Nina, with the twins cradled near her, slept. She breathed softly. The smell of the last of the burning beeswax candles that Mara had just blown out, infused the still air with the sweet smell of honey and smoke. Slowly, the orange glow at the tip of the candlewick died away.
She laid her head back onto her goose down pillow. The richness of the bedding was not lost on her, particularly since she'd had so little sleep over the past days.
Spira sat on the bedside table just inches from her hand. With the door locked and a chair wedged beneath the doorknob, she felt fairly secure. She knew, above all, that she needed rest.
She had so many questions and felt such uncertainty. Her charge was utterly unique. Every Oathtaker's charge was important, that was true, but to have two, and for them both to be so very needy, was unprecedented.
The evening was remarkably quiet. The occasional raindrop, cradled in the leafy treetops, fell.
Mara closed her eyes. She willed herself to relax, first her neck, her face, and her brows. Then came her shoulders, arms, wrists, and fingers. Concentrating on breathing in and out, slowly and steadily, she felt her body slacken, her mind loosen up.
Colors began to prance and shimmer before her eyes, lazily changing hue, modifying and altering in intensity. Now and then she caught a whiff of one of them—now yellow, now mint, now indigo, now . . .
A moving picture took shape. The colors coalesced and melded into forms and shapes. With relaxed concentration, the Oathtaker sharpened her focus. Slowly the swirl of tint and hue, shade and tone, became a solid scene before her.
She found herself on the floor of a small room with walls of burnt orange. Sheer curtains covered its single window. No light came in, confirming that nighttime was underway. Three iron bars ran vertically from the window top to its sill.
There was a single small bed covered with a loosely knit blanket of muted earth tones. A rag rug lay on the floor. To Mara's right stood a three-paneled room divider. Over the top of it hung articles of men's clothing.
A lamp sat at a nearby table, its flame flickering sporadically. It shed inconsistent patterns of light, then shadow, around the room. On the wall near the door was a sconce, its candle unlit.
Mara got up. She looked around for anything by which she might identify her whereabouts. Hearing the shuffle of feet at the door, the springing whine as the handle turned, she quietly stepped behind the divider and then peeked through an opening between its sections. The door opened.
". . . to go in the morning," came a voice from outside the room as a man entered.
There was something familiar about his silhouette, but the light was insufficient and the subject too far away for Mara to identify him.
The door closed from the outside, following which came the sound of a key turning.
Am I asleep? Or awake? she wondered.
The man reached up toward the wall sconce and fumbled with a flint to light the candle. He turned her way.
"Dear Good One!" she gasped.
He crouched instantly in preparation of defending himself.
She stepped out from behind the divider, one hand at her throat, the other held up, palm out. "Dixon!"
His brow furrowed. "How did you get in here?" he whispered.
"I'm not exactly sure that I am here."
"What are you talking about? You're standing right in front of me."
"Are you sure? Really, I don't know." She held her head in her hands. "Gracious, I'm so confused!"
"Shhh." He held his finger to his lips.
Sounds of shuffling came from outside the door, then a solid knock. "Is everything all right in there?" came the same gruff voice that had sounded out earlier.
"Yes, all is well. I just . . . stubbed my toe." Dixon turned to Mara and whispered, "Keep your voice down."
Now it was her turn to scowl. "What's going on?"
His eyes opened wide. "You show up unexpectedly in my room and ask me what's going on? And the girls, entrusted to your safety, are nowhere to be seen? Huh! Now, I'm confused!"
He sat at the table and directed with a wave of his hand for her to sit next to him. He tapped the tabletop with his flint—once, twice, thrice.
She gazed around the room. "Where am I?" She hesitated. "Am I asleep? Or awake?"
A grin spread from his lips to his eyes. "If you don't beat all."
The mood was contagious. She smirked, then reached across the table and placed her hand atop his. "Can you feel that?"
Head again shaking, his smile now brought unto submission, he grew serious. "All right, what's going on? How'd you get here? And what do you mean, 'can I feel that?'"
He stared. "Great Ehyeh, now I've heard everything."
"No, it's true. Nina and I left Polesk like you said. We reached Settleton late today. We spent the evening learning some . . . interesting things. Now we're down for the night."
He stood. "I hate to break it to you, but you're here with me at the palace. They've—that is, Lilith, moved me from my original chambers and had me placed in this," he motioned around the room, "servant's room. I'm under house arrest. I can't go anywhere without an escort. No one can enter my room without the guard's permission. Yet you show up. What am I to make of this?"
She approached. She placed her hand on his upper arm. For the span of a breath, the feel of his strength distracted her.
His eyes dropped to her hand, acknowledging its presence.
"You really can feel that?" she asked.
He reached out and pinched her upper arm. "Can you feel that?" he snorted.
"Well, what a ridiculous question!"
"You don't understand, Dixon. I really am asleep. Or at least I think I am . . . Only this feels so real!"
She rubbed the spot where he'd pinched her. "Remember when I told you about my dream at sanctuary in Polesk—that some woman would try to take the girls away from me there?"
"So it was Lilith then."
"Yes," he said, "go on."
"Well, it seems there's another dimension to this attendant power."
***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...