Chapter 5, Part 2-2

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"I don't know. If I had to guess, I'd say the Good One acknowledged my promise, but not as the girls' assigned Oathtaker. From what you just said, from the description you gave, there's no question. You are their Oathtaker."

She got to her feet and went back to the campfire, Dixon following. She sat down, cradling the babies. "Well there certainly are a lot of questions to be answered. Even so, I can't go on like this. I feel I'm always walking on eggshells around you and . . . I refuse to do it any longer." She pursed her lips and shook her head. "If you really want to help, if you really think you can do this, then something has got to change."

He nodded.

"Perhaps if you told your story, you could put your demons at bay. Then maybe, just maybe, we can call a truce. I am not your enemy."

He moved as though to speak, then hesitated. "Fair enough," he finally said. He was quiet for a minute. "Goodness, where do I begin?" he asked with a sheepish grin.

"How about at the beginning? I usually find that to be a good place."

He sat down near the fire, then reclined on his side, just feet away from her. "Well," he said as he sat up again, "I'll try to keep this short so as not to bore you." He chuckled softly.

Mara thought she saw, by the glow of the burning embers, the welling of tears in his eyes, but she still appreciated how that smile, slight though it was, replaced the scowl that had been on his face for most of the time since they'd met. "Just don't leave out anything important."

Their eyes met. They both grinned.

"See? That wasn't so bad, was it?"

Dixon's entire persona changed when he smiled. Instead of surly, he appeared friendly; instead of condescending, he appeared companionable. It made him very, very attractive. Surprised by that discovery, Mara sought to dismiss the thought as quickly as it had arisen.

"Well," he said, "when . . ." He glanced up. "The beginning? Really?"

"The beginning."

"Well then, I guess the story really starts when I left my family in the hinterlands to go to train as an Oathtaker. My father had been one and then, after the death of his charge, served as an advisor to the Council in the City of Light. He was always busy and often away from home. In many ways my mother acted a single parent raising my two brothers and me.

"We lived in a small town with good friends nearby. My best friend, Edmond, was also the son of an Oathtaker. His father, Madden Chantray, had been in the service, but . . . Well, he'd become a traitor to the cause."

Dixon crossed his legs and leaned in to stir the remaining coals, as though in doing so his thoughts and remembrances might also be stirred and thereby rise to the surface.

"Madden's betrayal devastated my father. He'd known him well, had worked with him for years. My father was especially pained when the Council assigned to him, the prosecution of the case. In the end, Madden was put to death for his crimes. Because my father felt responsible somehow, he frequently invited Edmond to stay with us, sometimes for weeks at a time. I didn't hear the whole story until my father was on his deathbed. I think he wanted to save Edmond from the scandal."

A quiet minute passed. The occasional bullfrog croaked, marking the passing time.

"The hinterlands you say?" Mara finally asked, bringing Dixon back to the moment.

"Mmhmmm."

"So your family . . . Are you one of the Brecken Townsends?"

"That's right."

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