Candlelight flickered off the walls and mirrors of the grand bedchamber. Red damask drapery hung from ceiling to floor, shutting out all external light. Down pillows covered the canopied bed.
Lilith sat at her vanity, its mirror proclaiming her beauty. She admired herself as a young handmaiden combed her hair with a steady stroke. "Ouch!" she cried, turning around to slap the girl soundly.
"Sorry, ma'am." The maid rubbed her cheek to lighten the sting.
"You are worthless. I should have you expelled from the palace for all time."
"Just go away!"
The young woman limped off.
The maid turned back. "Yes, ma'am?"
She returned to Lilith's side.
Lilith placed her finger below the maid's chin, then tilted her head up.
Adele flinched. She'd been at the woman's mercies too many times to ignore the warning signs. Lilith could go into a rage at the slightest provocation—or at no provocation at all—and she didn't hesitate to employ her own form of "discipline."
"Look at me."
Adele raised her eyes. They sparkled with unshed tears.
"You know the rules."
Lilith slapped her lightly on the cheek.
Adele closed her eyes, seemingly in anticipation of more to come.
"If I hear any rumor of what goes on in this room, I'll know you're the source."
"Don't you forget it."
"Be gone before I render the punishment you so rightly deserve for failing to attend to me to my satisfaction."
The maid turned to go.
She stopped in her tracks. "Yes, ma'am. Thank you, ma'am, for correcting me."
As the young woman left the chamber, a low chuckle came from behind the sheering-draped bed. "You sure know how to handle the help."
"Yes, I thought it best to remind her to keep her mouth shut. If she should speak of your presence here . . . But I needn't worry about that. I've warned her."
"Perhaps you should cut her tongue out." He laughed.
"Funny you should say that. That's exactly what I told her I'd do if she spoke out of turn."
"I did! Rowena was too soft on them all. They need to learn their place. And can you imagine? Taking a cripple into the palace?" Lilith swung her hair back and folded her arms. "It's obscene."
He grabbed his pants from the floor. "Rowena was soft?"
"She was always preaching about how the Select were supposed to serve the masses." Lilith grimaced. "What utter bunk. It's the masses that should serve us. They need us. They need a real leader. They need me!"
"Well, it seems you know how to elicit the greatest loyalties from the people."
"Adele wouldn't dare say a word. Fear is the best means for instilling loyalty in those like her."
He stood behind Lilith, brushed her hair to the side, and then nuzzled at her neck. "Is that why you've placed Dixon under house arrest?"
She turned in his arms. "Exactly. Imagine him packing his bags to leave the palace. How dare he! I made it perfectly clear that I expected him to remain here. Oathtakers are intended to serve the Select and he's no exception."
She ran her finger along her guest's jaw line. "Now that I'm rid of Rowena and that ridiculous child, I can move forward. I'm in charge now and Dixon's trial will be the icing on the cake."
Extricating herself from her guest's embrace, she turned away. "I'd like to be alone now."
"When will I see you again?"
She pressed herself against him again. "Later tonight," she whispered, her lips flitting softly upon his. "After dinner. I need to see if Basha has been trying to visit with Dixon—though I've instructed the guards to forbid her entrance to his room."
"What's the harm? She can't remove his band. And she's not likely to make an issue of it. Had it been put there by anyone else, perhaps. But you're the ranking member now. She wouldn't challenge your authority."
"Right. Mmmm, I like the sounds of that. I am the ranking member! Things are looking up." Lilith stopped to pout. "Still, I don't trust Basha. She's behaving strangely. Why don't you see what more you can find out from Dixon?"
"My pleasure," he murmured as he indicated with a hand to her breast that he would in fact find his pleasure elsewhere. Lilith nodded toward the door. It was time for him to leave. After some delay, he did.
She sighed, her hunger for all things physical, momentarily satiated. She sat at the vanity and turned the light down. A wisp of smoke drifted upwards.
Gazing into the mirror, she murmured softly. It was finally time to connect with her spirit guide. He would be pleased with her. Slowly she placed herself into a trance. Her eyes rolled up. Then, with a rush, her spirit moved as though transported elsewhere.
Like a blackened skull with decomposed flesh hanging, and with eyes like burning lava, a face slowly came into focus in the looking glass.
"Daeva, my guide," Lilith whispered, "nothing stands in our way now. I lead the Select!"
Fire burst forth.
Gasping, she stared at the malevolent countenance before her, stroking her cheek pained from the inferno.
Daeva sneered. "You have failed," he said, his voice heavy and thick.
"But Rowena has been removed!"
"Yesssss . . . but the child livessss."
"Ahhhhh!" she screamed, as she swept her hands across the vanity, propelling various items from its surface, to the floor.
***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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