tagSci-Fi & FantasyDemon Child Ch. 19

Demon Child Ch. 19

byXantu©

Chapter 19: Facing the Truth

Demon Child story about an alien girl, a child conceived in violence, a child of a demon cast adrift among a warrior society. In this chapter Aylanna is reunited with Jhardron and travels with him as he confronts the truth of his birthright.

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"Wherever you go, my Khan, I will follow." The words echoed and repeated through her heart, a mantra that matched the pounding of the horse hooves on the hard stone road. As soon as she had voiced the words she had known they were the truth, that she would never leave his side again. Never had she such a clear vision of her destiny.

She rode behind him, her arms wrapped tightly around his body, not because she was fearful of falling but because she wanted nothing more than to be close to him. The surrounding darkness was impenetrable, the few weak glimmers of light that shown behind tight shutters did nothing to push back the black. The relentless rain seemed to swallow up the feeble sparks just as it muted and dulled the sound of their passage.

Aylanna pressed her face against his back, seeking to touch his spirit, to see into his heart. But ever since that first rush of rage and grief at the death of Jhar'drakon he had been icily in control of his emotions. An almost tangible barrier had closed down around his pain. She did not push at this wall, partly because she was still exhausted from her exertions and partially because she was not sure she could push past his defenses, or if she even wanted to. She wondered at that, that he had the ability to do this, to shut her out, to only reveal himself to her on his own terms. Of all the people in her life, he was the only one that could do this. She wondered if this was why she loved him so.

The rain fell, it always fell. It had become such a constant that in many ways she had forgotten it. Her elaborate gilded dress clung sodden and cold to her skin; and she was grateful for his warmth and the heat of the horse between her legs. She had no idea where they were going and did not care. She closed her eyes and let the rhythms of the words, "Wherever you go, my Khan, I will follow," blend with the surge and thrum of galloping hooves. The fatigue was there, the dull ache of her spirit having stretched too far, the dullness of senses and emotions that had been assaulted, overtaxed and ultimately drained. She knew she was at the edge of her endurance.

As they rode through the darkness, the chill of the rain and the wind of their passage seemed to penetrate deeper and deeper. Aylanna huddled closer to Jhardron's back, trying to find some warmth and shelter. Her thoughts grew slower. She only dimly aware as the troop clattered into a wide torch lit courtyard and the resulting flurry of movement and noise as the buildings seemed to erupt with servants, warriors and endless other people, all crying out in grief as the news of the death of Jhar'drakon was discovered.

Jhardron dismounted leaving her sitting alone, shivering and swaying with exhaustion on the back of the stallion. When strange hands reached up and pulled her down, she staggered and tried to force her icy limbs to support her. But to her shame she could no longer prevail against this weakness, this dull irresistible exhaustion that had only seemed to grow in her heart and body, and she found herself crumpling to the ground. Instantly strong arms were there catching her and Jhardron's voice was in her ear, strangely anxious and intrusive. "Ha'akh, what afflicts you?"

Aylanna's heart lurched at that word, 'ha'akh'. She smiled in a kind of giddy, drunken exhilaration to hear that beloved rank once again, and strangely she mumbled in the broken, uncertain phrases that she had used so long ago when she had first learned the Bak language, "Not sick... head tired... leg cold..."

But he was already not listening, his attention pulled away by a high pitched scream. Still holding her close to his chest he whirled to face the form of a woman, and once again Aylanna was assailed by the surge of hopeless rage and grief that rose up for an unguarded instant as he looked at the form of a silver haired woman who had thrown herself across the dead body of Jhar'drakon. She had pulled away the cloak that enshrouded the corpse and was wailing in heartbreak. She lifted her tear stained face and cried out to the mute and shocked faces surrounding her, "How, how did this happen?" Her eyes fell on Jhardron, "Tell me, my son, whose hand has done this thing? Who has killed your father?"

Again the rage and grief thundered through the heart of the man who held her in his arms, but again just as quickly the gates were ruthlessly slammed shut. The only sign that she sensed of his struggle to maintain control was the sudden tensing in his body, the quiver in his muscles as he pulled her even tighter against his chest, somehow drawing strength from the contact of her skin against his, the weight of her body in his arms.

His voice was sharp and focused, "Bring the body into the house. Lay it out as befits a warrior who is slain in battle. Summon Jhar'granda. He is the head of house now. I will report to him of the events at the court of the Aga Khan."

He turned and marched in through a dark doorway, down a long hallway and into a wide room. He paused and again a shudder shook through his frame and he looked down into Aylanna's face, his voice low, for her ears only, "Little demon, I need you now more than ever. I need your magic and your loyalty." He put her down upon her feet and guided her to sit upon a chair in a corner. "Watch, listen, but do not speak unless I turn to you." And then his attention was pulled away as the entourage bearing the body burst into the room.

The still form of Jhar'drakon was laid out upon a black draped table. Servants went about washing the blood from his skin and an elaborate gilded breast plate concealed the horrific wound in his torso. Inside, here in the bare face of death, the movements were slower, voices lower, words more formal. Aylanna sat and watched, her eyes wide taking in the eddying movements of the servants and others whose roles she was not so sure of.

The older woman, the one who had called Jhardron son, sat motionless at the side of her husband, her head lowered now, her face concealed by her still rain wet robe but Aylanna could still keenly sense the endless throb of anguish that reverberated through her very being. Jhardron stood near her, but did not speak or touch her. He just stood looking down at her, his face blank.

Another mature woman appeared at a doorway and hesitated, staring into the room as if she was not quite sure of her welcome. Her eyes were wide and strangely angry. She narrowed her eyes and marched into the room and took up a place on the far side of the body from the others. Her voice was low, tense and oddly triumphant, "Your brother will be here soon."

The shrouded head of Jhardron's mother lifted briefly and the two womens eyes met. Her words were stiffly formal, "Sister wife, our husband lies dead between us. Cannot we, for once, forget our anger?"

"And must I forget that you did not even have the decency to come to me yourself with this grievous news, the murder of our husband? Must I learn from the lips of a servant that my husband is dead?"

The only response to her accusation was the lowering of the head of the other and Jhardron's soft words of admonition, "Let not the last words that the spirit of your husband hears be the hiss and cackle of your constant bickering."

The second woman, turned and smiled in an icy snarl, "Younger brother, your words hold little authority over me." Her words were slightly arrogant, "It is my son who will become head of house."

And as if her words were an incantation to summon him, a rain drenched man swept into the room. He stood for a moment, staring down at the serene form of his father's body. Then his eyes sought out Jhardron, "My brother, tell me how this has come to pass!"

Jhardron stood at rigid attention, his posture reflecting his struggle for control of his emotions as he related in detail all that had occurred at the court of the Aga Khan. He repeated the words of the Aga Khan and Jhar'drakon precisely, but as the story wound round to the entry of the wizard it was as if he had not seen it, he spoke of confusion, the perception that someone or something was attacking the Aga Khan, not even mentioning the presence of the misshapen black clad form of the wizard.

Aylanna stared at him, at first wondering if he was deliberately lying or if for some reason the magic had clouded his memory of the events that had transpired just hours before. Yet, there was no sense of deception, and she could not help but stand and call out, "But the wizard... it was the wizard, Rhasht, he was the one. He was the one that made them attack! Don't you remember?" And she froze, remembering his directive to listen and not speak, but it was too late. All the eyes in the room were trained on her.

Jhardron frowned as if struggling to push through some barrier, "Yes, yes, the wizard was there, he was talking to... to..."

Aylanna could not bear his confusion and walked up to him, staring intently into his face. "He was talking to the Aga Khan. He was telling him that there were assassins in the room, that he had seen omens of death and the Khan must stop the gathering. He was using his magic to cloud the minds of the people in the room, using fear and confusion to try and control the Khan. He had a knife..."

Jhardron nodded, his eyes clearing, "Yes, I do remember that... the knife in his hand. He stabbed the Khan. Then there was fighting, the guards attacked us..." Again he hesitated, "...or did they attack the Khan?" He stared down at her, all others in the room forgotten, "You say that was magic, that the wizard did that, made all the people in the room blind to his actions?"

Jhar'granda made an impatient sound, "Magic... I have little use for the superstitious prattling of a... a..." He stared at Aylanna for the first time awareness dawning in his eyes, "You are the demon, the one that my brother captured in the northern lands... the one that the Aga Khan took to his household." He turned to Jhardron, "Little brother, none of this answers my question. Who's hand took the life of our father, and tell me that they no longer draw breath."

At the words, 'little brother,' Aylanna sensed again a surge of anger within Jhardron, but his words were calm. "I did not see the blow that felled him, but all that fought against the Twisted Dagger lie dead upon the floor of the grand hall of the Aga Khan, the corpse of the wizard among them. But it was not the hand that held the scimitar that holds the blame for this act. It was, as the demon says, the magic of the wizard, Rhasht. He subverted the guards of the court. Like you, I once dismissed the existence of magic in this world as wild imaginings, but I have seen things... things that have convinced me otherwise."

"And the Aga Khan, what news of him?"

This time Jhardron's eyes sought out Aylanna's unsure of the answer, "The Khan was stricken down, he lay wounded but I do not know if he still survives."

"And you left him there, wounded, unattended? You thought to steal a courtesan from the women's quarters but you neglected to see the health of the Aga Khan?"

Jhardron blinked and frowned, he rubbed a hand across his head. "There was no way to know who was enemy or friend. She was there in the room. She was a witness to what transpired. I had only seconds to decide what to do and then there were our father's dying words... I had to come back... I had to speak to you and my mother."

"Dying words? Our father left a message for me?"

Aylanna could sense that Jhardron's control was slipping, his eyes blazed as he suddenly shouted, "You? No, not for you!" Then he seized the arm of the grieving woman and pulled her to stand, peering down into her face. His voice was grating, filled with pain, "Is it true? Is it true that I am not Twisted Dagger? Are you not my mother? Was it all lies?"

Aylanna was close enough to touch both of them, and the woman quailed under his questions, her voice weak and protesting, "Not Twisted Dagger? Did your father say that? Your father never told me where you came from; he just brought you to me in the night, telling me to raise you as if you were a child of my body, and to speak to no one about this. I assumed you were a child of some lover, some..." She hesitated, her tone just slightly bitter, "...some woman of the court. He spent so much of his time there." She cringed at the sadness in Jhardron's eyes, "But my boy, my sweet little boy, I did love you, loved you just the same as if I had carried you under my heart. And I obeyed my husband. I never once revealed this secret to anyone."

"I knew... I knew he was not yours." The gloating whisper of her sister wife carried through the silent room. "And it only makes sense that he is not Twisted Dagger. Your son is outcast, fatherless, a bastard without a house to call his own."

A flash of rage shot through Aylanna. She whirled and snarled, "Jhardron Khan Bak Tai Twisted Dagger was named the son of the Aga Khan by the dying words of Jhar'drakon. He is neither fatherless nor outcast. He is heir to the Aga Khan and not to be mocked or called bastard by any."

Again, it was as if the room stood still. All movement ceased, all eyes staring at her, mouths open in shock. Aylanna was buffeted by the flood of emotions her words had unleashed. Shock, confusion, disbelief and rage surged and crashed up and over her.

Aylanna only had eyes for Jhardron. She was intensely aware that her blurted out words of protest had done nothing to ease the crescendo of emotions that he had been struggling to control. And as she watched, as she reached out a hesitant hand to somehow touch him, reach him, he shuddered and jerked as if he had been stabbed to the heart, lurched back and then turning blindly, fled the room.

Instinctively she moved to follow but a strange hand gripped her arm, the face of his brother swam into her swirling vision, his lips moving, his voice a dull booming roar in her ears. She stared at him dumbly, struggling to make sense of his words, but her overtaxed heart and mind finally failed her and she crumpled to the floor.

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It was the sound of bird song and the sense of quiet movement that first penetrated her awareness. Aylanna opened her eyes and blinked staring up at unfamiliar walls. She stretched and realized that the ornate court costume that she had worn through the night was gone. She was nude, reclining upon a soft pallet, covered with a warm blanket. As she blinked and yawned, she saw the woman Jhardron once called mother watching her with tired, sad eyes. The older woman's lips turned up briefly, her voice low and hoarse from recent tears. "Ah, little stranger, you finally wake. You have slept long."

Aylanna sat up, her eyes casting around, "Where am I?"

"When you fainted, I had you brought to my quarters. I was not sure of your safety elsewhere in this household, especially after your wild statements."

Aylanna scrambled out of the bed, holding the blanket to cover her nakedness. Her eyes were wide and her voice shrill, "Jhardron, my Khan, he left, he left me. Where did he go? I must follow. I have to follow. I promised..."

"Hush, little stranger, calm yourself. Do not fear for my son. I am confident he will return. It is the only course of duty left for him. And if there is one thing that is true about that young man, he will do as duty dictates." Aylanna felt her panic ebb as the older woman gently enfolded her into a calming embrace, holding her, rocking her, her voice low and soothing. "Now tell me, do you have a name? I know of you, the strange looking girl captured by the Twisted Dagger. A demon some say. But no one seems to know your name."

And for some strange reason, Aylanna found herself calming in her embrace, letting the low murmur of her voice calm and sooth her. She took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh, "Aylanna."

"Lucky one? And odd name and I wonder if it will prove true for us. But come, let us find you some clothing and see to your needs. You slept as one dead for a whole day and a night. I am sure you hunger and wish to bathe."

"A day and a night? That long?" Again the fear and compulsion to be with Jhardron rose up, "You said he would return, are you sure? He was so angry, so sad, his heart was broken. Where is he, where did he go?"

The older woman conspiratorially put a finger beside her ear, and spoke in an innocent voice, "Where did he go? I truly have no idea." Her eyes cast about the room; warning and caution clear in her heart. "Come, Aylanna, walk with me to the bath." As they walked she spoke in a soft voice, "You may call me Magdellyn. I am..." she hesitated and choked out the word, "...was the first wife of Jhar'drakon, once head of the enclave here and once the most trusted councilor to the court of the Aga Khan."

They made their way down some stairs and into a small but well lit bathing room, Magdellyn spoke softly, "My sister wife, Marta, and I do not share living quarters. This is one place where we can potentially cross paths, but she is not an early riser. We have an unspoken agreement; I bathe in the mornings to avoid conflict." Magdellyn's lips tightened, "Though, now that our husband is no longer here to maintain order, I suspect it will be only a matter of time before she begins her campaign to force me from this house."

Aylanna dropped the blanket and began to wash, "Then there is only the two of you?"

"There was a third, a sweet little thing. Jhar'drakon married her late in his years. Sadly she died shortly after the birth of her first baby, a girl." Magdellyn looked around furtively, her voice dropping to a whisper, "I always wondered if perhaps, maybe, Marta might have..." She shook her head, "No, she couldn't have. But still she has always been jealous, and she hated anyone that could threaten her place as the first wife and the mother of the oldest son." Magdellyn shook her head, "It was all long ago, and I had no proof beyond the gleam of satisfaction in that woman's eye..."

Magdellyn paused and blinked, swaying and staring at Aylanna strangely, "I cannot imagine what has loosened my tongue so, to prattle about suspicions and imaginings to a complete stranger, but of late secrets have weighed me down and confessing to Jhardron the truth of his birth has unleashed within me a compulsion to be done with it all. I am so tired of holding my tongue."

The older woman rubbed a hand across her face and turned to a cabinet. She pulled out a simple dress and handed it to Aylanna, "Or perhaps fatigue and grief have unhinged me. Come, strange one, unlikely confessor, let us return to my rooms before my nemesis appears and casts a deeper shadow upon an already dark and cursed day."

Magdellyn's apartments were small and Spartan compared to the courtesan's quarters, merely a sleeping room and only slightly larger sitting room, dominated by a loom and a low couch. Magdellyn absently sat down on the stool and mechanically began to weave the shuttle back and forth. She spoke in a sad voice, "I have had little to occupy my time since my sons have grown. This loom has been my only companion for many years. I find it soothing, it has a rhythm, and I enjoy watching the patterns as they grow. You will have to forgive me if I seek out its comfort now as I wait for nightfall. For tonight they will light the funeral pyre and the spirit of my husband will be freed to travel to Jha'Mak'Tah"

Aylanna moved to sit on the couch, watching with curious eyes as the older woman's hands flew almost faster than she could see, feeding threads of various colors, different shades of blues, greens and occasionally the decorative gold thread into the loom, her feet pushing at levers, pressing the new threads down and tight into the warp. There was a rhythm to it, a soft swish and thump and swish again.

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