Earlier, after the rain had stopped, Samuel and Jules surprised, not far from camp, a wild boar foraging for acorns. It made for a sumptuous dinner, which Adele had prepared on the open fire, proving her willingness to be of assistance. Everyone seemed relaxed, as they all were now clean, dry, warm, rested—and fed.
Mara finished her dinner with a bite of the crunchy potato skins, savoring the steaming hot pulp. She watched Basha and Therese. It seemed that wherever one went, the other followed shortly behind. Their bond was very strong. Watching them, she got new insight into Dixon's pain from losing Rowena.
She looked down at Eden, in her arms, and contemplated what losing the girls might be like. She was startled at how completely she'd changed since becoming their Oathtaker. The very thought of losing one of them pained her greatly—and it brought back memories she did not want to probe. She shook her head to dispel them, then turned her attention back to the ongoing conversation of her friends.
"I simply don't know," Basha was saying. "It was as though she changed suddenly. She was always difficult, but then she seemed out of control. It reminded me of how she behaved back before Rowena took her son. You remember?"
"Her son!" Mara cried. "What son? What are you talking about?"
"Oh, it's a long story, but Lilith had a child—not long before we thought Therese had been assassinated. Rowena took him and . . . well, no one really knew why."
"She took him? Why would she do that?"
Dixon, having left the watch to Samuel, approached the group huddled in a semi-circle around the hearth. "For his safety," he said, "or at least that's my best guess."
"Lilith put her own son in jeopardy?"
He sat beside Mara and drummed a rhythm on his knee, then suddenly went still. "Rowena— Well, she always thought the best of everyone, so I can't say for sure. But some . . . odd things transpired, so she made arrangements for Lilith's son. All she told me was that she thought it better to be safe than sorry."
"What did Lilith say about that?"
"Now that's where it gets interesting."
"That's right," Basha interrupted. "Lilith never said a word. Never asked after him. Never asked for him. It was as though he'd never existed."
"Where is he now?" Mara asked.
"With Lucy," Therese said.
Dixon and Basha looked at her in surprise. This was news.
"Huh. Interesting," Mara said. "And his father?"
Dixon shook his head. "No one knows."
"Yes, well, as I was saying, Lilith is behaving strangely," Basha said. "I'm frightened of her."
Dixon looked down at the fire. "She's right. Lilith is operating under something different—something dark."
"Dark magic?" Nina asked.
He shrugged. "If I had to guess, I'd say so."
"But why?" Therese asked. "What could have happened to her? I mean, she always seemed to lack confidence, always wanted to be the center of attention. But to have gone to the dark side? To serve the master of Sinespe?"
"You think she lacked confidence?" Basha asked.
"Or maybe she lacked some sort of self esteem—like she wanted the best, but didn't think she was worthy, somehow."
"Self esteem!" Dixon exclaimed. "No, Therese, I'm sorry to say, you couldn't be more wrong. Lilith doesn't lack confidence or self esteem."
"But she was always trying to be something she wasn't," she argued. "It was obvious from the time Rowena was little that Lilith resented her. You know, I recall the day Rowena was born. In that moment, Lilith changed."
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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...