But for the sounds of chairs scraping against the floor as attendees moved to get a better view, the room went still. While Mara led meetings sitting in the midst of the others, so as to encourage everyone to participate as equals, Lucy always addressed the group from her position of authority—real or imagined.
“Very well then,” she continued as the sounds died away. “Given that Carlie is still missing, and in view of Mara and Dixon having . . . left the compound,” she began with a raise of her brow, “I thought we should review where we stand with our defenses.” She looked about, finally settling her gaze on Jules. “Jules, would you be kind enough to report where things stand?”
He stood, then glanced back at Nina whose eyes welled with tears. “Well,” he said quietly, shuffling his feet, “we’ve found no signs whatsoever, of Carlie.”
A hush came over the room. Everyone sympathized with Jules and Nina over their missing sixteen-year-old Carlie. They didn’t know if she was lost in the forest, or if perhaps, she’d fallen or suffered some other injury. They all knew that the likelihood she’d be found alive lessened by the day.
He swallowed hard, “Further, we’ve experienced numerous intrusions on the north side. As you all know, Mara was injured the other day during one of those raids. The enemy seems to be getting more forceful over time. Samuel and a dozen guards are keeping an eye on that end, and Broden and I are reviewing all of our defenses. In fact, that’s why he’s missing this evening.”
He looked toward Reigna and Eden. “Before he left, Dixon and I discussed our primary concerns. We fear the incursions from the north may just be a ruse to misdirect us, so that some intruders might make their way nearer the inner compound from another direction.”
“And what are your plans in that regard?” Lucy asked.
“Well, for one thing, I thought we should move Reigna and Eden into the cabin with Nina and me.”
The twins shared a glance.
“That would leave your living space at a bare minimum,” Marshall said.
“Yes, but it would put the twins under our more immediate protection. So it would be for the best.” Jules sat down.
“No,” Reigna said.
Everyone looked her way.
Lucy sighed. “Reigna, we’re just trying to do what’s best for you.”
“At the expense of Jules and Nina’s privacy and space? I don’t think so.”
“Truly, we don’t mind,” Nina said.
“We know you don’t mind and . . . we love you too, Nina,” Eden said, smiling, “but that won’t work for us.” She watched as her childhood nanny’s expression fell. “You know we adore you and your children, but . . . it wouldn’t be fair to them to have the two of us also sharing your limited space.”
Lucy’s eyes danced around the room, apparently looking for someone who would speak up to the twins, but now that they’d asserted themselves, it seemed no one cared to challenge them.
“Perhaps you have a better idea in mind?” she then asked them, her voice filled with displeasure.
“We’ll stay by ourselves,” Eden said. “We’ll be fine.”
“I don’t like it. It’s not safe.”
Basha turned to the twins. “Lucy does have a point.”
Reigna opened her mouth to contest, but before she could speak, Basha held her hand out to silence her. “But so do you. Perhaps Therese and I could move into your cabin with you.”
“That hardly seems fair,” Eden said. “Just because Mara and Dixon are away doesn’t mean that we should have to put others out.”
“Let’s table that discussion for the time being,” Lucy said. She turned back to Jules. “What about stationing a regular guard just outside the inner compound? Perhaps . . . eight or ten of them. They could continually make their way around the perimeter, keeping an eye on things, and we could have them relieved every—”
“Actually,” Jules said as he stood again, interrupting her, “I’ve already put such a plan in place. The guards got started this evening. They’ll change out every four hours, so they’ll stay fresh and alert.”
“Excuse me?” Eden said.
“Yes?” Lucy asked.
“Well, it’s just that we’ve been here for years and rarely has anyone ever breached the compound perimeter before. What do you suppose is causing this now?”
“Aside from the obvious, you mean?”
Lucy looked from one of the twins to the other. “Well, as you both well know, you are the subject of years of efforts to undermine the Select and to bring harm to Oosa. When you’re ready to take your rightful places, you’ll lead the first family of the Select and the Council—along with Mara’s assistance.”
“So you say,” Reigna mumbled.
Lucy’s mouth opened and closed. “Wh—why would you say such a thing?”
“Never mind,” she said, exchanging a glance with her twin. She looked back at Lucy. “In any case, we should know more about these encroachments, don’t you think? What if we took the intruders hostage? Questioned them?”
“Yes,” Lucy agreed, her confusion over Reigna’s earlier comment still visible on her face, “we’ve discussed that possibility, but have had no luck capturing anyone. That’s why I think we should send some people out, away from the compound, to see what they can uncover.”
“I agree,” Velia said. “If we could get to the heart of these trespasses, we could better defend ourselves and protect Reigna and Eden.”
“That’s what I think,” Lucy said.
“Therese and I could go,” Basha said.
“How about Daker and me?” asked Declan, a member of the Select, offering his services as well as those of his Oathtaker.
“Or, my charge, Ellian, and I could go,” suggested Farrell, another camp resident.
“Actually, we can’t send any Select on the venture I’m contemplating,” Lucy said. “So, I was thinking of Marshall and Jerrett.”
All eyes rested on the two men.
“I could go along,” Velia offered.
“No,” Jerrett said. “You can go, or I can go, but not both of us. Someone needs to stay with our boys.”
“Of course.” Velia paused. “Well, since Marshall seems the right choice, then I think you should accompany him.”
“That’s particularly true when you consider where they’ll be going,” Lucy said.
Jerrett and Marshall spoke as one. “And that is?”
“Chiran!” Jerrett exclaimed, sitting up straighter.
“Based on my studies, it makes the most sense. I’ve spoken with Fidel, as well.” Lucy nodded in his direction. “We’ve discussed the prophecies. Chiran is almost certainly the origin of these incursions.” She paused for effect. “So, I’m hoping you and Marshall will agree to go there.”
“And do what?”
“For starters—infiltrate. Get information. But we—the three of us—can discuss the particulars more fully later. In the meantime, I think we should give some thought as to how many Select and Oathtakers remain in Oosa. Aside from the few hundreds of us here, that is.”
“What do you propose?” Velia asked.
Therese stood. “I recommend that Basha and I take a trip. I think we should go to the palace. No one has been there for years. Rightfully, it should be prepared for . . . Well, in the event the twins,” she said, glancing their way, “might want to return to their ancestral home one day. We could go straight there, then when we head back this way, stop in at sanctuary in the City of Light. Perhaps we can get into the official records—”
“The palace?” Basha interrupted. “But, Therese, we don’t even know what’s going on there any more. And the last anyone there knew, you were dead.”
Therese smirked. “Yes, well the accounts of my demise were greatly exaggerated, as you well know.” She hesitated. “The truth is, I’d like to see the old place. I miss it. And as I said, the girls may want to return there one day.” She turned back to Lucy. “I think we’re the right ones for this.”
“Not only do I agree with your plan,” Lucy said, “but I was going to recommend something along those lines.”
“We’ll prepare to leave immediately then.”
“Excuse me?” Fidel said.
“Yes?” Lucy asked.
“Ahhh . . . I’ve been meaning to speak with you about this . . .”
“Well, I’ve noticed some . . . phenomena . . . worthy of our attention.”
He shuffled his feet. “The moons. Something unusual is happening.” He hesitated. “There’s a prophecy I’ve been studying.”
He glanced at the twins, then quickly averted his eyes.
“Yes?” Lucy repeated.
He cleared his throat. “The moons are . . . aligning in an unusual manner.”
“So there’s a prophecy I believe is coming into play.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
He hesitated, cleared his throat, then spoke: “‘When the ladies look prepared to align, Ehyeh shall call for a testi—’”
“That’s enough!” she ordered, cutting the old man off. She grasped the corner of the table, steadying herself. All the color had drained from her face.
His eyes narrowed. “But there’s more.”
“I said, ‘that’s enough.’” She cleared her throat. “We’ll discuss this another time. Understood?”
“Ahhh . . . certainly.”
“Well,” she said, as she regained her composure, then looked at the twins, “I guess we’re back to what we should do with the two of you.”
“It’s not necessary,” Reigna said, waving her hand in dismissal.
“No, I’ve decided. I’m going to move in with you.”
For a long moment, no one spoke.
“We’d be . . . honored,” Eden finally said.
Reigna locked eyes with her twin, conveying her displeasure.
Though all was quiet, several attendees smirked.
“Always the diplomat, that Eden,” Marshall whispered shortly before he took a forkful of his peach and blackberry pie. “Mmmmm,” he then said, loud enough and long enough for everyone to hear, “great pie!”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish