“Mara . . .” Dixon shook her arm. “Mara.”
Her eyes flashed open. Momentarily confused, she focused on her surroundings, then yawned and stretched her arms over her head.
“The sun will rise in an hour. We need to go.”
She stood. The chair had been her resting place for the night. When she’d awakened briefly in the deep hours, she’d placed the girls in the cradle that Maggie had prepared. Then she’d fallen promptly back to sleep and the girls hadn’t awakened her to feed. She rubbed her stiff neck.
The twins stirred. Reigna wore a newborn’s smile. Eden twitched.
“I’ll need to feed them. Do you know where they keep the goat milk?”
“Here.” Dixon handed her a cup of milk. “There’s a cooling cellar beneath the front step. I took enough for a few more feedings, and a chunk of ice. We’ll have to be careful if it’s to last the day.”
She put some milk to warm in a small pan over the hearth fire. She took her time soaking in the heat, as the morning was a cool one. Then she tended to the children.
By the time Eden finished eating, Drake and Maggie were awake and the Oathtakers were ready to go.
“Take this.” Maggie handed Mara a package of fresh bread, meat and cheese. “It’ll be some time before you find a village of any size. You’re sure to get hungry on the way.”
Mara received the food with thanks.
Dixon shook Drake’s hand. “I can’t thank you enough.”
“Don’t mention it.” The old man’s hair, if possible, was in even greater disarray than the evening before. “We were delighted to have you. We don’t often get visitors in these parts. Now don’t be a stranger. We’ll look to see you around again soon. And you,” he said to Mara, “take good care of those little ones.”
“Thank you, Drake, for everything,” she said.
“Now don’t forget what I said about your milk coming in,” Maggie whispered to Mara. “You just relax and everything will be fine.”
The Oathtaker nodded. There was no need to correct the woman’s mistake. It might be better if people believed the girls were her own. There would be fewer explanations to make that way. “Thank you, Maggie, I will.” She approached Dixon. “Do you think they’ll be in any danger because of our stopping here?” she asked quietly.
He tipped his head in the affirmative.
“Is there anything we can do? It seems poor recompense for their kindness.”
“Welcome to the life of an Oathtaker. Sometimes we do what we have to do.”
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