Tiger, Tiger – Part forty six


“Great Lady, what are you?” Ludger asked. “I mean, I know you’re from the Southlands – I’m not sure what you call your home country, so you’ll have to excuse my ignorance – but Theda saw more in you than just that. How is it that you’re able to stay with the Great Lord at night?”

“I am inkosi tiikeri,” Lilavati said, her voice barely above a whisper. She saw the puzzlement on Ludger’s face and explained what that meant for Manas.

“You’re sure that wasn’t something of Theda’s?” Ludger asked, brow furrowed.

Lilavati hesitated. “Ludger, I am not a woman who holds her tongue. Not unless what has been told to me is a secret that is not mine to tell.” She took a deep breath. “There are some things that have happened that I do not wish to speak of at this time. I still do not know if I can trust you completely.”

Ludger chuckled. “You’ve told me quite a bit, Great Lady. Yet you’re still quite a mystery. I understand you wish to keep your thoughts private right now. I hope, in time, the uneasiness Theda instilled in you – and the fear you feel because of the Great Lord’s soldiers and servants – will fade and that you’ll grow to feel you can confide in me.” He glanced at the front of the tent. “You’d better get out there, Great Lady. The Great Lord needs your support.”

Lilavati rose and walked as gracefully as her battered body would allow to the tent flap. She slipped out, looking over her shoulder once and smiling at the reclining sorcerer. She blinked as she stepped into the sun. Manas was standing in front of his people. They weren’t his loyal followers so much as an increasingly angry mob.

Lilavati could see the tiikeri beginning to surface in the way Manas paced, clenching and unclenching his hand on the hilt of his sword. She needed to stop this before it became yet another bloodbath. “Sikha, be calm,” she said as she made her way to a spot beside him. She turned a cool gaze on the gathered men and women. “Is this how you treat your liege lord? You owe him your allegiance, and if I know the Northlands well, your lives many times over.”

“What do you know? You haven’t been to Phiri Hu. You know nothing of how the Great Lord rules us,” the shrill woman screamed.

Lilavati managed not to wince, her ears ringing. “Do I claim such a thing? Have I said I come from the Northlands? That I speak for all of your people?” No one said anything. “I only know what I have observed, as I have traveled among you.”

“What was that, Great Lady?” a man asked, a wood axe in his hand. There was a sneer on his face. “You’ve been in a stupor most of the time.”

“Have I?” Lilavati asked. “I have been injured, yes. I have been ill. But do you truly think the ill and injured have no method for learning what is happening in their surroundings? You are a fool if you think an invalid is completely helpless.” She let the scorn he was showing he felt out in her voice, letting him know what she thought of all of them.

“So what have you observed, Great Lady?” a soft spoken young man dressed all in gray asked. He wore a pair of spectacles that had obviously seen better days, and ink stained his fingers.

Lilavati bestowed a thin lipped smile on him. “Loyalty and love for Manas,” she said. “Trust, belief, and hope that he would lead you down the true path.” She paused. “Tell me, how much of your bitterness, your suspicion, came from the prayers of the dead preester?”

There was a sussuration of sound and several people shifted uneasily. “She told us you were corrupting the mind of the Great Lord,” the soft spoken man said. “That you were a dark sorceress from the south. She told us he named you as such himself, though he referred to you as a scholar.”

“May the Twelve condemn her to an eternity of agony,” Manas shouted.

Sikha, enough,” Lilavati snapped. “Be seated there, and let me speak for a moment until you can compose yourself.” Manas looked at her, amber eyes filled with the flames she’d seen in them the night before as he’d fought the assassins. He took a deep breath and let it out. He turned and sat on a barrel, bowing his head and resting his hands on his knees.

“Great Lady, what foul spell did you just use on him? That word is not of the Northlands,” the shrill woman said.

“It means ‘flame’, and it comes from the Southlands,” Lilavati said. “As he calls me katali, which means beloved. We chose to use something different to call each other because of the lies we feared were being spread, though we were not certain where they originated form.”

“Then why did you let Ludger kill the preester?” someone else asked.

“She was a traitor,” the soft spoken young man said. “Else the Great Lord would have stopped him. You know how careful the Great Lord is about angering the Twelve.” There were more murmurs, and several cast fearful looks at Manas.

“Allow me to tell you the tale of the treacherous preester and her assassins,” Lilavati  said, drawing their attention back to her. “I will speak of the protections Ludger put on our tent, to protect us, and how Sieglinde and her chosen companions broke through them to assault us after we retired for the night. And how could they, when we were cloaked by magic, see to attack us? Only the preester’s divine powers could have granted them access.” Lilavati continued speaking, putting her own spin on what happened the previous night. She left out the fact that Manas had been a giant tiger. That was something they still didn’t need to know.

“Great Lord, is she telling us the truth?” the soft spoken young man asked.

“She is,” Manas said. He pulled off his shirt and gestured to several scars that hadn’t been there before. “These are the gifts of Theda’s assassins, healed by Ludger’s magic so I wouldn’t die before I could call her to answer for her crimes.”

A chill went through Lilavati. The mark of the curse had spread above the binding. She closed her eyes and prayed to the Twelve.

to be continued…

The fear of clowns – and what it means to me


Coulrophobia – that’s what the phobia of clowns is called. I don’t suffer from it (and I’m sorry for any of my readers who do) but I’m still like so many people with a general dislike and a mild fear of clowns. I’ve explained it several times to many people, and yet I find I have to defend myself from time to time.

I dislike not being able to see people’s faces. This is true of people in masks as well. Veils not so much (unless we get into burqas, but that’s a different matter altogether) since I can still usually see the features through the material. I realize that even with the makeup on the features of the person’s face are still there. Still, I can’t see their true face and it creeps me out.

The only way I can handle seeing a clown is if I watch them put on their makeup. That way I know who’s behind the painted on colors. It sounds childish when I explain it, yet there are a lot of people I’ve talked to who feel the same way as me. There are those whose fear of clowns is so intense that it engenders panic attacks at the mere sight – or even thought at times – of them.

The fear of clowns plays into our fear of the unknown. We can’t see who’s behind the paint, even though we can see their faces. We don’t know who they are in spite of the fact that they’re standing right in front of us. The unknown frightens us because we don’t know how to interpret it. We can’t anticipate what will happen.

Clowns also haven’t been portrayed in the most favorable light. There’s Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT. There’s those evil clown YouTube videos that are going around. A more gruesome real life example was John Wayne Gacy Jr. He’s a serial killer who killed 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978. He worked as a clown during the time of these murders. To borrow a quote from one article I read: Gacy became known as the “Killer Clown” because of his charitable services at fundraising events, parades, and children’s parties where he would dress as “Pogo the Clown”, a character he had devised.

It’s no wonder so many of us fear them, with pop culture painting them as evil monsters and real life criminals using them as a way to hide their evil. My husband loves clowns. He loves clowns, jesters, and anything like that. He prefers the demented, evil looking ones too. I find some of what he finds a little freaky, but I will admit he’s got great taste in artists. What he finds is usually well done and executed perfectly. So while the subject is a little freaky, the artwork itself is amazing.

You can turn your fear into admiration of something, if you can get yourself past the fear. You can use that fear to become stronger. Have I overcome my general fear and dislike of clowns? No. Not really. But I can still manage to admire those images my husband finds for the artwork they are. I can find images for my blog as needed, so long as I don’t have to look at them for a great deal of time.

Just remember, whatever you’re afraid of, use that fear to make you stronger.

Note 1: Sorry if this is a little incoherent. I’m writing it at 3:30 in the morning (only half an hour before my alarm goes off normally) and I’m not quite fully awake. But I wanted to get a blog post up today and this is my chance to get it written.

Note 2: I got asked privately who was taking all my pictures and did I have permission to use them since I’m not crediting them anymore. All of my pictures come with Creative Commons 0 licenses from Pixabay, with no credit required. So I tend to forget to note who took the picture when I grab potential pictures for blog posts. (This is also where all my tiger pictures come from for Tiger, Tiger.)

Insomnia is my enemy


This lady is doing what I wish I could have done last night – sleep. I got hit with a bout of insomnia and ended up not going to sleep until 4:30 this morning. I was up by around 7:30.

I’m looking at my to do list and just groaning. I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to get done, but I know in a couple hours I’m just going to crash and have to take a nap. But I realized that it’s okay. What I don’t get done today can be done tomorrow or Monday. Most of what I want to do isn’t extremely vital. It’s also the weekend so it’s a bit more laid back around here.

My husband and my roommates are going to a Halloween party tonight. I was invited to go along too, but I declined. It’s at a bar, which I don’t think I’m quite ready to handle. Too many people – many who’ll be in costumes (possibly with their faces obscured in some way) – and too much noise. Not to mention I’ve sworn off drinking alcohol for good. But that’s not the primary reason. The social anxiety/PTSD/feeling trapped and claustrophobic situation is.

My husband and I are going to a smaller social gathering (a bonfire) at a friend’s house tomorrow. There’s going to be drinking there. I’ll be taking my own drinks and just kicking back and enjoying the company of friends. I’m not sure how well it’ll turn out – since social situations still freak me the hell out – but we’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, I hope y’all have a wonderful day and a great weekend! See you tomorrow!

Tiger, Tiger – Part forty five


Lilavati ran to his side. She seized hold of his face, forcing him to look at her. “What is this place?” she demanded.

“It’s terrible, Great Lady,” Ludger said when it became obvious Manas was still too upset to answer her. She turned towards him. “Those who were condemned to the underworld for crimes they committed in their lives in this world scream in endless rage and agony there, latching on to those whose blood they once shared if they pass through. There’s unfinished business between the Great Lord and his parents.”

“They will be found there?” Lilavati asked.

“Yes,” Manas said, his voice barely a whisper.

Lilavati cut him off before he could say more, noticing Ariane was watching them. “My sikha, make a choice. Decide if you can stand the march through the Black Waste, or if we face your parents in the Halls of the Damned.” She took one of his hands in hers. “Whatever your decision, I cannot and will not leave your side.”

“I would send you by sea, with some of my men,” Manas began.

“You couldn’t guarantee her safety without your presence, Great Lord,” Ludger said.

“He speaks the truth, sikha,” Lilavati said. “Already your people gather and speak against me. You need to face them now, explain today’s events, and set their minds at ease.” She looked at Ludger. “Are the wards you set in place still there?”

He blinked, frowning. A look of understanding crossed Ludger’s face as he too glanced at the acolyte. “They are, Great Lady. I’d recommend moving it though. If your curse is as I suspect, you’ll be fine in the first spot.”

“It’s too close,” Manas began.

Lilavati silenced him with a kiss. “Sikha, Ludger knows of what he speaks. Go speak to your people. Ease their minds.” She looked at Ariane. “Instead of polishing the same glass continuously, you should go make your preparations for whatever ceremony you see these people need for their morning prayer.” Lilavati’s voice was cold. Ariane jumped and scampered out of the tent.

Before she reached the door, Manas caught her shoulder. “If you attempt to invoke the wrath of the Twelve against Ludger, my lady-to-be, or myself, I will see you burnt at the stake. Ludger uses ice. I prefer fire.” The barely concealed anger in his voice caused Ariane to squeak and nod before running out of the flap as soon as Manas released her. Manas took a deep breath and stepped into the sunlight.

“I’d stay here, Great Lady,” Ludger said.

“I have no intention of returning to face that mob at this time,” Lilavati said, dropping wearily onto a stool next to the giant of the north. “I feel ill and do not think I would be able to control my emotions.” She shivered. “My sikha is the angriest I have ever seen him.”

“You didn’t see what he looked like when you took the arrow Alister shot,” Ludger said. He reached out one bandaged hand and patted her shoulder, the gray in his beard and hair far more obvious now. “Great Lady, you call him sikha, and I heard him call you katali. Are those words from your land?” Lilavati nodded. “What do they mean?” When Lilavati translated them, he chuckled. “They suit you both.” Ludger grunted. “I don’t suppose you’re strong enough to move me a little lower. I’m feeling dizzy, which isn’t unusual, and I want to recline more.”

“I do not have a great deal of physical strength, but I will see if I can assist you,” Lilavati said. With Ludger directing her, she managed to get him settled into a slightly more comfortable position.

“I’ll get the Great Lord, or a servant, to help me move lower later,” Ludger said. The pained look that had been forming around his eyes was fading. “You’re a very good helper, Great Lady. Did you receive any healer’s training in your country?”

“No, though I read much on our ways,” Lilavati said. “It is not forbidden for women to become surgeons. At least, it is considered an honorable trade for those who are not cursed.” She brushed her fingers across the marks on her face. A flash of the death priests startled her and she pulled her hand away quickly.

“What is it, Great Lady?” Ludger asked.

“I keep having visions that I no longer believe are directly tied to the curse Theda placed on me,” Lilavati said, frowning.

“What are they?” Ludger asked. She told him about how she was a little girl, and a man with her father’s name almost buried the child she saw herself as alive with her deceased mother. “How old do you think the child is in these visions?”

“Certainly not more than six,” Lilavati said, absently playing with one of her braids. “I would say her age is nearer to four.”

“Great Lady, what can you tell me about your mother?” Ludger asked.

“She is a spiteful, despicable waste of flesh who should never have been born,” Lilavati spat. “The only one of us she treats with any kindness is my younger brother Kavi, and that is only because he is my father’s true heir. She is civil to my father because the law states that if she makes him unhappy, he may divorce her. If he does that she goes back to her father’s house in a position that is little better than a slave.”

“Is that why you won’t go back to your father’s house?” Ludger asked.

Lilavati nodded. “They would kill me within a week of my return, and be completely within the law to do so.”

“Great Lady, the woman you call your mother, is her face the one you see in your earliest memories?” Ludger asked.

Lilavati raised one shoulder. “I abandoned all thought of my childhood when the freedoms it provided me were stripped away. I no longer cared about Ishani. She was gone, and only Lilavati remained.”

Ludger frowned. “Great Lady, I’ve studied a little of your language. Not much, but the Great Lord wanted us to at least know some basics. I was particularly fascinated by your names. Doesn’t the name Ishani mean ‘ruling’ or ‘ruler’?”

It was Lilavati’s turn to frown. “It does.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Forty four


Photo via Visual hunt

Manas and Ludger both stared at her as if they were trying to figure out if she spoke the truth or not. “Your father seemed a man of great convictions,” Manas said.

Lilavati snorted. “Only because you offered him the highest bride price paid for a woman not of royal birth,” she said. “My father is not a man of strength, sikha. He is fond of his comforts, desires more physical wealth, and does whatever he must to secure it.” She glanced at Manas. “Even if it means selling his eldest daughter to a man he has just barely met and knows very little about.”

“Do you regret accepting my offer, katali?” Manas asked.

“I am displeased with all the blood that has been spilled since I came here, much of it my own,” Lilavati said. “I am exhausted by the hostility I sense when I am around your people. If I feel such a strong emotion here, what will it be like in your home I wonder?”

“Your life will be in danger wherever you go in this land,” Ludger said. “Doubly so if we can’t sort out how to get rid of that curse the preester put on you.”

Manas looked at him. “I thought it was because of the drink I gave her,” he said.

“That was the carrier for it,” Ludger said. “She knew you wouldn’t let her go on in pain, and asking either one of us for help wouldn’t occur to you. You had something that could potentially help her with you.”

“So I let her into Lilavati’s mind, and now my katali will go mad because of it,” Manas said, his face twisted with rage and guilt.

“Great Lord, we’re not home yet,” Ludger said. He looked over at Lilavati. “It’s ready now, Great Lady. Just strain it through that cloth there. Yes, that one. Now bring it to me in that mug.” Lilavati carried the steaming liquid over to Ludger. He drank half of it in one swallow, ignoring the scalding heat. He coughed. “A little stronger than I’d make it for any of you, but that’s fine. It’ll work faster on me then.” He finished the drink and set the mug down. His face was flushed and he was sweating. “Great Lady, I can see the fact that you’re cursed, but not what it entails. What exactly is it doing to you?”

“Every time I look out of this tent, I see Theda die again and again,” Lilavati said. “I look to the north and I see pale men and women being cut down by soldiers even darker than me carrying blades like none I have seen. Not even in my father’s books did I see such weapons, curved and jagged at the same time. They slice cleanly when they first go in and tear flesh and bone as they come out.” She turned her haunted eyes on Manas. “Were I to go to the tent we shared I would most likely see all those we killed die over and over.”

“So you’re forced to re-watch battles?” Ludger asked.

“She saw the Barrier, Ludger,” Manas said.

“Did you see the Dragon’s Barrow?” Ludger asked. Lilavati nodded, feeling herself growing more and more nauseous. “That’s unfortunate. If I’d realized just what this was in the beginning, I’d have changed our route as soon as you were cursed.” He looked at Manas. “Great Lord, the route I’ve changed us to will take us through some of the most brutally despoiled areas.” He paused. “Including the Black Waste.”

Manas jerked. “When were you going to tell me this?” he demanded angrily.

“When we were within a day’s ride,” Ludger said. “So we couldn’t turn around.”

“You’re suggesting that I travel through that – that demonic place again?” Manas asked, his voice shaking.

“Great Lord, you were a boy of seven the last time you saw it,” Ludger said.

“Yes, and childhood fears often imprint themselves the strongest on our minds,” Lilavati said. She rubbed her arms with her hands. “Ludger, if we were to return the way we came from, we would run into that beast again. Is this true?”

“It is,” Ludger said, his eyes on Manas.

“Are there no other routes to take back to Phiri Hu?” Lilavati asked.

“Two,” Ludger said. “One by sea, which is unavailable to us because of the Great Lord’s curse.”

“The other?” Lilavati asked, a growing sense of dread filling her.

“The Halls of the Damned,” Manas whispered, face draining of all color.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Forty three


Photo via Visual hunt

Ludger used his magic to seal his wounds, and Manas helped carry him to his tent. Lilavati remained seated on the ground for a moment. She looked at his people. They all had stunned expressions on their faces.

One of the crowd, a young woman in a pale green robe, stepped forward. “Great Lady, I am Ariane. I was High Preester Theda’s acolyte. I have not taken my final vows, but I’ve taken enough of them to lead prayers. Do you think the Great Lord will permit me to do it?” Her voice shook and she stared at the remnants of her teacher with very real fear.

“I am certain of it,” Lilavati said as she rose wearily.

“Don’t listen to her, Ariane. She’s just going to tell him that you’re the High Preester’s acolyte and get you killed,” someone shouted.

Lilavati turned to face the crowded circle, her eyes seeking the speaker. Most squirmed under her crimson gaze. “I will not see Ariane die, for she has done nothing wrong that I have seen. I will give her the benefit of judging her by her actions, and as neither of us have been witness to them we will grant her this chance to prove herself loyal to Manas,” she said.

“How can you defend the Great Lord’s actions?” a woman asked.

“What has he done?” Lilavati asked. “Speak now of what you have seen.”

“He let Ludger kill them,” a man said, gesturing to the still present ice spikes.

Lilavati glanced up and happened to catch sight of Sieglinde’s gaping throat wound. “I slew her, when she attacked me,” she said, pointing. “She entered the tent with these others, a cook’s knife in her hand. She tried to force me to leave the Great Lord, saying it was he who had deceived me with dark magic, and that if I left with her I would be safe.” Lilavati made a disgusted sound. “Because of her I now bear a scar on my leg, and her brother marked me on my back.”

“Did you kill Ansgar too?” the same man asked.

“No,” Lilavati said. She paused to think. “It all moved so swiftly, as if I stood alone in a rush of wind and sand, but I believe Ansgar was taken down by Ludger.”

“Didn’t the Great Lord protect you?” a shrill female voice asked.

Lilavati winced at the discordant tone. “He was engaged in several battles of his own. I did not count for certain, but I saw at least four attack him at once. I did what I could to aid him, but I am no warrior. I was never taught to fight, to stand beside my husband with a weapon in my hand, to end the lives of his enemies. I can only remain behind and let others fight battles around me and pray to your gods – for I no longer have a care for my own – to preserve those I care for.”

“Do you still honor ours, even after what you saw here? The preester almost killed you several times,” the first man asked. There were some grumbles at this. “I don’t care what the rest of you say. The High Preester only came to Phiri Hu three years ago. I’ve known Ludger since the Great Lord brought him home. I’ll trust that old Northern mage’s word any day.”

Lilavati waited for the voices to subside. She tucked one of her braids behind her ear. “I will offer praise to the Twelve all the days of my life, for they allowed the truth to be seen here.” She turned away. “I am needed to help tend Ludger. I will make certain that Manas and I are available to speak with again later today.”

“Thank you, Great Lady,” the shrill female said.

Lilavati took several deep breaths as she walked away, feeling a prickling between her shoulder blades. She expected an arrow or a blade to strike, ending her life. She made it to Ludger’s tent with nothing more than an increase in her paranoia as she saw Theda’s soul shrieking in agony as she relived her death again and again.

She shuddered as she walked in. Ludger, propped up by his bedding, and Manas – who was talking to Ariane – saw her. “Great Lady, are you all right?” Ludger asked.

“No, and I doubt I will be for as long as we remain here,” Lilavati said. “Does Ariane have the herbalism knowledge you need?”

“No,” Ludger said. “It seems that the High Preester didn’t teach her much of anything beyond what she learned in the temple, and none of them know what I do about far north herbs.”

“Then what must I do?” Lilavati asked, rolling up her sleeves and washing her hands.

Ludger dictated what she needed to do to make the tea to restore his strength and help replenish his lost blood. She added a touch of a very potent liquor, the scent of which brought tears to her eyes. “Only a few drops,” Ludger told her. “That stuff is so potent more than the merest sip will kill a man – or woman – who isn’t accustomed to the strong brews we have in the far north.”

“Ludger, I haven’t seen you take more than the tiniest sip of that vile liquid in all the years I’ve known you,” Manas said with a chuckle. Lilavati noticed his eyes hadn’t left her as she worked.

“Only because I’m not among my own people, Great Lord. We know how to deal with each other when we get drunk on it. You frail southerners don’t,” Ludger said with a laugh.

Lilavati laughed, startling both men – and herself – with how free the sound was. “If Manas and his people are frail to you, my people would seem as fleeting as a snowflake in a candle flame to you.”

“Great Lady, after meeting you? I strongly suspect the men and women of your land have steel sewn through their spines,” Ludger said.

Lilavati shook her head. “Very few of us actually do, Ludger. In truth, most are worse cowards than those who sought to end our lives last night.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part forty two


Photo via Visual hunt

Lilavati squeaked as Theda released her battle axe from its place on her back. “Ludger has been corrupted by the poison of that snake the Great Lord brought with him from the sands,” she called. “Don’t let his words deceive you. I did no such thing. All know that once you enter the service of the Twelve you can’t leave it.”

“Only when you take the final vows and become a preester,” Manas said. “You brought the acolyte to me. She was barely thirteen, just old enough to have had her first bleeding. You told me her youth gave her many childbearing years, that I could have as many sons and daughters as I wanted. I almost gave in, until she looked at you and asked you if she would be allowed to give them all to the service of the Twelve as you promised she could.”

Ludger moved in front of Manas and Lilavati, holding his staff in one hand. “You have two choices, Theda. Return to your temple and pray for the light to purge the darkness from your soul. Or face the consequences of your evil actions,” he said, his gruff voices making that last part a very obvious threat.

Theda laughed. “What power do you have that I don’t, Ludger?” She motioned with one arm and the crowd stepped back immediately. “I hold their hearts and souls. Were I to give the command, they would strike out and kill all three of you if it meant sparing the souls of others from being corrupted by our darkness.”

“I strongly doubt that,” Ludger said. “For I believe it was you who sent them to kill the Great Lord and the Great Lady. You were one of the few who knew where I set the Great Lord’s tent. I took the liberty of muddling the memories of those who helped me set it up so they couldn’t tell anyone, and no one else could have told Sieglinde and her brother where it was.”

“Lies,” Theda shouted. She gripped her axe tightly and moved towards Ludger.

Ludger raised his staff. A barrier spread around the two of them. “This way your powers cannot escape to draw in innocents, nor can they be used to hurt the Great Lord and the Great Lady,” he said. “And a stray spell from me won’t hurt anyone either.”

“A noble effort,” Theda sneered. “But divine magic can pass through secular magic every time.”

“Are you so sure this is the magic of the mortal world?” Ludger asked.

Theda scoffed. “I’d know if you were a priest of some kind of god.”

“I never said I was,” Ludger said. He pointed his staff at her. “Yet it also isn’t the power of a man either.” He shouted a word in some language Lilavati didn’t know. A bolt of ice left the tip, speeding its way towards Theda.

She stood her ground, wrapping herself in a cloak of light. It didn’t seem to do any good. She fell back. Her armor was cracked, frost spread across her chest. “Impossible,” she said, her breath appearing in the air. “No mere sorcerer can pierce the power of the Twelve.”

“Who says I am a mere sorcerer?” Ludger asked mildly. He pointed the staff at her again. She didn’t wait for him to strike. Theda lunged to the side and sent a bolt of light at him. He moved but his bulk acted against him. It struck him in the upper right side of his chest, leaving a smoking hole in the frost part at shoulder height.

Theda laughed. “You are nothing but a foolish sorcerer. You will die, and then that dark skinned witch will too. I’ll see both of your bodies burnt and your ashes sewn with blessed salt so your souls can never be free.”

Lilavati whimpered. Manas wrapped his arms around her. “I won’t let her do it,” he whispered in her ear.

Ludger glared at the preester. “You won’t live to even try.” He drove his staff into the ground and began chanting. A whirlwind formed around him as he continued his muttering. Theda tried several times to hit him with her magic, but only a few of the blows got through.

The preester abandoned her magic and charged him with her weapon. She was knocked back by the spinning air. She tried again and again, swinging her axe. Again, a few blows got through, cutting into his flesh. Lilavati couldn’t see what Theda hit. However, blood dripped down onto the ground. It was sucked up into the whirlwind.

Ludger’s voice rose into a shout and he released his spell. Theda screamed as the whirlwind became discs of swiftly spinning ice. The ground became slick with frozen blood as they sliced the fell preester into pieces.

Ludger staggered and fell to his knees. The ice turned to water and sank into the ground. He waved his hand and the barrier dropped. Manas and Lilavati ran to his side. “Ludger, can you stand?” Manas asked.

“No, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “One of her strikes severed something in my right leg. I can’t feel it anymore.”

Sikha, these wounds are deep,” Lilavati said, pulling off her hood. She took Manas’ dagger and cut large strips from it. She folded one several times into a square. “Place this on the wound in his shoulder.”

“Great Lady, I don’t think I’ll survive this,” Ludger said, smiling weakly.

“Do you have magic left?” Lilavati asked, pressing other pieces of cloth to more of his injuries.

“I do, but it’s not that strong,” Ludger said.

“Can you at least seal these?” Manas asked.

“Possibly,” Ludger said. “But I’ve lost a lot of blood, and I’m the only one who knows what tea to make to restore it. I’m too weak to do it”

“Perhaps not,” Lilavati said. “I do not know your Northern herbs, but I can learn. You will tell me what to do and I will make it.”

“Great Lady, this isn’t necessary,” Ludger said.

“It is to us,” Manas said. “You saved us. Now it’s our turn to save you.”

Ludger smiled at him. “As you say, Great Lord.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part forty one


Photo via Visual hunt

Lilavati blinked and looked around. “Should it not be later?”

“No,” Manas said. “Why?”

Lilavati pointed to the west. “Then why is the sun no farther up the horizon than a single fingerwidth?”

Manas smiled. “What you’re looking at are hills full of trees, my beloved. We’re actually out a little later than I like.” He paused. “Lilavati, what do you use as endearments in your land? I assume you have them, since I doubt adults call each other by their names all the times.”

Lilavati frowned. “This is true.” Manas took her hand and they walked towards the main camp. “I seem to remember my father calling someone labahua, which means morning glory in your tongue. Then there is what my sister’s husband calls her, which is katali.”

“What does that mean?” Manas asked.

Lilavati smiled. “Beloved.”

Manas chuckled. “That suits you perfectly, katali.” He squeezed her hand. “But what will you call me?”

Lilavati was quiet for a moment, thinking back on all of the things she’d heard the women in her life call their husbands. None of them seemed to fit. He ran his hand through his bright red hair. A sudden thought made her smile. “I shall refer to you as sikha.”

Sikha?” Manas asked, a soft smile on his face. “What does that mean?’

“It is our word for flame,” Lilavati said. She reached up and pulled an errant strand of hair out of his eyes and tucked it behind his ear. “I believe it is appropriate to your appearance, and to how you spark the desire within me.” The last part she said in a husky whisper.

Manas shivered. “You are as much a flame to me as I am to you, katali,” he said. He kissed her fingers. “Be prepared. I can hear the voices. We’re most likely going to need to answer a lot of questions.”

Lilavati nodded and tightened her grip on Manas’ hand. He pulled her a little closer and the two of them entered the main camp. Lilavati gasped as she saw Sieglinde and the others. Ludger had said that they were frozen in the middle of the camp. She wasn’t prepared to see them trapped in jagged pillars. Their heartbeats were soft but audible, and a strange mark glowed in the air above them.

“Is that the mark for traitor?” she whispered into Manas’ ear. He nodded slightly.

“Great Lord, what is this?” Theda said, coming over to them. Her face was twisted in anger. “It is my place to pronounce judgement, not Ludger’s.”

Manas raised an eyebrow. “Your place? It is my place to render judgment over my servants, Preester. If I choose to allow Ludger to set the parameters of their punishment, then that is my prerogative.”

Theda opened her mouth and then closed it again. Red suffused her face. “Of course, Great Lord,” she said through gritted teeth. “It shall be as you say.” She walked away stiffly.

“That is twice in two days that I’ve angered her,” Manas said. “If I didn’t need her here to govern the souls of my people, then I wouldn’t permit such blatant disrespect.”

“Why does her position prevent a punishment for her actions and attitude?” Lilavati asked. “Even though my people fear the wrath of the priests – for it is they and not the gods who curse those who displease them – those in power do not permit such behavior from anyone in the temples.”

“I’ll explain that when we’re riding today,” Manas said. Lilavati sighed and nodded. Would she never cease feeling like the child she’d once been in this strange land of pale skinned strangers?

Manas continued holding Lilavati’s hand, giving her more of a sense of security. “You may wonder at what crime these people committed to have been punished in such a way,” he said, addressing the crowd. There were some murmurs. “They broke my edict to remain silent in their tents, broke into mine, and attempted to assassinate both me and my bride-to-be.”

Several people glared at Lilavati. “Great Lord, all here know that she’s a dark sorceress,” one of the men said. “Ludger might have said what took down her horse was a fell preester, but what does he know? He’s just a hedge wizard from the far north. All of this trouble started when you brought her out of that sand blasted kingdom.”

“And it’s her magic that holds them here,” someone else said. “Why else would she stand there shivering in their circle?”

More and more, cries and accusations against Lilavati filled the air. Manas pulled her in tight. As a few people drew weapons and moved towards them, a loud crack silenced everyone. Ludger strode into the middle of the circle.

“You dare challenge the Great Lord and the Great Lady?” he bellowed. People fell back, shrinking away from the loud voice. “You would call them liars and her a witch or dark sorceress when you know nothing of what my true abilities are?”

Theda moved to the front of the mob. Lilavati noticed she was fingering the handle of her mace. “Ludger, let’s be fair. You have shown no sign of such power before. Also, all of this darkness didn’t start occurring until we brought the Great Lady out of her home. Perhaps her gods are angry we did so and wish us to send her back?”

“It is you who wish her to be sent back, Theda,” Ludger said, his voice lowered to a growl. “And this ‘darkness’ as you call it has been going on since the Great Lord refused to wed the acolyte from the temple that you presented to him.”

to be continued…

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