The noises that the rummaging soldiers made played on Lilith's nerves. Although the burning pain of Daeva's presence within her had generally waned, it stirred up into a painful presence from time to time. She felt it most intensely when outside forces irritated her, or when she was in the midst of her most murderous acts. When irritated, the force was painful, but strangely, when in a murderous rage, it became somehow—pleasant.
The soldiers were out of order tonight. They'd spent the past several days picking off those infants they uncovered at farm sites and in small hamlets on their way, but now had time on their hands.
Lilith smiled as she considered her progress to date. Still, she'd best keep moving. The men required constant stimulus or they became surly and belligerent. It was then that they turned on one another. Their infighting often resulted in the loss of lives, and she couldn't afford to lose more of them.
She sat at a writing desk that she kept folded away when not in use. Mindlessly, she sorted through various notes that Sally and Janine had sent to her over the past weeks. The presence of the soldiers she'd left at the palace unnerved them, but her sisters' complaints lessened as she ordered more of the troops to meet up with her and the greater army.
She would have taken more with her at the outset, but in her haste to get started, she'd not considered that as she vacated each village, hamlet and city, she'd have to leave a small force behind. It was they who saw to any necessary cleanup and who locked down the areas so as to keep information from leaking out and making its way ahead of her venture.
Shouts from the soldiers, followed by a woman's screams, made their way to her consciousness. She frowned. The hoodlums were beginning to bore her. She started at the sound of a rapping at the rear of her wagon. "Who is it?"
The visitor moved back the tarp, allowing cold air to rush inside. "'Scuse, ma'am."
"What is it now?"
A low growl, followed by a high yapping, sounded out.
"Shush Pooch," Lilith scolded as she stroked the animal she'd chosen to replace her former pet, Pompom.
Once again, Pooch growled. The canine disliked Freeman, who now made his way into the wagon.
"The men are terribly unruly this evening," she said.
"They're bored, ma'am."
"Bored! They're here to be of service to me. Their boredom is not my concern."
More shrieks cut through the air.
"What is going on out there?"
Freeman shrugged. "Jus' the men havin' a bit o' sport with somma the wimmin they gathered up in Martinsville."
"I'm sure I don't want to know more."
"Prob'ly not. 'S not a pretty sight."
"So why are you bothering me with this? I assume that's why you're here?"
"Weeelll, seems one a the prisoners 's 'n Oathtaker." He watched Lilith's expression closely. "She's causin' a scuffle, she is. Thought ya'd wanna know."
"What possible difference could that make to me?"
"She's threatnin' the men, she is. Says she'll kill 'em." He shuffled his feet. "I tol' 'em I'd check wi' cha 'bout what tuh do."
Lilith sighed. She tried to think back to when the man's presence had begun to bore her. Maybe it was when he'd first opened his mouth to speak and proved himself such an idiot.
"Never mind." She extricated her shawl from under Pooch who sat upon it, as a king upon his throne. She placed it over her shoulders, then scooped up her pet, pulling him close to her bosom.
"Ya comin' 'long then?"
"Lead the way."
He jumped down, then assisted her. As her foot met the ground, Pooch snapped at the man's hand. He jerked it back, then grasped Lilith's elbow as the dog growled.
"Never mind, pet," she said, patting its head. "Well?" she said turning to her escort, "Where to?"
Freeman led her to the center of the camp. The cacophony of pounding boots, jingling chains, and the occasional captive's scream, covered the crunching sound of the light ground-covering snow beneath their feet.
Hollering and laughter filled the cold night air, which hid some, albeit some lesser, portion of the stink that typically accompanied the men. Mercifully, the smell of smoke and cooking dinners further concealed the hired thugs' stench.
A swarm of perhaps twenty thickset men, all covered in capes, gathered around someone.
"I said, 'stay back'!" a woman cried. "Stay back, or I'll kill you. Don't doubt me."
"Ha ha ha!" the men laughed. Notwithstanding their bravado, fear laced their voices.
"Mahlon," the woman said, "they're making sport of you. Can't you see that?"
Lilith elbowed between two men at the back of the group. Upon recognizing her, they shuffled their feet, then moved away, leaving others in her immediate presence.
"Put it down, Mahlon," the woman commanded. "Put it down and stay back."
"I will have you!" a man Lilith assumed to be Mahlon shouted back. His shaking defied the control he sought to portray, as did the jittering knife in his trembling hand.
"That's right, Mahlon," one of the soldiers mocked, "she's yours!"
"Like we said—next one's yours," said another.
"Go on, Mahlon. What's the matter? You scared?"
"You a coward, Mahlon? Huh?"
"Go for it, Mahlon!"
The daring, bold, clearly intoxicated men were having as much sport with Mahlon as with the woman they'd captured.
"There she is, Mahlon. Have at her!" laughed another, pushing the man toward his intended victim.
The woman jumped back. "Stop! I'm telling you—one more step and you die."
"Yeah, well if you kill me, they'll just have you." Mahlon sneered at the woman as he gestured toward the others. "What're ya gonna do? Hold the whole army off with that little blade of yours?" He glanced at his mates and smiled, seeking their approval.
"That's right, Mahlon. Once I use this blade, I may be as good as dead. I know that. I've no other weapon. But I promise you, if you don't stop right now, you'll beat me to the hereafter."
"What're ya gonna do? Kill us all?" he repeated, laughing nervously.
"No, Mahlon," she held his gaze intently, "just you." Despite her circumstances, she remained calm. Her voice did not waiver. She held her blade steady.
***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...