “Good.  Don’t need them underfoot right now.”
            “We might soon,” Phelan said as he walked over to the bed where Marin lay.  He put a hand on her forehead, glancing at J.T. and Jacqueline as he did.  “What’re your professional opinions?”
            “Low-grade fever but otherwise I can’t figure out why she’d pass out,” Jacqueline said, sinking down to perch on the edge of the bed.
            J.T. just shrugged.  “She was complaining that she was lightheaded and nauseous. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that she’s…y’know.  But I think it’s a little early for that.”
            Phelan cursed inwardly.  “Don’t know.  It’s certainly possible.”  He brushed hair back from Marin’s face, gaze flicking toward Kellin.  “You guys were just setting the wards?”
            “Yeah.  We’d just finished the third.”  Kellin caught her lip between her teeth.  “She might have just put too much into it.  That could be it.”
            Could be.  Phelan nodded slowly.  “That could be it.  I could feel them starting to shiver my bones from up at the forge.”  Though I couldn’t be sure which one of you was responsible for that.  The corner of his mouth twitched upward in a faint smile.  “That’s a sign of good ward-forging.”
            In the bed, Marin groaned softly, starting to stir.
            Good sign.  Phelan straightened and stepped back.  “Stay with her,” he said, his gaze taking in Jacqueline and Kellin.  Then he looked to Rory and J.T.  “You two come with me.  We’re going to finish off those wards.”
            “I should come with you,” Kellin said, straightening from her lean.
            Phelan shook his head.  “No.  When she wakes up, she’s going to have seen something.  You need to be here to find out what it is.”
            Kellin stared at him.  “How do you know that?”
            “It’s not important right now, Kel,” Phelan said as he headed for the door.  “Anyway, I hope I’m wrong, but in case I’m not, stay here.  You’ll know if something goes wrong.”
            “How?”  That was Jacqueline.
            He smiled grimly.  “Believe me, you’ll know.”

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