She bolted upright, nearly spilling her meal. "What do you mean?"
"He's right," Therese interrupted, having overheard. "The book is empty now."
"But you all saw what it said!"
"Yes, but it's blank now."
"Where is it?" Mara tried to get up, but a wave of weakness washed over her. She feared she might faint. With Dixon's help, she settled back down.
"I'll get it for you."
When Therese returned with the book, Mara opened it. She was astounded. Every page was blank. She closed it again and looked at Dixon. "I don't know what to say."
He took it, then ran his fingers over the design on its cover. "You recognize this?"
"Can't say that I— Wait a minute. It's familiar somehow, but I can't place it."
He leaned in closer. "The compact," he whispered.
"Of course!" She reached into the pocket of her tunic where she kept the compact, and stole a quick glance at it. Sure enough, the symbols were identical. "Is that significant somehow?"
"I have no idea."
"Oh, Dixon, there's just so much I don't know. That's why I knew I had to bring you back here. When I saw what Lilith had done the first time I was there—after she started torturing you—I was so frightened for you. I . . . I just knew the message meant that I had to go for you."
"We'll figure it out, Mara. We'll figure it all out."
She smiled in gratitude, then looked around at the others, all busy with one task or another. She was blessed to have this team. She looked back at Dixon. "So what did Lilith want from you?"
He patted his knee, a mannerism that told her that he was thinking. "She figured out that Rowena's child is alive."
"You mean children."
"No, I mean 'child.' She doesn't know there are two of them."
"How did she find out?"
"Well, Rowena had always said that she wouldn't release her power until she bore her seventh. But of course, she did release it. If she hadn't, the position of ranking member would have reverted to her siblings—to Lilith, the next in line. Then Lilith would've been endowed with the magic that goes with the position. But of course, she wasn't.
"Also, I suspect she spoke with the men who'd been dogging Rowena and me. They arrived in Polesk right after she found me at sanctuary. They must've learned enough from Drake and Maggie to pass word along to her that Rowena's child had been born."
"And you couldn't just tell her that she was wrong?"
"Like I said, she received no magic power upon Rowena's death. It passed to Reigna or Eden—or both, I don't know. Then of course, since the girls haven't reached the age of accountability and found favor with Ehyeh, you as their Oathtaker, possess that power, as well as the attendant magic that comes with your position as their Oathtaker."
"So she was furious! She used some strange magic on me. It was awful." He closed his eyes, apparently recollecting the torment, and shuddered. "When that didn't work, she set her thugs on me and had me beaten."
"And you said nothing."
"I'd like to think I wouldn't have anyway, but I think I may have been protected from giving away your secret by the oath that I'd sworn to protect the girls."
"I don't understand."
"Well, as you know, when you take your oath for the protection of your charge, the Good One gives you strength to help you hold to it. Some say you can't breach your oath—that you can't intentionally do anything to harm your charge."
"Most anyone would succumb, sooner or later, to torture. But some believe an Oathtaker can't—if it would mean that he would betray his charge."
"You mean an Oathtaker would be tortured to death first?"
"I don't know for sure. But I believe Ehyeh protects us. If the only choice is betrayal, or death, I believe the Good One won't allow us to choose betrayal."
"An Oathtaker has to choose death."
"That's what I believe. There may have been a time when this was commonly known, but no longer, I'm afraid."
"But even if you're right, you're not the girls' Oathtaker."
"Maybe not, but I think the Good One held me to my vow just as He would have held you to yours."
"I'm sorry for all you suffered, Dixon. Truly. And I'm glad you're well now and back with us."
"That makes two of us." He chuckled. "But next time, take it easy on the magic."
Oh, why can't he just stop when he's ahead?
***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...