“Oh, there you are!” he exclaimed. “Are you all right?”
“We’re fine, Warner. What’s wrong?” Reigna asked.
Warner, a young Oathtaker, shook his golden, sweat-streaked hair, then sighed. “Nothing. Lucy just has everyone in a frenzy.”
“She said she couldn’t find you.”
Reigna’s brow rose. “Goodness, we’ve been out of her sight for all of— What, Eden, a few minutes?”
“Well, I’d best get you to Lucy right away,” he said as he turned to go, motioning for them to follow.
“No,” Reigna said, standing firm.
Her twin looked at her. “There’s no sense—”
“No,” Reigna repeated. She grabbed her sister’s arm, and turned her away, so that Warner wouldn’t overhear her. “Look,”she said, “if we can’t be out of the woman’s sight for longer than a toddler from its mother, we’ll never get out of here.” She turned back to address the guard. “You can tell Lucy that you found us and that we’re fine. You can also tell her that we said we’ll not be treated this way.”
His eyes shifted from one of the young women to the other. “I’m not sure I can tell her that . . . exactly.”
Reigna lifted her chin. “Fine. Then tell her that we’re safe and well, and that we’ll be back when we get back.”
He grinned. “Well now, I’m not sure I can tell her that exactly, either.”
“Maybe we should just go,” her sister suggested.
“For what it’s worth,” Warner said, “I understand your frustration. But this is a battle you’re going to have to win on your own. I mean, I can bring Lucy whatever message you like, but I can tell you right now that she won’t hear it until she hears it from you.” He glanced toward the compound center. “And even then, it may take some repeating.”
Reigna rolled her eyes. “I suppose you’re right.”
“You want to come with me now, then?”
She sighed. “No. You can tell Lucy we’ll be there in a minute.”
He shuffled his feet.
“It’s all right, Warner. We’ll be right there,” Eden said.
He nodded, then rushed off. Moments later, in the distance, his shout sounded out. “They’re all right! I found them.”
Reigna looked at her sister. “This cannot go on.”
Eden pursed her lips. “You’re right, it can’t.”
They set out, walking.
“Well, the first thing we’re going to do, is let her know that this is unacceptable.”
“You’ll probably be wasting your breath,” Eden said.
Her sister stopped, mid-stride. “I’m not going to let her treat us like children any longer. Enough is enough.”
“I agree with you, of course.” Eden grabbed her twin’s arm, then started walking again. “But what can we do?”
They reached the compound center. There stood Lucy, with Warner. She turned to face the twins, her hands on her hips, her lips pursed in anger. A light sheen of perspiration glistened on her brow.
“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded.
The young women halted.
A long silent moment passed.
“That’s just what we were about to ask you,” Reigna finally said.
Lucy’s mouth dropped open. “Well, I never—”
“That’s right,” Eden interrupted. “You never give any thought to our wishes.”
The woman’s gaze shifted to Eden, even as a small crowd formed around them all. Marshall, Jerrett, Velia, Basha, Therese, Jules, and Broden, all approached.
“Look—” Lucy said.
“No, you look,” Reigna interrupted. “What do you think we are anyway? Your . . . children? Your minions to be ordered about? Your slaves?”
“Reigna,” Basha cautioned.
She didn’t turn her eyes from Lucy. “This has got to stop.”
Lucy frowned. “I need to know where you girls are so that we can keep you safe. With Carlie already missing, we haven’t the resources for further searches.”
Reigna’s eyes rested momentarily on each member of the gathered crowd, one by one. Finally, she turned back to Lucy. “We need to get something straight here,” she said. “Eden and I are not little children that require watching every moment.”
“No, of course you’re not children.” The woman’s displeasure was evident. “But—”
“No, Lucy, there are no ‘buts.’”
“What do you mean?”
Reigna let her breath out slowly, audibly. “Lucy, we appreciate everything you do for us—everything you’ve done for us. We appreciate the danger you’re willing to face for our benefit. We appreciate this place,” she said, indicating her surroundings with a wave of her hand, “but we are not going to respond to your every call. We are young women in our own right. Grown women. And we mean to be treated as such.”
Lucy tapped her foot.
Eden stepped forward. “Lucy, we love you. Really, we do. But this is not going to work.”
“That’s right,” Reigna said. “It seems you’ve done all this to ensure our safety and to help us to learn about the positions of authority we’re to assume one day. Well, you should know that we’ve decided to take on those positions, effective immediately.”
“That’s impossible.” Lucy turned away, apparently intending to ignore the twins.
“Stop, Lucy,” Eden ordered.
She started walking.
Marshall reached out and grabbed her arm. When she stared at him, with a tilt of his head toward the twins, he directed her attention back to them.
Slowly, she turned around.
Reigna looked at her. “Listen, Lucy, you’ve helped rear us and train us. But you need to understand that you have to back off now. If you don’t, only two things can come about . . . and you won’t like either of them.”
“Girls,” Basha stepped up.
“No, Basha,” Eden said, “Lucy needs to hear us out.”
The Oathtaker nodded and stepped back.
Lucy’s brow rose in question. “Very well. What have you to say?”
“Just this. Eden and I need to figure some things out for ourselves. If we don’t, we’ll never be capable or worthy of the positions for which you, yourself, have sought to prepare us.”
“And if we do,” Eden said, “our frustration and annoyance at the way you’ve treated us, will have bad results.”
This time, Therese stepped forward. “Careful, now. Don’t say anything you might regret later.”
The twins looked her way.
“She needs to hear this,” Eden said. “If she doesn’t back off, she’s the one who will lose out in the future.”
“How’s that?” Marshall asked. “Best to get everything out in the open, I say,” he murmured to Jerrett and Velia who stood at his side.
“It’s like we said,” Reigna glanced his way, “if we don’t assert ourselves now, we’ll never become worthy . . . and Lucy loses.”
“And if we do assert ourselves now, but have to fight her every step of the way, we’ll proceed without her in the future—and she loses,” Eden added.
Lucy’s jaw dropped. She stood tall, turned away, then took a few steps before turning back. “And I suppose you two have some demands about my moving in with you?”
The twins looked at one another.
“We do,” Reigna said.
Lucy stood, mute, her eyes afire.
“You may move in. But if you’re overbearing, we’ll ask you to move back out,” Eden said.
A collective sigh of relief rose from the gathered crowd. The twins looked up at them all. Then, one by one, Lucy leading the way, they returned to their duties. Only Marshall who stood at Reigna’s side, and Jerrett, who stood at Eden’s, remained.
“Well done,” Marshall whispered, grinning.
“I’ll say,” Jerrett added.
The four exchanged looks, faint smiles upon their lips.
What none of them knew, what they couldn’t know, was that at that same time, Lucy struggled to hold back her own elation. The girls indeed possessed what they required for their journey ahead. Finally! She’d waited for this day for what felt like an eternity.
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