Photo via Visual hunt
Lilavati knew Sieglinde was watching her as she worked, so she took great care not to embarrass herself by doing something so stupid as cut or burn her fingers. “Great Lady, how did you learn to cook?” Sieglinde asked from her corner.
“My family was reluctant to let me eat with them because of how ugly I am,” Lilavati said. “So I needed to take care of my own needs. At first I went to the kitchen and the slaves fed me. Then I grew tired of that. So I had one of them teach me to cook. While my family ate what they wished, I was able to do the same.”
“Slaves, Great Lady? Your people keep slaves?” Sieglinde asked. She seemed very disturbed by the idea.
“Sieglinde, Manas gave my father one hundred slaves as part of my bride price,” Lilavati said. “Did you not know that?”
Sieglinde looked ill. “I know the Great Lord said he was going to have to do it, in order to secure you, but I didn’t think he was serious.”
“Slavery is a way of life among my people,” Lilavati said. “Just as servants instead of slaves is a way of life among yours.”
Sieglinde shook her head. “I keep forgetting that not all lands are like the Great Lord’s.” She smiled ruefully. “I wish it were so, for Phiri Hu is a paradise as far as I am concerned.”
“But will I find it so?” Lilavati asked. “I am not the same as you, Sieglinde. As you pointed out, all lands are different and what you consider paradise I might consider part of the eleven hells.”
“Eleven hells Great Lady?” Sieglinde asked. “Is that part of your religion?”
“It is, though I’ve never really given much thought or care for it,” Lilavati said. “The gods cursed me with this face, though they gifted me with cleverness, grace, and an honorable streak that has gotten me into trouble more than once because I wouldn’t divulge secrets I was given in confidence.”
“You can keep a secret well then,” Sieglinde said.
Lilavati nodded. “I find that keeping them is far easier than explaining to the person who confided in me why I broke their trust.”
“Great Lady, do you wish to know anything about where we’re going?” Sieglinde asked.
“Actually, yes I do,” Lilavati said as she stirred the tiny pot that rested over the coals. “I have several questions, though I don’t know how many you can answer. My first is why must we be locked away at night?”
Sieglinde hesitated. “Great Lady, I think that is something best left until we get to Phiri Hu. That is for the Great Lord to explain, as it is his orders.”
Lilavati nodded. “I thought as much.” She tasted what she was cooking. The spices were different from what she was used to, but it wasn’t bad. It didn’t look like the meat was all the way rehydrated yet so she continued stirring. “Sieglinde, is there a curse at work here?”
Sieglinde choked. “Great Lady?”
Lilavati shook her head. “Sieglinde, Manas chose me because I’m intelligent. I’m not a fool. We have to be sealed away in our tents by nightfall. We can’t leave else Manas can’t guarantee our safety. We are still near enough to my city for me to know there are no night prowling beasts here that could harm us. So, the only reason for this edict is because there is some kind of curse at work.”
“I can’t confirm that, Great Lady,” Sieglinde said. “Or deny it. That is something you’ll have to ask the Great Lord in the morning.”
“I believe I shall,” Lilavati asked. The meat looked like it was through cooking and she pulled the pot off the fire. She hooked it to the cunning little bracket on the tripod that held it. She scooped the contents out into a bowl to let it cool a bit before eating. “Sieglinde, everyone here is so pale?”
Sieglinde laughed. “It’s because we come from a land that isn’t as hot as yours, Great Lady. The sun doesn’t bake us. It gives us light and gentle warmth. It feeds our crops, as does the rain.”
“Rain?” Lilavati sat up. “You have rain?”
“Of course, Great Lady. Do you not see that here?”
“We do, but not often. It is a moment of great rejoicing when it does come,” Lilavati said. “It shows the Thousand Gods are pleased with us.”
“You have a thousand gods?” Sieglinde asked. “We only have twelve.”
Lilavati laughed. “I doubt there are really a thousand. But as I said, I question the validity of our religion. I have seen no miracles, no proof of the power of our priests and priestesses. They have given me no answers as to why I was cursed. So I have no desire to pursue a relationship with the gods of my people.”
“Perhaps the Twelve will give you an answer,” Sieglinde said. “They are very close to our people, Great Lady. You will have to learn their ways and how to honor them. But it isn’t hard and I think you’ll find them far more responsive than you’re used to.”
“That sounds quite intriguing, Sieglinde. Now, another question. Just how much water do you have in Phiri Hu?” Lilavati asked.
“Oh, we have lakes that span miles, Great Lady,” Sieglinde said. “And rivers as wild as anything you’ve seen. Phiri Hu even borders the sea, though I’ve never seen it.”
“The sea?” Lilavati felt a rush of excitement. “I’ve wanted to go there since I was a little girl and first learned of it in one of the books I purchased from a merchant of the east.”
“Perhaps the Great Lord will take you there one day,” Sieglinde said.
“That I would love,” Lilavati said.