Rafe lay on the bed following the spider with her eyes. Visions of trees passing overhead coalesced into roof beams. Pain was still present, pulling at her face and preventing her from rolling onto her side. She was no longer dreaming. Oddly it smelled like home. Early spring with cold in the air, but with a bit of green, hitting her face from only one side. That meant a window was open. And a bird singing. No, not a bird, and not battle. The sound that rang through the air was not sword on shield or the scream of horses; rather it was the sound of hammer on ringing steel, the hiss of hot metal in cold water. The rhythm of the hammer was … her father’s. She was home.
Or at least within ear shot of home. She didn’t recognize the trusses and couldn’t turn her head quite far enough to get a look at the walls, certainly not out a window. There was a flash of a body rising next to her and the door crashed open against the wall. “Hey! Ma! She’s awake. And I’m not going to be the one to explain!”
Someone had gone out of the room. Rafe wondered who “Ma” was. And how she had gotten here. And how bad off she was that she had not even noticed anyone near her bed.
Rafe’s eyes moved, but not her head, and she recognized spare wooden walls marked with charcoal sketches, empty hooks. Her sister’s room. Jenna. And that spider up in the eaves. She tried to draw in a deep breath of cool air. Her chest wouldn’t expand and there was pain. Pain kept her hands from moving to examine what was constricting her chest. And again came the question, who knew to bring her here?
The hammering stopped, footsteps clomped up stairs, and there was the sweat streaked face of Jenna hovering, blocking out the spider. An iron maul was braced on her shoulder.
Rafe opened her mouth to try out her voice, but Jenna shook her head. She set down the maul and placed one gloved hand on Rafe’s chest and the other behind her back. “Shift that pillow, girl.”
The child Rafe had seen before as a flash came into view and jabbed a pillow behind Rafe’s back. “There ya go, Auntie.”
“Pat it down solid for gods sake. I need it to hold her up, not coddle her.”
The child thumped the pillow again, and folded it over. She grabbed a second one and propped it on the first. “Is that better?”
Rafe felt herself being adjusted on the pillows, but somehow time had stopped and Rafe was tried to figure out what these muscular arms had to do with her sister Jenna. And her voice. It was hoarse but strong, like she’d been yelling, or breathing smoke. She could feel her eyebrows wrinkle and recognized the smile Jenna used for stupid people. “I’m sure you got questions. You’ve been out of it since well before you got here, but you seem really awake this time. Let’s get you some water.”
The child disappeared toward a dresser and there was pouring water. Rafe was having a hard time matching the sounds with what she saw, and what she saw with her memories. It was as if she saw two sisters, one old and one young. The young one handed the old one a cup of water. The old one settled herself on a chair facing Rafe and braced the cup against the left side of Rafe’s mouth. “We sewed up your face after the maggots got done cleaning the wound. You’ll have a scar, but I don’t suppose that will bother you over much.”
The water stung, but her mouth seemed intact on the inside. “Mo,” she croaked. Then, “Wa hap?” She saw an image of sky turning over and herself observing a battle table, but with real horses, soldiers and blood, the roar and stench, the shrieks of humans and animals, then the sky again and silence. And in the midst of silence—pain. “How?”
“How did you get damaged or how did you get here? Home?” Rafe’s eyebrow apparently worked and she raised it. Jenna scowled down at her. “I imagine you’re wanting to know both, huh?”
Rafe smacked her lips trying for words. “Wa” was all that came out. Jenna lifted the cup again.
“Ma woke to find you strapped to a travois in the front yard. Whoever brought you was tidy, locking the gate, and they sure knew where to leave you. Armor was stacked between your legs, and a broadsword bracing your back. Your arms were splinted and your ribs strapped. Ma started cleaning you up and I went for Healer. He’s got a fair hand with a needle, so took care of your face while Ma reset your bones. The sword is over in the corner.”
Rafe’s eyes headed toward the indicated corner and she managed to incline her head.
“Oh, my absolute pleasure, I’m sure.” Jenna continued to scowl. “Where the hell have you been? We heard of war to the north, but I’m having a hard time imagining you dragged all that way and are still alive.”
Rafe barely heard. Being chewed out by her sister was both familiar and comforting. She closed her eyes as Jenna continued, “But don’t mind me. Just drift yourself off to …”?
Jenna’s smoke stained voice faded away and was replaced by the voice Rafe remembered, and an image of a picnic on the river, from before she left, with a lithe Jenna, and a Ducky shaved bald for the summer.