“Well, as you probably figured out, she is—was,” he corrected himself, then swallowed hard, “the ranking member of the first family of the Select.”
“I had picked up on that, yes.”
“Her mother, Mae, was a third. Mae wanted to see the old days return. She had six children—six daughters. Then a number of years passed. Finally she became pregnant with Rowena.
“Rowena took her role, her position, both as the ranking member of the first family and the only living seventh, very seriously. She planned for her own seven daughters. Well, I guess that’s seven plus one daughters. Her husband, Grant, was not of the Select. But of course—”
“Being a member of the Select follows the mother’s line. So the twins are Select.”
“Yes, that’s right.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Anyway he, Grant that is, died just after Rowena got pregnant with the girls.”
“We were never sure.”
“No one could heal him?”
“No. Well maybe they could have, but no healer made it to him in time.”
“Poor Rowena. She must have been devastated.”
“Yes, she loved him very much.” He closed his eyes in his reverie.
Mara watched him closely. Had it been hard on him to know that Rowena loved another?
“Are her parents still living? Mae and—what was his name? And what of her sisters?”
“Her parents, Max and Mae, are both deceased. Three of Rowena’s sisters: Eve, a first; Dianna, a second; and Therese, a third; have fallen to assassins. But the others: Janine, a fourth; Sally, a fifth; and Lilith, a sixth, are still living. They’re at the palace in Shimeron.”
He was quiet for a minute. “Rowena studied history and prophecy. She believed, as many do, that a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter would one day be born, and that she would be the best hope for bringing back the ‘golden days’ of the Select and restoring Ehyeh’s ways. She believed evil forces were at work in the world. She thought the people had moved too far from the beliefs and standards of Oosa’s founders.”
“How did you end up here?”
Dixon sat with one elbow on his knee and with his chin resting in his palm. “Rowena heard rumors of plans, perhaps among those close to her, to destroy her. So we left Shimeron shortly after Grant died. That was about six months ago. We have . . . that is, we had, been on the run ever since.”
They sat quietly as the fire crackled and crickets sang.
“So,” Mara finally prodded, “then what?”
“Like I said, we were on the run. Rowena had a destination in mind, but didn’t want to lead anyone to it. The day the twins were born, we knew our pursuers were close. A mountain lion attacked one of our horses just days prior. It slowed us down. She was very frightened.”
He stoked up the coals. “I think the fear may have caused her to go into labor early. That, and I suppose she was likely to anyway, given that there were two children and not just the one anticipated.” He looked at Mara. “Two children! It’s unheard of among the Select.”
She nodded and motioned with her hand for him to continue.
“In any case, I found her a safe place—or what I thought was a safe place—then turned back to where the assassins trailed us. I guess they’d called upon the powers of Sinespe for the grut, but I didn’t know that when I left her side.”
He told about how he’d shot at the men. “I was really too far away to get in a good shot and they took refuge behind rocks and boulders, but at a minimum, I hoped to confuse them as to our whereabouts.” He paused, his eyes closed. “I didn’t think I’d been gone long . . . Maybe a couple of hours or so? Then I returned.”
“And?” Mara asked gently after a minute or so.
“Suddenly, the earth shook. The sky changed color. I didn’t connect in that moment that its turning red meant that the ranking member of the Select had . . . I just thought that Rowena must’ve given birth and released her power. I found it puzzling because the ranking Select usually doesn’t do that until after his or her youngest has reached adulthood and found favor with Ehyeh. That way they know their children are ready to take on their responsibilities.
“But I figured that maybe she released her magic so she could put a cocoon of safety around herself and her infant for a time.” He looked up. “What I didn’t expect was that she would have had twins, or that I’d find you and that you would already have accepted them as your charge.” His eyes glistened with unshed tears. “In the end, I failed her,” he whispered.
“No, Dixon. Without your distracting those men, Rowena could not have born the girls. As it was, the grut nearly got to her. We all just did what we had to do.”
She snuggled Eden nearer. “I like to think that Ehyeh, the great giver of life, is in charge of us all, and that things turn out as He intends—that when we’re obedient to His ways in our efforts to further life and freedom, we’re following His plan for us.” For the first time in days, Mara’s tears ran freely.
“Just as you committed your life to Judith, and later to Rowena, Rowena committed her life to the Select and to the people of Oosa, and I’ve committed my life to these children. We’ve each done what we believed the Good One called us to do. Ehyeh couldn’t ask for more. Neither then, should you.”
He allowed for a moment of silence. “Now may I ask you a question?”
“I suppossssse,” she drawled.
“No fooling now. Was there really a full pack of grut?”
“Really and truly?”
“Truly, a full pack.”
He shook his head and laughed. “Honest to the Good One?”
“Honest to the Good One!”
Still shaking his head and grinning, he stood. He glanced into the darkness, then back her way. “Why don’t you get some rest now. I’ll keep watch.”
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