Tiger, Tiger – Part nineteen

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Photo via Visual hunt

“What is the Barrier?” Lilavati asked.

“You won’t like it,” Manas said. “But I should prepare you since we’re about to pass into the area and I’m willing to wager you’re going to see it.” He took a deep breath. “A thousand years ago, when the Antinarians and the Velrusians – ancient ancestors to both our peoples, my dark scholar – fought a bitter war over these lands, the Velrusians needed time to muster their forces after a horrific battle. So, late into the night for nearly a week, the Velrusians gathered the dead of both sides and piled them high in a line between them and the Antinarians. They didn’t differentiate between man or beast and they stacked it as high as they could.”

Lilavati gasped as they rounded the corner. She couldn’t hold it in. She bit her lip to stop the sobs welling up inside of her. The only thing that kept her rooted to her saddle and not running in the opposite direction was the presence of the preester.

“I take it you can see it, Great Lady?” Theda asked quietly.

“It stands higher than my father’s house. I dare not look to see how far it extends, for to do so would be to draw more attention to myself than I care to,” Lilavati said. “I am already making more of a stir than I wish.”

Manas glanced over his shoulder. “I think you’re right, my dark scholar. Would you like me to tell you what everyone else sees?”

“They see great rocks stained with something that makes them a washed out brownish red. They do not understand that it is blood that they see,” Lilavati said. “The blood of thousands of men, women, children, and beasts.” She shuddered. “For it was not only the dead of battle they chose, Manas. It was the villagers and townsfolk from nearby. If they were already dead, I could understand. But I just witnessed a Velrusian soldier slit a woman’s throat. Her abdomen was swollen and she was near the time of birthing.”

“How can you be sure of that?” Manas asked.

“Do I need to tell you?” Lilavati asked, meeting his gaze.

Manas looked into her eyes for a moment. He saw what she wouldn’t say. “No you don’t,” he said softly.

“Great Lord, it looks like there’s a good spot for us on a plateau about six spans past the Barrier,” Ludger called. “Is that far enough ahead to suit you?”

“It should be,” Manas said.

“Good. Then we need to turn our track just a bit to the west,” Ludger said. The group shifted and moved on.

Manas drifted between chatting with his soldiers and servants, conferring with Ludger, and making sure Lilavati was staying in her saddle. She knew he wanted to remain by her side, but Theda reminded him he needed to act normal or things would just get better for the dark woman.

Lilavati was grateful for Theda’s presence. She kept the worst of the sickness and horror away, though she couldn’t completely blind Lilavati to what she saw. The preester kept Lilavati’s spirits up as they passed through some of the most horrific, violent, terrifying things she’d ever seen.

They passed through the Barrier and Lilavati was able to straighten in her saddle. “Don’t get comfortable, Great Lady,” Theda said. “You’ll still see random pockets of violence along here.”

“Will I see anything as sickening as what we just passed through at the Barrier?” Lilavati asked. “For as long?”

“As horrific? Quite possibly,” Theda said. “But no, the Barrier is the worst event in history in this part of the country, other than the Devouring – which I know you also saw.”

“What were those creatures?” Lilavati asked.

“We’ll talk about that when I can get you and Manas alone for a while,” Theda said. “Among many things. Great Lady, I think the two of you need to talk, and not just about the curse that’s been placed on your eyes.”

“He refuses to tell me what haunts the camp at night that forces me to seal myself away,” Lilavati said. “But what I would need to tell him I do not know. I have no secrets that I have not told him.”

“Why you were marked the way you were?” Theda asked.

“I do not know why the Thousand – or whoever it is that put this on my face – did it,” Lilavati said.

“Did your parents not tell you any stories as to why you were so ugly?” Theda asked. “In their eyes, at least.”

Lilavati frowned. “My mother, perhaps, when I was little. But my father forbade them when it became obvious I was a scholar rather than something more suited to a young woman in a noble house.” Her lips quirked. “Then again, even at that age I knew I would never win a husband. I was never told I could not be a scholar as an adult so I went through my childhood happily thinking I might attend the chuo kikuu.” The smile turned bitter.

“You wished to be a scholar, Great Lady?” Theda asked.

“It was the purpose to which I dedicated my life,” Lilavati said. “I hoped to find answers to every question I wanted to ask, even the ones I did not yet know. But when my first blood appeared, my father pushed me from his library and banned me on threat of a beating. The one time I defied him, he broke two of my ribs to prove to me that I was no longer a welcome guest in what I once considered our shared domain.”

“Great Lady, have you known no love at the hands of your family?” Theda asked.

Lilavati smiled. “My brother Kavi loved me. It is not the false affection my parents showed when we were around guests. He truly wanted to be with me, even when no other member of my family would look at me. I taught him to love the written word, and to speak the five other languages I know. We talked often of the politics my father forced him to learn and I was able to explain them so he could understand them.”

“Do you regret leaving him behind?” Theda asked.

“No,” Lilavati said. “I do not.”

to be continued…

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Tiger, Tiger – Part eighteen

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Photo via Visual hunt

Theda looked intrigued. “I’ll exchange one story of our gods for a tale of the way your people look at spirituality,” she said. “We can go on this way until we make camp.”

“I will agree to that, so long as you do not let anyone else call you from my side,” Lilavati said. The latter half of the comment was barely heard, but Theda nodded.

“Then I’ll begin,” Theda said. “And what better place to start than with the creation of our world?”

Lilavati moved unconsciously to allow herself to match the movement of her horse as she turned her attention to the preester. “How do your people say how it was formed?”

Theda’s face grew solemn. “In the beginning, there was the Void.” Lilavati shivered. “Then Bolorrma, Mother of the Darkness, and Ikeena, Father of the Light, joined together and created the sun, the stars, and the moons. They pushed the Void back and sealed it away behind a barrier of light and shadow. Now, there was light in the universe, and some substance, but still no life. So Bolorrma and Ikeena created this world and set upon it twelve beings of the purest form. They gave the care and governing of this newly formed creation into their hands.”

“So those twelve beings are your gods?” Lilavati asked.

“They are. We believe that, when they saw how barren and empty this new world was, they decided to give it life. They covered it with everything they could think of to make it perfect for their children, and then spun our races out of their own essence. They were  young gods, so their creations were imperfect, but in their eyes that made us interesting to watch,” Theda said. “So they watched.”

“If they are so pure, why do they allow such things as wars, famine, and disease to kill so many?” Lilavati asked.

“A very good question, and one I asked many times when I first entered my training,” Theda said. “I was told to seek the answer myself and I would find it.” She smiled gently. “I won’t ask you to do the same thing, as you aren’t a preester with access to all the things I did.” Her face grew serious again. “Great Lady, the reason the Twelve let such terrible things happen to us is the fact that they made us mortal. We can die where they cannot. We are also not a peaceful people. By our very nature, we must fight. We’re made up of weak flesh rather than pure form, and our bodies are vulnerable to such things as disease and hunger. They let these things happen so we can be free of our frail flesh and rejoin them as beings of pure form.”

“Why not simply give all people a certain length of time they have to live and in the end let them go in peace?” Lilavati asked.

“Another thing they have given us, Great Lady, is the freedom of choice,” Theda said. “We aren’t mindless creatures, strictly following the orders of divine beings – though they have given us some guidelines. We get to be who we want to be. Unfortunately those who choose the wrong path can cause suffering for others. It’s not fair, it’s not what those who suffer choose, but it’s the way of life. Things aren’t meant to be fair either, Great Lady. I see that question in your face. But the pendulum of power swings always and things balance themselves out in the end.”

“An interesting idea,” Lilavati said.

“So, tell me a bit about your people and what they believe,” Theda said.

“I cannot say much about the Thousand, not because I do not wish to but because I do not know,” Lilavati said. “I was taught little about them, other than their laws and what I am forbidden – as a woman – to do. Many women chafe under these laws, but as the men prefer it as it stands, nothing will change because there are not enough of us who wish to challenge the laws.”

“I’d think there would be many,” Theda said.

Lilavati shrugged. “Perhaps the way we are taught drives all thought of resistance out of their minds. Our spirituality though comes out of our ties to our home.” She fell silent for a moment. “Each day is new to us, with the spirit of the world speaking to us in whispers of what wonders it could hold as we wake. We listen and make our plans. Water plays a very big part in our ceremonies, whether the little ones we do as part of our daily rituals or the great ones to celebrate the turning of the seasons, ancient festivals celebrating events we no longer even have records of. They are traditional parts of our lives, and we must follow the never ending cycle of our lives until they end.”

“That doesn’t sound very spiritual to me,” Theda said. “It sounds more like a forced tradition that you’ve been taught is spirituality.”

“You may be right,” Lilavati said. “But that is the way I view things.” She closed her eyes. “I do not know how much longer I can stand this.”

Manas rejoined them. “Ludger says there’s a good spot another eight spans up the road where we can camp. He’s muttering about how it’s too early, but I told him the life of my dark scholar is more important to me than our progress. We’ll still get to Phiri Hu with plenty of time to spare before it gets too hard to get through the passes.”

Theda nodded. “I’ll continue riding with you for a little longer, Great Lord, if you don’t mind. I think I’m needed to steady the Great Lady.”

Lilavati opened her eyes and nodded. “Please Manas. Let her stay.”

“Of course, Lilavati,” Manas said, using her name for the first time since the exchange that ultimately freed her from her father. “Be calm. Ludger says we’re almost through this area. We’ll be on to a flat stretch known as the Barrier, and then we’ll be good. Can you hold on that long?”

“What’s the Barrier?” Theda asked.

“Somewhere that’s going to be hard on my dark scholar,” Manas said grimly.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part seventeen

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Photo via Visual hunt

“You are far less formal now that we have passed beyond the borders of the Southlands,” Lilavati said, loud enough for the others to hear. She wanted to close her eyes and cover her ears, for though she couldn’t see the fell beasts she could hear them as they devoured their screaming prey in this phantom vision of the past.

“We are heading to my homeland, where it isn’t necessary,” Manas said. “In fact, I’d stick out more if I continued to speak as you do.”

“Your language, which I know well enough, is still difficult for me to speak as you do,” Lilavati said. “I find the more formal way similar enough to my own to be comfortable.”

“You will need to learn to talk like this, my dark scholar,” Manas said. “Else you’ll appear more out of place than you already do.”

“Great Lord, her way of speaking isn’t going to be her most obvious problem,” one of his guards said. “The dark skin and ruby eyes are.”

Lilavati kept looking forward. Her eyes were one of the reasons her people considered her ugly. They were a sign of bad luck, a curse on the house of the child born with them. Doubly so if it was a daughter. Worst of all if it was the eldest child. All of these fit Lilavati, and this was one of the things that made her father despise her.

“She’s going to be seen as a demon, Great Lord,” someone said. The odd accent made Lilavati think it was Alister. She hadn’t met any other servant or guard who had that lilt in their voices yet. “And what’s to say she isn’t, and that the attempt on her life wasn’t the gods trying to purge us of her presence?”

There were some mutters of agreement at that. “Because the gods don’t use earthly poisons,” a melodic voice said, ringing out above the crowd. “Ludger told me what she nearly died from. Also, do you think I wouldn’t know a demon in our midst? Are you saying I have no power? Am I going to have to remind you again just what the Twelve give to those who are born again in the temples?” Everyone fell silent. “I thought not.”

“Who was that?” Lilavati asked quietly.

Manas smiled. “Someone you need to meet.” He looked over his shoulder. “Preester Theda, would you join us please?

A sound of chimes began to drown out the snarling beasts. As they drew closer, the horror Lilavati felt was soothed away, though she could still see the vision. She sat up straight and relaxed just as a slender woman of an indeterminate age rode up beside her. “Hello Great Lady,” she said, her voice as melodic as before. “I am Theda, a preester for the Temple of the Twelve in Phiri Hu. You are troubled by many things, and some of them are not of your doing.” The priestess looked at Manas. “Great Lord, she is too weary to travel on much longer.”

“We need to leave this area first,” Manas said. “It isn’t fit for camping.”

Theda looked around with a frown. She looked into Lilavati’s eyes. The peace radiating off the woman couldn’t completely block the horror of the spectral past all around them, and Lilavati was sure it showed. Theda’s stern expression softened. “You see what the others cannot,” she said, her voice only audible to Manas and Lilavati. “Great Lord, I will need to speak with the both of you before we all withdraw for the night.” She tilted her head to one side. “And for what it’s worth, I think keeping things secret from the Great Lady until we reach Phiri Hu is a huge mistake.”

“I know you do. So does Ludger,” Manas said. “It’s my secret and my decision to make.” He paused. “Will you ride with us until we pass through? I think my dark scholar needs your presence.”

“Please stay,” Lilavati said. “I beg you, do not let me enter back into that horror.”

“I would be honored to stay at your side, Great Lady,” Theda said in a more normal tone. “And to instruct you in the lore of the Twelve. You may not turn to their worship, but at least you’ll know more about them.”

“I would enjoy that immensely,” Lilavati said, smiling. “That is something I’ve been curious about since Sieglinde mentioned them.”

“I’m going to go talk to Ludger,” Manas said. “You ladies stay together and keep each other company. I’ll return shortly.” He tugged on the reins, slowing his horse down.

Lilavati felt the loss of his steadying presence immediately. She took a few deep breaths and then turned her attention to Theda. The preester looked at her oddly. “Great Lady, you weren’t like this when you first joined us,” she said. “This is something that’s happened recently.”

“It is, and I think I will leave Manas to explain because I do not know how to,” Lilavati said.

“If it is what I suspect, the two of you didn’t do yourselves any favors,” Theda said. “For this second sight will not go away.”

“Then I will learn to control it,” Lilavati said.

“That may not be possible either,” Theda said. “Great Lady, what purpose did you find for your life in your homeland? Before the Great Lord came and asked for your hand?”

“I could find none,” Lilavati said. “I was contemplating joining the temple, even though I did not believe in our gods.”

“Why is that?” Theda asked. “Did they ignore you often?”

“They stopped answering our prayers long ago, Preester Theda,” Lilavati said. “There is no one in the living memory of the oldest of our people who can remember the last time a true ilum santa was seen. Not even the priests and priestesses can claim truthfully that the Thousand speak openly to them, though they would like us to think so.”

“Your land sounds very empty and devoid of spirituality, Great Lady,” Theda said.

Lilavati shook her head, wincing at both the nausea and how the shift in perspective showed her even more dead bodies. “We had no divine guidance, Preester Theda. Our spirituality was not rooted solely in the religion of our ancestors.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part sixteen

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Photo via Visual hunt

Manas’ eyes widened, and he brushed his free hand lightly over his belt, where the flask was hooked next to his dagger. “Has this ever happened before?” he asked.

“Never,” Lilavati said. She felt sick as she watched a boy no older than Kavi have his intestines torn out of his body and placed in his hands by a burly fighter even bigger than Ludger. “Can we please leave this place? I do not know how much longer I can conceal the worst of my reactions.”

“We’re leaving right now,” Manas said. “Ludger, are you certain you know where we’re going?”

Ludger gave him a frustrated look. “You’d know it too, Great Lord, if you’d let me teach you to read maps.”

“Perhaps I’ll let you do that this time, old friend,” Manas said. He held up his hand and the entire group moved out. Lilavati barely concealed a whimper as the sounds of the servants and guards mixed with the specters of the past to create a cacophony of fear in her mind.

Manas kept as close to her as he dared as they rode, talking to her as they went. Though she couldn’t track the conversation for more than a few seconds, she was grateful he was helping her conceal her disorientation. Finally the worst of it passed as they got away from the battlefield.

Something Manas said finally registered long enough for her to form a thought around it. “You say it is going to take a month or more to travel to Phiri Hu?” she asked.

Manas smiled, a look of relief in his cat like eyes. “It is, depending on the roads.”

“And how often we have to stop for the Great Lady’s shadowy assassin,” someone muttered.

Manas heard it as well as she did. He turned in the saddle. “If you would do your jobs and make sure she wasn’t harmed, we wouldn’t have to worry about that. Now focus and do what I pay you for.”

“Do not be so harsh on them, my amber eyed lord,” Lilavati said. “As I told you, they do not know me. I am the oddity they have been forced to admit into their number. They will learn to accept me. Or not. It must be their choice.”

Manas eyed her steadily. “You believe quite firmly in choice, don’t you?”

“Yes I do,” Lilavati said. “I did not have to accept you. My father would have been very angry, and I’d have died at his hands the night we met, but I could have chosen that fate. Truthfully, that did not cross my mind in the slightest until much later. I was too intrigued by why you would pay so high a price for someone considered so ugly by her people, and even by her own family.”

“I heard of you, my dark scholar, because of that description. I chose to approach you because of it. Your father spoke of your intelligence in a pitying voice as if it was a burden you were forced to bear rather than something to be valued,” Manas said.

“Because it is, among my people,” Lilavati said. “A woman should be beautiful, accomplished in the womanly graces, and talented in one thing our society considers appropriate. I was taught all that I needed to be to serve a husband well, but my intelligence was never spoken of when my father attempted to find me a suitor. It was not considered a virtue to be praised.”

“In my lands, an intelligent woman is an asset to her husband,” Manas said. “It’s why my sister was such a highly sought after prospective bride. She very nearly married the prince of our kingdom.” A dark look crossed Manas’ face. “I’m glad she didn’t, but there are days where I wonder if she should have.”

“Did some ill fortune come of her refusal of his suit?” Lilavati asked.

“Yes, and it isn’t something I’m going to discuss on the road,” Manas said. “You’ll have to wait until we reach Phiri Hu.”

“Why do you keep me ignorant of something that does affect me, for I know it is the reason I am locked away at night,” Lilavati said.

“What has Sieglinde told you?” Manas asked.

“Nothing, as you bade her,” Lilavati said.

“Then nothing is what you’re going to get from me,” Manas said.

Lilavati bit back her shriek as they came upon a gruesome scene. Men and women torn apart, as if by some great beast. Blood splattered stone and grass. It turned the river waters red. “What in the name of the Thousand happened in this place?” she whispered, her eyes locked on the horror.

“What do you see?” Manas asked. She described it in as much detail as she thought he could bear. “I’ve heard nothing of a tale of such carnage here. I’ll have to ask around, see if anyone else knows any tales from these lands.” He frowned. “You haven’t heard of anything like this either?”

“What place is this?” Lilavati asked. “I do not know where I am, other than outside my home.”

“Ludger, where are we?” Manas asked, raising his voice to check in with the sorcerer.

“The same place we were not that long ago, Great Lord,” Ludger said.

“The name, Ludger,” Manas said, irritation obvious in his voice. “Lilavati wishes to know where we are specifically.”

“We are at the Dragon’s Barrow, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “Does she know what that is?”

Lilavati bit back a sob and nodded. “I know the story of this place,” she said. “I will tell it to you after we pass it, when I am not so sickened by what I see.” She kept her voice soft, so it would be barely audible above the sounds of marching feet and pounding hooves.

Manas nodded. “I want to know, because what you described doesn’t sound natural.”

to be continued…

Recipe – Slow Cooker Chicken (or rabbit!) Afritad

Chicken afritad

Hi all!

As the season in the Northern Hemisphere starts turning cooler – in some places at least – our thoughts turn to soups, stews, and other things to warm us through and through. For this, I highly recommend investing in a slow cooker. You have no idea how much it will save your life. I’m addicted to finding new recipes for it and have lost hours to websites like allrecipes, food.com, and Pinterest just hunting for ideas.

I came across a recipe on allrecipes.com for Slow Cooker Chicken Afritad, a Filipino dish. However, I didn’t care for how the recipe was written. It didn’t fit our tastes. So I started playing with it and came up with my own variation on it. So I figured I’d share it with you here now.

Slow Cooker Chicken Afritad

2 lbs/.9 kg chicken thighs*
3/4 c/6 fl oz soy sauce**
1 T olive oil
2 lemons, juiced***
6 cloves of garlic, or to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
4 tomatoes, cubed
4 carrots, chopped****
6 red potatoes, cubed*****
2 onions, diced
4 bell peppers, chopped

Combine chicken, soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and black pepper in a slow cooker; allow to marinate, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir the vegetables into the chicken mixture. Cook on high 3-4 hours, or low 7-8 hours.

*The recipe called for chicken breasts. I swapped out for thighs because they hold their moisture better. Also, if you want to use rabbit, just use the equivalent amount of rabbit meat. You can also use turkey if you want. I wouldn’t substitute anything else though.

**The soy sauce – if you need to cut back on the salt, I suggest using low sodium. If you want a richer taste, use either a dark soy or a mushroom soy. I just use regular soy sauce.

***Regarding the lemon juice – DO NOT USE STORE BOUGHT LEMON JUICE! Only use fresh squeezed juice. Store bought leaves a nasty, bitter aftertaste.

****For us, I have to slice the carrots fairly thin. More because it’s a personal preference than anything else. Experiment a little and see what size works for you. You can apparently also use baby carrots, but they take a little longer to cook.

*****Any kind of waxy potato will work here. They don’t have to be red. I’ve also used Yukon Golds in this recipe and it turned out just fine.

The original recipe also called for peas, but we don’t really eat a lot of peas here unless they come straight out of the garden. So I’ve never put them in. If you want to, it’s 2 c/16 oz of frozen green peas.

I’ve also used a couple of standard sized cans of plain diced tomatoes when I didn’t have fresh, but that increased the sourness of the soup. And yes, this is supposed to be a tart soup.

I hope everyone enjoys the recipe! Let me know if you make it and what – if any – adjustments you make for your families.

Tiger, Tiger – an explanation

good-morning-autumn-tree-trees-greeting-morning

Photo via VisualHunt.com

Hi everyone!

Yes, I know. I don’t usually post on weekends. But I’m sure you’ve all noticed my blog has been consumed by the story Tiger, Tiger. There’s a reason for that.

I’m attempting something that’s been done before, but I don’t really care. I’m doing it in my own style – I’m attempting to post a novella/novel on my blog. You’re getting it in small chunks as I progress through the story.

It’s going to be a little boring in places, and I’m sorry for that. You’re getting the first draft, as you do with just about everything I post here. My plans are to edit/revise/rewrite it and then post it for free on Smashwords in its entirety (since it’s already been up for free on my blog – I’m not going to charge people for it).

I just thought this would be a fun exercise. If you don’t want to read Tiger, Tiger, then just ignore the Monday through Friday posts. I’ll be posting on the weekends as well now. I won’t be doing my usual drabbles. I don’t want to deal with the hassle of trying to come up with something that takes me out of the universe of my current story, entering somewhere else, and then having to try to go back in.

What I will do is post some non-fiction posts. Some random recipes, some discussions on what’s going on in my life, fun things I find on the web, things like that. So there is a break from the story to give you guys a rest once in a while.

If you have any topics you’d like me to cover, leave me a comment. If you want to complain about Tiger, Tiger, feel free. But be warned I’m probably going to ignore you unless it’s a suggestion on how to fix areas in revisions. Then I’ll make a note of your comment and continue on.

I love you all. Thank you for following me, hanging out, and enjoying my stories. It means a lot to me. Now…off to get Manas and Lilavati into even more trouble!

portrait-of-tiger-relaxing-on-sand

Tiger, Tiger – Part fifteen

portrait-of-tiger-relaxing-on-sand

Photo via Visual hunt

It was harder staying in the saddle than Lilavati guessed it would be. It wasn’t more than an hour after breaking camp before she was regretting her choice. Manas rode up next to her. “You shouldn’t be riding, my dark scholar,” he said.

“I will not be put in a cart, as if I were some kind of baggage,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Why not? There is no shame in admitting you need help,” Manas said.

“There is, in the eyes of your people,” Lilavati said softly.

Manas drew his horse closer to hers. “Why do you say that?”

“Right now, I am simply the outsider, the stranger,” Lilavati said. “I am an anomaly they haven’t been able to catalogue, to put into a slot in their lives. Should I give in and prove I am the burden they suspect? I’ll never have their respect, and my life will be worth nothing to them.”

“You think so little of my people’s willingness to do as they’re told?” Manas asked.

“They’ll do it, but not with the kind of immediacy that is needed when dealing with assassins,” Lilavati said. “If I die because of it, they know you’ll be angry. But they also know that eventually you’ll forget about me and move on. I’m a transitional part of your life until we reach your home. So I cannot show too much weakness in front of them.”

“You’ll do yourself harm by this,” Manas said.

“I will survive,” Lilavati said. She winced as they hit a rough spot in the road. The horse stumbled a little, but recovered quickly. Lilavati was jarred forward but thanks to the strange gift she’d been given at birth, she never fell off. “This is why I chose to ride. I know I won’t fall, though I will be in great pain.”

“At least let me give you something that will help with that,” Manas said.

“I can’t have anything that will influence my ability to think and react,” Lilavati said. “While this is all reflex, there are still things that take conscious thought to deal with.”

“I drink it myself when – when I am in pain as I ride,” Manas said. “I can’t afford to have my wits muddled either.” He passed her a small bottle, concealing the movement with his body. “Don’t let them see you drink this, but take a few swallows. Do it quickly, and make no sound. It won’t be pleasant but it’ll help.”

Lilavati did as he said, fighting back the retching when she passed it back. He openly handed her a waterskin, which he’d already opened. She quickly drank, taking just enough to wash the taste from her mouth. “That was awful,” she said, when he put the waterskin back on his saddle.

“I’ve grown used to it,” Manas said. “It both eases the pain and clears the mind, or so I was told. I’ve needed it for the past few years and I’ve never had issues with it.” He paused. “Though it’s made from northern herbs, and you’re not used to them. I didn’t stop to think of that.”

“We will find out if it helps or harms me soon,” Lilavati said. She smiled. “You can blame the assassin if I get ill from this.”

“That doesn’t make me any easier, my dark scholar,” Manas said.

“Do not worry, my amber eyed lord,” Lilavati said. She took a few deep breaths. “I feel no ill effects now. We just need to watch and wait.”

“I’ll be watching you very carefully,” Manas said. He moved his horse back from hers a bit, though his eyes never left her face.

They rode this way for a few hours until finally Manas relaxed and turned his attention to the road in front of them. Lilavati studied his profile. She frowned. She saw something different, a faint aura she’d never noticed before. It covered him from head to toe.

She glanced back over her shoulder, but saw no such light around any of the others. She looked down at her hands. An aura similar in brightness, though not color, emanated from her skin. She returned her gaze to the road. She looked at everything they passed, and nothing – living or inanimate – radiated the same kind of light she and Manas carried.

As they neared a crossroads, Lilavati shivered. She could hear – faintly – pounding hooves and men shouting. Screams of agony and rough voices sounding their rough battle cries echoed in her mind. She wanted to cover her ears but no one else seemed to hear anything. The sound got louder the closer she got to the large area surrounding the four way crossing.

She looked around as Manas and Ludger consulted the map. Her eyes picked out places where men and horses died on the dry grass that was slowly taking the place of her beloved sands. Yet what she saw wasn’t the sere, dry stalks. It was a verdant land, filled with green and water. Blood ran as freely as the streams that ran where the roads now sat.

She pressed one hand against her forehead briefly, hoping Manas wouldn’t see it. A moment later, his hand was on top of hers. “Do you need to rest, my dark scholar?” he asked softly.

“Tell me quickly, was there ever a great battle fought here?” she asked, her voice cracking as the ghostly visions she saw continued to play out.

Manas looked at her strangely. “This was the site of the war that divided the Northlands and the Southlands nearly a thousand years ago. Why do you ask?”

“Because I can see them,” Lilavati whispered. “The soldiers, their animals, the rivers of blood. I can see it all.” She tilted her chin towards the ground. “We are standing in the middle of a river, and where Ludger is was a great barrier of stone to prevent anyone from crossing here.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part fourteen

portrait-of-tiger-relaxing-on-sand

Photo via Visual hunt

Manas set Lilavati down on a pile of blankets, which his men hastily threw together for her. He left her to rest as the camp continued to shift around her back into the efficient traveling group it had been the previous day. She lifted her face up, feeling the sun warm her skin. “You should wear some kind of protection from that, Great Lady. Or you’ll lose what beauty you have,” a sniveling voice said.

Lilavati turned to see who’d spoken. A thin man in the same kind of clothing as the other servants stood next to her. “As I have none to lose, I don’t see any issue with this,” she said, shifting a little so her hand was on the hilt of her blade. “Who are you?”

“I am Alister, Great Lady.” He moved a few things around before joining another, larger group of servants. She frowned. She didn’t know what it was, but she felt something off about him.

Manas joined her a few minutes later. “You have such a look on your face, my dark scholar. What’s wrong?”

“Do you know all the names of those who serve you?” Lilavati asked.

“I do,” Manas said.

“Then can you tell me about the one named Alister?” Lilavati asked.

“Alister? He’s been with me for five years now,” Manas said. “He’s a good, honest man. He came from another part of the Northlands, much as Ludger did. Alister was in dire straits when we found him, half dead and being stalked by a wolf pack. We chased off the wolves, nursed him back to health, and he became my servant once he could stand on his own two feet.” He looked down at her. “Why?”

Lilavati shook her head. “I see assassins everywhere and all odd sounds and voices send me into a slight panic.” She smiled. “I suppose I must remember that not all your people are the same.”

“This isn’t the Southlands, Lilavati. We aren’t a homogeneous people. We have our own ways, our own laws, and our own ways of ruling over different segments of the population,” Manas said.

Lilavati laughed. “You, a lord who claims to be a scholar, believes the Southlands are only one people? One nation?” She shook her head. “I have much to teach you about my home as you do me about yours.”

“I look forward to the learning,” Manas said. He stooped and kissed her forehead. “We’re ready to move out. All we need is those blankets stowed and you on your horse.” He straightened and held out his hand. “Can you do it?”

Lilavati slid her hand into his and gripped it tightly. He pulled her up and she steadied herself against his supportive arm. She took a few steps and found she wasn’t as shaky as she’d been. She let Manas keep her steady as she went to the side of her horse.

She eyed the animal, who sat there placidly, waiting for her to mount. “I think I’ll need help with this,” she said, feeling the same weakness in her arms that she’d had when she first tried to ride as a child.

“Then up you go,” Manas said. He lifted her again – how can one man be so strong? Lilavati thought – as he helped settle her in the saddle.

She grabbed the reins and adjusted her position slightly, moving with the horse as it moved under her. She waited to see if she was going to fall off. “I think I’m going to be fine. As long as she doesn’t try to throw me, I should be able to stay on.”

“Then lets get on the road. We’re already well behind the schedule I hoped to keep,” Manas said. He smiled at her as he brought his horse next to hers. “And I do not consider it your fault, my dark scholar. It is the doing of the assassins who have chosen to attempt to kill you.” He paused. “Though why they chose you I don’t know.”

“I already voiced my thoughts that they wish to stop our wedding,” Lilavati said.

“I know,” Manas said as they started forward. “But why you instead of me? I’m the logical choice as I am the one with all the power.”

“True, but look how many guards you surround yourself with,” Lilavati said. “Your servants are numerous as well, and they are loyal to you. They would do whatever was necessary to protect you.” She shook her head. “I am the outsider, the stranger, the new one. I am the bride who is, as of yet, unmarried to their lord. They aren’t sure of me, so they aren’t entirely sure about whether or not I’ll make a good wife for you. This is why I am such an easy target for the assassins. I am not so closely guarded.”

“That’s going to change,” Manas muttered under his breath.

“It won’t change until they do, and that will not be until we reach your lands,” Lilavati said. “Even then, their hostility will remain until long after the ceremony.”

Manas took one of his hands off of the reins and rubbed it through his hair. “You have a point, my dark scholar. I will see what I can do to make sure you are better protected.”

“I doubt you can do much,” Lilavati said.

“What I want to do is know who is behind it,” Manas said. “I have no enemies that I know of. Does your father have someone who would do this? An old rival, perhaps? Someone who does not wish him to prosper?”

“I am not aware of any,” Lilavati said. “Then again, I would not know all of his dealings. Women are kept out of that side of our society.”

Manas shook his head and returned his hands to the reins. “We will find a way to protect you and stop this.”

“I thank you, my amber eyed lord,” Lilavati said, choosing a name from his looks as he’d chosen one from hers.

He stiffened in his saddle, but then relaxed. “You noticed what most don’t,” he said.

“I have seen more than just the color,” Lilavati said.

Manas looked at her. “There is much we will have to discuss when we reach my home.” She nodded and they both fell silent. Lilavati relaxed, letting her body shift and bend with the motion of the horse. Behind her she could hear the sound of marching feet. She felt a shiver go down her spine.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part thirteen

portrait-of-tiger-relaxing-on-sand

Photo via Visual hunt

Lilavati chose right and they found Manas supervising the clean up of the remnants of her blood. He turned when he heard their approach. “You look much better, my dark scholar,” he said.

“I still do not know how much longer I can stay on my feet,” Lilavati said. “And you’re going to need someone to take care of the blood I just washed off as well.”

“I’ll get there, Great Lady,” Ludger said. “Let me finish with this first.”

“Of course, Ludger. I don’t want to burden you with more work too quickly. This cannot be an easy task,” Lilavati said.

“It isn’t,” Ludger said with a grunt before focusing back on his work.

“Great Lord,” Sieglinde said, looking up at his face. “The Great Lady has no clothes suited to the Northlands.”

Manas frowned. “I gave your father strict instructions to make sure you were properly clothed. I even told him what to have made for you.”

“Yes, and he would have given the instructions to my mother, since dealing with such things is above him,” Lilavati said. “Then she ruined what was ordered and he grew furious with her. He gave me money to get a new travel wardrobe without telling me the requirements and as it has been a very long time since I read anything about the Northlands I forgot how cold it gets there so I simply purchased what I was used to.”

Manas shook his head. “This will delay us even further.” He turned and looked at some of his men who were gathered nearby. “Kolman, go get me the map of the area.”

“Yes Great Lord.” A rather nondescript man took off running towards the same cart where Lilavati had gotten her supplies.

Manas looked at Lilavati. “I’m not pleased with this situation, my dark scholar. I don’t like unexpected delays.”

“And I don’t like being attacked for a reason I don’t understand,” Lilavati shot back. Her anger flared. “There were no attempts on my life until my father agreed to your bride price, so logic dictates my marriage to you is the probable source for the calculated attempts to end my life. Can you explain that to me?”

Manas looked at her steadily. “I can, but at this point I’m not willing to,” he said. He held up a hand as she opened her mouth. “That is only because we are in public, among people who don’t need to hear what I believe. When we have a moment of privacy, I will tell you my suspicions.”

“Then I will be satisfied with that,” Lilavati said. She paused. “Will you also tell me the secret of why everyone must lock themselves away at night? Why we aren’t allowed out of our tents?”

“That must wait until we reach Phiri Hu,” Manas said.

“So I don’t run back to my father’s house?” Lilavati asked. Manas couldn’t look at her. “I will have something to say about that, but again, it should be discussed in private.” Manas nodded. Kolman arrived with the map and Manas stretched it out to look at what was ahead of them. “Where is Harshad? I can’t read this blasted thing.”

“Let me see,” Lilavati said. She took it. She frowned. It had been a long time since she’d read the northern language and it took her a moment to familiarize herself with the strange markings on the velum. “My father’s house is here.” She looked at Manas. “We are on the Great Trade Road I presume? And we will be following that all the way north?”

“Up until we reach Wolholme. After that we take a different track to Phiri Hu,” Manas said.

“Then that makes this easier for me,” Lilavati said. She traced one finger along the map. “If we are a little less than a day’s journey from my city, then the nearest place that might suit our needs would be here.” She tapped a spot on the map. “A place called Colthaven.”

“No,” Manas said. “I’ll not set foot in that accursed place again.”

Lilavati raised an eyebrow but didn’t ask. “Then the next city after that is Briar Pass.”

“Then that is where we’ll go,” Manas said. “Do you know how far that is from here?”

Lilavati read the notations on the map. “If this is correct, it is eighty three spans from here.”

“That puts us into the Northlands with you having no protection against the chill,” Manas said.

“Sieglinde said it’s still summer there,” Lilavati said. “Am I likely to be touched by cold winds?”

“No, but the temperature for our summer is far less than your winter,” Manas said.

“I have long carried a personal creed, mostly used when dealing with my parents,” Lilavati said.

“And what is that?” Manas asked.

“I will endure,” Lilavati said. “I will deal with the cold until I have a northerner’s wardrobe packed in my bags rather than my own clothing. I am mostly a patient woman, Manas. I can and will be able to hold out that long.” I think, she added silently.

“Then it is to Briar Pass we’ll go,” Manas said, taking the map back and rolling it up. At that point Lilavati’s legs gave way beneath her and she dropped. Manas caught her arm. “You cannot ride in your condition.”

“I will not be put in a wagon like some kind of useless baggage,” Lilavati spat. “If you have to tie me in my saddle, do so. I will keep myself in it.”

“Very well then,” Manas said. He glanced around. “We’re almost ready to go.” He turned to his mage. “Ludger, are you done here?”

“Yes Great Lord,” the mage said.

“Have Sieglinde show you where the rest of the blood is, and then make ready to go,” Manas said. “We leave in one hour.”

“Yes Great Lord,” Ludger said. He followed the blonde servant woman back towards where Lilavati’s tent had been.

Manas scooped Lilavati into his arms for the second time that day. “You will come and rest in the sun for a time until we’re ready to go. Perhaps your legs will be well enough so you can walk to your horse instead of me having to carry you to it.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part twelve

portrait-of-tiger-relaxing-on-sand

Photo via Visual hunt

Sieglinde returned just as Lilavati finished rinsing the last few specks of blood out of her hair. “Here, Great Lady. I hope this one pleases you,” the blonde haired servant said.

Lilavati turned to look as she dried herself with the towel Sieglinde handed her. She smiled. It was a sky blue dress trimmed in black. “You chose well, Sieglinde. This is one of my favorites.”

Sieglinde smiled. “Great Lady, something I’ve noticed about your clothing. You always have black somewhere on it. Usually in the embroidery, but sometimes just a black bead or two hidden in a greater pattern. Why is that?”

“Black is a lucky color to us, more so for women than men,” Lilavati said as she pulled on the clothing. “I was always taught that the darkness it represents is the gift of birth, given only to women by the gods.” Lilavati shrugged. “I never understood it myself, but I also never argued with my father when he ordered me to put it into what I wore. It was just easier that way.”

“Don’t you like it?” Sieglinde asked.

“Not really,” Lilavati said. “What pleases me about this dress is the shape, the feel, and the blue in the silk, not the black embroidery.”

Sieglinde nodded. “The Great Lord will be pleased to hear this. He isn’t fond of black either and would rather not have it in his home if he can avoid it in any other form than someone’s hair.”

“Well, I have the black hair,” Lilavati said, gesturing to the damp, straggling locks she was tucking under her hood. “I hope he’ll permit me to replace my wardrobe with something more appropriate for your northern winters.”

“I thought you knew nothing of Phiri Hu,” Sieglinde said.

“I don’t know anything about your home,” Lilavati said. “But I do know what I’ve read and heard tales of from the merchants who’ve braved my father’s idiosyncrasies about the lands beyond our desert. They never sounded pleasant.”

Sieglinde frowned. “Great Lady, do you have a heavy cloak? One to keep a cold wind out? Or gloves? Or boots?”

“No, because no one in my home would think to have such items made for me,” Lilavati said. “I take it we’re going to be heading into colder territory soon?”

“It will only take a few weeks to reach the edge of the Northlands,” Sieglinde said. “It’s summer now, but we’re nearing the end of it. I don’t know if there will be time to make enough suitable clothing for you before it gets cold enough that you begin to feel the bite of the wind in your bones.”

“Then let us go talk to Manas about it. I’m sure he’ll have some ideas, for I have no more thoughts on this than you would expect from a confused woman of the Southlands,” Lilavati said.

“Is that what you call your home, Great Lady?” Sieglinde asked.

Lilavati shook her head. “You reminded me with what you called yours that the merchants called my home that.” She paused. “I was taught never to tell those born outside the desert the name. It displeases the gods and brings a curse down upon the one who speaks it.”

“Do you believe that’s true, Great Lady?” Sieglinde asked. “You said yourself you don’t think your gods are real.”

“I don’t, but I also believe that something evil is going on,” Lilavati said. “I don’t know if I should tell you or not.”

“Does the Great Lord know what it is?” Sieglinde asked.

“I don’t know,” Lilavati said. “He’s never said.” She finished tucking her hair away. “All right. You wanted to go speak with him about my lack of a proper wardrobe for your homelands. Let’s do that now, while we’re both thinking of it.”

“Yes Great Lady,” Sieglinde said. The two women headed over to where Lilavati saw the familiar shock of red hair.

to be continued…