Chapter 10, Part 1

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In some ways returning to the palace was like returning home. Dixon had resided there whenever Rowena had been in attendance over the past years. He looked about his familiar room. It sported a blue theme that ran from the rugs scattered on the dark stained oak floor, to the bedspread, to the curtains, to the towels and the pitcher of water and bowl left for cleaning up. An assortment of black and white chalk sketches, in frames of pewter, hung on the walls. A vase with an assortment of white lilies and blue irises sat on the table near the balcony. The orange patches on the flowers' petals lent a splash of unexpected color to the surroundings. Two chairs flanked the table upon which sat paper, a quill, and an inkwell.

Having awakened with the sun, he listened to the muffled voices of kitchen staff welling up from somewhere below his window. Delivery wagons rattled as they neared the stockrooms. A cock crowed in the distance, and nearby, mourning doves cooed.

A quiet tap came at his door. He ignored it. Palace etiquette held that if he didn't respond to the first muffled knocking, the visitor would wait a good while before returning.

He splashed water across his face and neck. After glancing in the mirror, noting he needed a shave, he retrieved his tools from his backpack. Once done, he dressed in clean clothing stacked in the armoire.

Again came a knock at the door. It was odd, given that it couldn't have been more than a quarter hour since the last attempt to rouse him. Again he ignored the beckoning. He didn't want to see anyone—least of all Lilith if, the Good One forbid, it was she at his door.

He stepped out on the balcony and looked out at the low mist covering the grounds. Droplets of dew sparkled on the lawn. He ran his fingers though his hair, then scowled at the band on his arm. Lilith's use of it was an extreme measure. She had no reason to suspect him of any wrongdoing. He'd always faithfully protected the Select.

Before she'd banded him, he'd been able to feel Mara's presence, as part of his attendant magic enabled him to find other Select and Oathtakers whom he sought. He sighed, longing to return to her and the girls.

Once more, came a knock at his door.

It startled him, interrupting his thoughts. With a huff, he surmised that someone must have a particularly pressing need. He answered the door. "Edmond!" he exclaimed. "Am I ever glad to see you!"

"Dixon." Edmond threw his arms around his friend and clapped him on the back. He was a few inches shorter than Dixon, and slimmer. His dark hair and brown eyes gave him something of a secretive look. He was dressed the same as always, in tight black pants and a shirt open at the neck, and shiny black boots that came just short of his knees. His style lent him an air of nonchalance. He appeared to be just what he was: part of the established power. He took his position and rank for granted, and it showed in his countenance, which others could easily misconstrue as haughty.

"What are you doing here? I expected you'd be busy with Council duties in the City of Light." Dixon beamed. It was so good to find a friendly face.

"I was deployed to the palace as an envoy of the Council. I arrived some time ago. I understand it was about the time you left with Rowena."

Dixon gestured toward a chair. Edmond pulled up on his pant legs to provide room for movement, then sat.

"I can't tell you how good it is to see you. It's been a long time."

"I heard you came in with Lilith last night."

The Oathtaker held up his arm, displaying the band.

"Whew!" Edmond whistled. "What's that all about?"

"Lilith being Lilith."

"I don't understand."

"She found me at sanctuary in Polesk yesterday and insisted I return to Shimeron with her. Wouldn't take 'no' for an answer."

"What happened?"

"Rowena . . . died." Dixon swallowed hard.

"I heard that, yes." Edmond bowed his head. "I'm so sorry."

"Lilith thinks it necessary to band me to be certain I attend a Council hearing to explain what happened." Dixon leaned forward, crooked one finger so his knuckle pointed out, and said, "I am innocent of any wrongdoing."

"Of course!" Edmond eased his hand down and then, mirroring his body movements, leaned in. "Why would Lilith think otherwise? She knows you."

"Yes, and I know Lilith."

"Again, I don't understand."

"Oh, it's nothing. It's just that she has her ways. Nothing is of any importance unless it's about 'Lilith.'"

Edmond chuckled. "Yes, you know her."

"How long did you say you've been here?"

"Long enough to know you speak truth. I just try to keep her humored so I can go about my business with limited interference."

"I have to get this band removed."

"Why not just go along with her wishes? Surely, you've nothing to hide. It'll come off soon enough."

Dixon scowled. "Of course I've nothing to hide." He paced, then took in a cleansing breath. "Can you talk to her for me? Put some sense in her head?"

"You know I'd do anything for you, but maybe you should just do as she says and take care of this business first."

The Oathtaker looked into his friend's eyes. He considered telling him of his need to get back to Mara and the girls, then decided against it. If he left the palace, he didn't want Edmond to have foreknowledge so that he might feel compelled, or out of some sense of duty, feel the need, to inform anyone of the facts.

"Maybe. Or maybe I'll just wait until evening and be on my way. I'd rather be free and banded than be a prisoner and banded." He frowned. "Dear Ehyeh, being separated from my magic is uncomfortable."

A knock came at the door. Dixon answered it. Bernard held a note in his white-gloved hand.

"Good morning, Dixon. This is for you."

"Don't tell me. I suppose Lilith requests the honor of my presence—"

"Now, now, Dixon," the doorman chuckled. Then, noting Edmond's presence, his expression became suddenly serious.

The Oathtaker glanced at his friend, then looked back at Bernard. He understood the man's discomfort. He never wanted to appear out of character with palace guests.

Having resumed his stoic countenance, Bernard handed the note over. Then he bowed and turned away.

"Well, I'm at your service, Dixon," Edmond said. "Why don't we spend the day walking the grounds? Maybe take in some hunting? I'm sure you'll feel better after you have a chance to see that Lilith may be right about setting the record straight sooner rather than later."

Dixon nodded his agreement, then opened the note.

"Anything important?"

"Only that I am to be certain to join the family for dinner this evening."

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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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