The smell of snow filled the air. Some soldiers congregated around campfires while others waited in line near the meal wagon. From their midst, a fight broke out. Laughter rang out as a man fell back. Someone had extricated the food from his hands. He jumped at the mountainous offender, ready to brawl, fists raised. Moments later he fell to the ground, this time never to rise again. A knife protruded from his chest. More laughter erupted as others kicked away the body. Without hesitation, someone took the man's former place in line and proceeded as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
Lilith sat inside her wagon watching the chaos. She'd been on the road for weeks now. Before entering an area, she ordered guards to ride ahead to cover all the roadways to her next destination. Once stationed, she moved in. On pretense of holding an event to bless the infants of the area, she first asked the locals to deliver the imposter child to her. When they did not, she oversaw the demise of hundreds of infants. For those townspeople who'd not felt compelled to join in the event, Lilith sent her men out to search house-by-house. In her wake, she left a continuous trail of blood.
Once she accomplished her task in an area, Lilith left sufficient guards with orders not to allow anyone to leave the city after she moved on. They remained on the lookout for the child she sought, as well as for any others that may have escaped her wrath.
As a safeguard, Lilith had placed a spell over the men at the outset of her venture. Under no circumstances could they tell of the events that transpired. A soldier who tried to do so would literally burn to death from the inside out before he could reveal anything of importance.
Of late, she'd also sent small groups out all over Oosa, to scout for areas where she might later make camp.
She turned to Freeman. Her attention devoured his body. "I'm so tense," she purred.
He massaged her neck and shoulders.
Her eyes rolled up and she moaned. Just then came a scuffle outside the wagon. She scowled. "Get that."
Freeman went to the back of the wagon and pulled the tarp aside.
"Sir, we seek Lilith."
"Who is it?"
"Lilith!" a man's voice called. "It's me! Let go of me! She'll see me," he shouted.
She looked out. Two soldiers held another man tightly. She sighed audibly.
"Lilith!" he cried again.
She recognized him by his voice, his haughty bearing, even by the way he dressed, always in the same style, always in black, as though he was in uniform.
"What are you doing here? I told you to stay away."
He tried unsuccessfully, to pull free of his captors. With a sigh and a nod from Lilith, they released him.
"What are you doing here?" she asked again.
He elbowed the bulky, well-armed soldiers surrounding him. "May I speak with you?"
She motioned Freeman to disappear, then waved her hand at the guards to disperse. Turning back to her visitor, she nodded, then retreated into her wagon and sat at the edge of her bed.
The man entered. His eyes did not miss the rumpled bedding, the half empty bottle of wine on the table, the partially emptied wineglasses, and the lamp turned low.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"I wanted . . . Well, that is, I thought I'd see what I could do for you."
"I told you to wait at the palace."
"But what if I can help you to find Dixon? Maybe I could urge him out of hiding?"
"And how do you propose to do that?"
He motioned to a nearby chair. "May I?"
He sat, then tossed a bag of coins from one hand to the other. "I know Dixon. He trusts me."
"Where do you suppose he's to be found?" she asked, her voice laced with boredom.
"Well now, I've been thinking on that." He smiled. "The City of Light."
"That's not what we're hearing in the local pubs and meeting rooms."
"What are they saying?"
"Someone sighted him in the highlands. I'm heading there next."
"You must be getting false information. The City of Light is the obvious place for him to go."
"And why is that?"
"Dixon is well known in the city."
"It seems you've just given the best reason for him to avoid it." Lilith scowled.
"No, don't you see? Dixon always thinks everyone is on his side. He thinks he's everyone's favorite. It would be just like him to go there for aid and support."
She rose. "We'll make it to the city soon enough. If he's there, I'll find him."
"Right. But maybe I could help. I could check out the inns and some of his favorite haunts. Likely, it will take some time, but . . ."
Lilith sneered. "What exactly is it you propose?"
The man leaned in. He smiled, encouraging her to join him in his plans. "Dixon is a wily one. If he gets word of your nearing the city, he'll leave. But if I found him, I could keep him there." He hesitated. "Don't you see? I could make him feel secure there while keeping you informed of his whereabouts."
"You think he'd follow your advice?"
"Think! I know. He'll trust me. I'm sure of it."
"He travels with a woman. What of her?"
"I'll win her over."
She smirked. "You are so sure of yourself?"
"With women?" He laughed.
Lilith looked at him disdainfully.
"Well, I mean, with the average woman—which surely in comparison to you, she must be." He tossed his bag of coins again, back and forth, then stopped. "Yes, I'm sure of it. I can win her over."
"Very well then, see to it. If you discover Dixon's whereabouts, get word to me. For now, I plan to head to the highlands when we're through here. I'll put my guards on notice to be on the lookout for any messages you might send. If you find him, do what you can to keep him in one place."
He smiled. "When would you like for me to head for the city? In the morning maybe?" His voice, his glance, held an invitation.
She was not amused. "When? Why, immediately, of course." She tilted her head toward the back of the wagon, motioning for him to leave. "And be quick about it."
He got up and turned to go, then jumped down. Just as his feet touched the ground, she called out. "Oh, wait! Come back here."
He returned, smiling leeringly.
"I almost forgot. You're going to need protection against revealing your intentions.
"I don't understand."
"You don't need to understand." Lilith had to put him under the same spell she'd used on the soldiers who accompanied her. She could not risk his informing Dixon of her whereabouts, or that anyone might see through to his real intentions. She reached toward her guest. In a moment, he dropped to the floor and thrashed in pain.
***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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