He sat down near the fire, then reclined on his side, just feet away from her. “Well,” he said as he sat up again, “I’ll try to keep this short so as not to bore you.” He chuckled softly.
Mara thought she saw, by the glow of the burning embers, the welling of tears in his eyes, but she still appreciated how that smile, slight though it was, replaced the scowl that had been on his face for most of the time since they’d met. “Just don’t leave out anything important.”
Their eyes met. They both grinned.
“See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Dixon’s entire persona changed when he smiled. Instead of surly, he appeared friendly; instead of condescending, he appeared companionable. It made him very, very attractive. Surprised by that discovery, Mara sought to dismiss the thought as quickly as it had arisen.
“Well,” he said, “when . . .” He glanced up. “The beginning? Really?”
“Well then, I guess the story really starts when I left my family in the hinterlands to go to train as an Oathtaker. My father had been one and then, after the death of his charge, served as an advisor to the Council in the City of Light. He was always busy and often away from home. In many ways my mother acted as a single parent raising my two brothers and me.
“We lived in a small town with good friends nearby. My best friend, Edmond, was also the son of an Oathtaker. His father, Madden Chantray, had been in the service, but . . . Well, he’d become a traitor to the cause.”
Dixon crossed his legs and leaned in to stir the remaining coals, as though in doing so his thoughts and remembrances might also be stirred and thereby rise to the surface.
“Madden’s betrayal devastated my father. He’d known him well, had worked with him for years. My father was especially pained when the Council assigned to him, the prosecution of the case. In the end, Madden was put to death for his crimes. Because my father felt responsible somehow, he frequently invited Edmond to stay with us, sometimes for weeks at a time. I didn’t hear the whole story until my father was on his deathbed. I think he wanted to save Edmond from the scandal.”
A quiet minute passed. The occasional bullfrog croaked, marking the passing time.
“The hinterlands you say?” Mara finally asked, bringing Dixon back to the moment.
“So your family . . . Are you one of the Brecken Townsends?”
“Nice to have friends in high places.” Dixon’s story was bringing back some of the details she’d tried to recall earlier. It must have been the Madden Chantray scandal that had triggered her memories.
“Where are your brothers now?”
“They live in the hinterlands. They care for my mother.”
“He wanted to join the Oathtakers, but couldn’t pass the final exams. I know the Guild didn’t hold his father’s treason against him. They just don’t work that way. With the Oathtakers, every man or woman stands alone. It’s unfortunate he couldn’t be one, though. I think he would have made a good one.”
“Where is he now?”
“He’s an advisor to the Council and a regular at the palace of the Select at Shimeron.”
“Sounds like he landed on his feet pretty well.”
“Do you stay in touch?”
“With Edmond? Oh, yes, he’s like a brother to me. In some ways he’s closer than my own brothers. We see each other fairly regularly. In fact, he may be just the person to help us to find a safe place for the twins.”
Mara held the infants closely as they slept contentedly. “Then you agree with what Rowena said—that we need to disappear somewhere with the girls.”
“Most definitely. Someone tracked her for a reason. I hope to find out who and why. And when I do . . .” He fell silent. Moments later, he changed positions again.
When the attention was on him, he tended to behave like a child who couldn’t focus.
As he stirred the coals again, sparks flew up.
“Go on,” Mara pressed, sensing he was lost in thought.
“Oh yes, as I was saying, I trained to be an Oathtaker. I got my first assignment—a fourth—about a year after my final exams. But she died in a tragic accident only a year later.”
“A fourth born of a Select—one instrumental in laying new foundations for the cause,” Mara said. “Let’s see. They open new areas and organize events to educate the people about Ehyeh so as to recruit new believers.”
“And they establish sanctuaries where others can study the Good One and His ways.”
“Right again. Of course, like all Select, few fourths remain today.” He stopped to take a bite of cheese that remained from their dinner.
“Did this fourth have a name?”
“Judith.” He went silent for a moment. “Judith Jenkins.” He bit his lower lip. “But like I said, she died in a tragic accident. While riding out one day to a new sanctuary she’d established, her horse bolted. She was thrown to her death.” He paused in thought. “Actually, Edmond was along on that trip. We could never determine what caused her horse to bolt. It was tough going after that for a time, but I was cleared of any wrongdoing.
“Not long after that, I was out one day when I felt the calling. I was traveling back to the hinterlands to visit my mother when I came upon Rowena. She was making a quick getaway from a group of assassins sent out for any Select they could find. Her Oathtaker died in the battle. His sacrifice ensured her safety, but only for a short time. When I arrived, I immediately accepted her as my charge.” Dixon stretched his shoulders. “And the rest, as they say, is history,” he said with a smile.
“Oh no,” Mara laughed, “you won’t get off that easily!” His smile mesmerized her. “Tell me about Rowena.”
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