Velia stopped in her tracks, holding her breath. Is that more screaming? Dear Ehyeh, will it never stop? What is Lilith up to?
As was her pattern upon approaching a city, Lilith had ordered that Velia remain at camp with a few soldiers to "protect" her. On threat of death, the guards avoided interaction with her. Thus, try though she might, she'd gleaned no information from them. Still, she remained with Lilith's venture. She did not like what she saw, but with her attendant power to tell truth from falsehood, she hoped to learn more.
"Did you hear that?" she called out to one of her guards.
"What?" the man responded scurrilously.
Another scream sounded out.
"That," she said, sternly. "That scream."
"I didn't hear nothin'," he said. As his eyes met those of his cohort, he sneered. Then together, they chuckled.
Velia watched the exchange. Everything she saw and heard disgusted her. Every day she prayed the Good One would open her eyes and reveal the facts. They might be difficult to face, but better that than to continue in the dark. Every night she sought an opportunity to see Lilith, but the woman ignored her. If she could just question her, perhaps she could catch her in the lies that would reveal the truth. But Lilith only passed by occasionally and had no time for the Oathtaker.
Why would she want me here anyway? Why hasn't she just left me to the men as she's done with so many others? Why hasn't she just killed me?
"It sounded like a scream to me."
"Didn't hear nothin'," he repeated, glancing at her. "You'd best mind your own business or you might be next."
"So it was a scream."
His muscles tensed as though in warning, but she stood firm in the face of his threat. He shook his head, made a face at her, then turned away.
She closed the tarp, then pulled her hair back and tied it up. She started yet another mental inventory of the things she'd seen that confirmed that Lilith was no longer on the side of the Good One. Velia had never known a Select who'd released her Oathtaker and she'd never seen a Select without one. Still, she didn't feel moved to swear an oath for Lilith's protection—and the woman never suggested she do so. It all added up to no good.
More screams came to her attention. She had to get to the bottom of this. But what if she did? What would she do with the information anyway? Who would she tell? Who would believe her?
She decided to see what would happen if she left her wagon. When Lilith first confined her there, she said it was for Velia's safety. She accepted that explanation without question, at least outwardly. But after days turned into boring weeks, she concluded that Lilith was not concerned for her safety. The woman kept her prisoner for some other, unknown reason.
Velia grasped her shawl and unsheathed her Oathtaker's blade. Then she lifted the tarp and jumped down. The light snowy groundcover crunched under her boots.
"Stop right there," one of the guards said.
"Oh, really, and who's going to stop me?" She turned his way. "You?"
He nodded, a weak smirk on his face.
"I don't think so. Or have you forgotten about this weapon I carry?" She brandished her blade as she stepped forward.
The guard blocked her way. "You're not going anywhere."
"Well you might, if you don't let me pass. You might find your way straight to Sinespe."
"If you kill me, Lilith will have your life."
"Is that right? What makes you think she cares what happens to you?"
He sneered. "Nothing. What makes you think she cares what happens to you?"
Velia bit her lip. He had a point. "I just need to take a walk. I can't sit there any longer," she said, pointing to her wagon.
"Let me pass."
She sighed. "What will Lilith do to you if you allow me to pass? Really now, what harm could it cause?"
"She'd kill me, that's what."
"So let me get this straight. If you don't let me pass, I'll kill you. If you do let me pass, Lilith will kill you." She smiled. "I rather like the sounds of that."
The guard's smirk fell, but he stood firm.
Once again, she stepped forward.
He followed suit.
She raised her blade.
"What's this all about?" Someone approached from behind Velia's wagon.
The guard looked up and grimaced.
Velia turned. There stood Lilith. Clearly, the woman was not pleased.
"I asked," Lilith repeated, "what's all this?" She turned to the guard. "I told you not to allow her to leave."
"I didn't," he said. "I was just—"
"And you," she said turning to Velia. "I thought we had an understanding. I've left you under guard for your own protection."
Velia knew that what the woman said was false. She decided to take a chance. "Lilith, ma'am, I just can't stay cooped up like this. I need to get out. But he," she continued, gesturing toward the guard, "won't let me pass."
The woman was quiet for a long moment. "I think it's time we had a talk," she finally said. "Velia, was it?"
In frustration, the Oathtaker closed her eyes and inhaled slowly. Perhaps she held them closed a second too long.
"Something wrong?" Lilith asked.
"I'm sorry. I meant no offense. Yes, my name is Velia."
Lilith's expression did not change.
"It's just like I said, Lilith, I feel cooped up here. I'd hoped to be of some assistance to you, but it seems you've no use for me. So perhaps I should just be on my way."
Lilith's stared, silent.
"Or we could . . . talk . . . as you suggest?"
Lilith's eyes ran down Velia's form slowly, then made their way back up. She showed her obvious disdain with pursed lips and a raised brow. She turned away, calling over her shoulder, "Come with me."
"Your lucky day," Velia mocked the guard, quietly. "It looks like you won't die after all." Without waiting for his response, she followed Lilith.
***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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