Shane had often breakfasted with the Parrs. He lived near the docks, so Brock’s home was more-or-less on his way to Ironbound. He would leave his flat, set out north on Old Briar Road, veer east on Pike Street and—after breakfast, with Brock at his side—head west on Pike, up to the Ridge. From there it was about half a mile’s walk north to the Ironbound complex, where the Watch kept its headquarters
But he had seldom been at Brock’s home for the pre-breakfast rituals. Katie woke up first—she was up before a single cock crowed in the city, Shane was sure of it—and she wanted the entire household up with her. Shane yawned and gave up trying to block out the sound of her excited cries; it was dawn anyway. Almost.
Devon groaned from underneath his blankets. “I forgot what it’s like to be woken up by Katie the Terrible.”
Shane grinned as he sat up. “When have you had the chance? She wasn’t even born when you left for University.”
“I came back for a holiday last summer, right after the treaty with Sullane.”
“Ah. The white heads at Ironbound had sent me over there to help re-establish their Watch. That ate up three months of my life.”
“I know.” Devon let out an exaggerated sigh. “I was devastated not to see you.”
“Well, you’ll see plenty of me today.” Shane stood up and started folding his blankets. “You’re still coming with me to my flat?”
“Yes.” He crawled out from under the covers and then lowered his voice. “And shall we pay a visit to my brother’s creditors as well?”
“I assumed that was the plan. I noted them all last night.”
“Good. Are you going to tell Brock what we did, or let him find out on his own?”
“What I did.” Shane finished the folding and set the blankets aside. Then he turned to the chamber pot to relieve himself. “You’re an innocent in this, remember? And I’ll tell him as soon as we get back—it will already be too late for him to stop me.”
“True.” Devon yawned. “Meanwhile, I suppose we can go downstairs and see what needs doing.”
Shane was sponged off and dressed before Devon. He thought he might be the first downstairs, but Tammy was already sitting with Katie on the floor near the fireplace. She was valiantly trying to teach the toddler to card wool. Katie was giggling as she smashed one of the carding paddles against the floor. Tammy looked torn between laughter and exasperation.
The young woman didn’t look particularly chastised. Well, Brock probably hadn’t said much to her—he was leaving that to Emma.
“Morning Tammy,” Shane said. “Morning Katie.”
Tammy smiled up at him. “Good morning.”
Katie dropped the paddle, pushed herself up and ran straight to him. He grinned as he swept her up into his arms.
“Hair!” she said, grabbing hold of his.
Shane winced. “Yes, that’s my hair. Gentle, Katie, remember? Your Uncle Devon will be down soon to see you—I’m going to hand you straight over to him.” He paused to turn back to Tammy. “What’s Brock’s least favorite chore in the morning?”
“Chopping firewood,” she answered at once. “He hates it. The logs are already here, in the shed out back.”
“I’ll tackle that, then.” He cringed as Katie tugged extra hard. “Katie, where’s your hair? Where’s Katie’s hair?”
Miraculously, that worked. She let go of his and started patting her own.
“Good girl! Ah, look. Here’s Uncle Devon.”
“Yes, here I am!” he said, smiling as came down the last step. “Do you remember me, Katie?”
She shrank back, so it seemed she didn’t. Devon’s face fell as Shane ended up handing her back to Tammy.
“Just sit with us a bit,” Tammy advised him, “You need to get reacquainted. It won’t take long—you’ll see.”
“And don’t take it to heart,” Shane added. “She forgot about me too when I was in Sullane.”
“Did she? That’s oddly encouraging.” He sat down cross-legged by the fireplace. “What’s this, Katie?” he asked as he picked up one of the paddles. “Are they teaching you to card wool already?”
Shane laughed as he headed out back. “Why not? She’s eighteen months old—high time she started contributing to the household.”
Shane had never minded chopping wood. If you went about it the right way, the ax did all the work. You didn’t heave the thing or even swing it down. You simply lifted it up and allowed the head to fall. It was tricky at first, but it never took Shane long to find his rhythm and control the fall.
Still, he was sweating before he was partway through. He paused to wipe his brow, and found Nancy—at eleven, she was Brock’s eldest—peering at him from the doorway.
“Good morning,” he called out.
She smiled at him as her nimble fingers smoothed the yarn of the drop spindle she was carrying. “Morning, Uncle Shane. May I ask you something?”
He nodded, and she walked closer, sensibly keeping just out of the range where she might be struck by a stray piece of kindling. But that was Nancy for you—one of the practical ones.
She looked up at him as she spread her skirts and sat cross-legged on the ground. She favored her father, with his dark hair and dark eyes and prominent nose. Like Devon, though, she had a mass of curls. “I—I don’t understand what happened,” she said. “You belong to Da now?”
Shane raised the ax again and let it fall. “Yes,” he said. “You know about the trial, don’t you?”
“Uh-huh. Mam told me and Alice, but she said the boys were too young. And Katie, too.”
“Yes, I figured that.” He paused. “Well, I was convicted and sentenced to hang. But I chose to be handed over to Obsidian—he spared my life and commuted the sentence to slavery instead. His high priest gave me to your father.”
“Oh. Are you angry with my Da?”
He chose to evade that question rather than answer it directly. “This situation isn’t his fault.”
“But he’s the one who arrested you. And he test—testif—um, talked against you to the judges. I heard my Mam say so.”
“Testified,” Shane supplied. “But he wasn’t the only one. There was another witness who saw me standing over the body. Corporal Horton.”
“Mam said he didn’t matter so much as Da did.”
“True.” He shook his head a little, remembering Horton’s faltering testimony. “Well, your Da had his reasons. I respect them, even if I would have acted differently. Your father and I—we’ll always be like brothers, Nance. I promise you that. We may bicker now and then, but I still love the ba—I still love the man.”
She smiled again. “The bastard. That’s what you were going to say.”
He smiled back. “Yes, but you shouldn’t repeat it.”
“But you’re not going to tell on me.”
She held the drop spindle up high so that she could let it fall, and then started smoothing the new yarn again. “Will you still work for the Watch?”
He let the ax drop again. “Mayhap. I can’t be an officer any more, though.”
“Then, um, what will happen to your regimentals?”
He set the ax aside and grinned. “Ah, so that’s what this is about!”
It was a mark of honor for a girl to wear the regimentals of her husband, father or other male relative. Shane wasn’t sure how the tradition began, but even Emma wore Brock’s regimentals in place of her short gown—right over her shift and stays—on his days off.
Nancy was giving him a look that was half hopeful and half ready to be disappointed. “Are you going to give yours to my Da? He can’t afford a new one.”
“I know,” Shane said. “But mine are too small for him. So now I have two coats I can’t use. What should I do with them?”
She widened her eyes at him like a puppy dog. “Please?”
He laughed and nodded. “The coat’s upstairs in Devon’s room, hanging from his desk chair. It’s all yours. I’ll collect my spare later and give it to your sister.”
“Katie’s too young.”
Shane rolled his eyes. “You know I meant Alice. Go on and fetch the coat before I change my mind.”
She laughed as she sprang up and rushed back inside. Shane watched her running on her bare feet, shouting in triumph as she tossed the spindle into its basket and dashed for the stairs.
He shook his head and picked up the ax again. Well, if nothing else, he seemed to be a successful uncle.