Tiger, Tiger – Part eleven

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The liquid seared her throat and burned its way down into her stomach. Lilavati choked and spluttered, gasping for breath. Manas shifted his grip so he could keep her propped up. “How long will it take to work?” he asked.

“It depends, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “On how much of the poison she’s absorbed and how far it’s worked into her system. If it has reached too many vital organs, this means nothing. She will be dead in minutes anyway.”

Lilavati kept her eyes fixed on Manas’ face. While she didn’t yet love him, she wanted her last sight – if her death was to come – to be of the one man who saw more value in her than in countless more beautiful women he’d seen on his travels. The blur the blood and poison made him kept her from seeing details. That didn’t matter to her. Just the knowledge that someone wanted her was enough.

As she continued watching, more and more of his face became clear. The pain ebbed in some places and her breathing returned to normal. She choked and spit out a clump of blood. Before Manas could say anything, she held up one bandaged hand. “I’m no longer dying, Manas. It was caught in my throat. That’s all,” she said, her voice still raspy from the coughing and the passage of the partially dried blood.

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

“How do you think?” Lilavati asked. “Weak, exhausted, and in pain. Bloodrain is not a poison that many recover from.”

“Yes, and those that do often have lingering effects,” Ludger said. “Such as weakened lungs, bleeding disorders, and possible early deaths because their organs are too badly damaged to give them their natural lifespan.”

“If that’s what we have to deal with then we will,” Manas said. “Lilavati, will you be able to ride?”

“I can answer that,” Ludger said. “She will, but you’ll have to tie her to her saddle in some way. She won’t be able to keep her balance well enough to keep from falling off.”

“I’m wiling to try without the bindings,” Lilavati said. “I’ve never fallen in my life, no matter how ill I became. What my face lacks in appeal my body has acquired in balance and agility.”

Ludger gave Manas an odd look. Manas shook his head. Ludger shrugged. “I’d recommend against it, Great Lady. No matter how skilled you are. However, if you wish to attempt it I won’t stop you.” He looked at Manas. “Just make sure you have some kind of rope or other bindings waiting, Great Lord. You’ll need them.” With that, he stalked off.

“Manas, we must burn everything that has my blood on it,” Lilavati said. “Or find something to destroy it. I cannot leave such a rich source of material for any sorcerer who happens along our trail to use against me.”

“Agreed,” Manas said. “Is Sieglinde taking down your tent?” Lilavati nodded. “Go to her. If it’s already down, ask her to help you get cleaned up and into a new dress.”

“I will try,” Lilavati said.

“Do you want me to help you to where you had your tent?” Manas asked.

“That might be helpful, as I’m not sure my legs will support me right now,” Lilavati said. “At least, not very well.”

Manas eyed her and then scooped her up into his arms. “You’re not very heavy, my dark scholar. Do you even eat?”

“I eat enough to satisfy myself,” Lilavati said with a small smile. She was trying to relax, but the feeling of Manas so close to her sent a strange thrill through her entire body.

It wasn’t the sense of desire. It was the lure of mystery. There was something that no one was telling her and she needed to find out what. She had a feeling it was the key to why no one was permitted to go outside at night.

They got back to the place where the black and gold tent had been. Sieglinde was shoving into its pack. “Sieglinde, find Lilavati a place to bathe, and assist her in getting into a new gown,” Manas said. “She was poisoned by magic and is in need of some care before we leave.”

“Of course, Great Lord,” Sieglinde said as Manas set Lilavati down.

Lilavati swayed a little on her feet. Sieglinde came and braced her as she watched her soon-to-be husband stride off. “He is a very strange man, Sieglinde,” Lilavati said as the other woman led her off to the side, a short distance from the camp. There was more cover there so Lilavati could have some semblance of privacy as she got cleaned up.

“Why do you say that, Great Lady?” Sieglinde asked.

“He knew the name I spoke when I mentioned the poison that was killing me,” Lilavati said. “It is an extremely rare poison, even among my people. Yet he is learned enough to have at least heard of it. He travels with a man who seems a giant and yet is a mage?” This was more a question than a statement.

“You mean Ludger,” Sieglinde said, helping Lilavati strip out of the blood caked silk. “He is no giant, Great Lady, though to you I suppose he seems that way. He comes from a land far to the north of Phiri Hu. The Great Lord met him there and they struck up a kind of friendship, though they are still lord and servant. I’m not sure how long Ludger has been with him. He was already in the Great Lord’s household when I took service with him.”

Sieglinde poured water over Lilavati until she was soaked and most of the blood had been sluiced off. “I’ll finish this part, Sieglinde,” Lilavati said. “Please bring me one of my dresses. This whole thing has delayed us enough, and I don’t think Manas wants to be slowed down much longer. Even if he is concerned about me.” Sieglinde nodded and hurried off back to where Lilavati’s saddlebags were sitting. Lilavati continued scrubbing at the blood in her hair and on her face.

to be continued…

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Tiger, Tiger – Part ten

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Manas pulled the scarf from around his neck and tore it into two pieces. He wrapped them around Lilavati’s hands, trying to stop the bleeding. She started shaking. Her lungs were on fire and her chest was too tight. She tried to cough but her throat closed off and she couldn’t get it out. She was barely able to breathe.

Lilavati realized more blood was trickling down from her forehead as it dripped into her eyes. She looked up at Manas, knowing the fear she was feeling would show on her face. Her knees buckled and she started to fall.

Manas caught her. “You will not be leaving me this way, my dark scholar,” he said through gritted teeth.

“I may have no choice,” Lilavati said. Her voice was no louder than a whisper and she felt as if knives were slicing her throat when she did speak.

“Ludger, I need you,” Manas shouted.

Lilavati’s eyes were filling with blood, but she could still see the unbelievably tall, broad, and lumbering man that limped up. “What can I do for you, Great Lord?” he asked in a gravelly voice. She saw him shake his head. “By the Twelve, what’s going on?”

“She said something was wrong with the mist and then this happened,” Manas said. “Has no one else reported injuries or illness?”

“I’ve had a few complaints about headaches but that’s it,” Ludger said. He held out his hands over Lilavati’s head. “Its a curse, Great Lord. A very potent one. It’s been directed solely at her, using some kind of token tied to her. My guess is either her blood or, more likely, strands of her hair.”

“Can you stop it from killing her?” Manas asked.

“I’m not sure, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “I don’t even know what kind of curse this is.”

“Well, figure it out,” Manas snapped.

“I’ll try, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “But I am no god, though you have named me as one on more than one occasion. I can’t do everything.”

Manas held her as Ludger set his hands over her heart. “Why there?” Manas asked.

“She’s bleeding out of every pore, and soon – if I read the curse right – out of every orifice,” Ludger said. “The heart is what drives the blood through the body, Great Lord. If I can find the curse there, I can remove it.”

Something tickled at the back of Lilavati’s mind but she was too disoriented to catch it. She continued chasing it while the giant of a man used his magic to try to save her life. “She is worsening, Ludger,” Manas said.

“I cannot find the source, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “It’s as if a poison straight from the gods has entered her body.”

Poison. That was what she was trying to remember. A virulent poison she’d seen used once before, on an enemy of her father’s. It was only effective if applied to the skin or breathed in.

Lilavati tugged on Manas’ sleeve to get his attention, her weakness making it hard to even lift her fingers. Manas looked at her. “Poison,” she whispered. She struggled to speak. “Bloodrain.”

Manas swore. “Ludger, can a poison be targeted for a single person with magic, and then spread across an entire group?”

“Yes Great Lord,” Ludger said. Lilavati’s eyes were so caked with blood she could no longer see him, but she heard the intake of breath. “Which one?”

“She called it ‘bloodrain,'” Manas said.

Ludger swore even more fluently and creatively than Manas. “Great Lord, that poison has few antidotes, and I don’t know that I carry any of them with me.”

“Check,” Manas said.

There was silence for several moments, time that felt like an eternity to Lilavati. Finally Ludger returned. “I have one that may work, Great Lord. It isn’t a common antidote because it doesn’t have a high success rate, but it’s all that I can find.”

“How do you use it?” Manas asked.

“I pour it down her throat,” Ludger said. “But it won’t do any good until I clear away the mist that has targeted her.”

“Then do it,” Manas said. “She’s dying and I won’t be able to safe her if you can’t do something about it.”

“Hold onto something, men,” Ludger shouted, deafening Lilavati and making Manas snarl in pain. There was something not quite human in the sound, but Lilavati soon lost track of that thought when a strong wind started swirling around her.

It cooled the burning in her skin, pulled some of the dried blood from her face, and gave her much needed fresh air. The ache in her chest eased a little. When the wind finally died down, Ludger returned. “There’s some color back in her face,” Manas said.

“Then perhaps she isn’t as far gone as I feared,” Ludger said. “Great Lady, can you open your mouth?” It took a moment for Lilavati to realize he was talking to her. Her jaw ached and didn’t want to move. The stubborn flame in her that prevented her from killing herself out of despair all her life, that kept her from giving up during the previous attack by the assassin, drove her to fight once more. With an extreme effort of will, she slowly moved her jaw down until he could fit the stopper of the bottle into her mouth. He dumped the entire thing in.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part nine

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The questions continued for a little while longer, before Sieglinde suggested that it was time to sleep. “The Great Lord will want to leave not long after dawn, Great Lady. I will continue to stay with you for a few more days and we can continue talking tomorrow night.”

Lilavati yawned. “I wasn’t going to be able to stay awake that much longer anyway,” she said. “I was attacked by an assassin early this morning and I am exhausted.”

Sieglinde gave her a sharp look. “An assassin? Did you tell the Great Lord?” Lilavati shook her head. “Do so in the morning. He must know.”

“I will,” Lilavati said. Sieglinde helped her change into her nightgown and tucked her into bed as if she were a small child. It brought Lilavati some comfort. It didn’t take long for her to fall asleep.

It seemed like she’d just closed her eyes when Sieglinde woke her. “Great Lady, we must make ready to break camp soon. You should get up and get ready. I’ve already heated the water so you can wash. I’d do it quickly so you can eat. I know you prefer cooking for yourself, but I let you sleep longer because of how late we were up last night so I fixed you some food.”

“Thank you, Sieglinde,” Lilavati said.

“Great Lady, did you thank your slaves when they served you?” Sieglinde asked.

“No,” Lilavati said as she stripped out of her nightgown. “But if anyone other than a slave did something for me I showed my gratitude. As you’re not a slave, expect to be thanked. It is a habit I refuse to break, even if you are a servant.”

“Great Lady, you are truly a unique individual,” Sieglinde said. “I think I’m beginning to see why the Great Lord chose you above all others we have seen on our journey.”

“I’m beginning to enjoy having been chosen by him,” Lilavati said. “I enjoy a good mystery, and a challenge.” She began washing herself with the soft cloth that was sitting next to the basin. She considered saying her morning prayers but decided not to. Of what use were they? They’d never gotten her anything. She finished cleaning up and put on another new travel dress. She twisted and turned, admiring the bronze and silver gown, loving the feel of the silk against her skin.

“Great Lady, that gown is beautiful, but is it practical? It’s made of silk,” Sieglinde said.

“I don’t know what the silk is like where you’re from, Sieglinde,” Lilavati said. “But among my people, silk is almost as strong as leather. It is the most common fabric we wear.”

Sieglinde looked puzzled. “How is that even possible, Great Lady?”

Lilavati shrugged. “I am not a weaver, Sieglinde. I’ve never seen it made. I only have what I’ve been told and experienced to go by.”

Sieglinde handed her a bowl of boiled grain. Dried fruit sat on top along with a scraping of brown sugar. Lilavati ate quickly, urged to go even faster by Sieglinde. As Lilavati passed the dish back to her, Manas’ voice could be heard over the other sounds of the camp.

“Great Lady, you go speak with the Great Lord while I break everything down here,” Sieglinde said. “I can do this faster without you here. I’ll teach you how when we have more time in the morning.”

“I would be glad to, but how do I leave?” Lilavati asked.

“Great Lady, do you see the seam there?” Sieglinde said, gesturing to the front of the tent.

Lilavati looked. It took a moment but she found a thin line of light. “I found it.”

“Take your finger and run it down where the sun is the brightest,” Sieglinde said. Lilavati did what she was told. The flap opened and revealed a beautiful morning. There was some mist on the ground but the sun was in the sky and she knew it would soon burn off the strange precipitation.

As she stepped out, she frowned. The fog felt wrong against her skin. She ducked back into her tent and grabbed her knife, tucking it into her belt. She hurried towards where she heard Manas. He was standing there, watching his men pack their things.

“Good morning, Lilavati,” he said, smiling at her. “Did you sleep well?”

“I did,” she said. “Once I went to bed.”

“Ah, you were up late questioning Sieglinde,” Manas said.

“Yes, and I have many more questions,” Lilavati said. She shivered and rubbed her arms. “Manas, this fog isn’t natural.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“It burns across my skin,” Lilavati said. “It stings my nose.” She paused. “You can’t feel it?”

Manas paused. He pulled off his gloves and took a deep breath. He started coughing. “In the names of the Twelve, what is this?”

“I don’t know, but I fear this is meant to kill,” Lilavati said. She hesitated and then added, “And it isn’t the first time someone has tried to take my life.”

“What do you mean?” Manas asked sharply. Lilavati told him about the mute slave’s attack on her. “Why didn’t you tell me this yesterday?”

“I didn’t think it that important,” Lilavati said. “My father and I dealt with the situation and I wasn’t harmed.”

Manas gripped her shoulders. “My dark flame, if something were to happen to you, I’d be very upset.”

“Something is happening to me,” Lilavati said, glancing down at her hands. She held them up. Tiny rivulets of blood, like thin lines of red ink, trailed down her fingers and dripped to the ground. “I’m bleeding and I believe it’s because of this mist.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eight

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Lilavati knew Sieglinde was watching her as she worked, so she took great care not to embarrass herself by doing something so stupid as cut or burn her fingers. “Great Lady, how did you learn to cook?” Sieglinde asked from her corner.

“My family was reluctant to let me eat with them because of how ugly I am,” Lilavati said. “So I needed to take care of my own needs. At first I went to the kitchen and the slaves fed me. Then I grew tired of that. So I had one of them teach me to cook. While my family ate what they wished, I was able to do the same.”

“Slaves, Great Lady? Your people keep slaves?” Sieglinde asked. She seemed very disturbed by the idea.

“Sieglinde, Manas gave my father one hundred slaves as part of my bride price,” Lilavati said. “Did you not know that?”

Sieglinde looked ill. “I know the Great Lord said he was going to have to do it, in order to secure you, but I didn’t think he was serious.”

“Slavery is a way of life among my people,” Lilavati said. “Just as servants instead of slaves is a way of life among yours.”

Sieglinde shook her head. “I keep forgetting that not all lands are like the Great Lord’s.” She smiled ruefully. “I wish it were so, for Phiri Hu is a paradise as far as I am concerned.”

“But will I find it so?” Lilavati asked. “I am not the same as you, Sieglinde. As you pointed out, all lands are different and what you consider paradise I might consider part of the eleven hells.”

“Eleven hells Great Lady?” Sieglinde asked. “Is that part of your religion?”

“It is, though I’ve never really given much thought or care for it,” Lilavati said. “The gods cursed me with this face, though they gifted me with cleverness, grace, and an honorable streak that has gotten me into trouble more than once because I wouldn’t divulge secrets I was given in confidence.”

“You can keep a secret well then,” Sieglinde said.

Lilavati nodded. “I find that keeping them is far easier than explaining to the person who confided in me why I broke their trust.”

“Great Lady, do you wish to know anything about where we’re going?” Sieglinde asked.

“Actually, yes I do,” Lilavati said as she stirred the tiny pot that rested over the coals. “I have several questions, though I don’t know how many you can answer. My first is why must we be locked away at night?”

Sieglinde hesitated. “Great Lady, I think that is something best left until we get to Phiri Hu. That is for the Great Lord to explain, as it is his orders.”

Lilavati nodded. “I thought as much.” She tasted what she was cooking. The spices were different from what she was used to, but it wasn’t bad. It didn’t look like the meat was all the way rehydrated yet so she continued stirring. “Sieglinde, is there a curse at work here?”

Sieglinde choked. “Great Lady?”

Lilavati shook her head. “Sieglinde, Manas chose me because I’m intelligent. I’m not a fool. We have to be sealed away in our tents by nightfall. We can’t leave else Manas can’t guarantee our safety. We are still near enough to my city for me to know there are no night prowling beasts here that could harm us. So, the only reason for this edict is because there is some kind of curse at work.”

“I can’t confirm that, Great Lady,” Sieglinde said. “Or deny it. That is something you’ll have to ask the Great Lord in the morning.”

“I believe I shall,” Lilavati asked. The meat looked like it was through cooking and she pulled the pot off the fire. She hooked it to the cunning little bracket on the tripod that held it. She scooped the contents out into a bowl to let it cool a bit before eating. “Sieglinde, everyone here is so pale?”

Sieglinde laughed. “It’s because we come from a land that isn’t as hot as yours, Great Lady. The sun doesn’t bake us. It gives us light and gentle warmth. It feeds our crops, as does the rain.”

“Rain?” Lilavati sat up. “You have rain?”

“Of course, Great Lady. Do you not see that here?”

“We do, but not often. It is a moment of great rejoicing when it does come,” Lilavati said. “It shows the Thousand Gods are pleased with us.”

“You have a thousand gods?” Sieglinde asked. “We only have twelve.”

Lilavati laughed. “I doubt there are really a thousand. But as I said, I question the validity of our religion. I have seen no miracles, no proof of the power of our priests and priestesses. They have given me no answers as to why I was cursed. So I have no desire to pursue a relationship with the gods of my people.”

“Perhaps the Twelve will give you an answer,” Sieglinde said. “They are very close to our people, Great Lady. You will have to learn their ways and how to honor them. But it isn’t hard and I think you’ll find them far more responsive than you’re used to.”

“That sounds quite intriguing, Sieglinde. Now, another question. Just how much water do you have in Phiri Hu?” Lilavati asked.

“Oh, we have lakes that span miles, Great Lady,” Sieglinde said. “And rivers as wild as anything you’ve seen. Phiri Hu even borders the sea, though I’ve never seen it.”

“The sea?” Lilavati felt a rush of excitement. “I’ve wanted to go there since I was a little girl and first learned of it in one of the books I purchased from a merchant of the east.”

“Perhaps the Great Lord will take you there one day,” Sieglinde said.

“That I would love,” Lilavati said.

 

Tiger, Tiger – Part seven

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Sieglinde took Lilavati to the front of the line. No one objected. In fact, they made way for her. “Great Lady, what do you need?” the grizzled, scarred veteran in a well worn uniform asked.

“She doesn’t yet know, Harshad. This is her first time,” Sieglinde said.

Harshad shook his head. “We don’t have time to explain it to her, Sieglinde.”

“Just give me everything. I’ll explain it to the Great Lady as we go,” Sieglinde said. “I’ll take care of her.”

“All right.” Harshad handed several packages to Sieglinde. Two other servants broke off from the group after a quick, whispered conversation. Several worried looks were cast at the position of the sun. They followed Sieglinde and Lilavati.

Lilavati watched as the two men took the largest pack from Sieglinde. “Watch this, Great Lady. You will most likely never have to do it on your own, but if it does happen, you’ll need to know how it’s done.”

Lilavati moved closer. The guards laid a black and gold pack on the ground. There were two cords – one was green and the other was white. The first servant pulled the green one. The pack started unrolling on its own. It unfolded and spread out on the ground, proving to be a large square of black and gold fabric.

Once it was done moving, the second servant reached down and grabbed the white cord, which was still in the same position on the front right corner. It vanished inside a little cloth channel Lilavati hadn’t seen before. As it slithered through the fabric, the tent – for that’s what this was – straightened and filled out. In a matter of seconds, a tent large enough for two people rested in front of them. The other servants bowed and left.

“Does it not need to be staked down?” Lilavati asked. “I may not have done this before, but I know what I’ve read in my father’s books.”

Sieglinde shook her head. “It’s part of the magic.” She glanced at the eastern skyline. “Great Lady, we must get inside. Now.”

Lilavati looked east and saw that the sun was almost down. Sieglinde showed her how to get inside before following her in and closing the door. “How do you secure this, Sieglinde?” Lilavati asked, gesturing to the entrance.

“Like this, Great Lady,” Sieglinde said. She pointed to a third cord Lilavati hadn’t seen before. It was a turquoise one. “You simply pull here.” She demonstrated. As Lilavati watched, the seam vanished.

Lilavati raised an eyebrow. “You really don’t want me leaving the tent at night.”

“Everyone’s shelters do this,” Sieglinde said. “You will see the seam in the morning and I can show you how to open it then.”

“Does even Manas have this kind of shelter?” Lilavati asked.

“He has his own form of protection,” Sieglinde said.

“What is the rest of this?” Lilavati asked.

Sieglinde spent the next several minutes showing her what each item was. The strange, thin roll of violet and silver silk turned out to be a very comfortable sleeping pad. The pillows and blanket were normal. A deep basin was set to the side until a metal tripod could be set up. Then it was set on top and secured with three latches. Sieglinde poured a few coals in from the tiny sack they’d been given.

“This coal is special, Great Lady. It is compacted down many times so it will burn for hours if it is allowed to do so,” Sieglinde said. She rummaged through the pile of things in front of her, looking for something.

Lilavati realized the tent was well lit even though the sun was down and there were no lamps or lanterns. “Sieglinde, how do we have light when there’s no source?” she asked.

“The tent itself is the source, Great Lady,” Sieglinde said. “It won’t last very long, perhaps fifteen minutes. So we must be quick.” She found what she was looking for. “Ah, here they are.”

Lilavati frowned. “What are those?”

Sieglinde was holding a tightly wrapped cylinder made up of several small slivers of wood. They looked like they were tipped with wax and something else. “Spark sticks, Great Lady,” Sieglinde said. “Watch.”

Sieglinde pulled one out of the cylinder and ran the tip across the outside of the brazier’s basin. To Lilavati’s surprise it sparked and caught fire. “It is magic,” she said.

Sieglinde laughed. “Not magic, Great Lady. It’s made up of some simple elements common to the Great Lord’s lands. Every cottage wife and huntsman can make these.”

Lilavati watched as Sieglinde dropped the spark stick onto the coals. They flared and burned, first blue and then bright orange. Sieglinde set a grate over the top. Then she laid out the food supplies as well as tucking a chamber pot into the corner. A smaller basin was set to the side near it. A large skin of water was put on the floor beside that.

“What else do we have?” Lilavati asked.

Sieglinde continued showing her what was there. There was the rest of the food, a skin of wine, another water skin – this one larger than what was over by the chamber pot – was put near the brazier so it could be warmed for a crude bath. Knives, cookware, eating utensils, plates, and the food itself was laid out.

“Great Lady, do you wish me to cook for you tonight?” Sieglinde asked.

“No Sieglinde,” Lilavati said. “I’d like to do it for myself.”

“Then I will take my food over to the other side,” Sieglinde said. She picked up a small, round loaf and took a cup of the wine and moved across to the opposite side of the tent. Lilavati sat down in front of the supplies and started chopping a few vegetables.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part six

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A white skinned woman with pale gold hair and the most brilliant blue eyes Lilavati had ever seen rode up to them. “Have I been hearing my name?” she asked.

Manas nodded. “Sieglinde, Lilavati knows nothing yet of our situation. While I don’t want her kept in ignorance, the less she knows until we reach Phiri Hu the better. There will be time enough to explain everything once we reach the manor. For now, teach her what she needs to survive the night, show her where everything is in the morning, and make her ready to greet my people.”

“Of course, Great Lord,” Sieglinde said. She smiled at Lilavati. “Great Lady, it is a true pleasure to meet you. Our Great Lord spoke highly of you when he rejoined us last night and I hope to know more of you this evening when we are together.”

“I look forward to it as well, Drishti,” Lilavati said. Sieglinde smiled before falling back to join the rest of the servants.

“You may ask Sieglinde anything you wish, but if she is forbidden from answering she’ll tell you that. Don’t press her if she does, for I’ll become very angry if you do,” Manas said. “And do not start questioning her until after she explains how things are done here.”

“I’d rather know all of the rules first before I satisfy the scholar inside of me,” Lilavati said. “For though I dislike secrets, I know everyone has them and since I have to, I’ll learn to live with yours.”

“All will be explained to you when we reach my home, Lilavati,” Manas said. “Please be patient.” Lilavati nodded. Patient was one thing she knew how to be.

They rode without stopping until the sun got closer to the horizon. Manas called a halt. Sieglinde appeared at Lilavati’s elbow. “If you will follow me, Great Lady, I will show you where to collect your tent and supplies. Then the other servants will put it up for you.” She paused. “Can you cook, Great Lady?”

“I can, and I prefer to make my own food, if I have the choice,” Lilavati said.

Sieglinde led her towards where the soldiers and servants were pulling things off of pack animals and out of supply wagons. “Great Lady, you ride as if you were born to the saddle, yet the Great Lord says women of your people rarely leave their homes once they reach a certain age. How is it possible you can ride a whole day and not fall off at least once?”

“A talent of mine,” Lilavati said, a little of the bitterness she still felt towards her parents welling to the surface. “I have a knack for moving in whatever way I must to maintain my balance. That includes when riding a horse.”

“Are you sore in any way, Great Lady?” Sieglinde asked.

“I may not have fallen off, Sieglinde, but I’ve still never spent this long in the saddle,” Lilavati said, stifling laughter.

Sieglinde nodded. “Then we’ll find something to ease some of your pain while you relax.”

“Thank you, Sieglinde,” Lilavati said.

Sieglinde stopped and looked at her. “You don’t have to thank me, Great Lady. I am a servant. It’s my duty to take care of you.”

“Sieglinde, the way Manas spoke about and to you, I think you’re more than just a servant,” Lilavati said with a wry smile. “He is marrying me because I’m intelligent, not because I’m beautiful.”

Sieglinde gave her an odd look. “You don’t think you’re beautiful?”

Lilavati broke into a full, soft laugh. “Sieglinde, the whole reason I couldn’t get a husband before Manas is because I’m ugly. My only defining features are the fact that no matter what happens I am very graceful and that I am far more intelligent than all the women outside the temples and probably most of the men.”

Sieglinde frowned. “Great Lady, your people must have an odd sense of beauty then.”

Lilavati shrugged one shoulder. “It is what it is, Sieglinde. I’m used to being the odd one.”

“You certainly are that, Great Lady.” Sieglinde glanced at the eastern horizon. “Great Lady, we must hurry. The Great Lord will be very angry if we’re outside the tent at full dark.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part five

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Photo via Visual hunt

“Here she stands,” Lilavati’s father said, gesturing. Lilavati bowed with the same sinuous grace she’d known since she was a child. “She is ready.”

“Is she?” Manas asked. “Do you have all you will need?”

“I have my clothing, jewelry, and what small trinkets I can claim as my own,” Lilavati said. “That is all I may bring with me.”

Manas frowned. “Are none of those books and scrolls yours?”

“Some I purchased before I became recognized as a woman,” Lilavati said. “When that happened, they were no longer mine. They became my father’s.”

“A woman has no need of such things to divert her mind from the importance of finding a husband,” her father said.

“Do you know which were hers?” Manas asked.

“Of course I do,” her father said. “I keep meticulous records.” He seemed offended that Manas would even suggest such an oversight. Lilavati bowed her head to hide her smile. the only reason her father kept such good records was because Lilavati herself had taught one of the slaves how to do it when she was still considered a child.

“Then fetch those items from your library. I do not care that they were purchased when she was young. They are hers and I lay claim to them as her husband,” Manas said.

Her father opened his mouth to object, then closed it again, perhaps thinking of the huge bride price. “I’ll bring them out as quickly as I can,” he said. “Kavi, come with me.”

“Yes Father,” Kavi said. The two of them went into the house.

“I do not like being delayed like this,” Manas said. “Why didn’t he gather these last night?”

“Because, to him, they’re not mine,” Lilavati said. “At least, they weren’t until you told him they were.”

“Why should that make a difference?” Manas asked.

“You gave him much in exchange for a daughter that was pretty much a useless mouth to feed,” Lilavati said. Manas looked at her. “I brought in no money because I wasn’t allowed to learn a trade, and until you came along no man would have me.”

“You are far more than your face,” Manas said. “No man here could see that?”

Lilavati snorted. “Husband, you’ve watched my father. He is very typical of the men in this city.”

“Do not call me that,” Manas said. “You will use my name when you speak to me.”

Lilavati smiled. “Good,” she said, surprising him. “I detest the custom that forces women to not use proper names. Then again, I’m better educated than most so I know there are better ways. My father wasn’t happy when I started questioning my place in our society. I think he was relieved when I came of an age where I wasn’t allowed to read any longer. I wouldn’t be in his library where I could ask him uncomfortable questions.”

“I take it you’ve found your place as a woman in your father’s house confining?” Manas asked.

“It is what it is,” Lilavati said with a shrug.

Her father and Kavi soon returned with a small pack. “Is that all of them?” Manas asked.

“It is,” her father said.

Lilavati checked the pack herself. “He speaks the truth,” she said.

“Then attach those to your saddle as well,” Manas said. He glanced at the sky. “Mount quickly. We’ve wasted enough time on this foolishness.” Lilavati did as she was told. “Geta Prabhu, I will say this once. I’m not from your country, so I don’t know all your customs. Understand this though – you will never be permitted to see Lilavati again, unless she chooses to permit it. I won’t let her agree to it just because she feels it’s some sacred duty as your daughter that she must uphold. It will be what she wants as a free thinking woman, not the subservient creature you have forced her to be.” He looked at Lilavati. “Let’s go.”

Lilavati followed him out of the courtyard, leaving behind her stunned father and her snickering brother. Once they were well away from her father’s house, one of Manas’ servants rode up next to her. “You should be beside him, Great Lady. Else he will grow angry,” he said.

Lilavati didn’t feel like arguing and nudged her mare into a trot. She caught up with Manas. “They told you to join me, didn’t they?” Manas asked, glancing over his shoulder at his servants.

“It might have been suggested,” Lilavati said. “But I didn’t have to listen to them, did I?”

Manas shook his head. “You didn’t, but I’d have been fairly irritated if you chose to ride behind me the entire way to my home.”

“As I’m still not sure what my place is in your house, what my duties will be, and how I’m to be addressed – the servant who spoke to me called me ‘Great Lady’ – how am I to know what you want?” Lilavati said. “I can only guess so much.”

Manas glared at her momentarily before relaxing. Now that she was closer to him, she could see his amber eyes were a peculiar shape. It was as if a cat was staring at her out of a man’s face. This didn’t frighten her as it might have her mother and sister. Perhaps it took one considered odd by society to accept another like them.

“They’re supposed to call you Great Lady,” Manas said. “It’s an annoying fact, but even in my lands there must be titles to differentiate the masters from the servants. As for your duties, I’ll have Sieglinde discuss those with you tonight when we camp.” He paused. “Lilavati, when we camp, everyone goes immediately into their tents. The ones we have are special. They’re charmed so they don’t catch fire, so meals are prepared individually inside. Do you know how to cook?”

“I do. I learned it in self defense against starvation at the hands of my family,” Lilavati said.

“Then I’ll send Sieglinde to you with some supplies just before everyone closes in for the night,” Manas said. He released his reins with one hand and put a finger in her face. “Heed my words, Lilavati. I can’t guarantee your safety if you venture out after the order to seal the tents has been given.”

“What am I to do if I need the privy at night? Isn’t it the custom to create a pit rather than have private chamber pots in each tent?” Lilavati asked, thinking back to some of her father’s books.

“It is, but we don’t hold to many customs here,” Manas said. “You’ll have a chamber pot. In the morning Drishti will show you where to empty it, and also where you can bathe. She’ll keep track of you for a few days until you get your feet under you.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part four

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Photo via Visual hunt

Lilavati tore the silk abomination from the hands of the slave. It was a hideous gown of yellow and purple. It was obviously too big for Lilavati, with black and green embroidery all across the hood and half cloak.

“You may take this to my father, and tell him if he considers this attractive then he has no idea what beauty truly is,” she said, casting it at the slave woman’s feet. “I refuse to wear that. Either he provides me with an appropriately beautiful gown or he may explain to Manas why his wife will be riding out of town with nothing covering her but her hair.”

“Yes Illustrious One,” the slave woman said, grabbing the pile of silk and scuttling out the door.

“Illustrious One, your bath is ready,” one of the other slaves said, as if the whole scene hadn’t happened.

Lilavati shed her nightgown and walked to the side of the tub. It was too tall to kneel next to, so she simply leaned over it, letting the ends of her hair fall into the water. The steam rose to caress her hot skin and the light scent of the night blooming jasmine did much to ease her tension.

One of the slaves took a pitcher and poured water over her hair. A soap made with the same oil was carefully rubbed in. Once every strand was covered in the scented suds, water was again poured over her head. She closed her eyes to protect them. Hands worked through her hair again, making sure there was no soap left.

Once they were done, Lilavati climbed into the tub, with a little assistance from a small set of stairs produced for her benefit. She leaned back and soaked for several minutes before beginning her usual ritual for cleansing her body.

She was only halfway through when her father stormed through the door, the hideous outfit in his hands. “What do you mean sending this abomination to me, claiming your mother sent it? She says she sent the red and black dress we agreed upon last night.”

“Ask Inderpal what the slave came with,” Lilavati said without stopping. “He’ll confirm that I came in with nothing and the slave entered with that. Then track the slave’s movements. You’ll see I had nothing to do with it.” Her father spluttered and then stormed out again.

He returned just as she was climbing out of the tub, a beautiful red and black gown in his hands. “My apologies, Lilavati. Your mother did indeed send that abomination to you. When I returned to her after doing as you suggested, she at first denied any such deception. Then finally, after some persuasion, she admitted she wished to humiliate you since you were such an embarrassment to her.”

“I could have told you that,” Lilavati said. “She’s been saying this for how long?”

Her father shrugged. “What you women do is no business of mine. Now, dress yourself swiftly so you have time to eat. Your clothing is almost ready to be repacked.” He swirled out.

Lilavati shook her head but allowed the slaves to help her dress in the gown her father brought her. It was a silk gown of scarlet with black embroidery at the hem and cuffs. The hood to cover her hair while traveling was black with scarlet embroidery that was identical to the black on the dress.

She moved swiftly out of the room, feeling a sense of relief having left somewhere she never truly belonged. She went to the dining area. To her surprise Kavi was up. “What are you doing here?” she asked as she settled at the table.

“Saying goodbye to my favorite sister,” Kavi said with a yawn. “Father said I could, and sent a slave in to wake me. I don’t care what mother says. You aren’t an embarrassment to this family and I love you and I’ll miss you.”

Lilavati smiled. “I’ll miss you too, Kavi. But you must be strong now. You are father’s heir. You cannot be seen as weak, even if it means showing no emotion when I leave.”

“I know. That’s what father said. He said I may have my say, and if I truly felt it necessary I could cry while we ate, but once we left this room I wasn’t to show any of my feelings,” Kavi said. “I’m only ten, Lilavati. I don’t know how to hide what I’m thinking.”

“I know, Kavi,” Lilavati said. “Would you like what used to help me when I’d get upset at people who were rude to me in the market?” Kavi nodded. “I’d imagine myself on an island where there was no other person but me. It was empty, save for one tree that I could shelter under. I couldn’t stay there long. Mother wouldn’t allow it. But it helped me keep a blank face while I listened to the cruelty. If you let yourself disappear into such a barren spot when you feel your emotions started to get out of control, it should help.”

“I’ll try it,” Kavi said.

“Let’s eat fast so father doesn’t get angry,” Lilavati said. Kavi nodded and the two of them quickly devoured the light meal that had been set out.

Lilavati and her brother joined their father in the main courtyard. Lilavati’s full saddlebags were sitting on the ground beside a beautiful pale silver mare. Her moon colored mane and tail were braided and bound with red and black ribbons. “You should be pleased with this mare,” her father said. “She is the finest from my herds.”

Lilavati privately doubted that, but smiled anyway. “Thank you Father. I am honored to accept such a fine mount as my bride-gift.” Her father grunted. Kavi winked at her, though his face remained blank. He guessed what she was thinking, and probably shared her feelings.

At seven tolls Manas and his men appeared. He looked approvingly at the mare and Lilavati. “I have come to claim my bride.”

to be continued….

Tiger, Tiger – Part Three

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Photo via Visual hunt

One of her father’s slaves had already laid out a nightgown and turned down her coverlet. Lilavati slipped out of her clothes. She went to the large basin of water in the corner. She used the soft rag there to wash the dust of the day from her body, whispering prayers to the gods as she did so. When her nightly ablutions were done, she pulled on her nightgown and went to bed.

The scent of an unfamiliar spice woke her. She sat up, her hand going for the knife under her pillow. A slave was filling a bathtub in the center of her room, pouring in a phial of oil along with the water. Lilavati didn’t recognize any of the spices in it.

“You, what is in the oil mix you put in my bath water?” she asked.

The slave turned around, face blank. His mouth was sewn shut. Lilavati frowned. Her father never did that with any of their slaves. She drew her knife and lunged for the door. The slave dropped the jug of water he was carrying and drew a curved dagger coated in something greenish.

Lilavati fought for her life as she struggled to keep her assassin’s blade away from her. Her cries roused the household and the door to her room was shoved open by her father and two of his guards. Lilavati narrowly missed having her guts torn out by her opponent’s blade.

A crossbow bolt slammed into the mute slave’s stomach. He staggered but didn’t stop advancing towards Lilavati. Lilavati dove to the side, giving her father’s guards a clear shot. Two more crossbow bolts slammed into his chest. He dropped to his knees. A fourth crossbow bolt pierced his throat. The assassin dropped to the ground, dying as silently as he’d fought.

“Lilavati, are you hurt?” her father asked.

“No Father,” Lilavati said. “I am unharmed.” She put her hand to her forehead. “Though I feel a little lightheaded.”

“Remove her from the room,” her father said sharply. “Immediately.”

One of his guards took her arm and led her out into the corridor. All of the windows were open and the early morning air filled her lungs. Her head cleared within a few minutes.

Her father soon joined her. “Father, what kind of poison was in the water?” Lilavati asked.

“I’m not sure, but it was a potent one,” he said. “It nearly took both of us down before we could get rid of it.” He gestured to the other guard who’d stayed with him. “How are you feeling now?”

“I’m fine,” Lilavati said. “The fresh air revived me.”

Her father nodded. “I thought it would. I’ll have the eastern chamber made up for you. It is still too soon for you to be awake.”

“Father, the eastern chamber is for only the most honored guests,” Lilavati said. “I can’t stay there.”

“You’d have me leave you to sleep in a room that could most likely kill you?” Her father shook his head. “You’ll go where I tell you. Now, I’ll send Inderpal with you. He will keep anyone but one of our slaves from disturbing you. I’ll also have one of the women clean your clothes. There are ways to make sure there are no poisons in them, and I want to be certain that no harm comes to you. I do not wish to lose Manas’ favor.”

“You don’t want to have to pay back what he gave you as a bride price,” Lilavati said.

“Do you blame me?” her father asked.

Lilavati shook her head. “I don’t think any woman has had such a high price paid for her in living memory, other than the daughter of the Raasha.”

“Yes, your mother and I will be able to hold our heads high in town thanks to your bride price,” her father said. “Instead of being looked down on because of your face.”

Lilavati shook her head. “You’d better send a slave to set up my temporary chambers, Father. I’m quite tired and I don’t know how much longer I have before I must get up to make myself ready to travel.”

In the distance the temple bells tolled five times. Her father looked at her. “It seems you won’t be going back to sleep after all.”

She sighed. “Then you’d best make certain my clothing is clean and dried by seven tolls. I can’t leave without it, and I’d rather not have wet cloth in the saddlebags. It’s a good way to ruin the silk.”

“Don’t worry about that,” her father said. “I’ll have a bath drawn. Your mother chose your traveling outfit last night and set it to the side in our room, so it should still be safe to wear.”

“I don’t want to put on anything she picked. It’s probably even uglier than my face,” Lilavati said. “You know how she’s always treated me with spite and hatred.”

“I wouldn’t let her do such a thing. That would disgrace me in front of your new husband,” her father said.

“Then you’d better have made sure it won’t fall apart as I ride,” Lilavati said. “That would be just as humiliating for the both of us.”

“I took care of it, Lilavati,” her father said. “Now, stop creating issues and go to the eastern chamber. Inderpal, go with her. I’ll have some slaves set up your bath and you will choose the scents you wish in the water. I wish you wisdom in your selection.” He strode off, his second guard on his heels.

Inderpal fell into step with Lilavati as she made her way to the one area of the house where she’d never been permitted. Only her parents, their guests, and the slaves sent to serve them were allowed here.

As she entered the main bed chamber, two slaves were already there filling a copper tub far larger than the one in her room with steaming water. They turned to look at her. They looked a little frightened when they saw Inderpal. Lilavati sent him outside to guard the door from the corridor. She still carried her knife, and was still prepared to defend herself if she needed to.

One of the slaves looked at her. “Forgive this one for speaking out of turn, Illustrious Mistress, but what scent would you care for?”

“The blue jasmine,” Lilavati said. Unlike her mother and sister, she detested the strong smelling oils. When she was allowed to pick her own, she selected the lightest scents she could. The slave bowed and poured a small amount of the oil into the water.

A moment later another slave entered, after having been cleared by Inderpal. “Please excuse this one for speaking out of turn Illustrious One,” the woman said, falling to her knees. “But the Illustrious One’s Illustrious Mother has sent this to her.”

“Father has no eye for fashion, and mother is a spiteful piece of…” Lilavati trailed off. She couldn’t come up with a word vile enough to express her anger.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part Two

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Photo via Visual hunt

Lilavati opened her bedroom door and found her mother sitting on her bed. “What did he offer? Some trifle?” her mother asked angrily. Lilavati told her. Her mother snorted. “He won’t deliver that.”

“Then father will not let him take me,” Lilavati said. “But I think Manas is an honorable man, Mother. He’ll keep his word.”

“Manas? That’s his name?” Her mother seemed surprised. “He wouldn’t give his name to anyone, other than your father.”

“I asked him for a name of the man I was marrying. He gave it to me,” Lilavati said. “Father sent me in to prepare myself since I’ll be leaving at seven tolls in the morning. Please excuse me.” She started pulling things out of the chests and the many drawers and cabinets. She packed those things she wished to keep at the bottom of the saddle bags she’d been given.

Then she went to her clothing. She looked at it all. She chose the least ragged outfits, though not were in very good repair. “You’ll look like a pauper in those dresses,” her mother said.

“Well if you and father took care of me the way you do Kavi and Uma, I would have a far finer wardrobe,” Lilavati shot back. She finished packing and carried her bags to her father for inspection. He looked inside and handed Lilavati a large pouch of coins.

“No daughter of mine will look as if she stepped out of a poor man’s hovel,” her father said. “Go purchase a wardrobe fit for the treasure you are.”

“Yes Father,” Lilavati said. She once again left the house and went to the dressmaker her mother used. He was shocked to see her, but quickly helped her find several beautiful outfits. She hesitated, but decided to get the crimson and silver outfit that wasn’t quite a wedding dress that would if Manas didn’t provide her with anything.

She took all of her purchases home and presented them to her father. “These are far more suitable,” he said. He helped her pack them into her saddlebags. “It is time for our evening meal. You will join us.”

“Yes Father,” Lilavati said.

The meal was strained. It was obvious her mother didn’t approve of the match. Kavi and Uma looked confused. Finally, after the last of the dishes had been cleared away and the adults were drinking their after meal glasses of scolak while the younger two had mugs of fresh milk, her father cleared his throat. “Lilavati is leaving us. She will be joining the man she is going to marry and traveling to his lands tomorrow before we normally rise. We won’t be attending her wedding, at the request of her husband-to-be. Now, come with me.”

Everyone rose and followed him out to the back courtyard. Lilavati smiled. There were all of the slaves, the horses were being led to the stables, and the bags of gold coins were being hustled into her father’s treasure room by several of his personal slaves. They were carefully watched by his slave master and his master of coin.

“The full bride price was paid,” her mother said, shock in her voice and on her face.

“It was,” her father said. “You thought differently?”

“Who would pay such a high price for someone so ugly?” her mother asked.

“His idea of beauty is different from ours,” her father said. “So this is his response to liking what he saw in Lilavati.” He turned to her. “Are you prepared?”

“As much as I can be, Father.”

“Then go to bed. I’ll send someone to wake you early enough to dress before he comes for you,” her father said.

“Gods bless your dreams,” Kavi said, hugging her. “And your journey.”

“Gods bless your dreams, Kavi,” Lilavati said, returning the embrace. She planted a kiss on the top of his head before making her way to her bedroom.

to be continued…