Chapter 16, Part 3 (End Chapter 16)

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"What do you want to know?" Jules asked.

"In a nutshell, I want to know why Therese trusts you two so completely. How is it you're not Oathtakers, yet you've taken on the responsibility of keeping her safe?"

"That's rather a long story," he said as he and Samuel mounted up, then led the group out.

"Why don't you start at the beginning?" Mara asked, once again recollecting the night Dixon had told her his story. Her thoughts frequently turned to him.

"You ride with the women," Samuel said, "and I'll go ahead." Looking behind, he cautioned the others, "Just keep an eye on things. We're kicking up quite a dust."

Jules turned back to Mara. "Samuel and I are cousins. We both came from families that had many Oathtakers over the years. We both would've become Oathtakers ourselves, but there were no Select remaining back home."

"Where's home?" she asked.

"Near the intersection of the Rivers Modan and Costan in Anka."

"There are no Select at all there?"

"Very, very few."

"Why is that?"

"Pretty much the same reason their numbers have decreased throughout Oosa."

"Assassinations?"

"Exactly."

"So you chose not to become Oathtakers."

"That's right."

"Well, but I come from the Barten Lake area of Usta. We also have very few Select, yet—"

"Yet you chose to become an Oathtaker anyway."

"That's right."

"Well, we decided we could be of service to the Select and to Ehyeh, even if we weren't Oathtakers. So we set out to discover how to do that."

"And what did you find?"

"In a word, we found Lucy." He grinned.

"And?" Mara urged him on.

"Lucy is . . . Lucy is . . . unique."

Therese laughed.

The Oathtaker glanced at the woman, curious at her response. It was as though she and Jules shared some great secret. "What do you mean?" She slowed her mount, as it was getting anxious amongst the pack.

Jules searched for words. "Lucy is . . . Well, that is, she has a long history with the Select. She was Oathtaker to the last two female sevenths before Rowena."

"The last two? But that was ages ago!"

He rose up in his saddle and looked behind. As he settled back into his seat, he smiled. "Yes, it was."

"How long ago are we talking?"

He laughed. The sound was free and easy. "Well now, I guess that's why Lucy is so unique."

"So? How long?"

"A couple hundred years ago."

Mara's mouth dropped open. "But that's— That's im— How is that even possible?"

"Attendant magic," Therese said.

"What? Does she have nine lives, like a cat or something?" Nina asked.

Jules glanced at the young woman. He seemed surprised to find that she had a ready wit.

"Not exactly," Therese answered, "but Lucy has cheated death on more than one occasion."

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