"What are we to tell them?"

"That's where it gets difficult. Tell them that we've planned a special event for them here because we're aware they can't all fit into the town square for the chance to meet with Lilith for the blessing that she supposedly will bestow."

"'Supposedly,' sir?"

"I know this is a difficult assignment, particularly considering you're all operating in the dark. Still, this is what we will do."

"So we're to bring or send all the people with infant daughters we can back to sanctuary for an event we can't describe, and we're to do so as quickly as possible." Sarah made this observation, but whether as a statement or a question was uncertain.

Ted nodded. "That's right."

"When do we begin?" Ben asked. As an unofficial leader amongst the young people, he clearly intended for his question to cut off the questioning so they could get started.

"Divide the city up into sections. Each of you cover one. Please, begin immediately. Consider this a mission of life and death, but do your best to avoid spreading fear. Go with my blessing and may Ehyeh in His infinite mercy and wisdom accompany you all."

"I said I'd do what I could for Dora, Hattie's neighbor," Faith told Ted, "so I'll go there first."

"No, I'd rather you assisted with the people as they arrive. Above all, try to keep them calm. I'll see to Hattie's neighbor."

The morning wore on as Ted and the young Oathtakers sought out city residents with infant daughters. They were surprised to find that among the Select and members of sanctuary, the people insisted they would seek out Lilith. The Oathtakers could not convince them to do otherwise. The remaining townspeople met the Oathtakers with complete disinterest.

Unsuccessful in getting Dora to join him, just short of midday, Ted retrieved Erin and the other young women from the mission home. No sooner had the small band returned to sanctuary grounds, than a number of armed men took up stations around its perimeter.

Ted rushed the young women inside and then closed the door. Within moments he discovered that all of the young Oathtakers had just returned. He was devastated to learn that they'd all met with the same results as had he. In the end, Hattie's daughter, Claire, was the sole infant girl under protection at sanctuary.

As the sun reached its zenith, Ted filled the young Oathtakers in on what he expected might transpire. "I'm sorry," he said. "I hope I'm wrong."

A piercing scream cut through the air, then another, and then another.

"And so it begins," Ted said as he closed his eyes, wishing he could shut out the horror that grew around him. The air filled with the sounds of women rushing from the town square.

Looking out a window, he watched helplessly as one tripped over her skirts, madly dashing down the street, her hair tangled about her face, her eyes wide in horror, blood running down her face. Behind her came another screaming woman. Soon came another. Their mourning and anguish filled the streets.

As the afternoon wore on, soldiers entered nearby houses. In some cases, within moments, women came running out, screaming and crying. They fell to the ground, clawing at their faces, pulling at their hair, and howling skyward.

Occasionally, the soldiers murdered a husband or father who tried to protect his own. They made the most public spectacles possible of the events. Ted shuddered as he watched the prophecy he'd read aloud earlier come to pass.

The city was in mourning.

Hours passed. Ted, Faith, Hattie with little Claire, Erin, the other young women who'd been at the mission home, and the young Oathtakers, all sat in silence.

When nighttime finally arrived, Ted made his way to the top reaches of the building's tower. Traditionally, sanctuary personnel kept the tower lamps lit at all times so that the broken, the weary, the hurt, the sad, the needy and the desperate, could always find their way to sanctuary. The lights identified it as a place of refuge.

He made his way around the tower, turning the lights out, one by one. It only seemed right, as he'd been unable to save anyone this day. The lamps, he thought, should reflect that failure, that grief.

***Thank you for taking time with Oathtaker. I sincerely appreciate your votes and welcome your comments.***

Oathtaker is an award-winner in the 2014 Readers' Favorite International Book Award contest. A completed work, it is currently available in print form at CreateSpace at createspace.com/4767727, in print and for your Kindle on Amazon (see the link) and from Barnes and Noble for your Nook.

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