In the twilight, Lord Tiernan’s camp moved languidly. The neatness of the tent lines gently hedged in the growing shadows from cook fires and torches. Canvas rustled, flaps opening and closing. Charcoal smoke drifted lazily. Ahead of Anie, one of the soldiers leading them encouraged them to keep moving, but her tone was unhurried. The whole crowd of them leaned lightly into their steps, looking around, talking quietly. Anie watched the men and women drifting between their tents, breathed in deep to catch the warmth of venison and broth boiling for supper.
And Momma leaned over one of the cookpots, long hair tied back with a single string, falling over one shoulder.
Anie stopped just where she was.
Momma leaned one hand against her knee to look down into the pot. With her other hand, she twisted a large wooden spoon through the soup, back and forth, in figure-eights. Like she always did. Before she was sick.
She had an easy slant in her shoulders, and a little crease between her eyebrows while she thought about something other than the bubble of the pot. Her fingers set just so on the spoon, and all of it was perfectly familiar. Anie could paint the walls of their old kitchen around her, smell the rosewood tree in the front yard, hear the errant leaves shuffle against the wall outside the widow.
“Come on,” Thea said. She tugged at Anie’s hand, looking at the camp as well. Her eyes were caught somewhere else though.
Anie tightened her fingers around her sister’s, and stayed just where she was. “It’s Momma,” she whispered.
Mel, already four strides ahead, turned back in an instant.
“Where?” Mel demanded. Anie pointed and Mel took off running.
“Mel!” Thea shouted after her.
Mel didn’t seem to hear. “Momma!” she yelled. “Momma!”
Anie held her breath, watching Momma look up. Her eyes flicked through the crowd, and Anie caught the moment that she found Mel. Her eyes widened, and her smile stretched, and she dropped the spoon, bunched her skirt in her hands and ran to meet her.
Anie ran too.
Momma held her arms out, and Mel crashed into her chest, head on her shoulder, feet off the ground as Momma held her tight. Laughing. Anie rushed to meet them. She collided with them, eyes shut, arms around their waists, and heard Momma’s laugh echoing through her ribs. Grinning, crying, she held on tight. Momma was kissing the top of Mel’s head, and had a hand on Anie’s shoulder, so firm it seemed she couldn’t let go. Anie hugged her fiercely and hoped she never would.
It seemed like a long time before she heard Thea step in behind her.
“Momma?” Thea said quietly.
Momma didn’t pull away, just shifted to look at her.
“Come here,” Momma said, and Anie could hear the smile in her voice.
But Thea hesitated.
“Come here,” Momma said again, coaxingly now.
Anie twisted to look at Thea. She was crying, one arm crossed over her stomach, hand locked around her elbow.
“I’m sorry,” Thea whispered.
“I don’t know what you have to apologize for,” Momma said. She squeezed Anie’s shoulder a little harder. “They look safe to me.”
Thea’s shoulders shook a little harder. But she crossed the last few feet and leaned into them. Momma kissed her forehead. Mel turned to put an arm around her waist and dragged her closer.
“I found you,” Momma murmured.
“I thought we found you,” Anie muttered.
Mel and Thea laughed. Momma laughed hardest.