Chapter 11

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DOMINIC RELUCTANTLY FOLLOWED his host into the dim little kitchen of an old farmhouse. Inside, a woman hovered over a kettle and a large steaming pot of something that smelled amazing. She  stirred the ingredients, not noticing them. At her elbow was the gentle glow of her guardian. Dominic tried not to notice, but the duta nodded with a curious look in his eye. The farmer's wife turned her ample body and gave a smile to her husband as he bid her a kindly hello. Her smile wavered as she noticed Dominic, but her eyes remained kind.

"How's your day, Birdie?"

"Just fine—who's your friend, dear?"

The old man gave her a smile and stuck his thumb toward Dominic. He stuttered a moment, appearing to have forgotten, then laughed at himself for realizing he hadn't asked.

"I never asked," the man said.

"Proper host you are," the woman said, setting out a pair of bowls. She winked at Dominic and he felt more at ease.

"Found the lad on the way home. He was crossing Thomas's field and bumped his head," Birdie's husband explained.

Dominic watched Lena approach the woman's guardian. The pair whispered together, their telling eyes on him. Waiting patiently in the entryway was the man's guardian. She managed to enter the kitchen and stepped out of the way into a corner, suspiciously eyeing the guests but keeping silent.

"You're a tourist? Are you hurt?"

"Yes and no, ma'am," Dominic answered both questions, looking embarrassed.

The guardians were sure to bother him later, so there was no sense in staring and causing the couple to think he suffered from more than clumsiness. The old man sat down and indicated the other chair in the cramped room. Dominic reluctantly lifted his pack off his shoulder. Birdie took it from him, setting it in the entryway on a rickety bench littered with muddy work boots.

"You have a seat—rest yourself," Birdie said, waving at the table.

Dominic did as he was told. The kettle whistled shrilly. She took it off the heat, abandoning him to her husband.

"Was chatting up no one in particular, so I said to me-self, I better take the boy home and see he gets to the doctor in the morning," the old man went on.

Birdie filled a pot for tea, giving a little laugh at the story he told.

"Are you hungry? We've plenty of stew—made it fresh today from our own lambs." She smiled at her guest. "You were probably just cursing your luck as any sane man'd do."

Dominic nodded. She set the teapot between them and he looked over the room, trying to see his guide. Lena managed to tuck herself against the wall beside him. Rubbing his hands together, he tried not to look too strange. He gave a smile to his hostess and thanked her.

"That'd be lovely," he said. She set down a pair of cups and poured.

"Indeed, I was cursing, ma'am." He tried to laugh; he was oddly uncomfortable in the cozy kitchen.

Birdie smiled, pleased to feed him. While she served, she asked his name. She set the bowls on the table. In them the food was piled high and steaming.

"Dominic—uh—Dominic Newlyn," he answered.

The eyes of the guardians were still tight on him.

"Pleasure to meet you, Dominic Newlyn. This is my husband Guillian and I'm Fionna, but everyone just calls me Birdie."

"The pleasure's mine. If Guillian didn't see me, I'd probably be lying in the field still," Dominic said.

Birdie stared through him. It was a strange glance in which he felt sure she weighed the truth of his story and even his worth. She turned away to gather a board and knife from the cupboard. She settled the piece on her baker's rack and sliced them some bread.

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