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“I know what follows me,” Manas said. “I’ve known its face since I was a child. But you, what harm have you ever done to anyone that would make them want to hurt you?”
“I do not know,” Lilavati said. “I do not even know why I have become their target, other than I agreed to your offer and my father accepted the bride price.”
“These attempts on your life began before you left your father’s house,” Manas said. It wasn’t a question but Lilavati nodded anyway. “This is maddening. I want to know who’s doing this and if they’re connected to me in any way.”
“They must be, for they did not start until after our meeting,” Lilavati said. “They have continued even though I left my people’s lands. I wish to know who and why.”
“I agree,” Manas said. The promised rain started falling. He helped her get her hood up before pulling his own in place. “I don’t know what to do, my beloved. But we’ll figure something out.”
They rode on well into the time when they should’ve already been camped. Manas watched Ludger as he took over leading the company, his anxiety radiating from him. Lilavati could hear Manas’ breathing grow labored as fear took over his mind.
Finally, Ludger called a halt. “Great Lord, Great Lady, we’ll erect your tent first so we can get you out of the rain.” He paused. “Great Lord, we may not have everyone inside their tents by twilight.”
“You’d better,” Manas said, dismounting and helping Lilavati down. “I don’t care for having my orders disobeyed. Especially when I saw no need for us to press on as far as we did.”
“I’ll explain it in the morning, Great Lord,” Ludger said. Orders were given and people scrambled into action.
“Great Lord, if you wish, I can take over care of the Great Lady now,” Theda said.
“Preester, why is it you seem so determined to insert yourself into our lives right now?” Manas asked. “I am quite capable of taking care of her myself.”
“This late in the day?” Theda asked quietly.
Manas ground his teeth. Lilavati was confused. She leaned in. “Why do you fight her presence so much, my love?” she asked in his ear.
Manas lowered his head so he could whisper directly to her. “I don’t want anyone around me tonight but you. I’m agitated enough I don’t think even the preester’s aura would keep her safe.”
“I see,” Lilavati said. “Yet you do not wish to tell her this because you fear she will try to force us to be apart.” Manas nodded. Lilavati did her best to straighten herself and give the impression she was stronger than she felt. “I am capable of tending to myself that I will be well enough until morning.”
“Are you certain, Great Lady?” Theda asked.
Lilavati nodded. “I am.”
“Very well then. I’ll go help set up the rest of the camp,” Theda said. She walked off, spine stiff and steps quick and hard.
“She isn’t happy,” Manas said.
“We refused her obvious demands when we have never before given her cause to think we would,” Lilavati said. “She is also highly placed in your religion?” Manas nodded. “That is twice the blow to her then, for she is also accustomed to having her own way because of the power granted by her position.”
“Let’s make sure Ludger does what I’ve instructed him to do. We don’t have a lot of time to argue with him,” Manas said. Lilavati nodded. She let him carry her again, knowing that they had little time to spare.
Ludger was working on getting the tent set up. “Great Lord, I hoped to have this done before you and the Great Lady arrived.”
“Yes, in the hopes it would spare you the argument,” Manas said. “This is too close to the camp, Ludger. You know my orders are immutable. Move it farther away.”
“Ludger,” Lilavati said, catching both men’s attention with her soft voice. “The tent is too close to the camp for my comfort. I do not trust these men and women we travel with. Not after what I have experienced since I left my father’s lands. I only trust my beloved and you, though that trust has been given with some reservation. Please do not make him debate this issue with you so late in the day.”
Ludger gave her a crooked grin. “You’ll serve him well as a wife, Great Lady. You understand him, and our politics, better than you think.” He beckoned to the servants and the tent was moved the appropriate distance from the camp. “I’ve renewed all the usual spells, as well as adding a few new ones.”
“What did you add?” Manas asked sharply.
“A charm so someone’s eye will pass over the tent as if it isn’t even here, though that won’t last through a determined search,” Ludger said. “A spell that will allow you to hear if anyone approaches the tent, even if they’re trying to be quiet. If they’re cloaked in some kind of silence ward or spell, you will see light brighter than the early morning sun. Finally, a spell that will -.” Here Ludger lowered his voice. “That will keep the screams of your curse from being heard throughout the camp, since I couldn’t move you farther away.” Manas looked at him sharply. “Great Lord, I’ve known from the day I arrived what form your curse took. I don’t know how the Great Lady is able to survive being with you, but if she is – and brings you comfort – then I’m not going to say anything more.”
“Thank you, Ludger,” Manas said.
“You saved my life, Great Lord. I will serve you until the day I die,” Ludger said, bowing. He led the guards away.
“We need to get inside,” Manas said, casting a look at the sky. Even though it was raining, Lilavati saw enough of the light to know the time was growing late.
to be continued…