Mara sat up straighter. She put her teacup down. “Clarimonde, we found the bodies of some dead children on our way here. What might you know of that?”
She rose to her feet. “Dead? Oh, goodness, such a tragedy.” Slowly, she sat back down.
“Yes. Have you any idea what might have happened? What’s going on around these parts?”
Vida sighed. “I wish I’d known about those you found. Perhaps we could have . . . Well, all I can tell you is that we’ve seen to the needs of many young ones over the past few years. I guess word has spread that they’ll be safe here. Often they arrive nearly on death’s door.”
“So, do you think those we found may have been on their way here?”
She shrugged. “It’s possible. Or, to be more accurate, it’s likely.”
“Is that a good idea, do you think?” Dixon interrupted. “To encourage the children to come this way? The dangers out there—”
“What else can we do?” Vida asked. “At least they’ve some chance of survival if they make their way here.”
“I see,” Mara said, looking down. She bit her lip, then glanced up again. “Well, if it weren’t for the children, Vida, would you agree to go to Shimeron with us?”
“Sure. I mean, I suppose.”
“Then I think I’ve got the solution.”
The twins turned Mara’s way.
“What’s that?” Eden asked.
“I suggest we take them all with us,” she said.
“But . . . what would we do with them all?” Lucy asked.
Reigna sat up straighter. “They’ll stay with us at the palace,” she said.
“I agree,” Eden added.
“Girls,” Lucy cautioned, “we’ve not the resources to care for orphans.”
“But we’d have Vida and Clarimonde—and they’ve already been caring for them. What else do we need?”
“Wait,” Vida interrupted, “there are more than thirty with us now, and new ones arrive regularly. If we leave, there’d be no one left for them here.”
Mara stood and walked to a window overlooking the yard. Several children ran and chased one another. The eldest appeared not more than ten years old, the youngest, likely about four. One of the older girls stood off to the side helping a little one, brushing dirt from her scraped knee.
She turned back to the group. “I suggest we leave a couple Oathtakers here in the event more show up,” she said. She paused, cocking her head. “Vida, where are they all coming from? The children, I mean? And what drives them here?”
“Most are from this province, a few from farther out. Some are children whose parents have abandoned them. Then, of course, there are those who’ve made their way here from Chiran.”
“They are refugees.”
“I see.” Mara turned Dixon’s way. “Perhaps Chaya, a Chiranian herself, would like to help with the children when we get to the palace.” Then she addressed Vida again. “Would you be willing to go if we took the children with us and left someone here for those who might arrive later? They could get them to the palace, or to some other place of safety.”
“Please,” Reigna urged.
Grinning at her sister, Vida nodded her agreement.
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