Blood Bride

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Chapter 21

“A Halfling…” mused Zahra softly to herself as she leaned over the railing of the ship. They had boarded a few hours ago and had gone so far that she could no longer see the land. A fog had begun to settle over it as they sailed away, the figures in the dim lantern-light on the docks looking like eerie spirits in the gathering gloom. She hadn’t been able to sleep for very long in the cramped quarters she now shared with Lavinia and the children. Her experience in the slave houses hadn’t been pleasant and now, when she could, she preferred a place with slightly more room.

It wasn’t the Madame’s fault. They had been chased out of their home and forced to book passage on this ship to a safe port Master Lucas knew. He had convinced the Madame that this was the best course of action, and that they could send word to Master Paul as soon as they could. She had acquiesced since there was very little they could do on their own and who knew if they were being hunted by the creatures that had attacked them?

Zahra shuddered as the screams and sounds echoed in her ears once more. She hid her hands under her arms and walked the length of the darkened deck. The darkness should have scared her but it didn’t. The waves gently lapping against the ship were oddly calming. When she had been locked away in the bowels of another ship, crammed in cramped quarters with barely any room to stretch and fearing any small noise, it was the creak and sway of the ship that often lulled her to sleep. Another small blessing in her bleakest moment. She was discovering a lot of those.

Thinking back on the word Lavinia had spoken, she wondered what it could possibly mean.


The word was strange on her tongue.

It seemed to denote a half of one thing and another but… what?

A story came to mind then, one that she hadn’t thought about in a long time but somehow seemed to be tied to this half business. It couldn’t be possible but she wondered…

“I have a story, aye aye ya.”

Zahra, as a young girl, had always been eager to listen to her grandmother’s stories. She scooted closer to the old woman seated on her three legged stool by the fire. Her siblings and cousins huddled around her and responded to the call, just as eagerly.

“Tell us the story, aye aye ya.”

Her grandmother, with a delighted laugh, began the tale…

“Long before the waters of the river and the tall mountains, long before the tall grass and the red earth and before the rising of the sun and the moon, before darkness and light, there was the Creator. He placed the bright stars in the sky and planted pretty flowers in the earth. He cracked open the earth and pulled up mountains from below. He commanded waters to fall from above and formed rivers and lakes. Then, finally, when the world was beautiful, he made beings to inhabit this place – man to look after the plants and animals, and spirit to watch over the seasons, the stars and the sky.

“But spirits did not want to live with man. ‘He is too weak and impure,’ they said and took their problems to the Creator. Man, too, did not want to live with spirits. ‘They think themselves better than us,’ he claimed. And so the Creator made the heavens. The spirits would inhabit this place and the earth would belong to man. But because the Creator is just and wanted man and spirit to get along, he also made it so that spirits could come down and live among man – to understand what being a man means. And when man dies, he too becomes a spirit and lives in the land of the spirits for a time before going to the Eternal Paradise.

“In this way, man began to respect the spirits and the spirits began to understand man more and more. But some spirits grew jealous and came down from the heavens to wreak havoc on the earth. They burned man’s crops and caused stones to fall from the sky. They opened the heavens and caused floods to wash away many homes and great winds to destroy villages. The Creator punished these spirits. They would remain on earth and never pass into the Eternal Paradise.

“Some other spirits came down from the heavens as well but these were good and kind spirits who, after seeing that some humans could be good, thought it best to share their wisdom and healing powers with man. The first person to receive this blessing was a woman who had saved a spirit caught in a trap. She grew into the greatest healer that ever lived.”

This had been Zahra’s favourite part of the story, she remembered.

“When the spirits had finished teaching her, they also taught her a song that would help her know if a spirit was good or bad. If a good spirit came asking for the healer, they would call:

’I am a spirit, oh,

I need the healer oh,

Bring the healer oh.

I seek the healer oooh.’

“To this, the healer would reply:

’I am good and pure of heart.

I shall heal those that hurt.

I shall give to those I can.

I shall heal across the land.

Ayee. I am the healer. Ayee.’

“Many years passed where the spirits did not return. And, when the woman had a daughter, she named her Kesia and she made sure to teach her everything that the spirits had taught her. She taught the girl all the herbs and treatments she would need to heal the villagers that came. She taught her to be good and kind. If the spirits came back to the earth and asked for the healer, she was to sing a song that her mother taught her just as the spirits had taught her mother.

“The one day, when the girl was walking in the forest, she came across a strange bird. A stick ran through its dark wing and on its body, instead of feathers, was fur. It had a strange nose and strange teeth but it certainly looked like a bird. As soon as she neared it, she heard the bird sing:

’I am a spirit, oh,

I need the healer oh,

Bring the healer oh.

I seek the healer oooh.’

“The little girl did not fear spirits for her mother had taught her all she needed to know. When she was near the bird, she sang in reply:

’I am good and pure of heart.

I shall heal those that hurt.

I shall give to those I can.

I shall heal across the land.

Ayee. I am the healer. Ayee.’

“The bird stopped singing and allowed her to tend to it.. She helped the bird using the herbs her mother had shown her and left it in a safe place – in a hole in the nearby tree – to rest, coming back every day to make sure that the bird was well.

“One day, when she went to the hole, she did not see the bird and this made her sad. She sat under the tree and started to cry until a beautiful boy came.

‘Little girl, why are you sad?’

“Kesia looked up at the beautiful boy who had spoken. His skin was white like the inside of a cassava and his eyes blue like the sky with hair black as charcoal that flowed gently in the wind, like waters in a stream. She had never seen a boy like this before, but he looked kind and so she told him about the bird. The boy smiled at her then.

‘Kesia, brave healer, you helped me when I was ill and healed my broken wing. I shall remember to repay your kindness. I am a prince among my people. Call for me when you need me and I shall answer.’

“And he spoke his name – a name that only spirits can understand. So Kesia went back to her mother and all was well for many years. Then one day, Kesia’s mother became very sick. Kesia knew where to find herbs but they were deep in the forest and it was growing dark. A big storm was coming. If she did not go for the herbs, her mother would die. So, Brave Kesia went out of her home and into the forest to look for herbs.

“By the time she found the herbs, the rain had already begun to pour. She quickly picked her herbs and turned to go back to her mother. But the spirits in that part of the forest were angry and, seeing a human there, sent flood water to wash her away. Kesia managed to evade the flood water but slipped on a stone and cut her foot badly. The bad spirits, seeing that she was hurt, were satisfied that they had done their part, and left Kesia there.

“It was difficult for her to walk and whenever she tried, her foot ached and ached. So Kesia sat down when she could walk no more and began to cry fearing that she would never get back to her mother in time. Then she remembered the spirit bird she had helped many years ago and she called out his name.”

‘Why are you crying?’ asked a deep voice near Kesia. When she looked up, she saw the boy from before – the spirit she had helped now a man. He saw that Kesia was hurt and took her hand in his. From his mouth, he grew two long teeth which he used to bite Kesia’s wrist. After a few moments, she began to feel better and could even walk. Her cut was gone and she was healed! The spirit helped Kesia to go back to her mother and together with the spirit, they healed her.

When Kesia’s mother was better, she thanked the spirit.

‘How can I ever repay you?’

‘There is no debt from me for I owe Kesia my life. But if you will allow it,’ replied the spirit, ‘I want to marry Kesia for her heart is pure and her soul is good. She will be the queen of my people and she can continue to heal those around her for many years to come.’

“Kesia’s mother agreed and they got married. Kesia helped many people for many years to come and when she had a daughter, she taught her the song her mother had taught her…”

And Zahra and her cousins would sing along with her grandmother.

“I am good and pure of heart.

I shall heal those that hurt.

I shall give to those I can.

I shall heal across the land.

Ayee. I am the healer. Ayee.”

The story had been a good moral lesson in kindness. When she was older, Zahra had learned that this was a family legend – that she was descended from Kesia and the spirit, and that their daughter had been one of her ancestors. She had thought nothing of it until just then but her mother had brought it up after her tenth harvest and she had also been trying to teach her of some healing before… Before they were attacked.

She felt tears prick her eyes remembering her mother. Would this word – Halfling – have made sense to her? Had she known something that Zahra hadn’t?

My flower…

The voice was barely a whisper over the waves and the gentle wind. She looked around her. Nobody was about at this hour and the crew mostly paid her no mind. She looked out over the sea. Naturally there was nothing there. She shook her head and wiped away a stray tear. She must have really missed her mother for her to be hearing things. Taking one last look out over the calm waters, Zahra made her way back to her quarters. They would dock in the morning, as per Master Lucas’ announcement earlier that evening, meaning that Zahra would have a busy morning to look forward to.

Phillip slammed his mug down on the table a little harder than he had intended but nobody seemed to notice, raucous laughter coming from the next table over. A man loudly kissed the cheek of the serving girl in his lap, not that she seemed to mind being there. Another man clapped him on the back loudly telling some ribald joke that the rest of the table laughed at. At another table not too far away, two men made secret plans that Phillip didn’t really care to hear about even though he could.

The tavern he had chosen to stay in that night was much seedier than he might have liked but it was this kind of crowd that had the information he needed. He raised his hand to get the attention of the serving girl who strutted his way clearly trying to get his attention.

“What’ll it be?” she said, fluttering her eyebrows at him as she leaned in close.

“Another beer,” he said and then turned his attention away. He wasn’t particularly interested in the vile stuff but he had to keep up appearances. The serving girl made an irritated noise and grabbed his mug muttering something about his “ugly scar.” He chuckled under his breath and scratched his growing beard around the scar. It really had been an ugly scar and one not many people appreciated having to look at. Still, polite company remained polite – until they thought he wasn’t listening. Then they turned snide and cruel. Like a pair of pretty green eyes with a sharp tongue.

Florence had been the worst of the lot.

Most people would respect a soldier who had fought in war. He’d been respected in the past for his scar. He’d worn it proudly. And to have it mocked years later by a less respectful lot had hurt his pride severely. It had been years since he had been conscious of it. Most days he didn’t remember it was there – until someone took notice like the serving girl did. He sneered at a particularly unpleasant memory of one such incident and went back to watching the crowd.

A hooded figure strode through the door moments later, a fine cloak flowing behind her. Phillip chuckled noting that nearly every eye in the room followed her to where she sat across from Phillip. When they saw him, everyone glanced away again. It wasn’t uncommon for some aristocratic types to come down to this cesspool of humanity seeking underhanded companions for some nefarious plot. It was why Phillip had spent the last two nights there. Someone was bound to have heard something and he had openly asked for information pertaining to survivors of the attack on Larenby.

In this case, Esme, the second in command to the Overseer.

“You could have picked a less conspicuous cloak you know,” he said to her as he leaned back in his chair. The serving girl from earlier brought him his beer, slamming it on the table and flouncing away in a huff.

“You’re making a spectacle of yourself too,” she replied with an imperious arch of her brow.

“My tastes have improved, thank goodness, so I don’t particularly care if she makes a show of it for the sake of her own pride,” he responded and took a sip from his mug. She made a face and he chuckled.

“Are you going to tell me what you came here for or are you going to sit there silently judging my drinking choices?”

The woman cleared her throat and shifted in her seat.

“The girl you’re looking for… the Order is very interested in her as well.” Phillip glanced at her over his mug and then set it back on the table.

“I’m listening.”

“The dark girl and some vampires were heading out to the docks. Their trail was lost beyond that. Keeper knowledge of the sea is limited and mostly forbidden, as you well know.” Phillip nodded. It was a known fact that most creatures like him avoided the sea when they could. Running water, especially in great quantities was unnerving to the faculties. He had barely made it when he’d had to sail with Lucas to the land of the orient and even then, it was after exhausting all other options. If these vampires went out to sea, they must have been desperate.

“What does the Order want with her?” he asked. The Keeper looked around afraid he was being too loud.

“She is of importance. That is all I am permitted to know. Overseer Sepphira has called out to all Keepers she can reach. They are to report to her immediately they know something. She sent me to you with a message.” When he nodded and waved his hand for her to continue, she spoke again.

“The Overseer says that she has reason to believe that the attack was planned. She says that there may be traitors near you. Now that you have risen in station, it is not safe to announce your intentions so boldly and not in your best interests to act recklessly... her words,” she quickly added when he raised a brow. “She also said that your enemies hide and lie in wait and asked that you be on your guard.”

Phillip nodded and Esme, with a slight bow of her head, rose and left the building. Phillip leaned back in his chair ignoring curious gazes and sipping his beer.

He’d been too devastated at the state of Larenby to think clearly. Zahra was gone, and so were many of the residents – those that had made it out alive. Zahra’s young friend was nowhere to be seen and he had not been able to track her. Eventually, he had gone to Sepphira for help but she had been away. So he had left a message with Esme and then taken matters into his own hands, tracking down those survivors he could find as well as anyone with information.

“…there may be traitors near you.”

He hadn’t really had time to think about that either but it was plausible. Neither he nor Lucas had gotten enough information on the people responsible for the unrest that had been brewing in town. Just when they’d been making some headway, this attack came. Moreover, he’d received a false letter from someone who knew his life well enough to know that his foreman was important to the running of his farm. They also knew that this would be enough to get him away… but to what end?

And Paul, for some reason, was still missing. He hadn’t been seen since he left the manor upon receiving those urgent summons the day Phillip left the grounds.

None of this sat well with Phillip. There were still a lot of mysteries left to be solved but for now, he was done with this place and would leave it behind as soon as possible. He would find Zahra. He would find out who meant them harm and end them as surely as they had tried to end her.

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