Reigna cried. Out of milk, Mara cuddled her closely and gave her a knuckle to suck on. For the moment the infant seem satisfied, but Mara couldn't help but notice that between the two, Eden was easier to keep quiet. Already they displayed little glimpses into their base, and different, personalities.
The travelers had stopped to eat and to fill their canteens, but rest time was over.
"Just over that ridge there, is Polesk," Dixon said as he placed his hand on her shoulder and pointed through the trees. "So, not much longer. I'll lead the horses over the rocky ledge just ahead. They could use more of a break."
"Thank you." She strapped Reigna to her front side, then stretched her arms and shoulders. She grasped the handle of Eden's basket, but before she could lift it, Dixon gently brushed her hand away.
"I've got her."
"Let's trudge on then," she said.
The trail ahead, narrow and rocky, ran along the edge of a dry streambed. When they came upon thorny brambles and brush, Dixon placed Eden's basket down and handed the horses' reins to Mara.
Using a long scythe-like knife he'd picked up earlier, he cut a clearing. Occasionally, he waved his arm to break up the spiders' webs running across his intended path. Wild blackberry bushes nestling in the dappled shady areas snagged at his pants as he passed by.
When through, he returned to Mara's side, took her hand to lead her though the brambles, then went back for their horses.
Step. Step. Step. Will it never end? The added weight of carrying either Reigna, or Eden, or both at times, took its toll. Mara's feet and back ached and her muscles protested against the unaccustomed riding. She envied Dixon's strength and stamina, but then offered a silent prayer of gratitude for his assistance.
When she tired, she asked him to take the lead. Occasionally he stopped and turned toward the flutter of wings, or the buzz of insects, his senses clearly on high alert, as he continually surveyed the landscape.
After a distance, with the horses somewhat rested, and the rocky patches behind them, the Oathtakers rode again, each with one of the twins.
Small farms dotted the landscape. Fields of oats and wheat, fully ripened and golden in the sunlight, waved in the light breeze as if greeting passersby. Dogs barked and donkeys brayed in the distance. The rhythmic clipping of Sherman and Cheryl's hooves sounded out when they passed over rocky surfaces.
Just when Mara thought she could take no more, they reached the top of a ridge. "Welcome to Polesk," Dixon said with a wave.
"Whew!" Mara looked out at the largest city she'd ever seen. People on horseback and traveling in carriages moved through, giving life to the surroundings like blood through arteries. Houses at the fringes sported small vegetable gardens where scratching chickens milled about. Farther in were larger buildings. Each seemed to rise higher than the one before, as though in a silent contest to determine which was the tallest. In the city's center stood the largest and highest of them all.
"Sanctuary," he said, following her gaze and answering her unasked question.
"It's huge!" Even from this distance, she could make out its grounds, like a park in the midst of which sanctuary stood like a beacon to all who sought refuge from worldly cares. Made of white brick, it sported a towering spire that rose up, and up, and up into the air.
"Polesk has a reputation for being a worldly, cosmopolitan city. People come from all over Oosa to study at, or simply to visit, sanctuary. As a result, political and religious thought and argument ran rampant, as do education, the arts, and the inevitable crime and graft that money and power attract," he told her.
Before long they made their way to the outskirts of the city. Its sounds and smells nearly assaulted them. People bustled. The smell of cooking food wafted through the air.
Dixon's stomach rumbled in hunger. Mara slapped his arm lightly with the back of her hand, caught his eye, and then joined with him in a good laugh.
As they rode on in silence, both kept a close look out so that no detail would escape their attention.
"Really and truly, Dixon. Honest to the Good One. A full pack," she interrupted his musings some time later.
His head snapped to meet her gaze. "What did you say?"
"You asked if there was really a full pack of grut. Yes, again I say, there was a full pack. Honest to Ehyeh!"
His eyes bore deeply into hers. "I didn't ask you anything."
"Of course you did." Her brow dropped. Her expression turned serious. "Just now you asked me—again—if there really was a full pack of grut the day . . . Well, you know, the day Rowena . . . died," her voice fell off to a whisper.
"I didn't ask anything." He shook his head. Then suddenly, he smiled. His entire face lit up. "Mara! Your attendant magic!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Your magic. Your magic!"
"Magic! I just answered your question was all."
He grasped her arm. "Mara, didn't you know? When you accept your charge, you take on attendant magic. It's to help you to fulfill your duties. Apparently your magic is, or at least it includes, the ability to read thoughts."
Her mouth dropped open. She was befuddled. "Well of course I know about attendant magic. But that can't be it. I'm sure you spoke out loud."
He shook his head 'no.'
"Are you sure? It's not that unusual for someone deep in thought to speak out without knowing it."
"No, I did not speak out loud. I was just pondering over your story about the beasts. It's just so amazing. You heard me, but you didn't hear me speak. You heard what I thought."
"Hmmm. Well if that's true, then think something else and we'll see if I can do it again."
"We can try, but it may not work."
"Well, an Oathtaker's attendant magic is not generally 'magic on demand.' Not initially anyway. It takes practice before it becomes second nature. So you should test it however and whenever possible. But sometimes, especially in the beginning, it manifests itself in small ways, simply to alert you of its existence."
He turned his gaze to the increased flow of horses and carriages. With a wave, he directed her off the main route.
"You'll need to be careful with this," he whispered. "You don't want anyone to know about this ability."
***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. 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.
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...