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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…