“Well, you three certainly have your heads close together,” Lucy commented as she neared them. “Is all well?”
He tightened the last of Mara’s saddle straps. “All’s well,” he said, his eyes averted. He could feel Lucy watching him. She was a great friend and cohort, but sometimes she thought that her way was the only way. Moreover, she’d do anything she felt proper to protect the twins—and it was just too bad for anyone who contradicted her.
“I’ll get her now,” Basha said.
“Oh, here’s Adele,” Therese said, “with Jules, Nina, and their little ones. It looks like everyone is coming out to see you two off,” she said to Dixon.
“Well, it is rather unusual—” Lucy commented.
“Stop it,” Dixon interrupted her. “Mara needs a break and she deserves one. Besides, we’ll be back before you know it.”
“Oh look! Fidel and Leala are coming as well,” Therese exclaimed, cutting Lucy off.
Jules, Nina, and their two youngest, reached the group just as Basha stepped out of the infirmary with Mara and the twins.
The children ran to Mara.
“Careful, careful,” Basha said.
Caden frowned. “But Mama says she’s all right now.”
“She is. She’s fine. But we must be careful.”
Calandra took Mara’s hand. Her dark eyes looked up at her. “Are you good now?”
Smiling, Mara crouched down. She couldn’t know that Calandra loved her dearly, that she followed her around like a shadow, and that she’d been nearly sick with worry for her. “I’m well,” she said. “Who’re—”
“Oh look!” Basha interrupted. “Jules and Nina want to see you off, as well.” She motioned toward the children. “Come on Caden. Come on Calandra.”
Mara patted first one of them, then the other, on the head. “Aren’t you lovely?”
Nina stepped up. She leaned in to embrace her friend. For a moment, Mara seemed taken aback, but she returned the gesture.
“I hope you get back soon,” Nina said, tears glistening in her eyes.
Mara smiled, but said nothing.
Leala and Fidel each spoke to Mara briefly, wishing her a safe trip.
“You ready to go then?” Dixon asked as he turned her way. In that moment he was thrown back in his memory with an impact that nearly took his breath away. It was to the time, just after he and Mara had learned that because they’d both sworn a life oath to protect the twins, and because Ehyeh had confirmed both of their oaths, they could marry after all. Mara’s response to Dixon’s question then had been, “So long as you go with me.” It had become a habit of theirs over the years, when coming and going, to question and answer one another in that manner. Dixon watched her closely for any sign of recognition.
There was none. She simply nodded. If anyone noticed that she failed to respond to him in her usual manner, they said nothing.
Lucy stepped to her side. “Well, Mara, I can’t say that I exactly understand this—”
“Lucy,” Dixon cautioned.
She glanced at him and sighed. “Well, have a good trip then.”
“Thank you,” Mara said.
“All right,” Dixon said, “we’re ready here.”
The twins approached.
“Come back soon,” Reigna said. She embraced her Oathtaker tightly. When she released her, a single tear dropped down her cheek.
Mara’s brow fell. She tipped her head and narrowed her eyes as she watched, then wiped the young woman’s tears away with the edge of her thumb.
Then Eden hugged Mara. “We’ll miss you,” she said.
Mara stroked her cheek.
Dixon watched, mesmerized. It was the same mannerism she’d always displayed with the girls. Maybe she’s remembering something . . .
“I’m ready,” she said.
No, I guess not.
He helped her into her saddle and then prepared himself to go. Turning to the others, he nodded. Noting that Mara faced away from the group, he asked her quietly, “Can you wave at them all?”
She turned, raised her hand, and then waved “good-bye.”
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