Chapter 3, Part 1

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The Oathtakers headed to the river, its waters lowered from a long hot season. Mara mimicked Dixon, snapping off a goodly portion of a nearby bush to brush the ground behind so as to leave no obvious tracks for their pursuers. Upon reaching the riverbank, they dropped their branches.

He stepped into the water and walked upstream. "We'd best leave as little to track from the area as possible," he said without looking back.

They continued in silence for some time as the sun raced for the horizon. Soon everything would appear the same nondescript, drab, brown-gray color.

Reigna cried. Mara picked up her pace. When she caught up to Dixon, she grasped his arm, bringing him to a halt. "We have to find food for the girls soon," she said, breathing heavily, "or all of Oosa will know our whereabouts."

"There's a goat farm up the river another hour or so. We could get milk there. I'd rather not have to stop for aid and attract any attention, but we've not much choice."

"If we walk along the bank, perhaps we could make better time."

He stepped to the bank. Water sloshed from his boots. He started off, clearing a path as necessary.

Reigna and Eden were slight children, but Mara found it difficult to carry them both and all of her gear. At times her feet failed to respond to her command. She nearly tripped, righted herself, then walked on. Finding a sturdy branch, she adopted it for a walking stick. Every so often she stopped to catch her breath. She never saw Dixon look back.

A distant howl carried through the air. Crickets chirped and frogs croaked. Birds swooped down toward the forest interior to find their warm beds for the night.

When Reigna cried again, Mara stopped. She crooked her finger to let the child suck. The gesture satisfied her, but the Oathtaker couldn't walk this way and carry Eden's basket at the same time.

She set out again, having fallen considerably behind. She could just make out Dixon's silhouette ahead in the fading light. With a renewed commitment, she increased her gait. Finally, she reached him.

He moved aside a branch blocking their view. Wild herbs and grasses spotted the rocky pasture ahead. The fresh scent of creeping thyme filled the air.

"Where are we?"

He motioned toward a small building. "There's the place I mentioned. The old man and his wife are faithful followers of the Good One. I'm sure they'll help us."

The twins both cried out in earnest. Doubting she could quiet them again, Mara took the lead.

Full darkness descended, leaving for light only a sliver of the first of the three moons and scattered stars in the night sky.

In her impatience, she tripped on a stone. Dixon's hand at her elbow to steady her, surprised her. With no attempt to get her permission, he slipped Eden's basket from her grasp.

"Go ahead, lead on," she said, then followed him to the farm.

The small thatched cottage showed signs of wear. It leaned slightly to one side as though it had grown weary of holding its own weight and rested on one hip.

Planters at its windows sported scented violas, while a large flowerpot at the steps provided an assortment of herbs at the ready for kitchen use. The citrusy scent of lemon thyme, the clean smell of lavender, the earthy scent of oregano, the freshness of mint, and the piney aroma of rosemary, filled the air.

Upon the cleanly swept porch sat a full rain bucket near the front door. A dipper hung over its side.

Dixon approached, but didn't knock. "Drake!" he called out over the infants' cries. "It's your old friend, Dixon. Dixon Townsend. Are you in?"

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