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   When Jordan awoke the house was already buzzing with activity. Porridge was simmering in the cauldron on the hearth and the travelers were having their tea. Their packs were set by the door, ready to go.

   “Oh, my gawd,” she said, “how did I manage to sleep through all this? I must have been really tired!”

   Jordan jumped up and dressed quickly, dropping her nightgown on the floor. Many things may have changed for her, but some things never do, like not picking up after herself.

   She hurried to the kitchen and helped serve their guests; then tended to Wee Robbie and Baby Brianna while Sarah and Fiona finished packing. Jordan convinced Brighid that she was perfectly capable of cleaning up - “Seriously, if you’re going to leave me here alone, you have to trust me enough to wash the dishes” - and that they should get on their way.

   After much fussing from Brighid about last minute details and hugs all around, they finally left. Jordan stood at the gate and watched until her friends were dots in the expanse of the meadow, just as she had done a few days ago when her brothers left. In fact, this was getting to be a common routine. One that Jordan was tired of.

   Before she could start missing them, she returned to the house and began washing the dishes. Brighid left a list on the table of things Jordan should do. There were herbs to harvest, food to prepare for the ones who would arrive today, and other things that needed tending to.

There was even a list of what Jordan should do if Brighid didn’t return. Jordan didn’t even read that part; that wasn’t something that was going to happen!

   When the kitchen was clean, she set about tidying up the rest of the house. Checking upstairs, she was surprised to find that the men had made up their beds and opened the windows to let the morning breeze freshen the attic air. After the hearth was clean and as she swept the floors with Brighid’s funny little homemade broom, she found her nightgown on the floor, folded it and put it under her pillow. Now that she knew how clean clothes really happened, she would wear it until it really needed to be washed.

   Jordan went back to the kitchen to see that all that would be needed to feed the expected guests was handy and then put water on to heat. They would surely want to wash up after traveling through the forest. Hopefully, they wouldn’t meet the Trows.

   The house was strangely empty and quiet. “Keep busy,” Jordan told herself. A flight with Rosa enticed her, but she knew she should be here when the group of travelers arrived.

   Jordan checked the list again and decided this would be a good time to do the outside chores. Picking up a basket, she stepped out into the late morning sun and looked around the front garden and out across the meadow to the mountains that ringed the entire valley.

I love it here so much, she thought. I really miss home, but I’m going to hate leaving here.

   First on the list was harvesting yarrow leaves, which were in the part of the garden that was closest to the edge of the forest.

   As she walked along the path that ran between the garden patches, a shadow passed over her. JeMarcus and Zach were circling above. Her heart pounded with excitement and she waved the basket over her head. JeMarcus wobbled his wings as Zach waved with both arms. Jordan was so happy that they were coming to see her … but then they flew off over the forest.

   Her arm fell to her side and tears welled up in her eyes as they flew away. She hadn’t realized until just then how much she missed her brothers.

   “Well, I wonder what that was all about?” she asked a dill plant that was nearly as tall as her. “They look like they have someplace to be. I hope they stop by here on the way back.”

:They will,:  Rosa sent from the meadow where she was napping in the sun. :JeMarcus asked me to tell you they will be spending the night here.:

   Jordan was elated at the thought of seeing her brother again. With a new bounce in her step, she found the yarrow patch and began nipping the leaves. When her basket was full she turned toward the house, but heard something and stopped. There was a commotion at the edge of the forest: voices and running footfalls and the snapping of twigs.

A small group of men burst into the garden. They were disheveled and cut, scratched and bruised. Two were limping, held up by their fellows. They were dazed and confused, as if they were running from demons.

   “Oh dear,” Jordan said quietly. “They must have met the Trows!”

The tallest one strode over to Jordan in a way that left no doubt as to who was in charge.

   “Is this the Cailleach’s house?” she barked.

Jordan stared at the woman in awe. Yes, this was a woman, but one who could easily be mistaken for a man at first glance. She was tall and slim, but well muscled. Her shining red hair was pulled back and tied with a ribbon, like the men wore theirs.

However, her voice was that of a woman’s, never mind how gruff she was, and her face was pretty with a scatter of freckles across her nose and cheeks.

   The thing that confused Jordan the most was that she was dressed like a man. Her leather trews and Jacobite shirt were smeared with dirt and torn in several places. One sleeve hung on by a thread and revealed a cut on her upper arm.

   The most shocking thing about the woman was the sword that she wore across her back, it was the biggest one Jordan had seen yet. How could a woman wield such a weapon? (Jordan was sure she wouldn’t be able to lift the thing herself, even with both hands) She held a shield with her left hand. It was made of rowan and inlayed with three concentric circles of shiny metal around a battle-scarred star.

   The woman barked again. “Well? Speak child! I have injured here!” She gestured to the men making their way toward them. “Is this the Cailleach’s house?”

   “Y-yes,” Jordan stammered. “This is …”

   “Fetch her then, child, I haven’t all day!”

   Jordan knew this wasn’t going well, but she raised her chin and said, “I’m sorry … Brighid isn’t here. They all left for New Tara this morning.”

   “Didn’t she know there were more coming?” the woman demanded. “It’s not like her to go off and leave when travelers are expected!”

   “Y-yes, I know, but …” Jordan took a deep breath, “she left me … to … well … take care of you?”

   “What? Ye are but a child! I have injured here and I need a healer!”

    Jordan knew the woman was afraid for her people and didn’t really mean to be so gruff. She had always had a knack for calming others - unless of course, it was her brothers whom she loved to provoke - so she spoke very softly.

   “I know I am little, but Brighid has been training me and unless your injuries are really bad, I’m sure I can handle it. Why don’t you all come into the house? I have food ready and I can look at your wounds,” she smiled reassuringly. “Oh, I probably should introduce myself. I’m Jordan and I came here through the portal on Coonagh Hill with my brothers. One of them is Taylor …”

   The woman’s eyes opened wide and she stood even taller. There was a murmuring amongst the men.

   “My apologies young one,” she said very formally with a stiff bow. “If ye’re Taylor’s sister, ye must have great magick also. I will entrust my people to ye most gratefully.”

   Jordan bowed back - it seemed like the thing to do - and turned to lead them through the garden and into the house. Hmm, she thought, I wonder what she meant by that? Why would me being Taylor’s sister give me great magick? I’ll have to ask later after I get them settled. There’s just too much to think about now.

    In a short time they were all reasonably comfortable. Jordan set about to check injuries and found that they were worse than they seemed at first glance. Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into?

   Several of the punctures were quite deep and the bruises were spreading as she watched. One man had been hit on the head and the small bump she had noticed in the garden was now the size of an egg. There was a sprained ankle that was swelling over the man’s shoe and a badly wrenched knee. They all had defensive wounds on their arms and hands; one arm looked broken but, much to her relief, was just oddly swollen.

   After seeing that each of them had a cup of chamomile tea to ward off shock and calm them - they all were still quite disturbed by their experience in the forest - Jordan went to Brighid’s workbench to gather what would be required, pushing out the voices around her to concentrate.

  “Hmm,” she said to herself, “what do I need?”

   It all seemed so easy out in the garden. Jordan had been so confident that she could handle this. Now, faced with the reality of eight people with various injuries it seemed quite a bit more daunting.

 

 

 

 

 

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