Chapter 9, Part 2-2 (End Chapter 9)

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Dixon looked down at the band he wore. Either Lilith had concluded that he was in little danger from the mob, or she intended to leave him at a disadvantage if trouble came. Still, it would likely be only moments before she assigned someone to keep an eye on him. Not prepared to go inside as yet, he paced around the fountain.

"Hello there, Dixon."

"I see Lilith wasted no time in sending someone to watch over me."

He wondered what she was telling the palace staff. The truth? That I am here against my will and at her demand? That she banded me as she would a common criminal or a traitor?

He turned around. The burning torches gave off a smell of pitch that tickled his nose. They flickered in the breeze and made popping, crackling noises. "Oh, Bernard, hello."

Bernard, a doorman, had served at the palace for many years. He knew everyone, and nearly everything about them. A small man, slightly stooped at the shoulder, he was well into the fall of his life. As with the earthly seasons, his autumn was accompanied with the loss of things: hair, a bit of hearing, his formerly acute eyesight, energy, patience, and time. People tended to overlook him, but Dixon knew better.

Bernard held a wealth of information about the comings and goings of everyone at the palace. Although his perspective seemed somewhat naïve at times, in that he always looked for the best in everyone, when you needed information, he was often of assistance. Dixon was certain the man was not losing, with advancing age, his ability to observe, his memory, or his unfailing pursuit to do the right and proper thing.

"Lilith said you'd just returned."

"Mmhmmm."

"So, where's Rowena? We've missed her. By the mob outside the gates, I suppose you can see how much." The doorman placed a hand on the bench and slowly lowered himself to sit down.

"Lilith didn't tell you?"

"She just said you'd come home with her. I expected to find Rowena out here with you. Where is she?"

Dixon looked at the old man, then back at the pool of water before him. How many more times could he go through with telling the news? He dipped his hand into the cool water, then sat down. "I'm sorry." He paused, then shared his news.

"No!"

"Yes, just days ago. And now it seems Lilith finds it necessary to band me." The Oathtaker lifted up his arm.

"I'm so sorry. Rowena was so very special. I remember her from the time she was just a babe. Always so full of life, so full of mischief. The good kind, I mean. You know? She'll be sorely missed."

"Well, by some anyway," Dixon murmured.

"You mean Lilith?" The doorman lowered his voice. "She's harmless, don't you think?

"Harmless? Do you really think so?"

"She is terribly self-centered, of course. But that is the way of a sixth."

"There are always excuses for her."

The two sat quietly for a few minutes. The sound and smell of the burning torches filled the air and time.

"She died in childbirth, you say?"

Dixon nodded.

"Goodness, such a tragedy. It seems we may never find our way back," Bernard said. "I worry so for Oosa. The things we've always stood for, always believed in, are . . . disappearing. There doesn't seem to be any order any more. There's little honor . . . little caring. There are no heroes to speak of. No one knows what 'loyalty' means, and few seem to care. Every man is like a law unto himself.

"I'd hoped Rowena's child might grow to be a great leader, the kind that could bring us back to our roots." He hung his head. "And now she's gone and you're . . . banded. None of it makes any sense."

"Yes, well apparently Lilith thinks I'm a flight risk or something." Dixon stood and stretched. "I suppose she asked you to keep an eye on me?"

"Well, she did, but I thought she just wanted to be certain you were properly welcomed. But you? A traitor? Bah! That's ridiculous. I've never known anyone more faithful to Ehyeh's ways. I've watched you. I saw you care for Rowena. I—"

"Thank you. That means a lot to me."

"Ah, truly, she just asked me to be certain you had no need of anything." Bernard paused. "I don't understand. What's going on between the two of you?"

"Oh nothing really. It's just that she insisted in a very public way that I come here with her. So, here I am." Dixon shuffled his feet.

"Understood." The doorman leaned in. "Well, you tell me if you need anything. You know Lilith. She's just asserting her authority so she can have her way. She's always been partial to you."

"Ha! I mean no offense, but that is incredibly naïve of you."

Bernard's brow furrowed. "You don't think she fancies you?"

"No more than she fancies anyone else she can't control."

"Yes, I see what you mean. Well, if you like, I could see if she'd listen to me about removing the band."

"Absolutely not. Thank you, but I don't want you to have anything to do with any of this."

"Sure. Sure. You're just going to wait it out then?"

Dixon nodded. He brushed at his nose to clear away the scent of the burning torches. He snuffed and grimaced when it was ineffective. "It'll be fine, I'm sure."

"Well, let's get you settled in for the night."

"I don't know. I'd like to stay out for a while just to spite Lilith."

Bernard laughed.

"You're right. No sense behaving as childishly as her."

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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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