Tiger, Tiger – Part fifty


Captain Jorg Weiss was a florid faced graybeard who stood taller than Lilavati’s beloved, with what remnants were left of his hair combed behind and fastened with a leather band in a vain attempt to give him some sense of military dignity. His armor barely fit around a midriff gone soggy with too much fine food and wine. There was a faint tremor in one hand as he gripped the hilt of his sword. To look at him would be to count him a useless fool clinging to his long past youth.

Lilavati was no fool. She watched the way he walked, the flash of his eyes, the play of his muscles beneath his paper thin skin. The frail old man was a mask he put on, the same as she did her travel hoods. He wouldn’t be able to fight fairly as he had when he was in his prime and she knew he realized it by the way he rested his hand and shifted his weight. It was his mind that was the more active part of him now. It wasn’t as flabby as his body and that didn’t bode well for the weakening lord and his confused lady.

She took a few deep, calming breaths before linking her arm with Manas’ and walking over to the screaming guard captain. “Captain Weiss, I’ll thank you not to countermand my orders,” Manas said coldly when the old man stopped for a breath.

“Your orders? That dark skinned whore’s orders you mean. My men told me what happened here, Great Lord,” Jorg said. “You’re not in control of this camp any longer.” He jabbed a finger with swollen joints and scarred calluses. “She is.”

Lilavati met his angry stare with her bland, expressionless one. “I do as I am bid by my beloved,” she said coolly, keeping her voice devoid of emotion. “It is his will that I speak and not my own.” A faint hint of a smile twisted at the corners of her lips. “As is proper for a Northern bride.”

Jorg spat on the ground. “You’re no Northern bride. You’re a Southern slut with no manners and legs spread for more than one man I’ll wager.” He reared back and struck her hard enough to send her back a few steps. “A good beating or two will teach you a lesson, and then we can send what’s left back to your shit eating family.”

Manas’ eyes flashed and a hint of the tiikeri returned. Lilavati reacted faster than he did. She was no fighter. The scars inflicted on her naked flesh proved that. But she was a woman who’d been assaulted by men before.

Jorg wasn’t expecting her to fight back, so when her knee and the heel of her hand found sensitive spots on his aging body, he went down. He curled in on himself. “I am neither of those filthy things you called me,” Lilavati said. “Nor am I unfaithful to my beloved. I would not bring such dishonor on myself or my beloved with abominable acts such as you suggest.”

“You’re not married to him,” Jorg said in between gasps of pain. “Your words don’t matter, Southern witch.”

Katali, that was more forceful than necessary, but an important lesson to be taught nonetheless,” Manas said. He knelt beside his military commander. “My beloved stands with me, beside me, and speaks for me in all things. As for not being bound to me in the eyes of the Twelve and the law, we’ll be taking care of that as soon as we reach a city with a temple in it. I’m done with this ridiculousness of her not having the protection of being my proper wife.”

“Your people will never accept her, Great Lord,” Jorg said, dragging himself to his feet. “I’ll see to that.”

“You speak openly of betrayal, Captain Weiss,” Lilavati said. She gestured to several men and women who’d gathered to see the spectacle. “In front of all these witnesses as well.”

“Who will cower before me and not open their worthless mouths if they want to save their lives,” Jorg snapped.

“What of their souls?” Lilavati asked, her voice just loud enough to be heard by those listening. “The high preester is dead, and only an acolyte stands in her place. Can this child who now serves to offer prayers for them grant them absolution for their betrayal of their rightful liege lord?” She wasn’t sure what she was saying, but she hoped it was helping.

Jorg’s mouth opened and closed several times. “She’s dead because you convinced the Great Lord to let that Northern shaman murder her,” he said finally.

Lilavati ignored the unfamiliar word. She tilted her head to one side and raised an eyebrow. “She was proven a traitor, as you become the more you speak,” she said. “Would you have had us let her live?”

Manas rested his hand on Lilavati’s arm. “Captain Weiss, you have your orders. I will be accompanied by two guards, no more, unless I or my lady request them. If you continue spreading these rumors, I’ll have to do come up with a more permanent solution to your continuous betrayals.”

“You can attempt such a thing, Great Lord,” Jorg said with a smirk. He lowered his voice. “We both know what happens when you do that though.” He strode off.

Lilavati flagged down a servant. “Our tent is to be cleaned and moved to the first place where Ludger wished it to be put. It is to be done immediately.”

“Yes Great Lady.” The young woman was grinning and she motioned for a few of the others to follow her. They were already talking excitedly about the upcoming ceremony and how the “old man” wasn’t going to be able to keep getting his own way for much longer.

The other servants left the area, for which Lilavati was grateful. “You are not as strong a leader as I thought,” she said softly. Manas jerked back, shock registering on his face. “He is an enemy, a man to be removed from power. He is the assassin’s blade waiting to strike in the night. Worse, he will not wait but do so when you least expect it during the day. Yet you gave him the weapons he needs to destroy me.”

to be continued…


Racing the Wind, Part 5


Photo via VisualHunt.com

Angharad escaped her ecstatic mother, who was now in full planning mode for her daughter’s wedding. She made her way to the library. Eridan was waiting for her. “Your mother is very enthusiastic,” he said. He was staring out the window and didn’t turn around.

“Both my mother and father were worried about the Right of Inheritance. Without a husband, I can’t inherit,” Angharad. “And you’ve met my brother. He would be the one who took my place.”

“I can see why they wanted me to win,” Eridan said. He turned and settled into a chair, his face in shadow. “Angharad, what I’m going to tell you is not a pretty tale. There is a reason my servants and I left our former liege lord’s lands, and it isn’t entirely because we wished to be free of the memories.”

Angharad settled into the chair beside his. “Tell me,” she said softly.

“I am the Red Bull’s youngest son, but not by his lady wife,” Eridan said, his voice barely above a whisper. “My mother was one of the many maids in the keep. I don’t know how many bastards my father sired, but I was the only one who showed my true parentage. The Red Bull decided that if I was going to appear as his son, he was going to train me to be one.”

“I take it that didn’t go well?” Angharad asked.

Eridan shook his head. “My half brothers despised me. My stepmother had my mother murdered, and then tried to kill me on more than one occasion.” He lifted his shirt and gestured to a thin scar across his right rib cage. “This is one of the few scars I have that didn’t come from battle. It was an assassin’s knife that gave me this. When I killed him, my father decided it would be better for me to join the army. So that is where I was sent.”

“How brutal,” Angharad said.

Eridan nodded. “You must understand, Angharad. I was nearly as tall as I am now at the age of twelve. I was also as thin as a post. I had no strength to speak of. I was uncoordinated, couldn’t even lift a proper sword, and when I tried to draw back a bowstring I might get it back an inch or two and then I’d lose hold of it.”

“That is the truth for any beginner,” Angharad said. “Do you think I could shoot as well as I do now when I first started?”

“I was a lord’s son – bastard or not – and there was an expectation of a level of skill I didn’t have,” Eridan said. “I was beaten regularly, forced to work harder than anyone else, and given very little while others were rewarded with things such as finer food, extra blankets, and more comforts. I grew to hate my father, for it was on his orders that this was happening to me.”

He was shaking. Angharad hesitantly slipped her hand on top of his. He grabbed hold and squeezed it, looking at her with gratitude as she drew him back out of his memory. “You said you were an officer when you first came here,” she said.

“I was, though the Red Bull would have forbidden it if he’d been aware of it,” Eridan said. “He was never very good with my name and when I was out of his sight for a while he soon lost interest in me. When that happened, the harsh treatment lessened and I was rewarded as liberally as the others. In spite of everything, I was still a highly educated young man and I could do things most of the others couldn’t, such as read and write. I picked up on strategy, reading maps, and reckoning distances and time by the location of the stars and the position of the sun and moon.”

“Those are all very useful,” Angharad said.

Eridan nodded. “As I continued to excel, my physical strength increased almost as fast as my mental acuity. I was sixteen when I was placed in control of a small group of scouts who were primarily archers. We were the advance party. We had to see who was in front of us. We did our job well only lost two out of twenty in the two years I served as their commander. At eighteen I was given command of a group of cavalry and led them into so many battles I can no longer recall how many.”

“The Mad King lives up to his name,” Angharad said.

Eridan said. “The Red Bull never disbanded his army. He never let us go home. Even when the Mad King didn’t need him, my father used us to expand his borders. We must have seized the lands of seventeen minor lords from the time I took control of the cavalry to the time my father fell at the hands of the Mad King’s executioner.”

“I thought the Red Bull died in battle,” Angharad said.

“That’s the story my stepmother and half brothers spread as fast as they could, to preserve my father’s honor,” Eridan said. “Instead of having him known as a traitor to the kingdom. But when my father died, I took the opportunity to leave. No lord was confirmed in his place, and all soldiers enslaved by my father were freed. I considered myself as a slave to him so I took one of the Writs of Freedom and left.”

“Who are the men who travel with you?” Angharad said.

“The last two members of my original scouting squad,” Eridan said. “Poor judgment and even poorer tactics wiped out the rest of them. When they saw me seize the chance, they grabbed theirs and followed me out. It took them a bit to find me, but they caught me just as I was about to fall on my sword.”

“Why would you do that?” Angharad asked.

“Look at me, Angharad. You find no disgust with my scars, but you are a rare person in this,” Eridan said. “Others aren’t so enlightened. I was driven from every town and village, usually at the point of a weapon, after being there only for a few hours. I was a monster in their eyes. I was unable to buy food, medicine for the wounds that were festering, or fodder for my horse. We were both starving and dying. I was done. I let my horse rest in a field full of tall grass and went a short distance away. Driscoll and Comgan came up at just the right time.”

“How did they stop  you?” Angharad said.

“Comgan grabbed me and Driscoll took my sword from me,” Eridan said. “We’ve stayed together since.” He paused. “Angharad, I am not going to be an easy man to live with. I think I love you, though I’ve not had much of that in my life so I don’t know that I’d recognize the feeling. I’ll do my best, but I can’t guarantee I’ll always be kind to you.”

“My grandfather, who fought just as you have, didn’t always treat my grandmother and my father well,” Angharad said. “He didn’t always treat me with kindness either, and I was a small child. But he loved all of us and did all he could to make up for those days when his memories clouded his mind.”

Eridan lifted the hand he held to his lips, leaning forward. “You are an amazing woman, Angharad. Nothing like any I have ever met.”

“Here, I was encouraged to be different, and I thrived,” Angharad said.

A hero’s flame


Photo via Visual hunt

It was eerily quiet. The sirens had stopped some time ago, and the bombs no longer shook the bunker. Brava clung to her daughter as the toddler whimpered in the dark.

“Brava, hush that brat before she gets us captured,” someone hissed. Brava couldn’t tell who it was.

“Have you ever tried to quiet a frightened child this young?” Brava snapped back, her voice a mere whisper. “It’s nearly impossible.”

“She’s not loud enough for the sniffers to find us anyway,” someone else whispered. “Leave Kayin alone.”

Someone grumbled but no one spoke again. Kayin soon went limp, a sign she’d cried herself to sleep. Brava pulled her closer, resting her chin on the top of Kayin’s head. A few people shifted in the dark, easing the awkwardness and pain of the positions they’d held for the past 24 hours.

Finally, Brava heard a peculiar sound and then the snap of a match striking something. Two lamps flashed into light. People cried out softly as their eyes, accustomed to the dark, were burned by the dim light.

Durai, the old man who’d hustled the townies into the bunker, looked solemnly at the group. “I think we can all accept the fact that our homes have been destroyed.” He paused. “I also think the bombs have stopped because there is no one left to drop them.”

“What do you mean?” someone asked. It was still dark enough Brava couldn’t see the speaker.

“I recognized the sound of the final bomb. It was the same type that destroyed my homeworld when I was a young man,” Durai said. “It is what drove me to this land. Now I feel it too has been devastated.”

“What do we do now?” someone else asked. Brava recognized this person. It was Rin, a young man who’d made several passes at Brava in the past. She didn’t like him but had to admit he’d been a brave soldier until a mine took out his leg.

“We check the air scan and then, if it is as I fear, we work on turning this network of rooms and tunnels into our new home. We will be here – not for a few years – but for a few generations,” Durai said.

“So long?” This was Leilani, a young woman who was in the early months of an unexpected pregnancy. She’d gotten pregnant just before her husband left to fight the Kilkani. He’d been killed and she’d never gotten a chance to tell him.

“Only if the air is as I suspect,” Durai said.

Borivoj, another soldier who’d returned too injured to continue fighting, went to the device next to the door. He started swearing. “The air is one thousand parts calinaris radiation.”

“That would be lethal within three seconds if we opened the door even half an inch,” Rin said. He looked ill.

Durai sighed. “It is as I thought. Riya, Gili, bring your soft lights. We need to map out these tunnels and bunkers. Brava, lay Kayin on my pallet and start cataloging how much food we have. Laird, check the seed collection. See what’s food and what’s ornamental.”

Brava set her daughter down and got to work. She wiped tears from her cheeks. Dieter, Kayin’s father and the man Brava planned to marry though she wasn’t sure she loved him, was dead. With the kind of radiation in the air outside there was no way he could have survived. Kayin would be devastated to learn her beloved “dada” was gone for good.

She closed her eyes for a moment before diving into the sorting. She wouldn’t betray his memory by being weak. She would be strong for Dieter, be strong for Kayin. She would be a hero for those she loved and those she now stood beside. It was the least she could do for all of them.

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