Tiger, Tiger – Part sixty four

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Lilavati awoke to find Manas at her back, as usual. She sat up, wincing as she pushed herself up. She glanced down to see an angry red mark on her left wrist where the bracelet with her tiger charm usually was. She frowned, and patted around the bedding for it. Her hand encountered the braided silk and she pulled the bracelet out from under the blanket. She gave a sigh of relief as she confirmed the tiny tiger was still intact.

She went to put it on but the burning mark on her wrist made it impossible. She slid it onto her right wrist instead and stood. She lit the fire under the brazier and started breakfast. She frowned, looking at the light she could see through the tent. She opened the door slightly and saw that the sun was farther up than she expected.

“Great Lady, are you and the Great Lord ready to leave so soon?” Ludger asked as he turned away from the few servants already loading supplies into a cart. “We’re not quite ready to break down the camp. Most people are still getting up.” He laughed. “The storm kept too many of us awake.”

Lilavati joined in the laughter. “No, we are not prepared to depart this place yet. I was confused by the amount of light. I am not accustomed to rising past the normal time.”

“No one is, which is why it’s amusing to me,” Ludger said. “Just let us know when you’re ready and we’ll get your things into the cart.”

Lilavati stepped back inside the tent and sealed the door. She turned around and was caught in her beloved’s arms. He kissed her passionately. “My katali,” he murmured, tangling her hair in his hands.

Sikha,” she whispered, pressing against him. She could feel his desire and it sent fire through her blood.

He pulled back abruptly, chest heaving. He wasn’t wearing his binder and she could see that the curse marks had actually retreated a little. What he’d gained during the incident with Theda and her assassins was gone.

“I can’t do this,” he muttered. “I want you so badly, but the Twelve will add to our already considerable difficulties if I take you without being properly married.”

“Call for the acolyte,” Lilavati said. “Once you dress.”

“Why?” Manas asked as he started bathing.

“What if she has the ability to do the ceremony to bind us together?” Lilavati asked. “Must we have all of the trappings of the celebration? Or might we not do it in private, with only a few to witness it.”

Manas turned to face her, eyes wide. “You’d marry me here, now, with no celebration, no grand ball or feast. It would just be the two of us and what witnesses the acolyte requires.”

“I need no such things,” Lilavati said, her cheeks heating as she pulled on one of her Northern gowns. “So long as I am able to be bound to you, that is all I wish.”

Manas finished dressing and strode out of the tent. He returned a short while later with Ludger and the acolyte. “Ariane, I have a question for you,” Manas said. “I know you haven’t taken your final vows, but I also know that there are things you can do even without them. Are you able to do the ceremony that marries people?”

Ariane blinked. “I believe so,” she said. She gasped. “You wish me to wed the two of you here, now. To do it outside a temple, on unconsecrated ground.”

“You don’t need that to perform a wedding ceremony, Ariane,” Ludger said. “I’ve seen plenty of weddings take place with a preester in fields, village squares, and even places consecrated to foreign gods. You can do it here in this tent.”

“You’d need at least one witness,” Ariane said.

“That’s most likely why he brought me here,” Ludger said. He turned a speculative eye on Manas. “I have a feeling I know at least one reason you’re doing this.”

“There are many reasons why I wish to wed my katali,” Manas said. He swallowed hard. “One of them is the Halls of the Damned.”

Ludger nodded. “Ariane, marry them.”

Ariane pursed her lips. “I don’t know though. This isn’t the normal way of doing things.”

“You’ll learn that the ordinary methods of doing things don’t matter in my domain,” Manas said. “Nor do they matter in my company. I do as I please, within the limits placed on us by the Twelve. If this is permitted by the Twelve – which it seems it is – then I desire you to do this.”

“As you wish, Great Lord,” Ariane said with a sigh. She drew a contract out of her belt. “Ludger, you should read this and make sure it’s right. I’ve only ever written a few of these for the High Preester and I’m not entirely certain hers were correct.”

Ludger took the velum from her and read what was written. “It’s all in order, Ariane,” he said. A light flashed and the velum glowed blue for a moment before the light faded. “And now it’s not bespelled.”

Ariane smiled gratefully. “I didn’t want to do anything that would hurt the Great Lord and the Great Lady,” she said. She turned to Manas and Lilavati. She looked Lilavati straight in the eye. “Do you wish this as well, Great Lady?”

“I do,” Lilavati said in a ringing voice.

“I’ll skip the usual homily on the sanctity of marriage,” Ariane said. “You two seem to understand each other far better than most couples do.”

Manas glanced at Lilavati. “We’ve learned a lot about each other in these past few weeks.” Lilavati nodded her agreement.

“The Twelve don’t look favorably on those who choose violence and anger to enforce decisions in a union. You must use words and reason to get your point across. Never let your faith in each other and in the Twelve waver. Hold tight to each other, in both dark times and light. Let nothing break your bond, not even death.” She frowned, closing her eyes and mouthing the words. Then she smiled and opened her eyes once more. “May the Twelve bless your union with love, light, laughter, and peace. May you find yourselves granted with the children you desire and the life you wish. So mote it be.”

“So mote it be,” Manas murmured. Lilavati did the same. All three of them signed the contract.

“It’s done, Great Lord,” Ariane said. “You and the Great Lady are now wed.”

to be continued…

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Racing the Wind, Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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