Free Read Devoted to the Dark One Chapter 12-Look Who’s Coming to Dinner

 

A robot monk translates the ancient journal of a princess’s handmaid. Leili was convinced her princess lost her mind when she lost her heart to the Dark One. This tale of forbidden romance reverberates throughout the ages into the Singularity.

<Chapter 11

More directions came from the Raj who wanted to host a full banquet for his visitor. That’s when I knew this Dark One was more than a healer. The Raj had a healthy respect for yoga instructor’s skills, but he would’ve fed them more simply and humbly.

“Since there will be a banquet in the audience chamber we’ll have one in the zenana too,” the Rani said.

Meerani clapped her hands together. She’d already seen the Dark One but wouldn’t mind seeing him again. I had to admit I was curious about him as well and wanted to see if he was worth all this effort. Besides that a banquet meant we’d be dressed up for the occasion. This was something I always enjoyed.

The shutters were opened in the hope of a breeze. No one actually expected it to make much of a difference in this summer weather. Yet, a cool, soft wind blew in through the window. The other girls gave a sigh of pleasure, but I shuddered as Princess Meerani smiled. She walked away from the clothes spread on her bed and looked at her window to the courtyard. There was a loud bleat.

“It’s just the servants preparing the goat for tonight’s dinner,” I said.

That should’ve been enough to get her away from the window. Meerani accepted the need for the yearly sacrifice, but she didn’t like to watch it. However, her eyes were fastened on the courtyard. I gasped. There was the goat surrounded by the Raj, the priest and the Dark One.

Meerani had a good view of the Dark One from her bedroom window. Her eyes shone, and she sighed. Some people see beauty in snakes. Their sleek, sinuous curves. Their too-intense gaze on their prey.

He stood silently in the courtyard. Poised like a cobra. If he were a prince, his father must’ve been proud of him. The same pride any warrior takes in owning a well forged sword honed to a razor’s edge.

The priest’s eyes were so round you’d think he was the one being sacrificed, and he stumbled over his words. He tried to saw a ritual chant, but after he stumbled over the words kept muttering “Om, Om, Om.”

The black goat bleated in unison either to engage in the ritual or in unconscious mockery of it.

The Dark One looked upon the goat and the priest and his brow furrowed.

“This doesn’t please you?” the Raj asked.

I couldn’t understand it but I felt fear grip my heart. Sacrifices were supposed to please the suras not the human performing the ritual. Why should he care if the Dark One were pleased or not?

“It’ll do,” the Dark One nodded.

The priest sobbed in relief and the goat bleated. He pulled on the rope around the goat’s neck, and it screeched. The Dark One placed a finger on its forehead and it gave off a soft bleat that grew fainter and fainter.

“Uh,” the priest said.

The Raj frowned at the motionless goat. He glanced at the Dark One, “Do what you need to do.”

The Dark One had a sword in his hand. The priest pulled on the leash and it dug into the animal’s neck.

“I thought I was to cut off its head?” the Dark One asked.

“We strangle the sacrifice first so it doesn’t suffer,” the priest said.

“There’s a simpler way if that’s what concerns you,” the Dark One said.

He touched the goat in the middle of its forehead. It gave a startled “bah,” that grew more languid and then stopped. It became motionless as if a cobra’s eyes fascinated it.

A quick movement too fast for my eyes, and the goat’s head rolled down to the ground while its body slumped. Blood spurted out from its neck.

I won’t say either Meerani or I were so delicate that seeing a goat sacrifice was a shock to us. It was performed at least once a year for the sake of the kingdom. What I found so disconcerting was the efficiency of it. The Dark One was so lean that I didn’t think he was capable of such brute force even if he were “wiry.” He made the whole thing look effortless, while it sometimes took a regular man more than one chop to do the job.

The Dark One was too much of a warrior to be frightened by the consequences of spilled blood. Its flow neither attracted nor repelled him. Royals drank to incite passion and bloodlust before they went battle. The Dark One was cold and deliberate. Maybe the goat was beneath his notice. However, I thought it likely that he would’ve had the same reaction if the goat were a human prisoner.

The Raj waited until the blood was done spilling out of the goat’s neck before he spoke. “This will be our dinner tonight.”

“Does this p-please you?” the priest asked.

The Dark One nodded at this, “I see no need for more sacrifices today.”

The Raj and the Dark One walked away from view. The priest called for the kitchen servants who took the goat into the kitchen to dress and cook it. He asked for a handkerchief and wiped sweat from his brow with a shaking hand. I knew he preferred to leave the killing of sacrificial animals to the Raj. It was a practice meant to maintain his own ritual purity. He viewed the sacrifice as distasteful but necessary. He and the Raj were performing the duties of their caste. However, the Dark One’s casual attitude to bloodshed unnerved him

It was my duty to attend to the Princess at the feast that night, so I could observe the palace women’s reaction to him. Everyone was dressed in simple silk with minimal embroidery and jewelry. We were in semi-darkness behind a screen above the audience chamber. This allowed us to observe the men’s banquet unnoticed.

We saw that the Raj and his courtiers wore their finest court costumes. The Dark One came into the chamber wearing a long, flowing black silk robe. On anyone else such garb would’ve been humble, but he carried it with the gravity of royalty. His figure should’ve struck people as slight, but he still felt as coiled and dangerous as a cobra. I suspected he kept himself slim because he was at his most dangerous when he was hungry.

The palace women had been muttering to themselves until they saw our visitor.

“Hmm,” Ananda said slowly. There was a long pause before she said, “His father must be very proud of him.”

He was too young looking to be a Raj yet had the dignity and finesse of a skilled warrior and diplomat. I thought his schooling must’ve been intensive. He’d gathered enough experience at such arts to handle himself with such aplomb.

He sat on a cushion next to the Raj. The Raj motioned for his bard to perform for the guest. “You need to be fully informed about the particulars of the region. That’s why I’ll have my bards sing of the Rathouds’ history. Hopefully, you’ll find it more entertaining than a dry lecture,” the Raj murmured.

The Dark One maintained a pose of polite interest. A slight smile broke over his face when the bard began with the sun sura who founded the Rathoud line.

“This amuses you?” the Raj asked.

The women tensed expecting to see the Raj order the execution of his guest. However, the Dark One made a quick recovery, “That explains a few things about your people. Solar deities are known to be hot headed.”

“Whereas, your line of descent is known for consuming all that is in their path,” the Raj said. “You come from the Destroyers do you not?”

The Dark One nodded, “Yes, I was born into a line of Destroyers.”

“I’m sure the bards could spin quite a tale about your family’s history,” the Raj said.

“Aye, but Father isn’t used to having bards around him,” the Dark One said. “Neither will he answer my questions. I’d have to look things up in forbidden tomes to know my family’s history. Even then it’s distorted and exaggerated,” the Dark One said.

“By your family’s enemies no doubt,” the Raj shrugged. “The bards of other Rajs tell horror stories about me and the other Rathouds.”

The Dark One nodded at this. A rich, red wine was poured out in an ornate goblet for him. “This is our best vintage,” the Raj said.

Our guest ripped off a piece of naan flatbread and dipped it in the wine. He nibbled on the piece then took a sip from the goblet. The palacewomen watched this, “Is this a ritual in his land?” Ananda asked. The Rani held a finger to her lips and Ananda fell silent.

The breaking of the bread had some especial import to the Dark One. Even if it wasn’t understood by the people at court. The men at the banquet exchanged looks, but no one dared question the Dark One. The Raj continued acting the gracious host and ignored the Dark One’s act.

They presented a woven basket of fruit to the Dark One, “A gift from our vineyards.”

There were fresh grapes in the basket as well as a long black ribbon—that moved. The women screamed at the sight of a black cobra that slithered up from the basket. The Dark One held up his hand for its inspection. It flicked its tongue at him and then slithered up his hand and wrapped itself around his wrist.

The men at the banquet gasped, and the Raj groaned.

“It’s a fitting gift,” the Dark One said as he studied the black cobra on his arm. It cleaved to him as if it were in love.

“M-my apologies!” the Raj gasped.

“Guard!” He pointed to the server who looked pale. “We will find out who put the cobra in the fruit basket.”

The guards muttered when the Raj pointed to the cobra that was around the Dark One’s wrist. A servant paled when they realized it was a living snake and not an ornament, “We need a snake charmer to get it off him!”

The Dark One stroked the head of the snake. It stretched its neck to enjoy the caress with a soft hiss. He placed his long slender finger between its eyes. The hiss grew fainter and fainter until it stopped. The head, neck and body went limp, becoming a loose piece of rope the Dark One unwound from himself.

Ajat muttered, “Asura!”

“Do not insult our honored guest,” the Raj said to his brother.

“Is it dead?” the guard gestured to the snake.

“Dead?” the Dark One asked.

“Its venom is deadly,” the guard said.

“Um, we can’t have it putting the rest of the guests in jeopardy.” A spike slid out from the Dark One’s sleeve and severed the snake’s head. He took a white, linen napkin from his table setting and placed the snake’s head and body into it. He wrapped the snake inside the napkin as if it were a shroud.

“Assassin,” Prince Ajat muttered all the while the Dark One worked.

“I have been that at times, but it’s not my only skill,” the Dark One agreed.

Beads of sweat appeared on the other banqueters’ faces, and it had nothing to do with the heat. The guard gripped his sword tight.

“How have I offended your hospitality? By carrying a weapon into your banqueting hall or in concealing my chosen weapon?” the Dark One asked. He gestured to the ceremonial daggers and scimitars on the courtiers’ belts.

“Only an assassin conceals his weapons,” Ajat began.

The Vizier’s voice broke. “Our weaponry is mostly family heirlooms or past gifts from the Raj and only meant for display.”

“Yet they have cutting edges?” the Dark One’s brows rose. “It’s one thing to be unarmed as a sign of good faith. It’s another to demand I disarm myself while you’re allowed you carry weaponry.”

Prince Ajat sputtered at this.

“I’d prefer your weapon be in the open if you are to carry one into my audience chamber,” the Raj said.

He kept his voice mild to salvage the situation. The Dark One’s oddity stopped this from turning into a diplomatic incident. I wondered if he was naïve enough to think that the black cobra he had charmed was a gift to him? I didn’t see him as a wicked man then, but it was odd to think that he should have any innocence.

He placed the spike on the table in the open in front of the other guests. After a long pause, the Raj followed suit with his own dagger and this caused his courtiers to do the same. I’d seen banquets for hostile dignitaries before. This strange civility chilled me more than open insults.

“Ugh!” It sounded like the Rani were spitting out something unsavory in a napkin. “I’ve lost my appetite.”

She snapped her fingers at the maid servants. “Take this food to the zanana’s main dining hall for those who are still hungry. I wish to retire.”

She placed a hand to her temple, “This has got to be the worst banquet I’ve ever seen!”

Meerani was starting at the Dark One below her. Everyone in the Raj’s audience chamber looked upon him with horror. Meerani’s eyes were wide and unblinking.

The Rani gasped, “Meerani!”

She snapped her fingers under Meerani’s chin. When that got no reaction she waved her hands frantically under Meerani’s eyes. “Uh,” Meerani said.

Her gaze shifted from the Dark One to her mother. The Rani clutched her “Don’t worry we’ll keep that dreadful man away from you!”

“Momma?” Meerani’s brows furrowed at this.

“I don’t care how strong his army is. We’ll never accept a proposal from that man,” the Rani shuddered.

“He makes the Gurkans look civilized in comparison. The Raj has already promised me he’ll never give you to a Gurkani prince,” the Rani sniffed.

I looked at the Dark One myself. The guards hadn’t drawn their swords, but remained close to the Raj, ready to defend him. They gave some luckless servant the task of carrying away what was left of the black cobra. The Dark One reached into a pocket from his voluminous robes. The guards hissed at this, but the Raj refused to issue the order that would’ve set them on him.

He took a black velvet bag out. Its drawstring was unloosed. The napkin shrouded black cobra was placed in the bag. Its drawstring was drawn and knotted twice. The Dark One handed the bag and its contents to the servant. They grabbed it by its drawstrings but refused to touch the pouch. “Give it a burial in a garden spot,” the Dark One said.

The servant glanced at the Raj who nodded “yes”, “It will be as you wish, my Lord.”

“Are snakes sacred to your family?” the Raj asked.

“They’ve been valuable allies in the past,” the Dark One said.

The Raj laughed, “I don’t know if your regard for a creature used as a pawn is a comfort or a bad omen.”

“Perhaps your priest could tell you how to read these events?” the Dark One said.

“All of us rajs would be figureheads if priests had their way. He already told me his opinion of my plan. However, he leaves the difficult parts of ruling and defending the kingdom to me. That’s why I’ll be the one to make the final decision here,” the Raj said.

The Dark One nodded at this, “Whatever decision you make will be honored.”

Devoted to the Dark One

Copyright © 2019 by Cathy Smith

All rights reserved

<Chapter 11

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Free Read Devoted to the Dark One Chapter 11-Saanvla

A robot monk translates the ancient journal of a princess’s handmaid. Leili was convinced her princess lost her mind when she lost her heart to the Dark One. This tale of forbidden romance reverberates throughout the ages into the Singularity.

<Chapter 10  Chapter 12>

You don’t do humility well, do you Saanvla?

You came to my father’s door in saffron robes.

Yet wouldn’t stoop to beg for alms.

You demanded an audience with him like an equal.

Is it any wonder I saw through your disguise?

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Free Read Devoted to the Dark One Chapter 10-The Duties of a Princess

A robot monk translates the ancient journal of a princess’s handmaid. Leili was convinced her princess lost her mind when she lost her heart to the Dark One. This tale of forbidden romance reverberates throughout the ages into the Singularity.

<Chapter 9    Chapter 11>
Some of these verses aren’t proper hymns. Just a collection of notes that she tried to compose into a poetic verse. Meerani was the daughter of warriors. It stands to reason that she’d find a warrior more attractive than a soft boy. Not unless she set out to be a rebel. If that were the case she would’ve chosen someone inappropriate. But then again she was never to choose her own suitor. Even at a young age she knew she’d have an arranged marriage.

Would I even know desire if I didn’t know Saanvla?
I grew up expecting to do my duty.
Kept away from men who weren’t already my blood relatives in the zenana.
Sometimes the maids tittered over stories about Kish and his devotees.
Now I’m little better than one when it comes to my Dark One.
I wish Saanvla was a playful as Kish was!
Saanvla awes me, he never charms me.

It’s little wonder that people assumed Meerani was lovesick! She spent her days in a perpetual daze. When Saanvla was around he crowded out every other thought in her mind. When he was gone reality became prosaic and drab. Sometimes I didn’t know whether I should envy her or try to shake some sense into her. Now there’s nothing, but these hymns left of her Maybe that’s all Saanvla wanted from her? He ignited a fire in Meerani then consumed the light.

For a while I wanted to preserve the grand tale that was spun around Meerani. Now I feel that I must record the truth. I can’t save everyone from Saanvla. There will always be people who choose willful blindness. However, a true record should be recorded so that those will hear the truth will know it.

I refuse to live in fear of the Dark One and his curses. I don’t care if he strikes me down. He’ll say that’s what I deserve for crossing him. Yet there’s no difference between his punishments and rewards, so I might as well do what pleases me.

I will take these notes and hymns and make a chronicle of the events that inspired them!
There’re some hymns Meerani never dared sing in public. She was already in enough trouble with her family. Their political maneuverings inspired some lyrics.

If I revealed them to the public they’d ask, “What do politics have to do with Saanvla?”

I’d say, “Plenty!”

A royal woman is to have only one man in her life.
The man her Father chooses for her.
They gave me to Saanvla
Every year I renewed the vows.
He was my Bond Brother before he was my Ist Sura
When he pledged to protect me, he pledged to protect Father’s Realm!

I remember that first year.

The Raj was too busy to celebrate Princess Meerani’s fifth birthday. The latest skirmish along the Maruwat border required his attention. Meerani was lucky he remembered to give her birthday gift to the Rani, her mother.

It was a bolt of lushest, softest silk imaginable. Meerani petted the fabric as if it were a new kitty for weeks on end after they gave it to her.

“It’s for your dowry,” The Rani said.

Meerani nodded. She was only five, but knew they would give her in marriage in order to secure the realm. Her mother was preparing her for that day. Each birthday always meant some costly gift that was to be added to her dowry. She already had more riches than most brides had by the time she was five.

There was always some gold bangle too heavy to lift or wear comfortably. Her mother polished them with a white silk handkerchief. “Whatever jewelry you bring into your husband’s house is yours to keep and use for your needs. That is the way it is for all women, the low and high.”

Meerani frowned, “But I will be undressed and made to wear clothes from his palace at my wedding?”

“Yes,” the Rani nodded.

“Wouldn’t he prefer to see me in the jewels that women wear in his kingdom?” She’d been told, that was the reason her clothes would be changed on her wedding day.

“The gold can be bartered if you ever need money of your own,” the Rani sighed.Meerani’s brows came together, “Mother?”

“I’ll explain things when you are older. There are some things too heavy for a little girl’s shoulders. Whatever you do, don’t give these jewels away to your maids.

I know you share treats with Leili. You must keep the gold jewelry for yourself. Every year

I’ll give you as many new pieces as I can,” the Rani said.

Her mother’s tone turned the promise into a solemn vow.

“Grooms are much more respectful who come to them with a large dowry,” her words caused Meerani to shiver.

#

The joy of receiving such a rich gift was marred for Meerani.

“This is more than my mother had when she got married. She just had a few chains,” I told her in private

“Mother acts as if the gold will be armor for me. Just like Father wears,” Meerani shivered at this.

I couldn’t understand her concern.

“You mean like the armor he wears for processions?” It was silver overlaid with gold and made a splendid spectacle. I used to look forward to seeing it when he came back home in a victory procession. Sometimes he came back with booty. Other times the ceremonial armor was his only prize. Now that I am older I think he wore it more to celebrate the fact he was alive than he was victorious in battle.

They’d polished it to such a high gloss that he looked like was the descendant of a sun god. Which was what all royals in Industan claimed to be.

“Not the armor he wears for a parade. I’m thinking of the one time I saw him wear battlefield armor, and they needed a surgeon to take it off,” she said.

“Oh,” I’d been there. We’d been waiting for her father, and she’d caught sight of him out of the window. The battle armor was caked with mud and blood. It’d had dents and gashes that cut and adhered to his body. He hadn’t been able to remove it for his usual procession and needed a surgeon to take it off. The Rani’s face turned pale when she saw him. She quickly closed the shutters and made us step away from the window.

Meerani wondered if it’d be the last she’d see of her father. She hadn’t been able to sleep until he came to visit her and her mother in the zenana three days later. They cleaned him up in silk clothes, but he wore bandages. He Raj stayed in the palace longer than usual recovering from his injuries.

Yet the day came when he went out to battle again. It horrified Meerani when he left the castle for a new campaign in fresh armor, “Don’t go!”

“Your father is a warrior. All good Rajs are. They have to defend and expand their territories,” the Rani told her when Meerani clung to him.

Meerani accepted her words, and the Rathouds came to regret it later. I believe that gave Meerani a taste for warriors. Her Ist Sura was formidable. He doesn’t play on human battlegrounds. He regularly fought other suras among the stars. Earthly battlegrounds weren’t worth his time.

She took to noticing the battle scars her Father carried on his body after this. He’d always seemed to come to the zenana with a new mark.

“Fighting must be a lot of work. No wonder Father needs to eat meat,” Meerani aid.
The women in the zenana ate vegetarian fare while the men ate meat. Sometimes her Father would dine with his womenfolk in the zenana. The Rani always made sure there was at least a stew for him there. Some palace women sniffed when it was on the table, but the Rani let her husband eat what he wanted in general.

He returned the courtesy. In order to ensure this was done, the Rani admitted, “I told your Father I need to eat vegetarian meals to keep my figure.”

She winked at Meerani as she said this, “You can say that to your husband too.”

“Don’t all girls eat vegetarian food?” Meerani asked with a wrinkled brow.

“Things are different in different kingdoms,” the Rani said.

Meerani figured that if her mother refused to give up her gold or her vegetarian meals, and she should do the same. She asked me, “Was my mother supposed to be a Rani or a slave girl? Father would’ve feared he’d get weak sons if she were a weak woman. It’s too bad not all rajs think the same way.”

I told her, “Maybe so, Princess, but your Father doesn’t expect your Mother to be a Dark Mother to his Destroyer.”

<Chapter 9   Chapter 11>

Devoted to the Dark One

Copyright © 2019 by Cathy Smith

All rights reserved

 

Free Read Devoted to the Dark One: Chapter 9-Seeker Spies

A robot monk translates the ancient journal of a princess’s handmaid. Leili was convinced her princess lost her mind when she lost her heart to the Dark One. This tale of forbidden romance reverberates throughout the ages into the Singularity.

<Chapter 8    Chapter 10>

Is it any wonder why I envy the seekers!

Men can become holymen anytime they want.

A woman has to sneak out of the house to be a devotee for one night,

The holyman can leave the house and follow his Lord on the road

The devotee has to be back into her marriage bed in the morning

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