tagSci-Fi & FantasyDemon Child Ch. 09

Demon Child Ch. 09


Chapter 9: Magic is a sword with two edges.

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Each day followed another in its own sweet rhythm. Tollarra perched on the wagon, Aylanna riding beside it on her red mare. The two ha'akhs would talk or just travel alongside each other in comfortable silence.

Just like the endless sea of grassland surrounding them, featureless and seemingly limitless, it seemed like the same words, the same rituals of service and blessings filled their nights. Aylanna's mind seemed to fall into almost a thoughtless trance of travel and duty.

Sometimes Kwal'kek would take the little mare's lead rope and take Aylanna out for a riding lesson. He would lead them at a faster pace, his gruff voice prompting Aylanna to keep a firm seat and always keep her hands free. When he finally removed the lead rope completely, the little red mare, so accustomed to following his heavy old stallion, continued to the habit as if the lead rope was still there. But Aylanna was exhilarated at the sense of freedom that suddenly filled her heart. Almost instantly the little red mare began to vibrate with the same sense of excited energy and began to sidestep and prance. When Xin'sha broke into a stiff legged trot, her head up and her eyes rolling nervously, Kwal'kek looked surprised and barked, "Do not let your mount ride you. You must be in control at all times."

Aylanna firmly brought her emotions in check and picked up the reins for the first time, gently pulling the mare to a more sedate pace and at the same time sending a message that is was a time to be calm and walk. She could feel the tension drain out of the horse almost instantly and Xin'sha once again began to walk following Kwal'kek, her ears flickering back, as if listening intently to the girl on her back.

Aylanna lifted her eyes to the uniform horizon and without thinking, the image of flying across the grass, like in her dreams, flooded up and filled her head. Almost instantly the little mare bolted. Aylanna found herself spinning in the air, falling before she even realized she had lost her seat and then crashed hard onto the dry ground under the grass. She lay there flat on her back, gasping, the wind knocked out of her, struggling to fill her empty lungs. The sound of the mare's hooves made a drumming sound, an echo of the pounding rhythms of her dreams as she cantered away.

A shadow blocked out the sun above her and she looked up to see Kwal'kek looking down at her from the back of his stallion. At first she sensed his concern, and then when he saw she was uninjured, his worry changed to puzzlement, "Ha'akh, what did you do?"

Aylanna coughed and muttered, "I thought about running."

At first Kwal'kek looked angry and then he shrugged and shook his head, "Your little mare is very in tune with your wishes. I suggest next time you think about running, you be prepared."

Again there was the drumming of hooves and Aylanna was surprised to find the soft red nose of her mare sniffing curiously at her face. Clearly the little mare was amazed to find her rider missing from her back.

Aylanna laughed and pulled herself back up to her feet and remounted. She leaned down and gave the mare a gentle approving pat. She spoke aloud, "I am sorry. I will try not to fall off next time."

Kwal'kek frowned at the sight of the girl openly speaking to the horse and shook his head again, "It is a ha'akh's duty to obey her Khan. Instead you ignore his commands." His voice was harsh and lecturing.

A wave of protest rose up in Aylanna. She looked wounded and her brow furrowed in frustration, "But Jhardron said if the horses spoke to me, I could answer. All he said was not do around others."

Kwal'kek harrumphed at being defied and having his authority undermined by the girl's invoking the words of his superior, "Well, I am one of those others and you flaunt your magic before me."

This time Aylanna's eyes flashed with temper and she began to argue in earnest, "But you already knew. That's not fair!"

Xin'sha's ears laid back and the little mare squealed in rage and whirled, kicking sharply at the big old stallion. Aylanna gasped in horror and pulled at the reins, almost screaming in her head for the little mare to stop. Kwal'kek was looking at the pair in shock and then his eyes turned to Aylanna's terrified face as she struggled to control the increasingly reactive mare. Kwal'kek made an automatic gesture warding against evil.

Aylanna wailed in frustration and almost threw herself from the back of the mare. Wanting nothing more than to escape this ever descending maelstrom of confusion, she bolted into the grass, blindly running from this madness that seemed to pervade every action. Her feet led her blindly through the tall golden grass, futilely running from the magic inside her.

When Aylanna staggered to a stop, she was breathing hard and for the first time looking around. All she saw around her was grass, almost as tall as her head. The horizon seemed closer but every direction she turned; all she saw was grass, an endless undulating sea of grass. Slowly she spun around and around, trying to figure out what direction she had come in, what direction was the way back to her warriors. Finally she sank to the ground sobbing. Eventually she lay numb listening to the words in the wind lull her and then she fell asleep with the hot sun beating down on her.

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Aylanna woke to the sweet warm breath of Xin'sha in her face. Almost without thought she spoke to the mare, "Oh, you found me."

Jhardron's voice was bemused, "Your little horse followed your scent like a hunting hound."

Aylanna jumped to her feet to see Jhardron on his grey stallion with Jhu'kresh behind him. She stammered, "I... I... am sorry. I didn't mean to do it. I... I... just can't stop it. I didn't mean to run away, I was just running and then I could not find my way back." Aware that she was pleading and fearful Aylanna spun around and buried her face in her mare's neck. Again the little mare reacted to the girl's emotional turmoil, her ears laying back and starting to sidestep nervously. Aylanna froze and then gripped the Xin'sha's bridle and fiercely thought at her, "Stop now!" The mare froze and stood trembling, her ears up and intently listening once more.

Jhardron's voice penetrated her awareness. He was speaking to Jhu'kresh, "Go and let them know we have found her. I will bring her back."

Still standing with her back to him, Aylanna spoke. Her voice was soft and sad, "Sometimes I can't make it stop happening."

She heard the creak of leather as Jhardron dismounted and she felt his hand on her shoulder slowly, firmly turning her to face him. He looked down at the wild color girl, taking in her swollen red eyes and trembling lips. "You speak of your magic?"

The girl nodded jerkily, her eyes turning away from his, "It seems if I just think the thought and she is off and running. If I become angry; she is angry. If I begin to feel fear; her mind clouds with panic. I first thought I could just listen to them, they were talking to me, but now it is clear that she sees into my heart at all times."

Jhardron nodded, "Let us talk of this as we walk back to camp." He began to walk, leading his stallion and Aylanna trotted to catch up. He did not look at her, keeping his eyes on the horizon. "You have been riding many days. Has this happened before?"

"No, not like this, sometimes when I would practice turning, I would think it, almost make the picture in my mind of her turning and I found she would do it without the touch of my knee or heel. But it always felt natural and it felt like I was controlling it. Today it was like my mind was a flock of birds, flying in all directions." Aylanna's voice dropped, "And I could tell I was confusing her, her spirit still is in turmoil."

"And how is your spirit?"

"I feel like the wind is inside my head, pushing me around like leaves in the dry season."

They walked in silence for many minutes and then Jhardron spoke again. "A young warrior trains many months before he is allowed to even touch a metal sword. More than anything else he is learning discipline. He is learning to control his emotions. He must put the impetuousness of youth behind him. When a warrior earns his swords, he carries in his hand a weapon. If he is careless, he may cut himself or his comrades. If he is impetuous or impulsive he can forget his responsibilities. A Bak warrior must always be in control of his body, his heart, and his mind."

"And magic is a sword in my hand."

"A sword with two edges, it is doubly dangerous. But it can be a valuable asset. A Bak who can speak with his mount would be a formidable horseman. Already you have a bond with this red mare that is beyond any of the Twisted Dagger warriors, but like any dangerous weapon you must be in control of your body, heart, and mind in order to wield it safely."

Aylanna nodded and sighed, unable to find the words to express how easy it was for her Khan to say and so hard for her to do.

Jhardron continued, "You once said that you could feel if the boy was telling the truth. Tell me about that."

Aylanna looked puzzled, "It was not in his heart, fear was there and anger, but I sensed no deceit."

"You could read his thoughts?"

"Oh no, I cannot hear what another thinks, just the feelings. It is not always the same for some people. I have a great deal more difficulty feeling what is in your heart. And Kwal'kek is very hard for me to... um... feel." Aylanna was groping for words to describe an experience that was almost purely sensory and wordless. "When I share blessings with the warriors, it is like they are open. You and Kwal'kek are... um... closed?" Aylanna smiled softly, "Sometimes I feel your eyes on me, looking at me. I can tell you want me then. It wakes up something in me... a wanting too."

Jhardron's next question startled Aylanna, "Ha'akh, what was your name?"

Aylanna swallowed and shrugged, "I was given no name. The village people called me Neekah, dirty thing. The other ha'akh suggested I call myself Aylanna, lucky one. It would be my name if I could choose." She paused and took a deep breath, "But a ha'akh has little need of a name."

Jhardron's voice was soft, "Aylanna ha'akh Bak Tai Twisted Dagger is a good name. Wear it well." Aylanna felt something, an echo of warmth and then it was gone. Again they walked without speaking until Jhardron spoke again. Aylanna could feel a grim resolve in his spirit, "A ha'akh that runs away is a poor servant. A ha'akh that runs away must be prepared to accept her Khan's judgment."

Sensing that Jhardron was fighting a reluctance in his spirit, Aylanna looked toward him with large eyes and responded, "A ha'akh must always accept her Khan's judgment."

Jhardron's voice was cool and neutral. "It is your Khan's judgment that until he is satisfied you are in control of your body, heart, and mind, you will not ride your mare."

In some way this came almost as a relief to Aylanna. The spiraling negative feedback of her panic and the little mare's agitated response had frightened her. She nodded, "As my Khan commands."

"It is your Khan's judgment that a ha'akh that becomes so frightened by her magic that she runs away into the tall grass and becomes lost should wear hobbles like a poorly trained mare that flees from shadows."

Aylanna's steps faltered and she pressed her lips together. She could see the wisdom in his words, but the vision of being tied and shuffling about the camp was painful to think of.

"It is decreed that a ha'akh that runs away from a regiment should be beaten."

Aylanna stumbled and fell to her knees. She could sense the struggle in Jhardron's spirit. A sob rose up in her chest, but she did not protest. Her only words were a plea, "Please Khan, Sir, do not do it around Xin'sha, it will frighten her." Already the mare was fighting the reins, rearing and struggling to back away.

Jhardron pulled the reins from Aylanna's nerveless fingers and tied a lead rope to the mare's bridle. Aylanna did not watch but listened as he led the horses away. When he returned she could see a short heavy horse whip hanging from his hand. His fingers were white knuckled around the handle and she could sense a strong turmoil in his spirit. But just as quickly she felt a closing in his spirit, like he had forced the feelings away.

His voice was neutral, "It is customary for the Khan to determine the severity of the beating. It is clear that you were not running away because you wished to escape your servitude. Yet your actions disrupted the entire regiment. Like your little mare, the warriors feel a strong bond to you. Each one felt your absence. Your thoughtless actions put your life at risk. You could have easily been lost forever in the tall grass."

It seemed like each statement was a lash, Aylanna was sobbing with remorse. Still Jhardron stood before her and she could see that he was fingering the handle of the whip in apparent indecision. She choked out, "A ha'akh must always accept her Khan's judgment." Still on her knees she pulled her dress off her shoulders.

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It was late evening when Jhardron rode into the camp. Aylanna lay prone over the pommel of his saddle, her ankles hobbled with a short rope tied between them. Xin'sha followed along placidly on a lead rope, her saddle glaringly empty. Aylanna hid her face against the flank of the grey stallion. All movement in the camp stopped and she could feel the eyes of the warriors following her and Jhardron. He held her hands steady as she slipped down and landed on her feet. She looked up at him, her eyes pleading for something, acknowledgement, forgiveness, guidance but he just wheeled his mount and led the little red mare away.

Aylanna stood sadly looking around at the camp, wanting somehow to beg all their forgiveness, but not able to speak. She could see Kwal'kek standing looking at her, his face stormy with angry judgment. Slowly, painfully she shuffled to face him, her face a mask of sadness. Her voice was raw with tears, "This ha'akh behaved very badly. This ha'akh ran away." Her voice quivered with her struggle to control her tears. "This ha'akh is sorry."

Kwal'kek stood glowering at the girl, his anger and disappointment clear on his face. He had contended all day with a growing sense of dread and guilt after he had let the girl run away. He had sat on the back of his heavy old stallion and watched the girl disappear into the grass, and had not even called to her to stop. It was only after she had vanished that he had realized that he had let his superstitions interfere with his judgment. Even then he had just turned the big old horse and gone to report her disobedience and escape to his Khan. It was only when he had told Jhardron that the girl had run away, that he had fully realized his failure. He was not prepared for the censure in the younger man's eyes. He had tried to protest that she had bewitched him, but the words rang hollow and empty.

Jhardron had just looked at him and said, "The Twisted Dagger will not leave behind the demon. Go back to the wagons. Make camp." When Jhu'kresh came into camp with the news that the girl had been found, Kwal'kek had felt the easing of tension in camp, and as much as he had wanted to deny it, a relief that was echoed in his own heart.

He stood looking down at the girl's strange gray eyes and as he looked, a tear slipped out and she impatiently raised her hand to wipe it away. The old man caught her hand and stopped her before it reached her face and then gently wiped the tear away with a callused thumb. Gruffly he grunted, "A ha'akh should not forget her duties. It is late. Your warriors await your blessing."

Aylanna took a deep shuddering breath, and nodded briskly, "This ha'akh hears and obeys."

She turned and could not help but smile to see that the group of five was Tim'kah and four of the most youthful warriors standing in a group looking at her nervously. One of them held a bed roll under his arm. Kwal'kek's voice rumbled behind her, "I have spoken to them about their duties to you, but they are young and inexperienced. They will need your guidance."

Aylanna's steps were short and slow as she walked to Tim'kah. She stood before him, a soft embarrassed smile on her face. "If this ha'akh had known that five such handsome and strong warriors were waiting my return, I would not have been so late." She looked down at the ropes that kept her ankles only about her shoulders width apart. "It is customary for a warrior to remove the hobbles from his mount before riding."

It was clear the Tim'kah was acting as the leader of the young warriors. His lips twitched at the image of trying to ride a horse that was still hobbled and knelt at her feet to untie her ankles. Once her feet were unfettered, Aylanna spoke softly, "You must retie me when we return to camp. It is our Khan's judgment." The young man's hand was warm on her ankle, and slowly slid up her leg as he stood and took her hand. She could sense his nervous excitement and uncertainty. Aylanna could feel her heart lurch and her breath caught.

As they walked from camp, Aylanna let her hands stray, touching their arms, running her fingers across the ridges of the fresh scars on their chests. She could sense their excitement, but also felt layers of uncertainty and confusion overlaying their eagerness. When the small group stopped, she helped spread out the sleeping skin and then pulled her simple dress over her head and folded it carefully.

Almost instantly she could feel the tension and, to her surprise, anger coming from the young men. She twisted around trying to peer at her back. She ran her fingers across the welts crisscrossing her shoulders and back. She looked at them sadly and repeated the words, "A ha'akh and a warrior of the Twisted Dagger must always accept their Khan's judgment." Again she tenderly touched the raised ridges on her back and forced herself to shrug, ignoring the twinge of pain that accompanied the movement of her shoulders.

Aylanna schooled her face into her eager smile, running her hand down the length of her slender body, and then taking Tim'kah's hands and pulling them to touch her, tracing the same path her hands hand taken.

Instantly she could sense his rush of excitement. She murmured in a soft vibrant voice, "The touch of your hands light the fire of the goddess in my heart." She reached her hands out to the other young warriors standing close by, "I crave the heat of your hands to feed the flames."

As each of them joined, she whispered soft encouragement, gently guiding their touches. It was clear that they were oddly shy and unsure of themselves and Aylanna naturally stepped into the role of guide and teacher.

When she pulled Tim'kah between her thighs, impatient to be filled, she was mildly disappointed when he left his offering only moments after his entry into her. But soon another took his place. None of them lay long between her legs but there was always another. Aylanna never sank beneath the waves of sensation, never losing her awareness to the fugue of ecstasy. Instead the pleasure built slowly, gently and when she finally found her release, it was a soft gentle surge of joy, her cries soft and vibrant.

She showed them the ritual of bathing and afterwards they brought her back and tied her ankles once more. Tim'kah pressed into her hands two striped red jasper beads and mumbled softly, "I am glad you came back."

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Aylanna got some ointment from the medicine box and asked Tollarra to help put it on her back. When Tollarra fussed over the welts, Aylanna spoke sharply, "I disobeyed. I ran away. I could have been lost. It was necessary. If our Khan had not punished me, he would have been failing in his duty to the regiment."

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