Tiger, Tiger – Part seventy six

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Magda’s sobs became hysterical. “They’re dead. He killed them. It’s my fault.” She tried to escape Lilavati’s grip but Lilavati held onto her.

“Sweet child, they are not dead,” Lilavati said. “I can see Odilie’s chest moving. She still breathes, which means she is alive.”

“My katali, we should go find Ludger,” Manas said. He was shaken by what he saw. “I want to make sure he’s all right.”

“I am in agreement,” Lilavati said. She rose to her feet, still holding Magda. “I am bringing her with us. She should not be left alone right now.”

“That’s a good idea,” Manas said as he stood. The three of them walked back towards the main camp.

It was eerie to see the entire company. They’d all fallen where they stood. Lilavati watched Manas move swiftly to pull those in danger of being burnt out of the way of the fires as they picked their way through the ghostly camp towards Ludger’s tent.

The northern sorcerer was on his hands and knees, breathing harshly. He looked up at their approach. “It’s done, Great Lord,” he said, his voice both rough and weak. “They will awaken soon. I’ve implanted in their minds also that we were the victims of a sorcerous attack, and that I tried to protect the camp but chose the three of you as the priority.”

“What can we do to help you, Ludger?” Lilavati asked. She passed Magda to Manas and knelt beside the weakened sorcerer. “How may I serve you, now that you have done this for us?”

Ludger chuckled weakly. “It’s odd to hear a noblewoman ask how to serve her servant,” he said.

“I am not of noble birth, though I have wed a northern lord,” Lilavati said. Ludger tried to get to his feet. Lilavati supported him and guided him into his tent. “Is there something that will restore your energy quickly? Or is it that we must wait and let you sleep?”

“Do you remember that drink you made me after my battle with Theda?” Ludger asked.

“I do, though you will have to talk me through it again,” Lilavati said as Manas and Magda ducked into the tent.

“I’m willing to do that quite happily,” Ludger said. “We’ll still need to stay here a few days.” He paused. “I didn’t sense the ghosts last night, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t try to attack.”

“I heard nothing and I did not see them this morning when we left our tent,” Lilavati said. “Yet I will admit I did not look that hard.”

“Great Lady, let’s get my drink made first,” Ludger said. “Then, if you think you’re strong enough to handle it, you should go to the boundary of the camp and look to see if the spectres are still there.”

“If they have departed, I could draw them back by my presence,” Lilavati said.

“That’s true,” Ludger said. “I have everything we need to recreate the barrier, since I’m sure it’s been damaged. I’ll give it to you so you can set it back up. We still have barrels of salt as well, so don’t worry. We can protect the individual tents as well.”

“I will do as you say, Ludger,” Lilavati said.

“I don’t like the thought of you risking yourself like that with no guard to protect you, katali,” Manas said.

Sikha, even should I have a protector, they would be useless against the weapons of the incorporeal attackers,” Lilavati said. “There is nothing solid for them to cross blades with and a ghost’s axe will pass through a mortal man’s shield.”

“She’s right, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “I’ll send her with some protection. It won’t be much. My magic has been severely drained by this spell, so don’t expect much from me for the next several days.”

“I understand,” Manas said.

Lilavati went around under Ludger’s direction and fixed him the correct drink. She added more of certain herbs and less of others. She also added more of the intoxicant than he’d had before. He swallowed the mixture down as fast as he could before handing Lilavati back the mug. “Thank you, Great Lady,” he said. He leaned over and picked up a necklace. “Put this on. If I’m right, this will keep you invisible to the ghosts.”

Lilavati pulled the chain around her neck. “Thank you,” she said. Ludger nodded. He handed her a bag, his eyes drooping. By the time Manas led her out of the tent, Ludger was asleep.

Lilavati kissed Magda’s cheek and then shared a more passionate one with her husband before heading to the boundary. She walked the circle, watching for the ghosts. She saw nothing, but instead of feeling comforted she felt strongly that something was wrong. She made sure the barrier was fully restored before rejoining Manas and Magda.

As Ludger promised, everyone was back on their feet within the hour. Many of them checked on Manas and Lilavati. They were very glad to see them unharmed, along with Magda. Once the line died down, Manas turned to Lilavati. “You were right,” he said.

to be continued…

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Tiger, Tiger – Part seventy five

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Ludger scowled. “You’re asking something very dangerous, Great Lord,” he said. “If I make one mistake I could destroy their minds.”

“I’m aware of the risks of the spell, old friend,” Manas said. “I’ve seen the aftereffects before.” He shuddered. “Many times.”

“Then why are you asking me to do it?” Ludger asked.

“Because if you don’t, someone is going to betray Magda’s true origins and I can’t have that happening,” Manas said. “I can make all the threats in the world and still someone will abandon their oaths to me. Vera will make sure of that. She’ll poison the minds of everyone she can before we reach Hellgate. I plan on leaving her there.”

Ludger rubbed the back of his neck. “Great Lord, you’ve asked a lot of me in the past and I’ve never declined. I won’t do so now. Just understand that I’m not happy with this.”

“I know, old friend,” Manas said.

Lilavati was only paying half attention to the two men. She was more interested in the odd eyed little girl playing with one of Lilavati’s bracelets. The child looked up at Lilavati with wonder in her eyes. “I like having a mother,” Magda said. “Vera always said she was my aunt and I had to call her that. She never really liked me. I could tell. She hit me and would starve me if she thought I did anything wrong.”

“You will be punished for breaking the rules,” Lilavati said. “However, it will not be nearly as severe. Unless you do something extremely bad.”

“I won’t,” Magda said, her young eyes so old in her pale face. Lilavati kissed the top of her head. What horrors had this innocent child suffered at the hands of her aunt? Lilavati wanted to know, but feared the answer.

“Great Lady, did you hear me?” Ludger asked. He was very irritated.

Lilavati looked over at him, smiling sheepishly. “No Ludger. I am afraid my focus was on Magda, not your conversation with my sikha.”

“I asked you if you wanted your memory altered as well,” Ludger said. “The Great Lord said he doesn’t want his changed. Do you?”

Lilavati shook her head. “I do not wish to have my mind altered in any way. I do not know what will happen to my memories or my gift if my thoughts are altered by magic.”

“Then you two will be the only ones who know her story,” Ludger said. He glanced at Magda. “You three. I won’t touch a child’s mind.”

“That’s fine by us, old friend,” Manas said.

“I’ll do it once the camp is asleep,” Ludger said. “It’ll be easier to get into the minds of the bulk of the company that way.”

“Thank you, old friend,” Manas said.

“Don’t thank me yet, Great Lord. I don’t know if this is even going to work,” Ludger said.

“Do what you can, and we will be very grateful, Ludger,” Lilavati said.

The gruff sorcerer’s face softened. “I’ll do what I can, Great Lady,” he said. “For you and for the child.” He limped off.

Sikha, is this wise?” Lilavati asked. “He does not seem very willing.”

“I know,” Manas said. “But his magic is the only real way we have of ensuring Magda’s safety now. If even one of my neighbors were to find out that she’s illegitimate, and that you adopted her, they will force me to cast her aside. In your land what you propose is commonplace. In my land, it’s almost completely unheard of.”

“I will not let anyone harm Magda,” Lilavati said.

“I know you won’t,” Manas said. “That’s why this needs to be done.”

“Will he alter Vera’s memories as well?” Lilavati asked.

“Yes, but I’m removing her from the company anyway,” Manas said. “Memories can shape someone’s personality, but she’s always been spiteful and has nursed a hatred for me since long before I took up with her sister. I want her gone.”

“Father, will it hurt?” Magda asked.

“Will what hurt?” Manas asked, looking over at her. It seemed to Lilavati that he’d almost forgotten she was still there.

“Will it hurt to have the giant man take away people’s memories?” Magda asked.

Manas smiled. “I think he’ll be able to do it without harming anyone, little one,” he said. “Ludger is very good at what he does.”

“I don’t want people to get hurt because of me. I’ll live with the servants if he’s going to have to make people feel pain,” Magda said. She squirmed in Lilavati’s lap and tears filled her beautiful eyes. She looked up at Lilavati. “Don’t let the giant hurt anyone.”

“Little one, your father has spoken and you need to heed his words,” Lilavati said. “He knows more of these things than you and I for he has studied Ludger and his abilities for far longer than we have.”

“But the giant says he doesn’t know if he can do it,” Magda said, proving she was smart enough to listen to the adults around her.

“I know,” Lilavati said. “But your father knows how Ludger’s magic works, and trusts him not to harm others. Sweet child, we must trust in the both of them.”

Magda snuggled back against Lilavati and pulled the dark skinned woman’s arms around her. “If I stay with you, will you keep the black eyed people away?” Her voice shook and she looked between her father and Lilavati.

“Black eyed people?” Manas asked sharply. “What do you mean?”

“Aunt Vera said they were just figments of my imagination,” Magda said. “But they aren’t. They’re real. They sometimes come at night, when I’m supposed to be sleeping. They smell funny. I don’t know what it is but I don’t like it. They walk around me and whisper things to me, but I can’t understand them. They talk in words I don’t know. But whatever they’re saying makes me scared and I feel like screaming but it’s like I have something sitting on my chest so I can’t breathe.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. “The only thing I do hear them say that I recognize is the word ‘tiger’. That’s the only thing that makes me feel safe. They don’t like that so they start telling me other scarier things.”

Odilie, her eyes wide, looked at Lilavati. “Is she cursed, Great Lady?”

“It is possible, Odilie,” Lilavati said.

“She’s my daughter. Of course she’d be cursed,” Manas said bitterly.

Odilie opened her mouth, and then her face went blank. Without a word, she sagged forward and then dropped to the ground. “What is this?” Lilavati asked.

She looked up in time to see their guards collapse as well. “I think Ludger cast his spell,” Manas said.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part seventy four

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Once they were finished with breakfast, Manas summoned Vera and Magda. He also summoned Odilie. The three of them arrived at the same time. Magda looked like she’d been crying and she shied away from Lilavati when she smiled at her.

Manas scowled. “What lies have you been telling my daughter, Vera?” he asked.

“No lies, Great Lord,” Vera said. “I’ve told her nothing but the truth.”

“What did you tell her then?” Manas said.

“She said that Lilavati was an evil sorceress from a barbarian land where children like me are killed because we’re in the way of trueborn heirs,” Magda said. “That the only reason she was nice to me yesterday was to get me to think she liked me so she could get close enough to kill me.”

“Magda, that’s so far from the truth I ought to execute Vera for treason right here and now,” Manas growled. “Odilie, as of now you’re in charge of tending my daughter.”

“As you wish, Great Lord,” Odilie said. Lilavati as proud of her former nurse. She kept her voice steady, but Lilavati saw the light in her eyes and the excitement she tried to keep hidden.

“Great Lord, I can’t allow that. Magda is my niece and my sister put her in my charge,” Vera said.

Manas stood and walked over to the woman. “You can’t allow it? You have no say in this, Vera. Magda is my daughter, and will be joining me every day from here on out. Odilie, Magda will have every meal she can with us. Is that understood?”

“Yes Great Lord,” Odilie said. She held out a hand. “Would you like to come here now, Magda?”

“No. You’re a servant and you’ll just kill me because I’ll be nothing but trouble to you when my father places me among you,” Magda said, shrinking back even farther. There was true fear on her face.

Lilavati rose and moved with her usual grace over to the child. Manas pushed Vera away from his daughter. Lilavati knelt in front of Magda. “Magda, why would he cast you down to the servants when you are his trueborn daughter?”

“But I’m not. My mother was a servant and his mistress,” Magda said.

“Is that what Vera has been telling you?” Lilavati asked. Magda nodded. “I will tell you a secret that he revealed to me as we spoke this morning that he has told no other.” Magda looked intrigued. “Your mother was no mistress to him. She was his lawful wife. And she did not flee from him, leaving you in Vera’s care as she claims. She died in childbirth and as Vera was her nurse my lord husband left you in her care. It is sad that she has so poisoned you against us that you fear both him and me.”

Magda’s eyes widened. “Father, is what she says true?”

“Of course it’s not,” Vera spat. “She’s lying to get you to like her again.”

“She isn’t lying, Vera,” Manas said. “Magda, your mother was no servant. She was a highborn lady I met on my journey. We were wed and I was taking her back to Phiri Hu when she became with child. She was lost to me when you were born. I did leave you in Vera’s care because I thought she was a woman of good character who would care for you while I could not.” He scowled at his daughter’s former nursemaid. “I see how wrong I was.”

Lilavati held out her arms. “Magda, in my land if a mother dies and leaves a child with only the father to tend to her, the second wife takes her in as her own daughter. I am very willing to do so. You are a sweet and wonderful child and I have no desire to see you harmed or cast aside.”

Magda’s smile was brighter than the sun. She flung herself into Lilavati’s arms. “May I call you mother?” the child asked.

“Yes,” Lilavati said, feeling a warmth spread through her that she’d never felt before. “You are quite free to call me that if you wish.”

“Vera, you are to stay away from Magda from now on,” Manas said. “I’ll be putting guards on her, now that I’ve recognized her as my trueborn daughter, so no harm comes to her. I consider you dangerous to her well being. If you even try to approach her you’ll be killed. Once we reach Hellgate, you’ll be left there with a significant purse to hold you over until you can find new employment. Or a journey back to your family.”

“You will regret this, Great Lord,” Vera said. She turned and faced Lilavati, a look of pure hatred on her face. “As will you, Great Lady. You’ll both die in the Halls of the Damned for this sin before the Twelve.” She turned and stalked away.

“Magda, have you had breakfast yet?” Manas asked.

“No,” Magda said. “Vera told me I was a naughty child for liking mother so she wouldn’t let me have any. She even ate hers in front of me, just to prove she was better than me.”

“Odilie, fetch some food for my daughter,” Manas said. “As you go, tell Ludger and Captain Dittmar I need to speak to them immediately.”

“Yes Great Lord,” Odilie said. She all but ran back into the camp.

“She seems pleased with her new assignment,” Manas said, returning to his seat beneath the canopy. It wasn’t raining at the moment, but the distant rumble of thunder betrayed the hope for a dry day.

Lilavati scooped Magda up and set her on her hip. She carried her over to the canopy and settled her on a cushion between her and Manas. It wasn’t long before the happy child crawled into Lilavati’s lap.

Lilavati laughed. “I believe Magda prefers my lap to the cushion,” she said.

“I think you’re right, Manas said, echoing her laugh. Odilie returned with food and the two men. She gave Magda  her breakfast. “Captain Dittmar, this is my trueborn daughter Magda. Odilie is her new nursemaid. You will have four guards on them at all times. Vera is to be killed on sight. She’s a very real threat to Magda’s safety.”

Captain Dittmar looked confused, but he bowed. “As you wish, Great Lord.” He strode off to make the arrangements.

“Your trueborn daughter?” Ludger asked, raising an eyebrow. “That’s not what I heard.”

“I know. It’s what my katali and I came up with to protect her from being cast down with the servants,” Manas said. “The thought was abhorrent to her and gave Magda nightmares. So we came to a realization on how to have Magda stay with us.”

“What do you wish of me?” Ludger asked.

“I want you to alter everyone’s memories,” Manas said.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part seventy three

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Manas whirled around and snarled at her. Lilavati rose and locked eyes at him. Her tiikeri uncurled and snarled back. “Manas, lay down,” Lilavati commanded, her voice a mixture of snarl and a ringing tone she didn’t know could come from her throat.

Manas shook his head, looking a little dazed. He looked at her again and snarled, though a little less angrily. He stalked forward slowly, death shining in his amber eyes.

“Manas, lay down,” Lilavati commanded again, showing no fear. Manas flopped to the ground, looking a little startled. “Sleep.” Manas blinked, weariness showing on his face. He glared at her as much as he was able but soon he gave into the command and drifted off.

Lilavati didn’t join him as she usually would. She curled up in a corner and dozed off, letting her tiikeri keep watch. She also slept lightly so she would hear his footsteps should he come near her.

The next morning her light sleep was shattered by Manas’ screams. She rolled over and watched as he returned to human form. He crawled over to where she was laying. “My katali, what did you do to me?” he asked in a raspy voice. His eyes were full of a mixture of wonder and longing. “I know I was ready to tear you to shreds. Yet you weren’t afraid. Your voice – your voice was different. It carried in it such a command that I never heard before from you.”

“My tiikeri assisted me in keeping you under control, as I told you she would,” Lilavati said. She covered her mouth with her hand as she yawned. “I did not trust I could keep you under control if I laid against you, and my sleep was not as comforting as it would have been.”

“Did you have a nightmare?” Manas asked.

“I told you of the sequence of visions, where I saw the two very different ways I got my scars,” Lilavati said. Manas nodded. “They repeated themselves in an endless loop throughout the night.”

“Which do you believe is the true one?” Manas asked.

“I do not know,” Lilavati said. “I am not certain now I wish to.”

“Why do you say that?” Manas asked, laying down beside her. He pulled her close.

She rested her forehead against his chest, reveling in the musky scent of his skin. “In both my mother is killed in a very brutal and senseless fashion. The first at my father’s hand. The second because she sought to control a tiikeri not her own while hers was not at her side.”

“You find that hard to accept, that she’d try to protect her children by using her gift to control a situation that was potentially fatal to everyone?” Manas asked.

“Even had she been able to control the tiikeri in front of her, my tiikeri tells me hers would have severed the bond and killed her for her betrayal,” Lilavati said. “Then it would have turned on us in savage fury to assuage its madness, so we would not have been spared either way. So now it makes me wonder if it was not my mother’s wish that I become marked in this way.”

“Don’t think about it like that, katali. Your mother still tried to protect you. Would your father have let you keep your powers if he thought you were marriage bait?” Manas asked. “Didn’t you tell me that in the first set of visions you heard your father tell your mother that he’d had the gift taken away from your younger sister?”

Lilavati thought about his words for several minutes. She shifted around until she was pressed as close to him as s he could get. “There are many rogue priests and sorcerers masquerading as the gods’ servants in the land who would have done as you suggest,” she said. “Had he even suspected I was inkosi tiikeri like my mother, he would have taken me to one of them and had my power removed.”

“So allowing you to be scarred could have been your mother’s way of ensuring you were able to keep your powers,” Manas said.

“That is a possibility I did not consider,” Lilavati said. “Then there is also the thought that by scarring me she hoped it would take away my gift.”

Katali, we should leave this line of consideration,” Manas said, shifting around so he could nibble at her ear.

Lilavati moved her head away from him. “There is still something between us that led to your rage last night, sikha,” she reminded him gently.

“Can’t that wait until after breakfast?” he grumbled.

“No,” Lilavati said. “It cannot. I will have an answer before I consent to an action that could give you another child.”

Manas sighed. “Magda’s presence will be hard to explain to my neighbors, especially with that one amber eye. It’s going to be obvious she’s my byblow.”

“Byblow?” Lilavati asked.

“My daughter by a woman I’m not married to,” Manas said.

Lilavati pursed her lips in thought. “How much have you traveled, sikha?” she asked.

“A great deal,” Manas said.

“Long enough to have married and had a legitimate daughter?” Lilavati asked.

His eyes widened. “Yes,” he said. “Even when I’ve been in Phiri Hu my neighbors haven’t seen that much of me, or heard anything of my life since my servants all know to keep their mouths shut and I don’t entertain guests.” He gestured to the curse mark. “It would be hard to explain my orders to any kind of overnight visitor.”

“Then name Magda the daughter of a dead wife, and that I am a second wife. Is it not the custom in your land to only give the title of lord to a male heir?” Lilavati asked.

“It is, and for me to remarry in order to produce an heir wouldn’t be an unusual thing among the northern lords. It’s done quite frequently, especially when a wife dies during childbirth,” Manas said.

“Then that is what happened with Magda’s mother. She perished during childbirth and you gave her over to a servant to care for as you traveled,” Lilavati said. “There will be no stain on your honor, and Magda will not be relegated to a brutal life among your servants.”

Manas smiled. “It is a wonder to me how your mind works, my katali,” he said. “I’m sorry I lost my temper with you yesterday. I loved Magda’s mother very much, and would have made her my lady if she’d stayed. Instead she fled and gave my daughter over to that spiteful snake.”

“You will have to dispense with Vera’s services and leave her in some city or village that is not in Phiri Hu,” Lilavati said thoughtfully. “And give Magda to Odilie. Else Vera will destroy our story. She seems the type to me to destroy a man simply for causing a perceived harm to another.”

Manas nodded. “I quite agree,” he said. “There is one city left, before we reach the Halls of the Damned. I’ll leave her there, and we can continue on.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part seventy two

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Manas raised an eyebrow. “You think you can control me, when no one dared to try before?”

Lilavati smiled thinly. “My tiikeri has spoken to me. She has told me many things. I am learning more of being an inkosi tiikeri from her than I ever thought I would. I will be fine.”

“What if I don’t want you here for personal reasons?” Manas asked.

“We are married, sikha,” Lilavati said. “Were I to leave this tent and spend my night elsewhere – and you have not given me an idea of where I might go – it would be a scandal that would hurt your control over your people.” She paused. “We have only been wed for one day. They will consider it a farcical ceremony, and an excuse only to validate a carnal relationship.”

Manas scowled. “You’re right about that. My people are very superstitious, and this would be a bad omen to them. Especially as we get closer to the Halls of the Damned.”

“If we enter them with this between us, we will fail,” Lilavati said.

“Are you sure about that?” Manas asked.

“I spoke to Ludger,” Lilavati said. “I asked him the customs of his culture regarding children who are born to women from men who are not their husbands. He told me that it is such a frequent occurrence that it is perfectly natural for the man to bring the child into his family as a legitimate offspring since the child is his responsibility.”

“You’re obsessed with Magda,” Manas said.

“I am fearful for her safety and very angry at your callous treatment of her,” Lilavati said, her smile replaced by a scowl. “You say you seek to change things. Then do so. Break centuries of tradition and accept Magda into your household as your daughter.”

“That would cause too many problems. I’d have to name her my heir, and with you being my wife it’s supposed to be your children who are my heirs,” Manas said, almost shouting.

“Is this actually true?” Lilavati said, sitting down in front of him. “Sikha, I also spoke to Dieter. I did not say anything of the situation, but I did ask him the laws of inheritance in the north. He stated that it is up to the lord to name his heir, regardless of the order of birth. It is traditionally the firstborn. However there have been several instances – some as recent as the past five years – that a lord will feel unhappy with his eldest child’s prospects and named a younger sibling as the heir.”

“Yes, and what kind of hard feelings did it cause? How will Magda react to being disinherited as the lady of Phiri Hu?” Manas asked.

“Were she to continue being raised by Vera, she would be resentful and despise any younger siblings,” Lilavati said. “Not because of losing her position as the new lady, but because they will be mixed blood and Vera holds a great distaste for such things. I passed by where they were sitting and overheard her telling Magda something similar.”

“That woman irritates me,” Manas said. “But I have no one else to serve as nursemaid for her.”

“Why did you choose her in the first place?” Lilavati asked.

“She’s Roswitha’s elder sister,” Manas said. “Roswitha is Magda’s mother.”

“Where is Magda’s mother now? Has she died?” Lilavati asked.

“No,” Manas said stiffly. “She gave the child to Vera and fled my lands before I found out. At first I didn’t believe Magda was mine, but her eyes are too noticeable and Ludger cast a spell that confirmed it.”

“Then accept it, welcome Magda into your house as your daughter, and do not name her your heir,” Lilavati said. “Find her a new nursemaid so Vera cannot completely poison her against us and our children.”

“Where am I supposed to find such a woman?” Manas asked.

“You could give her over to Odilie,” Lilavati said. “She is very fond of children, and according to everyone I spoke to, the youngest members of the servant caste in your household run to her when they need some comforting or an ear for their jokes and stories.”

“I’ll consider it,” Manas said, seeming less angry. They ate in silence. Manas winced and rubbed his chest. “The mark is burning.”

“Remove your shirt and binder,” Lilavati commanded. Manas did as she said. Lilavati hissed as she took in a deep breath. “It has grown worse, sikha, and looks to be infected.”

Manas put his hand to his chest, pulling it back with a soft cry. “Katali, will you look closer to see if it is a true infection?” There was real fear in his voice.

Lilavati leaned forward and prodded the injury. “No, sikha. This is just an illusion.” She looked at him. “I believe this is because of your anger and hatred towards your daughter.” She paused. “I do not think it is Magda’s presence in your household that angers you. It is your anger and hatred of her mother for fleeing and abandoning her daughter that has rooted itself in your heart.”

Manas sighed. He closed his eyes and leaned back, bracing himself with his hands. “I don’t know if you’re right or not, my katali.” He opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling of the tent. “But I do know when I see Magda, I feel an overwhelming sense of anger and disgust.”

“Did you feel that way when you laid with her mother?” Lilavati asked.

“No,” Manas said. He groaned and fell over to one side. “It’s too close to twilight.”

Lilavati quickly cleaned everything and moved to the side of the tent. “Remember, I do not fear you and I can and will be able to protect myself.” Manas nodded. He screamed as bones started popping. His screams turned into a roar and he was a tiikeri once more.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part seventy one

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Lilavati felt a strange sense of contentment as Magda snuggled up to her. “You seem to enjoy Magda’s company,” Manas said.

“She is a lovely child and very affectionate,” Lilavati said.

“She has always been a little piece of sunshine,” Manas said, smiling at his daughter.

“Father, will you make me go down with the servants and forget me?” Magda asked, looking over at Manas.

“Magda, sending you to be raised by the servants is the tradition for children of a man who isn’t married to the woman who has them,” Manas said. “I wasn’t married to your mother when you were born.”

“You send your illegitimate children to be raised by those of the lowest caste in your society, regardless of their feelings, and abandon them to whatever fate might be a part of that,” Lilavati said, her voice carrying a hint of the anger she felt. “That is an abominable practice. Even in my land we do not do such a thing, and there are many occasions of a man impregnating women they are not wed to.”

“What do your people do?” Manas asked.

“The children are accepted into the family, but named as the offspring of a dead family member. Or if there are no family members to accept a child from, then it is said the patriarch felt some obligation to accept an orphan into his household,” Lilavati said. “A child found and rescued from a village decimated from marauders, perhaps.”

“That would be acceptable to me, but I’d never be able to silence Vera,” Manas said.

“Get Ludger to do it,” Lilavati said.

“You seem quite taken with her. Is there a reason?” Manas asked.

“I will not see a child so cruelly treated,” Lilavati said. “I have lived through much the same from my own family, ignored and despised because of my disfigurement. I have no desire to see that happen to anyone else.”

“The world is cruel,” Manas said harshly. “You know this as well as I do.”

“I do,” Lilavati shot back. “But a child should not be subjected to the kind of cruelty you are suggesting for as long as possible.” She paused. “You are attempting to do to her what your parents did to you.”

Manas jerked back. “What do you mean by that?”

Lilavati pulled Magda closer. The girl seemed to revel in the affection. “Your parents cast you aside, neglected you, and ultimately condemned you to death, did they not?”

“This is a completely different situation,” Manas said.

“The circumstances are not the same, but the situation is,” Lilavati said.

“How?” Manas asked. “I am no murderer, and I’m not going to sacrifice her to a dark mage who wishes to use her body and soul in his spells.”

“This is true,” Lilavati said. “You are an unconcerned father who no longer desires to hold any responsibility for the child you sired simply because she is an inconvenient reminder of what your people consider an embarrassing indiscretion. You are condemning your daughter to a life of cruelty at the hands of your servants – who know her origins – and endless hard labor even at her young age until she dies.”

Magda whimpered. “I don’t want to die,” she said, looking up at Lilavati. Her odd eyes were full of tears.

Lilavati stroked her hair as she kept her crimson gaze leveled evenly at Manas. “Can you truly do that to a daughter of your own blood?” she asked.

Manas rose abruptly and stalked off into the rain. Lilavati sighed and shook her head. The northerners were once again confusing her with their barbaric customs towards their children. Magda didn’t deserve to be punished for the sins of her parents, yet that’s what her fate entailed.

“Great Lady, will my father really make me be a servant?” Magda asked. “You said so many things to him. You used words I don’t know so I couldn’t understand everything.”

“I do not know, little one,” Lilavati said. “Your father is a difficult man to understand. He is angry and needs some time to calm himself and think on what I have said to him.”

“Will it change his mind?” Magda asked.

“I have no idea,” Lilavati said, looking out over the camp. She was silent for a moment before looking down at the girl with a smile. “You seem to be a child who loves stories. Would you like to hear one from my homeland?”

Magda giggled happily. “Yes please, Great Lady.” Lilavati rearranged Magda’s position and started telling a story she remembered from her own childhood.

Manas returned a few hours later, Vera in tow. “Magda, it’s time for supper. You need to go with Vera now,” he said stiffly.

“I want to stay with you and the Great Lady,” Magda protested, wrapping her arms around Lilavati’s neck.

Lilavati met Manas’ eyes with a challenging look. “I am certain your father will let you join us again soon, Magda.”

Lilavati saw Manas’ jaw tighten. “I’ll be certain to do so,” he said.

“Thank you, father,” Magda said. She leapt off Lilavati’s lap and flung herself at him. At the last minute he knelt down and caught her in his arms. He hugged her and gave her a brief peck on the cheek before handing her over to Vera. The woman seemed confused by her lord’s anger and took the child off.

“It is near twilight,” Lilavati said, noting the change in the light. “Have the protections been set up?”

“They have. I brought some salt to circle our tent,” Manas said, handing the cup to her. “I’m going inside. You can pour it.” He pushed his way inside.

Lilavati sighed and rose to her feet. She walked in a circle around the tent, carefully leaving a line of white behind her. She paused in front of the tent. She stepped through the flap before completing the circle. She still had some salt left, should the circle be disturbed.

“You are still angry with me,” she said, setting the salt down and moving to sit with him. There was already food in the tent and he was setting it out.

Manas looked up at her. “Very angry,” he said. “Which is why I don’t want you in here when I change. I fear for your safety when I change.”

Lilavati closed her eyes, a stab of pain going through her heart. Her tiikeri spoke to her as she stood there in silence. Lilavati opened her eyes and looked at him. “I am inkosi tiikeri,” she said. “I do not fear you, and I will be able to keep you from injuring me.”

to be continued…

Goals for December 2017

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Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I managed a weekend post. I’ve been having some issues as well as just general laziness, so those are my excuses. They’re not good ones. But there they are.

I was decidedly unmotivated last month. I don’t know if that’s because I forgot to do a goal post, if I did a goal post and ignored it, or found that I just didn’t care because November was a month full of stress and depression for me. I did manage to win NaNoWriMo though. I barely squeaked by with 50,067 words, though if you look at the NaNo website it says 50,167. I heard from a lot of friends that the validator on the site added 100 words to their documents too.

So, here’s December’s goals –

  1. Get back on the weight loss train. – This is getting rather vital as I’ve gained back all the weight I lost and my health isn’t that great because of it. My end goal is 135-140 lbs, which is the “healthy weight” for a 5’3″ woman. At 40, this is going to take a lot longer to get rid of than if I was still in my 20s or 30s, but it is possible.
  2. Document more of my cooking adventures. – My ultimate end goal with a lot of my cooking adventures is to write a cookbook. I can’t do that if I don’t have pictures of the foods I’m preparing. So I need more pictures! I also need to be better about writing down the recipes I make up off the cuff so I can repeat them later if they’re popular.
  3. Finish the first draft of Into the Flames. – I want to be able to start the rewriting process for The Tiger’s Keeper (aka Tiger, Tiger) in January so it’s hopefully ready for publication by June. To do this, I need to get the second draft done and into shape for my beta readers.
  4. Try to get non-fiction posts up every weekend. – Yes, this is still the goal. It’ll continue being the goal even after Tiger, Tiger is done on my blog since you’ll be going back to the short little drabbles of fiction during the week, sometimes supplanted by my “slices of real life” posts as things happen.
  5. Focus some time on personal growth plans. – I have a lot of ideas for what I want to do to and for myself to become a better person. I really need to do this, as some of my less pleasant personality quirks are causing issues for people. So I’m going to be addressing at least one of those this month.

I think this should be enough for me to get through December. We’ll see how everything goes in January. I hope you all have a great weekend and we’ll see you tomorrow!

Tiger, Tiger – Part seventy

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“How do you know so much, my katali?” Manas asked with a fond smile.

“Books,” Lilavati said with a sigh. “Though I would trade some of that knowledge for far more life experience, my sikha.

Manas brought Lilavati’s hand to his lips. “Then you wouldn’t be my katali and my beautiful scholar.”

Lilavati smiled and leaned on Manas’ shoulder. “Don’t you two make a pretty picture,” a sour faced woman sneered. “I wonder how well your children will be received, being of a mixed breed. They’ll be abominations in the eyes of the Temple and the King.”

“I strongly doubt that, Tanje,” Manas said, wrapping his arm around Lilavati’s shoulder. “Given that the lord of Stuhi Detit and the lady of Bitxi Nirea are both mixed breeds themselves and they are in the highest councils of our king.” He gave the woman a stern look. “If all you wanted was to come here and insult my lady, then you can leave.”

“You asked us to bring you our folk magic, Great Lord,” Tanje said. “I have something that I remember from our village witch.”

“What is it?” Manas asked.

“Salt, Great Lord,” Tanje said. “Salt is a simple protection from evil spirits. They will be able to enter the camp, but if we pour rings of salt around the tents they may not be able to enter them.”

“We have quite a bit of salt,” Manas said thoughtfully. “If Ludger and Ariane fail in their task to find the ingredients, we might just use it.”

“We should use this information even if Ludger and Ariane are able to accomplish what they say,” Lilavati said, earning a surprised look from Tanje.

“Why do you say that, my katali?” Manas asked.

“What if the barrier does not hold them back? There should be another layer of protection. Our people are far more important than any common ingredient such as salt,” Lilavati said.

“Tanje, tell Bjorn to pull out as many of the sacks of salt as he can. I don’t know how much we’ll need. Just before we retire for the night we’ll pour the circles,” Manas said.

“Of course, Great Lord,” Tanje said. She turned and hurried away.

“Good thinking, my katali,” Manas said. “Though you seemed to startle her with your suggestion.”

“No one has ever seen me disagree with you. They simply assume that I am always going to agree with you,” Lilavati said. “To them, I have no mind of my own even though you call me a scholar. I do not think they believe I am as educated as you claim.”

“Then we must prove them wrong, katali. You’re my equal, my balance, my lovely lady,” Manas said. “You are also my stand in when I have to be away, or when I’m ill. You will be taking my place at certain events because I’ll have other duties to attend to. You’re my beloved and my partner.”

“Then I will work hard to learn my place in your lands,” Lilavati said.

“You’ll do fine, my katali,” Manas said.

A few others came up to speak with the pair, but all they did was repeat Tanje and Micha’s suggestions. Then two more approached them. Manas stiffened as they approached.

Lilavati looked at them closely. It was a very nondescript looking woman, of average build with brown hair and eyes, and – she blinked in astonishment – a child. The girl looked no more than five, and appeared so fragile that the strong winds that they now faced seemed able to pick her up and break her in half. She had peculiar eyes, one was amber and the other was a starling shade of blue.

“Hello father,” the girl said with a shy smile.

“Hello Magda,” Manas said, holding out his arms. Lilavati saw the reluctance in the eyes of the older woman in releasing the child’s hand, but she let go.

Magda threw herself across the narrow distance between her and her father and locked her arms around his neck. “Father, I’ve missed you,” she said in a high, lilting voice that nonetheless carried a hint of her father’s deeper tones.

“I’ve missed you too, princess,” Manas said, drawing her up on his lap. He turned his attention to the brown eyed woman. “I see you’re disregarding my orders as usual, Vera.”

The woman flashed him a smile full of venom. “You told me that once you wed you’d spend more time with her. You announced just earlier today you’ve taken a bride, so why shouldn’t I bring Magda to see you? Especially since you haven’t seen or spoken to her once since we left the Southlands.”

“Father, Vera told me that when you brought your new lady home, you’d send me to live with the servants. Is this true?” Magda asked.

Manas flushed, and looked over at Lilavati. Lilavati held out a hand. “Kikaii imera, mikri,” she said with a smile for Magda.

Magda looked confused. “What does that mean?” she asked.

“It means ‘fair morning, little one,'” Lilavati said. “It is what you say to a child in your family in the morning.”

Magda released Manas’ neck and shyly moved over to stand in front of Lilavati. “Vera told me you would curse me if I spoke to you,” she said.

Lilavati chuckled. “I fear many thought I would curse them if they spoke to me,” she said. “It is the way of people to think that of those things that frighten them.”

“Why?” Magda asked with the simplicity of all children.

“Magda, come away now,” Vera said.

“Magda stays here, Vera,” Manas said. “You brought her to visit and of course my wife must get to know her stepdaughter. So leave her here and be on your way. I’ll send Magda to you before dark.”

“Great Lord, you’re very busy right now,” Vera said.

“He is, but in truth I am not,” Lilavati said, still smiling. Magda looked at her father for approval before taking Lilavati’s hand. Lilavati slowly pulled the girl into her lap. “I am quite happy to sit with her.” It was obvious Vera didn’t like that, but she turned and walked stiffly away. “You will have to explain all of this to me, sikha.”

“I will,” Manas said, a haunted look in his eyes. “Later though.”

“Of course,” Lilavati said, smiling at Magda. Her tiikeri purred in delight as the child curled up against her. “Innocence should be kept as long as possible.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part sixty nine

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There was silence at his pronouncement. “Great Lord, you know the dangers of that place. How can you even think of forcing the Great Lady to go there with you?” Odilie asked.

“There is no coercion in this, Odilie,” Lilavati said. “I have heard some of the tales. I know what evil dwells within that place. I was told what could happen. I chose this path, and I intend to follow it to the end.”

“Great Lady, it will end in your death,” a gruff, grizzled man said. He limped forward. “Forgive me for speaking so, Great Lord, but Great Lady, you’re not of the Northlands. The demons who command the Halls of the Damned won’t take kindly to your presence.”

“That’s not true, Sergeant Holzer,” Ludger said. “There are many stories of men and women from the city-states in the Southlands who’ve used the Halls of the Damned as a sort of test for their wills.”

“Yes, and how many lived?” the gruff soldier asked.

“Out of the one hundred and ninety three of those not from the north – one hundred and seventy six of those being the Great Lady’s countrymen – only seven in total have perished,” Dieter said. “I don’t have the specific breakdown of the identities of the ones who died, but given time I probably could get that for you, once we get back to Phiri Hu.”

“That’s another good point,” the soldier said, seizing onto the opening Dieter gave him. “How is all of this going to get us home?”

“Should the Great Lord and the Great Lady pass through the Halls of the Damned, we’ll make up a month’s travel,” Ludger said. The old soldier opened his mouth. “Kasimir, stop it. The Great Lady has already proven to be extremely important to the Great Lord, going so far as to almost dying at the hands of assassins multiple times to save his life. The Halls of the Damned are no less than important to her.”

Kasimir humphed but stepped back into the crowd. Lilavati watched Manas scan the group. “Ariane, find those flowers. Ludger, get the rest of what we need put together before you start talking to Micha and Dieter. Everyone, if you can think of something else come speak with me and my lady. Any knowledge you have might help protect us from those poor, damned souls.”

The group broke up and Manas took Lilavati to their tent. He helped her sit down on a pile of cushions placed beneath a small canopy that had been erected. “Why do we not go inside?” Lilavati asked, gesturing to the tent.

“There’s still several hours until sunset, katali,” Manas said. “I need to be accessible to my people, and hiding in a tent won’t make that possible. Normally, in a situation where we camped early, I would walk among them. With the weather being as unpredictable as it is, I would rather stay dry.”

Lilavati shuddered as the sky rumbled. “I would rather be inside the tent,” she said.

“I know, but as my lady you must be as visible as I am,” Manas said, seating himself beside her. He took her hand in his. “Don’t worry, katali. It’ll be all right. You’re safe with me.”

“She won’t be if I don’t enchant that canopy,” Ludger said as he limped forward. Lilavati noticed he was looking even older than the last time she’d seen him in clear light. He saw her appraisal. “A side effect of using my magic so freely, Great Lady. Don’t worry. It won’t kill me. The greatest sorcerers among my tribes are men in their fifties who look to be past their century mark. It’s just the way our powers take their toll on our body.”

“What enchantment are you planning on placing on the canopy?” Manas asked, drawing his attention back to the subject at hand.

“A spell to keep you both dry and safe from lightning. I’ve already done this on every tent in the company,” Ludger said. “I did it while they were all in the cart. This canopy I’m not sure about. I don’t know if it was in the cart with the tents or in another one, so I want to make certain it’s been taken care of.”

“Then by all means cast your spell, old friend,” Manas said.

Ludger did his work and then started to walk away. “Great Lord, I notice you’ve started to refer to me as ‘old friend.’ Is there a reason?”

“You are my oldest friend, Ludger. The one man I trust above all of my advisors,” Manas said. “This doesn’t mean I don’t expect you not to betray me some day, as I do all who serve me, but for the time being you are the closest thing to a friend I have outside of my lady, and I choose to honor that.”

Ludger chuckled. “You still know nothing of our life debts, do you, Great Lord?” He shook his shaggy head. “I’ll take the trust and the fact you’ve named me a friend.” He made his way back to where Dieter and Micha were waiting for him.

“Life debt?” Lilavati asked.

“He claims he owes me his service until his death and beyond,” Manas said. “It’s a custom of his people if you save their lives. They take it very seriously. I think he told me once that they believe their soul has become inextricably bound with yours and that the bond will never be broken until the person who did the saving dies.”

“He speaks the truth,” Lilavati said, frowning. She closed her eyes to draw up the memory. “I did not find much on Ludger’s people, but there were some tales of their religious beliefs. Oaths such as the life debt are not taken lightly, katali. I believe that his people avoid those bonds as much as possible simply because they will not be able to join their loved ones in their afterlife until the debt is settled.”

“So he truly believes that only my death will set him free?” Manas asked.

Lilavati shook her head, opening her eyes. “His debt to you goes beyond that. Should you die before him, the debt would pass to your family. That would mean, should I still live, it would come to me. Any children we have would inherit a fierce protector. It would only be when me and our oldest child perished that his soul would be free.”

“You don’t think he’d live until the two of you died,” Manas said.

“His body would perish, but his soul would remain,” Lilavati said. “His people are a very strange band of warriors and sorcerers, my katali. There are not many books on them because they do not speak to scholars often. They are similar to us in that regard, for we shun northern scholars unless we are feeling the need to pass on our tales to other lands.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part sixty eight

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The camp went up quickly, faster than Lilavati had ever seen. A large canopy was set up in the center of it and everyone gathered beneath in. Manas took her hand and the two of them moved to stand in front of the gathered company.

“Great Lord, what evil struck us as we entered this place?” someone asked.

“They were ghosts of a dark past, condemned to relive their terrible deeds on the cursed land at the entrance to this clearing,” Manas said.

“What monsters were cursed to stand here, and why did they attack us?” Dieter asked.

“They were the spirits of soldiers that served my parents, taking pleasure in slaughtering Vengari at my parents’ order,” Manas said. “We suspect we’d have passed unmolested had I not been with the company.” He shuddered. “To my parents and their dead servants, I am a traitor. I betrayed them, giving their enemies the key to ending their reign of tyranny.”

“Great Lord, your parents sacrificed my wife and sons to their dark sorcerer’s god,” a man older than any Lilavati knew said as he made his way to the front of the company. “I would have joined them in death, but the dark sorcerer bound me and forbade me to commit suicide.” The old man shuddered, and then smiled. “It was your telling Lord Emrys and Lord Reinhard about the evil deeds and cursed magic happening in Phiri Hu that truly set me free and released my family’s souls.”

“Get to the point, old man,” someone yelled.

The old man looked over his shoulder and glared at the speaker. The young man shifted uncomfortably where he stood. The old man turned back to face Manas and Lilavati. “Great Lord, their evil deeds carry repercussions that will span decades if not centuries into the future. You can’t let that hold you back. You must continue on as you have been, and you’ll have the life you seek.”

“How does this resolve our current dilemma?” Dieter asked.

The old man smiled again. “There are stories, Great Lord. Stories of what that dark sorcerer did. He might have pretended to be all powerful – and he had some strong magic, it’s true – but there was one weakness to his magic.”

“What was that?” Manas asked.

“Common folk magic could counter some of his spells,” the old man said.

Ludger moved through the crowd and came up beside the old man. “What kind of folk magic do you mean, Micha?” he asked.

“That demon in human form thought he could trap us in our homes by sending the spirits of the dead to harass us,” Micha said. “We were terrified. No one could get out to get more supplies. We were starving. Our local witch, a bright young woman named Sybille, came up with an idea. She walked around the perimeter sprinkling salt and dried pipevine flowers. She said nothing, made no strange gestures. The next time the ghosts arrived they couldn’t pass the barrier she made with those. A short while later,  she added ground quartz crystal and saltpeter to the mixture on the ground. The ghosts were destroyed as soon as they tried to cross the barrier again.”

“I have everything but the pipevine flowers,” Ludger said. “I could put them all together.”

“I think I have the flowers,” Ariane said. “The Temple uses them as a soporific, when acolytes and preesters can’t sleep.”

“Go check,” Ludger said. He patted the old man on the shoulder. “Thank you, Micha. I think I’ll get with you later this evening and pick your brain for other examples of the folk magic you grew up with.”

“I’m happy to talk about it,” Micha said. “Not many people seem to be interested in the old ways anymore.”

“May I join you for that conversation?” Dieter asked. “I feel the histories and folklore of all our people should be preserved.”

“You’re quite welcome to do so, young scribe,” Ludger said.

“So there’s a way to kill them?” someone else asked.

“That is a possibility,” Manas said.

“Great Lord, do you think they’ll come after us?” Odilie asked, her voice full of fear.

“I wish I knew, Odilie,” Manas said. “I want to take every precaution, in case they do. I’ve been told spirits prefer to fully attack at night. We must be ready for them.”

“Can’t Ludger’s magic protect us?” Ariane asked.

“You are a servant of the Twelve,” Lilavati said. “Should your powers not be used in the defense of this encampment?”

“Had I the ability to banish the dead, I’d do it,” Ariane said, glaring at her. “My gifts lay in healing and the translation of dead languages.”

“You are a scholar then?” Dieter asked.

“Not really,” Ariane said. “When I see a language no longer spoken, it is as if one of the Twelve whispers in my ear and tells me what is written. I’ve learned quite a bit in the archives.”

“Ariane, see if you have the pipevine flowers. Ludger, check your supplies to be certain we have enough to walk the perimeter of the camp,” Manas said. He paused. “Ariane, a prayer to the Twelve would be welcome as well.”

“I’ll make sure to offer one before I start my search,” Ariane said. She wore a solemn look on her young face.

“Everyone else, if you are asked to do something to aid in the protection of the camp by Ludger, do it. Don’t argue, don’t ask why. Just do it. He’ll explain it to you later, when we’re not as bound by the necessity of keeping away the ghosts of ancient enemies,” Manas said. There was a low rumble of thunder. Lilavati shuddered and only a soft whimper escaped. It was enough for Manas to hear. “We have one final announcement to make, and it isn’t as full of gloom as the rest.” Everyone looked at them expectantly. “My beautiful Lilavati and I were married by Ariane this morning.”

There were several gasps. “Great Lord, why didn’t you wait until we got back to Phiri Hu?” someone asked.

“The Halls of the Damned,” Manas said.

to be continued…