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22 June 2018 @ 08:26 am
_Gates of Hel_ part 7  

And that was that. The other accepted it. Adrasteia sent all the women out with the farm women to bring in all the cattle and pick over the gardens that lay beyond their houses.

Now Adrasos saw the wisdom of the three houses and barns clustered in their common corner. The outward facing walls were all solid wood, no entrances to be breeched by the invaders. House to barn to neighbor’s barn to house to house to barn they had high, solid fences. Sturdy. Facing the road, perhaps fifty feet was open and hard to defend. Well, he could help with close to half of that.

“Chol, back the carriage up to the barn there, and take the wheels off. Krid, unload the wagon at the barn there, then we’ll use it to block the road in. Rob?” He grabbed his sword and looked over at the elder Baker. “Those tables, can we barricade the last stretch?”

“Yes. And we’d better be quick about it.” Whistles out in the deepening twilight marked the raider’s coordinating.

“Krid, block the road now, we’ll unload later.” Adrasos grabbed one end of a table and ran to dump it on its side. Then he strung his bow. Nocked an arrow and waited. I’d rather be hunting rabbits.

***

Cinnamon opened the barn door, and then the gate. The cows came in readily, used to the evening milking, and the bit of grain they got to supplement their grazing. They stalled at the door, sensing her panic.

She took a deep breath and stepped away, telling herself to relax. The cows trotted on into the barn and she closed the door. Closed the pasture gate and slid all the braces into place. Adrasos’s little sister came running up towing their cow, the big man behind her was carrying a cage of chickens, and two horses followed him.

“Put the cow in here, and the chickens . . . under the tree there, I think. Can you tie the horses to trees, so they don’t run around and trample people?”

The man nodded, setting the cage down and turning to deal with the horses.

A whole lot of horses. How will we feed them, if this goes on? We have hay for three cows for the winter.

Her head pulled around at the sounds of whistles, echoing around the hills.

They were coming.

Jerry came running up. “Papa says for you women to spread out and look for them coming from other directions. He says he thinks they’ll charge the open side first, but we gotta watch.” He ran off, stopping another woman.

The big simpleton was looking uncertain, his hand on his sword hilt.

Cinnamon took a slow careful scan of the hill crest. Nothing suspicious at all. “I think you’d better go back up Adrasos.”

He looked relieved and trotted away.

One of the Greek women trotted up and swept a glance across the hills before giving Cinnamon a tentative smile.

“Lausian?” Cinnamon forced a bit of a smile when the woman nodded. They turned back to the hill, heard the sudden thunder of hooves on the road.

Someone spoke sharply in Greek. Adrasos? She didn’t know them well enough to be sure of the voice. A faint hissing, a scream, curses. A hideous shriek that she hoped came from a horse, not a man. Hooves faded into the distance. The first rush had been repelled.

It was too dark to see much, now. The half moon was sliding in and out of clouds, rendering the grounds a patchwork. The men were faint movements in the darkness, then Twilla came running around. Had they seen anything? No? Then stay and keep watching. The girl ran on. Some movements, a few fires started. Time dragged on, and she tried to keep her eyes on the hill, not the fires, even when delicious cooking odors started wafting their direction.

Adrasos walked around, bow and arrow in hand. “We wounded two of them, one possibly badly. And killed a horse. We went out and butchered the horse, in case they decide to settle in for a siege.”

Cinnamon swallowed as he spoke to Lausian, presumably repeating the news. Eat a horse? One of those beautiful creatures she’d always wanted, and always knew they could never afford?

In the darkness she could barely see him as he looked back at her. “Lausian says she’ll take first watch, here, if you want to get some sleep.”

“Sleep?” She jumped up suddenly. “I have to milk the cows! Poor things!”

“Oh, is ours around somewhere?”

“Yes. I’ll milk her too. And water your hens.”

The chores didn’t stop her from thinking. It seemed unreal, that men could be trying to harm them. Kill the men, rape the women, steal the animals. That’s what everyone says. Of course they also said the men were monsters, with horns and, umm, parts like a bull.

She finished the last cow. The Greeks' brown cow didn’t produce much. “What are they thinking, making you walk behind a wagon all day?” She scratched the friendly animal and forked hay down from the loft for them. How long would the hay last? They’d had their first fall rain, the hills were starting to green, and she shouldn’t be using this hay for another two months.

She checked the kitchen. Her mother and Aunt Vivi were cutting a large roast into thin strips.

“Jerky?”

“Yes. In case we get desperate. We have no idea where the horse has been, what he’s eaten.”

“Oh. I see.” Another reason to not eat a horse. She climbed into her bed and fell asleep almost instantly.

***

Adrasos helped unload the wagon into the Archer’s barn, and got bedding set up, inside and out. Father Odeil was doing the same in the Baker’s barn. Miles Preston’s barn seemed too vulnerable, being the building furthest down the lane.

Their oiled cloths and hides thrown over horizontal oak limbs and staked down made passable tents. Adrasos shared with his Grandfather and Yainni so the three guards and their women could have some privacy. The other women were in the barn. Gennadios was in the barn with his wife. Of course.

The three families here each had a bunch of children, there was no room for so many guests. Adrasos had stopped Gennadios’s bid for a real bed, dead in its tracks. Even Phadros had sneered at the man.

They’d shored up the flimsy wall of tables as best they could. He left Yainni on guard, and crawled into bed. Yainni, as ordered, woke him when the moon set. He sent the man to his own bed and made the circuit of the buildings. Adelphie was awake, huddled miserably in between the Archer’s house and barn. Krid was up, roaming, and had been for hours. Memu was watching where Lausian had been. Rob Baker was up, manning the post between his house and barn. His son was on the other side of the house, watching the gap between their house and the Preston’s. The Preston boy, Mark, was between their house and the barn.

Their four tents faced the largest opening, and Chol had it all under his eyes.

“Doubt they’d attack in force, in the moon dark. They don’t want to lose a horse to a broken leg. Or fight blind, for that matter.”

“Yes. But that doesn’t mean they might not try something sneaky. We spotted them up the creek, not far from where they collect the water for their houses. I think I’ll go take a look that direction, as soon as there’s any light at all.”

A light crunch of almost silent footfalls. Miles nodded to them. “Anything?”

“No. I was just thinking we should take a look at the water intake, as soon as we can see anything at all.”

“Damn. Now there’s a bad thought.” He frowned into the darkness. A few red spots gleamed, around the bases of the smokers. “Perhaps we should start digging a pond, inside the fence. At least we can keep the stock watered.”

“Yes. And like it or not, we’ll need to stake the horses out to graze, out there.”

He sighed. “Yes, I can see that. Damn, what a mess.”

“Have you been attacked before? Your houses are obviously set up for defense.”

“Only common sense. Bradley and Old Alex held off some bad sorts a long time ago. Bradley is, was, Ginger’s husband, and old Alex was her father. The three of them started the farm from scratch, and a single assay. Rob and I came out together and broke ground, each on our own piece, borrowing on the Archer’s success.”

“But a fourth family, to finish your square, never came?”

“One fellah tried. City boy, he had no idea farming was hard work. Thought his horses would do it all hard work while he walked along behind, steering them.”

Adrasos chuckled. “We won’t be any better. And eventually we’ll be at least seven families.”

“You could be a small town, all by yourselves.” Miles shut his mouth with a snap as Adrasos nocked an arrow and raised the bow.

The faint thuds of horse hooves were at a slow walking pace. The voice from the darkness was deep and powerful. “Now there’s no need for that. We just want a nice peaceful trade.”

Miles raised his voice. “You should have started with trade, now it’s too late.”

“You send out four horses and that pretty young widow and we’ll go away and leave you alone. How’s that for a deal?”

Adrasos could feel the faint flow of magic, and identified it. Night sight. He knew a similar invocation himself, but it was tiring to hold it for long. He called it from memory, now, and cast it silently on himself, and saw the speaker clearly. Barrel chested and muscular, light of hair, dressed like a dandy, lace around his thick wrists. Heavy jaw, clean shaven. And two other men flat on their bellies, creeping nearer.

He drew back and sent his first arrow into the nearest man hitting him head on between neck and collarbone, angling deep into the chest. The man collapsed without a sound. The other man was more sideways to him and took the second arrow in his side. His yelp was too hearty for his lung to have been hit. He scrambled away. A spell of shielding puffed up, out there across the barrier, and Adrasos breathed a spell of piercing onto his third arrow. The big man wheeled his horse and booted him into motion. Adrasos made a guess on direction and loosed the arrow. The man dodged toward the stream, rather than away. The arrow sailed into the darkness.