11/06/2023 NaNoWriMo 2023, DIG TWO GRAVES: 1147/13109.

Special miracle. I spent a large part of the day cleaning and getting things put away from Halloween. Even 1147 words was tricky to schedule.

“My uncle took me in when my parents were killed in a stampede. He was the one who put me on my first horse, but it was my cousin who made sure I knew how to ride and keep it. They were fine men. Peaceable men, too. It takes a good bit to make an Anderson feud, Dead-Eye, and my uncle wouldn’t stand for raiding. Plenty of critters out there who’d eat our flocks if they could, he say. Take a slap at them if you’re feeling ornery.” She stared at the fire. “So when word came, about three months ago, that riders had taken a cow of ours, and threw a bag of coppers on the ground at the herd bossman’s feet, he sent for my uncle to smooth things over.”

“That surprises me,” I admitted. “A cow’s worth silver, or maybe gold. Giving cheap coins instead is stealing with a sneer. I’ve heard you Andersons were good-hearted, but only a fool provokes a generous man. That act was worth at least a brawl, and nobody could say afterward you didn’t have reason.”

Marigold shook her head. “It wasn’t that simple. The riders were led by a wizard. One the bossman couldn’t face on his own.” She nodded at my sudden start. “Yeah. My uncle and cousin, they were strong in magic, and they knew wizards could be touchy. The sept thought they could make the riders back down, once they realized that they weren’t the only ones who could throw spells around if things got fierce.

“Only, they didn’t come back from meeting the wizard. When Big Boss Anderson realized something was wrong, he sent more riders — with scouts hanging back, in case it was contagious. They found my uncle and cousin burned to a crisp, and all their gear, too. In front of each corpse was a bag. Full of gold, this time — and with a note pinned to one that said, Men cost more than cows.”