Tiger, Tiger – Part seventy nine

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They reached the center of the camp in time to see the last of the protectors fall. Lilavati pulled out an arrow and shot the first abomination she saw. Manas and his men, and many others who’d been defending the boundary, rushed forward and engaged the creatures before they could kill too many of those who were unable to defend themselves.

Lilavati tuned out her fear for Odilie and Magda. She simply focused on shooting. Her world narrowed to dodging attacks and killing those things that meant her and her loved ones harm.

It wasn’t until there were no more targets that she came out of her fog. As she caught her breath, a small human threw herself at her legs. “Ama’ana, you saved father. You saved us. You made the bad things die,” Magda said.

Lilavati stared down at her. She took several deep breaths and slung the bow over her shoulder. She knelt down and hugged Magda. “I said I would not let him die,” she said, kissing Magda’s forehead. “But why are you here and not with Odilie?”

Tears filled Magda’s eyes. “A woman killed her during the fight,” she said.

“What woman?” Lilavati asked sharply.

“Aunt Vera,” Magda whispered.

Lilavati stood. She took Magda’s hand. “Come, we must find your father,” she said.

Manas was getting his wounds tended by Ariane. “Katali, are you hurt?” he asked.

“I am uninjured as far as I know,” Lilavati said. “However, we need to deal with a traitor, and in my present mood I will do it myself.”

“Who?” Manas asked.

“Vera,” Lilavati said. “She killed Odilie in the chaos of the battle.”

“Are you sure?” Manas asked.

“I saw her do it,” Magda said. “She told me if I told you or ama’ana, she’d kill me too. But I had to tell you. I can’t let her kill anyone else.”

“How are you going to dispense justice, Great Lady?” Ariane asked.

Lilavati turned and faced the gathered servants and guards.She scanned the area. It took her a moment before she found Vera. The woman was standing off to the side. She smirked at Lilavati, fingering the bloody knife in her hand. She openly taunted Lilavati, as if telling her to prove the other woman’s crime. Lilavati pulled out an arrow and shot her. The missile flew true and pierced her heart. Vera fell without a sound.

Her death didn’t go unnoticed. Many of those around her turned towards Manas and Lilavati. “You’re going to have to explain her execution, katali,” Manas said.

“I am aware of this,” Lilavati said. I will do so now. I am leaving Magda with you and Ariane.”

“We’ll keep an eye on her,” Manas said.

Magda attached herself to her father’s leg as Lilavati walked back into the crowd. Lilavati knew she had to look a mess. She too was covered in blood. Several of the abominations were killed beside her and their blood and guts splattered against her. She slid gracefully past everyone until she was in the center of the milling crowd.

“Great Lady, why did you kill Vera?” someone shouted, her voice a little shrill.

“Vera was a traitor,” Lilavati said. “She made an attempt on my daughter’s life during the chaos. Odilie sacrificed her life to save Magda’s, and I will not allow such a murderess to live. I cannot permit her to remain and put the child’s life at risk.”

“How do you know what happened?” someone else asked.

“Magda told us what happened,” Lilavati said. “My beloved has also been informed many times that the woman sought a way to harm him in some vital way. The slaying of his daughter would indeed be the most damaging way possible, especially since I have chosen to recognize her as my own as well.”

“Great Lady, isn’t it up to the Great Lord to dispense justice?” the first woman asked.

“The Great Lady stands as equal to the Great Lord in most things,” Dieter said, coming forward. His face was twisted in sadness. “This is one of them. She has the right to choose the punishment for anyone who breaks the laws of the lord. Vera was a traitor. The Great Lady dealt with her in the appropriate manner.”

“Return to their tents to rest,” Lilavati said. “Those with strong stomachs, or an interest in the anatomy of these abominations, remain behind. We must clear the bodies before dark. We do not know what else will be drawn to them.”

The remaining soldiers began hauling bodies away. Several of the other servants, including the cook and his assistants, helped. Dieter came up to her. “Great Lady, Odilie was one of my closest friends,” he said. “She was also well loved by the rest of those in our set. Can I take her body? We’ll bury her ourselves. She wouldn’t want a huge fuss made.”

“Of course,” Lilavati said. “Do let us know when and where you plan on doing it. We will wish to send her soul into the peace of the Twelve as well, and Magda will want to say goodbye.”

Dieter managed a quiet smile. “Odilie loved children and was ecstatic when you chose her to take care of Magda,” he said.

“Who would you recommend we select to care for her now? We cannot do so,” Lilavati said. “She may stay with us during the day, for the most part. At night it is not a good idea.”

Dieter nodded. “Let me see if any of the women in my set are willing to take up that job,” he said. “I’ll be able to answer that question soon.”

“Thank you, Dieter,” Lilavati said. “Your service is indispensable to us.”

“As long as you remember your promise when we reach Phiri Hu, I’ll take that as a compliment, Great Lady,” Dieter said. He headed off.

Lilavati returned to where Manas and Magda were sitting. “It has been done,” she said. “I have allowed Dieter to claim Odilie’s body. He will make the arrangements for her burial, keeping it to their circle of friends and us. He is also making inquiries as to who would be willing to be Magda’s new caretaker.”

“You’re an amazing woman, katali,” Manas said.

Ama’ana, you’re going to someplace called the Halls of the Damned, aren’t you?” Magda asked.

“I am,” Lilavati said. “Your father and I must pass through them in order to secure passage for all of us so we can get home.”

Magda looked at her solemnly. “You will meet someone there that will tell you many secrets that you didn’t know, and that will make you very sad.”

to be continued…

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Racing the Wind, Part 4

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Photo credit: 10b travelling via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

The next day Angharad led Eridan to a large field behind the keep. Several small cylinders were set up in a row with four of them wrapped in red cloth. “What is this?” Eridan asked.

“Archery,” Angharad said. “The goal is to hit the red targets.”

Eridan looked grim. “I have never been an archer,” he said. “This may end our courtship.”

Angharad fought to hide her disappointment. “You’ll never know until you try. The gods may favor you.” She lowered her voice. “As I do.”

Eridan raised an eyebrow but said nothing. The two of them took their places at the firing line. “Eridan, as the suitor, you have the right to choose. Do you wish to go first? Or would you prefer to see Angharad go before you?” Lord Idwal asked.

Eridan was silent for a moment. “I’d like to see Angharad shoot. I want to know what I’m up against.”

“Very well,” Lord Idwal said. “Angharad, take your place.”

Angharad stepped into place in front of the targets, which had been placed 180 yards ahead. It was just short of the farthest limit any longbow could reach. She took a few deep breaths and then fired the first of three arrows. The first one went wide, striking one of the dust colored cylinders. Her next two struck the red covered ones.

“That’s two out of four,” Angharad said, a slight catch in her voice as she stepped back. “You’ll have to hit all three to beat me.”

“Eridan, take your place,” Lord Idwal said.

Eridan took the spot that Angharad had just vacated. One of his servants handed him an ebony bow. Angharad marveled at the beauty. “Idwal, that could be a magic bow,” Lady Moirea said. “I’ve not seen one of that color before.”

“My lady, it isn’t magical,” Eridan said. “But if you wish to have your house mage examine it, I will allow that.” He paused. “If he puts a spell on it, I will kill him.”

The house mage was summoned. “Angharad, you hold the bow. You’ll know if I try to cast anything on it,” he said. Angharad accepted the bow. The mage closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, they were pure white. Then they returned to normal. “It’s an ordinary bow, my lord. Nothing strange about it, other than the fact that the wood comes from an ebony tree. It’s one of the rarest trees in existence and whoever gave this to him must have held him in high regard because there’s no way he would have been able to buy this on his own.” The mage bowed and he headed back to the keep.

Lord Idwal gestured to the faint line drawn in the dirt. “Eridan, take your place.”

Eridan moved to the spot once more. He drew out his first arrow and sighted down it. Angharad watched him take several deep breaths. He adjusted his stance and his grip. A light breeze picked up. Eridan changed the position of the bow. His eyes closed for a moment before he opened them and released the arrow.

Angharad held her breath as the black and silver projectile sped towards the tiny targets. It slammed into one of the top red cylinders. She bit back a cheer. He still had to take down two more.

Eridan lifted his second arrow and repeated the process. thwack A second target went down. Angharad clutched her bow in both hands. She began praying, begging the gods to give him the accuracy to remove the third target.

Eridan lowered his bow and wiped his forehead. He wiped his hands on his pants and motioned for his servant to bring him a cup of water. His eyes were haunted and he was as pale as the shirt he wore.

He lifted his bow one last time. He slowly sighted down the arrow, holding himself rock steady. His breathing was slow and mostly steady, though every now and then there was a minor hitch. Angharad clenched her teeth together, willing him strength.

Eridan released the arrow. A sudden gust kicked up some dust and the arrow’s trajectory shifted. Angharad gasped, sure her chance of having the man of her choice as a husband was gone.

Eridan grabbed a fourth arrow and shot quickly, knocking it back towards the target. Surprisingly, the trick worked. His third arrow slammed into a third red cylinder and it toppled over.

“That’s cheating,” Colum said, his words slurred. He slurped from a pitcher of wine, ignoring the dark red liquid slopping all over his tunic. “He shot a fourth arrow.”

“I see no cheating,” Angharad said. “If the wind can alter the direction of the arrow, there’s no reason why we can’t fix that. I’ve done it too, though I’ve never been that successful.”

Lord Idwal nodded. “Angharad is right, Colum. I’ve allowed her to do it. I’m going to accept Eridan doing the same thing.” He paused, then smiled at Eridan. “Eridan, congratulations. You have done what no other man has. You have won my daughter’s hand.”

Angharad dropped her bow and flung herself into Eridan’s arms. He grabbed her and pressed his lips against hers. She felt the scar. It was rough on her face, but she didn’t care. This is what she’d been dreaming of since they’d gone to get the horses.

“It seems our daughter approves,” Lady Moirea said wryly.

Angharad stepped back, blushing. “I’m sorry, Mother.”

“Don’t be,” Lady Moirea said. “The light in both of your eyes proves you two were meant for each other.”

“Come,” Lord Idwal said. “Tonight we will have the normal dinner. Tomorrow we feast!” Angharad followed her father into the keep, her fingers intertwined with Eridan’s. His hands were trembling and he was still pale. The haunted look hadn’t left him, but there was definitely some happiness there too.

Eridan took her hand and pressed it to his lips. “Join me in the library this evening, after dinner,” he murmured. “I will tell you why I look more like a ghost than a man right now.” Startled that he recognized what she thought, she nodded. He kissed the top of her head and they took their seats at the table.

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