She came, throwing one last glance over her shoulder at the five children in the back yard -- as if to make sure they were still all there, that no Wolves had taken them yet -- and then crossed the living room. Gran-pere sat in his corner chair by the dead fire, head bent over, dozing and drizzling from his folded, toothless mouth.
From this room the barn was visible. Tian drew his wife to the window and pointed. "There," he said. "Do you mark em, woman? Do you see em very well?"
Of course she did. Tian's sister, six and a half feet tall, now standing with the straps of her overalls lowered and her big breasts sparkling with water as she splashed them from the rain barrel. Standing in the barn doorway was Zalman, Zalia's very own brother. Almost seven feet tall was he, big as Lord Perth, tall as Andy, and as empty of face as the girl. A strapping young man watching a strapping young woman with her breasts out on show like that might well have been sporting a bulge in his pants, but there was none in Zally's. Nor ever would be. He was roont.
She turned back to Tian. They looked at each other, a man and a woman not roont, but only because of dumb luck. So far as either of them knew, it could just as easily have been Zal and Tia standing in here and watching Tian and Zalia out by the barn, grown large of body and empty of head.
"Of course I see," she told him. "Does thee think I'm blind?"
"Don't it sometimes make you wish you was?" he asked. "To see em so?"
Zalia made no reply.
"Not right, woman. Not right. Never has been."
"But since time out of mind -- "
"Bugger time out of mind, too!" Tian cried. "They's children! Our children!"
"Would you have the Wolves burn the Calla to the ground, then? Leave us all with our throats cut and our eyes fried in our heads? For it's happened before. You know it has."
He knew, all right. But who would put matters right, if not the men of Calla Bryn Sturgis? Certainly there were no authorities, not so much as a sheriff, either high or low, in these parts. They were on their own. Even long ago, when the Inner Baronies had glowed with light and order, they would have seen precious little sign of that bright-life out here. These were the borderlands, and life here had always been strange. Then the Wolves had begun coming and life had grown far stranger. How long ago had it begun? How many generations? Tian didn't know, but he thought "time out of mind" was too long. The Wolves had been raiding into the borderland villages when Gran-pere was young, certainly -- Gran-pere's own twin had been snatched as the two of them sat in the dust, playing at jacks. "Dey tuk im cos he closer to de rud," Gran-pere had told them (many times). "If Ah come out of dee house firs' dat day, Ah be closer to de rud an dey take me, God is good!" Then he would kiss the wooden crucie the Old Fella had given him, hold it skyward, and cackle.
Yet Gran-pere's own Gran-pere had told him that in his day -- which would have been five or perhaps even six generations back, if Tian's calculations were right -- there had been no Wolves sweeping out of Thunderclap on their gray horses. Once Tian had asked the old man, And did all but a few of the babbies come in twos back then? Did any of the old folks ever say? Gran-pere had considered this long, then had shaken his head. No, he couldn't remember what the old-timers had ever said about that, one way or the other.
Zalia was looking at him anxiously. "Ye're in no mood to think of such things, I wot, after spending your morning in that rocky patch."
"My frame of mind won't change when they come or who they'll take," Tian said.
"Ye'll not do something foolish, T, will you? Something foolish and all on your own?"
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