The ground was still frozen when the war started. Edri thought her mind was still numb as well, when that was the first thought that rose to consciousness after she saw the notices pinned up around town. There were long weeks before the earth would thaw enough for them to drive a spade into. Long weeks before they could start the planting and by then hundreds of able hands would already have left for the borders. Fewer workers, but they would seed as much ground as they could, eager for whatever extra they could get in the coming seasons.
Edri pulled her scarf tighter around her head and kept walking through the main square, as if she hadn’t thought anything at all.
The ground was still hard. She could feel it as soon as she left the cobbles on the far side of the square. Her heels thunked against the dirt. She imagined taking a hundred steps, two hundred, then a thousand, day after day, marching to the front lines. She imagined the ache that would work up from the heel, into the knee, wrap around the spine. Hard earth, and heavy steps in new boots, weighed down by gear. Eventually, the soldiers would be carrying their pain in their shoulders, along with every other scrape and gouge they collected.
Their fingers would shake in the cold. Or fumble, thick inside their gloves.
Edri clasped her hands tighter around the handle of her basket. Turning, she crossed the market street, nodding vaguely to anyone who wasn’t occupied in their own thoughts. Then she slipped onto her street and kept moving toward home.
There was no season that could dampen the smell of blood. It always hung, metallic, on every breeze. But rot was quieter in winter, and dying came on calmer as the cold sank in through damp cuts.
It was harder to fight for that last breath.
The ground was too hard to drive a spade into. But they would fight for every inch, dig as deep as they could until their blisters tore and their arms gave up everything they had left after the battle. Because not digging the graves would bruise them deeper.
Edri stamped her feet on the front mat to clean off her boots, and pushed inside.
The twins were inside. Aron sprawled out on the couch, his book hung over his head in one hand, as usual. Kenna sat on the floor, one knee up, refitting something in the leather straps of the bridle. Her fingers moved quickly, almost fidgeting as she worked. He tapped his toes against the padded arm of the couch.
Setting her basket down, Edri turned to fix both of them with a steady look.
“Both of you are staying home,” she told them. The iron in her tone made them both blink and sit up straight. Aron looked at her blankly. Kenna’s eyes narrowed just a little. “You will not leave before Spring.”
Kenna glanced at Aron.
Aron gave her the tiniest shrug, then faced Edri. “All right.”
“Where would we go?” Kenna asked.
Satisfied, Edri smiled at them, and turned back her basket. One item at a time, she unloaded morning’s goods onto the table. It didn’t matter that they didn’t understand yet. They would hear about the war soon enough.
But they would be here for long weeks yet.