Sitting on a park bench a short walk from the mission home, they’d not spoken since leaving the house. Dixon leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, hands at the sides of his face. He appreciated his friend’s presence. His own father had mentored Ted, and Ted in turn had ushered Dixon into manhood after his father died. He trusted the man implicitly.
He knew he would have to speak first; Ted would give him whatever time he needed. Lost in thought, he suddenly became aware of the sounds around him: laughter floating through the air, the tintinnabulation of sanctuary bells, the clip-clopping of a horse and buggy, the peal of a child’s laughter.
He hung his head. How could everyone go on as though nothing had changed, as though things had not gone awry? Didn’t they know the world had stopped when Rowena died? Or so it seemed at times.
With some regret, he finally broke the silence. “Rowena . . . died.”
Ted watched as Dixon brushed his foot across the sand at his feet.
“About six months ago she discovered that she was pregnant with her seventh. Shortly afterward, Grant died. Then one day she insisted we leave the palace immediately and in the dark of night.” Dixon kept his eyes downcast. “Someone was after her—someone close.”
He told Ted of their journey, how distressed Rowena had become, and of how she’d gone into labor with their pursuers so close.
“So what happened?” Ted asked, reading Dixon’s behavior as an invitation to speak.
“I found her a wayfarer’s hut, then went back to do what I could about those chasing us.”
Dixon told how he’d shot at the men in pursuit. “I’d been gone, I don’t know . . . A couple hours? Just before I arrived back at the hut, the earth shook. Then, I found Rowena . . . dead.” He wiped at his eyes brusquely.
“And the child?”
Dixon smiled. His face lit up. “Child? Children! You didn’t get to meet them.”
“Twins. Reigna, the firstborn, and Eden. They’re with Mara back at the house.”
“Is that the woman who was with you?”
“Mmhmm. They are her charge. Or ‘charges’ if you like.”
“Mara’s charge? She’s an Oathtaker?”
“A new and very inexperienced one.” Dixon told about how Mara had been led to the hut when it was under attack by the grut.
Ted whistled. “An entire pack?”
“That’s what she says. Says she’s a perfect shot.” Dixon grinned. “I believe her, though. I couldn’t be there. Ehyeh knew that, so He sent the right person. They say He always does.” He went back to brushing sand with the toe of his boot.
“When I burst into the hut it was . . . Well, we had a difficult start.” He chuckled softly. “But I think we’ve worked through it now. I promised her I’d do anything to assist her. The problem is—I don’t know who was after Rowena. Who wanted her dead? Who would send a pack of grut to do the deed?”
He patted his thigh, as though keeping beat to some unheard music, then stopped abruptly. “But having already lost two charges of my own . . . Well, I worry I may bring her more harm than good.”
“No, you’ll not do more harm than good. You believe in the Good One and in the great admonition. If you gave Mara your promise, the Good One will help you to fulfill it. She’ll need help—a great deal of it, I’m sure.”
“You don’t know the half of it. The things she doesn’t know.” Dixon stared out.
“Well as I said, we had a rough start.”
Dixon told his friend about how Mara had told him to go his own way. “Said she wouldn’t put up with me.”
Ted grinned. “Seems maybe she knows you pretty well.”
On seeing the man’s smile, Dixon knew Ted was teasing. He laughed easily. “Yes, well, I told her I would do anything—anything to help her to keep the twins safe. I felt I owed at least that much to Rowena. So I swore an oath to protect them. And that’s when the most amazing thing happened!”
“The earth shook.”
“You received a confirmation? But you said Mara was—”
“Well—yes, of sorts. And that’s just it, you see,” Dixon interrupted. “The earth shook as though Ehyeh had acknowledged my words even though the twins already had their Oathtaker, but it was Mara who felt the emotions that accompany a confirmation.” Once again he beat a rhythm with his hand on his thigh. “What do you suppose that means?”
“I can’t say, but I can look into it for you. Maybe sevenths are different. Seventh sevenths anyway. It’s been so long since there were any.”
“Thank you, my friend.”
“I’m here to help.” Ted’s countenance turned serious. “Listen, Dixon, I’m dreadfully sorry for your loss. I know you loved Rowena dearly. I’ll do whatever I can to help, but we need to get Mara in on this conversation. We need to consider where the girls might be safe. They are prime targets after all. Perhaps that’s why your sworn allegiance had such an effect.” He drew in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. “Twins, you say.” He shook his head. “It’s never happened before.”
“Yes, I’ve been thinking about that. With the number of Select so low, and with more marriages between them and those not born Select, maybe that had something to do with it.”
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