The crystal that Mara threw, blew up, killing three of the remaining trespassers. Then Dixon and the other Oathtakers defeated the last of the intruders.
Dixon turned back. “Where’s Mara?” he asked.
“She probably traveled magically to come in at the enemy from its other side,” Basha said.
The Oathtakers waited for a time, but when Mara didn’t reappear, spread out to scout the area.
Minutes later, Dixon found scuffmarks at the edge of the precipice behind the boulder. He looked down to find her below, unmoving, just as Basha approached his side.
“Move. Move!” he ordered.
“Oh, dear Ehyeh!” Basha exclaimed, her eyes following his gaze.
He brushed past her, then started down the drop-off. A rock loosened beneath his step. Pebbles scattered before him. Not wanting to cause an avalanche of rock, he focused more carefully.
She has to be all right—she just has to be.
His foot slipped. He readjusted his weight, found new purchase with his next step, and then continued. The minutes seemed interminably long.
Finally, just a few feet from where Mara rested, he jumped to the ground and rushed to her side.
“Is she all right?” Velia cried from above.
Ignoring her query, he fought to still the rising panic that bubbled up in his stomach.
He removed brush from over her, careful not to touch the arrow that protruded from her shoulder. He didn’t remove it, reasoning that so long as it remained imbedded, she wouldn’t bleed severely.
He checked her pulse. She lives!
Leaning in closer, he whispered, “Mara. Mara, are you all right?” Gently, he turned her face toward himself. He felt blood from a gash decorating the side of her head, warm and sticky against his skin.
“Is she all right?” Velia called out again, her voice worry-laden.
He looked up and, swallowing hard, nodded.
He contemplated how he’d return to the others. He couldn’t carry her back up the rocky wall, but the ground below leveled off before meandering toward the nearby river.
“I’ll take her that way,” he said, gesturing to his right.
He put one arm behind Mara’s neck, the other beneath her knees, and then gently lifted her. Her weight was nothing compared to the heaviness of his worry and guilt. He scolded himself for having let her join him in such a precarious place, for not having protected her.
“Mara,” he whispered, “are you all right? Can you hear me?”
She remained silent, unmoving.
He fought his way through the rock and brush that lead to the river. When he arrived at its edge, Basha made her way toward him. Shaking with worry, he pulled Mara closer, then kissed her forehead.
Basha moved Mara’s hair to the side to reveal the cut on her head. “Put her down, Dixon. Kayson can heal her.”
Tears misted his eyes. “The cut is not the worst of it,” he said. “It bleeds, but not all that badly. For that matter, her shoulder wound doesn’t seem the primary concern. I’m afraid she’s suffered a concussion. She hasn’t responded to anything. I think we should just hurry back to the compound and then see to healing her there. You know Mara,” he added, then swallowed hard, holding his emotions in check, “if she regains consciousness now, she’ll insist on making her own way back home.”
Basha watched her fellow Oathtaker closely. Having believed some years past that she’d lost her charge, Therese, when she fell from a cliff during an assassination attempt, she wordlessly conveyed her understanding and sympathy.
Kayson and Raman drew near.
“How is she?” Kayson asked.
Basha glanced his way, then turned back to Dixon. “Why don’t you at least let Kayson remove the arrow and stem the bleeding?”
Nodding, Dixon dropped to his knees. He placed Mara on the ground.
Velia stepped up to his side. “Is she all right?”
“The gash on her head is . . . Well, I’ve seen worse,” Dixon said, through gritted teeth. “Kayson’s going to remove the arrow now, and then I’ll carry her back to the compound. He can see to her other injuries there.”
“That sounds good.”
“I’ll keep an eye out,” Raman offered. Contrary to his usual demeanor, he was not smiling.
Kayson knelt at Mara’s side. He examined her wounds. The arrow hadn’t gone quite through her back. After snapping off the fletching end, he turned her on her side. Then, while Dixon and Basha held her still, he forced the point through. Once done, he slipped out the remaining shaft.
Placing his hands over the wound, Kayson peered into it with his attendant magic and then sent forth a healing stream.
A long minute passed in silence as Mara’s bleeding slowed. Then, after what seemed an eternity to Dixon, it stopped altogether.
He glanced at each of his friends in turn, his heart in his eyes, his hands shaking.
“Dixon, she’s going to be fine,” Velia said, stroking his arm.
“Let me see to the wound on her head,” Kayson offered.
“No, it’s not bleeding now,” Dixon said. “Let’s get going.” He took Mara back into his arms.
“Careful,” Basha cautioned, “her shoulder wound could easily re-open.”
“Why don’t you let us help carry her at least, Dixon? We could make a stretcher,” Velia suggested.
He pulled his beloved closer. “No, I’ve got her.”
“But, Dixon, we’re quite a distance from the compound center.”
“I’ve got her,” he repeated, his voice soft but emphatic. He would not release his hold.
“All right then,” Basha said, “we’re through here. Let’s go.”
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