New book begins Friday

On the advice of and in the opinion of several readers, I deserve a little break after seven years and six books of non-stop posts.

As such, the new book will begin on Friday rather than today.

Stay tuned! There is so much more to come.

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Book Seven begins Monday, September 24

Hello, all!  Book Seven will begin on Monday, September 24, but not at midnight EST as usual – I’ve been helping to run the GVSU Renaissance Festival this past weekend, so I am a little bit delayed.  Look for the opener sometime during the day on Monday!

Lots of love,

Erin.

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Forty-six – 04

[This post is from Thom’s point of view.]

From the corner of his eye, Thom caught sight of J.T. watching and shook himself, taking a breath and forcing himself to relax. He scrubbed a hand over his face to hide the tears that had threatened, tears that had come not quite out of nowhere, but at least unexpectedly. J.T. quirked a brow and Thom gave a slight shake of his head.

Not now. Maybe later.

J.T. rolled his eyes and turned his attention to cracking eggs for a scramble. Thom leaned his head back and stared up, up at the roof of the tent above them, now stained dark with soot around the edges of the small gap they’d opened to let the smoke out.

“I have to come up with something better than this,” he murmured to himself.

“Better than what?” Marin asked softly. Thom closed his eyes and sighed.

“Just thinking again.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” she said, a trace of wry humor threading through the affection in her voice. He listened to the faint clink of ceramic as she got out mugs for their coffee. “But what was it you were thinking about?”

Another sigh escaped him and he shook his head, reaching a hand out toward her as his head lolled in her direction. Her brow furrowed slightly, but she stopped fixing coffee and came to him, her fingers sliding into his as she settled beside him, knees tucked against her chest.

“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly, resting her forehead against his temple. “Talk to me?”

“There’s just so much work to do,” he said quietly. “How the hell do we figure out what’s most important? Yeah, these tents and what we’ve already built got us through one winter, but there’s going to be another coming soon. We’ve wasted most of the summer.”

“Not wasted,” J.T. said from his spot next to the fire, eggs starting to sizzle in his skillet. “It’s not like we haven’t done anything and it’s not like anything out there’s made it easy on us. We’ll be all right, Thom. Stop trying to run before you figure out walking. We’ll get through.”

Thom closed his eyes again. Marin squeezed his hand, then let go, sliding her arms around his waist.

“We will,” she said, her voice gentle but firm. “We’ll get through, Thom. All of us.”

“Yeah,” he whispered back, though he didn’t quite believe it himself. “Yeah, we will.”

After all, it had been nearly a year. They’d make it through another—and everything else that would come beyond it.

They’d have to. There was a future out there waiting for them.

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Forty-six – 03

[This post is from Thom’s point of view.]

As he limped into view, Marin nearly dropped the French press, her eyes widening at the sight of him. He managed a faint smile as she quickly set it down before she could either spill or burn herself.

“You’re up,” she said softly, gently, pushing to her feet and moving to intercept him. “Why are you up?”

“Because it’s morning,” he said quietly, leaning down to kiss her gently, even as she wrapped her arms around his waist to help support him. He didn’t waver on his feet, not yet, but the support wasn’t unwelcome in the slightest. “Because my wife wasn’t in bed with me when I woke up and you and Lin were gone and I was awake.” Trapping his crutch under one arm, he reached up to run his fingertips along her face. “Are you angry?”

“No,” she said, sighing. “Just worried.”

“That’s a usual state of being,” Thom murmured, then kissed her gently. She laughed, squeezing him gently before she started to help him to a seat by the fire. J.T. grinned up at the from preparing a few skillets to start eggs and hash browns.

“Feeling adventurous?” he asked.

Thom snorted. “Feeling useless, like I’ve been laying around for too long.” He caught Marin’s flinch out of the corner of his eye and winced. “Mar, I didn’t—”

“It’s okay,” she said. “I know you didn’t mean it that way. It’s all right.”

Truth be known, he wasn’t quite sure what way he actually had meant it, but at least she let it go. Small favors. He watched as she returned to making the coffee, leaning back against the log bench she’d seated him on, his bad leg stretched out before him and his crutches set off to one side.

She smiled back over her shoulder at him. “Maybe this is what we needed so things could get back to normal.”

“Maybe,” he agreed quietly, watching her. His eyes began to sting unbidden.

I am never going to give you up, Marin. Not now and not ever.

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Forty-six – 02

[This post is from Thom’s point of view.]

Shirt first, then pants, and then he paused for a moment, staring at his shoes on the far side of the room. His shoulders ached, one more than the other, and his knee was worse as he leaned a hip into the dresser, lips thinning.

Not today.

Sandals it is. He blew out a quiet breath and limped across the room—hopped, almost—to his sandals, to the crutches left leaning against the wall. They’d make his shoulders ache worse, but they were healing—slow, but healing.

Thom scrubbed a hand over his face.

She won’t be happy, but I can’t keep lying around, can I? He knew what she would say and also knew he’d disagree vehemently.

Still, it made him smile.

He blew out the lamp and limped out, closing the door firmly behind himself. His shoulders burned after the first few steps, but dealing with that nuisance was better than trying to walk on his bad knee. Moving down the darkened, quiet corridor, Thom realized that it was earlier than he’d originally thought it might be, the darkness thicker than it would be if it was much past sunrise and the hall too quiet. That was fine. He was awake, and clearly his wife was, too. She’d be outside somewhere, or maybe up at the forge, though he suspected that Matt wouldn’t be there, not this early in the morning, nor would Thordin.

What the hell am I going to say?

A sigh escaped his lips and he shook his head at himself, limping out from the corridor and into the tent. He could see the cookfire’s glow beyond some storage shelves, could smell the scent of coffee. Thom smiled, an odd sort of relief washing over him.

Maybe it was because it felt normal to smell coffee this early in the morning—and it was certainly early, only a little bit past dawn. Some of the tension drained away and his shoulders seemed to ache a little less.

Maybe it was because after nearly a year, despite his visions, despite everything, he was starting to feel like somehow, everything was going to work out. There would be a future. There would be hope.

And as he headed for the cookfire and the smell of coffee, he decided that was all that mattered.

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Forty-six – 01

[This post is from Thom’s point of view.]

Thom startled awake in the darkness. The last vestiges of a vision were still fading, but the marks they left were deep. He blinked once, twice, unsurprised to find his lashes and cheeks damp with tears.

“I won’t,” he whispered to the darkness. “I can’t.”

His hand went to Marin’s side of the bed. It was cold, though the blankets were rumpled. He took another slow, shaking breath, reaching for calm even as his gaze drifted toward Lin’s cradle, vision adjusting to dim of the room. Breathing came a little easier when he saw the baby was gone, too.

Probably went for a walk. Maybe he woke up, she didn’t want to disturb me. He swallowed a groan as he lifted a hand to rub at his eyes. Not that she could’ve. How long was I asleep? What time is it?

Everything still ached, but he’d lain around long enough—he’d decided that the night before, though he hadn’t breathed a word of it to his wife. Marin was worried enough as it was, though he loved her for it. He didn’t need to add to that worry—not beyond what he’d already planned, anyway.

Slowly, painfully, he sat up in bed. He didn’t feel light-headed like the last time, and his stomach stayed here it was supposed to be.

An improvement, right?

His shoulders and back still hurt, though, and there was a dull, distant pounding in his temples.

Take what you can get. He swallowed and slowly stood, legs a little shaky, but still better. His knee protested as he limped to the dresser for a change of clothes. That was going to take longer than he wanted to heal and he knew it.

Got through the last time. I’ll get through it this time, too. He leaned against the edge of the dresser for a moment, weight on his good leg. It’ll just be as annoying as the first one.

Thom almost—almost—laughed.

“At least I figured out how to walk with crutches,” he murmured to himself, then shook his head. It didn’t seem to make the pounding in his head any worse.

Another small favor.

I’ll take what I can get at this point.

Shaking his head, still smiling ruefully, he started to get dressed. Morning or not, there was something left of a day to face, and one way or another, he was going to face it, visions or no visions, injuries or no injuries.

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Forty-five – 06

[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]

Not even Tala was there when we arrived, and for that I was absurdly thankful, settling in to start coffee while J.T. hunted down the requisite supplies to make the hash browns and eggs he promised. I laid Lin down in one of the moses baskets near the log benches—we’d started keeping at least two in the area so we wouldn’t have to lug them around. It made my heart ache a little to think that soon enough, Tala’s twins would be big enough to climb out of them soon, and after we hit that milestone it’d only be a matter of time for Lin and Anne and Artorius.

That’s why we keep fighting though, isn’t it? So they have somewhere safe to grow up. So they can grow up and live lives and find a purpose beyond just surviving—so we can find a purpose beyond just surviving.

After all, we’re not just living for them, are we? We’re living for us, too.

“You’ve got that look again,” J.T. said quietly as he rounded up a bowl of eggs, likely gathered the night before from the chickens that Stasia had managed to round up and coop. The hens could be vicious little beasties, but when they laid, they laid and had kept us in eggs for more than a month now. Every time we managed another feat like that, it felt like a minor miracle, even though intellectually, I know people had been doing it for thousands of years. Rediscovering it all, though, somehow that was strange and different.

And somehow, magical.

I smiled at J.T. as I filled a kettle and set it over the coals to heat, then started to stir the embers back to life. “Nothing bad,” I said. “Just thinking.”

“But nothing bad,” he said, casting a skeptical look at me. I had to laugh.

“Nothing bad,” I promised. “Just thinking about life.”

“Life, huh?”

“Well, it’s sure as hell better than thinking about death, right?”

One corner of his mouth quirked upward into a smile and he nodded. “It certainly is at that.”

I nodded back and started to ready one of the French presses, then got down a pair of mugs. “Just thinking about why we’re doing this, that’s all. And about chickens.”

“Chickens.”

“Are you going to keep repeating everything I say?”

He just grinned. I rolled my eyes.

“You’re impossible.”

“Most of us are. It’s why we’re still alive.”

I couldn’t argue with that—nor did I want to. I just grinned and sat back to wait while he started to crack eggs.

Someday, the everyday miracles would stop being magical. But that day wasn’t the day for it. That day, they were still magical and miraculous and wonderful, and we were still alive and all of us were together—and safe, or as safe as we could be.

If I had anything to say or do about it, we’d stay that way for a long, long time.

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Forty-five – 05

[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]

I didn’t say anything—I didn’t have to. J.T. was right, or at the very least I needed him to be. Thom would be fine, somehow. J.T. would see to that, no matter what it took. They were as close as brothers could be and he’d never give up on Thom, not while there was even the barest shred of hope—and for J.T., there would always be a bare shred of hope.

I exhaled a sigh and leaned into his embrace, forcing myself to relax. He squeezed me again, gently, rubbing my arm lightly.

“C’mon,” he said quietly. “Let’s go start breakfast, huh? I could use some coffee. What about you?”

“I wouldn’t say no to it,” I said quietly.

“Didn’t think so,” J.T. said with a faint smile. He started to steer me toward the cookfires, keeping his stride short enough to match mine. I leaned against him, maybe more than I should have, but the contact helped—it was somehow reassuring. Somehow, it felt safe.

He was quiet for a few minutes as we walked, but as we got closer to our destination, he glanced down at me. “This really has you more messed up than usual, doesn’t it?”

“It’s just been a lot of stuff lately,” I said. “That’s all. A lot all at once.”

“Yeah, but you’ve handled a lot all at once before. This feels different.”

I couldn’t find the words to tell him he was wrong—maybe because it wasn’t. He was right. There was something different about all of it this time, but even I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Instead, I just shrugged and shifted Lin slightly in my arms. He startled a little, yawned, then closed his eyes. I watched him for a few seconds, then sighed.

“I don’t know what it is,” I said. “Just that it’s something and I can’t seem to shake it.”

“Will you let me try to help?”

I choked on a quiet laugh. “As soon as I figure out how you can do that, Jay, you’ll be the first to know. I promise.”

He shot me a crooked smile. “Well, that’s something. Hash browns and eggs?”

“Sounds great,” I said as we got nearer to the cookfires. “I’ll make the coffee.”

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Forty-five – 04

[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]

“So what have you been seeing that’s robbing you of sleep?”

I startled at the question, blinking at J.T. as my stomach sank. “What?”

He just stared at me for a few seconds, then sighed, shaking his head. “Mar, I’ve known you for a long time by now. I’d like to think I have a little bit of a handle on what’s bugging you when it’s bugging you. Am I completely off-base here?”

I blew out a breath in a sigh and shook my head. “No.”

“Do you just not want to talk about it?”

“That’s more accurate,” I said, looking away from him, staring down at Lin instead. Lin wouldn’t judge me—at least not yet. That would still be another few years off, I thought.

I hoped.

J.T. tucked an arm around my shoulders and I leaned into his embrace, sighing again.

“It’s Thom, isn’t it?” he said quietly.

I nodded before I could stop myself, not that I suppose I really wanted to. J.T. studied me, expression softening.

“Is it the same thing as before?”

“Denial or losing him?”

“Either. Both.”

“Just the second one,” I said in a whisper. “Just losing him. I don’t know how or why, just that it’s what I’m seeing, like he’s fading away slowly and neither of us really seem to know what’s causing it.” My voice caught in my throat. It was hard to breathe. “I’m afraid that it’s related to what happened to him before,” I said. “To what happened when he was hurt that last time he fought. I’m afraid something happened that I can’t change or stop—that none of us can do a damned thing about.”

I felt sick and I knew that much was reflected on my face. J.T. turned, wrapping both arms around me and Lin, holding on for a few minutes.

“He’s going to be fine,” he assured me, his tone gentle. “I promise, Mar. You’re not going to lose him. He won’t let it happen.”

“You said that before,” I told him.

“And I still mean it now,” J.T. said, then pressed a kiss to the top of my head. “He’s my best friend, Mar—my brother in every way that matters. I’m not going to let him go without one hell of a fight and you know that I don’t like to lose.”

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Forty-five – 03

[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]

I snapped out of the vision to find tears on my face, my voice shaking as I kept on singing to Lin. The sun was only a fraction higher in the sky. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, maybe minutes. I sucked in one shaky breath, then another, clutching him a little tighter.

We won’t lose your father, Lin. I promise. I won’t let it happen.

Another breath. Just keep breathing. Just keep breathing. I swallowed hard and looked down at Lin. He was staring up at me with wide eyes, almost as if he was studying me. I forced myself to smile, reaching with one hand to brush his downy hair back from his face.

“It’s all right,” I whispered. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

Behind me, I heard the soft sound of footsteps below the wall. I twisted and smiled when I saw J.T. below, his hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans. I lifted a hand to wave and he smiled back at me.

“Couldn’t sleep?” he called quietly as he approached the wall. I turned to start climbing down, Lin cradled in one arm.

“Yeah,” I said. “Neither could this little guy so I came out to watch the sun.”

“Smells like rain.”

“Looks like it, too,” I said, then sighed. “But I don’t think that’s Thordin’s doing, do you?”

He shook his head. “Don’t think so. He’s been messing around a lot with the storms lately, but it seems like things are starting to even out again—at least for now.”

“Took less time this time,” I said quietly, my feet hitting the ground beneath the wall. I turned toward him and found him smiling crookedly at me.

“I don’t know how you do it carrying him.”

That made me laugh. “I could lie and say practice.”

“Then what is it?”

“Instinct, I guess. Maybe it’s something else. Damned if I know.”

Lin was looking at J.T. now, studying the man with those huge eyes of his. One corner of my mouth quirked up into a smile.

“Sometimes I think he’s memorizing everything,” I said softly, just watching my son. “Silly, isn’t it?”

“Not that silly,” J.T. said, reaching to let Lin grab a hold of one of his fingers with one tiny hand. “He’s learning every second of every day. That’s how it works.”

“Guess so,” I said, my stomach twisting uncomfortably. There had been a lot that had happened already that I didn’t want him to learn, didn’t want him to remember.

What impact was this going to have on his life going forward? Was he going to be damaged by all of this?

You can’t do more than you’ve already done—or more than you’re able to do. He’ll be okay. They’ll all be okay.

You know that. You’ve seen it.

Believe it.

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