Rachel was relieved to see the rest of her family members slowly recovering, but she hated the restless stage of the healing process. The dangerous days and nights were behind them, and her youngest daughter and her husband were even well enough now to help Rachel with a few light chores. Now all she had to do was harvest enough food to keep everyone alive through the long, hot summer. They could butcher the sheep if it was absolutely necessary, but Rachel was beginning to figure out how her husband could so easily afford to replace them. It wasn’t something she wanted to think about, much less encourage.
With five grandchildren under the age of six and the hope of another one to come, it was amazing that the Everson clan had only lost one member. Naomi hadn’t exactly been welcomed into the family with open arms when McArthur’s punishment was publicized, but over the years the two women had unexpectedly forged a quiet friendship. Few people knew what it was like to live with MacArthur. It was hard to be alone now.
Her grief would have to wait until the garden was harvested and the cheese delivered, though. MacArthur’s flock had been especially fertile last year and hopefully the Everson family would have more than enough cheese to get them through the summer even with Daphne’s allotment. Rachel thought it would be better to deliver the summer wheel early than to feel tempted to shirk her duty if food stores ran low in July. It was shameful enough to be court-ordered to support her husband’s other children in the first place.
Lemon barked hello as Rachel walked up the path to Daphne’s house. She gave him a friendly pat on the head as he sniffed the well-wrapped bundle in her arms and followed her to the front yard. Daphne was sitting in the shade slicing vegetables. Her swollen knee was propped up on a small rock one of her sons had dragged over to the shade for her.
“I thought I’d drop this off a little early,” Rachel said. “Would you like me to put this in your larder?” Daphne nodded and smiled. Rachel came back outside bearing a fresh pitcher of water and two cups.
“You looked thirsty,” she said as she sat down. It wouldn’t hurt to sit down for a few minutes before going back to her noisy home. The women had just begun to hesitantly chat about the weather and the sorry state of Daphne’s knee when Ephraim, Isaac, and Felix walked up the path. Lemon raced ahead to greet them as Daphne and Rachel exchanged puzzled glances.
“We didn’t know what else to do,” Ephraim said, “but we couldn’t leave the boy alone and we didn’t have enough manpower to bring everyone with us.” He described the the poor condition of the rest of the Davenport household and told his mother about Lucio’s death. Isaac took the boy inside for a second breakfast while the other adults talked.
“Aren’t you worried about making the gods angry?” Rachel asked as she abruptly stood up. Her mind had replaced Lucio and the baby with the blanched faces of her own children and grandchildren while Ephraim described the burial. “There must be a reason half of his family is at death’s door when we only lost Naomi.”
“The gods aren’t always clear about what they want,” Isaac said as she hurried down the path to her own ill family.
“I don’t know how to help them,” Daphne said in a quiet voice. She couldn’t imagine how the three of them could do work that was intended for twice as many people or what the benefit would be of risking their own lives by breathing in that tainted air all day.
“You’re really going to leave them to die?” Isaac asked. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“No, we can spare food and water, but we can’t send anyone to stay with them for more than a few minutes.” Even that concession was dangerous. Just because the disease had avoided the Lewis home for now doesn’t mean they would stay healthy.
“They can barely move, mom,” Isaac said. “They can’t remember to drink enough water, much less keep the fire stoked or send for help if someone else dies.”
“We have to take care of ourselves first. What good will we be to the boy if every adult near him is too sick to work?”
Isaac waited until everyone was sleeping that night before silently standing up and gathering a few possessions. He’d sliced a few extra pieces of cheese off of the new wheel at suppertime, and when Lemon whined Isaac fed him a small snack to keep the dog quiet as he snuck out.
He had never seen such a large, bright moon hanging in the sky before. Before the Mingus Mountain community school closed for good Isaac and Ephraim briefly attended it. One of the few lessons Isaac remembered from his time there was about something called a super moon. It was said to amplify both good and bad luck, and he hoped this was a sign the Davenports didn’t need nighttime visits after all.
Had Isaac paid less attention to the moon he might have noticed the soldier lying perfectly still next to the abandoned house a few feet away from him. As Isaac walked down the path the soldier silently followed him.