She wouldn’t be stopped. She read the fear in the man, and it was not the fear of death. In that instant, she was sure she knew how to get the answers they required and vowed she’d do whatever was necessary to protect the girls.
“Like I said, I mean to help. You see,” she said, not giving Dixon the opportunity to cut her off, “I know that there are things some men fear even more than death.” She went quiet for a moment, carefully watching the intruder’s eyes. “Some men fear pain more than death, for example.”
“And some fear maiming more than they fear pain, or death. More in fact, than anything else.”
His eyes opened wide.
Dixon, seeing the reaction, looked to Mara. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that I’ve studied the healing arts and I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve learned about places that when injured, can cause extraordinary pain. More important, there are injuries that will not—cannot—wholly heal. Well, at least not without the power of Ehyeh. Like right here,” she said as she reached down and touched the back and side of her knee. “The right kind of cut—rrrright herrrre—will cripple a man for life.” She hung on her words for added emphasis, intentionally meeting the stranger’s eyes.
Dixon stared at her, then turned his attention back to his prisoner, whose eyes revealed his fear.
Sheathing Spira, Mara removed a knife from inside her boot. She stepped forward. The eyes of her would-be assailant followed her every move. “Something tells me that you’re one of those men.” She watched closely for his reaction. “Aren’t you?” She raised a brow. “You fear crippling more than anything.” She leaned forward. “Huh? More than death,” she finished in a whisper.
He struggled and then, as she took another step forward, shouted, “Heri! My name’s Heri!”
“Are you alone?”
“Who sent you?” Dixon asked.
“Gadon. Gadon!” Heri cried through his crooked teeth.
“Who’s Gadon and who sent him?”
The man closed his eyes and took short, shallow breaths. “He—that is we—were with the palace guard.”
“The palace at Shimeron?”
“Who sent Gadon?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know! Gadon recruited me to go with him. I don’t know who sent him.”
“Where is he now?”
“I left him and the others last night.”
Mara quickly calculated. Heri had caught up with them amazingly quickly. “Left them where?” she asked.
“I don’t know the name of the place.”
“Where was it?”
Heri struggled, but couldn’t escape Dixon’s hold.
“Where did you leave the others?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Mara stepped closer, moving her knife from one hand to the other and back again.
His eyes followed her. “At a small farm on the edge of the glen.”
“Drake and Maggie’s?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know. It was just some old couple.”
“What happened to them? Are they all right?”
He went still. He seemed to have no fight left in him. “I don’t know. Gadon probably had them killed.”
“Is he coming this way?”
“When do you expect him?” Dixon asked.
“Not before sunset tomorrow, at the earliest. He’s making a thorough search for signs and tracks.”
The Oathtakers exchanged a glance.
“What were your orders?” Dixon asked.
Heri shook his head.
“What were your orders?”
“There’s also a wonderful little spot right . . . here.” Mara pointed to the center of the back of her hand, speaking through gritted teeth, after confirming that she had Heri’s attention. “Hurts like nothing else to be stabbed in the back of the hand.” As he nervously licked his lips, she continued, “And of course, if done correctly—you know, if you twisssst the knife around good—the hand will never work quite the same again.” She shook her head. “A pity really.”
She held his gaze, a faint smile upon her lips. Anger consumed her. She felt no pity for the monster. He and his companions threatened the twins and had harmed those who’d helped her.
Tears welled in his eyes. “We were,” he said, his crooked teeth clenched, “we were sent to kill Rowena and her child. That’s all I know.”
“By whom?” she asked calmly.
“I swear, I don’t know.”
She looked at Dixon. “He speaks truth.” She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew.
Still holding his captive from behind, Dixon pulled his knife across Heri’s throat in one smooth move. As the life left the thug’s body, the Oathtaker pushed it aside. It landed with a thud in a thicket of brush. Without another word, or another look at Mara, he marched off.
“I thought maybe you’d have left the honors to me,” she said to his back.
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