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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 He was watching her, the fear in his eyes having been replaced by a hunger Lilavati could recognize.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…