Grace leaned against the door frame between the bedroom and main room, watching Victor pack clothes into a bag. “Calvin thinks we will not be gone longer than a week, but I do not know,” he said, adding a leather pouch of dried meat to his bag. “I hate to give you a time because I do not want you to worry if we are later than that. Did you make that flat bread I asked for?”
“It is on the ledge above the fireplace,” Grace said, not bothering to stir herself to fetch it for him.
“Thank you,” he said, striding across the room to get it. “I got that new bar put on the door, but it is not going to do you any good if you do not use it. I cannot imagine anyone would fuss with you, but you never know.”
“I will be in the square with the other women most of the time, anyway,” Grace replied.
“But you will come back here at night,” Victor said.
“Do not go,” Grace replied.
She didn’t know what she expected him to do with this, but laughter wasn’t really a surprise. “Do not go? Calvin and I finally get Timur to give us some real work, and you are telling me not to go. Woman, have you lost your mind entirely?”
“This is death, what he is sending you to do. Marching into the Septan palace, dressed like a Calistar soldier? You will not survive, not a man going with you will.”
“That is foolishness,” Victor said. He stood, and clenched his fist. A blue shield of light manifested. They’d yet to find anything that could penetrate it. “I will come home, and so will Calvin. So will all of us going.”
“And what if you do not? What are the girls and Morgan and I going to do then, eh?” Grace whispered.
Victor was across the room in two strides. He swept her up into his arms, and his mouth found hers. “Darling, I have to do this. I did not become a Brother to raid food storage barns, and I will not do it anymore. Timur has given me a chance here to prove-.”
“Timur has given you nothing,” Grace hissed. “He has given himself a way to be free of you, Calvin, and every other young man who would defy him. He does not expect you to come back.”
“Perhaps not,” Victor said. “But I will.”
“Vicky, are you not ready yet?” Calvin called from outside.
“I am coming, hold on!” Victor replied. He released Grace reluctantly and grabbed his bag from the table. Grace followed him outside.
Calvin had already hitched his wagon. “Are you done crying over your woman yet?” he asked.
“Do not be jealous, just because I have one,” Victor laughed, tossing his bag into the wagon. “Where is Boris?”
“Saying goodbye to Nikita, still. We will pick him up on the way out of town,” Calvin said.
Grace decided to try Calvin next. She stood beside his seat on the wagon. “Calvin, think about this. What is the point of starting a war between Septa and Calistar? The aristocrats will just send poor sons to go fight for them.”
“But that is part of the plan,” Calvin laughed. “Do not worry your head, Grace. Look after the girls and Morgan, and we will be back soon.”
But Grace grabbed hold of the horse’s reigns. “What if none of you come home? What about Boris, leaving Nikita here with his babe?”
“Boris will come home,” Calvin said. “And so will I, and so will Victor. Do not be afraid, Sister. And let go of my horse, please.”
Grace released the reigns but didn’t move away. She felt shaken to her core, as Victor grabbed her up into a hug. “Stop fussing, woman,” he laughed, swinging her around. “This is a great mission.”
“And nothing is going to stand before this,” Calvin said. He clenched his hand, and a ball of light appeared. Unlike Victor’s, his light was no shield. It was a ball of energy that nothing could stand against.
“But what if Timur is sending you into a trap?” Grace cried.
At this, Calvin leaned down from the wagon seat to whisper in her ear. “That is the thing, though. He is, and we know it. When we return victorious, we will have a very, very different conversation with him about where our country is headed. And I do not think he will enjoy it.”
May, June, and Morgan crowded around the wagon, and Calvin sat up straight in his seat. June, the middle of Calvin’s children, had an ever messy braid down her back. Her brown dress was stained at the bottom with mud and at the knees with soot.
“Take care of each other, and stay out of trouble. We will be back in a week,” Calvin said.
“Do not tell them that,” Victor said, swinging into the seat next to Calvin.
“One week!” Calvin bellowed and clicked at the horse to send him on his way.
“Goodbye Da, be careful!” June called, waving at him. Grace joined the others in their farewells, feeling brittle. She watched as they rode to the other end of the village, stopping along the way to pick up Boris and a number of other men.
“Come on,” Grace said. “We might as well head to the square.”
June and May nodded, but Morgan said, “I am going to go hunting. The sun is barely up, I should be able to get some good meat for supper.”
“Oh really?” May snorted. “You are going to go hunting? And why would you waste the whole day like that, eh?”
“You ought to stay and help us weed the garden,” June said.
Morgan scoffed. “What do you need four people to weed the garden for? I will go and get us some meat. Grace, will you make a pie if I bring you a bird? Your crust is better than theirs.”
“I would need the goat milked,” Grace replied dully. “And I might need to churn butter, as well. Go and get your game if you can. Be careful.”
Morgan was gone in a moment to collect his traps and head into the woods.
“Might as well get the goat milked, then,” Grace said.
“You are not going to be the one this time, are you?” June asked.
“The one what?” Grace asked.
June sighed. “The one woman who cannot help but mope until the men get back. They always ruin the whole experience for the rest of us.”
Grace shook her head. She grabbed her bucket and went into the small enclosure next to the house where her goat resided. She was napping in the sun, but came fast enough when she heard Grace come in. Normally she would have been milked earlier, but Victor hadn’t had the time before he left.
“Are you going to stand there and complain at me the whole time I do this?” Grace asked, settling into her stool to milk the creature.
“Maybe. Why are you so upset, anyway? You have never been this way before.” June grabbed some hay from the pile next to the enclosure and started making a pile of it.
“You all seem to think that these men are invincible just because of a little magic,” Grace muttered.
A single scream rang out just as she was finishing with the goat. Grace only just managed to not spill any of the milk before running from the paddock. June was just a moment behind her.
“That is Yulia’s house,” June cried. The front door was wide open, and they could hear Yeva shouting for help inside.
Grace stopped on the threshold. Yeva was kneeling next to her grandmother’s chair. A cup of tea had fallen and shattered on the floor. Yulia was slumped in her chair, not breathing.
“I, I do not know what happened,” Yeva sobbed. “I just came in to check on her, and she was like this.”
“Was there something off in her tea?” June asked.
“I do not know. She might have stirred something in by mistake, look at her damned work table!” Yeva cried. She gestured to a table near the window, laden with herb bouquets and bowls. Always a thin wisp of a girl, Yeva seemed even smaller now in her fright.
“What am I to do, I am all alone now,” Yeva sobbed.
Grace considered the girl. She couldn’t remember saying more than a handful of words to her since she’d been born. She’d said enough to Yulia, screaming for her book back, for help, for anything the old woman might have been able to do for her.
“I was alone younger than you,” Grace said. “You will be fine.”
Yeva turned a tear stained face towards her, her eyes wide. “How?” she asked.
“That is not my concern. When Morgan gets back we will help bury your grandma. That is more than she bothered to do for me.”
Grace went back to her chores, leaving the girl no room to say anything more.
Want to keep reading? Falling From Grace will be released tomorrow. Here’s a link to order it now.