"Go outside and play," I said to Dominic who was kicking a piece of wood around on the floor. "Take your sister with you, and stay by the house."
Dominic grabbed Lucy by the hand, and the two of them rushed out of the house. I opened my mouth to remind them not to let the outer door slam, but the wooshing sound of the mesh was faster than my words. At least we don't have a baby in the house anymore, I thought, shaking my head.
"I don't like that look on your face." My wife, Helena, had been chopping vegetables at the kitchen table when I came in. She lowered her head and resumed her work. When I didn't immediately respond, she added, "Don't stall, Lukas."
"The Holts are leaving," I said, rubbing the back of my neck. Helena stopped chopping vegetables again, looking up.
"They were just as adamant about staying as you have been. What changed their minds?"
A corner of my upper lip raised in a crooked smile. There was going to be no easy way to say this. "An arrow struck one of their cows in the outer part of their field."
The implication was obvious, but she had to confirm. "From across the Blue?"
Trying to save some face, I did not directly answer her question. "Iberan soldiers quickly took care of it, so no further harm was done."
Helena took several deep breaths, staring at the wall opposite her. "They're getting bolder," she observed, her eyes glazed over.
Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of a galloping horse. Moments later Dominic yelled, telling us that someone was coming toward the house. As I stepped onto the porch, I waved, instantly recognizing the form of Jon Hanway.
"Jon," I said once he had dismounted, "it has been a long time since you have been this direction." Jon smiled, and I added, "It's always good to see you, of course."
"You too," Jon replied and bowed his head slightly as Helena joined me on the porch. "And you, Mrs. Cotton."
"I've told you a hundred times. Call me Helena."
"You may not want to be so familiar once I deliver the message." Jon pulled a letter from the inside of his jacket. "Lukas, you're being called into duty."
I took the letter from him, opened it and began reading. Jon spoke to Helena. "It shouldn't be too long. Just a building project for the camp going up near here."
Helena was always one to say what was on her mind, skipping generalities. "Are we going to war?"
"How far it goes, I cannot say," Jon replied. "But, we are going to start stepping up efforts. I think you would agree that it is time for this side of the river to be safe once again."
I looked up from the letter and smiled crookedly again, my thoughts anxious for the future.