The men had trampled upon everything in sight, leaving filth and scraps and excrement around every corner and creating a foulness to the air. Mangy dogs sniffed around and urinated on trees, tents, and wagon wheels.
Lilith never looked back. A guard assisted her into her wagon, then turned to Velia and leered. "One uh these days," he whispered, "we'll have tuh get together, huh? Just you an' me. You'll like it."
She spat on him.
He wiped the spittle from his face with the back of his hand. "Ya don't have to say nothin'. Just keep pretendin' you're not int'rested." He reached for her arm.
She shook his hand free. Still holding her weapon, she stared.
He stepped back.
"Are you coming?" Lilith called.
Velia stepped into the wagon. Upon entering, the headache inducing scent of roses and white lilies assaulted her. She could taste rosewater. It nearly made her gag. She swallowed hard. The scent was so unlike that of any other Select she'd ever known. After composing herself, she turned her attention to Lilith.
"Was he bothering you?" the woman asked in a tone that sounded deeply insincere. "Like I said, I have you under guard for your own protection."
"No, ma'am, he wasn't bothering me."
Lilith raised her chin. "Very well then, have a seat."
Velia sat. She held her hands clasped in her lap, in her most attentive pose.
"So, what can I do for you, Velia?"
The Oathtaker felt Lilith's eyes bore into her. "Well, ma'am," she said, "I'd like to be of service to you, but I don't see how I can be. Why must I stay behind when you're about your business? Why surround me with guards rather than allow me to be of service to you? And if I can't be of service, then why don't I just move on? I'm sorry, but I've just so many questions."
"Questions can prove dangerous."
Was that a threat? "Yes, ma'am, but how then am I to serve you?"
Lilith reached for Pooch and cradled the animal in her arms. "I don't know why I'm bothering to discuss this with you, but if it will keep you out of trouble . . ." She took in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "Before you came to us, Velia, had you heard any rumor of a new seventh?"
"A new seventh? Why, no, ma'am. The only one I knew of was Rowena, but I'd heard that she . . . died." Velia hesitated. "I'm terribly sorry for your loss."
Lilith's expression remained unchanged.
"What's this of a new seventh?"
Lilith smiled insincerely. "There are those who would like to remove me from my place among the Select. They are jealous of me and of my position. They seek power for themselves and so, would foist a fraud upon the people."
"A fraud, ma'am?"
"There are those who claim to know of a new seventh." Lilith brushed crumbs off a nearby table, as though she was brushing away the claims.
Velia knew the woman spoke lies. But exactly what things were lies? Did Lilith's words mean there was no new seventh? Or that there were no people who claimed there was a new seventh? "I'm sorry," she said. "Who are these people?"
Lilith straightened her skirt. "Those who claim to have been friends of Rowena's."
True they claimed to be friends of Rowena's. But was it also true that they were friends of Rowena's? "Who, ma'am, if you don't mind my asking, that is?"
YOU ARE READING
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...