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Thorn of the Rose Ch. 4

by Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed 7 months ago in Series
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Reflections

Once Trish’ka was gone, those who had heard the commotion and seen the flames raced her way. Kujatai and town folk quickly formed bucket brigades. Despite their efforts, there was no saving the barn that had been Meerna’s and thusly Ram’L’s command post and lodging. Almost all of her personal things were lost in the fire. Those unnatural flames refused to be extinguished by normal means and had to be allowed to burn out on their own. Instead, everyone worked to wet down the buildings that were near the barn. The best they could do was limit the damage. Ram’L, who was still in state of both physical and emotional shock had to be moved to a safe location. She didn’t have the strength to help in the effort which deeply bothered her.

Nobody had seen what happened earlier and she felt it was best to at least for now keep it to herself. In a short time everyone discover that Trish’ka was missing. Ram’L figured they’d assume she took advantage of the chaos and escaped, or perhaps she was the cause. Ram’L would wait until the rumors spread to decide which story she’d tell. The sergeant major was missing and once a body was found in the ashes, it would be believed she died in the fire. Ram’L would say she came to rescue her but didn’t make it out in time. Ginny Thatcher was also missing. Ram’L suspected that the demon killed her as well. That one would be harder to explain.

All through the night Ram’L was aware of Trish’ka’s thoughts. She could see what Trish’ka could see and hear what she could hear. But the overlapping voices were near maddening. Most of the sounds were of those suffering torment and pain. Their sounds of suffering was heart wrenching to listen to as the emotions were deeply felt as well. Others were filled with rage and demanded blood. And many were filled with sheer horror and begging to be saved. Somehow Trish’ka had discipled herself to push back against the nightmarish torrent, yet it was constant like the wetness that clings to you on a humid day. It was something Ram’L would now have to steel herself against to keep her sanity. She wondered if she’d ever know peace again.

It wasn’t until after Trish’ka had managed to find some clothes at a local farm which she took from a drying line and found a safe place to sleep that Ram’L was finally able to settle down to some extent, but she certainly wasn’t going to get any sleep. The experience with that demon left her unnerved. But wasn’t Trish’ka also a demon? Yes, she was. It was all very conflicting.

Through the bond, when all three were merged together, Ram’L learned everything about Trish’ka in one sudden realization. Trish’ka had been raised by the elves at the house of Silen since childhood when her father Gariith, then the Gran Maez was banished by his sister Tamara. Tamara had taken over as Gran Maez and has ruled the nine houses since. Trish’ka didn’t know what she was. It was kept from her. She was subjected to strict isolation, and as her abilities began to reveal themselves, they were quickly suppressed through discipling and barrier spells. Then the voices came. They began as she was entering into puberty. They were ancient and eternal. They spoke in persistent unison with echoes of individuality. They were angry at all that existed and the demanded she destroy whatever might bring the happiness they were denied. Had it not been for the self-discipline the elves had taught her, those voices would’ve driven her insane. Trish’ka had managed to suppress them for most of her life. But in time, they were determined to be heard. The emotions she felt and the potent desire to exterminate all life with as much cruelty as possible was always present just under the surface.

One night Trish’ka quite simply left the compound where she had practically been a prisoner. She walked right past the guards that stood by her chamber doors. They didn’t notice her. She used the form of a charm. Even though elves had a high resistance to that form of magic, she was able to create an illusion that the hallway was empty while she passed in front of them.

She initially took on the appearance of an elf so that she could pass easily through the corridors that led to the outside. The eternal voices urged her to kill. They commanded her to set fires and burn people in their sleep. She didn’t act on any of it, but admittedly savored the rage that filled her with a single minded goal. Although she had learned to hate the elves, she appreciated the way they trained her to for the most part maintain composure and self-control.

Shortly after her escape, she came upon a cavalry unit that was preparing to join the fight. It was only a finger sized company with roughly one hundred riders. Five fingers made a fist with five hundred riders whereas four fists made up a brigade. When it was safe to do so, she removed her elven disguise and enlisted in the cavalry. She had no concept of battle and a minimal understanding of army life. She lacked any skill with sword or mataar. She had never even ridden a horse. None of that mattered. She was now free. In a few days she’d slip away and be done with the Silen, the Kujatai, and anything to do with this damned war. She would assume multiple identities and move from one place to another so as to get as far away from those who had raised her as she could. Her plan was working until she met Brianni. The young saantai took to Trish’ka and for the first time in her life, she had a true friend. She loved Brianni like a sister and her found someone that was more important to her than she was.

Ram’L also experienced Trish’ka’s memories of what happened in the Anin. The attack came suddenly. Arrows flew in such numbers that they cut down most of the riders as they slept. Then the horns and war cries started. Trish’ka froze in horror but was snapped out of it when a large Ager Mohr came at Brianni. He was massive, larger than any man she had ever seen, and his rage was terrifying. In an act of desperation, Trish’ka threw herself between him and Brianni. Then there was pain. As the war hammer intended for Brianni hit Trish’ka instead, crushing her skull. There was a vague awareness of fighting all around her as she lay there helpless and crippled in the mud. Through Trish’ka’s memories, Ram’L was able to sort out that Commander Taren had somehow managed to find the near dead Trish’ka in the slaughter and place her on a horse. It was Commander Taren who placed the signet ring upon Trish’ka’s finger and set Trish’ka south with the message to get help.

Ram’L shared Trish’ka’s anguish of not knowing what happened to Brianni. Ram’L also felt shame and guilt over how she had treated Trish’ka when she was found in the water. It all makes sense now, but at the time everything that her old friend Sergeant Major Nural told her seemed to make more sense at the time. Of course, the sergeant major was an imposter. Well, not exactly an imposter. It was her, but with a demon living inside and controlling her. The image of the sergeant major trying to warn Ram’L and being unable to do so broke her heart. Ram’L was angry at herself for not being able to do anything. If only she had seen it. The sergeant major’s end was horrible and not the way the soldier should die. It would haunt her for the rest of her days.

Ram’L also felt ashamed of her orders to have Trish’ka tortured for information and later executed. And despite it all, Ram’L could feel through the bond that Trish’ka understood, and to Ram’L’s amazement held no grudge. Trish’ka didn’t like her very much, it was understandable, but she didn’t hate her either.

There was one more thing that was keeping Ram’L awake. The demon that attacked her knew of the Ager Mohr battle plans. Trish’ka’s memories were not the only ones that were shared in that merger. Ram’L now knew the demon who attacked her was named Aristette d’Chennaye. Aristette knew of the Ager Mohr movements, where their forces were camped and where they planned to attack next. Ram’L was tired of the small skirmishes and defensive tactics that she had been ordered to use. By a twist of fate she was now in command, and thanks to the demon unknowingly sharing her memories, Ram’L was now able to go on the offensive.

She spent the rest of the night sitting in silence as she worked out her plan of attack. Since the barn that had been her headquarters and home was now burned to the ground, she moved into Sergeant Major Nural’s tent. Being surrounded by her old friend’s personal belongings was both haunting and comforting. A few chests survived the blaze and were brought to her, but anything that was valuable was lost. She found one of her old uniforms. It was in poor shape to begin with and now had smoke damage, but it was better than what was left of her current one.

Sitting atop a wood table next to a pewter cup and half a bottle of wine was a pipe. It had a long slightly curved stem that was stained after years of use. The bowl with carved clay. The carving was that of a stylized bull. It belonged to Sergeant Major Nural… Kadrin. The bull was on her husband Marston’s family crest. She knew them both very well. He was a Kujatai who was killed in combat some time ago. Soon after receiving his personal things, Kayden took to smoking it herself as a way to remember him. Ram’L touched a waxed wick to the candle, caught a flame and lit the pipe and breathed in the scent of the tobacco. It emitted a hint of cherry. As she placed the stem in her mouth, taking a few puffs, she thought back on the time that she and her old friend Kadrin Nural first met.

Ram’L wasn’t born of the Kujatai. She had no memory of her parents. Her mom worked at the brothel and died in a pox outbreak when Ram’L was a baby. She was raised by Madame Mina who ran a moderate but profitable gentleman’s house in the city of Cashel, which was a far to the southwest in the kingdom of Konidragh. Her red hair made her stand out among the others. It wasn’t a trait that was seen in southerners. In the early years, at the beginning of her memories she played with toys with the children of the women that worked for Madame Mina. She was too young to understand what was happening. Since she had no known parents, and no known family name, she eventually took her name Ram’L which meant red haired in some foreign Gypsy tongue that Mina spoke in a lot, and reversed to be known as Ram’L L’mar which she supposed would mean red haired with hair of red. It wasn’t very original, but it was a name.

As she grew older, she would often times run errands, as did all the children. Madame Mina’s brothel was well known and had accounts with a number of merchants. She and the other children might be sent to get bread or material for dresses, or anything else that might be needed. They’d haul a small pull wagon with empty clay jugs to the community well and return with them filled with water. None of this was hard work and the children always found a way to have fun while doing their chores. Madame Mina was lenient and never really enforced the rules. Some of the children were lazy or misbehaved, but as long as they did the work she needed, she looked the other way.

As the children grew older, they would have to find work. They were allowed to stay at the brothel but only if they paid rent. The young men usually found work at the docks or if they made the right contacts with the Guild, they could get their own vendor pushcart and go into business for themselves. The Guild of course kept a percentage. Some of the girls did this as well. Many of them chose to work in the brothel. Even though Madame Mina kept sixty percent, the profits that remained were very good and when managed properly, allowed those working girls to set themselves up with better opportunities later on.

As Ram’L was coming of the age in which men began to really notice her, she had to make a decision. She didn’t want to work in the brothel. Pushing a cart of vegetables wasn’t for her either and she certainly was not going to work at the docks. There was too much wild in that girl to consider anything mundane. Ram’L decided to take to the streets. Her uncanny dexterity was perfect for picking pockets. To help her hide better in the crowds, she blackened her hair with boot dye. Her clothes were unremarkable. Her appearance was unremarkable. If she was discovered and had to dart into the crowd, nobody describing her would be able to tell the difference between Ram’L and any number of young strays found in the alleys.

Her time in the brothels taught her how to handle men. She watched as the working girls would charm and manipulate their way to a higher service fee or valuable gifts. She had become quite the actress as well. One of her favorite schemes was to approach someone who was newly arrived in the city and pretend that she was lost. She would feign innocence, while creating a tale of how she became separated from her father who was usually a wealthy merchant and needed help to find him again. As the unwitting victim offered to help, they would usually provide her with new clothes to replace the one she wore which according to her rehearsed scenario, were ruined by an assailant who of course stole everything she had. They would offer her a place to sleep, food and if all went well, they would take her in as a guest to whatever inn or house of lodging they were staying at. These were usually where the wealthy visitors would spend their time when conducting business in Cashel.

Ram’L could turn on the charm and endear herself to anyone. When the purses which she kept hidden under her skirts were filled with coins and valuable objects that she had lifted off of the unsuspecting men and women, she would find one gentleman, usually an older man and seduce him. She would start a little game in which she would call him daddy. Although she was only perhaps 10 years old, there was always a man who liked them young. With her new daddy in arm, she would thank her benefactor and tell him that she had been reunited with her father. She would lead her new daddy to her home where they could get to know each other better. Unfortunately, they never made it that far. It was a set up. She would lead the man past an alleyway where friends who lay in wait would accost and rob him as she ran away in the darkness. She would sell the items she stole to the local fence, lay low for a few weeks and do it all over again in another part of the city.

One day, as she reached for the purse of another random gentleman, he grabbed her hand. She was always fast and able to slip away, but this man held her firm. As she fought against him to free herself, she noticed for the first time the uniform that he wore under his cloak. He was a soldier. The woman he traveled with, who appeared unassuming also turned out to be a soldier. They were dressed in a way to not draw attention to themselves, and it worked. Even Ram’L was fooled. The sentence for anyone caught stealing in Cashel was either the workhouse, or they were sold into indentured servitude to work off their offense. She expected this man to summon one of the local constables and turn her in. Instead, he looked down at her with cold brown eyes and said “Gotcha, I’ve been looking for you”.

He and the woman who grabbed her other wrist, dragged Ram’L through the streets to an inn by the docks. She screamed and kicked and bit, but they refused to let go. People laughed when they saw this. Her social standing being what it was, nobody cared to come to her rescue. When they reached the inn, she was brought up to a small room on the second level and unceremoniously tossed to the wooden floor. They stepped inside with her, and the woman locked the door, trapping Ram’L with these two strangers. She was filled with terror at the thought of what they planned to do with her, but she acted enraged to hide her fear. They finally introduced themselves to her. The man called himself Marston. He gestured to the woman who was named Kadrin. They told her they were something called Kujatai warriors. They had been watching her for number of weeks and saw something in her that others had missed. Her skills at charming others and her ability to swipe objects was beyond natural. They made her an offer. If she came with them willingly, they would introduce her to a world that was beyond her imagination. They would teach her magic.

Ram’L knew of magic. There was a mages Guild in the city and there were some street performers whose skill was definitely enhanced. Her favorite among these was an old man named Reginald who tell stories while summoning illusionary characters that would appear before him and act out the scene of the fables he told.

To prove to her that they were real, the woman, Kadrin produced a flame in her hand. It wasn’t a normal colored flame. It burned blue.

“You will learn to do this and many other things if you choose come with us.” She told her.

“And if I don’t? Are you going to turn me in?”

“No little one.” Kadrin replied. “You are free to go if you want to, but Marston and I really hope you will come with us.”

Feeling she was in a tight spot with few options, Ram’L accepted and a few months later began her training as a Kujatai at the house of Avatar. It was one of nine such schools. Collectively the people that the Kujatai served were known as D’Naan. Each of the nine city states was referred to as a house. Each house was located in a different part of the world. Those from the House of Avatar were tall and strong. Most were blonde with blue eyes or had dark hair like Marston and were brown eyed. Kadrin was blonde.

Because she was older and started her training late, Ram’L wasn’t as advanced as others in her group. She was often times in classes with children to learn the basics. Her ability to learn was exceptional though and she advanced quickly through her lessons. As she reached the age where she would saantied, a ritual that all Kujatai go through to earn the title, her skills had peaked. She was told that she was acceptable for her saanti, although barely. She would later learn that Kadrin Nural, her benefactor fought on her behalf to keep her from being released from training when it seemed she was falling behind. It was because of this that Ram’L was able to push herself to do what was needed. By the time Ram’L’s graduated, and took her saanti to become Kujatai, Kadrin, was now a sergeant major. She managed to call in some favors to have Ram’L assigned to her company. Typically a new graduate would never have the opportunity to serve with the elite guard of a regimental commander, especially of Meerna’s stature, but that was Sergeant Major Kadrin’s unit, and with a little persuasion it became Ram’L’s. Kadrin wanted to keep Ram’L close so she could mentor her. As the rumor of war was starting to brew, she felt exciting times and adventures lay ahead. Now she knows better. Too many of her friends are gone, and this war for survival seems to have no end.

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About the author

Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed

My stories come to me in the form of vivid dreams. The challenge is in putting them to words. I'm medically retired, ride a Harley, and have five ferrets who keep me very entertained.

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