Writing prompt #4 – The curse of immortality


Writing prompt #4 – Eternity

Mysie walked through the streets of the ruined city. Around her the ghostly sounds of children’s laughter, women dickering over things in the market, and men arguing in the inns with their voices carrying even through the din of the other sounds. She instinctively moved out of the way when she heard a cart coming up behind her. She waited but nothing passed her.

She looked down at the ground. No carts would drive across these jagged stones. A mule couldn’t even cross them. She’d had to leave her beast tied to a branch in the forest that was no more that two meters from the edge of the fallen outer walls.

She lifted her head and resumed her slow and steady pace. It didn’t take long to get to her destination. It was a small building, its roof and door long gone. Even the windows had finally shattered, though the last time she’d been there they were still holding on.

She walked in, mindful of the debris scattered all over the floor. She stopped and looked around. Memories showed her a house with pale yellow walls and curtains of a darker yellow cloth. The floor was a rich amber, sanded wood with a dark red and gold rug sitting on top of it. A rocking chair sat in one corner near a well made brick fireplace. A sturdy straight backed chair sat on the other side of the fireplace.

Two happy, healthy children played with their toys on the carpet while a woman sang cheerfully as she fed the baby. The man – their father and the woman’s husband – sat in the straight backed chair whittling a boat for one of the children.

As Mysie moved farther into the house, her foot struck something. She glanced down. It was the boat. It had been painted blue and red before being given to the boy and now the paint was faded and badly chipped. Mysie sank to her knees and picked up the toy. All of the emotions she’d held in check during her progression through the city broke free. She clutched the boat to her chest and sobbed, rocking back and forth.

Her home, her friends, her family – all centuries gone. The last Emperor dead not long after. The Empire had collapsed, leaving the country in shambles and ripe for conquest. What had once been the jewel of the world was now broken up into several smaller portions, all at war with each over for more land and resources.

Mysie cried for several minutes until she had no more tears. When the grief was once again under control she found her eyes and chest hurt. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. She stood and looked at the boat. She started to set it on an exposed beam. She stopped, looked at it again, and then put it in a pouch on her belt.

Once before, she’d told people the gods had cursed her with immortality. They’d scoffed when she said it was a curse. They could only see the possibility of gaining unimaginable wealth, having as many spouses as they wanted over the years, leaving a large family line behind them, or watching their enemies die. They didn’t know the pain and sorrow she endured as she watched those she loved die while she remained forever young. They didn’t realize the horror of watching endless wars, and the bodies that piled up because of them.

Immortality was no gift. It was a curse. She screamed to the gods daily to take it away from her. They ignored her and left Mysie to wander the world in misery for eternity.


Writing prompt #3 – A thief’s mistake


Writing prompt #3 – A working-dad desperate for money to feed his family turns to robbery, only to find that he’s chosen a wizard as his victim.

Germanus watched as Jacira cut thin slices of the one loaf of bread he’d been able to bring home that day. His wife had a pinched look around her eyes, evidence of the hunger the entire family was feeling. Jacira stirred the pot where a very thin soup was boiling. It was water, some chicken bones Germaus had scavenged from an inn’s refuse pile, and some wrinkled vegetables he’d gotten at the market for a few pennies.

Lileas and Kiaran staggered up to the table. Germanus wanted to cry. His children were getting weaker and they were dangerously thin. Winter was coming and he feared that none of his family was going to survive the bitter cold.

The food was served and his chilren ate with the ravenous delight of the starving. “Mother, I’m still hungry,” Kiaran said, looking up at his mother with wide green eyes.

“Me too,” Lileas said, her blue eyes full of hunger and pain.

“Jacira, give the children my share,” Germanus said. “I’ll eat at breakfast.”

“Germanus, you were working on the cathedral today. You have to be hungry,” Jacira said.

“I am, but the children come first,” Germanus said.

Jacira refilled the children’s bowls and gave them the other two slices of bread. “You’re right dear, of course. The children should always come first.”

Lileas and Kiaran ate the rest of the food. “Now, off to bed with you,” Germanus said. “You have your lessons in the morning and I don’t want you falling asleep again. Your teacher doesn’t appreciate it.”

The children ran to their beds and curled up under the quilts. Jacira came and sat down across from her husband. “Germanus, this can’t go on,” she said in a soft voice. “The children won’t last the winter, and I’m not sure you and I will either. They’re getting too weak to even go to their lessons. What are we going to do?”

Germanus looked at a small chest in the corner of the room. It contained tools from a long ago life, a trade he’d given up when he met Jacira. Jacira followed his gaze. She turned back to look at him, a stricken look on her face.

“It’s all we have left, love,” Germanus said. “What else are we going to do? Until I can find work that pays a living wage we’re going to continue to go hungry. I won’t see our children die for want of food and warm clothing just because my employer is a skinflint who won’t give his employees more than the bare minimum required by the law.”

“Just don’t get caught, my dearest,” Jacira said. “We won’t survive if you’re in prison.”

Germanus kissed her. “I’m not completely out of practice,” he said. “I won’t get caught.”

Germanus opened up the chest and pulled out items he thought he’d never be using again – lockpicks, a small crowbar, climbing gloves, a rope, a grappling hook, smoke potions, and a set of clothing that vanished in the shadows. He changed into his thief’s outfit and walked through the door into the night.

Germanus slipped from dark patch to dark patch, watching for a likely place to hit. He couldn’t strike out at the ones in his area. The vast majority of those who lived there were as poor as he was.

He moved into the wealthier parts of town. He moved through the alleyways, looking in windows and keeping an eye out for the Night Patrol and household guards. As he grew discouraged by what he found, he peered through the window of a nondescript looking house to see inside a vast treasure trove of unique items that could signify great wealth.

He tested each window on the first floor and found them all securely locked. He glanced up and saw that all of the windows on the second floor were open. He used his grappling hook and climbed up the wall. He checked a couple windows and found one that looked like it led into an empty bedroom. He slipped inside.

He pulled a tiny candle out of his pocket and lit it with a match. The room was plain and unadorned with the kinds of fine things he expected to find. He shrugged, thinking it might have been a servant’s room, and cracked the door a little bit.

The hall was dark and no one was about. Germanus slid out of the room, closing the door silently behind him. He crept along, moving as silently as he could, looking through keyholes and under doors until he found one that appeared to be empty of people but full of treasure.

He pushed the door open and went in. The door slammed behind him and a rope rose from the ground and wrapped around him, pinning his arms to his body. A man dressed in rune covered robes and several heavy looking amulets materialized in front of him. He walked over and retrieved Germanus’ candle before settling into a chair. He steepled his fingers. “Tell me, little thief. Who are you and why have you entered my home uninvited?”

A compulsion so strong settled over Germanus that he knew he was under a spell. “My name is Germanus Calabrese, Master Mage. I’m a mason by trade. My family and I have very little. My employer pays only what the law requires so we are starving. I can’t let my children die, so I took to thieving again to supply us with the money to fill our larder so our children would be able to survive while I looked for other employment.”

The mage scrutinized him closely. “Well, you certainly are close to death. If you’re this way I can only imagine what your wife and children look like.” The mage tilted his head to one side. “No matter how noble your reason, you still were intending to steal from me. What do you think your punishment should be?”

Germanus met his gaze with no fear. “Do whatever you wish to me, Master Mage. I care not. But give my family the means to survive and I will meet your price.”

“You’re a brave man, Germanus Calabrese. A caring and loyal one too. I could use a man like you in my endeavors,” the mage said thoughtfully. “The work I’d have you doing would be hard, dangerous, and dirty. Your unusual skills would come in quite handy in fact.” He made a complicated gesture with his fingers and the ropes fell to the floor. The compulsion was gone as well. “I will take you into my employment. Your wages shall be fifteen silvers a week. That should be enough to help support your family, to get them into a better place.”

“Thank you, Master Mage,” Germanus said. “I will serve you until the end of my days.”

The mage smiled. “That is good to know.” He stood and walked over to a small chest on a side table. He pulled out a coin pouch and counted something into it. “Here are twenty silver, your first two weeks’ wages. You won’t receive your normal pay for those two weeks as this is a loan against those. This should help your family now, and once you’ve paid back the loan you will be given your normal pay.” He handed the pouch to Germanus.

“Thank you again, Master Mage,” Germanus said, taking the pouch and bowing.

“You will call me Master Berker,” the mage said. “Now, leave and return to your family. I expect you back here at nine o’clock in the morning.”

“As you wish, Master Berker,” Germanus said. He clutched the pouch to his chest as he hurried out of the house. He felt a rush of joy, and a tremor of fear. He didn’t know what the mage would make him do, but now his family would be taken care of and he wouldn’t need to worry about his children starving to death any more.

Writing Prompt #1 – A forger’s painting


Writing prompt: A counterfeiter’s coins or a forger’s fake works of art have magical properties.

Sophie sat back, eyeing her work critically. She glanced over at the original her client had given her. She smiled. The copy was perfect. She’d even managed to get the faded paint look, which most of those in her line of work seemed to forget. She laughed at the look on the curator’s face when she told him the million dollar Klimt he’d won at a highly overpriced auction was a fake.

Sophie’s legitimate job was assessing and confirming the value of paintings acquired for the Silverman Memorial Art Museum. The curator – Abel Silverman, great-grandson of the man the museum was named after – was good at business but terrible at judging art. That’s why he relied on Sophie to pass judgment on the paintings brought in by his auction hunters. She thought he’d have done better to hire real art collectors to do the auctions. They at least would have a better idea of what was real and what wasn’t, but he’d ignored her suggestion and was paying his nieces and nephews to do the work for him. It was job security for Sophie, since her second job was sporadic and didn’t always pay that well.

Sophie dipped her smallest brush in the antiqued white paint and dabbed it in the center of the eye on the rather lovely woman’s face. As she made this final touch, the woman blinked and yawned. Sophie sighed and set her brush down. It had happened again. The woman looked at her. “Who art thou, and why hast thou disturbed my rest?” she asked in a hollow, melodic voice. Her face twisted in a mask of irritation. “Do not say that thou art a thief of souls, for if that be true, I will call down the wrath of the Holy Father upon thee.”

Sophie pinched the bridge of her nose. “My lady, I am no thief. My purpose is to preserve and facilitate the further spread of the brilliant art of the past. The only way to do that is to make certain that each painting is duplicated so that it may reach other parts of the world. I speak true when I tell thou that I would never steal the spirit of the artist from their works. That would bring the curse of the artist and, as you so spoke, the wrath of the Holy Father upon me and mine household.”

The woman sniffed. “I am not certain I believe thou, but thou hast not said anything to bring me to the conclusion that thou art a liar,” she said. “Where would thou send me?”

“To a distant land, my lady,” Sophie said, glancing at the clock. “An island kingdom filled with the wealthy elite, who have graciously given me a small commission to ensure that thou art sent with haste and well protected from the rigors of such travel to them.”

“What be the name of this kingdom?” the woman asked. “Mayhap I have heard of it before.”

“My lady, this kingdom was discovered long after thy days on this earth were ended,” Sophie said. “However, if thou dost truly wish to know, the land is called Japan.”

The woman yawned and blinked sleepily. “I think I will rest again. See that thou protects me in a most careful and precise manner. I wish to come to no harm upon my long journey.”

“My lady, nothing – not even the worst storm the sea may throw at thee – will harm thee upon thy journey,” Sophie said fervently. The woman smiled vaguely before settling back into her original place. Sophie waited for another fifteen minutes before poking at the now dry paint. There was no reaction.

She ran her fingers through her curls. That was the part she hated about creating the forgeries. Something always came alive when she put the final drop of paint in place. Most of the time the paintings were benign and she just had to wait until they settled down. But there had been a few where the canvas itself was destroyed by the paintings because of what was shown.

Her cell phone rang, playing the theme for Game of Thrones. She giggled and picked it up. “Sophie, it’s John. That damned painting had better be finished,” a surly voice said on the other end.

“I finished it fifteen minutes ago and it’s already dry,” Sophie said. “Send Alphonse to pick it up. He can also take the original back to the client.”

“Make sure you mark which one’s which this time. The last time the client damn near turned us in for giving her the copy instead of the original,” John said.

“I told you which one was the copy. It’s not my fault you didn’t pay attention,” Sophie said. She heard him take a breath. She cut off the rant she knew he was developing before he could speak. “I’ll put a ribbon on the copy so there won’t be any dispute.”

“You’d better,” John said. “Alphonse will be there in half an hour.” The phone went dead.

“Asshole,” Sophie muttered. She slid the copy into a crate and, as promised, wrapped a long strip of red ribbon around it several times. She tied it off, and then glued the ribbon to the crate so it wouldn’t fall off. She went to the original and put it back in its crate. She set both of them near the front door and grabbed the next crate. She put a new canvas up on her easel. The next painting was waiting and she didn’t have time to waste.

Tiger, Tiger – Part twenty one


Photo via Visual hunt

Lilavati looked around. “But there is no tent,” she said.

“Sit, my dark scholar, and I will explain why,” Manas said. Lilavati sat beside him while Theda settled on a rock across from them. Lilavati got the impression the preester was actually far older than she looked. She gave herself a mental shake and turned her attention to the man she was about to marry. “My dark scholar, Lilavati, what do you know of curses?”

Lilavati didn’t answer right away. She was aware of their existence. She’d seen the havoc a curse could wreak on a person’s life in that indeterminate time between childhood and womanhood. Strange things had happened to a family her father knew that couldn’t have been the work of men. They were driven from their home and eventually from the city.

“Curses are real,” she said finally. “I know this. They can take many forms, and are caused by unknown powers that are seen and felt.”

“Sometimes the causes are known,” Manas said. “Though the reason for it isn’t.” Lilavati tilted her head to one side, eyes wide open. He sighed and stripped off his armor. He glared at Theda. “I didn’t want to do this until we were wed, when I was sure she wouldn’t be able to run home.”

“I cannot return to my people, no matter the fears you bear,” Lilavati said softly. Manas looked at her. “Were I to do so, I would be killed. I am a married woman in their eyes. No married woman is permitted to leave her husband for any reason. If she does, then she is put to death.”

“So no matter what truth the Great Lord tells you, you are bound to his fate as well as your own?” Theda asked. Lilavati nodded. Theda gave Manas that same look she had on the road. Lilavati wished she could understand the facial expressions of the northerners better.

Manas shook his head. “You were right, Preester. It seems the wisdom of the Twelve wins out, as usual.” He was bitter and angry, that Lilavati could tell. He took a deep breath and pulled his tunic. There was a band wrapped around his chest and upper stomach. His fingers moved slowly as he undid the buckles holding it in place. He pulled it away.

Lilavati couldn’t help but gasp as she saw the terrible scars running across his chest. There were four of them that had torn through flesh and looked to even have scored the bone. “How do you yet live?” she asked.

“Because they aren’t entirely real,” Manas said. “They are phantoms, like what you’ve seen today. Well, to an extent. There are real scars there. They were carved into my flesh with a dagger.”

“Why?” Lilavati asked.

Manas wrapped the band back in place, pulled his tunic back on, and sat down before answering. Lilavati hadn’t even realized he was standing. “My parents were…not good people. They angered a lot of the nobility in the kingdom. The king ignored their depravity because they were able to send him large amounts of tax money and fine gifts they gathered from their travels.”

“So why not curse them?” Lilavati asked.

“They were protected by dark magic,” Manas said. “I don’t know where they found him, but they brought home a mage who seemed impossibly large to a small boy. He wore black and red robes covered in strange symbols and had strings of bones and claws around his neck. He even had a small human skull hanging from his belt.” He rubbed his jaw. “He terrified me. He would stroke the skull and smile whenever I was in the room. He would deliberately seek me out and try to convince me to come to his chambers. I ran away from him as often as possible.”

“Would your parents not defend you?” Lilavati asked

“They encouraged his behavior. They wished me to fear him. They told me they’d give me to him if I didn’t do exactly as they said,” Manas said. He shuddered. “I can’t talk about all the horrors I saw back then.”

“Then tell me of the curse, if you can without speaking of those things,” Lilavati said.

Manas took a deep breath. “One of my parents’ enemies sent assassins in to kill them. It didn’t work. But the men who came in didn’t stop. Instead of staying to die themselves, they snatched me and carried me off. They were very surprised when I started thanking them. They took me to their masters and I spilled everything out to them, from the mage to the weaknesses in the defenses.” He paused. “Including the one way I knew of to kill my parents.”

Lilavati pulled back. “You wished to be free of them so much that you gave their enemies the key to their deaths?” She didn’t know if she was horrified or if she approved. The abuse of a child was one of the worst crimes to commit in her homeland, if you could get someone to admit it was happening. But to have that child turn around and betray their own family was something unthinkable.

“Let me explain something, Lilavati,” Manas said. He took her hand. She let him. “War, famine, disease – these weren’t the things that killed people in my lands during the time my parents ruled. They and their dark mage were. Their foul magician required human blood for his spells, and where else were they going to get it? Destroying their power meant killing them. There was no other way to protect my people.”

“Is that what you were thinking of when they stole you?” Lilavati asked, looking into his cat like eyes.

Manas shook his head. “I was a nine year old boy standing in front of adults not covered in blood who treated me with the first kindness I’d had since I was a very young child. I was given food, comfortable clothing, a real bed, baths and attention that didn’t come after a blow. I was desperate for this kind of affection. I didn’t even realize I’d told them what I did until afterwards.”

“What happened?” Lilavati asked, terrified but determined.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part twenty


Photo via Visual hunt

Manas joined them at that point. “You don’t what, my dark scholar?”

“She doesn’t regret leaving her home, in spite of your secrets and her new curse,” Theda said.

“Preester, it’s my secret to keep,” Manas said.

“That is something we need to discuss after we set up camp,” Theda said. She gave Manas a look Lilavati couldn’t identify. “Great Lord, this conversation must be held at your tent.”

“Preester, that’s not something I’m willing to do,” Manas said.

“Then this union isn’t going to work and you shouldn’t have brought the Great Lady out of the Southlands,” Theda said.

“Why do you say such things of your Great Lord?” Lilavati asked.

“I call him Great Lord because I’m attached to his household,” Theda said. “We actually hold an equal rank to each other, and those above me in the temples outrank him. Only the High King holds equal power to the Archpriest, but that’s something for another day.” She fixed Manas with a stern look. “Great Lord, I know you think you’re doing this to protect her, but keeping her in ignorance is most likely one of the reasons she’s so susceptible to an assassin.” She paused. “Great Lady, I would ask that – when we get into the discussion – you tell the Great Lord what you remember of your mother’s tales of your facial markings.”

“I will do my best,” Lilavati said. “I must see what I can draw up into the front of my mind.”

“Great Lord, this isn’t a request. We will be having this conversation at your tent,” Theda said.

Manas glared at her but finally bowed his head. “It will be as you say, Preester.” He turned and rode off.

“He is angry,” Lilavati said.

“Of course he is. I challenged his authority and reminded him that while his comes to him through inheritance and secular power, mine comes from the Twelve,” Theda said. “It may not seem like much to you, Great Lady; not with your disdain for your own religion. But for us? This means a lot, and to defy me when I pull what I just did is to argue with the Twelve. That’s dangerous and could lead to so much more trouble for him.”

Ludger called a stop a short while later and Lilavati watched as the camp was laid out. Sieglinde found her talking to Theda, their horses having already been claimed. “Forgive me, Preester, but I need the Great Lady so we can set up her tent,” the golden haired servant said.

“You can set it up yourself, Sieglinde,” Theda said. “The Great Lady and I will be meeting with the Great Lord shortly at his tent.” Sieglinde’s eyes widened. “Yes, he knows we’re coming. Make sure everything is set up for her, and make her something to calm her nerves. She’s most likely going to need it.”

“Yes Preester.” Sieglinde gave what Lilavati thought must be the typical obeisance to a religious leader and scurried off.

“We’ll wait a little longer. Things need to be more settled,” Theda said. She glanced at the sky. “We have several hours yet before we need to worry. Let us hope he doesn’t try to draw it out so we don’t have to discuss all that’s necessary.”

“Manas does not seem to be a man who would delay a situation to avoid it,” Lilavati said.

Theda snorted. “He’s very good at that, Great Lady. It’s one of the many reasons he’s lasted as long as he has at Phiri Hu.”

Manas came up to them a short while later. “Let’s go to my tent,” he said, scowling. “I dislike being forced into things, Preester.”

“So my predecessor told me,” Theda said, looking completely calm. “To the Twelve, what a mortal likes has no meaning. It’s what is necessary for the safety and well being for the whole group that matters.”

“And this conversation will be vital for everyone?” Manas asked, gesturing to the entire band of soldiers and servants as they walked away from the main body.

“It is for you and the Great Lady, and that is the gathering I’m concerned with right now,” Theda said. “I’m already irritated with you right now, Great Lord. I told you not to give the potion to anyone without dire need.”

“I felt it was a dire need. She wouldn’t have stayed in her saddle otherwise, and she brought up a very valid point,” Manas said.

“Which was?” Theda asked.

“That being an outsider was bad enough. If I were to insist she ride in a cart, what little respect my people were giving her would be gone. They would no longer be as diligent in serving and protecting her because she’d be seen as a burden,” Manas said.

“Is this what you saw, Great Lady?” Theda asked, turning to her.

“It is,” Lilavati said. She frowned when they stopped. “Is this where we are going?”

Manas sighed and sat down on one of the large rocks. “Yes, my dark scholar. It is.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part nineteen


Photo via Visual hunt

“What is the Barrier?” Lilavati asked.

“You won’t like it,” Manas said. “But I should prepare you since we’re about to pass into the area and I’m willing to wager you’re going to see it.” He took a deep breath. “A thousand years ago, when the Antinarians and the Velrusians – ancient ancestors to both our peoples, my dark scholar – fought a bitter war over these lands, the Velrusians needed time to muster their forces after a horrific battle. So, late into the night for nearly a week, the Velrusians gathered the dead of both sides and piled them high in a line between them and the Antinarians. They didn’t differentiate between man or beast and they stacked it as high as they could.”

Lilavati gasped as they rounded the corner. She couldn’t hold it in. She bit her lip to stop the sobs welling up inside of her. The only thing that kept her rooted to her saddle and not running in the opposite direction was the presence of the preester.

“I take it you can see it, Great Lady?” Theda asked quietly.

“It stands higher than my father’s house. I dare not look to see how far it extends, for to do so would be to draw more attention to myself than I care to,” Lilavati said. “I am already making more of a stir than I wish.”

Manas glanced over his shoulder. “I think you’re right, my dark scholar. Would you like me to tell you what everyone else sees?”

“They see great rocks stained with something that makes them a washed out brownish red. They do not understand that it is blood that they see,” Lilavati said. “The blood of thousands of men, women, children, and beasts.” She shuddered. “For it was not only the dead of battle they chose, Manas. It was the villagers and townsfolk from nearby. If they were already dead, I could understand. But I just witnessed a Velrusian soldier slit a woman’s throat. Her abdomen was swollen and she was near the time of birthing.”

“How can you be sure of that?” Manas asked.

“Do I need to tell you?” Lilavati asked, meeting his gaze.

Manas looked into her eyes for a moment. He saw what she wouldn’t say. “No you don’t,” he said softly.

“Great Lord, it looks like there’s a good spot for us on a plateau about six spans past the Barrier,” Ludger called. “Is that far enough ahead to suit you?”

“It should be,” Manas said.

“Good. Then we need to turn our track just a bit to the west,” Ludger said. The group shifted and moved on.

Manas drifted between chatting with his soldiers and servants, conferring with Ludger, and making sure Lilavati was staying in her saddle. She knew he wanted to remain by her side, but Theda reminded him he needed to act normal or things would just get better for the dark woman.

Lilavati was grateful for Theda’s presence. She kept the worst of the sickness and horror away, though she couldn’t completely blind Lilavati to what she saw. The preester kept Lilavati’s spirits up as they passed through some of the most horrific, violent, terrifying things she’d ever seen.

They passed through the Barrier and Lilavati was able to straighten in her saddle. “Don’t get comfortable, Great Lady,” Theda said. “You’ll still see random pockets of violence along here.”

“Will I see anything as sickening as what we just passed through at the Barrier?” Lilavati asked. “For as long?”

“As horrific? Quite possibly,” Theda said. “But no, the Barrier is the worst event in history in this part of the country, other than the Devouring – which I know you also saw.”

“What were those creatures?” Lilavati asked.

“We’ll talk about that when I can get you and Manas alone for a while,” Theda said. “Among many things. Great Lady, I think the two of you need to talk, and not just about the curse that’s been placed on your eyes.”

“He refuses to tell me what haunts the camp at night that forces me to seal myself away,” Lilavati said. “But what I would need to tell him I do not know. I have no secrets that I have not told him.”

“Why you were marked the way you were?” Theda asked.

“I do not know why the Thousand – or whoever it is that put this on my face – did it,” Lilavati said.

“Did your parents not tell you any stories as to why you were so ugly?” Theda asked. “In their eyes, at least.”

Lilavati frowned. “My mother, perhaps, when I was little. But my father forbade them when it became obvious I was a scholar rather than something more suited to a young woman in a noble house.” Her lips quirked. “Then again, even at that age I knew I would never win a husband. I was never told I could not be a scholar as an adult so I went through my childhood happily thinking I might attend the chuo kikuu.” The smile turned bitter.

“You wished to be a scholar, Great Lady?” Theda asked.

“It was the purpose to which I dedicated my life,” Lilavati said. “I hoped to find answers to every question I wanted to ask, even the ones I did not yet know. But when my first blood appeared, my father pushed me from his library and banned me on threat of a beating. The one time I defied him, he broke two of my ribs to prove to me that I was no longer a welcome guest in what I once considered our shared domain.”

“Great Lady, have you known no love at the hands of your family?” Theda asked.

Lilavati smiled. “My brother Kavi loved me. It is not the false affection my parents showed when we were around guests. He truly wanted to be with me, even when no other member of my family would look at me. I taught him to love the written word, and to speak the five other languages I know. We talked often of the politics my father forced him to learn and I was able to explain them so he could understand them.”

“Do you regret leaving him behind?” Theda asked.

“No,” Lilavati said. “I do not.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part fifteen


Photo via Visual hunt

It was harder staying in the saddle than Lilavati guessed it would be. It wasn’t more than an hour after breaking camp before she was regretting her choice. Manas rode up next to her. “You shouldn’t be riding, my dark scholar,” he said.

“I will not be put in a cart, as if I were some kind of baggage,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Why not? There is no shame in admitting you need help,” Manas said.

“There is, in the eyes of your people,” Lilavati said softly.

Manas drew his horse closer to hers. “Why do you say that?”

“Right now, I am simply the outsider, the stranger,” Lilavati said. “I am an anomaly they haven’t been able to catalogue, to put into a slot in their lives. Should I give in and prove I am the burden they suspect? I’ll never have their respect, and my life will be worth nothing to them.”

“You think so little of my people’s willingness to do as they’re told?” Manas asked.

“They’ll do it, but not with the kind of immediacy that is needed when dealing with assassins,” Lilavati said. “If I die because of it, they know you’ll be angry. But they also know that eventually you’ll forget about me and move on. I’m a transitional part of your life until we reach your home. So I cannot show too much weakness in front of them.”

“You’ll do yourself harm by this,” Manas said.

“I will survive,” Lilavati said. She winced as they hit a rough spot in the road. The horse stumbled a little, but recovered quickly. Lilavati was jarred forward but thanks to the strange gift she’d been given at birth, she never fell off. “This is why I chose to ride. I know I won’t fall, though I will be in great pain.”

“At least let me give you something that will help with that,” Manas said.

“I can’t have anything that will influence my ability to think and react,” Lilavati said. “While this is all reflex, there are still things that take conscious thought to deal with.”

“I drink it myself when – when I am in pain as I ride,” Manas said. “I can’t afford to have my wits muddled either.” He passed her a small bottle, concealing the movement with his body. “Don’t let them see you drink this, but take a few swallows. Do it quickly, and make no sound. It won’t be pleasant but it’ll help.”

Lilavati did as he said, fighting back the retching when she passed it back. He openly handed her a waterskin, which he’d already opened. She quickly drank, taking just enough to wash the taste from her mouth. “That was awful,” she said, when he put the waterskin back on his saddle.

“I’ve grown used to it,” Manas said. “It both eases the pain and clears the mind, or so I was told. I’ve needed it for the past few years and I’ve never had issues with it.” He paused. “Though it’s made from northern herbs, and you’re not used to them. I didn’t stop to think of that.”

“We will find out if it helps or harms me soon,” Lilavati said. She smiled. “You can blame the assassin if I get ill from this.”

“That doesn’t make me any easier, my dark scholar,” Manas said.

“Do not worry, my amber eyed lord,” Lilavati said. She took a few deep breaths. “I feel no ill effects now. We just need to watch and wait.”

“I’ll be watching you very carefully,” Manas said. He moved his horse back from hers a bit, though his eyes never left her face.

They rode this way for a few hours until finally Manas relaxed and turned his attention to the road in front of them. Lilavati studied his profile. She frowned. She saw something different, a faint aura she’d never noticed before. It covered him from head to toe.

She glanced back over her shoulder, but saw no such light around any of the others. She looked down at her hands. An aura similar in brightness, though not color, emanated from her skin. She returned her gaze to the road. She looked at everything they passed, and nothing – living or inanimate – radiated the same kind of light she and Manas carried.

As they neared a crossroads, Lilavati shivered. She could hear – faintly – pounding hooves and men shouting. Screams of agony and rough voices sounding their rough battle cries echoed in her mind. She wanted to cover her ears but no one else seemed to hear anything. The sound got louder the closer she got to the large area surrounding the four way crossing.

She looked around as Manas and Ludger consulted the map. Her eyes picked out places where men and horses died on the dry grass that was slowly taking the place of her beloved sands. Yet what she saw wasn’t the sere, dry stalks. It was a verdant land, filled with green and water. Blood ran as freely as the streams that ran where the roads now sat.

She pressed one hand against her forehead briefly, hoping Manas wouldn’t see it. A moment later, his hand was on top of hers. “Do you need to rest, my dark scholar?” he asked softly.

“Tell me quickly, was there ever a great battle fought here?” she asked, her voice cracking as the ghostly visions she saw continued to play out.

Manas looked at her strangely. “This was the site of the war that divided the Northlands and the Southlands nearly a thousand years ago. Why do you ask?”

“Because I can see them,” Lilavati whispered. “The soldiers, their animals, the rivers of blood. I can see it all.” She tilted her chin towards the ground. “We are standing in the middle of a river, and where Ludger is was a great barrier of stone to prevent anyone from crossing here.”

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part fourteen


Photo via Visual hunt

Manas set Lilavati down on a pile of blankets, which his men hastily threw together for her. He left her to rest as the camp continued to shift around her back into the efficient traveling group it had been the previous day. She lifted her face up, feeling the sun warm her skin. “You should wear some kind of protection from that, Great Lady. Or you’ll lose what beauty you have,” a sniveling voice said.

Lilavati turned to see who’d spoken. A thin man in the same kind of clothing as the other servants stood next to her. “As I have none to lose, I don’t see any issue with this,” she said, shifting a little so her hand was on the hilt of her blade. “Who are you?”

“I am Alister, Great Lady.” He moved a few things around before joining another, larger group of servants. She frowned. She didn’t know what it was, but she felt something off about him.

Manas joined her a few minutes later. “You have such a look on your face, my dark scholar. What’s wrong?”

“Do you know all the names of those who serve you?” Lilavati asked.

“I do,” Manas said.

“Then can you tell me about the one named Alister?” Lilavati asked.

“Alister? He’s been with me for five years now,” Manas said. “He’s a good, honest man. He came from another part of the Northlands, much as Ludger did. Alister was in dire straits when we found him, half dead and being stalked by a wolf pack. We chased off the wolves, nursed him back to health, and he became my servant once he could stand on his own two feet.” He looked down at her. “Why?”

Lilavati shook her head. “I see assassins everywhere and all odd sounds and voices send me into a slight panic.” She smiled. “I suppose I must remember that not all your people are the same.”

“This isn’t the Southlands, Lilavati. We aren’t a homogeneous people. We have our own ways, our own laws, and our own ways of ruling over different segments of the population,” Manas said.

Lilavati laughed. “You, a lord who claims to be a scholar, believes the Southlands are only one people? One nation?” She shook her head. “I have much to teach you about my home as you do me about yours.”

“I look forward to the learning,” Manas said. He stooped and kissed her forehead. “We’re ready to move out. All we need is those blankets stowed and you on your horse.” He straightened and held out his hand. “Can you do it?”

Lilavati slid her hand into his and gripped it tightly. He pulled her up and she steadied herself against his supportive arm. She took a few steps and found she wasn’t as shaky as she’d been. She let Manas keep her steady as she went to the side of her horse.

She eyed the animal, who sat there placidly, waiting for her to mount. “I think I’ll need help with this,” she said, feeling the same weakness in her arms that she’d had when she first tried to ride as a child.

“Then up you go,” Manas said. He lifted her again – how can one man be so strong? Lilavati thought – as he helped settle her in the saddle.

She grabbed the reins and adjusted her position slightly, moving with the horse as it moved under her. She waited to see if she was going to fall off. “I think I’m going to be fine. As long as she doesn’t try to throw me, I should be able to stay on.”

“Then lets get on the road. We’re already well behind the schedule I hoped to keep,” Manas said. He smiled at her as he brought his horse next to hers. “And I do not consider it your fault, my dark scholar. It is the doing of the assassins who have chosen to attempt to kill you.” He paused. “Though why they chose you I don’t know.”

“I already voiced my thoughts that they wish to stop our wedding,” Lilavati said.

“I know,” Manas said as they started forward. “But why you instead of me? I’m the logical choice as I am the one with all the power.”

“True, but look how many guards you surround yourself with,” Lilavati said. “Your servants are numerous as well, and they are loyal to you. They would do whatever was necessary to protect you.” She shook her head. “I am the outsider, the stranger, the new one. I am the bride who is, as of yet, unmarried to their lord. They aren’t sure of me, so they aren’t entirely sure about whether or not I’ll make a good wife for you. This is why I am such an easy target for the assassins. I am not so closely guarded.”

“That’s going to change,” Manas muttered under his breath.

“It won’t change until they do, and that will not be until we reach your lands,” Lilavati said. “Even then, their hostility will remain until long after the ceremony.”

Manas took one of his hands off of the reins and rubbed it through his hair. “You have a point, my dark scholar. I will see what I can do to make sure you are better protected.”

“I doubt you can do much,” Lilavati said.

“What I want to do is know who is behind it,” Manas said. “I have no enemies that I know of. Does your father have someone who would do this? An old rival, perhaps? Someone who does not wish him to prosper?”

“I am not aware of any,” Lilavati said. “Then again, I would not know all of his dealings. Women are kept out of that side of our society.”

Manas shook his head and returned his hands to the reins. “We will find a way to protect you and stop this.”

“I thank you, my amber eyed lord,” Lilavati said, choosing a name from his looks as he’d chosen one from hers.

He stiffened in his saddle, but then relaxed. “You noticed what most don’t,” he said.

“I have seen more than just the color,” Lilavati said.

Manas looked at her. “There is much we will have to discuss when we reach my home.” She nodded and they both fell silent. Lilavati relaxed, letting her body shift and bend with the motion of the horse. Behind her she could hear the sound of marching feet. She felt a shiver go down her spine.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eleven


Photo via Visual hunt

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…

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