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CHAPTER FOUR

September, Year 8 A.E.

(March, Year 3 A.E.)

(June, Year 4 A.E.)

(July, Year 4 A.E.)

September, Year 8 A.E.

Reveille, Marian Alston-Kurlelo thought as her eyes opened, waiting for the pitch and roll of a bunk at sea, the creak of cordage and lap of the waves and the way a ship's timbers spoke as they moved.

But it wasn't a noncom bellowing, "lash and stow"; it was roosters, and someone beating on a triangle. "Rise and shine, sugar," she whispered.

"I will rise, but I refuse to shine," Swindapa said, mock-grumpy, yawning and stretching; the corn shucks in the mattress beneath them rustled as she moved to give Alston an embrace and then swing out of the bed.

The ferry had brought them in late last night; it was a chilly fall morning, and the water in the jug and basin beside the window raised goose bumps on the black woman's skin as she washed and pulled on her clothes. The coarse blue wool of the uniform was clean by the standards of Year 8-it didn't have visible dirt and it didn't smell. Considering something unwearable after one use had gone the way of electric washer-dryer combos.

Fogarty's Cove was already bustling. Only an archaeologist would be able to find any trace of the Indians, less than a decade after the Event had crashed into their world; the stones of a heath, a scatter of chipped flint, a tumbled drying rack, gourds gone wild. The Islanders had done considerably more. Steel screeched on wood in the sawmills, while hammers and adzes rang in the boatyard down by the wharves, where a big fishing smack was taking shape. Faint and far in the distance came a soft heavy thudump… thudump as stumps were blasted out of newly cleared fields with gunpowder. The streets were full of wagons bringing in grain and meat, raw wool, eggs, pumpkins and apples, peaches and potatoes, wine and butter and cheese-all from the new farms stretching westward from this outpost. Storekeepers and craftsfolk were opening their shutters and doors; livery stable, blacksmith and farrier, doctor, haberdasher.

The air was full of the strong smells of horses and cattle, wood-smoke, drying fish. Over the rooftops she could see the bright yellows and crimson of autumn trees in woodlots and field verge, the old gold of tasseled corn, copper leaves in a vineyard, a wide-horned bull drowsing beneath an oak as mist drifted over the dew-wet pasture's faded green.

Lively, Alston smiled to herself. Crude enough by the standards of the twentieth, but those weren't the standards anyone with sense used anymore. A lively little kid, growing fast.

Swindapa came up behind her and wrapped arms around her, resting chin on shoulder. Alston sighed, a sound that mixed a vast content and an anticipation of the day. Words ran through her mind:

I rose from dreamless hours and sought the morn

That beat upon my window: from the sill

I watched sweet lands, where Autumn light newborn

Swayed through the trees and lingered on the hill.

If things so lovely are, why labor still

to dream of something more titan this I see?

Do 1 remember tales of Galilee,

I who have slain my faith and freed my will?

Let me forget dead faith, dead mystery

Dead thoughts of things I cannot comprehend.

Enough the light mysterious in the tree.

Enough the friendship of my chosen friend.

They buckled on their webbing; knife, pouches, binoculars, and double-barreled flintlock pistols at their belts, katanas over their backs with the hilt jutting up behind the left ear. Saddlebags held their traveling kit; they carried those downstairs in their arms, slinging them over the benches beside them as they sat at the long trestle tables in the tavern's taproom.

Wild Rose Chance was an example of what "log cabin" could mean when the logs were a hundred feet long and a yard thick. The big room was already fairly warm with the fire in the long iron-backed field-stone hearth and busy-a score or more sitting down to a hearty breakfast. Alston nodded to friends and acquaintances as she loaded her own plate and sank her teeth into a slab of hot, coarse wholewheat bread with butter melting on its steaming surface.

At least I don't have to worry about my weight, she thought. Not when things like traveling fifteen miles to Camp Grant meant half a day in the saddle, not fifteen minutes in a car.

"Hey, there anyone here who speaks Fiernan?" a voice called from the open street door.

Alston and her partner looked up sharply. A woman stood there, in ordinary bib overalls, but with a shotgun over her back and a star pinned to one strap. Behind her were a young couple, dressed Islander-style except for their near-naked toddler, but obvious immigrants. Behind them was a clamoring pack-she thought she recognized several farmers, a straw boss from one of the timber mills, and the owner of the boatyard among them.

Swindapa began to rise, then sank back as the proprietor of the inn went over, drying his hands on a corner of his apron.

"Thought you did, Sarah," he said.

"Thought I did too, Ted."

Swindapa did rise then, smiling, when mutual bewilderment became too obvious. She returned chuckling.

"They speak Goldenhill dialect," she said. "Thicker than honey- I'm not surprised the sheriff couldn't make hoof or horn of it and the poor couple were frightened out of the seven words of English they had between them. The sheriff will put them up in the Town Hall tonight and find someone to explain about contracts."

Alston nodded approval and threw down her napkin. Everyone was short of labor, but that was no excuse for taking advantage of ignorance. Her inner smile grew to a slight curve of full lips. Jared's seen to that. By the time the immigrant couple had put in five years they'd speak the language and be eligible for citizenship; a few years more, and they'd probably have a farm or boat or shop of their own, and be down at the docks clamoring for a chance at a hired hand themselves. And their kids would be in school.

There had been times in the Coast Guard when she'd wondered what the hell she was doing-on the Haitian refugee patrol, for instance.

Or "cooperating" with those cowboy assholes in the DEA and BATF, she thought. If you had to be hired muscle, it was nice to work for an outfit run by actual human beings.

They took their saddlebags out; the inn's groom had horses waiting, four-year-old Alba/Morgan crosses. Alston swung into the saddle, heeling her mount out into the road.

"Worth fighting for," Swindapa said, indicating the town with an odd circling motion of her head.

"Let's go tell it to the Marines, love," Alston replied.



CHAPTER THREE | Against the Tide of Years | * * *







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