I wake early and slip out of bed without waking Rita. The need for time to myself outweighing if I am hurting her feelings or not. I take my clothes and get dressed in the bathroom before going downstairs. The kitchen is deserted but someone is about the fire is lit and I make tea. Pulling my boots on I take my tea out to the stables. Milton greets me softly and I rub his nose. Sinking onto a bale I drink my tea. I feed and water the horses and then muck them out the activity taking my mind off of the conversation from last night.
I am so engrossed in my task the cough behind me startles me making the person laugh.
‘You have done my job, thank you,’ she says walking toward me. Twinkling brown eyes smile at me as she holds her hand out.
‘Sara,’ she says. I take her hand and shake. ‘I don’t think we have been properly introduced,’
‘Aaron,’ her small frame seems to fill the space. I remember her studying me. Assessing me I also remember she didn’t want me here thought I would die and bring trouble.
‘Oh, sorry if I have caused trouble,’ I answer unsure and intimidated all at once.
‘No trouble, do you want to come and check the sheep with me?’
‘Yeah sure,’ we saddle up the horses I take my coat from the hook I had hung it from earlier. Leading Milton outside I mount him getting comfortable adjusting his bridle before following Sara up on to the pasture.
The flock is scattered over a large area and we slowly make our way around them Sara’s keen eyes checking them. She stops and jumps down. I frown as I can’t see what it is, she has found. Standing she has a small lamb in her arms.
‘A bit early this one, here put it in your coat,’ she passes it to me, I do as instructed. It is cold but its eyes are trained on my face. Sara strides away and tackles a sheep to the ground checking her over I then see two more lambs. Righting the ewe, Sara calls her lambs and we watch as they suckle. Sara takes a spray can from her coat pocket and marks the Ewe and lambs with a number. Once Sara is satisfied, she walks back to her horse. She pulls a bottle from one of her saddle bags.
‘Here you stay here and feed that one while I check the rest,’ I nod and take the bottle pushing it against the lambs mouth it soon latches on and sucks greedily while nestled in my coat.
I watch as Sara checks the rest of the sheep now, I know what to look for I can see more lambs. Smiling at their antics it all lifts my mood.
‘Alright Aaron?’ Sara is back beside me.
‘Yeah, here you go he has finished the milk,’ I pass back the bottle.
‘Last night sorry,’ she says putting the bottle away.
‘Sorry that you thought I was going to die or sorry that I heard,’ okay so I am being rude, but I don’t want pity or apologies.
‘Sorry that you are here something bad must have happened for you to have lost your Mother,’ she says taking me by surprise. ‘You are also underage so haven’t been sold,’
‘How do you know Rita isn’t my Mother,’ I raise a brow as she laughs.
‘Rita isn’t your Mother,’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Because she looks at you like she wants to eat you,’ she chuckles. ‘No Mother should look at her charge like that,’ Oh didn’t expect that answer and it makes me smile. ‘I have known Rita for many years, and she is not your Mother.’
‘You thought I was going to die?’ blunt I know. ‘Do you still think that?’
‘Hard to say, you are small but the way you handle that horse I suspect you have a hidden strength,’
‘Rita knows how to care for you, just enjoy the here and now that’s my advice,’ she urges her horse into a trot.
‘Sara, thank you,’
‘What for?’ she frowns,
‘For being nice to me and honest,’ I blush.
‘Come on let’s get back I don’t know about you, but I am hungry,’
‘What about the lamb?’
‘I have a pen for orphans in the barn we can put him in there,’ I follow Sara.
‘Right breakfast,’ she announces turning her gaze on me.
‘You go ahead I will sort the horses,’ I volunteer, I need some time to think.
‘Okay if you are sure,’ she answers as she leaves the barn. Walking slowly to the stable it crosses my mind to take Milton and just leave. The big question is where would I go? Removing the horses tack I then fill their hay racks. Sinking on to a bale I lay back closing my eyes still exhausted from the sickness.
‘Aaron?’ her voice pulls me from my melancholy thoughts. Sitting up I plaster a smile on my face. ‘I brought you a bacon sandwich and some tea,’ I see her hesitation as she watches me before she sits next to me.
‘Thanks,’ I take the sandwich and tuck into it.
As I slowly recovered, I started to help Sara more on the farm it is only small but enough to feed us and sell spare for things we don’t have. Sara explained there a lot of these small family farms across the country. We are staying here for the winter the weather too bad to even attempt travel.
Rita it turned out is a demon in the kitchen and enjoys cooking she has been feeding me up with healthy food and every day my health improves. In the evenings both the girls knit making me jumpers and throws for the beds or sofas. I am content to just read books on how to care for the animals. I like it here and deep-down dread the day we have to leave.
Today it is snowing quite hard. I silently rejoice because the more snow the longer we stay. Sara and I have milked the cows and fed the other animals then come back in. Sara only has six cows, so it never takes long to milk them. They are lovely brown and white and quite friendly. I feed the pigs we only have three of those at the moment, but one sow is due to farrow this week and I am quite excited about that. While I do that Sara collects the eggs.
I am completely engrossed in my vegetable book until my attention is pulled to the conversation in the kitchen.
‘He has a brother.’
‘Yes, he mentioned a brother,’
‘Where is he?’
‘Well he did think he was dead, but he knows that isn't the case. I got a text from Celina a few days ago,’
‘Sophie has re-emerged, and she has him apparently,’
‘Bloody hell. We need to get him to the capital and the Queen before this all gets nasty and out of hand,’
‘My thoughts exactly especially as Gillian is taking an interest,’
‘She was his companion. They are friends, she adores him,’ Rita walks into the room carrying the bowl of popcorn. ‘But she knows he is with me. She knows he is my match so why make all this fuss?’
‘I have no idea,’ Sara answers.
‘What if it isn’t him, she is looking for. What if it is the other one,’ Rita looks at me.
‘Where is your brother?’ Sara looks at me.
‘I don’t know. Gillian, she wanted me to find him but the plan went wrong. Thomas is looking for him,’ I explain. She gazes at me really intently.
‘Adam he is different, he is really smart?’
‘He wouldn’t survive outside for long, smart or not. He must have help. You aren’t like other Adams you are small delicate not robust, and you were very sick,’ she concludes.
‘He is an Echo not an Adam you can see that by just looking at him,’ Rita answers standing beside me her hand around my waist.
‘You both are, and we should be careful you aren’t seen together. In fact, you should get to the capital where you can both be protected. Rita you know you are as valuable as him,’
‘Yes, Sara I know but he isn’t strong he needs more time. He won’t survive out there in these temperatures,’
We settle to watch the film, but my attention isn’t on it as I think about everything I have heard.
‘Who is Sophie?’ I ask at last.
‘Oh, my sister but she doesn’t live with us there was an accident and she was taken. After she was found she couldn’t come home, I don’t know all the details. She fell out with our mother over matching,’ Rita explains.
We settle into bed. Rita sleeps with me. I don’t object I quite like it. Tonight, I am worried about Adam and where he is. Reaching for Rita I cuddle her she turns and kisses me
‘I want a baby,’ she mumbles making me smile. Now I know how they are made I think that is a moot point. But I comply to her request.
Waking early to milk the cows Rita is still asleep. I have a quick shower to wash away the sweat and amble downstairs I feel tired. All these thoughts fill my head. The one forefront though is, is Adam alive and why lie to me unless it was too dangerous for us to be together. If that is so why not explain that to us why the lie. The next thought is if he is alive, where is he?
The days blend into weeks which soon become months. I have filled out and have a healthy colour to my skin my hair almost white from being outdoors in the sun. Sara taught me to run the farm to milk the cows and plough the fields with the horses. We have settled into a nice routine and I am happy and content even thinking about my brother has become less.