Rafe moved Blade, down the wide public road into the village. He clopped sedately, whuffling at the kids who dashed out from between the houses and nodding at the old soldiers on their bench, leaning up against the sunny side of the Pig and Toad. A few saluted her and she saluted back. Some she knew from one battle or another. There were more men than women, but whether that was because the men were more willing to warm their bones and trade lies, Rafe didn’t know.
Wilf would have made it back to the forge by now and broken the news to his mother. Rafe had not been looking forward to surprising her sister. Jenna liked things planned nice and even. Meals, chores, church, parties. If a horse threw a shoe, it was Boyer they’d better be asking and not Jenna. She’d put a job off until the next day, or the next week if she thought she could.
There Jenna was, standing in the road, outside the forge gate, arms crossed, hand gripping her maul, and Boyer behind her whispering in her ear. “Well met, sister!” Rafe saluted but stayed on her horse.
“Where in hell else would I be but home in my own door yard. You’re the one that turns up surprising people.” Jenna handed the maul to a daughter and reached up to take Rafe’s hand.
Rafe found herself flying through the air, her left arm still clamped in her sister’s hefty grip. Automatically, Rafe twisted mid flight and barely landed on her feet, knees bent and balanced. She turned to clasp Jenna in a hug, forestalling any further assault. The women were both of a height, although Jenna seemed to grow from the earth while Rafe was poised to take flight.
“I pulled that same move on my nephew, when I met him at the Parting Tree. You didn’t think I fall for it myself?”
Jenna clasped her hands behind Rafe and squeezed, lifting Rafe off the ground. “No need to fall for anything. I’ve mellowed in my old age. I roll with the punches now. Nothing puts a hitch in my swing.”
Rafe was afraid to let out too much breath for fear she wouldn’t be able to suck in any more. But Boyer stroked Jenna on the back and said, “Put your sister down now, dear. She’s just come home and I imagine you’ve plenty for her to do that she won’t be able to if you break her too early.”
“Quite right. I sent Maud in to set another place at table as soon as Wilf gave us the news that you were on your way. You will join us for supper, won’t you?”
“Trust you to be all etiquette while trying to kill me. Yes. I will. A bed would not go amiss either, although the forge looks pretty comfortable. At least warm and dry. I don’t suppose the horses will mind if I use the hay a bit first.”
Rafe turned and took Boyer’s face between her hands and gave him a loud kiss. “And you brother-in-law, how are you faring these days?”
“Glad to see you, too. We’d heard you had not fared well during the last bit of business up north. Even though your resurrection seems to have upset you sister almost as much as the news of your death did. At least she won’t be putting out the forge fire with her tears.”
Two girls had come out of the house and were standing near the water trough. Boyer gestured them forward. “These are Maud and Penelope, the twins. You’ll have met Wilf already. It is a puzzle, though, what he was doing at The Tree.”
The girls, like Wilf, took after their father. Their smiles turned up instead of down. Their hair billowed even without a breeze. Both were built like their parents, tall and solid as oaks, with muscles starting to bulge from days pulling the bellows and making work horses behave. Wilf, a couple years younger, looked more like Rafe. His stance straining for the skies. His hair was not short, but it was bound tightly at his neck in a well behaved club. Back on the hill she had noticed that his fingers were callused by not his palms. Maud and Penelope had the rough hands and strength of a laborer when they shook Rafe’s hand.
“What were you doing at the Tree?” asked Rafe.
Penelope glanced at her brother. “The inquisition will surely keep until later. The chicken is done resting and the rest of the dinner will be getting cold. No one wants to eat bread with the butter clumped up in a chill.”
Rafe followed Penelope indoors thinking of countless times when any bread at all, cold or not, would have been a welcome treat.