Writing & publishing schedule update

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Hi everyone! Normally I publish at 8 AM. I know this. And I’ll get back to publishing at that time soon. I’m just trying to sort out my daily schedule right now so bear with me. I’ve got a lot of stuff to get done during the day so I need to work out how I’m going to do it all.

As the title suggests, I’m altering a few things with my writing projects for this year. First, before I start working on any of my serious novel work, I’m going to do little fifteen minute writing exercises. Just random little drabbles, maybe set in the worlds of the stories and maybe not. But they will be in the genres I write – fantasy and science fiction. I’ll be posting those here on the blog, very similar to what I was posting before I started putting Tiger, Tiger up here.

Now, I do still plan on self publishing a book in June and one in December. Tiger, Tiger will be published in June and Into the Flames will be published in December. I was trying to work on the two stories in alternate months, but it’s just not working. So I’m devoting all my time and attention during my writing times – except for the writing warm up exercises of course – to Lilavati and Manas. I’ve got a lot of work to do and five and a half weeks to do it in. I know I can do it in, but I’m going to be working really hard.

Once I’m happy with Tiger, Tiger – and get it beta read and edited – I’ll get back to work on Into the Flames. I’m struggling with it right now anyway, so restarting it probably isn’t a bad idea.

I’ve also decided to work as a plantser for Tiger, Tiger. I’m going to read through what I’ve got, pick out the main plot and the subplots and post index cards on my wall. Once I do that, I’m going to figure out how I want to address each plot point and just set up some vague notes on how I want to work those points in and weave them together. I’m also going to keep notes on the foreign words I use and the names of places/the meanings of the words because I kept forgetting the name of Lilavati’s home. 😀

So keep your eyes open here for further updates, and watch for Wattpad links. I’d like feedback on the new format and chapters as I post them there, so please leave me comments when I do a link post here.

Everyone have a wonderful day and I’ll see you when I get the next post written. (Hopefully tomorrow…and hopefully it’ll post at 8. XD)

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Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty nine

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Manas charged the tiikeri closest to Lilavati. It was thrown back several feet. He whirled around faster than the other could anticipate and slammed into it. The beast flew back to land next to its partner.

Manas moved over next to Lilavati. He rumbled at her and nudged her with his paw. She grabbed onto his fur and pulled herself up. Leaning against him, she turned to face her mother. “I have no sister-soul. This is true. As I said, I have something far more precious to me than a tiikeri female that would eventually abandon me in favor of producing cubs and leave me to find another partner. I have a husband, a soulbond, a lifemate who will never leave me. He will protect me when he can, give me aid and shelter when it’s available, and love me unconditionally for the rest of our lives. He is cursed, but living with him and his curse are worth every minute of the joy we feel when we’re together.”

Foolish child, Upsana spat. If you wish to be with him so much, you’ll share his curse. Can you abide by that? Be human by day and tiikeri by night?

Manas growled and whimpered, nudging Lilavati with his nose. She wrapped her arms around his neck, breathing in deep the scent of his fur and his musk. Could she do it? Could she accept the same curse he had? The pain would be intense. That she knew. Any child she bore him could be tainted the same way they were. Would it be worth that risk?

Katali, can you hear me? His voice was soft, a mere whisper in her mind.

Sikha? How is this possible? she asked.

Only here have the Grey of the Twelve granted me this gift, Manas said. What does she offer if you don’t take the curse?

Death, Lilavati said. Or a lifetime of servitude to one of these tiikeri. I wish neither of those, for my life is with you and Magda.

Don’t make this choice lightly, katali, Manas said. You don’t know how agonizing it is to shift from human to beast. You don’t know how lonely it is to carry the curse within you and yet walk alone among the world.

Yet I wouldn’t be alone, would I? Lilavati asked. I’d have you.

There was silence for a few heartbeats. You would, he said finally, a hint of something in his voice she couldn’t quite identify. As I have you.

Lilavati turned to her mother. “If I must become a cursed tiikeri by night and a human by day to stay with my beloved, to be the mother to my daughter, then I’ll do it. I’ll take on the curse.” She paused. “Curses can still be broken, mother. My beloved and I will never stop looking for a way to end this.”

Search all you want. You’ll search in vain, Upsana sneered. If your precious husband hasn’t found a way to break it, with all his years of trying, how do you think you’ll be able to do it?

“He didn’t have me to help him,” Lilavati said, smiling fondly at her husband. He was growling at the other two tiikeri who were drawing closer to Lilavati again. “Together the two of us will accomplish great things.”

So be it, Upsana said. She and her tiikeri disappeared.

Pain beyond anything Lilavati had ever felt ripped through her. Every bone in her body cracked and broke as joints separated and reformed. Fur the color of snow erupted from her skin. Stripes the color of her hair spread across her body. She became a saphaida tiikeri, one of the rarest of all. When she finished the change, she was the same size as Manas.

She flopped to the ground, barely able to breathe. Manas waited for her to stand again and the two of them walked towards the exit. They knew they couldn’t leave until they resumed their human forms, so they waited.

Dawn came and once again the agony returned, but Lilavati was prepared for it this time. Once they were in human form, they retrieved their cloaks – the only clothing to withstand the change – and stepped through the portal.

“Ama’ana! Father!.” Magda threw herself off the horse she was sharing with Christel and ran across the distance to them. Lilavati turned slightly so no one could see she was naked and scooped Magda into her arms. “You came back.”

“Of course we did,” Manas said. “Didn’t we promise we would?” His voice was gravelly and judging from the wounds on his body, he too had fought battles against the creatures in the mist.

“Great Lord, Great Lady, we’ll give you a few minutes of privacy,” Ludger said, a sad look in his eyes. “Then we must be on the road. The gate to Phiri Hu won’t remain open for long.”

Lilavati turned to look where he pointed. A great rectangular section of the bleak landscape was gone. In its place was a beautiful green and blue land with a shimmering white castle in the distance.

Manas sighed happily. “That’s home, katali. That’s Phiri Hu.”

Lilavati dressed quickly and took Magda up in front of her on the horse. She told herself it was to make the child happy. In truth it was to give herself something familiar to cling to. “It is unlike anything I have ever seen,” she said, reverting back to the language of the north.

“It’s going to be unlike anything you’ve ever dealt with too,” Manas said. “You’ll shake things up and we’ll find ways to compromise. I expect you’ll bring some of your ways to my keep, and we’ll teach you ours so you can become who you’re meant to be.”

Who she was meant to be. It would be interesting to find out just what that meant. She nudged her horse forward through the magical opening. The strong smell of sulfur and rust was replaced by one of wildflowers and fresh bread. “We’re home,” Magda said with a laugh. “We’re home.”

The End….for now

Oops! My apologies

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I know I posted that post that said Tiger, Tiger was finished and then I realized something. WordPress ate the final chapter. So I’ll post the final chapter tomorrow. I’m so sorry about that. I got locked out of my blog for some reason and it’s taken me this long to get back in. Again, my apologies and we’ll get you to the end of Lilavati and Manas’ story very soon.

*bows her head in shame*

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty eight

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Lilavati didn’t want to fight her mother. Lilavati didn’t even remember Upsana and now this was the fate the Twelve had forced upon them. The two tiikeri snarled and moved towards her, each coming in from a different angle.

Lilavati didn’t know what to do. She was unarmed, with no defender to aid her. She felt her tiikeri snarl in response to their presence. She used her to cry out for Manas, but she didn’t think he’d actually come.

The first of the beasts lunged at her. She dove to one side, and came face to face with a paw full of claws as the second one moved in for the kill. Twisting with the flexibility and grace of the feline inside of her, she slipped beneath it.

You’ve learned well, I see, Upsana said. She still stood in the same place she’d been sitting. Your sister-soul lives deep inside you. She gave you her life when she died so as to preserve your gift and your life. How interesting. I never knew that was possible.

“She’s done more than that,” Lilavati said, maneuvering out of the way of the giant cats once more. “She’s helped me protect those I love, help keep my beloved sane, and given me the ability to survive those things that would have killed those without my gift.”

Yet you have no combat skills, Upsana said.

“Had I a bow in my hands, I’d show you what I can do,” Lilavati said. “But with a blade? You’re right. I was never taught. I have a feeling it’s for the same reason father never let me develop my powers as inkosi tiikeri. He didn’t want me to become like you.”

Yes, and he succeeded. You’re nothing like me. You’re a weakling. A cub with no teeth and no claws, Upsana said. You have no future. You’re a drain on the gesin. You have no place with us.

“This is true,” Lilavati said, panting a little as she continued dodging the huge felines. “I don’t have a place with your gesin. I have my own that I need to get back to. I promised my daughter I’d return to her, and I won’t break my word. She’s had too much sorrow and despair in her young life and I won’t be the cause of more.”

You don’t have a choice,  Upsana said. You’re going to die here, defenseless and alone. You’ll have a broken promise dragging down on your soul. You’ll be an oathbreaker. The gods will bind you here as they did me.

“Why are you here, mother? I don’t see you as an oathbreaker, or something evil that needs to be punished,” Lilavati said. A stitch was forming in her side. She wasn’t fast enough to dodge one tiikeri and it managed to get a strike on her. She stumbled, blood seeping out of the shallow wound on her thigh.

I am here because of your thrice cursed father, Upsana said. Anup took the two of you home and called a healer-priest to make certain you survived. Now I know he also had your memories damaged in some way. He came out looking for me. I was still alive, Ishana. I was hurt badly, like I am now. But this was still something a good healer-priest could remedy. Instead he had a death-priest curse me in the afterlife to never-ending anguish and pain for what I’d inflicted on him for giving him a daughter with my same gift.

“I’m not Ishana anymore, mother. Ishana is dead. Ishana died when father stole the last of her childhood,” Lilavati said. A heavy paw slammed into her ribs. She was knocked to the ground. Lilavati gasped for breath. She tried to get back to her feet. “I am Lilavati now. Being graceful was the only worth I had to him, as I was too ugly with these scars to become a bride until my beloved came along.”

You lie, Upsana snarled. You are still my Ishana. You’re simply trapped in the body of a half crippled adult woman with no memory of her true childhood. I’d give you a few reminders, but you’re not interested in taking your place with me so you have to die. It would be pointless to tell you anything.”

“Tell me one thing, mother. Is it true that you tried to forcibly link to the male who attacked us? So that he would leave? And did that damage your bond with your sister-soul?” Lilavati asked.

Upsana jerked back a step. I thought you had no memories of those events, she screamed.

“I’ve had visions, mother. Vague memories that have surfaced in pain and fear induced dreams,” Lilavati said. The two tiikeri closed in. “I saw the male approach. I heard you tell father to take me and Nikitha back to the city. I know the male got away from you and attacked me. Then you tried again, and it confused him enough for your sister-soul to attack. Father came back for me and then everything went black.”

I had to order your father to come back for you, Upsana said. He was going to leave you to be devoured by the tiikeri. He is an evil man and will find himself a place here when he reaches the end of his life.

“You won’t hear me argue that point, mother,” Lilavati said. She laid on the cracked path. She couldn’t get up. She was sure she had a couple broken ribs and her leg was bleeding profusely. There was no longer any purpose to getting back up. Her life was over. Magda, she whispered to herself. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. She closed her eyes and waited for the final blow.

A new roar cut through the silence, a sound she was intimately familiar with. She opened her eyes and looked to her right.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty seven

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More spirits of those who died in her service appeared. The last to arrive was Vera, the arrow still sticking out of her chest. “I do not regret taking your life,” Lilavati said. “I never will. Nor will I forgive you for murdering Odilie.”

You’re a fool, Vera said. Do you really think you’re going to be able to pass Magda off as a legitimate child of the Great Lord?

“We will make every attempt to do so,” Lilavati said. “I will fight for her until I am no longer able to, even if it means I must go to the king of these lands and demand he name her my beloved’s trueborn child.”

You care for that sniveling little brat that much? Vera asked. She seemed surprised.

“I love her as if I had birthed her myself,” Lilavati said. “Why do you find it so hard to believe that someone could love that beautiful, intelligent, loving child?”

She is none of those, Vera spat. She is a lying, sneaking little manipulator who claims to have visions to force people to do what she says.

“She has proven to us both that she does have visions, Vera,” Lilavati said. “She knows far more than a child of her age has a right to, and has articulated what she has seen in a way that we can understand while using what vocabulary she has learned.”

Vera blinked. My sister, she said, glowering. That stupid bitch. She swore that she’d come back to help Magda, just not in any way I’d recognize.

“Go back to whatever hell the Twelve decreed for you, Vera,” Lilavati said. “I have no more time to waste on you.”

Vera smirked. You’ll wish you continued to banter with me when you see what’s up ahead, inkosi tiikeri. With that, she vanished.

Lilavati couldn’t move. How had the woman known those words? She was fairly certain no one but Theda, Ludger, and Manas knew them. Not even Ariane had heard them, unless Theda told her. Shaking, she started forward, her steps dragging as she moved along the cracked black path.

Two tigers, as immense as Manas when he was in his cursed form, lay on each side of the pathway. Sitting on the ground in between them, was a woman so manged by claw and fang, Lilavati couldn’t identify her at first. Then it finally came together with a sudden rush of insight.

“Upsana,” she said. “Ama’ana.

I haven’t heard that word since the day I died protecting your worthless father and the two of you girls, Upsana said. Though there was nothing left of her face and throat, her words came out clear and strong. Lilavati clung to the sound, as she did the beauty of her people’s language. I’m sure the others told you to fear me.

“I was told I’d face the greatest sorrow I’ve ever known when I came here,” Lilavati said. “It’s you, isn’t it? Or you have something to do with it.”

I do, Upsana said. You are inkosi tiikeri, as I was. But you were never meant to leave Pasir Naik. Your sister-soul waited in the sands for you for many years until she died of a broken heart. It wasn’t your fault, my Ishani. Anup broke his word to me. He knew what the marks on your face meant, your unnatural grace, the way the tiikeri were drawn to you as they’d been to me.

“Why would he keep me away from them then, if he knew I was destined to be with them?” Lilavati asked.

He hated my power, Upsana said. Hated and feared them. He’d lost his own twin sister to a tiikeri. He didn’t want anything to do with them, yet his father forced him to wed an inkosi tiikeri since it both carried a great deal of prestige as well as wealth since my father was one of the wealthiest men in the city at that time.

Lilavati felt a pang of sorrow, and a strong desire to know what would have been had she joined with her sister-soul instead of coming to the northlands. She shook her head. “I may have been destined for a soul-sister in Pasir Naik,” she said. “But here I’ve found more than just a piece of my soul. I’ve found someone who also makes my mind and heart whole.”

Upsana shook her head. Ishani, you can’t stay with him. You belong in the sands. I know you’ve bonded to him, and it’s going to be hard to break it. Especially since you claim to love him and that little cub he sired. But you don’t have a choice. You will take your sister-soul, who waits here with me, and return to Pasir Naik.

“How can I do that? I’ll be killed as soon as I set foot in the city,” Lilavati said. “Father was paid the highest bride price for a daughter not of noble blood. He won’t take it well to find me back on his doorstep – especially with a tiikeri at my side.”

It isn’t to him you must go, Upsana said. It’s to my father and brother. Hasn’t Anup introduced you to my family at all?

“No. He remarried, a woman who’s the epitome of spite and petty evil,” Lilavati said. “I’ve only ever known her as my mother since I believe he used some rogue sorcerer or one of the priests to either eradicate or at the very least block my memories of you and the way I got these scars.” She touched her face.

Upsana shifted her position. That thrice cursed son of a sandworm and a slime crawler,  she snarled, sounding very much like the tiikeri that surely lived inside of her as Lilavati’s did in her. He’s destroyed you, Ishani. He’s taken away the very things that made you special in the eyes of our people.

“Has he?” Lilavati said. She started pacing, something that disturbed the two very large tiikeri next to her mother. “It’s true he refused my bond to my soul-sister. That’s one of the cruelest things he could have done, to both of us. I would rather have bonded to her than anything else. However, I was given an education as no female child was ever allowed. I learned to read, write, and speak seven languages. I learned history and folklore for five different lands. I studied mathematics, science, and the stars. Up until I reached my adulthood, I was allowed to be a scholar. After I took my adult name, I was denied all of that. I was made useless, obsolete, a burden on the family as I waited for a proposal that would never come.” She smiled. “Then my beloved came and freed me.”

He’s imprisoned you, Upsana shouted. If you can’t see that now, then I must force you to, Ishani.

“I am not Ishani any longer, mother,” Lilavati said. “My name is Lilavati. I am a free woman, I am bonded to my tiikeri, cursed though he may be, and I will not give him up.”

So be it, Upsana said. She rose to her feet, as did the two tiikeri beside her. Now it’s time for you to die.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty six

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The two days sped by, too quickly for Lilavati’s peace of mind. Even Manas showed the strain of the upcoming resumption of their journey. The two of them spent as much time as possible with Magda during the day. They relaxed in peaceful quiet at night and in the mornings their desperate passion only heightened their fear that each time would be the last.

Ludger helped get the camp packed up again and they were back on the road. The storms were over and bright sunlight shone down on the rapidly drying road. The horses ridden by the anxiety riddled lord and lady knew something was wrong, and gave the two of them no end of trouble. Finally, Ludger gave them both a calming draught that allowed them to focus more on the road and less on their fears.

Three days were nothing but a fleeting glimpse of time soon to be lost. As they approached the gates to the Halls, a scent so abhorrent to her filled the air that Lilavati gagged. Everyone was doing the same thing as her.

“Fall back,” Manas called. He dismounted, handing the reins of his horse to one of his guards. “We have to go forward on foot, katali.

Lilavati slid off her horse. “I would not subject an animal to the horrors of such a place,” she said. She patted the horse’s neck. She glanced over her shoulder. Ludger, Dieter, and Ludger’s two chosen guards had all formed a protective ring around Christel and Magda. Christel knew of the plan, though Magda did not. At least, Lilavati hoped she didn’t. She was already anxious enough as it was. Fear of having to flee to a new land completely unfamiliar to her was something she didn’t need right now.

Manas took her hand. “Come, katali. Our fates await.”

The two picked their way across the increasingly rugged countryside until they reached a pair of gates that seemed to be made of bone and flesh. “What demon created these fell things?” Lilavati asked, holding one sleeve over her mouth and nose.

“It’s said this was actually created by the Dark of the Twelve,” Manas said, following her example and covering his face. “They wanted a place to test those who wished to serve them. When the rest of the Twelve realized what they’d created, they all imbued it with their own powers and it became the testing ground for some and a punishment for others.”

“How do they open?” Lilavati asked. “I see no latch or bar.”

“Those who seek entrance just touch them,” Manas said, his voice shaking. “If you’re supposed to go in, you’re dragged in. If you’re not, you’re teleported back to wherever you started from.”

“Then let us hope neither of us is sent back to Ludger and the others, for it will mean all visions were wrong and we will be alone and unaided in there,” Lilavati said.

Manas seized her hand. “Together then?” Lilavati nodded. “On the count of three. One. Two. Three.” They touched the horrifying gate at the same time.

A swirl of blood colored smoke surrounded them. Clawed hands made of bone seized hold of them and dragged them through a portal. Even though they struggled to keep a tight grip on each other, the bony appendages forced them apart. Lilavati was thrown one way as Manas was tossed another. Lilavati screamed his name before darkness descended and he was lost to her.

It was the cold that revived her. The cold and the damp mist that engulfed her. She pushed herself to her feet. Something that reminded her of blood soaked her skirt. Sieglinde appeared before her, flesh rotting and one eye hanging from its socket. All I wanted to do was save you from the curse he put on you, Great Lady, she wailed, the gaping slash in her neck spurting blood. Why did you slay me?

“You meant well, Sieglinde,” Lilavati said, trying not to retch at the sight of the dead woman. “I know you did. But the fell preester lied to you, and when you attempted to force me to leave him and I refused, you tried to kill me. I protected myself the only way I knew how.”

Do you feel no remorse? Are you so cold that you can’t accept the fact that you’ve deprived a mother of her daughter, a father of his beloved child? Sieglinde snarled.

“Do I feel remorse for your death? Or guilt? No,” Lilavati said. “I did what I was forced to so I might survive. Do I grieve for your family? I do, and though it will be of little comfort to you I fear, I shall do what I may for them when we return to Phiri Hu.”

You shall never reach the white mountain, Sieglinde spat. The blood of those you’ve murdered will drown you. The flesh of those who’ve died for you will suffocate you, for you are nothing without him. She vanished.

Lilavati shuddered and swallowed a few times to settle her stomach before moving forward. It didn’t take long before another spirit appeared. This one was someone she didn’t recognize.

He was dressed in the armor Manas’ soldiers wore. His stomach had been torn open and his intestines were pouring out of him in long ropes down to his feet. Blood trickled out of one corner of his mouth. Great Lady, why was I forced to die for an outsider who has no care that I’m dead? You don’t even know my name, let alone when I died.

“You are right in saying I do not know your name,” Lilavati said. “I grieve for that. You were a brave man, to face the abominations that attacked us. I do not know if this eases the pain of the dead, but you are responsible for my daughter surviving. For that, I will be grateful for all of my life in this world and the next.”

The soldier tilted his head to one side. You don’t know my name, but you know what battle I died in? he asked.  How is that possible?

“Your injuries,” Lilavati said. “I saw the dead, brave warrior. I know the wounds caused by the talons of those foul beasts.”

The soldier seemed more at peace, something Sieglinde hadn’t been. Great Lady, my name is Gerhardt. Please tell the Great Lord to let my wife know I fell in battle, and to please aid her and my infant daughter. He paused. Great Lady, a sorrow greater than any you’ve yet faced awaits you. I pray to the Twelve you are strong enough to face it. He saluted her and vanished. Lilavati took a deep breath and moved on.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty five

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Manas stared at him, a stunned look on his face. “Three days? I thought we were at least a week out.”

Ludger shook his head. “As we no longer have to worry about Vera, and we have plenty of supplies, I’m taking us on a trail that avoids Hellhome,” he said. “That cuts three days off the journey. So long as no one takes ill or is injured, we’ll be there in the time I’ve given.”

“So we have five days’ grace before we must face what demons await us,” Lilavati said.

Ama’ana, will you be able to accept something sad when you learn it?” Magda asked.

“I will have no other choice, maliit na isa,” Lilavati said. “I have ever been one of the most accepting of disturbing truths all of my life. I will put that willingness to the test in the Halls if I must.”

“Great Lady, you know nothing of the Halls of the Damned if you’re saying that,” one of the guards said. “You aren’t presented with cold, hard facts. You come face to face with the worst emotions and most painful memories of your life. The sadness Lady Magda speaks of? It’ll be enough to drive you mad with grief if you’re not strong enough to cope with it.”

“He’s right, katali,” Manas said. “Now do you see why I fear facing my parents, who I am sure wait for me there?”

Lilavati drew Magda into her lap, pushing away the remnants of her poisoned breakfast. She held the girl tight against her, smelling the faintly floral scent of the girl’s soap. “I do not know then if I will be able to survive this with my mind intact,” she said slowly. “My own visions have nearly driven me to madness on this journey.” Magda looked into her face, fear spreading across her young face. Lilavati’s resolve hardened as she stared into the beautiful eyes, as she looked up and met the amber gaze of the man she loved more than her own life. “Then again, never have I had so much to lose should I fail.” She smiled a ferocious smile. “It will take much to steal my wits, and I will fight to the end to keep them.”

Manas wrapped his arm around her shoulders and took one of his daughter’s hands. “Magda, we will be together again once your mother and I pass through,” he said. “You’re worth fighting for.”

Magda’s eyes filled with tears. “You promise you won’t stop fighting? No matter what the evil spirits say? No matter what you learn while you’re in there? You promise that you’ll try real hard not to let the Halls destroy you?”

“I swear by the Twelve that I won’t give up,” Manas said.

“I swear by the Twelve, and all else I hold holy, that I too will not fail in fighting to the end,” Lilavati said.

“I thought you didn’t revere your gods anymore,” Manas said.

“I hold no care for them,” Lilavati said. “I never have.” She held up her arm, the charm dangling from her wrist. “This is one such image of a thing I hold sacred.”

Manas nodded solemnly. “Ludger, I’m entrusting the safety of Magda to you, to Christel, and to Captain Dittmar,” he said. He lowered his voice. “I expect you’ll be more useful than those two, but still, I want to cover all possibilities.”

“I’ll be at her side, no matter what happens, Great Lord,” Ludger said.

“Walther,” Manas said, getting the attention of one of his guards. “Go get Christel. I think it’s time for Magda to find something else to occupy her time.”

“Why?” Magda asked. “I want to stay with you.”

“Magda, it’s time for the adults to have some private conversations,” Manas said.

“May we have Christel bring her to us again for the noon meal?” Lilavati asked.

“I think so,” Manas said, smiling at his daughter. The smile was strained and didn’t quite reach his eyes. “We might even be able to play a game or two before dinner, if we resolve everything before then.”

“So if I go now I can play with you after lunch?” Magda asked hopefully.

“Yes, maliit na isa,” Lilavati said. “If we are finished with our business.”

“We’ll still play with you even if we’re not done,” Manas said. “It’ll just take us a little longer to get ready for it.”

“All right,” Magda said.

Walther returned with Christel on his heels. Manas gave his orders and the young nursemaid carried the reluctant child away. Manas turned to Ludger. “Old friend, I want you to take two guards, Dieter, and Christel and flee to wherever you think you’ll all be safe if the worst happens,”  he said. “I don’t completely trust my neighbors and you know how I feel about my advisors.”

“Why not any of the others?” Ludger asked.

“Too large of a party will be easier to spot,” Dieter said. “Though a giant, a pair of servants, and two soldiers with a girl with two colored eyes are still going to be noticeable.”

“Not if I do things right we won’t be,” Ludger said. “It won’t look like I’m using magic either.”

“I can think of no lord who’d give us shelter, Great Lord,” Dieter said. “Not with the history Christel and I carry. And not with Magda’s eyes.”

“Then we’ll go north, to the edge of my people’s territory,” Ludger said. “There are villages there that are in areas that aren’t so cold that you’ll freeze to death in the winter, but are remote enough that anyone searching for us will have a next to impossible task.”

“Will the guards here be able to hold their tongues on what we are discussing?” Lilavati asked suddenly. “The most unfortunate thing to happen would be for our enemies to learn of our plans and thwart them.”

“Don’t worry, Great Lady,” Ludger said with a wink. “I’ve taken care of that.”

“As I knew you would,” Manas said. “Katali, Magda will be well cared for if we fall victim to the demons within the Halls. Dieter, I’m charging you with writing the chronicles of everything that happened – both when my parents ruled as well as during my days as lord of Phiri Hu.” He paused. “Should we come out alive and well, you’ll begin this saga when we return to the keep and continue it until such time as our son – or Magda’s husband – takes lordship in my place.”

Dieter blinked at him. “Great Lord, Master Chronicler is a high position. I’m just a scribe. You can’t believe I’ll be a good fit for that.”

“I do believe it, and I’m sure my lady does as well,” Manas said. Lilavati nodded her agreement.

“Very well then, Great Lord,” Dieter said. “The Chronicles will be written.”

“Then let us spend what time we have left in the company of loved ones and friends,” Lilavati said. “For we do not know if we will see each other again.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty four

tiger-1955117_640

Ludger and Dieter arrived at the same time, both men with their breakfasts. The servant returned with the other food. “Ludger, please check this food for poison,” Lilavati said. Manas looked at her with some surprise. “After what we have realized? I do not trust more than a few now.”

Ludger held his hands over the food. A light mist settled over what sat in front of them. Manas’ cider glowed as did Lilavati’s slab of ham. “Those are both full of poison, Great Lady,” he said.

The servant frowned. “They came from the hands of one of the cook’s servants. She said she’d taken great care with them,” he said.

“Which one?” Dieter asked.

“Saskia,” the servant said.

“I have no servant with that name that I recall,” Manas said. He looked at Dieter. “You have a better idea of who I have in my employ, however. Is that name familiar to you?”

Dieter shook his head. “I’ve never heard it before in all the years I’ve been in your service, and I’ve spoken with each and every person who lives in the servants’ quarters.”

“Saskia,” Lilavati murmured. The men looked at her. Magda pulled on her braids as she looked from face to face. “Does that name not mean ‘knife’ or ‘blade’ in your tongue?”

Captain Dittmar, who’d just walked up, grabbed hold of the servant. “What did this woman look like?” he demanded.

“Small, like Margareta, with red hair and green eyes,” the servant said. “She has freckles all over her face too, and was wearing a dark gray homespun dress.”

The captain spun on his heels and ran back towards the camp with two of his men in tow. “He won’t find her,” Magda said.

“Why not?” Dieter asked.

“She turned into smoke,” Magda said. “The black man took her away just like he put her here before everyone woke up.”

Manas swore. “Magda, why don’t you start with what you know? Then we’ll go on with our conversation.” He glanced over his shoulder at the servant. “You’re dismissed.”

The man looked miserable as he slunk off. “It was not his fault, sikha. If the creature who impersonated a servant was brought here by dark magic, then it would mean nothing to her creator to use another spell to cloud the mind of those who saw her,” Lilavati said. She glanced at Ludger. “I understand that kind of magic, though uncommon, is possible.”

Ludger nodded, careful not to draw too much attention to himself. “I’ve heard that myself, Great Lady, though I’ve not got the talent to dabble in it myself.”

“Magda, tell us what the blue eyed lady has said,” Manas said.

Magda played with the amulet around her neck. “She says that you have to go to the Halls of the Damned. The black man knows you’re going, and he knows if you go through you’ll learn things he doesn’t want you to learn. So he’s been trying to stop you ever since he learned you were taking a black skinned bride.”

“Is the black man dark like me?” Lilavati asked.

“She doesn’t say so, but I think he is,” Magda said. “Or he knows your land at least, because he knows about some of the magic from your home.” For being only five years old, Lilavati was impressed with just how intelligent Magda was and how she seemed to know exactly what not to say. She wondered if the girl’s mother was guiding her somehow. “He’s the one who sent the silent assassin with the poisoned cloud to your home. When it failed, he sent the poison rain. After that, he kept trying more and more direct methods. The evil preester wasn’t part of his plans and he got really angry when she started getting involved too.”

“So Theda wasn’t part of his plans?” Ludger asked.

Magda shook her head. “He doesn’t know what she was after,” she said. “Neither does the blue eyed lady. All she knows is that the evil preester didn’t get what she wanted.” She frowned. “The blue eyed lady says that the black man won’t ever confront you directly while you’re traveling. He wants you home. She doesn’t know why.” Magda shrugged. “That’s all she’s told me.”

“So at least we know who’s been trying to stop us from getting there,” Manas said. “Now I want to know who’s had a hand in pushing us on the path to reach them.”

“Great Lord?” Ludger asked.

“My katali and I realized something this morning as we talked,” Manas said. “Magda only confirmed what we already guessed – that there was a dark sorcerer trying to hinder our path. We feel there is something of the Light, or at least of the Grey, that’s attempting to make certain we reach there.”

“Who or what is it, though?” Dieter asked.

“That is what we do not know,” Lilavati said. She frowned. “Sikha, what do you mean ‘of the Grey?'”

“With the Twelve, and among most of those in all the Northlands who use both divine and secular magic, there are three parts,” Manas said. “Light, Grey, and Dark. With the Twelve, there are four of each. That way there’s always a balance among them. The Grey walk the line between both Light and Dark, drawing power from both sides, but not being truly a part of either.”

“It’s the same for the Grey preesters and sorcerers,” Ludger said. “I include anyone, man or woman, who uses anything other than divine magic in that, Great Lady, that follows the path of the Grey.” He paused. “I myself am one of the Grey.”

“There is so much I do not know of this land, and yet I am expected to become one of the ruling elite,” Lilavati said, rubbing her temples.

“It’s your lack of knowledge that will actually help you here,” Dieter said. “Great Lord, you said you wanted to change things. The Great Lady will definitely give you that ability.”

“Yes she will,” Manas said. “Assuming we both survive the Halls of the Damned. Assuming we make it there in the first place.”

“He won’t try to stop you anymore,” Magda said, looking off into the distance. “The blue eyed lady says he’s changing his place of attack. He will go after Phiri Hu, when you’re back there. She doesn’t know when or how though.”

“The fact that we know he’s going to leave us alone is somewhat comforting,” Manas said.

“Visions aren’t always true, Great Lord,” Ludger said.

“We will be on our guard, Ludger,” Manas said. He avoided the poisoned cider and worked on the rest of his breakfast, passing part of his ham to Lilavati. She in turn shared her cider with him. “How much longer to the Halls?”

Ludger pulled out his map and consulted it. “If we leave here in two days, which I would prefer as it will give me time to finish building back up my energy, we’ll reach it in three days.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty three

tiger-1955117_640

Manas seemed even more confused. “Katali, I have been human again for less than a quarter of an hour. Could you perhaps explain your thoughts before we send for anyone else?”

Lilavati blinked. She felt her face grow warm. “I sometimes forget what I articulate in my dreams I have not yet spoken aloud,” she said. “I am sorry.” She took a moment to gather her thoughts. “Sikha, I believe that everything that has happened to us – from the very first assassin that was sent to claim my life to the cursed wound – has been to prevent us from reaching the Halls of the Damned.”

“Why would that be, since even we didn’t know we’d be going that way until Ludger pretty much tricked me into choosing it?” Manas asked. He paused. “You don’t think Ludger is behind this, do you?”

Lilavati shook her head. “No. I do still believe he is among the most loyal of your servants, though I would consider making him an advisor when we return to Phiri Hu. There is someone else, someone greater, who has been trying to stop this. I also believe that an even higher power desires us to pass through this terrible place, perhaps for no other purpose than to put our demons to rest.”

Manas drew her into his lap and held her. “Who could be behind all of this?” he asked. “On both sides of the coin?”

“I am not certain of either answer,” Lilavati said.

“Do you think it’s the Twelve taking us to the Halls?” Manas asked.

Lilavati shook her head. “There is no feeling of the divine in this. I have felt the magic of the Twelve, both from Theda and from Ariane. It is also not the northern magic such as Ludger uses. There is not the chill of ice and snow in the sensations my tiikeri and I felt last night, though it did turn my blood cold when I encountered them.”

“Is it dark magic?” Manas asked.

Lilavati frowned. “I do not know. I can only say what we can comprehend. Our knowledge of your land is limited to what I gained from books and what has been learned while traveling with you. Emotions you have words for I do not, just as feelings I have words for you do not.”

“Can’t you at least try?” Manas asked. “I’m going to need more to go on with Ludger other than your sixth sense.”

Lilavati sighed and leaned her forehead against his cheek. She knew he needed more information, but trying to explain what she felt was hard. “Sikha, there are literally no words in your language to convey what my tiikeri and I encountered last night. None. I need the words and understandings of my people in order to even begin to explain it.”

“Then tell me,” Manas said, switching flawlessly from the northern tongue to her own. “Or did you forget I bargained for you in your own language.”

“I had,” Lilavati said.

She laid out the complex set of emotions and sensations that came from both the revelation she’d had that allowed her to save his life as well as visions that came from her dreams. Manas asked questions where he needed to and let her fill in the blanks as she felt the need to.

Manas shook his head. “You’re right, katali,” he said, switching back to the northern language. “We need Ludger. We also need baths, clean clothes, and breakfast.”

“Let us take care of bathing and clothing first,” Lilavati said. “Then we may eat and speak with Ludger at the same time, if he is awake.”

“I hope he is,” Manas said. “Because I think he’s the only one who’ll be able to help us make sense of all of this.”

“We have sorted out much of it, my sikha,” Lilavati said. “Do not discount what we have already resolved on our own.”

“I don’t,” Manas said. “Neither of us know who might be pulling us in the directions we’ve been thrown in however, and he might.” Lilavati inclined her head in acceptance of his answer. He sent her to bathe first. When she stepped out, her clothing was warming by the fire. He took her place at the basin. She slid into yet another northern dress and bound her hair into a single braid after brushing the tangles out of it.

When Manas was ready, the two of them left the tent. No one seemed aware of the terrifying battle that had gone on inside it the night before. However, Ludger was waiting for them. He gave them both a worried look. “Great Lord, Great Lady, is all well?” he asked.

“Not entirely, old friend,” Manas said wearily. He gestured to the bandage on his arm. “This caused me some pain last night. It wasn’t anything my katali couldn’t figure out how to handle, but it was…close.”

Ludger winced. “Great Lady, why didn’t you come to me? I would’ve helped you,” he said.

“I was not able to leave him,” Lilavati said. Ludger raised an eyebrow. “Situations arose while I attempted to take care of the wound that prevented me from leaving the tent.”

Ludger paled. “But beyond your wound, there were no other injuries?” he asked.

Lilavati held out her hands. “I was burnt when I tried to use wood from the fire to cauterize the flesh,” she said with a shrug. “I am neither a healer nor the most skilled when it comes to my hands, though the rest of my movements are filled with grace.”

“Ludger, have you eaten?” Manas asked, redirecting him from his line of questioning.

“No, Great Lord,” the northern sorcerer said.

“Then get your breakfast and join us. We have much to discuss,” Manas said. Ludger bowed and headed off. Manas turned to one of the servants who always appeared in the morning. Lilavati took note of the person, how they looked, how they smelled, how clear their eyes were. She no longer trusted anyone, not even those she tasked with caring for Magda. That sent a shot of fear through her. Manas sent the man for breakfast, ignoring Lilavati’s sudden distress.

Before she could speak, a tiny figure flung itself onto her leg. “Ama’ana,” Magda said, clinging to her. She looked up at her with her dual colored eyes. “The black haired lady came to me last night. She said I had to be here. She said I have to tell you what I know. She says it’ll answer some of yours and father’s questions.”

“Christel, has she eaten?” Lilavati asked, looking at the pale haired nursemaid.

“Yes, Great Lady,” Christel said. “I wouldn’t let her join you until I was certain she was ready for the day.” She paused. “Do you wish me to stay, Great Lady? Or will you just call for me when this gathering is over.” She smiled ruefully. “I have a feeling this is more of something Dieter would be useful for rather than me.”

“Send him here and then help around the camp where you can until you’re summoned,” Manas said. “We may need his insight in this as well.” Christel dropped into a curtsy and hurried off back into the central camp. “We may need the knowledge of everyone we can get, if what we fear is true.”

to be continued…

 

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