Why do I even bother?

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This was me, back in May. (As is obvious, since my hair is long. Have I shown you guys my new hair cut and the dyeing job I did myself? I need to check that in a minute.) You might notice my rather prominent stomach. That isn’t because I’m pregnant. It’s because I’m fat. I weighed 245 lbs in May with the goal to getting down to around 200 lbs by December.

Fast forward to the end of September/beginning of October. I weigh 247 lbs. I got down to 230ish at one point, but I’m back up to almost 250 lbs. Now part of this is when my legs went out due to the nerve issues, I went completely sedentary. I also didn’t exactly cut down my portion size. I could barely hobble around the house, let alone go for walks or anything more physical. I even gave up  yoga/stretching.

I’m planning on taking a more current picture soon, so we can all see what I look like now. I’ve started taking new steps towards changing my weight and physical health. I’ve installed two apps on my phone – one to help me keep track of how many calories I should be eating to lose around 1.5 lbs/wk, how much fat/protein/sugar/carbs I should be eating per day, and it even tracks my water, and the other to track me as I walk (usually with the puppy.)

My end target goal is ~135 lbs. Why? Because I’m 5’3″ and a healthy weight for my size is between 107 and 140 lbs. As far as I’m concerned, with my bone structure, I’d start looking more like a skeleton with skin stretched over it if I let myself get too close to 107 lbs. So I’m trying for 130-135 lbs. At 1.5 lbs/week, that should take around 2 years.

I’m taking it as slow as I am because 4-8 lbs/month is a healthy weight loss. Anything more is considered unhealthy and anything less isn’t really helpful because you just pack it all right back on. Now, I am very aware that as I lose more fat it’ll convert to muscle and my weight may or may not fluctuate as much at times. I’m not worried about that. One of my goals is to get rid of my stomach along with losing my weight.

Now, you might be concerned by the title of this post. You might think it’s because I’m depressed about my weight and such.

I’m not.

“Why do I even bother?” That was a question that used to send me into a spiral of depression and self-destruction. Now, when that pops into my head, I tell myself why.

“I want to be healthy.”

“I’m tired of feeling ugly.”

“I want to be able to wear the clothing I like.”

“I want to be able to keep up a little more often with my husband.”

“I want to be able to farm without getting out of breath every two seconds.”

“I want to be able to get off some of the medications I’m on.”

“I want to be able to go to cons and not feel quite so out of place.”

These are just some of the reasons, and they all make me smile. I’m not proud of who I’ve been in my life, but I am who it’s made me, and there’s so much I’ve learned over the years that – realistically – I don’t want to change what I’ve endured. I want to change how I deal with it, how I let it affect me now, and let go of everything that’s weighing me down (pardon the pun) from my past. Part of my expanded waistline is because I “depression eat” and don’t exercise.

That’s changing now. No more candy (except for dark chocolate.) Very few sugary drinks (I’m not giving up all my quad shot mochas or the occasional Mike’s Hard Lemonade/wine cooler/similar beverage – but NO MORE HARD LIQUOR/SODA mixes.) Cut back on my simple sugars and refined sugars (syrup, cookies, brownies, etc. – though I’ll still eat them on occasion). There are special occasions where some of these will be lifted (just not the hard liquor one) – such as holidays – but that’s about it.

I have goals.

I have a life.

I’m going to live instead of exist.

I’m 40 – I’m not dead.

I am an adaptable human being – watch me succeed!

Finished Product 8302017

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Tiger, Tiger – Part twenty five

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Photo via Visualhunt

They stayed like that for a little longer. It was Theda who broke the peace. She approached them. “Great Lord, Great Lady, I don’t like disturbing you, but the rest of the camp will be waking up soon. The Great Lady needs to be in my tent when they do,” she said.

Lilavati reluctantly released Manas. He held her a moment longer before letting her go. “My dark scholar, you have no idea how your presence made last night so much easier,” Manas said.

“I think I do,” Lilavati said. She pressed her fingers to the mark on her face. It was warm to the touch. “It is almost as if I could feel what you were, when you stood there in front of me as a tiikeri.”

“And I thought I could hear your thoughts when I looked at you, though you didn’t speak them to me,” Manas said.

“There will be more time to discuss this later,” Theda said, tilting her head towards the camp. Lilavati rose to her feet and followed the preester away from Manas. She kept casting glances over her shoulder. Manas had pulled on his trousers, but still sat on the ground. He was watching her, the fear in his eyes having been replaced by a hunger Lilavati could recognize. She felt it herself.

Theda got her safely back to her tent. Lilavati washed herself and changed her clothes. “I dislike leaving his side now,” she said as she pulled on an outfit that was cream with stripes in dark blue and silver.

“Interesting choice,” Theda said.

“I feel it is appropriate,” Lilavati said. She paused. “Do the members of his household know the shape of his curse?”

Theda shook her head. “No. They only know he’s cursed, and that he takes the form of some fell beast. Some have their suspicions, but no one knows for sure.” She frowned. “How will you keep it from becoming dirty from the dirt and mud?”

Lilavati smiled, running her hand over the fabric. “This is not my ordinary traveling gown, Preester. It is heavier, which I am not certain I care for, but the fabric is protected by a special oil. It has to be reapplied every time the outfit is laundered, but is well worth it.” She paused. “Do you think this will upset Manas?”

Theda shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s fairly secretive about his curse.”

Lilavati frowned as she gazed down at the striped gown she wore. “Then I think I will change. I wish to do nothing to hurt him. Not after last night.” Theda smiled and Lilavati retreated to the curtained off area to select another gown.

“You’re going to wear that instead?” Theda asked, raising an eyebrow.

Lilavati laughed. “I have no Northern clothes, Preester. Manas will be assisting me in resolving that issue when we reach a large enough city he feels comfortable in. But I must make do with these for now.” She tucked the last of her braids beneath the travel hood.

“Why not leave your hair loose? He might like seeing it that way,” Theda said.

Lilavati paused. “Among the women of my people, it is a bad omen to show your hair while you travel. I am not usually superstitious, but considering the curse Manas is under, I am unwilling to risk it.”

“Your gods aren’t real. You said yourself that you didn’t believe in them,” Theda said.

“Yes, but this is not a fear that comes from the gods. It is one that comes from something more ancient than them, something that resides in the sands and will follow a woman beyond the borders until she reaches her final destination simply to be certain she remains modest,” Lilavati said.

“Wouldn’t this morning be proof of immodesty?” Theda asked. “And last night?”

Lilavati tilted her head to one side. “Why would they be?” she asked.

“You saw Manas with no clothes on,” Theda said.

Lilavati smiled. “It is not uncommon for men and women to bathe together in a public bathhouse. We see each other naked often, if we are allowed to enter. There is no immorality there.”

“Your people are very strange, Great Lady,” Theda said.

“As yours are to me, Preester,” Lilavati said. She listened. “I can hear Manas’ voice. We should join him.”

Theda laughed. “You should join him. I have morning prayers to lead, and then I need to see to the packing of our belongings. I’ll track down Sieglinde and make sure yours are taken care of.” She made a shooing gesture. “Go on, Great Lady. I’ll catch up with you once we’re back on the road.” Lilavati nodded and hurried out of the tent.

It wasn’t hard to find her amber eyed lord. He saw her and a smile lit up his face. Those around him stared, slack jawed, as he held out his arms. “Ah, my dark scholar, did you sleep well?” he asked as she gladly stepped into them. He wrapped them around her, kissing her forehead.

“I did,” Lilavati said. “Did you, my amber eyed lord?”

“Very well.” He released her and took her hand. “Did you and the preester pass a productive evening?”

“I learned a great deal about many things,” Lilavati said. “We will speak more as we travel so I may gain more knowledge.”

Manas laughed, something that seemed to startle his men even more. Lilavati wondered why, as she’d heard him laugh before on the journey. Then she realized why. This wasn’t the strained laughter she’d always gotten from him. This was a more carefree one, a laugh that wasn’t burdened with the pain of being alone in his curse. She smiled up at him, her own joy plain on her face.

“Great Lord, we’ll be ready to go in about three quarters of an hour,” Ludger said. “If you and the Great Lady wish to go to morning prayers, I’d suggest you hurry. I’ll have breakfast ready soon.”

“Would you care to see what our worship is like?” Manas asked, holding her close.

Lilavati paused, thinking. “Your religion is very interesting to me, so I think this is something I wish to witness,” she said.

“Then let us head to the gathering area,” Manas said. “You’ll see our morning ritual.” He took her hand and the two of them walked away. Lilavati was not unaware of the hate filled glare Alister cast in their direction. She shivered. There was something in his gaze that told her he was going to cause trouble for them both.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part twenty four

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Lilavati put her hands over her mouth to stifle her screams as she heard bones snap and joints pop. She watched as patches of fur covered Manas’ skin. His body contorted into unnatural shapes before he ended up on his hands and knees. She saw his legs shift and bend until they were the hind legs of a tiger. His hands and arms did the same thing.

His back arched and his spine elongated. A tail sprouted out at the base of it. He was now a beast covered in fur shaded orange with black stripes and a white underbelly. His face was the last thing to change. The look of pure agony changed as his nose and mouth were pushed forward as his skull grew larger and changed into that of the giant feline.

His mouth widened and great, long fangs grew in place of his human teeth. His nose flattened and widened across the flat area above his mouth. His ears moved to the top of his head. They lost the shape peculiar to humans and became the fur covered ones normal to all cats.

The roar ended and the tiger – far larger than any Lilavati had ever seen – lay sprawled on the ground. “Be very quiet,” Theda whispered. “This is when he’s the most dangerous. He hasn’t yet regained his human senses.”

Lilavati sat frozen, her hands still clasped over her mouth. Theda grabbed them and pulled them down into her lap. Lilavati remained unmoving, her crimson eyes focused on the beast in front of them.

Manas opened his eyes and stood up shakily. Lilavati watched as he shook his  head. He wandered around, staggering a little. She wanted to reach out to help him, something inside of her pulling her to the massive beast. But she held firm where Theda sat. She knew the preester was her only protection right now.

Finally, Manas seemed to gather himself. He turned and his gaze found the two women. He growled a little before he settled his eyes on Lilavati. He fell silent. He sat down and seemed to be waiting for something.

“Is this a normal occurrence?” Lilavati asked, her voice a faint whisper.

“No,” Theda said. “I think he expects you to go to him.”

“Then that is what I shall do,” Lilavati said. Ignoring the preester’s hissed warning, she stood. She moved slowly, with the same grace – a feline grace, she remembered it being called once – towards Manas. He didn’t growl. He didn’t shift his position. He didn’t even twitch his long tail. He just waited.

She got within touching distance of him and stopped. She held out her hand. He tipped his head down and buried his nose in it. He sniffed it for several seconds before licking it once with his rough tongue. Lilavati laughed breathlessly as she finished closing the distance between them.

Standing beside him, his head was level with hers. She leaned against him and wrapped her arms around his neck. Lilavati buried her face in his fur and took in the scent of blood and spice. She looked up at him and whispered, “I do not fear you.”

Manas let out a sigh and dropped to the ground at her feet. He wrapped his tail around his nose and closed his eyes. Lilavati moved around to where she was next to him and sat down. She leaned her back against his side. He simply moved his tail to make room for her.

Theda approached them cautiously. Manas raised his head and growled, but when Lilavati put a hand on him he settled back into his resting position. “Great Lady, no one has ever dared do what you just did,” Theda said in a quiet, awe struck voice. “Weren’t you afraid?”

“No. He needed me and I answered that call,” Lilavati said. She yawned and closed her eyes. “If I had a tail I would wrap it around myself as he has done. It is a chilly night and I did not think to bring a blanket.”

“I’ll get you one,” Theda said. “I think you’ll be better off staying with him than joining me for the night. I have a feeling he’d attack me if I tried to move you now.”

Manas’ tail fell over Lilavati. Lilavati laughed softly. “I think you are right, Preester.”

Theda moved off softly and returned a short while later with a blanket and a small bit of food. Lilavati ate while Theda watched and handed the bowl back to her. Theda made sure she was properly covered up before leaving the two of them alone. Lilavati closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

It was cool skin she woke to just after dawn. She started to rise but a strong arm pulled her back down. “You were here all night,” Manas whispered, his voice cracking. She could hear the emotion in his voice though she couldn’t name it. “You never left me.”

“No, I did not.” She rolled over so she could look at him. There were tears on his cheeks and a mixture of fear and something she’d never seen before shone in his eyes. “Manas, you are my maitearean. I do not know what the word would be in your language, but for my people, it means our souls are intertwined. We cannot be separated. We are bound to each other in a way no other would understand.” She brought one hand up and rested it on his cheek. “And I do not fear you.”

Manas choked on a sob. “My dark scholar, I chose right.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part twenty three

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“The marks on her face are similar to yours, though not as deep, Great Lord,” Theda said. “It could be you chose her for more than just her mind, without even knowing what guided you in the choosing.”

“You’re saying this demon that now clings to my soul, devouring my will to live and destroying all that it sees, can be tamed by a woman from a land I’d not even heard of before I started this journey?” Manas asked, his voice rough and shaky.

Theda shrugged. “Who knows? Can you honestly tell me that you’d have ignored those scars on her face if you weren’t convinced there was more to her than just her intelligence?”

Manas opened his mouth but closed it again. He stared deep into Lilavati’s eyes, his amber boring into her crimson. “Dark scholar, how is it your eyes are that color instead of the more natural brown or green of your people?”

Lilavati shook her head. “That is something I cannot tell you for I do not know. Neither of my parents mentioned it, and when I asked I was punished for my curiosity.”

“Were you ever not punished for things?” Manas asked irritably.

“Great Lord, it isn’t her fault her family kept things from her,” Theda said. “And it was her mother, not her, who was punished for talking about the scars.”

Manas took hold of Lilavati’s hands and pressed them to his lips. “Forgive me, my dark scholar. Talking about that evil creature, and thinking of the possibility of hurting anyone during the fulfillment of the curse, sickens me.”

“Great Lord, the Great Lady and I will be here tonight. I’m not going to lock her away in her tent. She needs to see this, and I want to see if my hypothesis is correct,” Theda said.

“And if it isn’t?” Manas asked.

“She’ll still be protected as I’ll be with her,” Theda said. “I won’t let you hurt her.”

“Very well,” Manas said. “For now, we should rejoin the others. I’ll have Sieglinde set up her tent anyway. My dark scholar will need some sleep.”

“Have her things moved to mine,” Theda said. “I think I want her to stay with me tonight, just in case.”

“Very well,” Manas said.

They rejoined the group. Sieglinde hurried over to them. “Great Lady, come. We must set up your tent,” she said.

“The Great Lady will be staying with me tonight,” Theda said. She smiled. “I’ve been enjoying our conversations on how her religion differs from ours, and I wish to continue them.”

“I too desire this,” Lilavati said, returning Theda’s smile. She wondered what terrible form the curse took at night, when Manas made his people hide away from him.

“Then I’ll move her things to your tent, Preester, and put my things in with the other servants,” Sieglinde said. “I hope you can answer some of her other questions as well. Or she’ll be asking me even more when we go back to sharing the same tent.”

Theda and Lilavati laughed. If Lilavati’s sounded strained to her, Sieglinde made no mention of it. “Trust me, Sieglinde,” Theda said. “By the time I’m done with her, she’s going to have so much to think about she won’t have time to think of any more questions.”

“I don’t know, Preester. You answer one question and she has five more ready,” Sieglinde said with a mischievous smile. Lilavati and Theda laughed and Manas just shook his head, grinning like a boy. “I’ll go get your things, Great Lady.” She bowed to Manas and scurried off.

“Sieglinde is a very odd woman,” Lilavati said.

“She’s perfectly normal for a woman of the north,” Manas said.

“Not quite,” Theda said. “She’s been given more freedom than most, so she’s a little less restrained. The Great Lord treats his servants well, and offers them many things that they wouldn’t receive from another Great Lord. So she is much freer with her laughter and jests than she would be elsewhere.”

“That’s true,” Manas said. “I’d forgotten that. I think it’s a carryover from seeing how my parents treated the servants during their rule.” He shuddered, the haunted look returning to his eyes. “I never want to be like them.”

“You’re nothing like those depraved lunatics, Great Lord,” Theda said. “You are a fair, compassionate ruler and we’ll let no one speak against you.”

“Thank you, Preester,” Manas said. Someone called for him and he strode off.

“Are you truly all right with this, Great Lady?” Theda asked. “I’ve taken away your choice in this and I apologize. If you don’t want to witness this, tell me and I’ll let the Great Lord know. We can spend the evening in my tent answering each other’s questions.”

Lilavati took a deep breath. “I will see this through,” she said. “I must know what it is that has happened to him, so that I may understand him better.”

“Then we will join him just before sunset,” Theda said. Lilavati helped the preester carry some food to her tent and sat down to enjoy a late lunch. Theda convinced Lilavati to take a nap so she’d be ready for the night ahead. Lilavati, exhausted by the emotional upheavals of the day, complied.

Just before sunset, Theda led Lilavati to where Manas’ tent was set up. He was pacing outside of it. “I don’t want her here, Preester,” he said when they arrived. “I changed my mind.”

“Obviously,” Theda said with a wry smile. “But she hasn’t.”

“Manas, I do not wish to leave,” Lilavati said. She moved in front of him, forcing him to stop. She cupped his face in her hands. His moved to cover hers. “I would have learned of this when we reached Phiri Hu. Let me see it now, when I have more time to think on what I see.”

Manas kissed her forehead. “I fear I may harm you, my dark scholar,” he whispered, tears in his eyes.

“The preester will protect me,” Lilavati said. “I am not afraid.”

Manas pulled her into a tight embrace, pressing his lips to hers. Lilavati returned the sweet, gentle kiss willingly. He let her go and glanced at the sky. “Return to the preester’s side. Now.” Lilavati ran to Theda’s side. As the last rays of the sun started sinking behind the horizon, Manas stripped out of his clothes. He tossed them to the side. When twilight spread itself over the land, Manas let out a scream – that turned into a roar.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part twenty two

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Manas turned his face away. “I was up by the hearth fire, drinking a sweet warm drink. I no longer remember what it was. Those people who’d been so kind in taking me in returned from their travels, laughing and joking. The lord noticed me and asked if I’d like to see something ‘sure to brighten my spirits.'”

“He did not show you your own parents’ corpses,” Lilavati asked, gasping.

“Their heads,” Manas said. “I was shown the perfectly preserved heads of my mother, my father, and the dark mage. I screamed when I saw his and ran to the other side of the room. I swore to them I heard it speaking, telling me I was a traitor.” He finally met her gaze again. “They got me calmed down and explained that I was now lord of my lands and my people were waiting for me. So they sent me home with ‘advisors.'”

“Men who were selected to bend you into the kind of man your enemies wished you to be?” Lilavati asked.

Manas smiled, though it didn’t reach his eyes. “They were my enemies, my dark scholar. I just didn’t know that until many years later.” He released one of her hands to rub his face. “I suffered under their thumb until I was sixteen. It was actually my birthing day celebration. Or rather, the night of. I’d gone to bed, though the revelry of my people and my personal council went on.”

He looked so pale, almost like one of the corpses she’d seen in her visions. “What happened?” she whispered.

“I don’t know when the beast started killing. I didn’t wake up until well after midnight. There were already corpses strewn everywhere in my courtyard. Being the young, headstrong, foolish boy I still was, I grabbed my bow and my sword and joined the defenders trying to kill it,” Manas said. “It knew when I walked outside. It ceased being interested in my people and honed in on me.”

“I was an apprentice at that time, so I too stood in defense of Phiri Hu,” Theda said. “This beast was massive.”

“What did it look like?” Lilavati asked.

“It was some kind of feline,” Manas said. “Eight heads  high at the shoulder, and with the muscle to match.”

“It was orange with black stripes, and some white on the belly and paws,” Theda said. “What you could still see of them. When I joined the fight, the creature’s pelt was sticky with blood.”

“A tiikeri?” Lilavati asked, her eyes widening as far as she could open them. “You fought a demon tiikeri and won?”

“Is that what you call them?” Manas asked.

“I am trying to think of the word in your language,” Lilavati said. She closed her eyes, calling up the images of the book of animals on her father’s desk. “Tiger? I think that is correct.” She opened her eyes again. “It was a demon tiger, in your tongue, that attacked you?”

Manas nodded. “As it drew closer, I could hear the chanting voice of that evil sorcerer. He’d come back from the Gardens of Despair to curse me. I couldn’t move. It was as if my very limbs were frozen.”

“Those around him remember him whispering over and over again the words no and you’re dead,” Theda said. “Then all of us lost consciousness when we heard the Great Lord scream.”

“The pain.” Manas shuddered. “I thought I was dying. According to the healers, I almost did die. But they saved my life. And in doing so cursed me until my last day.”

“But what form does this curse take? You have not told me,” Lilavati said.

“Let us stay with you tonight, Great Lord,” Theda said. “I can protect her.” Glancing at Lilavati’s face. “Though I have an odd feeling she’ll be safe around you no matter if I’m here or not.”

“Why?” Manas asked. “You said you’d tell us when we were alone.”

“Great Lady, do you recall what you heard about the markings on your face?” Theda asked.

Lilavati bit her lip, tugging at a few strands that had come loose from the traveling hood. “It was only a taunt used cruelly against an unwanted daughter,” she said. “My father punished my mother severely for it.”

“What was it?” Manas asked.

Lilavati took a deep breath. “She named me the inkosi tiikeri.” She paused. “The tiger’s keeper.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part twenty one

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Photo via Visual hunt

Lilavati looked around. “But there is no tent,” she said.

“Sit, my dark scholar, and I will explain why,” Manas said. Lilavati sat beside him while Theda settled on a rock across from them. Lilavati got the impression the preester was actually far older than she looked. She gave herself a mental shake and turned her attention to the man she was about to marry. “My dark scholar, Lilavati, what do you know of curses?”

Lilavati didn’t answer right away. She was aware of their existence. She’d seen the havoc a curse could wreak on a person’s life in that indeterminate time between childhood and womanhood. Strange things had happened to a family her father knew that couldn’t have been the work of men. They were driven from their home and eventually from the city.

“Curses are real,” she said finally. “I know this. They can take many forms, and are caused by unknown powers that are seen and felt.”

“Sometimes the causes are known,” Manas said. “Though the reason for it isn’t.” Lilavati tilted her head to one side, eyes wide open. He sighed and stripped off his armor. He glared at Theda. “I didn’t want to do this until we were wed, when I was sure she wouldn’t be able to run home.”

“I cannot return to my people, no matter the fears you bear,” Lilavati said softly. Manas looked at her. “Were I to do so, I would be killed. I am a married woman in their eyes. No married woman is permitted to leave her husband for any reason. If she does, then she is put to death.”

“So no matter what truth the Great Lord tells you, you are bound to his fate as well as your own?” Theda asked. Lilavati nodded. Theda gave Manas that same look she had on the road. Lilavati wished she could understand the facial expressions of the northerners better.

Manas shook his head. “You were right, Preester. It seems the wisdom of the Twelve wins out, as usual.” He was bitter and angry, that Lilavati could tell. He took a deep breath and pulled his tunic. There was a band wrapped around his chest and upper stomach. His fingers moved slowly as he undid the buckles holding it in place. He pulled it away.

Lilavati couldn’t help but gasp as she saw the terrible scars running across his chest. There were four of them that had torn through flesh and looked to even have scored the bone. “How do you yet live?” she asked.

“Because they aren’t entirely real,” Manas said. “They are phantoms, like what you’ve seen today. Well, to an extent. There are real scars there. They were carved into my flesh with a dagger.”

“Why?” Lilavati asked.

Manas wrapped the band back in place, pulled his tunic back on, and sat down before answering. Lilavati hadn’t even realized he was standing. “My parents were…not good people. They angered a lot of the nobility in the kingdom. The king ignored their depravity because they were able to send him large amounts of tax money and fine gifts they gathered from their travels.”

“So why not curse them?” Lilavati asked.

“They were protected by dark magic,” Manas said. “I don’t know where they found him, but they brought home a mage who seemed impossibly large to a small boy. He wore black and red robes covered in strange symbols and had strings of bones and claws around his neck. He even had a small human skull hanging from his belt.” He rubbed his jaw. “He terrified me. He would stroke the skull and smile whenever I was in the room. He would deliberately seek me out and try to convince me to come to his chambers. I ran away from him as often as possible.”

“Would your parents not defend you?” Lilavati asked

“They encouraged his behavior. They wished me to fear him. They told me they’d give me to him if I didn’t do exactly as they said,” Manas said. He shuddered. “I can’t talk about all the horrors I saw back then.”

“Then tell me of the curse, if you can without speaking of those things,” Lilavati said.

Manas took a deep breath. “One of my parents’ enemies sent assassins in to kill them. It didn’t work. But the men who came in didn’t stop. Instead of staying to die themselves, they snatched me and carried me off. They were very surprised when I started thanking them. They took me to their masters and I spilled everything out to them, from the mage to the weaknesses in the defenses.” He paused. “Including the one way I knew of to kill my parents.”

Lilavati pulled back. “You wished to be free of them so much that you gave their enemies the key to their deaths?” She didn’t know if she was horrified or if she approved. The abuse of a child was one of the worst crimes to commit in her homeland, if you could get someone to admit it was happening. But to have that child turn around and betray their own family was something unthinkable.

“Let me explain something, Lilavati,” Manas said. He took her hand. She let him. “War, famine, disease – these weren’t the things that killed people in my lands during the time my parents ruled. They and their dark mage were. Their foul magician required human blood for his spells, and where else were they going to get it? Destroying their power meant killing them. There was no other way to protect my people.”

“Is that what you were thinking of when they stole you?” Lilavati asked, looking into his cat like eyes.

Manas shook his head. “I was a nine year old boy standing in front of adults not covered in blood who treated me with the first kindness I’d had since I was a very young child. I was given food, comfortable clothing, a real bed, baths and attention that didn’t come after a blow. I was desperate for this kind of affection. I didn’t even realize I’d told them what I did until afterwards.”

“What happened?” Lilavati asked, terrified but determined.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part twenty

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Photo via Visual hunt

Manas joined them at that point. “You don’t what, my dark scholar?”

“She doesn’t regret leaving her home, in spite of your secrets and her new curse,” Theda said.

“Preester, it’s my secret to keep,” Manas said.

“That is something we need to discuss after we set up camp,” Theda said. She gave Manas a look Lilavati couldn’t identify. “Great Lord, this conversation must be held at your tent.”

“Preester, that’s not something I’m willing to do,” Manas said.

“Then this union isn’t going to work and you shouldn’t have brought the Great Lady out of the Southlands,” Theda said.

“Why do you say such things of your Great Lord?” Lilavati asked.

“I call him Great Lord because I’m attached to his household,” Theda said. “We actually hold an equal rank to each other, and those above me in the temples outrank him. Only the High King holds equal power to the Archpriest, but that’s something for another day.” She fixed Manas with a stern look. “Great Lord, I know you think you’re doing this to protect her, but keeping her in ignorance is most likely one of the reasons she’s so susceptible to an assassin.” She paused. “Great Lady, I would ask that – when we get into the discussion – you tell the Great Lord what you remember of your mother’s tales of your facial markings.”

“I will do my best,” Lilavati said. “I must see what I can draw up into the front of my mind.”

“Great Lord, this isn’t a request. We will be having this conversation at your tent,” Theda said.

Manas glared at her but finally bowed his head. “It will be as you say, Preester.” He turned and rode off.

“He is angry,” Lilavati said.

“Of course he is. I challenged his authority and reminded him that while his comes to him through inheritance and secular power, mine comes from the Twelve,” Theda said. “It may not seem like much to you, Great Lady; not with your disdain for your own religion. But for us? This means a lot, and to defy me when I pull what I just did is to argue with the Twelve. That’s dangerous and could lead to so much more trouble for him.”

Ludger called a stop a short while later and Lilavati watched as the camp was laid out. Sieglinde found her talking to Theda, their horses having already been claimed. “Forgive me, Preester, but I need the Great Lady so we can set up her tent,” the golden haired servant said.

“You can set it up yourself, Sieglinde,” Theda said. “The Great Lady and I will be meeting with the Great Lord shortly at his tent.” Sieglinde’s eyes widened. “Yes, he knows we’re coming. Make sure everything is set up for her, and make her something to calm her nerves. She’s most likely going to need it.”

“Yes Preester.” Sieglinde gave what Lilavati thought must be the typical obeisance to a religious leader and scurried off.

“We’ll wait a little longer. Things need to be more settled,” Theda said. She glanced at the sky. “We have several hours yet before we need to worry. Let us hope he doesn’t try to draw it out so we don’t have to discuss all that’s necessary.”

“Manas does not seem to be a man who would delay a situation to avoid it,” Lilavati said.

Theda snorted. “He’s very good at that, Great Lady. It’s one of the many reasons he’s lasted as long as he has at Phiri Hu.”

Manas came up to them a short while later. “Let’s go to my tent,” he said, scowling. “I dislike being forced into things, Preester.”

“So my predecessor told me,” Theda said, looking completely calm. “To the Twelve, what a mortal likes has no meaning. It’s what is necessary for the safety and well being for the whole group that matters.”

“And this conversation will be vital for everyone?” Manas asked, gesturing to the entire band of soldiers and servants as they walked away from the main body.

“It is for you and the Great Lady, and that is the gathering I’m concerned with right now,” Theda said. “I’m already irritated with you right now, Great Lord. I told you not to give the potion to anyone without dire need.”

“I felt it was a dire need. She wouldn’t have stayed in her saddle otherwise, and she brought up a very valid point,” Manas said.

“Which was?” Theda asked.

“That being an outsider was bad enough. If I were to insist she ride in a cart, what little respect my people were giving her would be gone. They would no longer be as diligent in serving and protecting her because she’d be seen as a burden,” Manas said.

“Is this what you saw, Great Lady?” Theda asked, turning to her.

“It is,” Lilavati said. She frowned when they stopped. “Is this where we are going?”

Manas sighed and sat down on one of the large rocks. “Yes, my dark scholar. It is.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part nineteen

tiger-stripe

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…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighteen

tiger-stripe

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

tiger-stripe

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…