“How do you know so much, my katali?” Manas asked with a fond smile.
“Books,” Lilavati said with a sigh. “Though I would trade some of that knowledge for far more life experience, my sikha.”
Manas brought Lilavati’s hand to his lips. “Then you wouldn’t be my katali and my beautiful scholar.”
Lilavati smiled and leaned on Manas’ shoulder. “Don’t you two make a pretty picture,” a sour faced woman sneered. “I wonder how well your children will be received, being of a mixed breed. They’ll be abominations in the eyes of the Temple and the King.”
“I strongly doubt that, Tanje,” Manas said, wrapping his arm around Lilavati’s shoulder. “Given that the lord of Stuhi Detit and the lady of Bitxi Nirea are both mixed breeds themselves and they are in the highest councils of our king.” He gave the woman a stern look. “If all you wanted was to come here and insult my lady, then you can leave.”
“You asked us to bring you our folk magic, Great Lord,” Tanje said. “I have something that I remember from our village witch.”
“What is it?” Manas asked.
“Salt, Great Lord,” Tanje said. “Salt is a simple protection from evil spirits. They will be able to enter the camp, but if we pour rings of salt around the tents they may not be able to enter them.”
“We have quite a bit of salt,” Manas said thoughtfully. “If Ludger and Ariane fail in their task to find the ingredients, we might just use it.”
“We should use this information even if Ludger and Ariane are able to accomplish what they say,” Lilavati said, earning a surprised look from Tanje.
“Why do you say that, my katali?” Manas asked.
“What if the barrier does not hold them back? There should be another layer of protection. Our people are far more important than any common ingredient such as salt,” Lilavati said.
“Tanje, tell Bjorn to pull out as many of the sacks of salt as he can. I don’t know how much we’ll need. Just before we retire for the night we’ll pour the circles,” Manas said.
“Of course, Great Lord,” Tanje said. She turned and hurried away.
“Good thinking, my katali,” Manas said. “Though you seemed to startle her with your suggestion.”
“No one has ever seen me disagree with you. They simply assume that I am always going to agree with you,” Lilavati said. “To them, I have no mind of my own even though you call me a scholar. I do not think they believe I am as educated as you claim.”
“Then we must prove them wrong, katali. You’re my equal, my balance, my lovely lady,” Manas said. “You are also my stand in when I have to be away, or when I’m ill. You will be taking my place at certain events because I’ll have other duties to attend to. You’re my beloved and my partner.”
“Then I will work hard to learn my place in your lands,” Lilavati said.
“You’ll do fine, my katali,” Manas said.
A few others came up to speak with the pair, but all they did was repeat Tanje and Micha’s suggestions. Then two more approached them. Manas stiffened as they approached.
Lilavati looked at them closely. It was a very nondescript looking woman, of average build with brown hair and eyes, and – she blinked in astonishment – a child. The girl looked no more than five, and appeared so fragile that the strong winds that they now faced seemed able to pick her up and break her in half. She had peculiar eyes, one was amber and the other was a starling shade of blue.
“Hello father,” the girl said with a shy smile.
“Hello Magda,” Manas said, holding out his arms. Lilavati saw the reluctance in the eyes of the older woman in releasing the child’s hand, but she let go.
Magda threw herself across the narrow distance between her and her father and locked her arms around his neck. “Father, I’ve missed you,” she said in a high, lilting voice that nonetheless carried a hint of her father’s deeper tones.
“I’ve missed you too, princess,” Manas said, drawing her up on his lap. He turned his attention to the brown eyed woman. “I see you’re disregarding my orders as usual, Vera.”
The woman flashed him a smile full of venom. “You told me that once you wed you’d spend more time with her. You announced just earlier today you’ve taken a bride, so why shouldn’t I bring Magda to see you? Especially since you haven’t seen or spoken to her once since we left the Southlands.”
“Father, Vera told me that when you brought your new lady home, you’d send me to live with the servants. Is this true?” Magda asked.
Manas flushed, and looked over at Lilavati. Lilavati held out a hand. “Kikaii imera, mikri,” she said with a smile for Magda.
Magda looked confused. “What does that mean?” she asked.
“It means ‘fair morning, little one,'” Lilavati said. “It is what you say to a child in your family in the morning.”
Magda released Manas’ neck and shyly moved over to stand in front of Lilavati. “Vera told me you would curse me if I spoke to you,” she said.
Lilavati chuckled. “I fear many thought I would curse them if they spoke to me,” she said. “It is the way of people to think that of those things that frighten them.”
“Why?” Magda asked with the simplicity of all children.
“Magda, come away now,” Vera said.
“Magda stays here, Vera,” Manas said. “You brought her to visit and of course my wife must get to know her stepdaughter. So leave her here and be on your way. I’ll send Magda to you before dark.”
“Great Lord, you’re very busy right now,” Vera said.
“He is, but in truth I am not,” Lilavati said, still smiling. Magda looked at her father for approval before taking Lilavati’s hand. Lilavati slowly pulled the girl into her lap. “I am quite happy to sit with her.” It was obvious Vera didn’t like that, but she turned and walked stiffly away. “You will have to explain all of this to me, sikha.”
“I will,” Manas said, a haunted look in his eyes. “Later though.”
“Of course,” Lilavati said, smiling at Magda. Her tiikeri purred in delight as the child curled up against her. “Innocence should be kept as long as possible.”
to be continued…