Chapter 23, Part 1

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After the townsfolk discovered the army's presence in the vicinity, various messengers carried news from Lilith back to Polesk, announcing when she would arrive on the morrow. Lilith expected record attendance. After all, it wasn't every day a celebrity came to town.

She briefed the men on what would transpire come morning and cautioned them to control their behavior. She wanted the people of Polesk calm and unsuspecting. Already curiosity had spurred some townsfolk to come out to the grounds. The soldiers, under Lilith's threat, disregarded them. It was most difficult for them to ignore the women who lurked about, smiling coyly and gesturing suggestively of their availability. Still, if they engaged with them, Lilith would deliver swift and sure punishment.

The slave women, hidden from view, were grateful to be left alone for the evening after having spent the last night in near continual demand. While they'd hoped Lilith's presence might change their fate, they soon learned that she had no eye for them, no ear for them, no care for them. When they'd screamed out for help, she ignored their pleas. When that didn't work to quiet them, Lilith visited the women. She warned them that if she heard anything further, she would sentence them to an immediate death. With that, and their knowledge of her plans for Polesk—plans they learned when she addressed the men—they were certain she was without conscience or mercy. Thus, their pleas ceased.

The clear night sky displayed but a single sliver moon. The stars once again boasted of their heavenly splendor as the campfires burned out and the night grew old. Conversations lulled and eventually broke off altogether.

When Erin felt certain the others slept, she retrieved her tool. She'd come very close the night before to breaking through her leather tethers. So close in fact, that she had to tie a bandana over her bindings to hide her efforts from the others.

If she broke free tonight, she might make it to Polesk before Lilith and her army and find a safe place to hide. So, she set to work.

Mere minutes later, the last strands of her bonds gave way. She was free. Astonished and delighted, she crawled to the back of the wagon.

"Where are you going?" Genny asked. "You can't leave."

Erin turned, her finger to her lips. She considered lying, but doubted the woman would believe her. "I don't know, but please, don't turn me in. I beg you."

"Where are you going?"

"I don't know, but please, please don't try to stop me. Come with me."

"Why would I want to do that?"

"Genny, this place is no good. But you're not tethered! All you have to do is walk away. So, let's do it. Let's just walk away."

The woman said nothing. She appeared to be contemplating her options.

"Come with me," Erin pressed.

"I can't."

"Of course you can. We'll help each other. We can do it!"

"No, I want to stay here with Hamm."

"Hamm!"

"He's going to take me away from all of this."

Erin's mouth dropped open. "Genny, he lets his men use you, day after day. What makes you think he'll—" She sighed. "He won't, you know. If he cared for you, he'd take you away now."

"You don't understand. He can't do that now."

"He's lying to you." Erin's words were blunt, but true.

Genny's gaze burned. Then as quickly as her anger arose, it seemed to fizzle out. She turned away. "Just go."

"Genny—"

"I said, 'go.' Be careful. And take this," she added as she threw a wool shawl Erin's way.

Erin pulled aside the tarp. The camp was quiet. Even through the darkness she saw sentries making their rounds. She wrapped the shawl over her shoulders and jumped down, then stood motionless for a moment.

She sprinted to a large boulder, then looked about to find her next stopping point. In this way, from shrub to boulder, from boulder to shrub, she made her way to the outer circle of the camp. There, she hid in some brush.

As she was about to stand and make a mad dash, a sentry came her way. She stopped, scarcely breathing.

The man stood for several long minutes scanning the area. Finally, he moved on.

Erin waited a bit longer, then ran from the camp as fast as her legs could carry her.


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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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