They reached the village a candlemark later. “Evan, good morning.” One of the villagers waved to Evan. “Who did you bring in today?”
“My son in law Paskal and my niece Sorcha,” Evan said.
“The girl with the lame leg?” the villager asked.
“It’s not entirely lame,” Evan said. “She has use of it. She’s been cooped up on the freehold for the last several lunari and wanted a break from it.”
“Well, keep her close. There are some strangers in town and I don’t like the looks of them,” the villager said.
“Strangers?” Evan asked.
“Imperial soldiers with gray cloaks,” the villager said. “There’s only two of them now but they said that there’ll be more coming soon. They’re looking for those possessed by demons. They’re supposed to be hunting for people with some strange mark on them. Something like a spider web I think they said.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Evan said. He looked over his shoulder. “Sorcha, don’t leave the cart. Don’t talk to the soldiers unless they approach you. Play dumb.”
“Yes Uncle Evan,” Sorcha said. She shrugged her shoulders, feeling her shirt brush against the strange birthmark that reminded her of a twisted spider web.
“Evan, what’s wrong?” Paskal asked.
“We get our supplies and we get back to the farm,” Evan said. “We don’t linger today.”
“Yes Evan,” Paskal said.
They hurried through their errands, speaking only with those who stopped them. Everyone in the village seemed on edge and no one was gossiping as openly as they usually did. Sorcha saw the two soldiers her uncle’s friend mentioned swaggering through the streets.
“You there. We haven’t seen you in town before this,” one of the soldiers said, accosting Evan as he loaded sacks of grain into the back of the cart. “Why is that?”
“I own a freehold a few miles out of the village,” Evan said. “I only come in once a lunar to get supplies and to trade.”
“Well then you won’t know this. We’re here hunting for demons. We’ll be checking your freehold when the rest of our company gets here in a lunar,” the man said. “I hope for your sake you aren’t sheltering one of the demons when we come out there. If you are, your whole family will die.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Evan said.
Once they were out of town, Evan started swearing. “Uncle Evan,” Sorcha began.
“Hush Sorcha,” Evan said.
“What’s wrong?” Paskal asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Evan said. “Paskal, don’t talk about this conversation to anyone on the farm. I’ll tell Noemi but this isn’t anything to worry the others with.”
“If that’s what you want, Evan,” Paskal said.
“Now be silent. I need to think about this,” Evan said.
The ride back to the farm was quiet. Sorcha’s thoughts ran in circles. She was a threat to her family. The birthmark marked her as demon possessed to these men and she would be killed for it. She couldn’t let her family die to protect her but she couldn’t see any way for her to escape.
They reached the freehold. Paskal and Evan started unloading the cart. Sorcha slowly climbed out and went to the house. “Sorcha, good timing. Can you bring the laundry in?”
“Yes Aunt Noemi,” Sorcha said. She automatically grabbed the basket and headed out to the lines without thinking about it. Her mind was still on the encounter in the village.
“Stop thinking about it,” Evan said as he passed her. “We’ll take care of it.” Sorcha nodded but her mind continued to churn.
“I’m taking the cart back to Olaf,” Evan said. “Anyone want to come with me?”
“I’ll go,” Eduard said.
“Is your work done?” Evan asked.
“Yes it is,” Eduard said.
“He’s done, father,” Catriona said.
“Then go ahead and climb on,” Evan said. “Noemi, when I get back we need to talk.”
“All right, Evan,” Noemi said. Evan clucked at the horses and headed out to return the cart.