The Howling Coyotes certainly looked impressive. Rose and Ada came running as soon as Kent burst in to tell them about the arrival. The Countess had returned, riding alongside a wagon stocked with supplies and accompanied by five other riders, all wrapped up against the cold. A small man, either a child or a halfling, sat at the front of the wagon pulled by two horses, driving it from inside a bundle made of cloak, jacket, mittens, scarf, and blanket.
Aine lifted a gloved hand and waved at Rose, inviting her to approach. “Sorry we took so long,” she called out. “More snow fell last night north of here. It took us a while to punch through.”
The day was only half over, so Rose didn’t see how they could have arrived sooner without starting in the middle of the night. She hurried over and peered excitedly into the back of the wagon. Barrels lined the two outer edges. Between them, sacks and small crates sat in stacks and piles. It should be enough to get them through the winter, at the very least. “We have food, hot tea, and heat, if you all want to come in and warm up for a few minutes.”
“None of that,” Aine said as she dismounted. “We have another stop to make, and we’re not taking anything from your town. Half these supplies are for you, the rest are going elsewhere. Everyone, this is Rose, and everything goes in her house. Get moving, and she’ll tell you where to put it all.”
Rose tried not to be disappointed. Aine did say the Baron should get to them and their needs soon. She nodded her understanding and stationed Ada at the door to open and close it, then waited for people to tromp through her house to the basement. The first man would need direction, the rest should be able to figure it out.
The first person inside surprised her. A woman with unruly red-brown hair had her hood and scarf down and carried a large sack over one shoulder. Ada stared after her, too. She stopped when Rose didn’t move or point.
“Where am I taking this? It’s kind of heavy to just stand around with.” Her voice was a husky alto, and she had a light accent that marked her as coming from someplace other than the Four Kingdoms.
Startled and embarrassed, Rose jumped and hurried to the basement. “Sorry, it’s this way.”
The woman smirked. “Aine said you might be a little surprised to see a woman doing this.”
“A little, yes.”
She chuckled and set the sack down where Rose pointed. “Don’t worry, the rest are all men. I only volunteered to get out of helping to shovel the roof of the barracks.” She turned around and headed back upstairs. “This sounded more interesting.”
Just after she disappeared from view, a man came down actually carrying a barrel by himself. The next two men carried a barrel between them. The fifth man brought down a sack, like the woman had. The five of them moved quickly and efficiently, and it took less than half an hour for the redhead to come back down with two stacked crates and say, “This is it.”
Rose didn’t want to annoy anyone who could lift that much and worked as a mercenary, but she burned with questions. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure, so long as it doesn’t take long. We have to get going.”
“The life – traveling and fighting and doing all of that – can people give it up and be happy?”
The woman looked Rose over with sharp eyes. “It this about a man?”
Apparently, she’d become transparent. Rose blushed lightly and gulped. “Yes.”
“Thought so. Depends on the man. A lot of our former members still live in Howling. Most of them joined the Town Guard, and that’s good enough for them. A few come back from time to time, looking for a little slice of what they had before retiring. Best I can offer is you can’t force a man to give it up. He’s got to want it on his own, or want you more than it. Compromise is probably going to be the most important thing if he does give it up for you. He might want to do risky things just because he misses the life. You’ll have to let him, or he might go crazy.”
Rose nodded, filing the advice away. Maybe she took the wrong approach last night. At least she could be sure he understood her concerns. “Thank you. Do you regret not being able to do the family thing?”
“Me?” The woman snorted. “Nah, I can’t stand kids. Never wanted ’em, never will.”
A male voice with a thick foreign accent called down the stairs, “Let’s go, Amanda!”
Amanda turned with a wave and hurried up the stairs. “Good luck with your adventurer, Rose.”
Good luck, indeed. Rose stood there, leaning against a new barrel, wondering how to make sure Scott didn’t resent her for forcing him to change his life to suit her. Maybe they’d both be happier if she just pushed him away again, and made it clear that was how it would stay. Except she liked him. Goddess bless, this stuff shouldn’t be so hard.