This being the forty-ninth day since the girls were born, and having rested for nearly a week since arriving at The Clandest Inn, Mara planned a trip to sanctuary with Nina, Adele, and the twins. Dixon wanted to accompany her to dedicate the girls. Concerned, however, that he would not go unnoticed there, and that if discovered, the authorities might take him into custody, she insisted he stay behind. Although reluctant to take anyone else along, she finally relented to his urgings, and allowed Jules to join her.
When they entered the grounds, a young man handed them all copies of Tidings, the traditional writings attributed as divine revelation of the Good One. "Compliments of the local Oathtakers," he said with a smile.
Several groups sat on the lawn in circles reasoning and discussing amongst themselves. Just off sanctuary grounds, picketers carried signs bearing slogans against the Select and their Oathtakers. Private troops of Oathtakers that served at sanctuary surrounded the area so as to keep the peace and to provide safety for sanctuary visitors.
The steps to the front door rose up before them. In the middle of each was an indentation testifying to the countless souls that had come and gone before. As the ball of Mara's foot met up with the smoothened groove in the step, she almost lost her balance. She righted herself, then offered a hand to Adele who followed behind.
When they entered sanctuary, they joined a group touring the campus.
In many ways the main building rivaled that of sanctuary in Polesk and in some ways even exceeded it.
Paintings delighting in life events covered the walls. The ceiling of one room boasted a mural in the minutest of detail. As at Polesk, the windows depicted the meanings behind the firsts through the sevenths of the Select. Here, however, they were made from glass panes, not with the seemingly infinite number of small crystals as made up the windows at Polesk. Consequently, these windows did not refract light in the same manner as did the others.
The Oathtaker leading the tour brought the group to the area reserved for paying respects to Ehyeh. There, a number of people, many elderly, prayed. The sounds varied from the quietest whispers of gratitude, to full voiced supplications, to exclamatory songs of praise.
Mara inhaled deeply, recognizing the scent of some Select in attendance. As she did, she had the uncanny feeling someone watched her. She looked about. Seeing nothing, she shook off the sensation.
"Listen to those worshipers!" Nina whispered. "The hair on my arms is rising. Oh, I've so much to be grateful for. It makes me long to add my thanks."
Minutes later, the group moved on. The guide pointed out the library and research center located in a separate building accessible from the same walkway that led from the street to the main sanctuary. To the other side, he noted the training center and a dormitory used by students, guests, and sanctuary regulars. It was there, he explained, that young people spent years living and training, in an effort to earn their Oathtaker credentials. He returned the group, when his tour was complete, to the vestibule of the main building.
"I'd like to spent a few minutes in the worship hall first," Mara said. "Then we'll go to the research center."
"Lead on," Jules said.
Once inside the worship area, Mara took Reigna from Nina. She positioned the infant in the crook of one arm, then asked Adele to place Eden in her other arm.
Nodding at Jules, she silently entreated him to keep a close eye on things. Then she asked Nina and Adele to accompany her to the altar. Worshippers in fervent supplication surrounded it. She carefully laid the infants down, then took each of the young women by the hand.
Looking skyward, she spoke. "Ehyeh, dear Good One, I thank you for the opportunity to serve you. I thank you for the confidence you've placed in me with these little ones. Dear Good One, I dedicate these precious lives back to you and to your service. I pray you will use me, hone me, teach me, so I may best serve them, and in that way, may best serve your cause."
Tears welled in Nina and Adele's eyes. Mara smiled at them, then resumed her prayer. "Dear Good One, I pray strength for myself and for my friends and cohorts. Bless them all. Bless them for their care, their giving, and their sacrifices."
She looked to Jules and then added, "Bless them dear Good One for their strength of heart, mind, and body." Finally, she bowed her head. "Dear Good One, I commit these blessed infants to you and to your care and protection."
When she was through, she led her group to the rear of the chamber. "To the research center," she said.
As she turned to go, an old woman brushed past her. The veins in her arms and hands stood out like markings of blue delineating riverways on a map. Her arthritic fingers were curled and bent, as though in the act of grasping something for eternity. The moment she touched Mara, their eyes met.
The Oathtaker tensed.
The old woman's gray eyes boasted a streak of strength and perseverance that was ages old, but in no way tired or lacking. Her old, puckered mouth gaped into a smile. Putting a crumpled hand to her breast, she exclaimed, "Oh, dear Good One!"
At a loss, Mara looked around. Seeing no one, and realizing the woman's attention was on her, she reached for Spira. She didn't want to attract attention, but prepared herself to meet danger in any form.
"Don't be frightened," the old woman murmured, reaching out.
Mara pulled away before the woman could grasp her, then stepped back. She kept one hand on Spira. With the other, she directed her friends to retreat.
The woman smiled, startling Mara. While poor, disheveled, and generally untidy, her expression was genuine. She portrayed a sense of peace.
"I thought that was you there at the altar. Oh, how I've waited for you!" she exclaimed in a voice barely above a whisper. "The Good One promised I would meet you one day, and here you are, after all this time." Her fingers trembled. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears.
Mara's eyes narrowed. Quickly, she assessed the situation. There was no apparent danger, yet the Oathtaker remained alert.
Once again, the old woman stepped forward.
Once again, Mara stepped back.
The woman looked down at herself. She pouted, but then smiled wanly. "Don't believe everything you see," she chided. "My body, my strength and beauty, all are things of the past. But my heart remains pure for Ehyeh," she said, tapping her finger to her chest.
"Who are you? And what do you want of me?"
***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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An Oath Sworn. A Struggle Engaged. A Sacrifice Required. When Mara, a trained Oathtaker, is drawn by the scent of the Select to battle underworld beasts summoned by powers of evil to destroy the guardians of life, she swears a life oath for the prot...