Tiger, Tiger – Part seventy

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“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…

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Racing the Wind, Part 5

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Photo via VisualHunt.com

Angharad escaped her ecstatic mother, who was now in full planning mode for her daughter’s wedding. She made her way to the library. Eridan was waiting for her. “Your mother is very enthusiastic,” he said. He was staring out the window and didn’t turn around.

“Both my mother and father were worried about the Right of Inheritance. Without a husband, I can’t inherit,” Angharad. “And you’ve met my brother. He would be the one who took my place.”

“I can see why they wanted me to win,” Eridan said. He turned and settled into a chair, his face in shadow. “Angharad, what I’m going to tell you is not a pretty tale. There is a reason my servants and I left our former liege lord’s lands, and it isn’t entirely because we wished to be free of the memories.”

Angharad settled into the chair beside his. “Tell me,” she said softly.

“I am the Red Bull’s youngest son, but not by his lady wife,” Eridan said, his voice barely above a whisper. “My mother was one of the many maids in the keep. I don’t know how many bastards my father sired, but I was the only one who showed my true parentage. The Red Bull decided that if I was going to appear as his son, he was going to train me to be one.”

“I take it that didn’t go well?” Angharad asked.

Eridan shook his head. “My half brothers despised me. My stepmother had my mother murdered, and then tried to kill me on more than one occasion.” He lifted his shirt and gestured to a thin scar across his right rib cage. “This is one of the few scars I have that didn’t come from battle. It was an assassin’s knife that gave me this. When I killed him, my father decided it would be better for me to join the army. So that is where I was sent.”

“How brutal,” Angharad said.

Eridan nodded. “You must understand, Angharad. I was nearly as tall as I am now at the age of twelve. I was also as thin as a post. I had no strength to speak of. I was uncoordinated, couldn’t even lift a proper sword, and when I tried to draw back a bowstring I might get it back an inch or two and then I’d lose hold of it.”

“That is the truth for any beginner,” Angharad said. “Do you think I could shoot as well as I do now when I first started?”

“I was a lord’s son – bastard or not – and there was an expectation of a level of skill I didn’t have,” Eridan said. “I was beaten regularly, forced to work harder than anyone else, and given very little while others were rewarded with things such as finer food, extra blankets, and more comforts. I grew to hate my father, for it was on his orders that this was happening to me.”

He was shaking. Angharad hesitantly slipped her hand on top of his. He grabbed hold and squeezed it, looking at her with gratitude as she drew him back out of his memory. “You said you were an officer when you first came here,” she said.

“I was, though the Red Bull would have forbidden it if he’d been aware of it,” Eridan said. “He was never very good with my name and when I was out of his sight for a while he soon lost interest in me. When that happened, the harsh treatment lessened and I was rewarded as liberally as the others. In spite of everything, I was still a highly educated young man and I could do things most of the others couldn’t, such as read and write. I picked up on strategy, reading maps, and reckoning distances and time by the location of the stars and the position of the sun and moon.”

“Those are all very useful,” Angharad said.

Eridan nodded. “As I continued to excel, my physical strength increased almost as fast as my mental acuity. I was sixteen when I was placed in control of a small group of scouts who were primarily archers. We were the advance party. We had to see who was in front of us. We did our job well only lost two out of twenty in the two years I served as their commander. At eighteen I was given command of a group of cavalry and led them into so many battles I can no longer recall how many.”

“The Mad King lives up to his name,” Angharad said.

Eridan said. “The Red Bull never disbanded his army. He never let us go home. Even when the Mad King didn’t need him, my father used us to expand his borders. We must have seized the lands of seventeen minor lords from the time I took control of the cavalry to the time my father fell at the hands of the Mad King’s executioner.”

“I thought the Red Bull died in battle,” Angharad said.

“That’s the story my stepmother and half brothers spread as fast as they could, to preserve my father’s honor,” Eridan said. “Instead of having him known as a traitor to the kingdom. But when my father died, I took the opportunity to leave. No lord was confirmed in his place, and all soldiers enslaved by my father were freed. I considered myself as a slave to him so I took one of the Writs of Freedom and left.”

“Who are the men who travel with you?” Angharad said.

“The last two members of my original scouting squad,” Eridan said. “Poor judgment and even poorer tactics wiped out the rest of them. When they saw me seize the chance, they grabbed theirs and followed me out. It took them a bit to find me, but they caught me just as I was about to fall on my sword.”

“Why would you do that?” Angharad asked.

“Look at me, Angharad. You find no disgust with my scars, but you are a rare person in this,” Eridan said. “Others aren’t so enlightened. I was driven from every town and village, usually at the point of a weapon, after being there only for a few hours. I was a monster in their eyes. I was unable to buy food, medicine for the wounds that were festering, or fodder for my horse. We were both starving and dying. I was done. I let my horse rest in a field full of tall grass and went a short distance away. Driscoll and Comgan came up at just the right time.”

“How did they stop  you?” Angharad said.

“Comgan grabbed me and Driscoll took my sword from me,” Eridan said. “We’ve stayed together since.” He paused. “Angharad, I am not going to be an easy man to live with. I think I love you, though I’ve not had much of that in my life so I don’t know that I’d recognize the feeling. I’ll do my best, but I can’t guarantee I’ll always be kind to you.”

“My grandfather, who fought just as you have, didn’t always treat my grandmother and my father well,” Angharad said. “He didn’t always treat me with kindness either, and I was a small child. But he loved all of us and did all he could to make up for those days when his memories clouded his mind.”

Eridan lifted the hand he held to his lips, leaning forward. “You are an amazing woman, Angharad. Nothing like any I have ever met.”

“Here, I was encouraged to be different, and I thrived,” Angharad said.