Tiger, Tiger – Part sixty two

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It was Manas shaking her that broke the hold of the vision. “Katali, Lilavati, what happened? Your tiikeri was so loud I’m certain even those outside heard her, and you were sobbing and calling out something.”

Lilavati was still sobbing. She clung to him, heedless now of the storm, as the gruesome vision replayed itself before her eyes. A cool breath of air crossed her face as someone entered the tent.

Soon a cup of warm liquid was pressed to her lips. “Great Lady, drink this. It will help calm you,” Ludger’s voice rumbled in her ear.

Lilavati did as she was told and soon was able to regain some semblance of control over herself. Ludger rose to leave when both Manas and Lilavati each put a hand on his arm. “Unless you have a pressing need to be elsewhere, old friend,” Manas said, giving Ludger the new honorific. “I think the both of us would prefer it if you stayed here for a while.”

Ludger seated himself beside them again. “Only until just before the sun goes down,” he said. “I’ve seen enough of your curse to last me for a while, Great Lord.”

Manas grimaced. “Think how I feel, having lived for so long with it.” He shook his head. “Katali, now can you tell me what it was you saw?”

“Another vision of my parents with me and Nikitha,” Lilavati said, the warmth given by the tea draining away. Manas wrapped his arms around her and drew her up against him. “This time it was not of a hidden room in my father’s house, but outside the city. My mother was inkosi tiikeri, and we were walking in an area familiar to her. Her soul sister was off hunting, I think, and we were attacked by a large male.”

“What did this male tiger look like?” Ludger asked.

“Bigger than a normal tiikeri, though not even to your shoulder, sikha,” Lilavati said. “His eyes were pure green, almost the color of grass or emeralds. He had no fear of us and his attention was only on me. That was what it appeared as to me, at least. My mother was waiting for her soul sister to return when the great male pounced. My parents were knocked away, my father still clinging to Nikitha. The male drew his claws down my face.” Lilavati put her fingers on the claw scars.

“Then what?” Ludger asked when she was silent for too long for his comfort.

“My mother’s tiikeri arrived,” Lilavati said, curling against Manas. “The two of them attacked the male while my father pulled me to my feet and dragged me towards the city. The last thing I can remember seeing is the male slowly rip my mother open, as if he were enjoying the sight of my mother’s agony.”

“You were saying something as you cried, katali,” Manas said.

“What was it?” Lilavati asked.

Ama’ana,” Manas said. “You were saying it over and over again.”

“It is the child’s way of saying mother,” Lilavati said, her voice barely above a whisper. She pressed one palm to her forehead. “What is going on? Why am I having these visions? What do they mean? Which is true? Why can I not remember?” These final words she wailed, and the wind howled with her.

“What’s going on?” Ludger asked. Manas filled him in on the now two very different versions of how Lilavati got her scars, and how her parents were portrayed in both. He frowned. “Great Lady, someone has taken a great deal of care in blocking, changing, and quite possibly even erasing many of your childhood memories. I don’t have the necessary skills to break the blocks or to restore any that were damaged by the tampering.”

Lilavati choked on a sob. “How am I to know which of these is a true memory then, and not a fabrication of the foul dark magician who corrupted my mind?”

Ludger shrugged. “I don’t know, Great Lady. I’m not an all powerful being, like the Twelve. I’m also not as strong a sorcerer as you two seem to think I am. Yes, I can do certain things very well – such as what I did to Theda and those who followed her. In reality I can do a few large things with a certain degree of proficiency, but mostly I do small things immensely well and have learned how to chain enough of them together to make things work more efficiently.”

“It is the smallest pebbles that can bring down a mountain,” Lilavati said.

“Where did you hear that?” Ludger asked.

“It was in one of the books I read,” Lilavati said. She frowned. “This is why I am so puzzled. I retain all the knowledge I gained reading, but none of the memories of my actual life.”

“We’ll figure it out, Great Lady,” Ludger said. “You will have to talk to someone with different skills than me, though. I’m not the one to help you with this.”

“Thank you, old friend,” Manas said.

“I’m sorry I can’t do more,” Ludger said. He gestured. “I’ve put the same protections on this one that I did the last time. The only differences are that this time it isn’t if you two shed blood – it’s if someone means either of you harm – and no one will hear anything from this tent other than faint murmuring and then silence once the light goes out.” He paused. “Great Lady, as close as we are in here – and I had them place the Great Lord’s tent as far away from the main camp as I could and still have him protected from the weather – I suggest putting out the light before he goes through his change this evening.”

“It would give it away too easily if people were to see the shadows on the canvas,” Manas said.

“That’s not the problem,” Ludger said. “It simply won’t happen. It’s the sound, Great Lord. Even my spell may not be enough to blot out all of the sounds of your change if the lamp is still lit. Only when it is dark will you be fully protected.”

“I will be certain no light shines in this tent by the time my beloved must face his curse again this night,” Lilavati said. Ludger stood and, nodding, limped out of the tent. Lilavati became aware of the thunder once more and buried herself in Manas’ arms.

to be continued…

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Tiger, Tiger – Part sixty one

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Ludger chivvied the cold, wet servants and guards into setting things up quickly. Lilavati retrieved the tent she now shared with Manas and put it up herself. “I have seen it done enough times to know how to manage it on my own,” she said at Manas’ curious look. “However, it does not furnish itself and I am not capable of carrying everything alone.”

“I’ll help you then,” Manas said.

The two of them managed to get most of their things into the tent before a servant helped them carry the rest. Lilavati moved things around until the tent was comfortable for the both of them. “You know me well, katali,” Manas said as he lounged on a pile of cushions instead of in the chair that the servants always brought in. It was pushed to the side.

“I have learned much by observing you,” Lilavati said. “Even though I have not been in the best of shape for much of this journey.”

“You have been ill but not blind,” Manas said. “As you’ve said before.” Lilavati smiled. A crack of thunder made her shriek. Manas was at her side in an instant. He wrapped his arms around her. “It’s all right, katali. We’re safe here.”

“The storm is too close. It will blow down the tents and kill the animals,” Lilavati said, whimpering as she spoke.

“It won’t,” Manas said, stroking her hair with his hand. “Ludger chose this site with the storm in mind. It’s well protected, katali. We are safe.”

The tent lit up as lightning illuminated the afternoon. Lilavati buried her face in Manas’ shoulder, shaking. There was something about thunderstorms that drew more memories of Ishani to the surface, vague and terrifying memories that slipped through her grasp when she tried to capture them. Deep within her the tiikeri growled.

She felt Manas stiffen. She looked up at him. His amber eyes were haunted as he looked into hers. It took her a moment to fight beyond the fear. “You heard her?”

Manas nodded. “How could I not? I’m holding you. She’s very loud.” He tightened his grip on her. “I curse everyone I touch.” This last was said with such bitterness that it tore at Lilavati’s heart.

“No sikha,” Lilavati said, reaching out to comfort him. “This is a thing that happens to all inkosi tiikeri. We draw the spirit of the tiikeri inside of us, and it becomes a part of our own souls. Mine awoke and has been growing stronger.” Another loud clap of thunder sent her cowering into the cushions, abandoning Manas’ arms.

Manas laid down beside her. “Why did she growl?”

“She knows something I do not,” Lilavati said, her voice muffled by the cushion she pressed her face into. Manas gently pulled her over until her face was pressed into his chest.

“Do you have any idea what it could be?” Manas asked.

“It has something to do with Ishani,” Lilavati said.

“Your child name?” Manas asked. He rubbed her back. “Why is that significant?”

Lilavati tilted her face up so she could look at him. “I think, perhaps, some terrible event happened to me as a child during a thunderstorm.” Lightning sent her back into hiding.

“What do you remember?” Manas asked.

“Nothing,” Lilavati said. “The same as I do with almost all of my memories of my years as Ishani.”

“I don’t like this, katali,” Manas said. “It seems to me that someone – be it your father or someone else who held some influence over him – has removed all traces of your life as Ishani.”

“I maintain the knowledge I gained,” Lilavati said. She gave a little shriek as the ground shook from the thunder. Tears filled her eyes as she gazed up at him. “However I cannot remember the things my brother and sister often spoke of so fondly.”

“Such as?” Manas asked.

“Playing in the garden,” Lilavati said. “Uma, the sister you met that I still remember as Nikitha, remembered a time when I would spend hours among the many flowers and trees my father had. She told me of an occasion where I fell and broke my arm, but was more upset because I had shattered the tiikeri charm I wore on my wrist.” She glanced down quickly and saw, to her relief, the bracelet had survived everything they’d been through.

Manas saw her look. “Where did this come from?” he asked, touching the porcelain figurine.

The bloody scene from her visions momentarily blinded her. She came back to herself, gasping for breath with Manas holding her head up. “My mother’s,” she said, trying to draw in enough air to regain her equilibrium. “I think it was my mother’s.”

“Then why let you have it? Why give you something that would remind you so much of your mother, when it’s obvious he went to all the trouble of erasing your memories of her?” Manas asked.

Her tiikeri snarled again, this time angrily. Another vision swam before her eyes. She stood in the desert, her parents in front of her. “Send it away, Upsana,” her father said.

“It isn’t my tiikeri, Anup. I have no control over it,” Upsana said, her voice carrying a hint of desperation. “Take the girls and when I tell you to, run.” She passed the fussing infant over into Ishani’s father’s arms.

Anup took hold of Ishani’s wrist. “What about you, katali?” he asked. “You won’t be able to take on a male tiikeri yourself, especially with no weapons.”

“My soul sister comes now,” Upsana said, gesturing. The massive male tiger in front of them barely moved, his glowing green eyes fixed solely – or so it seemed – on little Ishani. “She’ll help me drive him off.”

The male obviously knew the female was on her way. He wasn’t going to wait that long. He lunged forward with a roar, scattering the two adults and pinning Ishani beneath him. She screamed, but was unable to move. He slashed down her cheek with one paw, opening gaping wounds in her face.

A higher pitched roar and a deeper scream echoed in her ears. The tiikeri was gone, tackled by both her mother and the deep orange female her mother was bonded to. Anup ran over and seized Ishani’s hand. “Let’s go, child. We can’t stay here,” he said, pulling her to her feet and dragging her along behind him.

“But mother,” Ishani said. She looked over her shoulder. The emerald eyed male swatted the female tiikeri out of the way and drove his claws into Upsana’s stomach. Ishani screamed as he slowly tore through her mother’s flesh, leaving her to fall to the ground with wounds she couldn’t survive. “Mother!”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part forty five

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Lilavati ran to his side. She seized hold of his face, forcing him to look at her. “What is this place?” she demanded.

“It’s terrible, Great Lady,” Ludger said when it became obvious Manas was still too upset to answer her. She turned towards him. “Those who were condemned to the underworld for crimes they committed in their lives in this world scream in endless rage and agony there, latching on to those whose blood they once shared if they pass through. There’s unfinished business between the Great Lord and his parents.”

“They will be found there?” Lilavati asked.

“Yes,” Manas said, his voice barely a whisper.

Lilavati cut him off before he could say more, noticing Ariane was watching them. “My sikha, make a choice. Decide if you can stand the march through the Black Waste, or if we face your parents in the Halls of the Damned.” She took one of his hands in hers. “Whatever your decision, I cannot and will not leave your side.”

“I would send you by sea, with some of my men,” Manas began.

“You couldn’t guarantee her safety without your presence, Great Lord,” Ludger said.

“He speaks the truth, sikha,” Lilavati said. “Already your people gather and speak against me. You need to face them now, explain today’s events, and set their minds at ease.” She looked at Ludger. “Are the wards you set in place still there?”

He blinked, frowning. A look of understanding crossed Ludger’s face as he too glanced at the acolyte. “They are, Great Lady. I’d recommend moving it though. If your curse is as I suspect, you’ll be fine in the first spot.”

“It’s too close,” Manas began.

Lilavati silenced him with a kiss. “Sikha, Ludger knows of what he speaks. Go speak to your people. Ease their minds.” She looked at Ariane. “Instead of polishing the same glass continuously, you should go make your preparations for whatever ceremony you see these people need for their morning prayer.” Lilavati’s voice was cold. Ariane jumped and scampered out of the tent.

Before she reached the door, Manas caught her shoulder. “If you attempt to invoke the wrath of the Twelve against Ludger, my lady-to-be, or myself, I will see you burnt at the stake. Ludger uses ice. I prefer fire.” The barely concealed anger in his voice caused Ariane to squeak and nod before running out of the flap as soon as Manas released her. Manas took a deep breath and stepped into the sunlight.

“I’d stay here, Great Lady,” Ludger said.

“I have no intention of returning to face that mob at this time,” Lilavati said, dropping wearily onto a stool next to the giant of the north. “I feel ill and do not think I would be able to control my emotions.” She shivered. “My sikha is the angriest I have ever seen him.”

“You didn’t see what he looked like when you took the arrow Alister shot,” Ludger said. He reached out one bandaged hand and patted her shoulder, the gray in his beard and hair far more obvious now. “Great Lady, you call him sikha, and I heard him call you katali. Are those words from your land?” Lilavati nodded. “What do they mean?” When Lilavati translated them, he chuckled. “They suit you both.” Ludger grunted. “I don’t suppose you’re strong enough to move me a little lower. I’m feeling dizzy, which isn’t unusual, and I want to recline more.”

“I do not have a great deal of physical strength, but I will see if I can assist you,” Lilavati said. With Ludger directing her, she managed to get him settled into a slightly more comfortable position.

“I’ll get the Great Lord, or a servant, to help me move lower later,” Ludger said. The pained look that had been forming around his eyes was fading. “You’re a very good helper, Great Lady. Did you receive any healer’s training in your country?”

“No, though I read much on our ways,” Lilavati said. “It is not forbidden for women to become surgeons. At least, it is considered an honorable trade for those who are not cursed.” She brushed her fingers across the marks on her face. A flash of the death priests startled her and she pulled her hand away quickly.

“What is it, Great Lady?” Ludger asked.

“I keep having visions that I no longer believe are directly tied to the curse Theda placed on me,” Lilavati said, frowning.

“What are they?” Ludger asked. She told him about how she was a little girl, and a man with her father’s name almost buried the child she saw herself as alive with her deceased mother. “How old do you think the child is in these visions?”

“Certainly not more than six,” Lilavati said, absently playing with one of her braids. “I would say her age is nearer to four.”

“Great Lady, what can you tell me about your mother?” Ludger asked.

“She is a spiteful, despicable waste of flesh who should never have been born,” Lilavati spat. “The only one of us she treats with any kindness is my younger brother Kavi, and that is only because he is my father’s true heir. She is civil to my father because the law states that if she makes him unhappy, he may divorce her. If he does that she goes back to her father’s house in a position that is little better than a slave.”

“Is that why you won’t go back to your father’s house?” Ludger asked.

Lilavati nodded. “They would kill me within a week of my return, and be completely within the law to do so.”

“Great Lady, the woman you call your mother, is her face the one you see in your earliest memories?” Ludger asked.

Lilavati raised one shoulder. “I abandoned all thought of my childhood when the freedoms it provided me were stripped away. I no longer cared about Ishani. She was gone, and only Lilavati remained.”

Ludger frowned. “Great Lady, I’ve studied a little of your language. Not much, but the Great Lord wanted us to at least know some basics. I was particularly fascinated by your names. Doesn’t the name Ishani mean ‘ruling’ or ‘ruler’?”

It was Lilavati’s turn to frown. “It does.”

to be continued…

I love you Mom

Melissa Mom Alissa Maegan Shandra

(This picture contains my older sister Melissa – who passed away from cancer in 2016, my mom – who passed away from cancer in 2003, my niece Alissa – who is Melissa’s youngest daughter, my youngest sister Maegan – who is mentally disabled and will never be able to live on her own, and my niece Shandra – Melissa’s oldest daughter.)

My mom. I still have so many conflicting emotions about her. My childhood wasn’t great living with her, but those two years before her death were amazing, and those are the ones I’m choosing to focus on more and more often now. She was so excited about my Katie being born. She so desperately wanted to be there. But her doctor told her that wasn’t going to happen. She went from diagnosis to death in three weeks – stage 4 stomach cancer that would have been discovered if her asshole doctor had just listened to her instead of brushing her off, telling her to “get a hobby” and that she was “depressed.”

Today would have been my mom’s 78th birthday. I often think about how life would have been different if she’d survived her cancer. Would we have lost our kids? Would we have ended up living on the coast? Would I have tried to commit suicide in 2013? Would she have abandoned us if we had lost the kids like the rest of our families did at that point in our lives?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is “I don’t know.” I’ve been asked how I can love my mom after all she did to me. Well, I can honestly say my childhood wasn’t all bad. I do have a ton of happy memories from it too. There was a lot of uncertainty and fear growing up in my parents’ house, about whether my mom’s mental illness – though none of us knew anything about bipolar disorder back then – would cause me problems or not, but we had a lot of fun too.

Like cooking lessons. On her good days, those were a blast. She was teaching me how to make chocolate chip cookies and had to run to the bathroom. I was 10 I think. She told me when the timer went off I was supposed to pull the cookies out of the oven. Except she forgot to set the timer. I realized this and decided to help. I looked at the recipe, saw it said 10 minutes, and then set the timer – it was one of the ones where you twisted the dial past 10  and then you could sent the time. I watched the timer and when it dinged I pulled out the cookies.

They were burnt. I was horrified (and a little scared – mom’s nature being what it was back then) that I was going to get yelled at. Mom came out and looked at them, then looked at the timer. “I didn’t set the timer, did I?” I explained what I’d done. She just laughed and showed me how to do it properly. And that the recipe said 8 to 10 minutes and that 8 minutes was almost too much in our oven. She usually only put them in for 6. She threw away the burnt cookies and we carried on.

Then there were the camping trips. Oh the camping trips. My dad was a workaholic when I was growing up, but when he took his vacation in the summer, we did two things – went to visit my grandparents and went camping. My visits to my grandparents were never comfortable, but that’s for another post. Let’s talk camping.

I think being outdoors was soothing to my mom. She loved camping, going for picnics, going fishing, doing anything she could outside. On our camping trips, we’d go to one of our favorite campgrounds in two cars. Up until I was probably 14 or 15, dad would be driving the old pickup he bought in the late 60s packed full of our camping gear while mom brought me and my little sister in the second car behind him, along with spare gear, most of the food, and whatever else we thought we couldn’t live without.

She and dad would set up the tent, and once I was strong enough to help, I’d help pound in tent stakes. We’d get the canopy up over the table in case of rain. And when I was a kid, it rained a lot more than it does now in southern Idaho. At least it seemed to me it did because just about every single camping trip we got rained on.

We used an old gold pan (the type you use when you go panning for gold, not one made of gold) that had it’s bottom sealed as our wash basin. We washed dishes in it. We washed our hands and faces in it. Water was boiled, first on a charcoal grill we packed with us, and then on the Coleman gas grill we started carrying because it was lighter and cheaper to pack around. Cold water was added to make it easier to use for all of us.

Dad would cook, we would eat, mom and I would do the dishes, and then we’d all scatter to do whatever during the day – usually hiking or playing in the river. We always seemed to manage to snag the campground with the path right down to the water. It was my parents’ favorite spot.

At night, after dinner, we’d gather around the fire pit that dad would have lit before dinner, and tended while we ate. It would be just about right. We’d talk for a bit and then dad would break out the makeshift skewers that had been a part of our family for years – wire hangers he’d bent and twisted into long metal rods with a twisted ring and the end that we held. We’d roast marshmallows and talk and laugh. Maegan always took her marshmallows to my mom to eat, and mom would dutifully eat them. After four or five, she’d tell my sister she’d had enough and Maegan would give her skewer to dad, who burnt off the residue and set the skewer aside for the next night.

After thatwe’d light the lamps – kerosene with the little sock like burning wicks – and play cards, Yahtzee, and everything else we could think of. Then I’d read, mom would write (she’s the one who fed my interest in becoming an author), Maegan would be put to bed, and dad would do whatever it was dad did. Sometimes strum on his guitar, before his hands got too bad. Sometimes whittling. Sometimes just sitting back with his feet by the fire pit, watching me and mom.

Then there were the rare times we made it to the coast. Oh, the smiles on my mom’s face when we got to do that. I remember one time, I think I was still in Job Corps but I can’t place what I was doing or when exactly it was for sure – memories being what they are, but I do know it happened because my dad has pictures, we went to the coast while I was living in Washington.

Dad huddled in his windbreaker with the camera while mom, Maegan, and I ran down to the edge of the water. It was a gray, windy day with a light, misting rain. Pretty normal for the coast, actually. We laughed, dug for sand dollars, and just had a great time. Mom’s grin was the biggest as we held up our finds for my dad to take our pictures. She laughed, ran around with me and Maegan, and was so happy. I loved seeing her like that.

A friend of mine, right after mom’s funeral, offered to paint a portrait of my mom from any photograph I could send her (she lived in Australia at the time.) Dad picked one from that trip, with mom laughing and the wind in her hair. I sent it to her, and about 3 months later, we got a package back from Australia. Inside was the photo we’d sent, and an incredibly well done portrait of my mother laughing. My dad kept it up on the wall until he remarried. I’ve told him when he dies I want that picture. He’s agreed I can have it.

He knows I’m not the one most hurt by my mom. My older siblings got that. I’m nine years younger than my next oldest sister and there were three older than me. (It went Clayton – my brother, Melissa – who passed away last year, and Amy – the one who’s closest to me in age among my older siblings…and she’s the one who’s nine years older than me.) But he knows that I bore the brunt of things so my little sister, who wouldn’t have understood any of it, didn’t suffer what I was. He knew I took the abuse my mom would have put on her, which in turn made me a bit of a bully towards Maegan at times because I didn’t think it was fair I had to do this for her, but in the end my protective nature towards my little sister won out and I continued protecting her for as long as I could.

When I moved out for good (or so I thought), when I went to Washington, I was terrified. Not only homesick, but because I was still Maegan’s protector. But at that point I was so lost in my own life, I didn’t realize my mom was already changing. I didn’t know that she was already seeking help, that she’d been reading a lot and had found out that my diagnosis of bipolar (when I was 16 – I was 22 when I went to Washington) was quite possibly her problem too.

My dad told me she found someone who listened to her and started her on a string of medications that at first made it worse, but within six months, they’d gotten her cocktail right and she was a whole new person. She could laugh, live, love, and wasn’t afraid of hurting her children anymore. Unfortunately, cancer took her before we could get to know this new mom better.

The others said their goodbyes but I don’t know that they ever really forgave her. I know they didn’t say that they did, even though she asked them. I was the only one who said I forgave her, though at the time I didn’t know if I really did. I don’t know that I have completely yet, but I am learning to let go of the negative and remember the positive. More and more I’m remembering the laughing, happy woman from my past, and not the abuse I grew up with. My thoughts are no longer focused only on that.

So, once more –

I love you Mom. Happy birthday! I miss you every day.