Faint suggestions of light graced the sky to the east as Erin entered Polesk. She shuffled along in her exhaustion. Her shoeless feet bled. Her clothing was tattered from sparring with thorny bushes along her way. She was hungry, tired, and filthy.
Thinking she heard footsteps from behind, she pulled into a nearby door frame. A minute later, she peeked out. Seeing nothing, she continued on.
After wandering directionless for several minutes, she saw a woman step out of a house carrying what appeared to be an infant in her arms.
Repeatedly, the woman's eyes darted forward, then to the right, then to the left, then straight ahead. Occasionally, she stopped to look behind.
She must have heard about Lilith's plans, Erin reasoned. That would explain why she's sneaking away with an infant.
Erin followed, but stayed out of her line of vision. Finally, she came within yards of her.
The woman turned on her heels. In one arm, she held an infant. In her free hand, she held a knife. It was as though she intended to portray life and death in the same instant. "What are you doing? Why are you following me?"
"Please, oh please, don't harm me." Erin held her hands up, palms out. "I mean you no harm."
She brought her knife up, clearly intending to use it if need be.
"I escaped from the army camped outside the city. I'm looking for a safe place. I thought, since you appear to be leaving the city, you might know somewhere to go."
"What were you doing with the army? Why is it coming here?"
"I thought you knew since you're leaving with your child." Erin stepped forward.
"Stop right there," the woman ordered. Then she said, "Come," as she motioned to an alley.
"Please, don't harm me."
"I'll not harm you unless you give me reason to. Who are you? Why were you with the army?"
"My name is Erin. I was a slave to Zarek's men."
"What's he doing in Oosa?"
Erin took in a deep breath. "He's not here, but some of his men are."
"What are they doing here?"
"They're with Lilith."
"Lilith. Of the first family?"
"I don't understand. What would she be doing with Zarek's men?"
"They're on their way here—to Polesk. This is Polesk, isn't it?"
The woman nodded. "Why are they coming here?"
Erin closed her eyes and shook her head. "It's too terrible."
"What Lilith is going to do!"
"The fliers say she's coming to bless the infants in the city."
"No, it's a lie! She spoke to the men two nights ago—before they all left the palace. She told them she seeks a child someone is trying to pass off as a seventh seventh."
"What? Why? I don't understand."
"Look," Erin said, "I'll tell you anything you want to know, but you're not safe here." She looked at the infant in her arms.
The woman pulled her child closer. "Why am I not safe here?"
"Well actually, you might be, but your child is in grave danger."
She shuddered. "Why?"
"Lilith told the soldiers that if the imposter child is not delivered to her, she will . . ."
"What? She will what?"
"She will kill all the infant girls."
Swaying, her mouth dropped open. "Are you sure?"
"I heard her myself!"
The woman looked around the edge of the building. The city was awakening. A man walked down the street. A carriage rode by.
"You have to find a place of safety!" Erin cried.
"When is she coming?"
"She's starting her ceremony at midday."
"Here," the woman sheathed her knife, "come." She grasped Erin's arm.
"Where are we going?"
"To see an Oathtaker I know. He may know what to do. If what you say is true, we have to warn others."
Erin quickened her step. "Lilith wants people to bring their children to her in the town square. She'll look for the child there. If she doesn't find her, the soldiers will slaughter the others. Then they'll search the city, house-by-house."
"Hurry. We need to find Ted."
"The Oathtaker I mentioned."
"Will I be safe there?"
"As safe as anywhere in this city."
Erin sighed in relief. "Oh thank you! Thank you, ahhh . . . What's your name?"
"I'm Hattie. And you are?"
"Let's go, Erin."
"Bless you!" she cried.
"Bless you. Now hurry, Erin. Hurry!"
***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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