Chapter 5, Part 1

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On their second day of traveling, the Oathtakers stopped in a small village for supplies. They haggled over the price for a couple horses, settling on a russet mare for Mara by the name of Cheryl, and on Sherman, a roan gelding for Dixon. From a local artisan, to replace some of the weapons Mara had lost, they purchased two sturdy blades. Near the outskirts of the village, they found a goat farm. As luck would have it, the farmer kept ice in his cellar, so they purchased some of that as well.

Early on this, their third day, they'd stopped once again for milk and ice. Now, as the sun neared the western horizon, they led their weary horses, hoping to make a bit more distance, but not wanting to risk their own safety or that of their mounts by riding the beasts past their point of exhaustion.

Dixon walked ahead with Sherman and Cheryl, his silhouette just visible. As Mara slowed to catch her breath, he turned to look back. She couldn't see the expression on his face in the fading light, but suddenly, he dashed madly her way. He jumped over rocks, moved branches from before himself, and twisted around obstacles, advancing at an amazing speed.

From behind, a footstep rustled in the dry grass. Carefully Mara set down Eden's basket, then turned toward the sound, reaching for Spira. Just as she grasped her weapon's handle, Dixon brushed against her arm.

"No, Mara, no!" he cried.

By the time her eyes focused on the intruder, Dixon had slammed full force into the man, knocking him to the ground and pinning him down. He held him by the throat with a single hand, then patted him down, pulling out and throwing aside, the intruder's sword, and a half dozen knives.

While Dixon struggled with his quarry, Mara looked for others, but saw no one.

"Who are you?" Dixon shouted, only inches from the man's face.

The intruder tried to pry off the Oathtaker's chokehold.

Dixon lifted the man and slammed him back against a large boulder.

"What are you doing?" Mara cried. "I had Spira at the ready. I could have stopped him."

"I'm getting some answers!" Dixon didn't relax in the slightest, his grip on his captive. His eyes were afire. His jaw clenched and his muscles flexed. He slammed the man against the rock once again. "Who are you?"

The intruder shook his head and pointed at his throat.

Dixon loosened his grip just enough for the man to take in a breath. "Who sent you here? You'd best talk, or—or I'll kill you."

"Dixon, I'm not sure that's the best way to get what we need," Mara interrupted.

He turned to her, wrath on his face, determination in his bearing. "Open your eyes!" he exclaimed. "You're in a war! This man was sent to kill Rowena and he would kill Reigna and Eden in a heartbeat. And make no mistake about it, he'll kill you if given the opportunity." He took in a deep breath. "Your job is to protect the girls—no matter what. With your life if you must."

"I know that. I'm prepared to pay with my life if I must." She glared at him.

"Yes, well," he growled, "sometimes the best way to make sure you don't have to pay with your life—to see to it that you can continue to protect your charge—is to make sure that those who seek to harm you, pay with theirs." He turned back to his captive. "Who sent you?"

The man's eyes bulged.

Dixon pulled him away from the rock, spun him around, and then held him from behind with a knife at his throat. "Start talking."

He shook his head and held his lips tight.

"Tough guy, huh?"

The intruder stared straight ahead, silent.

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