The Jewel of Rajai Part IV
We left behind the temple after three days and made our way, without incident to the coast city of Lumar where we arrived to great fanfare. There was a festival being held in our honor, but we did not attend. Instead, Rahmi ordered that we would set to sea three days ahead of schedule. At the docks, a ship with three masts stood ready to sweep us across the dark and tumultuous Ilerian Sea. It was not the colossal vessel that had brought me to the Rajaian Kingdom, but a smaller craft, lighter and faster.
“A gift, from my father.” Rahmi told me as he plucked me from the ground and carried me across the gangplank. We set sail as night fell, covering the city in dark purple hues. I watched as the Rajaian people cheered and waved and drank to our departure.
I knew it would not be long before those smiles turned to frowns and the cheers of joy soured into war cries.
The first night we stayed in the top-deck cabin, I pretended to sleep while Rahmi wandered the decks of the ship talking to the crew. The next morning he told me the news he had heard from them.
“They said that the ships from Ileria have been only half-crewed, if they show up at all.”
“The plague took its toll on my... our people.”
Rahmi nibbled on a piece of dry bread, drumming the table with his fingers. “The losses were heavy. But the sickness has stopped spreading, has it not?”
“Yes. When I left the capitol the last rounds of victims were on the mend.” I sipped on my chamomile tea and stared off towards the empty corner of the cabin as I thought my brother, unconscious and covered in bandages. It was the last I had seen of him before I left for the wedding.
“There will be hardship with so many deaths, especially in the working class, but I think we can easily encourage rebuilding the population.” I was startled by the touch of his hand as it slipped across the table and grasped mine. He squeezed playfully and my cheeks flushed red as our eyes connected.
Before I could reply, Jahal burst into the cabin with fresh tea and biscuits. I pulled my hand away and waited until my new maidservant had placed the tray on the table. I watched her carefully as I spoke.
“I am sure that we will rise stronger from the ashes of the dead.”
Rahmi nodded his head in agreeance, a grim expression blanched across his face. Jahal, however, had a wicked smile spread across hers as she walked behind the Prince to retrieve the empty plates and cups from the night before.
“Mistress, the captain told me that he would like to see you and the Prince in his below deck cabin this morning.”
“Thank you, Jahal.” Rahmi said in-between bites. “Will you stay and help Sitar’eh to dress. I want to take a walk about the decks before we head down to see Captain Reshim.”
“As you command,” Jahal bowed as Rahmi stood to his feet. He kissed me on the forehead and left the cabin just as quickly as Jahal had arrived.
“I wish you would just jump overboard and...”
“If this body dies, I will just take another.”
“Why must I perform the ceremony then? If you can just take over any body you want?” I played with the crumbles left on my plate. I pushed them around in circles until everything had been mashed together. Jahal’s smooth hands grabbed my own as she pulled me to my feet.
“Because, in order to live... to really live again, I must be bound to my host. Magic that only you can perform for me, I have explained before.”
“And the body you are in now?” I asked as she pulled my sleeping gown over my head.
“When I leave it, she may still live. I can feel her mind fighting against me, trying to get out. But she isn’t strong enough to fight me.” She paused and ran a finger down my naked arm. I stepped backwards towards the bed, bumping against the hard wooden pillars that ran from deck to ceiling. She pressed in on me and grasped my arms tightly, forcing me to look into her eyes. “I see that look of hope in your eye. You might as well forget it. Rahmi will not be like this girl, his spirit will be cast from his body and it will be mine completely.”
Jahal leaned forward and kissed me on the lips and I tried to pull away in disgust. Behind the servant girl’s eyes, I saw the shifting darkness of the demon I had unleashed.
“You will be my wife soon and all will be as I promised.”
The demon in Jahal’s body released my arms and riffed through my clothes to find a suitable outfit. As soon as I was dressed I bolted from the room, speeding down the ladders to the captain’s room without another word to the dark creature that haunted my every step.
The next few days went by in a blur. Captain and crew were happy for the favorable winds and the fair weather. When Rahmi wasn’t ambling about the short decks asking sailors question after question, he was found reading over maps and books on seafaring life. I spent my time staring off into the wake of the ship through the dirty glass panes of the captain’s cabin. Rahmi made love to me every night and fell asleep in my arms. I would listen to the rise and fall of his chest, thinking of how precious his life was and how good of a man he was. My thoughts always came back to me, to how evil and selfish I was. And I would watch the day I choose curses and evil replay in my mind over and over until I fell into a fitful sleep.
I had fallen sick. The doctor had come to confirm that it was the plague. My mother and father had died not but three months before along with half of the servants. I feared for my life. I had seen what the plague had done to my parents. Once they had been strong, healthy, beautiful... but the sickness had worn away their bodies to nothing and I had only ashes to scatter to the winds. My parents had been burned, along with the corpses of their servants and subjects, to purify their bones in an attempt to stem the spread of the sickness. But there was little that could be done to slow the storm of sickness that had descended on our lands. I fell ill, as did more than two-thirds of the kingdom. No one came to our aid. No one cared what happened in Ileria. Better for the plague to wipe us out than others. As an island kingdom, we were isolated if we wished to be... or if others wished us to be. So we were left to drown in our dead. Even the Rajaian Kingdom forbade their ambassadors from leaving to come home.
Those that had opposed my marriage to Rahmi were ecstatic to hear I had caught the plague. They cheered the death of my people. My brother would inherit the throne and marry one of the southern mainland royals. But then, in one day, I made a miraculous recovery. And not just me, but all of those who were sick. The plague was gone from the land in one night and there were whispers of magic. Only it wasn't magic that saved my people, it was something much darker.
It was a story that drove me to the abandoned temple on the outskirts of Sharraz. The whispers of half-mad women dying in the stench of their own filth.
“The dark god Anri Mahyu, he could save me. He could save us all.”
So I commanded to be taken to the temple just as the boils began to appear on my body. Inside the broken temple, I offered my life, my blood, my family, my kingdom, for salvation. I cut my wrist and spread my blood on the altar of Anri Mahyu and made a vow of fidelity, and life-long service to the dark god. I had no idea that I would set the demon loose. I hadn’t considered the weight of my offering until it was too late.
“What a lovely gift you bring me, shining star.” A deep voice crept into my ear.
“W-who is there?” I stood from the altar, blood trickling down my wrist.
There was a deep laugh and it shook the walls of the temple. I thought my guards would come running, but no one came.
“I am the Princess of Ileria and I command you to tell me who you are.”
The laughter ceased and a dark shadow formed before me in the form of a large man. “I am he, to whom you pray for deliverance.”
I stifled a scream and shuffled backwards away from the dark mists as the face of a thing, not quite a man, not quite a monster, appeared from inside the black shape.
“I am Anri Mahyu and I have heard your prayers, little princess.”
My lips pursed tightly together and my throat constricted as I tried to find the words to speak. But nothing came from my mouth except short gasps for breath.
“I accept your life, your blood, your family, and your kingdom in payment for healing your land and your people.”
As he stepped from the dark portal, I noticed he was not solid, but wispy, like the spirit of a dead man.
“What does that mean?” I asked, my hand shaking as Anri reached forward a hand to touch my skin. The boils on my hand instantly disappeared, the scars and ravages of the plague disappearing beneath the brush of air.
“It means that you belong to me.”
And before I could refuse and take back my hasty prayers, the dark shadow of Anri Mahyu overcame me, falling on my body and fusing with my own. I could feel his strength as it worked through my veins and pushed away the sickness that had threatened to destroy me. But I also felt his thoughts melting into my own and in my mind he spoke to me as he worked his dark magic over my body.
‘You owe me a life. A body I demand.’
‘How can I...’
‘Your betrothal to Prince Rahmi, it is still intact?’
He pried through my thoughts forcing me to answer.
‘Yes-s.’ I gasped as he left my body, pulling most of himself out as he took the wispy form once more.
‘You will marry this prince and return to this temple with him. Here you will perform the blood ceremony. There is a jewel, a medallion of great power, which you must place around his neck.’
“What will it do? Where can I find it?” I said out loud.
The sound of footsteps forced me to turn.
“Princess are you alri....” She paused when she reached the light of the torch against the wall. “What has happened? Your wounds? The sickness?! You have been healed!” My attendant rushed to my side and hugged me, her eyes warm with love and affection.
‘I will use her body for now.’ Anri Mahyu told me in my mind.
Before I could protest or ask what he meant, his dark form descended on Kuva. She shook violently, falling to the ground seizing as Anri Mahyu forced his spirit into her body. When she went limp, I hung my head in my hands and wept. A hand brushed my own and I looked down at Kuva to see her smiling up at me.
“Don’t cry. I won’t leave your side, princess.”
“Oh, Kuva! I thought that...”
But I didn’t finish speaking because I saw him- the evil, the demon, the one who had entered my body and mind and left pieces of his darkness in my body. He was there, in her eyes, just as he had been in the eyes of Jahal, just as he would be in the eyes of Rahmi, after I had offered him up to Anri Mahyu once we reached Ileria.
Check back in three weeks for the conclusion to this epic short story adventure!