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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…