Chapter 28, Part 2 (End Chapter 28)

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Ezra, exhausted from his efforts to heal Dooley, and from overseeing the questioning of the stranger, jumped as a knock came at the door. When Connell opened it, its squeaking hinges sounded eerily into the room.

"How is it going with Dooley?" Dixon asked as he stepped inside.

"He's resting."

"That's probably what you should be doing."

"Yes."

"Any information yet?"

"No, but I'm still hoping he'll have something for us when he awakens."

Dixon watched his friend closely. "Really, you should get some sleep. You look awful."

"Thanks. How's the questioning going?"

Dixon sat next to his friend. "We keep thinking he's breaking, but then . . . nothing."

"Nothing at all?"

"No. Hopefully soon. Mara insists Basha turn up the heat. It's difficult, but she's rising to the occasion. Therese is helping."

"How's Mara holding up?"

Dixon looked away. "I'm not sure. She's been . . . distant. Probably just feeling overwhelmed. I remember those early days. You?"

The innkeeper chuckled. "Yes, but maybe you should just tell her the truth about Celestine. I see the way she looks at her."

Dixon shook his head. "Don't read anything into it, Ezra. She's just feeling she's in over her head. Leala and Fidel are inundating her with information and resources. It's amazing how the education of Oathtakers has changed so quickly over just the past few years. I didn't realize how much they were no longer teaching. Besides, it's not like we—" He stopped short. "It's not like she could acknowledge . . . Well, she's committed. She's under oath. Even if . . ." He paused and drummed a beat upon his thigh. "Even if, as you seem to be implying, there was any interest on her part, it would probably be best to keep obstacles in the way."

Ezra watched his friend closely. "I can't say that I disagree with you. Even so, the two of you might be getting along better. We're all feeling the tension."

Dixon's brow rose.

Just then another knock came at the door. Once again, Connell answered it. Once again, its squeaking hinges sang their eerie tune. There stood Mara, looking wan and tired.

"We were just talking about you," Ezra said.

Her gaze shifted quickly from him to Dixon. "All good things, I hope."

"Most certainly. We were discussing how hard you've been studying."

"I feel my head's about to burst."

He motioned to a chair. "What's the news?"

"Basha just sent a message. She thinks he might talk soon."

"But she's gotten nothing yet?" Dixon asked.

"No, nothing yet." Mara brushed her hair from her face. "Well, that is, he gave Basha his name. It's Udaye. And he confirmed he was with the army in Polesk."

"Nothing about what they were doing there?"

"No." Mara turned to Ezra. "Have any more of your men made it back from that area?"

He shook his head. "No. I finally sent a few more that direction. They left last night. I arranged for them to put out false information about your whereabouts along the way."

"Good," Dixon said. "Where are they going to say we were seen?"

"I figured the farther away from here the better, so they'll say they've seen you in various villages in the highlands. That should make it sound like you're on the move."

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