Now, as the sun neared the western horizon, they led their weary horses, hoping to make a bit more distance, but not wanting to risk their own safety or that of their mounts by riding the beasts past their point of exhaustion.
Dixon walked ahead with Sherman and Cheryl, his silhouette just visible. As Mara slowed to catch her breath, he turned to look back. She couldn’t see the expression on his face in the fading light, but suddenly, he dashed madly her way. He jumped over rocks, moved branches from before himself, and twisted around obstacles, advancing at an amazing speed.
From behind, a footstep rustled in the dry grass. Carefully Mara set down Eden’s basket, then turned toward the sound, reaching for Spira. Just as she grasped her weapon’s handle, Dixon brushed against her arm.
“No, Mara, no!” he cried.
By the time her eyes focused on the intruder, Dixon had slammed full force into the man, knocking him to the ground and pinning him down. He held him by the throat with a single hand, then patted him down, pulling out and throwing aside, the intruder’s sword, and a half dozen knives.
While Dixon struggled with his quarry, Mara looked for others, but saw no one.
“Who are you?” Dixon shouted, only inches from the man’s face.
The intruder tried to pry off the Oathtaker’s chokehold.
Dixon lifted him and slammed him back against a large boulder.
“What are you doing?” Mara cried. “I had Spira at the ready. I could have stopped him.”
“I’m getting some answers!” Dixon didn’t relax in the slightest, his grip on his captive. His eyes were afire. His jaw clenched and his muscles flexed. He slammed the man against the rock once again. “Who are you?”
He shook his head and pointed at his throat.
Dixon loosened his grip just enough for him to take in a breath. “Who sent you here? You’d best talk, or—or I’ll kill you.”
“Dixon, I’m not sure that’s the best way to get what we need,” Mara interrupted.
He turned to her, wrath on his face, determination in his bearing. “Open your eyes!” he exclaimed. “You’re in a war! This man was sent to kill Rowena and he would kill Reigna and Eden in a heartbeat. And make no mistake about it, he’ll kill you if given the opportunity.” He took in a deep breath. “Your job is to protect the girls—no matter what. With your life if you must.”
“I know that. I’m prepared to pay with my life if I must.” She glared at him.
“Yes, well,” he growled, “sometimes the best way to make sure you don’t have to pay with your life—to see to it that you can continue to protect your charge—is to make sure that those who seek to harm you, pay with theirs.” He turned back to his captive. “Who sent you?”
The man’s eyes bulged.
Dixon pulled him away from the rock, spun him around, and then held him from behind with a knife at his throat. “Start talking.”
He shook his head and held his lips tight.
“Tough guy, huh?”
The intruder stared straight ahead, silent.
Dixon placed the tip of his knife below the man’s left ear and growled, “I’ll kill you. Now, talk. What’s your name? Who sent you? And why?”
Mara had never before seen anyone as intent as was Dixon at this moment. She considered his words, and she felt foolish. Of course, he was right. There were real dangers to the twins. Dying in her service to them would be terrible, but failing to take the action necessary to keep them safe, would be worse. She was startled to realize that she could face the possibility of her own death more easily than that she might have to take the life of another in order to protect herself and the girls. She hadn’t previously considered that fact. It shocked and troubled her. What good would she be as an Oathtaker if she couldn’t take the action necessary to protect her charge?
“Dixon,” she said, her voice calm.
“I’ve got this.”
“I was just going to say that perhaps I could be of some help.”
He scowled as his prisoner, with beads of sweat dotting his forehead and his eyes pleading for help, looked her way. “I said to stay out of this.”
She persisted. “It’s just that I think I know how best to reach him, how to get the answers we need.”
“Mara—” Dixon’s voice was heavy with warning.
“You see,” she continued, “I think your threats are not as effective as they might be.”
“Mara,” he warned again, more insistently this time.
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