[This post is from Kailey’s point of view.]
Breath burned in her lungs as her strides ate up the distance between the orchard and the gates, gates that still stood open despite everything they’d been through over the years—a side effect of the peace that had held for so long. There weren’t even sentries anymore during daylight. It was only at night when they kept the watches.
For the first time, it seemed foolish to her.
The wards can’t protect us from everything.
It was a sobering thought, though a true one.
Heart pounding, she dodged the other villagers as they went about their business, nearly colliding with a few who stepped in the wrong direction as she tried to anticipate their dodge. She didn’t even have enough breath to spare to apologize as she tore through the village proper toward the hill behind the forge.
As long as the weather was good, that’s where her father always met with his council.
She didn’t slow as she pounded up the hill, though she tried to summon enough extra breath to shout. “Dad! Dad!”
There they were, clustered together—her parents, Phelan and Jacqueline, Uncle Jay and Aunt Caro, Thordin and Sif, and Aunt Neve. From the look on her face, it seemed Neve had heard her first, her brow furrowing as Kailey came up the hill as fast as her legs could carry her.
“Kay?” Her father’s brows knit as she reached them, breaking away from her mother’s side to move toward her. “What is it? Is it Lin?”
Kailey doubled over, trying to catch her breath. She gripped her knees, knuckles going white as she gulped in air, heart still beating too fast, blood thundering in her ears. Her aunts and uncles and her mother closed in around her in a tightening circle, something that was oddly comforting and terrifying all at once.
Unseen power crackled in the air and set the hair on her arms and the back of her neck standing on end.
They don’t even know what I’ve seen and they’re already—
“Riders,” she managed to gasp out between lungfuls of air. “Below the orchard, in the field. Not on the road. Cross-country. I—”
“Whoa, whoa,” Matt said, grasping her shoulder gently. “Calm down. Slow down. What happened?”
Hadn’t he been listening?
“There are riders in the field below the orchard,” she said more slowly this time, more carefully. “It looks like they were going cross-country. They’re armed, Dad. I could see it. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they’d stopped below the orchard.”
“How many?” Thordin asked, his voice a deep rumble, like the thunder presaging a storm. She’d never heard his voice like that, not anytime she could remember. “Did you see?”
“Six,” she said, swallowing hard. “There were six. On horseback. They were armed.”
“What kind of weapons?” Sif asked, her voice soft. There was a thread of anger there, though, anger and something else-if Kailey didn’t know better, she’d have suggested it was eagerness, a promise of something that she didn’t want to fathom.
“I don’t know,” she said, swallowing hard. “I don’t know, I didn’t get a good look. I was just so scared and I knew that I needed to get back without being seen and tell you that they were here and that they were coming. They’re on horseback and they’re armed. I could see the sun glinting off metal.”
“Possibly armored,” Thordin said quietly, glancing to her father.
“Get the gates closed,” her father said, his expression darkening. “And start pulling everyone back. Set for an attack. This could be a scouting party setting up for much worse. Let’s make sure they see that we’re not to be trifled with.”
“What about the riders?” Sif asked quietly.
Her father smiled grimly. “They get to learn the lesson firsthand.”