Rose sat in the tavern, several woman huddled around her. Most of their husbands and brothers had run off to join the Sheriff in his search for Scott and whatever killed that man in the sheep pen. Not her stepmother, of course. Catherine sat in the corner, flanked by her four younger children, secure in the knowledge that her husband wouldn’t go anywhere near anything remotely dangerous. Kent, on the other hand, did run off to help, though Ben promised to watch out for him.
True to form, Kevan strolled in, smiling to himself. He wore his party clothes – the best pants and shirt he owned – and seemed surprised to find everyone so grim. “Ladies,” he said with his hands out to welcome himself, “there’s no use worrying. Whatever is going to happen, it’ll happen whether we clench up in concern or not. Karen! A round of drinks!”
Behind the bar, Karen stopped cleaning to distract herself and sighed. “He’s got a point.”
“Come here, Kevan.” His wife patted a seat beside herself. “Sit with us.”
He plastered on a doting smile that Rose felt confident was fake and glided to her. “Of course, my wife.”
Rose rolled her eyes and didn’t watch him put an arm around her, pull her into his lap and kiss her. She heard it, though. “There are rooms upstairs,” she spat out.
“Oh, Rose.” Kevan let his lips drift down Catherine’s neck, nibbling and eliciting a soft moan from her. “Always so sour. We’ll see what you’re like once Scott has dipped his wick in your wax.”
Clenching her jaw so hard it hurt, Rose twitched her arm. She wanted to slap him, but stopped herself to avoid accidentally clipping her step-mother. When she saw his hand slipping up to grope his wife, she grunted in disgust and turned away. The man had no shame. From the way half the women here watched with eager eyes and parted lips, she suspected he routinely bedded all of them behind their husbands’ backs.
Karen brought around a tray of small cups filled with amber liquid. Rose reached for one, then pulled her hand back. Getting drunk wouldn’t make anything better. She wanted to be sharp when they finally found Scott. And they would. Not only that, but he would be alive. Something prevented him from coming home, that’s all. Maybe it would be an injury to his leg, something he could recover from with a few days of rest, or a creature he had to hunt down for killing that man.
“Are you sure?” Karen fixed her with stern appraisal. “It’ll take the edge off.”
Rose nodded. “I’d rather keep my edge.” She glared at the ceiling when Catherine moaned again. If this kept up, she’d lose her temper completely. Jumping to her feet, she headed for the door. “I’ll be in my kitchen if anyone needs me.” Before anyone could object, she strode out and to her bakery, intent on doing something productive and vigorous to occupy herself. Kneading bread dough would do the trick.
She grabbed her starter dough in the flickering light of a single candle and added to it, slapping the sticky glob around in frustration. She didn’t like sitting on her hands while Scott could be in mortal peril. If she found her way into danger somehow, she felt confident he would come looking for her in his armor and with his sword in hand. Put the shoe on the other foot, though, and the most deadly thing she could offer an attacker was a face full of pepper.
Maybe she could fashion a suit of armor out of bread.
The idea made her laugh, which made her cry. She didn’t want to cry. “This isn’t fair,” she told the dough, blinking away the tears and swiping a sleeve across her face. The bread, predictably, didn’t answer. It did help. Several minutes of kneading the dough later, she dropped it into a bowl and draped a towel over it. Come morning, it would be in fine shape, and she could make cinnamon rolls. That thought on her mind, she turned to mixing up the cinnamon filling and set that aside, too.
After all of that, she stared at the door for several minutes. Occupying herself should have fixed the problem. Someone should have found him in that time. Did she need to despair some more before he would come back to her? Was there some kind of quota amount of that she had to do?
The back door banged open. Kent flung himself inside, breathless and panting. “Found. Hurt. Bad. Home.”
Rose’s heart surged into furious pounding and she ran faster than she’d ever run before. For once in her life, she didn’t care if the bakery got locked up against children hunting free sweets. She didn’t even shut the door, leaving it for Kent to handle. The dash didn’t take long, yet it still offered plenty of time for her mind to conjure horrific images from the mere four words Kent gave her. If only she’d stayed home instead of going out!
The door slammed shut on its spring as she turned the corner. Huffing and puffing, she darted to the door and yanked it open. She found Ben, splashed with blood, carrying Scott under the armpits. Finley had his feet. Scott’s head lolled, and he’d been wrapped in a blanket. Rose covered her mouth in shock at seeing him to helpless.
“He’s alive, Rose.” Ben and Finley heaved him onto the couch, draping him across it. “Sent for Moira already. You want us to stay or go?”
Rose blinked and realized she needed to breathe. Sucking in a breath, she nodded and hurried to his side, brushing muddy and bloody hair off of his face. “Go ahead.” Their boots and the opening and closing of the door happened someplace so far away she barely noticed. “How long were you out there, hurt and hoping someone would come find you? I’m so sorry I didn’t go looking sooner. I always think of you as so capable. But you’re human, just like me. And listen to me, saying ‘always’.”
Someone touched her shoulder and she looked up to see Moira, the town’s midwife. She had the most skill with healing, and a little bit of magic for emergencies. Without a word, the older woman placed her hand on Scott’s forehead and closed her eyes. She took two deep breaths and opened them again.
“I can do some, but he’s in bad shape. Rose, go get some water, warm if you’ve got it, and a few towels. We’ll clean him up and put him to bed, and I’ll come see him tomorrow again.”
“He’ll be alright?” She hated how much she needed to hear Moira agree. Her whole world shouldn’t hinge on whether this man lived or died, on whether he’d be crippled or not.
“I think so, yes.”
Rose got up and ran for the kitchen.