Chapter 16, Part 1

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The air was dusty, as was often the case during the dog days of summer. Along the marsh at the edge of the road a multitude of cattails bent in the breeze like a throng of worshipers in obeisance to the glory of their god. Open water, spotted with algae, dotted the landscape. Red winged blackbirds perched on tall grasses showed off their colorful shoulder patches as they chirped their high squeaky song.

Mara rode with Reigna, Nina to her left with Eden, Therese to her right. Jules took the lead. He kept a constant vigil for anything out of the ordinary, while Samuel brought up the rear, guarding against possible ambush from behind.

After a two day rest at The King's Court, during which she'd not been able to repeat her sleep time travel, notwithstanding her efforts to do so, Mara agreed, at Therese's encouragement, to head with her to Lucy's. It would take weeks of dangerous travel over rough and unknown terrain for the small crew to cross the countryside. The journey would take them around the City of Light and then farther north.

Midday had come and gone. They would need to rest the horses soon, as they couldn't risk injury to the animals. Moreover, the twins would need to nurse. Already Reigna grew restless, as witnessed by her increased whimpering, although as usual, Eden seemed to go along with little complaint.

Jules vanished over a rise ahead. Minutes later, he reappeared. Approaching the others at an easy pace, his eyes continually scanned the countryside. The women halted when he neared. As like a chorus, their mounts nickered and blew, signifying that it was time to stop.

"There's a small wooded area just over that hill," Jules said pointing, directing his comments to Therese. "It's well concealed." He patted his horse's neck. "It's time to stop for a rest."

Within minutes they pulled into the resting place. Huge basswoods grew in clusters of a half dozen or more full-sized trunks. Their branches created a lacy canopy for things below. Their leaves, just beginning to wilt, attested to the fact that basswoods were among the first of the forest to lose their leaves in the autumn. Intermingled with them was the occasional oak and cherry tree.

Nina fed the girls while Mara and Therese prepared flat breads stuffed with cold meats and cheese.

After Samuel and Jules attended to the horses, watering two at a time at a nearby creek, they devoured their lunches quickly, then stood guard while the others ate.

"Any luck?" Therese asked Mara.

It was clear of what she spoke. Ever since traveling to Dixon, Mara had thought of little else. But the more she yearned to repeat her journey, the more difficult it was to sleep at all.

"No. The more I think on it, the harder it seems. I feel like the ability is almost there, it's almost as though I can touch it, then it just . . . disappears."

"Sometimes I find that the easiest way to accomplish something, is to take the pressure of possible success or failure from my mind. I just wait and let it happen."

"Maybe you're right."

The birds and beasts of the air and field fluttered and nagged. The horses flicked their ears and swished their tails as the local flies discovered their presence.

"I'm going to wash up," Mara said. "Maybe I'll stick my feet in the water. We'll get started again when everyone is through eating and the horses have cooled down."

She sauntered down to the creek. Sunshine sparkled on the slowly moving water. A small twig made its way downstream and then, just where she stood, got caught up in an eddy. It twisted and twirled and popped up and down in its fight to escape its prison.

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