Tiger, Tiger – Part thirty seven

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Photo via Visual hunt

Manas carried her inside. “Set me there,” Lilavati said, pointing. “This way I am close to the water to bathe myself.”

“I’ll help you with that and get you changed,” Manas said. He winced. “That’s all I’ll have time for, my beloved.”

“That is all I require this night, my love,” Lilavati said. She smiled and ran her fingers across his cheek. He shuddered and looked at her, his amber eyes full of desire.

He got her bathed and then started putting her night clothes on her. She stopped him. He looked at her in surprise. “You don’t want to wear this one?”

“I do not wish to wear anything,” she said. “I remembered something I read while we rode today. An inkosi tiikeri bonds even better with their tiikeri if they are unclothed when they lay against them.”

Manas looked at her sharply. “You aren’t lying to me, are you?”

Lilavati smiled at him. “I do not lie to those I love.”

“And you love me?” Manas asked, his voice low and pleading.

“I do,” Lilavati said.

Manas kissed her gently. He pulled away, groaning in agony. He staggered to the center of the tent, tearing his clothing and the binding off. Lilavati shuddered as once again she heard the cracking of the bones and his screams. When the change was done, she let him stalk around for a few minutes before she struggled to her feet.

She started towards him and dropped to her knees. Her legs were very weak. Stubbornly she tried again. She fell once more. Crying in frustration she watched him still pacing. He needed her. She couldn’t wait. She crawled forward.

Manas must have seen the movement. He turned to look at her. His low growl died in his throat. He moved as close to her as the tent would allow and laid down. She reached him and pressed into his side. He wrapped himself around her and dropped his massive tail over her to provide as much warmth as he could.

She smiled up at him and stroked the short fur on his nose. She closed her eyes and relaxed. Soon she drifted off to sleep.

“Father, father, I am not dead. Do not leave me,” she screamed.

“You are dead to me. You cursed your mother with your presence,” her father said.

“No! She protected me. I did not curse her,” she screamed as the shroud was wrapped around her legs.

“Anup, you will be cursed by the Thousand in your next life if you seal your daughter,” one of the masked ones said. “Are you certain you wish to dare their anger?”

Her father paused, and she could see the fear in his eyes. “Release her, and speak of this to no one. I do not wish to be cursed by those of my own people.”

She crawled off the slab and staggered up to her father, the infected wound on her face making her weep. “Father, father, what did I do?”

Lilavati woke with a start, tears streaming down her face. What were these dreams. This one did not bring fear, but a deep and aching grief. She wiped her eyes and looked up in time to see a bright light. At first she thought the sun was up. A fear gripped her heart. Was it that her presence had kept Manas in his cursed form? Then she remembered what Ludger told them before leaving.

She looked up at Manas. He was watching, a low growl emanating from his chest. She shifted to let him know she was awake. He glanced down at her. “Rise, my love. I can move so you are free to attack.”

Manas got to his feet. She crawled as fast as she could to an area where she could barricade herself with the supplies in the tent. She didn’t move against any of the walls or into a corner, fearing they’d try to cut through the canvas to strike at them.

They both heard the voices. “I don’t see the tent. I know Ludger put it out here.” The first voice was gruff and angry.

“I’m sure he hid it with other spells.” Lilavati’s internal feline snarled in anger. That voice was familiar. It was Sieglinde. She sounded just as angry. “He knows about the Great Lord’s curse.” Her use of the honorific was sarcastic and full of scorn.

“How did you learn of it?” someone else asked.

“I went to check on the Great Lady that first night she spent with him to see if she needed anything. She was curled up against him as if he were nothing but a giant kitten, not a murderous monster,” Sieglinde said.

“He couldn’t have been the one to kill so many of us all those years ago,” someone protested. “He was out fighting with us. The preester was among those who saw him.”

“That may be, but he is just the same as that dark creature,” Sieglinde said.

“Why do you want to kill the Great Lady so much now too?” another voice asked.

“I don’t,” Sieglinde said. “I want to save her. It’s my brother who wants her dead.”

“Are you going to do what he said?” the first voice asked.

Sieglinde snorted. “Do I ever? We get the Great Lady out and kill the beast. We’ll find some way of releasing the Great Lady from his spell once he’s dead.”

“I don’t think Ansgar will agree to that,” the first speaker said.

“Ansgar is my problem,” Sieglinde said. “Look for the tent.”

“There it is,” someone said. Manas crouched, tail lashing, and Lilavati braced herself as a thin blade slipped into the nearly invisible seam where the opening was. It slid down and the small assassination team entered.

to be continued…

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Tiger, Tiger – Part thirty six

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Photo via Visual hunt

 

“I know what follows me,” Manas said. “I’ve known its face since I was a child. But you, what harm have you ever done to anyone that would make them want to hurt you?”

“I do not know,” Lilavati said. “I do not even know why I have become their target, other than I agreed to your offer and my father accepted the bride price.”

“These attempts on your life began before you left your father’s house,” Manas said. It wasn’t a question but Lilavati nodded anyway. “This is maddening. I want to know who’s doing this and if they’re connected to me in any way.”

“They must be, for they did not start until after our meeting,” Lilavati said. “They have continued even though I left my people’s lands. I wish to know who and why.”

“I agree,” Manas said. The promised rain started falling. He helped her get her hood up before pulling his own in place. “I don’t know what to do, my beloved. But we’ll figure something out.”

They rode on well into the time when they should’ve already been camped. Manas watched Ludger as he took over leading the company, his anxiety radiating from him. Lilavati could hear Manas’ breathing grow labored as fear took over his mind.

Finally, Ludger called a halt. “Great Lord, Great Lady, we’ll erect your tent first so we can get you out of the rain.” He paused. “Great Lord, we may not have everyone inside their tents by twilight.”

“You’d better,” Manas said, dismounting and helping Lilavati down. “I don’t care for having my orders disobeyed. Especially when I saw no need for us to press on as far as we did.”

“I’ll explain it in the morning, Great Lord,” Ludger said. Orders were given and people scrambled into action.

“Great Lord, if you wish, I can take over care of the Great Lady now,” Theda said.

“Preester, why is it you seem so determined to insert yourself into our lives right now?” Manas asked. “I am quite capable of taking care of her myself.”

“This late in the day?” Theda asked quietly.

Manas ground his teeth. Lilavati was confused. She leaned in. “Why do you fight her presence so much, my love?” she asked in his ear.

Manas lowered his head so he could whisper directly to her. “I don’t want anyone around me tonight but you. I’m agitated enough I don’t think even the preester’s aura would keep her safe.”

“I see,” Lilavati said. “Yet you do not wish to tell her this because you fear she will try to force us to be apart.” Manas nodded. Lilavati did her best to straighten herself and give the impression she was stronger than she felt. “I am capable of tending to myself that I will be well enough until morning.”

“Are you certain, Great Lady?” Theda asked.

Lilavati nodded. “I am.”

“Very well then. I’ll go help set up the rest of the camp,” Theda said. She walked off, spine stiff and steps quick and hard.

“She isn’t happy,” Manas said.

“We refused her obvious demands when we have never before given her cause to think we would,” Lilavati said. “She is also highly placed in your religion?” Manas nodded. “That is twice the blow to her then, for she is also accustomed to having her own way because of the power granted by her position.”

“Let’s make sure Ludger does what I’ve instructed him to do. We don’t have a lot of time to argue with him,” Manas said. Lilavati nodded. She let him carry her again, knowing that they had little time to spare.

Ludger was working on getting the tent set up. “Great Lord, I hoped to have this done before you and the Great Lady arrived.”

“Yes, in the hopes it would spare you the argument,” Manas said. “This is too close to the camp, Ludger. You know my orders are immutable. Move it farther away.”

“Ludger,” Lilavati said, catching both men’s attention with her soft voice. “The tent is too close to the camp for my comfort. I do not trust these men and women we travel with. Not after what I have experienced since I left my father’s lands. I only trust my beloved and you, though that trust has been given with some reservation. Please do not make him debate this issue with you so late in the day.”

Ludger gave her a crooked grin. “You’ll serve him well as a wife, Great Lady. You understand him, and our politics, better than you think.” He beckoned to the servants and the tent was moved the appropriate distance from the camp. “I’ve renewed all the usual spells, as well as adding a few new ones.”

“What did you add?” Manas asked sharply.

“A charm so someone’s eye will pass over the tent as if it isn’t even here, though that won’t last through a determined search,” Ludger said. “A spell that will allow you to hear if anyone approaches the tent, even if they’re trying to be quiet. If they’re cloaked in some kind of silence ward or spell, you will see light brighter than the early morning sun. Finally, a spell that will -.” Here Ludger lowered his voice. “That will keep the screams of your curse from being heard throughout the camp, since I couldn’t move you farther away.” Manas looked at him sharply. “Great Lord, I’ve known from the day I arrived what form your curse took. I don’t know how the Great Lady is able to survive being with you, but if she is – and brings you comfort – then I’m not going to say anything more.”

“Thank you, Ludger,” Manas said.

“You saved my life, Great Lord. I will serve you until the day I die,” Ludger said, bowing. He led the guards away.

“We need to get inside,” Manas said, casting a look at the sky. Even though it was raining, Lilavati saw enough of the light to know the time was growing late.

to be continued…

My writing process

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Every now and then I get asked how I write, since I’m a pantser through and through. Often I get the question, “How can you write not knowing where you’re going to go?” Well, while that’s half the fun, it’s also not entirely true of what I do. Let me explain.

I go in with my characters – the majority of which introduce themselves long before I get started, the setting, and a vague plot. I do have a beginning and an end. It’s the middle part that I tend to write by the seat of my pants. Essentially, I know where they’re going to end up. It’s up to them to choose the roads to it.

People look at me odd when I say the characters “choose” their own paths, but other pantsers understand exactly what I’m talking about. Also, there are many authors who agree with me that they hear the voices of their characters in their heads, talking to them, pushing them on when energy flags so that the story can be told. I’ve ended up having to supervise arguments between the characters in my head so I could see where it led. That was fun. I learned a lot about my characters with that one.

The truth is I enjoy learning about my characters as I write, which is why my first drafts get almost completely rewritten when I go back to them. I look at my first drafts as sort of an overly complex set of character sketches. I use the plot as the guide to let the characters sort themselves out. Once that’s been done, I go back and use that information to pare down what I’ve been given and then add more information where it was lacking.

I can rewrite a story five or six (or more) times before I’m somewhat happy with it. Only then will I send it to a beta reader, who will then go through and pick it apart for me. I’ll take the advice they give me that I feel would strengthen the story and discard the advice I don’t think will help. I have taken advice I don’t agree with and ended up enjoying the results anyway. So even if I don’t like the advice given, I don’t discard everything.

I can be very scattered in my methods, but the result is the same – a fun story that I’ve enjoyed writing and that I hope readers will love reading. We’ll find out next year when the first of my books gets published (by me).

My musical awakening – 2017 version

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I’ve always been very particular in my music choices. I haven’t ventured out of the rock genre in ages, though I’ve dabbled in dubstep, techno, and a few other varieties as well as revisiting some of the classic country I heard when I was a kid. Then I got on Discord and discovered that they have special bots that allow you to play music through the voice chat options.

Let me just say…this has been eye opening.

I’ve been introduced to Manowar, Sabaton, Eminem, Lil Wayne, NF, Bruno Mars, and so many others. I’ve started adding to my writing playlist on Spotify, putting in my favorites from the lists. (Though Manowar’s Sleipnir isn’t on Spotify since they don’t have the license for it – the turkey butts.)

I’m loving every bit of what I’ve been shown, and if you’ve known me for any length of time, you know how odd that is. I’ve sworn up and down that I *hate* rap, that I’d never listen to it willingly, that I’d shut off whatever program was playing it rather than listen. Well, there are a few songs from Eminem, Lil Wayne, NF, and Bruno Mars that have made it into my repertoire now.

I’ve also gone into foreign language songs. I’ve got some more German language songs, and a few Japanese ones. Granted, these are covers of anime songs, but hey, I have to start somewhere, don’t I? 😀 I also have one Arabic/French mix song, and as soon as my friend gets back on Discord, I’m grabbing another Arabic song. Well, it’s actually Arabic/Latin/Spanish. Why? Because I can.

Music can open so many doors. We are literally a gathering of people from across the world, and all of us are sharing music we enjoy. It’s so much fun to see what everyone else int he world listens to, and share what I enjoy with them. I’ve even been reintroduced to old favorites (from the 80s) I’d forgotten about.

If you like a song, and have a chance to share it with someone, do so. They may not like it, but it’s a good conversation starter.

Manowar – Sleipnir

Tiger, Tiger – Part thirty five

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Photo via Visual hunt

The beast’s jaws never reached Lilavati. Arrows sprouted from its face like the quills of a porcupine. Frost appeared on its skin. It staggered back, and then fled.

Strong arms held her as the horse was lifted and the saddle removed. Then the straps were unfastened and she was released. Manas held her to his chest. “My dark scholar, what happened? I told you not to leave your guards.”

“My horse was killed and then they rode past as if they did not see me,” Lilavati said, clinging to him. She sobbed into his shoulder. “The preester and your soldiers did not even look behind them as they rode past.”

“Ludger, send one of our riders to catch up with them. I want answers,” Manas snapped. Ludger nodded and went back to the company. Manas scooped Lilavati up and set her on his horse. He climbed up behind her. “My dark scholar. I will never let you out of my sight again.” This was said as a soft growl in her ear.

The company moved on down the road. Lilavati wept softly as they went. Manas continued murmuring quietly into her ear, comforting words that soothed her even as her fears and grief continued to overwhelm her. She wanted to lay down and go to sleep, but that would entail being put in one of the carts. Terror choked off the request as the memory of her dream returned.

It was an hour before Theda and those with her rejoined the group. All of them looked completely embarrassed. “Great Lord, forgive us,” Theda said, bowing her head. “Some dark magician must have charmed us, twisting our minds into believing the Great Lady continued to ride with us. It wasn’t until your messenger caught up with us that we knew she was gone.”

Manas shuddered. The mere mention of a dark magician seemed to cause him pain. Lilavati frowned. She’d seen no one else on the road, and the strange feline inside of her stretched and growled once more before subsiding.

Manas looked down at her. “Did you growl?” he whispered.

“It was what was awakened within me,” Lilavati said.

Manas nodded. He looked at Theda. “Preester, you are supposed to be immune to such things. How is it you were affected as my men were?”

“I don’t know,” Theda said. “The Blessings of the Twelve usually protect me from such things.” She frowned. “I’ll have to ask them for answers later because right now I have none.”

“Great Lord, the saddle is salvageable, but the mare is dead,” Ludger said.

“How did she die?” Lilavati asked.

“Lilavati wants to know how she died,” Manas said.

“There are no marks, but I can feel the presence of dark magic,” Ludger said. His face was grim. He held up his hand. “I know that isn’t a complete answer. I don’t know what else to say, Great Lord. I feel no presence of a dark mage.” He cocked his head to one side. “Not a mage, a cleric. This was done by a fell preester, Great Lord.”

“A cleric from another land?” Theda asked.

Ludger shook his head. “No, this definitely has the touch of the darker side of the Twelve, Preester. No outsider did this.”

Theda scowled. “How do you know the difference between a fell preester and an outsider, Ludger?”

Ludger stood up to his fullest height. “Because Preester, I am not a follower of the Twelve, in spite of all of your attempts to convert me. I have knowledge of more religions than you and your kind are willing to admit exist. So yes, Preester, I’m very certain this is was done by a fell preester since this magic reeks of the presence of the Twelve.”

“Enough, you two,” Manas said, his voice ringing out over theirs. “We don’t have time for this. The beast may return and I doubt we’ll be able to drive it off so quickly again. We ride. Now.”

Riding cradled in Manas’ arms wasn’t comfortable, but Lilavati refused to ask to be moved to a cart. Theda rode up next to them. “Great Lord, wouldn’t it be better for the Great Lady to be -?”

“Do not even attempt to finish that question, Preester,” Manas said coldly, looking over at her. “I’m far better equipped to protect my dark scholar than you seem to think. Also, should that fell preester – or another who practices evil magic – be in the area, I have no desire to leave her so exposed.”

Theda fell back. “She is so protective of me,” Lilavati said. “I have never had so many who cared for my well being.”

Manas kept his eyes on the road. “She’s overprotective, if you ask me. I’d rather she kept her distance if all she’s going to do is question my decisions.”

“Are you certain it is not you who has become overprotective?” Lilavati asked. She felt Manas stiffen but he said nothing. “My love, I am too fragile to be in conflict with you. I cannot debate what I think and feel with any sense of clarity. I also do not wish to anger you. I have never known what it meant to be protected, until the night before you came to claim me. Even then, I was only guarded because my father did not wish to return the great treasures you paid him.”

“I’m the one who got the greatest treasure out of the bargain,” Manas said.

“My love, listen,” Lilavati said. Manas sighed. “You have given me guards, Ludger has used both magic and medicine to protect me, and even the preester has done what she can to be certain I am safe. Yet still I have suffered more harm in the days I have been outside the borders of my own lands than I ever did inside them.”

“Do you blame me for this?” Manas asked through clenched teeth.

“Of course not, my love,” Lilavati said. She leaned back against him, feeling the powerful muscles in his chest shift as he adjusted his position to accommodate her. “I blame whatever force it is that seeks to destroy us both.”

“You don’t believe that you’re the only target of this,” Manas said.

“No.” Lilavati knew he heard her when the low growl rumbled through his chest but did not escape his lips.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part thirty four

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Photo via Visualhunt

Manas frowned. “I thought your father told your mother not to say anything about that.”

“To me,” Lilavati said. “There was never any censure on her when she left the house.”

“So she could have easily told the entire city what you were,” Manas said. Lilavati nodded. “Aren’t those with your gift valued among your people?”

“It would depend on the method of the emergence of the power,” Lilavati said. She would have continued, but her mare stopped and tossed her head. Her body was stiff and she was sweating. “Manas, something is not right here.”

She looked up and gasped. Littered all around the vast field they faced were piles of dead. Some she could see were real, and in varying stages of decay. Others were the mere shadows she was growing accustomed to seeing. “What in the name of the Twelve?” Theda asked, putting her hand on the handle of the mace on her belt.

Lilavati could hear the feline deep within her snarling. “It’s here,” she said. “Watching us.”

“I doubt that,” Ludger said as he joined them. “Nothing would attack a party this large.”

“She’s right,” Manas said, his amber eyes filled with a hunter’s gleam. He looked around, watching and listening.

“I sense something dark in that direction,” Theda said, pointing.

“It is not there,” Lilavati said.

“Then where is it?” Ludger asked. Manas looked at Lilavati, who shrugged helplessly. “I’m more inclined to go with Preester Theda’s information. The power of the Twelve wouldn’t drive her wrong.”

“Then send ten men to investigate, but they’re not to engage whatever it is until they report back,” Manas said. “I want an idea of what we’re fighting.” Ludger nodded before heading back towards the ranks. Manas turned to Lilavati. “My dark scholar, can you sense it?”

“No,” Lilavati said. “Only that it is watching us and not where the preester is being led by the Twelve.”

“You’re certain of this?” Manas asked. Lilavati nodded. “How?”

Lilavati cast a look over her shoulder to make sure no one else was within hearing distance of her weakened voice. “Something awoke within me the first night we spent together. It is like a great feline itself. I have heard it speaking to me twice, and just now it has alerted me to the presence of danger as a cat would.” She patted her mare’s neck. “Also, she is near panic and our hooved sisters are taught to fear nothing.”

Manas put his hilt on his sword. “I wish I had the instincts I do when I am in beast form,” he muttered.

Lilavati looked at him, eyes wide. “You do not? All those under the curse of the shape shifter in my land do. It is a part of the change. The learning to hear and heed those warnings is most difficult, but it is possible.” She paused. “Especially if there is an inkosi tiikeri to help them.”

“Do you know how to awaken this awareness?” Manas asked, still looking around.

“I do not. I was not trained as most of my kind are,” Lilavati said. Her voice cracked. “I am useless in so many ways, and now I cannot even do what little I am capable of to any great extent.”

“You aren’t useless, Lilavati,” Manas said. “You barely know what you are. It’s only because of a single comment made by your mother, that she was punished for, that you have any inkling. We’ll learn what it means together.” Lilavati jerked her head up at the same time he did. “Pull back!”

Lilavati was able to pull her mare back before the beast landed on the road in front of them. The horse screamed in fear, giving voice to the sound that her rider couldn’t let out on her own. “By the Twelve,” Theda shouted. “What is that thing?”

Lilavati stared at the creature, struggling to keep her horse from bolting like so many of the others. The beast’s legs were covered in fur but scales covered the rest of its body. The face was that of a monkey, but in place of fur it had scales. Long pointed fangs extended from its jutting lower jaw. Black eyes glowered down on the traveling group.

“Lilavati, have you seen such a thing before?” Manas asked as he moved in front of her, his sword drawn.

“No,” Lilavati said. “It is unknown to me.”

“Not to me,” Ludger said, joining them. “It is a guljter medveda. They are drawn to places with stagnant magic.”

“We passed this way before. Why weren’t we attacked then?” someone asked.

“Figure it out later,” Manas said. “Ludger, how do we kill it?”

“We don’t. Only Master Magi from the capital could take it on and survive, and that’s if they were lucky,” Ludger said.

“How do you propose we get past it then?” Theda asked.

“We turn and run. It won’t follow us,” Ludger said. “We go back five spans and then turn to the west. A good three or four spans that way should get us out of its range.”

“You four, ride at Lilavati’s back,” Manas ordered, pointing to four of the battle ready soldiers. “Defend her.”

“Yes Great Lord,” one of the men said. Lilavati could see their expressions. A sense of dread filled her.

“I’ll ride with them,” Theda said.

“Stay with your guards, my dark scholar,” Manas said. Lilavati nodded. With the chaos swirling around them he wouldn’t hear her voice. She headed back down the road, those sworn to protect her at her back.

They were just past the line of sight of the rest of the group when her mare shuddered and let out the scream of a dying animal. It fell, taking the frightened woman with it. As if they hadn’t seen anything, the preester and her guards rode on. Unable to cry out, Lilavati fought to free herself from the saddle.

A strange wheezing growl froze the blood in her veins. She looked up into a pair of cold, black eyes. Another guljter medveda stared down at her, drool dripping from its gaping maw. She screamed with what little strength she had as it roared and lunged towards her.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part thirty three

snickering-tiger

Photo via Visualhunt

Theda was the first one to arrive. She went immediately to Lilavati’s side. “Great Lady, you should talk some sense into the Great Lord. You need to rest and being in the saddle you won’t get any.”

“I do not care,” Lilavati said. “I would rather be at his side than trapped in a cart. Should it start raining again, I fear those terrible visions would return and I would fall prey to this same madness.”

“Great Lady, I’ve gotten the saddle ready to put on your horse,” Ludger said gruffly. “We’ll need to get you mounted before everyone else is ready to go so we can get you strapped in properly.”

“All right Ludger,” Lilavati said.

Manas came over. “The saddle has so many bindings, my dark scholar. It takes a great deal of time to get into it. I know. I’ve been in it far too many times to count.” He grinned. “However, this means you’ll be able to ride and we can talk as much as we need to.”

“This is why I am willing to do whatever I must,” Lilavati said, her smile matching his. “I wish to converse with you as much as I may.”

“I’ll be riding with the both of you,” Theda said.

“As you wish, Preester,” Manas said.

Judging by the expression on Theda’s face, she’d expected a fight. Lilavati suppressed a laugh. The strange feeling she’d gotten watching Manas walking was gone. Her happiness at being able to stay with him was too strong.

“Great Lord, it’s still overcast and I sense the possibility of rain,” Ludger said.

“Do we have a spare rain cloak for Lilavati?” Manas asked.

“Not that I know of,” Ludger began.

“I have one she can use,” Theda said, glaring at Ludger. “It’ll be short on her, but it’ll keep her mostly protected.”

“Good,” Manas said.

“I can use magic to take some of the oiled canvas and elongate it to protect her completely,” Ludger said.

“Then do it,” Manas said. “I want to be on the road within the hour.”

“Yes, Great Lord,” Ludger said. Theda and Ludger hurried out of the tent.

Lilavati watched as the camp was broken down around her. Ludger came and got her when it was half down. He carried her to her horse and tossed her up on her horse. Two servants held her up while Ludger fastened straps. It took nearly half an hour, but Ludger was finally done.

He stepped back and looked at her inquisitively. The saddle had a high back, with straps that wrapped around her chest, waist, and legs. “This feels odd, but I think I will be able to grow accustomed to it,” Lilavati said.

“Does anything feel loose?” Ludger asked.

Lilavati moved as much as her weak body would allow. “I do not think so.”

“If you feel like you’re going to fall off, get the Great Lord to stop and call for me. I’ll fix the straps,” Ludger said. He flipped the reins into her hands. “If you don’t think you’re strong enough, I’ll set these up to work with the Great Lord’s.”

Lilavati nudged her mare forward. She tugged the reins and the horse turned to the right. She pulled back on them and she stopped. Ludger’s mouth hung open. “We train our horses to carry even the weakest of our elders,” Lilavati said in her soft voice. “My mare will respond as I need her to, so long as I am on her back.”

“That is good to know, Great Lady,” Ludger said. He smiled and gestured. “The Great Lord is at the head of the line and is waiting – impatiently, I’ve heard – for you to join him.” Lilavati laughed and turned her mare’s head towards the front of the line. She nudged her sides with her heels and again the mare walked forward.

Lilavati could see Manas as he walked his horse in circles at the front of the line. Theda was off to one side. As she got closer, she saw his expression. She couldn’t call out. Her voice was too weak. She groaned inwardly. She didn’t dare push her horse faster. She feared it would cause panic among the other animals, and she did not want to start a stampede so close to the time of departure.

Manas’ entire posture changed when she rode into his line of sight. “My dark scholar,” he called when she got close enough to hear him. She raised one shaking hand in greeting and urged her mare to move just a little faster, now that they were away from the bulk of the animals.

“Great Lady,” Theda said, eyeing her as she caught up with them. “Do you need one of us to help take control of your horse?”

“If I did I would already have asked, Preester,” Lilavati said. “My mare and I have trained together for many situations, including my being something of an invalid.”

“I didn’t think that those who were of ill health were let out of their houses among your people,” Manas said. He raised his fist and the order was given. Lilavati touched her heels to her mare’s flanks with just enough pressure to bring her in line with Manas’ horse. “Aren’t they considered pariahs in your culture?”

“It is dependent on what brought them to that condition,” Lilavati said. She went on to explain the many varying ranks among her people. “I would have been forbidden to leave the house, as I held no value to my father. I was not even considered bride worthy in his eyes. Remember how startled he was when you made the offer?”

“I’m still amazed no one wanted to wed you,” Manas said.

“I am, perhaps, beginning to understand more of why that might be,” Lilavati said, grateful her voice didn’t pass beyond Manas’ ears.

“Oh?” Manas looked over at her.

Lilavati met his gaze, trusting to her mare to stay on the track. “What if the reason for that, for my unnatural gracefulness, for everything I have endured, is because I am inkosi tiikeri?”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part thirty two

snickering-tiger

Photo via Visualhunt

Hearing those words sent shivers through Lilavati, and with them another vision of the mortuary priests. This time she saw the terrible wounds on her mother’s body. She shuddered and buried her face in Manas’ shoulder.

“I am tired of these visions,” she said, her voice muffled. “Everywhere I turn I see nothing but death.”

“I know, my dark scholar,” Manas said. “I know. You’ve told me some of what you saw at the Barrier, Theda told me a little of what you saw on our way, and now these dreams of being buried alive. Ah, I have cursed you with my own madness. I should never have taken you from your father’s house.” She heard the bitterness, the anger.

“No.” She lifted her tear streaked face and met his amber gaze. “Do not ever say that. For I truly believe that if you had not come for me, I would not have lived another year.”

“You feared someone in your city?” Manas asked, stroking her back.

“No,” Lilavati said. “Within my own home.”

“Who?”

“My mother,” Lilavati said.

Manas continued rubbing her back, but said nothing. “Can you tell me why you think that?” he finally asked.

“My mother was a cruel woman,” Lilavati said. “No one saw this. Those outside the home saw a kind, generous woman who showed great charity in not throwing her ugly daughter out into the streets. There was no kindness there. My father would not permit it.”

“If she couldn’t throw you out, you think she wanted to kill you?” Manas asked.

“I was poisoned eleven times until my father spoke privately with my mother. Then they stopped. Even though I am as graceful as I am I would often have falls so dangerous that they nearly did end my life. Again, my father spoke to my mother and those incidents stopped,” Lilavati said. “How can I not think she sought to kill me?”

Manas stroked her hair. “Hush, my dark scholar. She can’t threaten you here.”

“No, but others can,” Lilavati said. She fell silent for a few minutes. “Manas, what are we to do? My curse will drive me mad the closer we draw to Phiri Hu. I will be no fit bride for you by the time we enter your halls.” She wept softly. “I am nothing but a burden to you. Perhaps it would have been best if the assassin’s arrow had ended my life.”

“I don’t ever want to hear you say that again, Lilavati.” The snarl of the tiikeri was strong in his response to her statement. He forced her to meet his eyes. “I can’t live any longer without you at my side. We’ll find a way to do something about this curse on you.” He paused, then started swearing. “I’ve not taken a drink since it affected you so badly. I’m beginning to wonder now if this is truly an accident.”

“You think this was done deliberately to harm you?” Lilavati asked.

“I’m not sure,” Manas said. “It makes more sense than some strange northern herb giving you the ability to see the dead.” He kissed her forehead. “I need to check with Ludger, to see if my suspicions are correct.” He paused. “I don’t want to leave you alone.”

“It is better to know if strange magic was used. There may be some way to end this blight if we know the truth,” Lilavati said, pushing back her fear of being left alone.

Manas pulled her close again. “I don’t know how, but I can sense your fear, my dark scholar. I’m not going anywhere. I can talk to Ludger as we travel.”

“I feel so foolish, so useless,” Lilavati said, the tears returning. “I have no strength to aid in any way. I am no seer or cleric to give my advice as the gods or stars speak it to me. I have no magic, so I cannot protect myself, let alone anyone else.”

Manas cut her off by kissing her. “Lilavati, you are far from useless. You’re the one person here who truly knows me. The preester knows my story, she’s seen my transformation, but I’ve never let her near me. You, you can approach with no fear.” His voice was just a breath in her ear. “Even when you were ill, I forced the preester to bring you to me. You clung to me while I was in my beast form. It was as if you knew I was there, that I wasn’t going to let anything harm you. She even said you were more at peace when you were with me. That’s why I wouldn’t let her take you anywhere else, even during the day.”

“How long have we been stopped because of my illness?” Lilavati asked.

“Does it matter?” Manas asked. “Lilavati, you are worth as much to me as my own life. I’ll find an inn and stop for the rest of the summer and all the way until next spring if I must. I will have to talk to the preester about finding a way to contain my curse during that time, but it can be done. We’ve managed it before.”

“No,” Lilavati said. “Ludger said it would take two months, if we did not have more delays. Would it not be better to bring your people home? Give them the end to the journey they must desire by now?”

Manas smiled, his amber eyes full of a deep emotion that warmed Lilavati deep into her soul. “I knew you’d say something like that. That’s why I told Ludger to find a particular saddle. I have one that should prop you up and keep you on the back of your horse. I know that under normal circumstances you can stay mounted once you’re on, but in your weakened state I don’t think that’s possible right now.”

Lilavati thought for a moment. “No,” she said. “I would most likely fall.”

“Well my dark scholar, I shall be your servant today,” Manas said, slipping out from under their blanket. He wore nothing but his breechclout. He smiled. “I saw to it that your laundry was properly dealt with while we were stopped. “Is there one particular traveling gown you’d like to wear?” He held up the white one with the stripes reminiscent of his own. “Perhaps this one? Along with the hood?”

Lilavati managed a laugh. “I would very much enjoy wearing those,” she said. Manas lifted her easily and took her over to a tub. He helped her bathe and easily slipped her into her clothing before donning his own. He sent a guard for Ludger, Theda, and a few other servants. As she watched him move, she saw in him the sleekness of the tiikeri, something she’d missed before.

She shivered and ran her hands up and down her arms. Inkosi tiikeri.

to be continued…

 

Tiger, Tiger – Part thirty one

snickering-tiger

Photo via Visualhunt

Lilavati knew that Ludger and Theda were watching her the entire time they were traveling that day. The storm drew closer and Lilavati could see everyone pulling out cloaks and covering things that were in burlap and canvas sacks.

Ludger tossed something to Theda. “Here, Great Lady,” Theda said, helping Lilavati put on a strange article of fabric. “The Great Lord sent this for you. It’s his spare rain cloak.”

“He said to tell you that you’re to stay in the cart, even when they cover it with canvas,” Ludger said. “Which is the same thing you were going to hear from me, so it’s good to know he understands how fragile you are.”

“How soon before we need to cover it?” Theda asked. The sky darkened and a blast of wind caused Lilavati to pull the cloak tighter around her.

Ludger smiled wryly at Theda. “How about now, Preester,” he said.

Theda jumped out and started helping where she could. It didn’t take long before a large piece of canvas was thrown over the top of the cart. Lilavati curled up on her side and waited.

“Let me out. Father, please let me out. I am not dead. Mother is. Father, let me out.”

Lilavati jerked, as if she’d been stabbed. She opened her eyes wide and tried to sit up. Her head brushed the canvas, but to her, it felt like wood. She shuddered and struggled against the cloak, which was now a burial shroud that she should never have been given.

“Father, father, I am not dead. I did not die. The tiikeri killed mother, not me. Why am I being wrapped in a burial sheet with her? Father, why will you not answer me? Father, why are you letting them say I am dead? Why do they call me a spirit? Father, they are hurting me. Father, father, do not go. Do not leave me!”

Lilavati screamed and thrashed around, struggling to find a way out of the hellish vision that now held her attention. She screamed her throat raw and still no one came. A little voice in the back of her mind told her that he was coming, her tiikeri. The one who would protect her, who was her mate, who stood with her. Once again she let the darkness consume her.

She woke but didn’t know where she was. Lilavati shuddered and tried to sit up. She was weaker than before. Someone sensed her movement for an arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her closer to a very warm body.

Lilavati turned her head. She found herself staring into a pair of accusatory amber eyes. “I told you to rest, dark scholar,” Manas said. “I wanted you to stay beneath the canvas, and yet I was told you nearly ruined the supplies by pulling it off. Why?”

Lilavati closed her eyes. The tremors started again. “It was a vision,” she whispered, not realizing she was speaking in her own tongue. She felt Manas pull her even closer, until her head was against his chest. She rested her cheek against it, listening to his heartbeat.

“What kind of vision?” Manas asked.

“Of my father,” Lilavati said. “And – I think – myself and my mother. Yet it was not my mother, for this woman was dead and my mother lives.”

“Tell me,” Manas said.

“We were being wrapped in a burial sheet. Mother was dead, which was why she was being prepared for her tomb. But I was still alive. My father watched everything happening. He was glaring at me, as if he hated me,” Lilavati said. Her voice broke. “I was pleading with him, asking him why I was being buried with my mother since I was still alive. He walked away, never answering me.”

“Do you know how your mother died?” Manas asked.

“A tiikeri,” Lilavati said. “She was killed by a tiikeri. I was telling my father it killed her, not me. I could not see either my mother’s face or my own body. But I saw the cold masks of the mortuary priests from the temple, and I saw my father’s hatred.” Lilavati burst into tears.

She heard muffled speaking, and then Manas’ voice cut across everything. “I don’t care what you say. Ludger, I’ve been weaker than this and still ridden. You’ve also said you had a few other saddles similar to mine. Do you have one that will fit Lilavati’s horse? And be comfortable for her?”

“Yes, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “But -.”

“There will be no more discussion,” Manas snapped. “I have given my orders. You will obey them.”

“Yes, Great Lord,” Ludger said. He stalked stiffly out of the tent.

“Great Lord,” Theda said, her tone sharing with them both her feelings.

“Preester, I am well aware of your thoughts on this. You’ve been telling me every chance you could get for the past two days,” Manas said. “No harm came to Lilavati, other than what her visions gave her. You say you can’t, as of yet, rid her of these dark dreams?”

“No, Great Lord. I’m not even sure what it was in the potion that affected her, and I’d rather not make the Great Lady even sicker by experimenting,” Theda said.

“I see,” Manas said. “Either find a way to end the curse, or start searching for a way to preserve my dark scholar’s mind when we draw closer to Phiri Hu.”

“I’ll do as you say, Great Lord,” Theda said.

“The rest of you, leave,” Manas said. “I’ll send one of my guards to summon you again if I need you.” Lilavati heard several soft voices, and the sound of fabric being moved. Then there was silence. Manas held her for a few heartbeats before drawing her in as close as he could. “My dark scholar, don’t ever do that to me again.” His voice cracked. “You are the other half of my soul. You are my life.” He paused. “You are the inkosi tiikeri, and I am your beast.”

to be continued…

It’s that time of year again!

NaNo-2017-Participant-Facebook-Cover

Every year since I discovered it back in 2003, I’ve at least attempted to write a minimum of 50k words in 30 days in November for NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month. It’s actually international, but NaNoWriMo works better for an acronym. 🙂

For those that don’t know anything about this fun – though stressful – event, it starts at midnight on November 1st and runs to 11:59 PM (in your time zone for both of those) November 30th. You have 30 days to write 50,000 words. Not an insurmountable task, but it can be difficult if you don’t schedule out the time to do it.

As I said, I’ve been doing it since 2003. Guess what, I didn’t finish in 2003. Hell, I barely got a week in. Of course, 2003 is also the year my oldest daughter was born, so you can kind of guess why I didn’t get my 50k that year. XD

I’ve “lost” six of the past fourteen years I’ve participated. I only say “lost” because I didn’t manage to write the 50k words required to get the cute little certificate you can print out. I actually won because I wrote words in November, more words than I’d had to begin with.

I’ve set up this year’s project on the site, but I’m not sure yet if I’ll actually participate. Tiger, Tiger is far more complex than I thought it would be and I don’t know if I’ll finish by the end of October. I hope so, because I’d love to participate in NaNo this year. I started last year, but other deadlines took me out of the running for the validation check mark.

There are official rules to follow, but you can throw them out the window and do just about anything you want, though counting what you wrote before November 1st is still considered “cheating.” You’d just be cheating yourself by not being honest, but it’s still not considered the thing to do.

There’s a program – called the Young Writers’ Program – for children and teens. There are many schools all across the world who use it to promote learning, creativity, and writing skills. It’s actually a very interesting program and you can learn more about it by going through the main NaNo site.

You have forums where you can ask questions, visit with people writing in your genre, talk to people in your own age group, and play little time wasting games when you should be writing. You can discover so many new and different things too. It’s just a lot of fun.

I’m sharing the link to my profile, just so you can see what a NaNoWriMo profile looks like – and so if you decide you want to join up you can become one of my “writing buddies” there. 😉

NaNoWriMo can be a lot of fun, and if you’re curious or just want to challenge yourself, come give it a try. Here I am!