“So, then,” Ezra said, turning his attention back to his guests, “what brings you here?”
“Ahhhh, well first, have you seen Mara and Dixon by any chance?” Marshall asked.
“Seen them? You mean lately?”
Nodding, Marshall leaned back as a barmaid approached the table. She placed three foaming ales on the table before the men. He picked up the mug nearest himself, then took a swallow. “Ahhhh, good brew.”
“Yes,” Ezra agreed. He lifted his drink and looked over the edge of his mug at his guests. “Were they supposed to have stopped here?”
“Oh, no, not necessarily.”
“But they’re not at the compound.”
“No,” Jerrett said. “Mara had a . . . an accident.”
“An accident? Is she all right?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, she’s fine. She just decided she needed a little time away and Dixon agreed it would be a good idea.”
“That’s right,” Jerrett said. “We didn’t necessarily think they’d stop this way, but thought it might be possible.”
“No, I haven’t seen them. Now what brings you two to the City of Light?”
Marshall ran his hand through his hair. “We’ve been having some trouble at the compound. We thought we’d stop here on our way to trying to find some answers.”
“Trouble that led to Mara’s . . . accident?”
“That’s right,” Jerrett said. “The compound has been under regular and consistent attack.”
Celestine neared the table. She watched Ezra until she caught his eye. When he nodded at her and motioned her nearer, she approached. She placed a hand on the back of his chair, then leaned in and whispered in his ear.
“He’s back?” the innkeeper asked, turning her way.
She nodded, glanced quickly at their newest guests, then turned her attention back to Ezra. “He’s—” She blinked rapidly as her eyes darted toward the back of the room.
“In the back?”
“Tell him I’ll be there shortly.”
She nodded but didn’t move. “He’s . . . in bad shape.”
“Is Kegan with him?”
“Good. Let him get started, and I’ll be there soon.”
“I’ll let him know.” She kissed the top of the innkeeper’s head, then walked away.
“Everything all right?” Marshall asked.
Ezra was silent for a minute. “I think so.” He leaned in and took a drink. “I had a man out in the field who just returned, apparently in bad shape.”
Marshall also leaned forward, mimicking the innkeeper’s body language. “Don’t let us keep you. We can catch up later. Jerrett and I aren’t on a firm schedule.”
“No. My man, Kegan, is a healer. He’s with Joseph now.” The innkeeper took another drink. “I’ll let him work with him for a time before I join them, though I suppose I shouldn’t be too long in the event he needs help with the healing.”
The sounds of raucous laughter interrupted the men’s conversation. One by one, they turned their attention to the source of the sound, then grinned at a young man acting out a mime to the delight of the inn’s customers.
Marshall was the first to break the spell the entertainer had on them all. “So,” he said, turning back to business, “as we were saying, there’s been trouble at the compound.”
“Right,” Ezra said. “It’s been under siege. But how can that be? And what about the twins? Oh, never mind,” he waved his hand, “they’re with Mara and Dixon, of course.”
“No, they’re not,” Jerrett said.
The innkeeper sat up straighter. “Not with them?”
“Mara thought they’d be fine at the compound.”
“That doesn’t make much sense.”
“Lucy would agree,” Marshall said. “She is not pleased. But Dixon wouldn’t hear her complaints. He insisted Mara should get away and—”
“What happened to her anyway?”
Jerrett told the innkeeper about Mara’s fall and injuries.
“But you have a number of healers at the compound.”
“That’s right,” Marshall said. He explained how Mara’s shoulder wound was healed right after the battle, and how her other injuries were seen to when the Oathtakers returned to the compound.
“And then, shortly afterward—out of nowhere it seemed—she said she wanted to go to her old home to visit,” Jerrett added.
“Dixon insisted she should be allowed to do so, and that he’d accompany her,” Marshall said.
“Hmmm,” the innkeeper repeated. “Rather odd, isn’t it? For her to leave her charges?”
“Yes, although she has left them from time to time over the years to attend Council meetings here in the City.”
“Well, I trust they know what they’re doing,” Ezra said. “Now, who do you suppose is behind the breaks into the compound?”
“That’s what we’re hoping to find out,” Jerrett said.
“What are you thinking?”
“We haven’t been able to get any specific information, but we have reason to believe the intruders received their directions from someone inside Chiran.”
The innkeeper nodded slowly, looking from one of his guests to the other. “I think maybe the two of you should drink up and then join me to go see my man, Joseph.”
Marshall’s brow dropped. “Why’s that?”
“Because he just returned from there.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish