As dawn rose, a dozen guards left the main camp, once again heading out to search for Nina and Jules’s daughter, Carlie, in the outer reaches of the forest that surrounded much of the compound. At midday they returned empty handed.
Jules, who served as head of the compound guard, ordered another group out to continue the search, even as Dixon saddled two horses for his journey. Mara had rested most of the previous day, but became increasingly more insistent each time she awakened. She wanted to go home. He, Basha, and Therese, then spoke with her. They asked her to say very little to the others. At first, the request seemed to confuse her, but she agreed she’d play along so that Dixon could see her safely from the compound and back home. As to Lucy, the three arranged for her to visit Mara’s bedside only when she slept.
So far, so good, on that front, Dixon thought. Now if we can just keep the conversation to a minimum . . .
Looking up as some guards passed by him, he motioned for Jules to approach. “Anything?”
“No. No signs of Carlie.”
“I’m so sorry, Jules. I can’t imagine what could’ve happened to her.”
The man hung his head. “Yes, I know. We’ll keep searching. Nina is sick with worry and . . . Well, as you know, I can’t give up on my daughter.”
“No, of course not. I’m just sorry I won’t be here to help.”
Jules nodded. “Anyway, they did find three men who came in across the river on the north side. It’s the same place we figured they came in the day Mara was injured. But the intruders peppered our men with arrows and, in defense, they responded, killing them all.”
“So, you got no information from them then.”
“That’s right. I arranged for another contingent to make camp out that direction to keep an eye on things. Samuel agreed to lead the group.”
“Are you increasing the number of scouts in the other areas, so that an invasion from elsewhere doesn’t come as a surprise? The intrusions from the north may just be a ruse.”
Jules brushed away his wavy blond hair from his peacock green eyes. “We’ll take care of things here.” He set his jaw.
“The most important thing is to find Carlie,” Dixon said, tugging on a saddle strap. “But make sure the inner guard isn’t cut too thin. It’s important no one makes it to the interior.”
“Right.” Jules shuffled his foot in the sand, watching Dixon tighten another strap. “It’s unusual for Mara to leave her charges,” he said.
Dixon glanced his way. “Hmmm,” he muttered, then looked out. “Well, everyone needs to get away now and again. It seemed as good a time as any since, let’s face it, there is no good time. Mara’s confident in your ability to keep the compound—to keep the twins—safe.”
He reached down for a bag. Among other things, it carried Mara’s Oathtaker’s blade, so that it would be there for her when she got better and asked for it. He strapped the bag to his saddle, then tied another one, filled with clothing and personal effects for Mara, to her saddle.
Basha stepped out of the infirmary. “She’s ready to go.”
The next few minutes would be the most important. Above all, we have to keep Lucy in the dark, he communicated to his Oathtaker friend silently, by magic.
He turned to Jules. “We’ll be back as soon as possible.” He patted the man’s shoulder. “Thank you, my friend.”
“I won’t let you down.” Jules turned away. “I’ll let Nina know you’re leaving soon,” he said over his shoulder. “She and the little ones won’t want to miss saying ‘good-bye.’”
Dixon watched him walk away. He was proud and honored to call the likes of Jules and Samuel, his friends. He whispered to Basha. “Have Reigna and Eden caught on to anything?”
“I don’t think so. They do most of the talking, you know.” She grinned. “Mara pretty much just listens—which is good, since it’s difficult to get them to leave her side.”
They looked up to find Lucy headed their way, even as Therese stepped out of the infirmary.
Dixon’s eyes flashed from Lucy to Basha, and then rested on Therese as she came to his side. “Just do as much talking for Mara as you can,” he whispered. “And whatever else you do—do not let Lucy get her alone.”
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