Chapter 12, Part 3-2 (End Chapter 12)

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"Well," Mara chuckled, "if I hadn't trusted you before, I would know I could trust you now. You've just taken an oath to protect them."

Therese's brow furrowed. "Of course I meant it, but—"

"But you're no Oathtaker, is that what you were going to say?" Nina asked.

Therese shot a look her way. "Exactly."

"Neither am I. Yet the Good One accepted my oath, just as he accepted yours."

Therese eyed Nina carefully, as though trying to discern the truthfulness of her words. "I've never heard of such a thing."

"Nor I," Mara said. "But rest assured, you just witnessed the Good One's acceptance of your oath."

"I don't understand."

"Neither do I." Mara smiled. "But Reigna and Eden are gathering quite a little army of protectors."

"Who?"

"Well, I'm their official Oathtaker, but two others also have sworn their loyalty, and both experienced the same acceptance. Dixon, and Nina here."

Therese stared. "I don't know what to say. I've never heard of such a—"

"Yes, well, that's the truth of it."

"Tell me more. How long did you know Rowena? Where did you meet her? How did you come to be Oathtaker to the girls?"

"So many questions. Have you time for the whole story?"

"Certainly."

"Very well then." Mara began her story with the day she'd come upon Rowena in the wayfarers' hut. She told of her battle with the grut and of Rowena's last moments. Therese held the girls more closely as the story progressed.

Before long, Reigna let out a healthy wail. When Nina reached for Reigna to feed her, Therese reluctantly released her hold.

As Nina nursed the infant, Therese's eyes held a question.

"We found Nina in Polesk," Mara said. "Dixon and I headed there as quickly as possible after your sister died. The Good One chose me as the girls' Oathtaker, but he didn't provide me with the means to feed them." She laughed. "What is it they say? 'The Good One provides every bird his food, but He doesn't throw it into the nest?'"

"And that ended up being my blessing," Nina said.

Mara continued her story. As the rain abated, she told of how she and Nina had left Polesk.

Therese interrupted. "Who was the woman?"

"I didn't know then, but I think I know now. I believe it was your sister, Lilith."

"Hmmm. Did you believe yourself to be in danger?"

"Me? No. Reigna and Eden? Most definitely. My attendant magic seems to include some sort of powers relating to my dreams, and it's because of things learned in my dreams, and the reports in the local fliers, that I suspect her."

"How so?" Therese asked.

"I'd say the things I dream are very . . . real. In some cases, such as when the woman who I believe was Lilith came to Polesk, they seem to be visions of things to come. Other times . . . Well, it's almost as though I'm present in the same moment in which the events happen."

"Physically present, you mean?"

"It feels like it."

"Have you tested it?"

Mara was taken aback by the question. "What do you mean?"

"Just that I've heard of many different types of attendant magic. I've even studied some of the best writings on the subject in the official sanctuary library in the City of Light. You shouldn't be afraid to test the limits of your powers. They were given you for a reason—to use."

"I'll give that some thought."

"So then what happened? After you left Polesk?"

By the time Mara completed her story, Reigna and Eden were both satiated and asleep, and the storm had moved on.

"And that is everything," she concluded.

A knock came at the door.

"Who's there?" she asked.

"Samuel and Jules."

Therese handed Reigna back to Nina's waiting arms. She went to the door and stood there silently, then turned back to embrace Mara.

"Thank you. I am ever so grateful. I'm sorry Rowena didn't make it to a safe place, but I'd like to help you to see to the girls' safety. May I return tomorrow to discuss this with you further?"

"That would be good. We'd expected Dixon and I'd hoped he'd help walk me through these early days, but . . ."

"So you and Dixon made fast friends, huh?"

The Oathtaker shook her head slowly. "I wouldn't say 'fast friends,' exactly."

"Oh?"

Mara chuckled. "We had a rocky start. But we came to an understanding."

Therese grinned. "I'll be back then, come morning."


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