Read The Falcon in the Barn (Book 4 Forest at the Edge series) Online

Authors: Trish Mercer

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The Falcon in the Barn (Book 4 Forest at the Edge series) (6 page)

BOOK: The Falcon in the Barn (Book 4 Forest at the Edge series)
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I’m not even sure myself,”
he admitted. “But I’ll be here, as often as possible. Tell me one
more time, please.” He gripped the old man’s shoulder. “He’s going
to be great, isn’t he?”


He is, Shem. He
is.”

Grinning through his tears, Shem darted out
of Yung’s back door and into the night.

The rector watched him slip into the shadows
and smiled. “He’s going to be just as great as you, Shem
Zenos.”

 

---

 

The next morning Shem took the long way back
to the fort. Exceptionally long, considering that he was heading
south to the market before he went north to the fort. He slipped
into the front doors of the Inn at Edge, nodded politely to a
couple of patrons up for an early breakfast, and made his way to
the kitchen door.

He pushed it open and smiled dimly at Mrs.
Peto.

Mrs. Peto looked up from the dough she was
kneading and sent back a similarly dismal smile. “Good morning,
Master Sergeant. Or maybe it isn’t?”

Shem shook his head slightly. “Just wanted to
let you know.” That was all he needed to say to convey that Mahrree
would likely be by later.

She nodded and said, without silly preambles,
“Stay. I just pulled out some hot rolls. Have some before you go on
duty.”


Didn’t bring any silver
with me today, but thank you.”


No silver needed,” she
said. “My treat.”

Shem knew what society expected next. They
should banter back and forth about how that was
Too kind, but
no
, and
Oh, but I insist
, and
Oh, but I
couldn’t

But he didn’t have anything left for
society’s games, and neither did she. Mrs. Peto was weary, trying
with Shem to support a family they didn’t know how to help. But
Mrs. Peto had grown sharper in the past few moons, and was so
focused she hadn’t got Shem’s ranking wrong in weeks.


Thanks,” he said simply
and took the plate she offered him, with four rolls still
steaming.

He was grateful the eating room was mostly
empty, and that the sun’s light hadn’t reached it yet. The muted
silence was restful as he bit into warm roll, honey glaze sliding
down his fingers—


Well, hello my old
friend!”

Shem stopped chewing and looked up at the
creature that emitted the crooning noise which destroyed his
peace.


Sareen. What a surprise.”
He tried to sound pleasant, but it was as useless as being happy
about discovering a hole in your tooth. “So you made it back to
Edge after all, I see.”

Again he knew what society expected, but he
was depleted of energy and even good manners. The best he could
manage was to gesture to the chair across from him at the
table.

Sareen either wasn’t too discerning, or she
was simply that desperate that she cheerfully accepted his
halfhearted invitation and sat down with a variety of tinkling
noises. The multiple chains on her arm clanked together like an
accident at the blacksmith’s. She leaned forward adoringly, chin
resting on her hands in an odd manner which she likely thought was
alluring, and fluttered her eyelashes as if something was stuck on
them.

Shem struggled with a yawn. It was too early
in the morning.

Sareen sat up, insulted. “I was going to say
you’re looking quite well, but you’re a bit baggy under the eyes.
Maybe even have a black eye forming . . . have an eventful night?”
Something crisp in her tone confused Shem. There were likely a
multitude of meanings to her question, but he didn’t bother to work
them out.


A bit,” he said as he
shoved the last of his roll into his mouth. “Always something going
on around here,” he garbled.


Well, you still look quite
. . .” she tilted her head in evaluation, “extraordinary. Always
were a fine example of manhood and soldiering.” She raised her
eyebrows suggestively, but Shem didn’t know what she was
suggesting, especially at this hour.

Sareen hadn’t changed much over the years.
She was the first and only girl he’d ever kissed—not by his choice,
but as a requirement of the first Strongest Soldier Race. Yet he
was fairly confident he wasn’t the only male she’d ever kissed.
Women like her didn’t realize that stories got around about
women like
her
. Sareen was as attractive to Shem now
as she had been a dozen years ago, which meant a mud puddle was
more enticing, and likely cleaner.

She was waiting for his compliment, but all
he noticed was that she’d put on some weight over the years, making
her rounder and softer, but he didn’t know how to politely say,
“And you’ve become fat, but it works for you.” Then again, it did
make her abundant cleavage rather unappetizing. Her dark hair was a
mass of something on her head, probably intended to look sultry,
but was sloppy, and her eyes were clouded.

All he could come up with was, “And you look
well too.”

Realizing that was all she was going to get,
she said, “I’m surprised the village looks so good. I wasn’t going
to come back until I heard the reports that Edge was rebuilding
quite nicely.”


Soldiers are doing most of
the work,” Shem said dismissively. He picked up his second
roll.


They’re also rebuilding
some of the shops,” Sareen mentioned. “I was thinking of buying a
small one to sell books in.”

Shem shrugged and chewed. “Already have a
bookseller. One of the few shops that survived.”

Sareen rolled her eyes dramatically as if she
were seventeen again. “But what he sells is so dull. There are new
books, you know. Exciting ones. All about women and men and . . .
relationships.”

Shem noticed something happening around his
leg, as if a cat was marking him on the outside of his boot.

He glanced down to notice Sareen’s bare foot
rubbing his leg. Since that was the oddest thing he’d ever
experienced, he crossed his legs, removing his calf from her easy
access.

Sareen smiled in what she likely thought was
a coy manner and repositioned herself on her chair.

Maybe she had an itchy foot, Shem considered,
that she felt the need to scratch it now on his thigh.


What makes you think
people will be interested in these relationship books?” Shem asked,
only to be polite.


Oh, they’re interesting,
all right,” Sareen said with a lusty chuckle. That’s when Shem
noticed her perpetual giggle was gone, replaced by something deeper
and creepier. “So what’s new in Edge? Besides, everything, I
mean.”


Uh,” Shem tried to think
of something, “Rigoff and Karna were transferred to
Rivers—”


I know all of that,” she
said, suddenly bored. She slid her foot from his thigh. “I visited
Teeria after they moved. Rivers’ captain lives in something grander
than Edge’s colonel. And as for Karna’s intended? Miss Robbing is
far too serious, but I guess if he likes her,” she curled her lip.
“Wedding’s supposed to be next week sometime. They’re keeping it
small.”


I know,” Shem said,
playing with some crumbs. “Brillen wrote to all of us. Marriage
will be good for him.”


Be good for you, too,”
Sareen murmured. When Shem only looked at the table again, she
continued. “Teeria said there have been
stories
,” she
whispered the last word.


About what?” Shem tore
apart a roll.


About Colonel Shin,”
Sareen leaned forward, her cleavage nearly crushing Shem’s
remaining rolls.

He slid them to safety.


Has he really lost his
mind?”

Every muscle in Shem clenched. “No! Who’s
saying such things?”

She sat back and folded her arms in something
like tinkling triumph. “Shem, people talk. When there’s no
entertainment, people go looking for it. The rumors have traveled
all the way down into Rivers. Quake’s probably heard a few stories
about the sad and terrifying—or should I say terrified?—commander
of Edge.”

Shem’s left hand bunched up as if a long
knife were in it. “Well people are wrong!” he hissed. “He’s been
dealing with more than anyone can imagine. Can’t he grieve in
privacy? Can’t he live his life without everyone peeking through
the windows to gawk? That he continues is astonishing. What his
family endures is commendable. How Mahrree copes is nothing short
of miraculous! Tell people
that
, if they want something to
talk about!”

An odd smile formed on Sareen’s face. “Well,
then. I will. So tell me, Shem Zenos—what’s going on with you? When
I wrote to Miss Mahrree last season she said you were still devoted
to soldiering. Still looking for the right woman to be devoted
to?”

Shem sighed, relieved for the change of
topic, even an uncomfortable one. “I don’t know. Just not the right
time, yet.”

She scoffed. “You’re in your thirties, Shem!
So am I. So when will the ‘right time’ be?”

He shoved the rest of the second roll into
his mouth and wrapped the remaining two in his handkerchief. “I
need to be going to the fort, Sareen. I wish you well with your
bookshop.”

He made to leave, but Sareen grabbed his arm.
“Can I see you again?”

He shrugged, gently pulling out of her grip
as he stood. “I’m on double duty frequently, what with the
rebuilding and everything—”


So if I come by the
fort?”


I really can’t say,
Sareen. Hard to find me sometimes—”

He headed for the door but heard, “What if I
go to the Shins? I’ll still find you there, won’t I?” Her tone
turned icy. “People talk, Zenos, and they’re wondering if the death
of his parents is the
only
thing filling Perrin Shin with
anxiety.”

It was the insinuation that stopped him in
his tracks and made the back of his neck tingle, as if her glare
were singeing him.

So
that
was the kind of relationship
books she was reading—the kind that led her to assume everyone else
lives as poorly as in the stories.

He refused to acknowledge her accusation, but
to the kitchen he called out, “Thank you for the rolls, Mrs. Peto,”
as he left.

 

 

---

 

Mahrree set out for her regular walk through
Edge to the Cottages where her mother lived. To make things easier,
she kept her head down as she tromped along the cobblestones. She
didn’t want to meet anyone’s face, nor did she want them to have to
abide seeing hers.

Besides, now when she really could have used
a bit more friendliness in her life, everyone in Edge pulled back
to a safe distance. From the corners of her eyes she could see the
villagers’ feet scuffling away to give her plenty of room as she
passed.

Blessedly there were a couple of people she
could always count on. One was Rector Yung, who frequently stopped
by and attempted to talk to Perrin who always suddenly had
something else to do. The other was her mother.

Two minutes later she sat on Hycymum Peto’s
pink sofa painted with purple flowers and woven with garish threads
of gold and green. All Mahrree noticed, though, was that her mother
had slipped a thick cloth onto her shoulder today, in
anticipation.

Hycymum patted her on the back as if she were
a messy infant as Mahrree sobbed on her shoulder.


Mahrree, I mean it; you
and the children stay here for a few days. Let him do . . .
whatever
he’s doing, but you get a rest. Just when it looks
like things are getting better, they get worse again.”

Mahrree sniffled. “I can’t leave him, Mother.
He needs us. Someday he may actually be glad—” She couldn’t finish
because she didn’t know if her husband ever
would
be glad
for anything, ever again.

Not that long ago she had cried and chuckled
about how blessed how her life was, how many miracles had struck
them in such a short amount of time. She didn’t realize that the
outpouring then was to make up for the drought now.


At least I know where my
husband went. But yours?” Hycymum patted her daughter again. “Who
knows where his mind is sometimes. I heard he confronted some
weaver yesterday until Shem led him away.”

Mahrree sighed. “I’ll add him to the list of
those I need to visit and apologize to. What do people think about
him, Mother? What do they say?”

Hycymum sighed back. “People think that the
colonel’s been issued orders to interrogate people in Edge, because
the Administrators suspect that Guarders are still after him and
his family.”


Hmm,” Mahrree pondered
that. “I suppose it works. I wonder where that came
from.”


I think it was Rector
Yung. I heard him say that a few weeks ago to the new couple living
over by the fort. You know, for a rector he’s a pretty decent
gossip.”

Mahrree smiled miserably. “He must have been
talking to the Briters. I’d already paid them an apology visit.
Perrin was sure they were spies, but they’re the gentlest, kindest,
and now most terrified couple I’ve ever met. They like
me
,
at least.”


So what happened last
night?” Hycymum asked her daughter as she smoothed her hair. “At
least you visit me more often.” She tried to say that
lightheartedly, but even silly Hycymum Peto had lost a great deal
of her inanity since Relf and Joriana Shin were killed by Guarders
as they slept. Some level of her intellect, usually absorbed by
cloth and cooking and decorating, had realized that if her
son-in-law’s parents were intended targets, she might be
too.

BOOK: The Falcon in the Barn (Book 4 Forest at the Edge series)
12.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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