The Cursefall

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Quill 150 Curse of Thirteen Image 1 FinalHer mother wrung her hands and her father released a deep and miserable breath, and Tazara knew that the news they had for her was not good.

“A curse with fall upon you, daughter,” her father said, “on the first day of your thirteenth year.”

Tazara looked between her mother and father.  “But that’s tomorrow!”

“We beg your forgiveness,” her father said.  “For we are certain we did not miss him, but we must have.”

“And he would receive no further offerings, and would not hear our pleas,” her mother said.

“We traveled to the mountaintop to see him, to beg him to lift the curse, or to shift it upon ourselves.  Alas, by the time we arrived, he had passed into the afterworld.”

Tazara sat stunned as her mother and father told her the tale of her birth.  She was their first child and would be the eldest child of eldest children, for her mother and father were eldest of their siblings.  Her parents held no less than three feasts to assure that all who wished to come with well wishes and blessings for the newborn child could come and celebrate.

To family and dear friends, they sent sweets as was the custom.  Those who lived close were given honeyed cakes.  Those who lived far were sent sweets that would not spoil on the journey, bars and rounds made with figs and almonds.  This they sent to Tazara’s great-great uncle on her father’s side.  Or so they thought they had.  Many weeks after the festivities were done, Tazara’s mother noticed a mark on the baby’s right palm.  The puffed skin looked like a scar from a ragged gash or a bad burn.  But Tazara had never suffered such an injury.  Shortly after, the family received word from Tazara’s great-great uncle, who was also a sorcerer.  He had learned of the baby’s birth through distant acquaintances. He never received the accustomed gift of sweets and the humble request for blessings.

Steeping in bitter insult, he sent a curse instead.

“What form will this curse take?” Tazara asked, still stupefied.

Her mother took her hands.  “We do not know.”

“Then everything will be fearful to me upon the coming of my thirteenth year.”

Tazara’s thirteenth year should have been a year of celebration, even grander than her first year of life.  For now she had not just survived but lived.  She had loved and learned.  It was the year to assay all that had come to pass and plan for all that was still to come.

***

At first, Tazara was angry with her mother and father, for being so foolish as to forget a gift to a powerful sorcerer, and for not trying all the many years of her life to find a way to lift the curse.  But as she lay in her bed that night, she examined the years of her life.  She recalled the many trips her mother would take from which she would return with strange gifts, candles and amulets and the like.  When Tazara grew older, she just thought her mother did not know what kinds of gifts to buy a little girl.  Her mother often gave her the gifts she wanted for celebrations, but Tazara held to this logic.  She could think of no other reason her mother would make her drink a foul concoction of herbs at midnight beneath a blood moon.  They must have been trying to break the curse upon her for all her life, and their only folly was to keep it secret from her.  But it was not folly.  For if they had succeeded, she need never have known.

Tazara brewed her anger all night until it fermented into a quiet rage, but not for her parents.  The one who deserved her ire was her great-great uncle, the curse-maker.  She resolved that very night to travel to the top of Mount Moray, where he had lived and died, to touch his bones and chant the words to summon her ancestor, and entreat him to remove the curse, or at least to delay it.  And if he should agree only to delay it, she resolved to become a great sorceress, so she could one day break the curse herself.

***

The next morning was the first morning of her thirteenth year.  Tazara told her mother and father what she intended to do.  The journey would take many weeks if she walked, and the roads and villages in between would not always be friendly.  She had never traveled so far in her life.  As she spoke, she was certain they would forbid the journey, and was shocked when they agreed.

“In all our searches for a way to break the curse, one that seemed to work was when the one who suffered the curse asked the one who cast it to remove it,” her mother said.

Her father cautioned her.  “But success depends on the temperament of the curse-maker.”

Her mother and father had already made arrangements in case Tazara was willing to make the attempt.  Neither could go with her, for Tazara now was eldest over two young siblings, toddlers both, and both were ill.  Her father could take her as far as the nearest town, for he had business there.   From there, a close friend of her father’s would take Tazara all the way to the mountain and to bring her back.  Atop the scarred flesh of her right palm, her mother painted an eye and told Tazara that it would protect her from evil on her journey.   Her mother had learned many such superstitions on her quest to find a way to break the curse on her daughter.

Tazara was to have one other companion on her travels.  A friend who would look after her, a clever little monkey named Vega.  She had been trained to help with the picking of fruits in the family’s orchards.  A few years after Tazara was born, her father thought he could train a group of monkeys to help with the fruit picking in their orchards, but alas, all the monkeys cared for were their own appetites, save for one.  Vega became enchanted with baby Tazara and became a constant companion to the little girl.  Tazara as a toddler didn’t take to the monkey all that well though.  She seemed so pestered that her parents wondered if the curse had already come upon their child in the form of a clever monkey adversary.  They spoke of separating the two.  Then one day, Tazara was almost carried off by a hawk, save that Vega intervened and got carried away herself instead.  The monkey troubled the hawk so much with her biting and clawing that the bird dropped her.  They were high up when Vega fell, and she could not catch herself in the trees.  She was badly hurt when she dropped to the ground.

Tazara’s mother and father nursed the monkey back to good health.  The bond between the monkey and the family was sealed, for never would Tazara’s mother let any harm come to the creature who had protected her only child.  It was she who named the monkey after a star in the sky.

As Tazara grew older, she began to love the monkey, and when she was old enough to hear the story of how she was saved, she loved Vega all the more.  She was happy and relieved when her parents let her take Vega with her.  All of her friends knew of the curse now that news had spread, and some had abandoned her.  Others, to her humbling delight, had sworn themselves to her and her quest.  But she could not risk her misfortune falling upon another.  If the curse was that a swarm of hornets should come and sting her, she did not want anyone else to be caught in the middle.  She did not want for Vega to be caught up in her misfortune either, but she trusted that the monkey would not only thwart misfortune, but perhaps find a way to get Tazara out of misfortune too.

***

The inn was too crowded during midday for Tazara to squeeze through into the common room.  She had said her goodbyes to her father that morning, and her father’s friend, who would escort her on her journey, was already in the next town.  Her escort was in the common room, doing some kind of business or other.  She could not fathom why the gentlemen had not remained in the calm offices across the street, where they had begun their business, but it was not for her to question.

They would be moving on by afternoon, which delighted Tazara.  She had always enjoyed carriage rides, and her father’s friend seemed a well-to-do man, for he had commissioned a most comfortable carriage, which even carried casks of wine and packets of cured meats and bread for travelers who became peckish.  The only thing the carriage was missing was a latrine, her father’s friend had jested.

Tazara sat on a stoop before the inn, with Vega sitting on her shoulders.  She kept a tight grip on her purse, though there were only a few coins in it, but she did not know she should have been keeping a better grip on her friend.  Before Tazara could decide if she had enough time for a stroll around the street, she felt the sudden lifting of weight from her shoulders and heard the simian scream of her companion.

Tazara rose quickly and turned.  She fought off a fit of blurred vision from the hot sun overhead and she spotted the culprit.  A tall boy had caught Vega up in a sack and was now running down the alley between the inn and the alehouse beside it.  Tazara ran after him.  He was fast.  Though her heart pounded and her gut churned with panic at the loss of Vega, she judged that she could not outrun him.  She needed to keep her eyes on him, watch where he was going, and follow.  She had learned agility from climbing after Vega.  She climbed up until she was on the low roof of an apothecary.  Then she climbed further up, keeping her eye on the racing thief.  Even as he ducked into alleys, she kept her eyes on him, for she climbed higher and higher.  At last, she saw him stop to catch his breath.  Tazara climbed down and raced to the empty lot where the thief had stopped.

She heard a monkey’s scream and ran faster.  When she reached the lot, she might have laughed at what she saw, if she wasn’t still so panicked.  The thief had let his curiosity get the better of him and had taken Vega out of the sack.  She was biting and scratching and screaming at her abductor.  The poor boy was on the ground, curled up into a protective ball.  Tazara managed to pull the monkey off the boy, who was now covered in scratches that were beading up with and trickling blood.   She heard the sounds of other people approaching and ran in the opposite direction.

***

Tazara had gotten lost, but with the help of a few kind folk on the street, she made it back to the inn where her travel escort was doing business.  Just to be sure she didn’t get into any more trouble, she boarded the carriage and decided to stay there until they departed in a few hours.  Vega kept trying to pull her out, but she thought the monkey just wanted to get into some mischief, so she resisted and commanded Vega to play with her game, a series of wooden tiles that she put in a particular order.  Tazara had brought a book of maps and histories of their territory.  She fell to reading the book and studying the maps.

Reading soon gave her a headache.  She put the book aside, rested her head on the side of the carriage, and closed her eyes.  Tazara fell asleep.  When she woke, many hours later, the carriage was moving.  It was dark outside and she expected they would stop soon, for they would be lodging at the next town.  Vega was asleep in her lap.  She looked about the carriage and the remnants of grogginess fled when she realized that something was amiss.

There was a lady in the carriage, sitting with girls who appeared to be her daughters, across from Tazara.  Beside Tazara was a man in a fine suit, who was in conversation with the lady.  The man was not her father’s friend.  Tazara wondered if perhaps her father’s friend was riding with the driver.  She felt too timid to ask the people who were sharing the carriage with her.  She resolved to wait until the carriage stopped.  But the carriage traveled all through the night, and only stopped in the morning so all could refresh themselves.

Tazara discovered that she had climbed into the wrong carriage.  The driver had mistaken her for one of the lady’s daughters.  Strangely, she did not panic at this as she had panicked at the kidnapping of her companion.  For one thing, she discovered that the carriage would not be stopping till midday and by then would have brought her closer to the mountaintop in a much shorter time than she expected.  She decided that she would write to her mother and father when she reached the next town, so they wouldn’t worry, and so they could send word to her father’s friend.

Tazara had little money, not enough for her passage and lodging and care-taking for those were to be the responsibility of her escort.  She could not know how long it would take him to find her in that town.  In the meantime, she did not know where she might stay.  She considered having Vega pick pockets, but wondered if her situation had yet become truly dire.

When the lady in the carriage, who was a seamstress, noticed that Tazara seemed distressed and realized her predicament, she paid the driver for the carriage ride and gave Tazara a few coins and the name of the town constable.  Tazara asked if she might earn the coins and a few more until her escort arrived in the town.  She had not even known what route he would take, such was her ignorance, but she was certain, after consulting her maps, that the town she was in would be one of his stops.  The town was the lady’s home.  After some consideration, the lady decided to let Tazara earn her coin with some simple sewing.  When she saw Tazara’s diligence and care with stitching, she went further and offered Tazara a bed in her home while she waited for her escort to arrive.

***

That night, as she slept, Tazara scratched at her palm.  When she woke the next morning, she worked at sewing again, as did Vega, much to the charm of one of the seamstress’s daughters and the chagrin of the other.  As it grew dark, Tazara’s eyes could barely manage to see the thread until the evening lanterns were lit.  When she was dismissed from her work, she decided to see if her travel escort had arrived.  He had not.  She took a stroll some ways from the merry town.  There was a new moon and only the stars lit the sky and they seemed to grow dimmer and dimmer as she walked on, until she saw nothing but blackness.  She stopped and rubbed her eyes, and she turned around, expecting to see the bright torches that burned at the town gates.  But every which way she turned, she saw only darkness.

She began to panic.  She called for Vega and asked the monkey to lead her back toward the town.  It was not until the monkey led her to the town center, ablaze with lanterns and torches, that Tazara was able to make out the people and buildings again.  But all seemed hazy until she came quite close.  She decided to go back to her lodgings at the kindly seamstress’s home, and rest until morning, for she may have been tired, but she feared it was something else.  She feared she was beginning to discover what form the curse upon her was taking.

The next morning, she woke, having forgotten the ordeal of the night before.  She rubbed her eyes and opened them to a bright and fresh summer morning.  There were no clouds in the crisp blue sky.  She checked again for any carriages that might have arrived during the night and did not find her escort.  Tazara could not think of imposing on her gracious host for one more night.  She hadn’t the money to book a room at an inn.  She did however have enough money to make it to the next village.  She mentioned this plan to the seamstress’s daughters at breakfast, and the kindliest of them, the one who most took after her mother, insisted that the seamstress would find some way for Tazara to proceed on her quest with proper protection and without the spending of the coin she had earned.  For she would need that coin to buy offerings for her angry ancestor.

The seamstress entrusted Tazara’s care to her brother’s wife, who was traveling to the next few villages.  The woman did not seem keen on taking care of Tazara, though she fell instantly in love with Vega.  And she insisted that she would break no oaths nor would she shirk her duties as Tazara’s first hapless travel escort had done.  She was true to her word.  Over the few days that followed, they stopped at a different village each night, so that the woman could conduct whatever business she was conducting and carry on the next morning.  She carried a heavy case full of liquids and powders in hues like peach and bronze.  Tazara wondered if they were used for some kind of sorcery.

At each stop, Tazara tested her sight.  On the first night, she ventured out again and soon found herself moving about in utter darkness.  She knew there were lights about, torch lights, starlight, but she was blind to it.  She was blind when night fell.  She could only see by the light of the sun.

“This is the curse, Vega,” she said as she lay in the bed of a modest inn.  The little monkey placed her paw on Tazara’s hand.

***

Tazara sent letters back home from each village, but did not wait for replies for now there was no time to lose.  Soon, she might not be able to see at all and thus to write.  When they reached the last village that the woman with the case of potions would visit, the woman left Tazara in the care of an innkeeper she trusted.  He was an old man, retired from the life of a soldier, widowed, and visited often by grandchildren and still-living friends.  He had many a tale of his adventures abroad, and Tazara would have liked to hear them, but she was only halfway through her journey to the mountaintop where her great-great uncle’s bones lay, which she could use to summon his ghost and beg his forgiveness and ask for him to lift the curse.  When she told the innkeeper her tale, leaving out only what she now knew the curse to be, he took pity on her.  He had no carriages to spare for her journey, unless she could manage the price of passage, but there was a mare who had once been among his fastest messenger horses.  She could not gallop far, for she had suffered an injury of her left hind leg, but she was strong and steadfast, and could carry Tazara farther than she could go if she only walked.  If not directed, the mare would return back to the village, should Tazara find herself lost.

This appealed to the girl who was losing her sight ever more quickly.  Even in daylight now, far objects were blurry.  And words she once easily read in her books were difficult to focus upon.  If she should fail on her quest, the mare, Storm, would bring her back.  There were many who lived their lives blind, if not by curse then by accident or ailment.  Some were born so.  But Tazara did not want to lose her sight.  She did not want to learn how to live without it.

***

For many days, she traveled alone, walking alongside Storm, sometimes riding atop her.  Tazara committed many of the maps to memory, so when her vision grew so dim that she could not read the map, she could direct Vega to find the next landmark.  That was how they found the river so that Storm could drink and graze.  They would have been pleasant days, and proud, if not for the curse.  Tazara drew closer to her destination with no further help from people.  She cut a walking stick from a fallen branch and used it to guide her feet from tripping.

By the time they reached Mount Moray, her sight was nearly gone.  She could see shapes moving before her eyes if she came close and if the sun was shining.  Otherwise, she was blind.  She could not see how treacherous the climb up the mountain might be.  So she left Storm at the base of the mountain and started up a steep path with Vega sitting on her shoulders.  She had taught the little monkey to tap her right shoulder or her left shoulder to indicate if she could turn to avoid danger.

She climbed the mountain, a task that she thought would be a lonely one.  But there were many supplicants, apprentices, sorcerers, sages, and pilgrims about.  Her sight was fading fast now, almost with each step.  She stopped.

“Vega, look for this symbol.”  With her walking stick, she drew in the dirt as best she could the symbol of her house.  She heard the monkey scurry away and then suppressed the anxious panic at the thought that she was alone and sightless and helpless.  She heard the movement of others up and down the path, but they were strangers.  And though she had received the help of kind strangers all along her journey, she feared that her good luck was at an end with the final descent of the curse upon her.

She heard the familiar scrambling of Vega’s movements and felt a tug at her walking stick.  When she hesitated, she heard the familiar cry of impatience that could only be Vega.  She began to walk, letting Vega guide her with gentle tugs of her walking stick.

She began to hear the rushing of a waterfall and felt a slight misting, but as she walked, the sound of the waterfall faded, and the air grew dry again, and cooler.  She had difficulty telling, but it seemed to be getting dimmer.  At last, the tugging stopped and so Tazara stopped.  Before she could do anything more, a voice spoke.

“Welcome, supplicant.  I am Barend, unworthy apprentice to Malik, whom I’m afraid passed away many years ago.”

Something pricked at Tazara’s heart at the mention of her great-great uncle’s given name.

“It’s been thirteen years in fact since your master passed,” Tazara said.

“Alas, his guidance is missed, for my skill is but a shadow to his.”

She could not see this Barend, but there was something in his tone that made Tazara picture a hunched over, petulant-looking youth with long scraggly hair and a leering gaze.  It was not the sight one would wish to see when presented with a sorcerer’s apprentice, but then she did not know what he truly looked like.  She scolded herself for thinking ill of a new acquaintance.

“Were you your master’s only apprentice for all his living days?”

“Indeed,” Barend said.  “I served him for many years before he passed.  Now, what is your business on the rainswept mount of Moray?”

Tazara told the truth.  When her tale was finished, she made her request, to touch the bones of her ancestor in the hopes of summoning his spirit and asking him to lift the curse.

“Alas, I do not recall receiving these sweets,” Barend said, his voice heavy yet tight.  His voice had sounded superior yet calm when he first spoke to her.  Perhaps he now felt cautious.

He could not refuse her request by custom.  Tazara had brought a talisman that tested her blood and proved she belonged to her great-great uncle’s house.

“Follow me,” he said.  She heard his footsteps sweep across the clean floor.  Vega took her by the hand and led her forward.

Tazara was bright, though her eyes were now dimmed.  As the apprentice to her uncle, Barend would have brought all deliveries and offerings to his master.  He admitted to being the only apprentice.  That meant he would have seen the offering of sweets that her parents had sent.  She wondered if the sweets had been waylaid on their way to her great-great uncle.  Perhaps Barend had hidden the sweets her parents had sent to his master out of spite.  Perhaps there was a feud between their families.  Perhaps Barend had poisoned her great-great uncle.  Perhaps it had been folly for her to reveal her lineage to Barend.

Such rampant thoughts raced through Tazara’s mind.  She hesitated once, straightening and pulling her hand away from the monkey’s hand.  Vega complied and stopped.

She had come thus far, and with the aid of many kind folks.  She had no reason to believe her great-great uncle’s apprentice was foul when thus far he had treated her fair.  But there was something in his voice that made her hackles go up.  She wished she could see him, for then she could judge if he was friend or foe.  But that was folly.

At last, they arrived at a cool but dry chamber where Barend said his master’s remains lay.  Tazara heard scraping and the turning of keys.  Barend guided her hands and placed them on a box, the top of which was domed and etched with the visage of the one whose bones were contained within, or so she would see it was if she could see.  She felt along the dome, trying to transform the shapes she felt into the image of a face, but she was newly blind and unable to perform such a feat.

She placed her hands to the sides of the box and lifted the lid.  It was hinged and she heard it thud open.  She reached inside and the touched another dome, this one most assuredly the dome of her ancestor’s skull.

As was also custom, Barend remained in the chamber to assure that Tazara—even being family—did not abscond with her great-great uncle’s remains.  He was not a grand sorcerer or a famed one, but he was a sorcerer nonetheless and his bones held great power, and only in another thousand or so years would they lose enough of their power to be committed to the earth or burned or ground and scattered.  Until such time passed, they were not just bones but relics.  Not just relics but enchanted relics.

It was not custom to have a little monkey present, but Vega was allowed in the chamber, as were all living beings save those who meant to harm.  Tazara placed one hand on the skull and the other on a long bone that was surely from her ancestor’s leg.  She felt eyes on her, Barend’s and Vega’s, as she spoke the chants to summon her great-great uncle.

It seemed as if many hours passed by and Tazara’s voice had grown dry, hoarse, and tired from chanting.  She paused only for a sip of water here and there.

Then she stopped, for she felt a sudden chill, and her breath caught, as if something was drawing the air out of the chamber.

“Who summons Malik away from his rest?”  The voice echoed and rumbled through the chamber.

Tazara blinked, for she was completely blind now, but she thought she saw the flicker of a form.

“Uncle, I am your niece, and you have cursed me.  I have come to ask that you remove that curse.”

“Wait!  You will not beg or weep?  You will not threaten to crush my bones if I don’t do as you ask?”  Suddenly, the echoing and rumbling was gone, replaced by a voice that sounded almost mortal, if not unnaturally dry.

Tazara sighed.  “No, Uncle.  I cannot undo one wrong by committing another.”  She placed his bones back into the box from when they came.  She closed the lid.

Tazara heard her uncle chuckle, then burst into a bout of uncontrollable laughter.  “You are bold to say I have done wrong,” he said at last when he had composed himself.

“For want of sweets, you cursed a child with blindness.”

“Ah, that was rather harsh, was it not?”

Tazara frowned.  After traveling all that way, she thought she would be brimming with rage.  She thought she would indeed threaten to burn or break her ancestor’s bones if he did not break her curse, though why that should threaten him, she did not know.  He had passed from the mortal realm.  He could not feel pain.  But her rage had slowly abated, even as her blindness worsened.  And she would not earn his help through rage.  But neither would she beg.  She thought she might bargain.  But she had nothing to bargain with, for what did ghosts desire?

“Is there anything you desire, Uncle?” Tazara asked.  “Would you like to be freed from the tether of your bones?”

Her great-great uncle laughed.  “This is not a thing that you can do.”

“Is it a thing that you can do?  And may I help in any way?”  Tazara did not know what she was offering.  Perhaps she was being reckless, but she thought she had little to lose after losing her sight and the life that she had hoped to live.

“He has answered your question,” a voice said.  It was the tight-speaking Barend.  She had forgotten he was there.

If sorcerers could free themselves from being summoned with their bones, Tazara imagined that they would do so.  Then they could be truly free of their earthly tethers.

“Ah, most deserving maiden,” her great-great uncle said, “a curse once given cannot be removed unless by death—and sometimes not even then.  But a curse can be changed, twisted so much that it is no longer a curse.”

“How can this be done, Uncle?”

“My bones.  Bring them out again and touch them all.”

Tazara did as she was directed.

“Master!  You must not do this.  I need your bones to summon you and learn from you.  I am not done with my training.”

“Step away from my kin, apprentice.  She has been wronged and I would right that wrong.”

Tazara heard a hissing sound just behind her.  Alarmed, she thought the apprentice had turned himself into a serpent, but before her, she heard her ancestor chuckle.

“Quite the guardian you have there, niece.”

Tazara widened her eyes.  She had never heard Vega hiss before.  Suddenly, she feared for the little monkey and turned.

“Please, don’t harm her!  I will leave you the bones.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” her great-great uncle said.  “My apprentice has more to fear from that fierce little one than she does from him.”

Tazara felt a strange vibration from the bones.  And suddenly, she felt small clinging fingers at her ankles, and the familiar tugging and scratching of Vega climbing up to her shoulders.

“I cannot restore to you the sight that would naturally be yours,” her great-great uncle said, and now his voice was echoing and rumbling again.  “That abides only in your memories now.  But I can grant to you sight that others do not possess.  Two eyes I have taken from you.  Two eyes I will give to you.  A third eye above and between your natural-born eyes.  With that eye you will see what none else can see, if you learn how.  And a fourth…where shall I put the fourth?”

Tazara raised her right hand and showed her uncle the mark on her palm.  “Here is where your curse burned me when I was but a babe.  Let this be where your blessing now falls upon me.”

“Ah…yes…that will do.”

Tazara almost dropped the bones as she felt a sharp pain in the palm of her right hand and another in the center of her forehead.  And then she saw a flash.  She saw.

Tazara blinked her eyes.  They were still blind.  But she had the familiar feeling that she could sense shapes, lines, colors.  If not sight, she could not fathom what this sense could be.

The bones had stopped vibrating.  The pain was receding.  She noted that they felt light now, full of air, profound, but no longer enchanted.  She set them on the ground.

She uncurled her right palm and by instinct turned it to her face as if to look at it.  And she saw.  She saw her own face gazing down, perplexed, and beside it, the tiny face of a curious monkey.  It was almost like natural sight, only colors shifted slightly, and lines, as if she were watching a moving painting.  She turned her palm around to face the altar where the box of bones lay.  She saw nothing but the box at first.  Then another vision overlay the box and altar.  A hazy form like a thick white fog, long but amorphous, and pierced with spikes of light that shot forth and receded.  Tazara thought it must be the spirit of her great-great uncle.  The sight was strangely askew.  She brought her right palm up to her forehead and the scene appeared less disorienting.  She curled the fingers of her right hand and the chamber, alter, and box vanished, but the hazy shape remained.  The ghost of her ancestor must have only been visible to  her third eye.

“Master!  What have you done!”

Tazara whipped around and turned her hand toward Barend, who crouched on the ground before the bones, the bones whose last remaining magic had been used to thwart the curse.  She saw now that her appraisal of the apprentice’s appearance had been wrong.  He was tidy, neat, and quite handsome.

She saw that with the fourth eye on her hand.  But another vision overlaid it.  She “closed” her eye of sight by closing her fist.  Her third eye showed her a vision.

A vision of a young apprentice receiving a gift meant for his master, a gift of sweets.  The apprentice’s life was austere, his food was simple.  He was tempted.  He ate the sweets, all of them, in a fit of craving.  When he was done, he was so stricken by what he had done, so confused, so frightened, that he threw away the basket in which the sweets had come.  He threw away the parchment that announced the birth of his master’s newest niece.

“I see,” her great-great uncle said.  “I see your vision.  I see how we came to this moment.”

“It was not betrayal or treachery that brought to this curse to me,” Tazara said, marveling.  “It was a simple moment of desire.  A small lie.”

“The eating of sweets could have been forgiven and forgotten, apprentice, but you said nothing when I, made miserable and unjust by long suffering, cast a curse on a lively little baby.”  The hazy form took shape now before Tazara’s third eye.  An arm made of cloud and lightning reached out.  A hand stretched out toward Barend.  “And now, for his crime of betrayal and treachery, I will curse my once-apprentice.”

“No!”

Tazara turned her right hand toward her great-great uncle.  She spread her fingers as if warding away evil.  Her third eye and her fourth eye saw as one.  Before her was a thin old man with a long white beard and eyebrows.  Before her was a form made of gloom and fog and shards of piercing light.

The ward against evil did not work, for the sorcerer was not evil, just angry.

“He did not curse me!  You did!” Tazara cried.

She narrowed her third eye and saw another vision.  She saw the old man in his bed.  Barend brought him a glass of water.  The old man could not sit up, but he shook his fists where he lay.  He knocked the water down and as his patient apprentice cleaned up the glass, the old sorcerer coughed and sputtered, and he uttered a curse.

It was no wonder that Barend had not admitted to such a harmless offense as eating some sweets.

Tazara felt Vega gripping her shoulders and positioning her feet as if bracing herself to jump.  Tazara herself knew of nothing more she could do than to stand between her great-great uncle and the apprentice.

But all of a sudden, the gloom and fog and piercing light dissipated and vanished at the feet of the old man.

“And so I did,” he said, sighing.  “But now I’m spent.”

With that, the old man too vanished.  Tazara directed her new eyes toward the box, the bones, and the altar.  When her great-great uncle’s spirit was still there, she had perceived some energy emanating from the chamber and moreso from the bones.  Now it was gone.  He was gone.

Barend still crouched over the now truly dead bones.  He looked dazed.

Tazara passed by the apprentice.  She felt some pity for him, but no more responsibility toward him, for he bore some guilt for the curse.   She took up her walking stick and left the chamber, making her way down the mountain using her fourth eye.  She feared that she would startle and scare those whom she might encounter on the path.  But whenever she saw someone, they merely smiled at her and passed.  She hoped there was a mirror or water nearby.  She was eager to see what her fourth eye looked like if it was not the horrifying sight of a natural eye in the palm of her hand.

It would take some adjusting to have to hold out her hand to see.  But it had its advantages.  She need not turn her head to look behind herself.  And she recalled the words her great-great uncle had used when he granted her the gifts to offset her curse.  Her third eye would grant her the power to see what others could not see, if she learned.  Tazara resolved that she would learn.

But first, she would return home to see her mother and father.  On her way home, she would find a way to repay the kindnesses that were done to her by all the folks she’d met on her journey.  And when she returned home, she would rejoice in what was to be a year of celebration, a year to assay all that had come to pass and plan for all that was still to come.

Tazara thought such thoughts as she sat astride Storm and rode back the way she’d come.  After many quiet hours, Vega’s piercing cry brought Tazara out of her reverie.  The monkey was sitting on Storm as Tazara walked.  Vega pointed ahead and bobbed up and down in the saddle.  Tazara directed her eye ahead, but saw nothing.  She was tired and her third eye had not opened since she left the mountain—it would indeed take much learning to use it.  A few hours later, she saw a carriage ahead.  As it drew closer, it seemed familiar.  The shape, the style of the doors, the wheels, and the ornate gilding.  It was the carriage of her father’s friend.

By that time, Tazara was riding Storm, with Vega sitting in front of her.  The little monkey chirped again and bobbed in her seat.  Tazara wondered if Vega had seen the carriage coming.  The monkey had keen eyes, but not that keen, unless…she had been sitting on Tazara’s shoulders when the blessing of sight had been bestowed upon her.

Tazara felt a sudden surge of hope and good will, and she laughed.  It would indeed be an extraordinary year.

 

Copyright © 2016 Nila L. Patel

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