Tiger, Tiger – Part sixty three

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The storm quieted before the evening meal was served. Lilavati was able to swallow the bread and stew, her visions of her home recalling starkly the difference between those food she’d grown up on and the ones she was now required to eat.

She set her bowl to the side with a sigh after she finished. “Is something wrong, katali?” Manas asked.

“I am merely thinking of something that I did not consider prior to this,” Lilavati said.

“What’s that?” Manas asked, setting his own dishes to the side.

“What you serve me is very different from what I have lived my life eating. The clothing I now wear, that too is nothing like what is traditional in my home,” Lilavati said. She pulled the mass of black waves over her shoulder. “I no longer have my braids or my travel hoods. What is there then of my homeland that I still carry with me?”

“You carry that tiger you wear,” Manas said, pointing to the charm she’d already been playing with. “You hold in your heart a love for the sands, the beasts, and certain people, don’t you?”

“I do,” Lilavati said.

“Then you will carry a piece of your home with you until the day you die,” Manas said. He smiled bitterly. “That’s the mantra the captain of my personal bodyguard used to tell himself, and later me, every time I went out among my people after I became lord. He wanted me to find something good about Phiri Hu and carry it with me no matter where I went so I’d always have a way to orient myself on home.”

“What happened to this man?” Lilavati asked.

“He passed away five years ago,” Manas said. “He was an old man, long retired by that point. His daughter came and told me. He’d talked a lot about me, even in his final days, and she knew he was concerned about my safety even though I wasn’t his charge anymore.” He put his hand on the dagger she’d used to kill Sieglinde. “This was his. He made her promise to give it to me. He got it from my grandfather, when he first entered my family’s service. I’ve carried this to honor the both of them – my grandfather and my old guard captain – since.”

“Your grandfather was a man of honor then?” Lilavati asked.

“He must have been, because no one could understand how my parents could turn so far away from the people,” Manas said. “I hear often how that’s not what my grandparents were like, that it wasn’t what they wanted for our lands, and other such comments.” He winced. “Put out the lamps, katali.

Lilavati flitted around the tent, snuffing all lights. She made sure that not a single spark remained, taking care to even put out their fire. As a last resort, her internal tiikeri drove her to take off the charm and bury it under some cushions too.

She almost wept as she watched Manas shift into his massive beast form. His golden eyes seemed less human that night. Lilavati trembled as she approached him. “Sikha?” she whispered.

For an instant, she was reminded of the great cat she’d seen in her vision. Then Manas let out a huge, huffing breath and what was still human about him returned. He made his way to the center of the tent and curled up, leaving room for her to recline against his side. She made sure everything was closed and sealed, and then joined him. He fell asleep quickly, but that lack of humanity in his golden eyes worried her. It kept her awake long into the night.

She was awakened by Manas’ cries as he resumed his human form. She caught him as he fell forward, chest heaving. “Katali, what happened last night? You looked at me as if you were afraid,” Manas asked as soon as he could speak coherently.

“You were not yourself when I first approached you,” Lilavati said, lighting a single lamp and lighting the fire in the brazier. She retrieved her charm and was shocked to find it was broken. “Ah, the sands take all darkness.”

Manas looked over. “Is that your bracelet?” he asked. Lilavati nodded, tears slipping down her cheeks. “Why did you take it off?”

She told me to,” Lilavati said, gesturing to her stomach. She got the sense the great feline was pleased about something. “She is quite happy, but I do not know why.” She shook her head. “Many tales of the inkosi tiikeri claim they have a deep kinship with the tiikeri they bond to. I have never seen one where the inkosi tiikeri was possessed by the spirit of a tiikeri.”

“I wonder if you were changed by my curse,” Manas said. “I’m not a tiger all the time, katali. And if you are what we believe, you’ve bonded to me, which means that you’ve tied yourself to someone who is half man, half beast. When I’m in tiger form, is she quiet?”

Lilavati thought hard. “For the most part, yes. Unless there is something where my life is in danger, she is quiescent.”

“It’s only during the day, during those times where I’m still in my human form, that she’s the most aware, isn’t it?” Manas asked. Lilavati thought hard for a few minutes and then nodded.

A low growl caught their attention. As they looked up, they were met face to face with the glowing eyes of not one but two tigers. Lilavati tried to scream but couldn’t draw in the breath. One of the tigers had eyes as crimson as her own. The other had emerald.

Each of the tigers approached the humans, sniffing around them. The emerald eyed one gazed into Lilavati’s face. He sniffed hard around her scars before backing up a few steps. The crimson eyed one had her face buried in Manas’ chest, though by the expression on his face he’d rather she wasn’t there.

When she backed up, the two tigers looked at each other before advancing on the two prone humans again. The emerald eyed tiger reached out and ran a single claw around Lilavati’s wrist, where she’d usually wear the bracelet with the charm. Searing pain overwhelmed her and she blacked out.

to be continued…

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Tiger, Tiger – Part sixty two

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It was Manas shaking her that broke the hold of the vision. “Katali, Lilavati, what happened? Your tiikeri was so loud I’m certain even those outside heard her, and you were sobbing and calling out something.”

Lilavati was still sobbing. She clung to him, heedless now of the storm, as the gruesome vision replayed itself before her eyes. A cool breath of air crossed her face as someone entered the tent.

Soon a cup of warm liquid was pressed to her lips. “Great Lady, drink this. It will help calm you,” Ludger’s voice rumbled in her ear.

Lilavati did as she was told and soon was able to regain some semblance of control over herself. Ludger rose to leave when both Manas and Lilavati each put a hand on his arm. “Unless you have a pressing need to be elsewhere, old friend,” Manas said, giving Ludger the new honorific. “I think the both of us would prefer it if you stayed here for a while.”

Ludger seated himself beside them again. “Only until just before the sun goes down,” he said. “I’ve seen enough of your curse to last me for a while, Great Lord.”

Manas grimaced. “Think how I feel, having lived for so long with it.” He shook his head. “Katali, now can you tell me what it was you saw?”

“Another vision of my parents with me and Nikitha,” Lilavati said, the warmth given by the tea draining away. Manas wrapped his arms around her and drew her up against him. “This time it was not of a hidden room in my father’s house, but outside the city. My mother was inkosi tiikeri, and we were walking in an area familiar to her. Her soul sister was off hunting, I think, and we were attacked by a large male.”

“What did this male tiger look like?” Ludger asked.

“Bigger than a normal tiikeri, though not even to your shoulder, sikha,” Lilavati said. “His eyes were pure green, almost the color of grass or emeralds. He had no fear of us and his attention was only on me. That was what it appeared as to me, at least. My mother was waiting for her soul sister to return when the great male pounced. My parents were knocked away, my father still clinging to Nikitha. The male drew his claws down my face.” Lilavati put her fingers on the claw scars.

“Then what?” Ludger asked when she was silent for too long for his comfort.

“My mother’s tiikeri arrived,” Lilavati said, curling against Manas. “The two of them attacked the male while my father pulled me to my feet and dragged me towards the city. The last thing I can remember seeing is the male slowly rip my mother open, as if he were enjoying the sight of my mother’s agony.”

“You were saying something as you cried, katali,” Manas said.

“What was it?” Lilavati asked.

Ama’ana,” Manas said. “You were saying it over and over again.”

“It is the child’s way of saying mother,” Lilavati said, her voice barely above a whisper. She pressed one palm to her forehead. “What is going on? Why am I having these visions? What do they mean? Which is true? Why can I not remember?” These final words she wailed, and the wind howled with her.

“What’s going on?” Ludger asked. Manas filled him in on the now two very different versions of how Lilavati got her scars, and how her parents were portrayed in both. He frowned. “Great Lady, someone has taken a great deal of care in blocking, changing, and quite possibly even erasing many of your childhood memories. I don’t have the necessary skills to break the blocks or to restore any that were damaged by the tampering.”

Lilavati choked on a sob. “How am I to know which of these is a true memory then, and not a fabrication of the foul dark magician who corrupted my mind?”

Ludger shrugged. “I don’t know, Great Lady. I’m not an all powerful being, like the Twelve. I’m also not as strong a sorcerer as you two seem to think I am. Yes, I can do certain things very well – such as what I did to Theda and those who followed her. In reality I can do a few large things with a certain degree of proficiency, but mostly I do small things immensely well and have learned how to chain enough of them together to make things work more efficiently.”

“It is the smallest pebbles that can bring down a mountain,” Lilavati said.

“Where did you hear that?” Ludger asked.

“It was in one of the books I read,” Lilavati said. She frowned. “This is why I am so puzzled. I retain all the knowledge I gained reading, but none of the memories of my actual life.”

“We’ll figure it out, Great Lady,” Ludger said. “You will have to talk to someone with different skills than me, though. I’m not the one to help you with this.”

“Thank you, old friend,” Manas said.

“I’m sorry I can’t do more,” Ludger said. He gestured. “I’ve put the same protections on this one that I did the last time. The only differences are that this time it isn’t if you two shed blood – it’s if someone means either of you harm – and no one will hear anything from this tent other than faint murmuring and then silence once the light goes out.” He paused. “Great Lady, as close as we are in here – and I had them place the Great Lord’s tent as far away from the main camp as I could and still have him protected from the weather – I suggest putting out the light before he goes through his change this evening.”

“It would give it away too easily if people were to see the shadows on the canvas,” Manas said.

“That’s not the problem,” Ludger said. “It simply won’t happen. It’s the sound, Great Lord. Even my spell may not be enough to blot out all of the sounds of your change if the lamp is still lit. Only when it is dark will you be fully protected.”

“I will be certain no light shines in this tent by the time my beloved must face his curse again this night,” Lilavati said. Ludger stood and, nodding, limped out of the tent. Lilavati became aware of the thunder once more and buried herself in Manas’ arms.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part sixty one

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Ludger chivvied the cold, wet servants and guards into setting things up quickly. Lilavati retrieved the tent she now shared with Manas and put it up herself. “I have seen it done enough times to know how to manage it on my own,” she said at Manas’ curious look. “However, it does not furnish itself and I am not capable of carrying everything alone.”

“I’ll help you then,” Manas said.

The two of them managed to get most of their things into the tent before a servant helped them carry the rest. Lilavati moved things around until the tent was comfortable for the both of them. “You know me well, katali,” Manas said as he lounged on a pile of cushions instead of in the chair that the servants always brought in. It was pushed to the side.

“I have learned much by observing you,” Lilavati said. “Even though I have not been in the best of shape for much of this journey.”

“You have been ill but not blind,” Manas said. “As you’ve said before.” Lilavati smiled. A crack of thunder made her shriek. Manas was at her side in an instant. He wrapped his arms around her. “It’s all right, katali. We’re safe here.”

“The storm is too close. It will blow down the tents and kill the animals,” Lilavati said, whimpering as she spoke.

“It won’t,” Manas said, stroking her hair with his hand. “Ludger chose this site with the storm in mind. It’s well protected, katali. We are safe.”

The tent lit up as lightning illuminated the afternoon. Lilavati buried her face in Manas’ shoulder, shaking. There was something about thunderstorms that drew more memories of Ishani to the surface, vague and terrifying memories that slipped through her grasp when she tried to capture them. Deep within her the tiikeri growled.

She felt Manas stiffen. She looked up at him. His amber eyes were haunted as he looked into hers. It took her a moment to fight beyond the fear. “You heard her?”

Manas nodded. “How could I not? I’m holding you. She’s very loud.” He tightened his grip on her. “I curse everyone I touch.” This last was said with such bitterness that it tore at Lilavati’s heart.

“No sikha,” Lilavati said, reaching out to comfort him. “This is a thing that happens to all inkosi tiikeri. We draw the spirit of the tiikeri inside of us, and it becomes a part of our own souls. Mine awoke and has been growing stronger.” Another loud clap of thunder sent her cowering into the cushions, abandoning Manas’ arms.

Manas laid down beside her. “Why did she growl?”

“She knows something I do not,” Lilavati said, her voice muffled by the cushion she pressed her face into. Manas gently pulled her over until her face was pressed into his chest.

“Do you have any idea what it could be?” Manas asked.

“It has something to do with Ishani,” Lilavati said.

“Your child name?” Manas asked. He rubbed her back. “Why is that significant?”

Lilavati tilted her face up so she could look at him. “I think, perhaps, some terrible event happened to me as a child during a thunderstorm.” Lightning sent her back into hiding.

“What do you remember?” Manas asked.

“Nothing,” Lilavati said. “The same as I do with almost all of my memories of my years as Ishani.”

“I don’t like this, katali,” Manas said. “It seems to me that someone – be it your father or someone else who held some influence over him – has removed all traces of your life as Ishani.”

“I maintain the knowledge I gained,” Lilavati said. She gave a little shriek as the ground shook from the thunder. Tears filled her eyes as she gazed up at him. “However I cannot remember the things my brother and sister often spoke of so fondly.”

“Such as?” Manas asked.

“Playing in the garden,” Lilavati said. “Uma, the sister you met that I still remember as Nikitha, remembered a time when I would spend hours among the many flowers and trees my father had. She told me of an occasion where I fell and broke my arm, but was more upset because I had shattered the tiikeri charm I wore on my wrist.” She glanced down quickly and saw, to her relief, the bracelet had survived everything they’d been through.

Manas saw her look. “Where did this come from?” he asked, touching the porcelain figurine.

The bloody scene from her visions momentarily blinded her. She came back to herself, gasping for breath with Manas holding her head up. “My mother’s,” she said, trying to draw in enough air to regain her equilibrium. “I think it was my mother’s.”

“Then why let you have it? Why give you something that would remind you so much of your mother, when it’s obvious he went to all the trouble of erasing your memories of her?” Manas asked.

Her tiikeri snarled again, this time angrily. Another vision swam before her eyes. She stood in the desert, her parents in front of her. “Send it away, Upsana,” her father said.

“It isn’t my tiikeri, Anup. I have no control over it,” Upsana said, her voice carrying a hint of desperation. “Take the girls and when I tell you to, run.” She passed the fussing infant over into Ishani’s father’s arms.

Anup took hold of Ishani’s wrist. “What about you, katali?” he asked. “You won’t be able to take on a male tiikeri yourself, especially with no weapons.”

“My soul sister comes now,” Upsana said, gesturing. The massive male tiger in front of them barely moved, his glowing green eyes fixed solely – or so it seemed – on little Ishani. “She’ll help me drive him off.”

The male obviously knew the female was on her way. He wasn’t going to wait that long. He lunged forward with a roar, scattering the two adults and pinning Ishani beneath him. She screamed, but was unable to move. He slashed down her cheek with one paw, opening gaping wounds in her face.

A higher pitched roar and a deeper scream echoed in her ears. The tiikeri was gone, tackled by both her mother and the deep orange female her mother was bonded to. Anup ran over and seized Ishani’s hand. “Let’s go, child. We can’t stay here,” he said, pulling her to her feet and dragging her along behind him.

“But mother,” Ishani said. She looked over her shoulder. The emerald eyed male swatted the female tiikeri out of the way and drove his claws into Upsana’s stomach. Ishani screamed as he slowly tore through her mother’s flesh, leaving her to fall to the ground with wounds she couldn’t survive. “Mother!”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part sixty

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The rain returned that afternoon. Lilavati pulled up the hood of her newly crafted rain cloak. “I will continue to remind you of your promise to Dieter and his companions until you reward them properly,” she said, brushing one damp length of hair behind her ear.

“I made a promise to them?” Manas asked.

She fixed him with a dark look until she saw the merriment dancing in his eyes. “This is not a matter for levity, sikha,” she said. “They believe you will not remember. Or that even if you do you will not follow through.”

Manas frowned. “When have I ever done such a thing?”

“I do not know, but it must have occurred enough times that your servants no longer trust your word when you swear you will do something for them,” Lilavati said.

Manas sighed. “The past year has been hard on all of us,” he said. “I’ve grown more and more agitated as the pressure of finding a wife settled in. Perhaps I’ve done things during that time that made them think that.”

“Who forced you to seek out a bride?” Lilavati asked.

“My neighbors, my advisors, and the very customs of the land I so hope to change,” Manas said. “Katali, I’m nearly thirty. A lord who’s unmarried that long is in danger of not leaving behind any children should he be forced to fight in a war at the behest of the king.” He scowled. “Though if the call comes, Phiri Hu won’t answer.”

“Why would you not give honor to your oaths to your ruler?” Lilavati asked. “In my lands, that is an offense that would see all in the household – from the family to the servants – put to death.”

“It’s a similar situation here,” Manas said. “However, the king has been silent every time any of his border lords have asked for additional troops to help with the incursion of the Shadow Warriors of An-Karat. He doesn’t seem to care. Those few of us who have heard from him have been told that we should be able to handle ‘a few barbarians with spiked clubs and spears.'” Manas shuddered. “Katali, the Shadow Warriors are far more than simple barbarians.”

“Then your king must be convinced of the threat,” Lilavati said. “Capture some of these strange soldiers and present them to him.”

“We’ve tried. Not me personally, but other border lords,” Manas said. “No matter how well they’re guarded, no matter how thoroughly they’re searched, they somehow manage to get a blade into their cells. They’re dead by the dawn following their capture.”

Lilavati frowned. “This concerns me,” she said.

“It goes beyond concerning for those of us who’ve been dealing with it for the past few years,” Manas said.

A cold gust of wind nearly pulled Lilavati’s hood off. “This is something to discuss when we are safe and warm in the tent,” she said, shivering. “The darkness from the clouds is unnerving me, and the chill in the wind does nothing to ease that.”

“I agree,” Manas said. He frowned. “It’s almost too dark.” He twisted in his saddle. “Ludger, how long until we camp?”

“It’s just up here and to the right, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “Don’t worry. And before you ask, it’s only early afternoon. But this will be turning into a massive thunderstorm soon and I want everyone under cover as much as you do.”

“Thank you old friend,” Manas said. He turned back to face the front.

“Thunderstorms in my land are rare, but when they appear they wreak terrible damage,” Lilavati said. Her voice trembled. “They frighten me.”

“Don’t worry, katali,” Manas said. “They can pass quickly here.”

“Or be fairly severe,” Ludger said as he joined them. “This one’s got a lot of strength behind it, Great Lord.”

“Magic?” Manas asked sharply.

Ludger chuckled. “That was my first thought too, Great Lord. After all we’ve been through I think we have a right to be paranoid about that. But no, it’s nature releasing her tension.”

“That at least is some good news,” Manas said.

Lilavati muffled a gasp as the first bolt of lightning tore across the sky. The rumble of thunder that followed it was quiet and distant. “We need to pick up the pace, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “Or we’ll be caught in the downpour without shelter, and I believe it will be worse than what we’re dealing with now.”

“How far is the campsite?” Manas asked.

“Around that corner and to the right,” Ludger said. He frowned. “It doesn’t feel inhabited.”

Manas raised himself up in his stirrups. “Pick up the pace, people. I don’t fancy being drenched by this oncoming storm.”

“Great Lord, is it a cursed storm?” someone called.

“No,” Manas said. “Ludger has assured me it’s natural. Let’s hurry so we don’t get caught in the Daughter of the Twelve’s wrath.”

“Daughter of the Twelve?” Lilavati asked as she nudged her horse into a trot.

“Nature is considered one of the children of the Twelve,” Ludger said. “She is fickle at the best of times, and spring isn’t one of those. She’s far more unpredictable during this time of year.”

“Dieter told me that this was an abnormally long spring,” Lilavati said. “That it was passing far beyond the expected length.”

“It is,” Manas said. “We see this happen once in a while. It just means we’re in for some peculiar weather and the other seasons being out of sync with their normal patterns.”

“Some say this heralds great change in the Northlands,” Ludger said. “The last time it happened the current king seized control of the throne from his despotic father.”

“Yes, and he’s little better than that mad fool he deposed,” Manas said.

“That is far truer than I’m comfortable with,” Ludger said. “Why do you think my people retreated to our ancestral home?”

“I am beginning to wonder what exactly it is that I have entered into when I agreed to be your bride,” Lilavati said.

“A world of politics, intrigue, backstabbing, and love,” Manas said, glancing at her.

“The love I will accept,” Lilavati said. “The rest I will master and then turn against our enemies.”

“This is one of the reasons why I love you, my katali,” Manas said.

“There, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “That’s the campsite.” Lilavati looked where Ludger pointed. A large area sheltered by stone sat in front of them. It was large enough to shelter a group ten times as large as those they traveled with now.

“Set up quickly,” Manas said. “I have a feeling those rocks won’t protect us from everything.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part fifty nine

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It took nearly a month for Lilavati to regain her strength. Manas visited her every day as promised. Seeing his anguish and fear fade as she grew stronger motivated her to push herself as hard as she could, far exceeding what Dieter and Ludger thought she’d manage.

Once she was well enough they resumed their journey to Phiri Hu. Lilavati was given her choice of taking Theda’s horse, the horse of the traitorous commander, or the horse of the traitorous Alister.

“Do we not have a mount that was ridden by a traitor?” Lilavati asked. “I am not certain I trust any of these animals not to be cursed or held by spell to their former riders.”

“You bring up a valid concern, katali,” Manas said. He looked over at Ludger. “Would you check them for any kind of tampering?”

“Of course, Great Lord,” Ludger said. He limped over and closed his eyes. He held out his hands, leaning his staff against his shoulder. He opened his eyes. “You don’t have to worry, Great Lady. None of them are bespelled or cursed. If they were under some kind of magical control, I’d say it vanished with the deaths of their riders.” He looked over the horses. “If I were you, I’d take Theda’s horse. It’s the steadiest of the three, and the gentlest.”

A new saddle and bridle were put on the horse, and Lilavati’s new wardrobe was packed into saddlebags and strapped in place. Lilavati mounted the gelding and felt him shift to accommodate his new rider.

Lilavati joined Manas at the head of the line of now very relieved soldiers and servants. Manas gave the signal and they set off down the road. He was still very agitated and his horse shifted restlessly as they rode. “It is the Halls of the Damned that has you so upset, sikha,” Lilavati said as they rode at the front of the line. It was a statement but he took it as a question.

“Yes,” Manas said. “I don’t want to face my parents. Or that demon sorcerer if he’s there.” He rubbed his chest. “It could make this worse.”

“Or it could heal it,” Lilavati said. “Perhaps take it away completely.”

“It could also trap me in my beast form permanently,” Manas said. “Take away my human mind and leave me nothing more than a ravaging monster. My own people would have to kill me.”

“My love, sikha, it must be done,” Lilavati said. “I do not know what this Black Waste is, but that is our alternative path. Is this what you wish to traverse? Or are the Halls of the Damned better than that road.”

Manas was silent for a moment. “May the Twelve forgive me,” he said in a soft voice. “The Halls of the Damned is the more logical path home.”

Lilavati took one hand off the reins and touched his arm. “Sikha, remember Ludger’s vision of the two of us standing together at the gate. I will be by your side, no matter what happens. We will be as one and I will not let those who seek to harm you do so.”

“What of those who might seek to hunt you?” Manas asked.

“I know of no one who would,” Lilavati said.

Katali, you kept repeating two names when you were in your stupor,” Manas said. “They weren’t names I remember you saying before.”

“What were they?” Lilavati asked.

“Ishani and Upsana,” Manas said.

“Ishani was my child  name,” Lilavati said. “Upsana is the name of a woman I keep seeing in my visions.”

“Tell me about those visions,” Manas said.

“I see her, badly wounded, in the temple being prepared for death. I am being entombed with her because my father says I am cursed. There is a man with a weapon that is shaped like the claws of a tiikeri,” Lilavati said. She brushed the scars on her face. “It is he who gave me these. My younger sister is crying. She is still an infant. My father claims I am cursed because of this woman’s blood, but my younger sister is safe because the priests have purged the curse.”

“Do you think Upsana could be your true mother?” Manas asked. “And the woman who made your life miserable is your father’s second wife?”

“That is forbidden, unless it is proven that the first wife had some deficiency,” Lilavati said. She paused. “If my father convinced the priests that it was my mother’s fault I was disfigured, that she brought the curse on me, they would consider that enough to sever the ties that bound them in both life and death.”

“So this Upsana could be your true mother,” Manas said.

Lilavati shuddered. “If these visions are true memories, then my father is an evil man,” she said.

Katali, such darkness will draw Upsana’s spirit to you in the Halls of the Damned,” Manas said. “If she is angry at your father she may attack you for forgetting her.”

“I had no choice but to forget,” Lilavati said. “I do not know if I blotted them from my mind to protect myself, or if my father had one gifted with the power to deny a person access to memories block them.”

“Is that even possible?” Manas asked.

“There are priests who – if you pay them well enough – will do that,” Lilavati said. She shivered. “If these are true memories, my father tried to entomb me with my mother and it was only fear of a curse from the gods that kept him from doing it.”

“We’ll know soon enough,” Manas said. “We’ll reach the Halls of the Damned in two weeks.” He glanced back at his people. “I only hope they survive the passage, else I’ll have led them to their deaths.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part fifty eight

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It was the chill of the night air that woke her. An unfamiliar woman sat next to her, working a needle through leather. Lilavati whimpered. The woman looked at her. She had one blue eye and one green eye, and a birthmark that ran down her right cheek and onto her neck.

“Be at ease, Great Lady,” the woman said softly, setting aside her work. She had a slight accent that Lilavati didn’t recognize. Her pale skin marked her as one of Manas’ servants. “My name is Valeska. I’m one of the leather workers beholden to the Great Lord.” She paused. “Romy, another of his servants, will be here in a few minutes to take my place. Is there anything you need before she comes that I can help you with?”

“Thirsty,” Lilavati said.

“Would you like the sleep medicine?” Valeska asked. “Or just the regular concoction?”

“I need the chamber pot first,” Lilavati managed to get out before coughing a little.

“I think you need the drink first,” Valeska said. “Just a few sips though, to moisten your throat. Then the chamber pot. Then something more to drink. We’ll start with the regular concoction and then you can decide if you wish to add the sleep medicine to it.”

Lilavati nodded. Valeska poured the violet liquid into a mug. She put it to Lilavati’s lips. Lilavati took a few swallows. “Thank you,” she said, her throat no longer aching.

“It’s actually a pleasure to serve you, Great Lady,” Valeska said. “You’re not as demanding or as surly as the Great Lord is when he’s ill.” She grinned mischievously. “Though I’d prefer if you not tell him I said that.”

Lilavati smiled. “I will keep your secret.”

Valeska laughed as she helped Lilavati to her feet. Lilavati found she had more strength to take the few steps. She dealt with her need and washed up. Valeska got her settled on her bed just as another woman walked in.

This woman was pure white with white hair and deep blue eyes. She smiled when she saw Lilavati. “Hello Great Lady. I’m Romy and I’ll be with you for the rest of the night,” she said, her lilting voice a beautiful counterpoint to the soft chirping of the night insects Lilavati could hear.

“She needs something more to drink, Romy,” Valeska said, as she finished making Lilavati comfortable. “I was just about to ask if she wanted the sleeping draught or not.”

“Great Lady, do you wish to sleep more?” Romy asked. Lilavati nodded. “Would you like the sleeping potion mixed in with the other medicine?” Lilavati nodded again. “Valeska, you’ll have to do it. My hands aren’t steady enough to get the correct dosage in.”

“That’s right. I’m supposed to make sure you have a mug with the right amount in it just in case she wakes up,” Valeska said. She did something out of Lilavati’s sight before presenting the weakened woman with the mug. She helped Lilavati drink. It didn’t take long for Lilavati to slip back into sleep, the ghostly Romy her last sight.

Odilie was back at her side when she woke up again. “Great Lady, are you ready for a proper bath? Once we take care of all necessary bodily functions, of course.” She wrinkled her nose and grinned.

Lilavati croaked out a laugh and nodded. Odilie helped her up and helped her take care of her needs. A tub with steaming water sat to one side. “Where did this come from?” she asked.

“It’s actually one of the larger washtubs. We absconded with it, courtesy of Romy, to provide you with more comfortable baths,” Odilie said. She helped Lilavati into the tub and began scrubbing her hair. Lilavati managed to clean the rest of her body, a comfort to her since she loved the feel of the water on her skin and the sensuous caress of her own fingers against her flesh. “You look happy, Great Lady.”

“I am clean,” Lilavati said. “Very clean. It feels wonderful.”

Odilie laughed. “I’m sure it does, Great Lady. As ill as you were, we weren’t able to bathe you very well.”

The bath was over too soon for Lilavati’s tastes. Odilie helped her out of the tub. Instead of one of the travel gowns, Odilie helped dress her in a Northern dress. “Where did this come from?”

“I’m not the only seamstress in the Great Lord’s entourage, though the Great Lord seems to have forgotten we exist,” Odilie said with a twisted smile. “When Dieter and Ludger reminded him, he sent riders to the nearest city with Ria – she’s the woman in charge of the seamstresses – and purchased as much cloth as he could. We’ve made you a full Northern wardrobe.” Odilie shook her head. “He was so worried about getting you outfitted for the north, and how expensive it would be since he gave most of his gold to your father, when he could just have asked us.”

“Fine fabrics are expensive,” Lilavati said as she slid her feet into a pair of thick socks and sturdy shoes.

“That’s true, Great Lady,” Odilie said. “They’re still less expensive than the finished product.” She gestured to what Lilavati was wearing. “This is the finest wool and linen you’ll find in the north. It cost the Great Lord fifteen silver a length. The gown you’re wearing? It would have cost him thirty gold, easily.”

“How many silver to one gold?” Lilavati asked as Odilie helped her back down onto her bed.

“Twenty silver is equal to one gold, Great Lady,” Odilie said. Lilavati gasped. Odilie nodded. “This is why we always demand he get us the fabric and let us do the work. He pays us twenty five silver a month on top of giving us a home and food. We are far less expensive than him buying clothing.”

Lilavati nodded and ran her fingers down the strange fabric. It wasn’t what she was used to and felt odd to her touch. She’d have to get used to it though since it seemed that this is what the northern women wore. A few strands of her hair fell into her face. She froze briefly before pushing them back.

to be continued…

 

Tiger, Tiger – Part fifty seven

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Bianka appeared a short time later with three cups, three bowls, and a small basket of fruit. She balanced everything precariously until Odilie abandoned Lilavati’s hair and rescued her. “Thank you, Odilie,” Bianka said.

“What is all this?” Odilie asked.

“It’s our breakfast. Dieter said you hadn’t eaten yet,” Bianka said. “This is yours too.” She handed over one of the mugs. “This is mine, and this is the Great Lady’s.” She indicated the food in the differently colored bowl and mug. “Ludger helped Dieter get it ready without the Great Lord interfering.” She shook her head. “He’s worse than a mother fretting over an ill child.”

“Have Ludger and Dieter decided on a time when they’ll allow the Great Lord to see the Great Lady?” Odilie asked.

“When she’s stronger,” Bianka said. “The Great Lord’s in too much of an aggravated state to be safe to be around her.”

Lilavati ate the soft grains they fed her and then drank the sweet liquid. It restored her strength a little and eased the pain in her throat. “I wish to see him,” she said, some power returning to her voice.

Both women stared at her. “Great Lady, you don’t know how he’s been,” Odilie said as she started unwinding the thread from her hair once more.

“I know,” Lilavati said, thinking of the great tiikeri within her and how agitated it was becoming.

“I’ll get Dieter,” Bianka said. She picked up the dishes and hurried out of the tent.

She returned a short while later with the young scribe. “Great Lady, seeing him could set back your recovery,” Dieter said. “It could kill you.”

“No,” Lilavati said. “It will help.”

“Bianka, get Ludger,” Dieter said. “We’ll see what he has to say.” Bianka nodded and dashed off again.

Ludger looked tired and the white was more prevalent in his hair when he walked in. “What is it, Dieter? Has she gone back into the nightmares?”

“No,” Dieter said. “She wants to see the Great Lord.”

“Great Lady, that’s not a good idea,” Ludger began. Lilavati fixed him with a dark look. He sighed. “I’ll go fetch him. But it will be a brief reunion, Great Lady. You do not understand his mood right now.”

“She says she does,” Odilie said as she continued unwrapping the braids.

“We’ll see,” Ludger said. He left, leaning on his staff.

It didn’t take long. Manas burst into the tent. Lilavati smiled at him and pointed to a place at her side. Instead of rushing forward and grabbing her as she knew he wanted, he obeyed her silent order and settled in next to her. “My katali,” he said in a rough voice, shaking with suppressed emotion. “You live.”

“I do,” she said, her voice still weak. “Be at peace, sikha.”

He took her hand in his. “Ludger told me Dieter and his friends say you’ll recover, though they don’t know how much.”

“Believe in them,” Lilavati said, her voice lapsing back into whispers.

Manas looked over at Dieter. “How long will her recovery be?”

“I don’t know, Great Lord,” Dieter said. “We’re going to try to get her back on her feet and up to as much strength as we can as fast as we can. Some of it will lie with the Great Lady and her determination to get well. The rest will be how swiftly her body responds to the medicine we’re using.”

“I wish to see her every day,” Manas said.

“I desire this,” Lilavati said, the whisper once again becoming the cracked and weak voice.

“Only for a few minutes at first, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “The Great Lady is still very weak. As she gains strength we’ll allow longer visits.”

Manas nodded. “So long as I can see her, I’ll abide by that.” The frantic look in his amber eyes was gone and she could sense he was relaxing. “My dark love, my katali, promise me you’ll work as hard as you are able to return to my side.”

“I swear,” Lilavati said.

Manas leaned down and kissed her forehead. He noticed Odilie unwinding the braids. “Did she give you permission to do that?”

“Yes, Great Lord,” Odilie said, unperturbed by the slight growl in his voice. “It’s going to make it easier on us to be certain her hair is clean and free of knots and tangles.”

Manas looked at Lilavati who nodded. He sighed and relaxed again. “So long as you’ve agreed to it, my katali.”

“I have,” Lilavati said. She slowly, painfully, raised one hand and paid it on his cheek. “My sikha.

He took the hand and kissed the palm. “To see your eyes open, to feel your touch, that is enough for me for now,” Manas said, tears sliding down his cheeks.

“That’s good, Great Lord, because it’s time to let the Great Lady rest,” Ludger said. Manas eased Lilavati’s hand back down to her side and rose. He followed Ludger out of the tent, casting longing looks over his shoulder.

“How do you feel, Great Lady?” Dieter asked.

“Happy,” Lilavati said. She blinked and yawned. “Tired.”

“Then sleep,” Dieter said. “Will Odilie working on your hair disturb you?”

“No,” Lilavati said, her eyes already closing.

“Dream peacefully, Great Lady,” Dieter said. Lilavati sighed and drifted off to sleep.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part fifty six

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Lilavati woke from the first peaceful sleep she’d experienced in a long time. A young woman with hair so pale it seemed white was sitting beside her, humming as she worked with two long, thin sticks and some yarn. Lilavati tried to shift her position and that drew her watcher’s attention.

“Great Lady, I’m happy to see you’re awake,” she said. “I don’t know if you remember what Dieter told you last night, but I’m Odilie. I’m one of the seamstresses that serves the Great Lord. I’m to help you this morning. Dieter should be back in an hour to check on you.” Odilie giggled. “I think he’s got a bit of a crush on you, to be honest. Nothing inappropriate, Great Lady. And nothing that would displease the Great Lord. He’s just very fond of you and wishes to see you healthy so you can be wed to the Great Lord.”

Lilavati smiled but squirmed as a very natural need took over. “Help,” she whispered, still unable to speak in a louder voice.

“What do you need help with?” Odilie asked. Then she blushed. “Of course. I’m being forgetful this morning.” She eyed Lilavati thoughtfully. “Would you like to try standing, Great Lady? Dieter said I was allowed to see if you were able to, and I’m willing if you are.”

Lilavati nodded. Standing up sounded amazing. Odilie did a few things out of her line of sight before she returned with a strange looking tangle of cords and straps. “What?” Lilavati asked.

“It’s something to help us lift you up,” Odilie said. “Even the weakest of us can help you with this.” She got Lilavati wrapped in the harness and then pulled her up.

Lilavati gasped as her head started spinning. She lifted her weak arms and caught hold of Odilie. “Dizzy,” she whispered.

“I’m sure,” Odilie said. “Don’t worry, Great Lady. We’ll take this slow.”

Lilavati leaned against the pale woman until the dizziness passed. “I am fine,” she said.

“Then let’s try a few steps,” Odilie said.

It took far longer than Lilavati wanted, but Odilie helped her over to the chamber pot. Lilavati took care of her needs and Odilie helped her clean up before taking her back to her bed. “Clothes?” Lilavati asked.

“Oh yes, let’s change you out of those. They are rather dingy,” Odilie said. Lilavati was stripped out of her sweat stained gown and put into a clean one. “Great Lady, we need to wash your hair. It would be much easier if we could take it out of the braids.”

Lilavati thought about it for several moments. She knew about the superstitions of her people, but now – in this strange land – so much more was happening. There were curses everywhere and darkness seemed to follow both her and her beloved. How much more would taking down her braids cause? They were headed for a place where the dead would seek to harm them. Strange beasts roamed the lands between there and where they were camped. Her visions came and went, and if any were true it meant danger for all.

“Take them out,” Lilavati said, shivering as fear gripped her. A soft rumble from her tiikeri soothed some of that terror.

Odilie settled her down on a pile of cushions and propped her up. She started unwrapping the thin strands of silk binding the tiny braids. “This is strange string,” Odilie said. “Can you only get this in your land?”

Lilavati nodded. “It is special.” It was getting easier to speak.

“Does it come from an insect, Great Lady? That’s where some silk comes from in our lands,” Odilie said.

“A plant,” Lilavati said. “Scarlet flowers, white fiber inside.”

“That sounds beautiful,” Odilie said. “So you harvest the plant and dye the fibers? How do you keep them from drying out?”

Lilavati raised one shoulder. “I did not do it.”

“Odilie, the Great Lady isn’t going to know everything about her land any more than the Great Lord does,” Dieter said with a wry chuckle as he walked in. He seemed so old and so young at the same time. It broke Lilavati’s heart.

Odilie laughed. “I know, but I can still ask. Remember, the Great Lord named her a scholar. We don’t know how much she’s studied.”

“Great Lady, do you object to Odilie’s questions?” Dieter asked.

“No,” Lilavati said. She smiled. “They help.”

“She could barely get one word answers out when she woke up this morning,” Odilie said. “She’s managing multiple word answers now.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Great Lady,” Dieter said. He frowned. “Odilie, did you ask her before you started taking down her braids?”

“She did,” Lilavati said, a little more strength in her voice. It petered out quickly and she resumed her whispering. “I said yes.”

“That’s where the questions about the plant and fibers came from,” Odilie said, holding up the first silk strand. “I was asking her about this.”

“Great Lady, would you mind if I asked Bianka to come help her? It’s going to take a long time for Odilie to do that alone,” Dieter said.

“I do not mind,” Lilavati whispered. It was getting harder to talk. Her throat was too sore.

“Then I’ll bring her in, as well as that medicine you had last night,” Dieter said. “Without the sleep aid in it. That should help you feel better.”

Lilavati smiled at him. Dieter’s smile was a mixture of embarrassment and relief. He hurried out of the tent. “What did I tell you, Great Lady? He is smitten with you,” Odilie said.

“He is sweet,” Lilavati said.

“He is,” Odilie said. “He’s also very intelligent. He says the rest of us are too, which is why he spends so much time listening to us. He does for us what no one else does, other than the Great Lord – he lets us be us.”

Lilavati struggled to raise her hand. It lifted a few fingerwidths off the cushion it rested on. She set it on Odilie’s leg. “Everyone should be free,” she said. “Like that.”

“You, Great Lady, have been sent by the Twelve,” Odilie said with a wide smile. “You and the Great Lord will definitely make Phiri Hu an interesting place to live.” Lilavati pondered that as the younger woman continued to unwind the braids.

to be continued…

Questions, questions – too many questions (or is there such a thing?)

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Again, the picture is from Pixabay, courtesy of qimono – CC0

If you’ve seen The Dark Crystal, you should remember Augrah and her great machine that maps the heavens. Here’s the scene where she’s discussing the Great Conjunction. Pay special attention to what she says to Jen at the end.

“Questions, questions, too many questions.”

How many questions do we ask in a day? In a week? In a month? In a year? As a writer, I should be asking a lot of questions. Yet I don’t. I’m too scared to ask questions. If I don’t know something – like the definition of a word or some idea of science – I’ll look it up. Yet when someone says something I don’t understand? I’m mum.

I’m afraid I’ll ask too many questions. I don’t want to be a bother. Yet am I a bother when I ask questions? Will I annoy anyone by asking questions when I don’t understand something? I’ll tell you one thing – it irritates people even more when I assume and don’t ask questions.

If you’re curious? Ask. If you need to know something? Ask. If you want help? Ask. If you don’t have all the information and the temptation to guess or make an assumption, don’t make the assumption. Ask questions!

On the other side, when people ask you questions, don’t evade them. Answer them. At the very least tell them that you don’t know the answer, or that you’re uncomfortable giving them the answer and would prefer not to say. You can tell people no and mean it. Inversely, you can tell them yes and mean it.

Don’t be afraid to question everything. Don’t be afraid to answer questions. Live your life in a cloud of curiosity and honesty (as much as possible.) Be happy, be healthy, and enjoy your life.

Enjoy your day and we’ll be back to Tiger, Tiger tomorrow. I hope you’re still enjoying it, because we’ve still got a long way to go. 🙂

If you’re TALKING…you’re not LISTENING

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As usual, the picture is from Pixabay, courtesy of geralt –  Creative Commons 0.

I have a horrible problem with not listening to people. I’ll interrupt them, ignore what they say, or cherry pick words and only hear what I want to hear. This applies to the spoken word only. If you write something and hand it to me, or if I read something online, I’m better able to process it. I was never really taught/I never learned on my own how to process verbal cues, concentrate on what was being said to me, and pay attention to a speaker. There’s a reason I nearly flunked out of high school and college was a nightmare for me.

My husband and I have had several arguments about this over the years – some of them very heated – because of this fact. He points out frequently that I still do this. It’s not surprising to me, but I get very defensive and very aggressive (another issue I’ll address at some later point down the road – maybe) and verbally lash out.

Last night we got into another one of our arguments. But this time I actually listened to something my husband told me. The saying is now up on my whiteboard, and it’s also the title of this post. If you’re TALKING…you’re not LISTENING!!!

What does this mean? Well, it’s simple: if your lips are flapping you’ve stopped paying attention to the speaker. How can you listen to someone else if all you hear is your voice? Likewise, if you wait until they’re done, you get the whole picture. You can respond in a way more appropriate for the situation. You can also figure out how to deal with the person’s emotions as well.

Another thing to consider is acknowledging another person’s emotions. Don’t just run off with the conversation and not at least tell the person you’ve heard them, that their feelings are important to you, and that you empathize with them. You may not understand why they feel that way even after they’ve explained it to you. If that’s the case, don’t leave it at that. ASK QUESTIONS!!! That’s another key point of listening, interestingly enough. If you don’t understand something, let the other person know. Ask for clarification. Don’t just sit there in confusion. It’s not going to do either of you any good, and will actually do great harm as the conversation winds on. (Speaking from personal experience here once again.)

In the end, the key to communication boils down to this: LISTEN. ASK QUESTIONS WHEN UNSURE. ACKNOWLEDGE THE OTHER PERSON’S EMOTIONS. AND FOR THE SAKE OF ALL PEOPLE INVOLVED, DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO THEM. IT’S NOT A GOOD IDEA, AND IT SHOWS YOU CARE MORE ABOUT YOURSELF THAN THEM.

I hope y’all enjoy your day, and that you consider what I’ve said. Hugs to all and I’ll see you tomorrow.