Chapter 34, Part 1

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"I've got her, Mara."

"Oh, but just-"

"I've got her." Nina put her hand out. "It will do you good. Go, now. Get out for a walk. Dixon's waiting for you in the pub. You told him you'd go. Now don't keep him waiting."

"I'll be back soon. Just-"

"Just go," Nina interrupted, "and take your time."

"What was it Dixon said? 'I know when I'm beaten'?"

"They'll be fine. You have a good time."

Mara waved to Therese and Basha visiting in the common room, then brushed past Samuel and Jules standing guard in the hall. She mused about the girls having three levels of protection. That much was comforting at least.

She entered the pub. Guests laughed raucously and clapped their hands, delighted with the antics of the magician who was back to entertain them.

Dixon stood near the bar with Ezra. He looked at Mara as she entered the room. He waved her over, his eyes never leaving her, drinking in the sight of her.

"So you're going to catch some fresh air, huh? It's high time," Ezra said when she approached.

"So they tell me."

"It does a soul good, Mara. You're lucky to have friends like these."

"Right you are, Ezra."

"You kids have a good time now," the innkeeper said. Then he looked at Dixon. "Careful, now," he cautioned.

Dixon bit his lip and nodded.

When Mara reached the front door to the inn, he opened it for her. As she stepped ahead, he placed his hand on the small of her back.

What is it about that gesture, she wondered, that feels so strong, so protective? Is it the guidance, the support it seems to offer? Or is it the unspoken, "I've got your back" that it suggests? Or perhaps it's just the touch, the intimacy of a moment . . .

She warred with her emotions, not wanting him to take his hand away, yet knowing that his closeness was becoming a greater danger to her emotional wellbeing all the time. She frowned.

"What?" he asked.

"Nothing, just . . . thinking."

"Anything you'd care to share?"

She shook her head. "No."

"Which way? Toward sanctuary? Or toward the river?"

"Toward the river, I think."

"Toward the river it is." He turned right. Once again, he guided her with a hand to the small of her back, to the inside of the walkway, away from the bustling traffic, leaving himself in the position of protector.

They walked in silence. It was an unseasonably warm winter evening. They passed busy taverns and inns. Coaches for hire rushed by.

They stopped outside an inn to watch a wedding celebration within. The partiers raised glasses, made toasts, laughed, and drank. The newlyweds' delight mesmerized Mara, yet left her heavyhearted at the same time. She tore her eyes away, willing herself to think of something else.

They left the busier streets to follow a path along the canal that ran through the city. Longboats quietly floated by. Now and again a ripple of laughter wafted through the still night air. Soft lamplight had replaced the light of day. Benches scattered along the pathway invited guests to stop to enjoy their surroundings.

The further they went, the slower Mara walked.

Occasionally Dixon glanced her way, but she didn't speak, so neither did he.

After several minutes, they passed by a fiddler. He played a sweet, soft melody that floated on the breeze. It was haunting, sad, doleful, mournful even. It seemed to urge, to beg listeners to entertain deep, hidden, emotions.

"You're mighty quiet," Dixon finally said. He glanced at Mara just as she stopped in her tracks and turned away, then grasped the back post of a nearby bench, leaned forward, and wept.

"What is it?" He reached for her and helped her to the seat. He turned her toward himself and wrapped his arms around her.

She sunk her face into his chest.

"What is it? What's troubling you?"

She shook her head.

"What is it, Mara?" He tightened his hold. "Do you have doubts about going? If so, you shouldn't go. You should trust yourself. I don't question you because I'm trying to be contrary. I'm just trying to help."

Again she shook her head. She cried as though her heart would break. Like the music that wafted on the breeze, she seemed to be in mourning.

"You think you should go?"

She nodded, her face hidden in his chest. Oh, dear Good One. It feels so good. I don't ever want this moment to stop.

"But you don't want to go."

She shook her head.

"All right. Why don't you want to go?"

She pushed against him and tried to turn away.

"On, no you don't," he said. He held her even more tightly. Then he whispered in her ear. "Please, Mara. Please . . . don't turn from me. Please don't make me . . . let go."

She sucked in her breath, then tried again to push away.

"Please. Please, don't. Tell me, what is it?"

She gave in to his embrace. She sobbed as he rocked her gently.

"It's all right. It's all right," he said over and over again.

After some minutes, her tears momentarily spent, she once again, tried to break free.

"Please, no," he said. He swallowed hard. "I don't . . . I don't ever want to let go," he whispered.

***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 and has earned the Literary Classics seal of approval. A completed work, it is currently available in print form at CreateSpace at, in print and for your Kindle on Amazon (see the link) and from Barnes and Noble for your Nook.

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