Fighting against herself not to return the embrace, not to breath in deeply of his warm scent, she leaned back and looked up at him. "It can't be, you know."
He didn't let go. "Just because you're an Oathtaker, that doesn't mean you've no life of your own."
A tear spilled down her cheek. "But it does, Dixon. You know it does. An Oathtaker cannot be unequally yoked. I've sworn a life oath."
"Please, Dixon," she cried, "you're playing with fire here. It's like you've poured oil out around the two of us and you're asking me to light the flame." She wiped her tears away brusquely. "You know better, Dixon. You know . . ." She choked back a sob. "I owe my life to the girls. You know it's not possible."
"Dixon, I'm begging you to stop!" Her voice fell to the softest of whispers as she fought to get her next words out. "I know you'd never ask me to break my oath. You of all people know its significance. And you know the danger of encouraging that from me. You'd forever after wonder when I'd break my word with you."
A long quiet moment passed.
"I'd be all wrong for you anyway," she whispered, as she finally broke his hold.
He turned to face her full on. "What are you talking about? I've spent how long with you now? I've watched you, worked with you, prayed with you, fought with you. I know you, Mara, and I know that-"
"You don't know me," she said between renewed sobs.
"Of course I do. You've a good and kind heart. You seek to do the right thing. You honor Ehyeh. You honor life!"
"Really, Dixon," she wept, "you don't know me. You don't know what a . . . fraud I am."
Reluctantly, he turned away, giving her some space. He leaned forward, clasped his hands and dropped them between his knees.
She turned forward as well. She took in a deep breath and looked out at the river.
"I'm sorry, Dixon. I'm sorry if I've not used the proper care where you're concerned. I guess when I found . . ." What was there to say? Wouldn't making admissions of her own weakness just make this all the worse? Wouldn't that be exactly the flame thrown to the oil she'd referenced? How could either of them rely on the strength of the other when both knew the weakness of the other? In that moment, she realized she'd been counting on Dixon's strength. Had she, in doing so, somehow absolved herself of the responsibility to avoid exactly this?
She struggled to hold back her own admission. Don't. Admitting how you feel will only make this harder. Be strong. "I'm just so, so sorry."
He sat up and stretched his shoulders back. He ground his teeth. "So what terrible thing is it that I don't know? What giant fraud have you committed that you think would change my mind about you?" He shook his head and then, hearing nothing, said, "You're wrong, you know. Nothing could be so bad. My mind won't be changed. I'll wait for you-however long it takes."
Once again, Mara's eyes welled with tears. That would be quite a sacrifice! For me? She grasped the edge of the bench and looked down. She sighed, then glanced out over the river. Starlight twinkled upon the waters.
It seemed he instinctively knew that he should remain silent, that he should give her room to think, time to speak.
"I find it nearly impossible to leave the girls," she finally said.
"You're their Oathtaker. That's not unexpected."
She shuffled her foot. "No, it's not that. Not just that anyway."
The musician's mournful music played on. Note by plaintive note, the discordant melody sang of sorrow felt, pain endured, love lost, youth spent.
"I don't know if I can leave a child again." She glanced his way, then looked out again. "I left a child once before, Dixon." She hesitated, but now that she'd started, she just wanted to unburden herself. "I was very young. That's not an excuse, it's an . . . explanation? I thought . . . Well, it doesn't really matter what I thought."
"What are you talking about?"
"Some years ago, I met a man I thought I-a man I cared for deeply. But he, Jack, wasn't so . . . committed."
"You had his child?" Dixon asked. Whether it was judgment in his voice or disappointment, was hard to tell.
"Oh no! No . . . I thought he wanted to marry me. I thought he would . . . wait for me." She frowned. "But I found out that while he'd been telling me he understood my feelings and respected me for-you know, for waiting-that he was actually seeing my sister, Jo, behind my back.
"When Jo got pregnant, Jack refused to acknowledge the child as his own. He left our town. He never even said 'good-bye.' Jo had his son, Seth."
"I don't understand what this has to do with you."
"Jo left Seth with me. She demanded my promise to care for him, and then she simply . . . disappeared." Mara looked at Dixon. "I did. I told her I'd care for Seth, but . . ."
"But you didn't?"
"No, I didn't. I tried, but I could barely make ends meet. I even sought Jack out. I told him that we could try to make a family of our own with Seth. But he just . . . laughed at me."
She was quiet for some time, then turned and locked her gaze on Dixon. "I loved that child, Dixon, deeply." She wiped away a tear that slid down her cheek. "I was really more his mother than his aunt. I felt responsible. But in the end, I broke my word and . . . I failed."
"So what did you do?"
"Like I said, I tried to raise him on my own, to provide the necessary care for him. But sometime later, I . . ." She inhaled deeply. "You know, my grandmother told me that Jo got pregnant either because she didn't consider the consequences and was moved merely by her emotions or physical urgings-or a combination of them-or that she did consider the consequences and found them acceptable."
"So what happened?"
"Seth was not much older then than the girls are now. I was out with him one day, working at sanctuary, planting fall bulbs and preparing the grounds for the next spring." She shook her head. "Imagine my surprise to find Jo waiting for me at home when I returned."
"She came back?"
Mara grimaced. "Yes, she came back . . . pregnant." She looked out again. "I realized that what Grandmother had been telling me was right, that the consequences of Jo's behavior were consequences she might have found acceptable, but not me. I realized that whatever she'd done to Seth-to me-I had allowed. And I knew that when she bore her next child, she'd leave that one to me as well.
"So I packed our things. I walked out the front door and just . . . kept going. I never told my family what I was doing or where I was going . . . Mother would have just supported Jo at my expense anyway. She would have said that I should keep my word. But . . . I didn't. I didn't keep my word. I left. I took Seth away and I never went back."
***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 just recently was awarded the Literary Classics seal of approval. 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...