A small boy played with a large black and white dog. The animal yipped and spun around, chasing its tail, then ran after a stick the boy threw.
The Oathtakers rode toward him. When they neared, Dixon dismounted. "'Lo, there!" he called as he helped Mara to the ground.
The boy turned and smiled. "Hello!"
"I wondered, could you direct us to the nearest Oathtakers' quarters?"
"Sure! My dad, he knows some Oathtakers. And my brother is one. Course he doesn't have a charge yet, but he'll be a great Oathtaker some day! He's big and strong. I want to be just like him when I get tall."
Dixon chuckled at the boy's way of identifying adulthood with one's height. "Your brother's an Oathtaker, huh?"
"Who's there?" came a voice from off to the side.
"That's my dad there," the child said, pointing. He threw his stick again, then jumped with glee as his pet shot out to retrieve it. "Go get it, Bear!"
"Bear! Now, that's a funny name for a dog," Mara said to him.
Dixon left her with the boy and went to meet his father. The man sported simple garb. His short sandy brown hair accentuated his bold chin and prominent nose. His smile was friendly and quick.
Coming within easy speaking distance, Dixon greeted him. "Good day. We're just making our way into town and could use some directions."
Mara and the child drew near.
"Patrick," the man said with a grin, ruffling his son's hair, "I see you've made fast friends again." Then he introduced himself. "I'm Francis."
"Nice to meet you, Francis. I'm Dixon, and this is Mara. We're traveling and have found ourselves in some need. Your boy tells us you know some Oathtakers."
"I have a good friend who I hear is with the hood here in Polesk. Ted's his name. Ted Baker."
"Ted! Ted Baker? Well isn't that something? I was just on my way to see him at the Oathtakers' mission home. My mother, Faith, lives and works there."
"We understand that the hood hosts some . . . unusual guests."
"Yes, that's right. Of course Ted would be the one to give you the full account, but I'm happy to take you there with me."
"Oh, that's so kind of you," Mara said.
"My pleasure." Francis took his hands from his pockets and with a wave, summoned Patrick who had wandered away, back to his side, as Bear jumped and yipped excitedly over the visitors.
"Patrick, run and tell your mother we'll be gone for a few minutes. Leave Bear inside, and then you can come along with us—if you promise to be well behaved."
"Oh, I'm bein' haved, Dad! I'm bein' haved!" the boy cried as he ran toward the house, Bear leading the way.
When Patrick returned, the group set out. Mara and Dixon led their horses. Wagons loaded with goods passed them in both directions, their drivers calling out to people in the streets to clear the way.
Stands scattered along the roadway became more frequent. Their offerings were rich and varied: handmade silver jewelry; pastries; sausages by the foot; goat cheeses; rice pudding sprinkled with cinnamon, its sweet aroma wafting in the light breeze; hats; gloves; patterned handbags; scarves and shawls dyed to every color imaginable, and portraying diverse designs, scenes, and patterns; handmade soaps boasting by their fragrances, their fresh herbal ingredients; flowers of every hue and scent; books, both new and used; stationery; and more.
One station caught Mara's attention with its array of exotic feathers for decorating hats, or for use as quills, canes with hand carved eagles and other wildlife on their handles, various trinkets claiming to hold magical powers, perfumery, and other assorted gewgaw and frippery.
"We appreciate your willingness to help us," Dixon said. "We just came from Mara's sister's place." He glanced her way. "Her sister died tragically bearing the little ones here." He gestured toward the infants.
"Yes, I promised Cecile I'd care for them. It's just that they're not taking well to goat milk. So, we asked around. We heard about the home the Oathtakers run here and thought perhaps . . . Well, we're hoping to find a young woman who could be of assistance."
"It's possible." Francis walked on, hands in and out of his pockets in a sort of nervous gesture. His long stride kept the company moving forward at a brisk pace.
***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.
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