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Theda helped Lilavati to the low seat next to Manas’ as everyone gathered for the morning prayer. Lilavati slumped forward, her strength failing her. A strong arm wrapped around her. “Lean on me, my dark scholar,” Manas said, kissing the top of her head. “I’ll hold you up.”
Lilavati gratefully relaxed against him. Theda led the morning prayer, admonishing everyone to be on the lookout for traitors and to care for Lilavati as they were asked to because she was their lord’s savior. There were several grateful looks cast in her direction at the end. Manas kissed the top of her head again but released her when Ludger came to claim her.
“Great Lady, how’re you feeling today?” Ludger asked.
“Well rested,” Lilavati said, smiling up at him. “I do not have the strength I want however.”
Ludger shook his head. “You won’t for a long time. Most likely not until we reach Phiri Hu.”
“How long will that be?” Lilavati asked.
“Well, barring the stop we need to make to get you some proper clothing, we shouldn’t need to make any more unscheduled breaks in our traveling pattern,” Ludger said, frowning in thought. “So I’d say a month and a half if we’re lucky, but more likely two months.”
Lilavati nodded, suppressing a shiver. She had two months to find a way to break the curse of her haunted sight. Ludger pulled her to her feet and steadied her as they walked to the carts. He sat her on the ground on a cushion while the one he wanted her to ride in was loaded.
Manas came to check on her. “Are you all right, my dark scholar?”
“No,” she said. “But I cannot speak of why at this moment.”
“Will you tell me later?” Manas asked. Lilavati nodded. “Then I will be satisfied with that.” He knelt down beside her and leaned closer. “I wish you could ride. We would be able to talk more easily then.” His voice was soft in her ear.
“As do I, for I have much I wish to know and you are the only one who can tell me these things,” Lilavati said. She looked at him longingly. “How I wish I were not so weak.”
“You’ll get your strength back, my dark scholar,” Manas said. He kissed her before rising to his feet. “Ludger, make sure she’s comfortable.”
“I will, Great Lord,” Ludger said. “The preester will also be riding with her, so she’ll have some company to keep her from getting bored.”
“That’s good to know,” Manas said. He looked at Lilavati once more before striding off.
Lilavati wiped the tears forming in her eyes. It was foolish, but she was afraid every time Manas walked away from her it would be the last time she saw him. Ludger jumped down and lifted her up. He set her on the back of the cart before pulling himself up next to her. He got her settled against the pile of cushions and tucked a light blanket around her.
“The weather is clear, for now,” he said, squinting at the sky. “I don’t know if the storm I sense will break before or after the sun goes down. But if it does start before we reach our next campsite, I do have a cloak for you. The preester will help you put it on.”
“Thank you Ludger,” Lilavati said.
“You are quite welcome, Great Lady,” Ludger said. He patted her shoulder before leaping from the wagon.
“Ludger is unique, even among his people,” Theda said as she climbed in. “I’ve been to the area of the Northlands where his tribes live. They’re a hardy people. All of the men are tall like Ludger, and as well muscled, but Ludger towers over even them. He would have been an outcast among them, which is why I think he was willing to take the Great Lord’s offer of employment.”
“He is different from other sorcerers I have heard of,” Lilavati said. “The ones in our city were cold, aloof. They never mixed with the populace and if you wished their aid they would demand a high price. Those who received such assistance never talked about what they paid, but from what I knew of the few my father did business with, it was not coin that the sorcerers wished.”
Theda nodded. “There are some sorcerers out there like that, Great Lady. Such as the dark sorcerer that ensnared the minds and hears of the Great Lord’s parents. You will find Ludger is nothing like them. He craves knowledge and the Great Lord can provide him with that.”
The women were silent for several minutes as the caravan finally got under way. Using the noise of the cart and pounding feet as a cover, Lilavati lowered her voice and said, “Theda, how do I rid myself of this curse? I cannot enter Phiri Hu in two months and retain my sanity. I will not let Manas see me go mad because of the depravity of his parents.”
“I don’t know, Great Lady,” Theda said. “I’ve been praying to the Twelve for help, but so far they’ve given me none.”
“We have to tell Manas,” Lilavati said as the strange feline that now dwelt in her soul spoke to her for the first time. “He may have some ideas.”
“Great Lady, he’ll feel guilty that he cursed you in the first place,” Theda said.
“Perhaps,” Lilavati said. “Then he’ll want to do everything in his power to release me from it before we reach his home.”
“Great Lady, if Ludger is right, there will be a storm this evening. It won’t be safe for you to be out with him,” Theda said.
“I will decide that,” Lilavati said coolly. “As will Manas. I will consult him before I make my decision.”
“Great Lady, in your weakened state you could fall deathly ill,” Theda said.
The feline spoke again. “When I am with him, when he is changed, as long as I am covered and protected from the weather, I will be fine,” Lilavati said.
to be continued…