The compound had been aflutter all morning. Jules called for an additional contingent to buttress their defenses on the north side. No sooner had he done so, than more intruders invaded from the south end, so he sent another group that way, frustrated that events got in the way of their search for Carlie. Several hours later, some of those who’d answered to the southern invasion, made their way back to the compound’s center after having left the remainder of their group behind. They kicked dust up into the hot, humid air.
Meanwhile, Marshall and Jerrett prepared to journey to Chiran, while Basha and Therese prepared for their trip to the palace of the Select at Shimeron and then to the City of Light. They packed bags, prepared their horses, collected foodstuffs, and planned and reviewed their itineraries.
With the others busy, the twins intended to stow away in the tree house that Mara and Dixon had built for them when they were little girls. During their childhood, it served as a lookout and place of fun and secrecy, though they’d abandoned it for more adult interests some years past. Now it would serve as a place where they could privately discuss their Oathtaker’s condition.
They watched the commotion for a time, through the dust swirling in the air. The horses’ clinking and clanking, as they made their way around camp, the swish-swish of guards sharpening their knives on honing steels, and the grunts and cries from ongoing defense training, sounded out. All the while, smoke from Adele’s kitchen chimneys tattled on good food to come later to those who waited.
Broden rode up on a grey gelding, dismounted, and then approached the twins. Engagingly handsome, tall and broad, he wore his shoulder length hair tied back with a leather strap. He brushed the dust from his forehead.
“Hey,” he greeted them with a dimpled smile, his dark eyes sparkling.
“Broden! We haven’t seen you for some time,” Reigna said.
“Yes,” her twin said. “Where’ve you been?”
“Busy.” He shuffled his feet in the sand. “Jules is teaching me some of the administrative tasks so that I can help him with our security needs.”
“He’s a real task master and a great tactician. Really he’s . . . brilliant.” Broden looked from one of his cousins to the other. “Where are you two off to?”
“Oh, just . . . looking for something to do,” Reigna said.
“Yes, everyone’s so busy today,” her sister said. “We’re supposed to train, but we begged off.”
He glanced around the compound, then back at the twins. His dimples flashed. “Did I hear right? That you went to Lucy’s meeting last night?”
“You did,” Reigna said, chuckling.
“I’ll bet Lucy was none too pleased.”
“She’ll get over it,” Eden said, shrugging.
He laughed. It was a pleasant, easy sound. “Well, I have to see Jules now. He asked for a report on the status of our proposed new defense program, and wants help coming up with a better plan for finding Carlie. Also, we’re experimenting with some crystals,” he said, referring to the magic crystals the Oathtakers made. “He’s looking for ways to make better shields for the compound perimeter.”
“I wish Lucy would let us help with the search,” Eden said. “Carlie must be frightened nearly to death. But all we do is train and study . . . train and study.”
“Your day will come.”
The sisters stood, silent.
“Are you two all right?”
Reigna’s eyes flashed up at him. “Sure. Why wouldn’t we be?”
His eyes narrowed. “You just don’t seem yourselves today.”
“Just missing Mara and Dixon,” Eden added.
“Of course. I understand.”
“We’ll see you later then, Broden.”
“Yes, see you later,” Reigna echoed.
With his horse’s reins in hand, he walked away, waving at his cousins.
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