Chapter Thrity-Two

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The riders rested for a few days after they returned from hiding the eggs. A weight felt as if it had been lifted from them, and Tesa could scarcely believe that their mission was almost over. Now that the eggs were safely hidden, time would determine their fate.

When Tesa returned from Areth, exhaustion caught up to her, and what she meant to be a short nap turned into a whole day lost sleeping in her tent. She awoke in the quiet gray light of almost-dawn and pushed her blanket off of herself. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, then crawled forward and pulled aside her tent flap to peer outside.

The rest of the camp was still, tents closed up against the chill of the mountain nights. Her tent clustered with two others in a thicket off the main path that the riders had chosen. Other tents were set up the same way, so that they could avoid the need for one large, exposed camp.

Tesa withdrew into her tent and pulled on her clothes. When she emerged she thought about starting a fire, maybe brewing some tea for her camp mates, but she shook her head. No, if she lingered, she would get caught up in the day's trivialities. Or worse, the not-so-trivial matters that would need to be discussed now that the dragon riders had fulfilled their purpose in Enval.

But Tesa had one other great purpose while she was here.

She took the path through the camp, nodding at another solitary rider awake at this hour, tending a fire as Tesa had thought to do. With relief, Tesa passed the last copse of hidden tents without meeting anyone she knew.

She ate hard trail bread from a pouch at her waist, supplemented with bursts of bright, early summer berries when she encountered them on her way. Her feet trod the familiar hills of the forest above her home, where she had grown up roaming and foraging with her mother.

Derol had told her that he scouted out her parents' farm, and that they hadn't been there. An entirely new family had moved in; a family of Karume. She had pushed the knowledge to the back of her mind while she completed the mission that had brought her here, but now she had to find out where her parents were.

Tesa wasn't sure what she expected to find when she reached her farm, but she didn't really know where else to start. She slowed her purposeful walk as she neared the woods surrounding the first farm, being sure to tread softly now and listen for signs of other people in the forest. This early, the farmers should be tending to the chores on the farm instead of being out wandering the woods, but she was careful nonetheless.

She padded down the old narrow trail that she and her brothers had used to pass between Derol's farm and her family's farm when they were growing up. The last time she had used it, it had become a bit overgrown since her brothers had moved away and Derol had taken over the responsibilities at his own farm and had less time to play.

Before Derol's parents had passed away, Tesa remembered, they had taken rooms in a small house in Enval proper, and took a maid to do the things that they couldn't or didn't want to do anymore. Tesa remembered Derol lamenting that he couldn't convince his parents to stay close to home on the farm, but his mother had said she had always liked town life, and that now it was her turn to live where she wanted.

Tesa smiled at the memory, and remembered how her own mother used to comment on the situation, aghast that any farm wife could abandon her kitchen and farm like that. But Tesa had understood, since she'd never had any desire to be a farm wife, despite what her mother wanted for her.

But her mother had had to leave her farm now, had been forced to it. Tesa's smile faded as she came closer to the edge of her family's farm. She ducked off of the path and into the trees when she saw a woman emerge from the house and head toward the chicken coop. Tesa waited while the soft clucks of the disturbed chickens floated through the cool, misty air. Then the woman returned to the house with the basket hanging from her arm.

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