He looked across the compound. Though only midday, due to the dense cloud cover, lamps burned in the buildings. One shone out from a window of the twins’ room, another from the main compound kitchens where smoke rose from the chimney. The smell of braising meat hovered in the air.
He ran down the center pathway, then took a left and headed toward the first of the compound’s outer circles. He ran, on and on, faster and faster. His body heated. His legs grew weary. His heart beat as though it would burst in his chest.
When he could run no more, he stopped, bent forward, and put his hands on his thighs, gasping for air. Standing just outside sanctuary, with the rain still pouring, his breathing gradually steadied.
He opened the door and stepped inside. He sought solace, communion with Ehyeh. He glanced toward the altar. As usual, the oldtimers, Leala and Fidel, were there.
Prior to meeting Mara and Dixon, both the old ones had spent decades at sanctuary in the City of Light where they’d studied and prayed. Whereas Leala’s expertise was history, Fidel’s was prophecy. The Good One had renamed them both for their loyalty and fidelity to His interests. When Mara brought the infant twins to sanctuary in the City of Light to dedicate them, Leala and Fidel found her there. They were the first to recognize the girls as the fulfillment of prophecy.
Dixon noticed once again the changes in Leala since those many years ago. Back then, age had already weakened her body. She’d hunched from it. Her veins stood out like markings of blue delineating riverways on a map. Her arthritic fingers curled and bent. But since living at the compound, she’d slowly shed the more drastic testimonies to her age. Indeed, her old gray eyes were clearer now, after the passage of nearly two decades, than they’d been when he’d first met her.
Smiling weakly, she exuded a sense of deep peace. “Dixon,” she whispered, by way of greeting.
He acknowledged her with a nod.
“Dixon,” Fidel repeated. Carrying himself nobly, as a man of means, his bald head reflected the light from the nearby lamp, while his kind black eyes sparkled, and his cheeks glowed pink. As was his habit, he was dressed impeccably in grey wool pants and a cloak, a white cotton tunic, and shiny knee-length black leather boots.
“How is she?” the old woman asked as she made her way to Dixon’s side.
He tipped his head right to left.
She nodded. “The girls have been here in prayer most of the past couple days—whenever they weren’t helping with Mara, that is.”
“They told me.”
“Do you want us to leave you?” Fidel asked.
“No, thank you, it’s not necessary.”
Dixon stepped to the altar at the front of the room. He put his hands on it and leaned forward.
The oldtimers shared a look just as the door to sanctuary opened.
“Dixon. Dixon! Basha says she might be coming to!”
He turned to the voice. Therese stood before him, graceful, beautiful. Still appearing to be in her middle years, as she was amongst the Select who’d sworn a life oath to protect the twins, her hair shone. Only a light scar that ran across her forehead marred her otherwise creamy, radiant skin.
Without a word, he brushed past her and rushed out. Then he raced down the center path, toward the infirmary. Upon arrival, he reached for the door handle, paused, and then pulled it open and stepped inside.
Basha sat at Mara’s bedside, dripping water into her patient’s mouth. She looked up and winced when the door slammed shut.
“Therese says she’s coming to,” he said as he rushed to her side, dripping water along the way.
“She hasn’t regained consciousness yet, but there are signs she may soon. She’s fidgeting a bit.”
He took Mara’s hand. “Mara. Mara, can you hear me? Wake up now.” For a moment he recalled a day many years back when he’d awakened his beloved from a magic hangover. She never seemed to know when enough was enough.
Her eyes fluttered, but didn’t open.
“Therese said she’d send the girls in,” Basha said.
“Mara. Mara?” he repeated.
She lay motionless.
He squeezed his eyes closed. “Please, dear Good One, please bring her back to me,” he whispered as he stroked her hand.
The sound of the door opening and closing interrupted his prayer.
Reigna and Eden stepped inside, their hair wet from dashing through the rain. They rushed toward him, as one.
“Therese said she’s awakening,” Reigna said.
“Is she all right?” Eden asked, clutching Dixon’s arm.
He shook his head. “She’s not awake yet,” he said. Then he turned his attention back to her. “Mara. Mara, wake up,” he urged.
Her eyes fluttered. For a moment, they opened.
“Mara,” Reigna called, a cry in her voice, “wake up!”
Once again, the Oathtaker’s eyes opened. She blinked once, then closed them again.
“Mara!” Eden exclaimed. “Open your eyes . . . please.”
A moment passed. Then Mara opened her eyes, yet again. Fogged over, they traveled from Dixon, to Reigna, and then to Eden. Apparently trying to focus, she blinked repeatedly.
Dixon readjusted the cold cloth on her forehead. “How are you feeling?”
Her gaze turned back his way. Her brow furrowed slightly.
“Oh, Dixon, she’s really awakening!” Reigna patted his shoulder.
Mara’s eyes drifted toward her. She blinked once, twice . . .
Eden stroked her arm. “It’s time to wake up now.”
Mara nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“Are you in any pain?” Dixon asked.
She didn’t respond.
“Just blink your eyes twice if you’re in pain.”
She looked full into his eyes, but didn’t blink.
“No pain? That’s good.” He smiled, relieved, as he brushed his hand against her cheek.
Her eyes followed the gesture. Then, ever so slowly, she moved her head to the side.
“Are you hungry? Can we get you something to eat?” Reigna asked.
Her eyes fluttered. “Sleep,” she whispered.
Dixon’s shoulders relaxed. He hadn’t realized until that moment how tense he’d been. He stroked her hair. Then, “That’s right,” he said, “you sleep now. We’ll be here when you awaken.”
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