Just tuning in? Start here.
The next few days passed quietly. Ephraim was called to another household only to discover there was nothing he could do to help a woman who’d been badly burned in a kitchen fire. He’d had precious little training since that solitary winter apprenticeship five years ago, but he was the closest thing they had to a real doctor.
The little mite was growing quickly, although Daphne still tried to keep her distance from it for now. Babies were fragile creatures.
It was better not to get attached until it was older and stronger.
If only she wasn’t the only person available to rock it while Mariposa bathed a very agitated Paige for the second time today, the children stacked the last of their firewood by the front door and Ephraim trudged home with as much water as he could carry. The baby was beginning to figure out how to lift its head and smile, and it hated nothing more than to be left alone in its crib while the adults worked. She would have strongly preferred to pass it off to one of the older children, but her knee was too tender to support any weight other than her own.
Daphne had never imagined this would be her life. She’d grown attached to Wilma and Felix, but she’d never intended to raise one child. Now she somehow had accumulated four of them. Even years after starting the process all over again she still wondered if she had done the right thing when she allowed them to claim her.
A creaking front door interrupted her thoughts.
“Oma, we’re finished.” The girl brushed a tangled lock of hair from her shoulders as she stepped inside. Her brother quietly followed her, his face even dirtier than hers.
“Wash your hands and faces and stir the beans. We’ll eat as soon as Ephraim is back.”
The house grew quiet again for a moment as they washed up in the kitchen basin.
Daphne’s heart skipped a beat.
“Isaac? Is that you?” She scooted to the edge of her seat and leaned forward as far as she could manage with a baby in her lap. She smiled when he popped his head around the door and grinned. It had been nearly a month since her younger son had left on his latest trading mission, and she was surprised by how much she’d missed him. Daphne never would have a guessed that a house as full as theirs could feel so empty with just one member missing.
“You’ve got that back room all cleared out!”
“Yes, finally. Mariposa wants to give it a good scrubbing, but we thought we’d save the major construction for the summer.” The house had once included two extra rooms that were now in disrepair. Mariposa had seen no reason to fix them when she lived alone, but they desperately needed the extra space now. Their ceilings were full of large, gaping holes and the few pieces of antique furniture in them were all but unusable.
“What have you heard?” she asked. It was better to get straight to the point now before the room filled up again.
“Tinsdale is with us. Sloane hasn’t decided yet. Mercy wants to help, but their population is even smaller than ours and they don’t believe in self defence. I don’t know how much good they’d do, although of course I said yes.”
“I take it that’s a good thing?”
“I’d rather show you than tell you, but I want to eat first,” he shrugged. The excitement of nearly getting caught by the patrol was still coursing through his veins. His mother would find out soon enough just how lucky he’d been. For now Isaac wanted to prolong her good mood.
It was a quiet, pleasant dinner. Paige, freshly scrubbed and no longer smelling like the feces she’d hidden underneath the bed, listened intently to Isaac’s stories as they ate. The older woman had seemed to recognize Felix in the morning, but after her second nap of the day her mood had quickly soured. She was so pleasant at dinner, though, that for a moment Daphne wondered if this was going to turn out to be a good day after all.
“Lucio, did you feed the chickens?” An old ache brushed against Daphne’s chest. She’d never been particularly close to her neighbour, but the death of so many adults in his family had left a gaping hole in the community.
“No, but I will after we eat,” Isaac said, not missing a beat. It had been many years since anyone in the area had owned chickens, but he’d learned from experience that telling Paige this was nearly as upsetting as reminding her that all of her children and grandchildren were dead. Chickens had been a valuable source of food when she was young, and she hated the thought that the practice had died out.
“See you it that you do. You really should have finished your chores before we all sat down.”
“She’s getting worse,” Isaac said in a low tone as he and his mother began washing the dishes.
“I know,” Daphne said. “She still has her good days and her bad days, but it seems like she takes more time to find her way back now.”
“Is the medicine working?”
“No.” That wasn’t a surprise. Herbs could be used to calm a patient down, but Daphne knew of nothing that would restore old memories.
“The exchange is tomorrow at sunset,” he said as the main room slowly emptied out. It took both Mariposa and Ephraim’s efforts to get Paige to go to bed, and even then she slept better if the children laid down next to her.
“What do we tell your brother?”
“Let me handle that. Just be there on time.”