"It's a long story, but it really comes down to this: someone tried to kill me. The arrow didn't hit me, but it did cause me to fall from a cliff. When I landed, I must have hit my head on something. For a long while I didn't even know my own name." Therese closed her eyes, apparently calling forth her memories.
"I was washed a long way down a river and was later found by some kind people who nursed me back to health. When my memory returned, I wanted to go home—to the palace at Shimeron."
"But you didn't."
"Many among the people I met were Oathtakers. When they found me, they feared I'd been the target of an assassination attempt. They begged me to allow them to investigate the facts quietly. Together we worked to get people placed strategically in and around the palace in an effort to learn as much as we could."
"How dreadful," Nina said.
"Yes," Mara agreed. "Then what?"
"Some time passed. Eventually we learned that my sister, Rowena, and her Oathtaker, Dixon Townsend, left the palace. The popular story was that Rowena feared someone there."
"No, but we believed the stories that my sister was in danger, were true. The first family—my family—thought me dead. In the end, it seemed that whether Rowena had reason to fear someone at the palace or not, I was safer from the reach of an assassin if the story of my death remained. So as much as I miss Basha and my home, I took what seemed the most reasonable action and stayed away."
"That's all in keeping with what I've heard."
"May I ask where you got your information?" Therese asked. "You see, if you know about me, then I have to assume that I'm not as safe as I'd thought."
The woman's question was fair enough, but Mara wasn't ready to concede any information. "Well for now, I'll tell you that the source of my information doesn't know you still live. You're in no greater danger than you believed yourself to be in before I told you what I know."
Therese looked carefully at Mara, a question in her eyes. Stifling it, she resumed her story.
"As I said, some Oathtakers, and members of the Select, helped me. I learned they'd been working for a long while with Rowena, secretly, to prepare a safe place for her and the child she was expecting. But now, with the news of her death . . . Well, it looks as though their efforts were in vain." She sighed. "What a terrible, terrible loss."
"Is that why you asked after Dixon? Do you think him responsible for Rowena's death?"
"Oh no, it's not possible."
"What's not possible?"
"Dixon would never ever harm Rowena. I would stake my life on that." Therese sweetened her tea. A faint ting rang out as she set her spoon down on the saucer.
"That's not what the fliers say. I read the various accounts, and it seems some believe he may have been behind Rowena's death."
"You are so sure?"
"I'm certain." Therese tore a teacake in half, then ate one piece. "I've known Dixon for years and I have the greatest respect for him. He would have done anything for Rowena—anything to keep her safe.
"Rowena was in regular contact with us—you know, with the group I mentioned. She didn't know about me. We thought it best to keep my presence a secret from everyone, even her. But she knew we prepared a place for her.
"She was trying to rendezvous with us, but had been unable to free herself from some thugs who were dogging her trail. She didn't want to risk leading her enemies right into what we were trying to create as a safe haven for her."
"How did you manage to keep Basha from knowing your whereabouts? Wouldn't she be drawn to you through her bond to you?"
Therese nodded. "Yes, well, the place we are preparing is . . ." She hesitated. "Suffice it to say, when I was there, the bond couldn't be felt."
"But whenever you left there, it could be."
"And you left there from time to time over the years."
Therese's eyes narrowed. "Yes, that's right."
"And you've been away from there now since sometime before Rowena's death?"
"And Dixon. Did he know you kept in contact with Rowena, or if so, how you did?" Mara reached into her pocket and grasped the compact she kept there.
"I don't know."
"And how did you all communicate with her?" The Oathtaker's fingers traced the engraved filigree design on the compact. The cool of the silver warmed to her touch.
"I can't really say." Therese fidgeted.
"Can you tell me who is in charge of your group of friends?"
"Ahhh . . . I can't really say." The woman looked carefully at Mara. She cocked her head. "Why do you ask?"
Everything Therese had told her so far fit with the facts as Mara believed them to be—based on her dream. Some small gamble might pay off big rewards.
"Tell you what, Therese, you tell me the name of the person in charge of your group, and I'll tell you how you all kept in contact with Rowena."
The woman sat up straighter. "I don't know." She started to her feet, then sank back down in response to Mara's hand held out in an unspoken demand that she remain seated.
"It's simple really. If you can answer my question, I'll know if I can trust the rest of your story. If you can be trusted, then I agree to tell you my story."
Therese looked deeply into the Oathtaker's eyes as though trying to assess her character. "I guess it's only right then that I should turn your own question back on you: Who are you?"
"Answer my question correctly and you'll find out." Mara grinned. "And Therese—you won't be disappointed."
***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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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...