Two weeks into their journey, and as dusk set in once again, the travelers headed toward the dinner wagon. Marshall and Jerrett stood off to the side as others filled their plates.
“Marshall, you’re back!” Chaya exclaimed, approaching. She held a bowl of steaming food, its savory scent filling the air.
He pulled in a deep breath. “Chaya,” he responded, with a nod.
“I prepared a place where we can eat together.” She tipped her head toward it. “I just have to set this out,” she continued, glancing at the bowl she held, “and then we can—”
“Why don’t you go on without me? I’ve got things I need to attend to.”
Looking down, she bit her lip. “Very well.” She turned away, set the dish down, and then walked off.
“What’s funny?” Marshall asked.
“Nothing’s funny. Actually, it’s a bit sad.”
“The way you’re treating Chaya. Why such a cold shoulder, anyway?” He shook his head. “Goodness, but you’ve a lot to learn about women.”
Marshall stood tall and squared his shoulders. “I’m just trying to do what’s right by her—trying to make certain she gets to know us all.”
“Oh, I see. You don’t want to monopolize her time. Is that it?” Jerrett asked as Velia approached.
“Well . . . yes.”
“You might tell her that, my friend.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Velia said, having overheard the exchange, as she approached with baby Carlow in her arms, and her and Jerrett’s three other boys in tow.
“She’s fine. What are you two talking about?”
Just then Mara arrived with Dixon, the twins, and Lucy. She suggested they all get their dinners, then congregate at a place she designated where Basha and Therese already sat.
A nearby campfire crackled. Sparks few into the air. At its side, Jules and Nina supervised Caden and Calandra as the children piled more sticks on top. When Calandra drew too close, Nina jumped ahead to caution her. Then she pulled her back a safe distance.
After filling their plates, Mara and her companions joined Basha and Therese. In short order, Jules joined them.
“Thank you for riding ahead, Marshall, to check on things,” Mara said. “So, tell us, what did you find?” She crouched down, then sat on the ground next to Dixon, a woolen blanket spread out beneath them.
“I made good time to Ethanward. It’s actually quite close, but will likely take our caravan here more than a full day to reach. In any case, I found the place overrun with children who appear homeless.”
“It’s odd. They range in age from— Oh, I’d say, likely four, or so . . . to early teens. They appear to have no supervision. They’re dirty, hungry—”
“Where are they from?”
“I’ve no idea. But it may explain some of those we’ve seen passing by our caravan of late. I tried to talk to a few of them, but they just gave me the cold shoulder.”
“Not the only one doing that,” Jerrett muttered near Velia’s ear.
Grinning, she nudged him.
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