by Susan Anwin
I was sitting with Esty in the library, acting as her conversant for
the evening. I dropped my name (okay, my substitute for one) in the hat
just as I did every spring for the Oiskog, the week-long mating ritual,
not really expecting to get a match I’d like, so I sat with the
princess talking softly, sharing the latest gossip.
"Lily's baby is growing so fast, Dodi tells me so," she was saying,
her cloud of soft, brown curls brushing my cheek. God, please not
the baby talk again, I sighed inwardly. I swear she does this to annoy
me. It pained Esty that her snotty elder sister forbade her from
seeing her nephew. I braced myself and prepared to act like I cared.
Not like I could fool Esty. "Firstborn," Martin, this year's announcer called out, disrupting my
rapt audience act. I raised a hand to show I heard.
"Dodi says Lily might visit soon," Esty mused. Not bloody likely, we
"Rev Tim." Martin's eyebrows shot up. "Interesting match," he
chuckled in the sudden silence. "A handmaiden of the Lady of Dreams and
Death and a servant of the god of Magic and Sciences. Rivals and
adversaries from the dawn of time." Interesting, indeed. Dark sister
and Aziz priest, firstborn and vohiek; something possible only in the
I sat up straight. "He rigged it."
"You can say no, you know," Esty whispered.
"No. If he rigs the draw to end up with me, I wanna know why."
Tim, Esty's little bro owns this place. He is also my boss, by the
way. I glanced at him but he looked unruffled, burying his nose in one
of his books. I turned back toward the table. They were all looking at
me, waiting. I nodded consent. It was only half of the deal though; the
Rev had to agree to it too. He waved consent with his quill, not
looking up. Esty blew out the air she didn't notice she was holding in. "Well, I guess you'll have to sit by him."
I went up to the gallery running around the library a few feet
higher than the ground, in a crossfire of vohiek stares. I cleared my
throat. Do I greet him? Them? What's the protocol here?
The rest of the draw went on relatively uneventfully, resulting in
only a handful of other couples. Most of them will be dissolved before
the week was up. I stole a glance at the prince. If they last through
the week--well that's an entirely different, sometimes delicate
We gathered for the Oiskog dinner and it took a gentle reminder from
Gaita, a fellow servant to take my place by him.
Afterwards the whole Saqueroy clan retreated into his room. The
girls, Esty, Dodi and Nellie perched on the bed, trying to stare at me
without staring at me. Zak, his younger brother had no such misgivings.
"Will you marry him if you last through the week?" he asked. He was a
little weird--autistic was my guess. In any case he had a penchant for
asking the most embarrassing questions. He turned to the Rev. "Maybe
Father will make you heir after all, if you manage to…"
"Zak!" Tim snapped. He looked at me for the first time in the
evening. "If you are to be my Oiskog-bride, you'll have to look and
live like one of us." He raised his hands.
"Wait, do I at least get a say in how I'll look?" I protested.
He made a series of complicated hand gestures. "You'll also want to
choose a vohiek name," he said when he was finished.
"Can I see first how I look?"
He shrugged. "Mirror's in the bathroom." And nowhere else in his
room I noted as I rose, prepared for the worst based on the girls'
reactions. I made a small noise when I saw the creature looking back
from the mirror. Bluish-green, hairless, with gills on her neck, round,
silvery eyes. A pretty enough face in its alien way. It's an illusion,
I reminded myself, lasting only a week, or not even that long. I pulled
a finger on the scaly, slightly slimy skin. Felt real enough. He most
probably wanted to test me, see if I last through the week. Well, he
had his task set out for him if he wanted to upset my cool; I've been
Death Bride, chosen and trained to accompany a king to the grave.
The creature's eyes in the mirror narrowed. "You went a lil'
overboard, don't you think?"
"A name. You'll need one."
Being a dark sister, I didn't have one, and what I was called where
I came from I no longer remembered. It will be a nice change to being
called just Alula--girl, in vohiek.
"Alehna Molia", I uttered the first name that came to mind. She was
one of their writers--a poetess if I recalled right. "Just call me
I couldn't help flinching as I came out of the bathroom; if I had to
wear a disguise for a week, he chose to go without one. He was
namw÷os--a burned or injured one in their tongue; there was an
abundance of them in the ranks of their order. Brilliant. Definitely
"You'll need a name too," I managed.
"I have one."
"A vohiek one, that is."
He seemed amused--it was hard to tell. "Yarikh."
I broke my fast with the rest of the Debil klub--an odd change of
being served instead of serving and I wasn't sure if I liked my pals
Gaita and Sindre bustling around me. The klub members stared at me wide
eyed--they were seeing my magical transformation for the first time.
Gaita knocked on the door shortly after I retreated to my room. She
made herself comfortable on my bed. "So what is it like, being one of
I could understand their excitement. Not only was I a ma'ash--a
stranger, a non-vohiek, I was also a firstborn--one that has come from
another place; one who could be absolutely certain to have no trace of
defect DNA in her. A chalice of untainted blood. That one such should
live like a vohiek even for such a short while--the irony of the
situation wasn't lost on any of us. "Like me, except vohiek."
She rolled her eyes.
"Whatever. Do you have a clue what he's up to, by any chance?"
I asked instead.
I had to give it a try. They might be lord and servant, but
they were both part of the jamelo, the vohiek community; pretty
much a hive mind, to my experience. It was hopeless, of course. She
gave me an innocent look. "Why would you ask me? I'm just a servant,
I went and knocked on his door and he invited me in, elegant
and suave as ever. He opened a portal, a hole on reality to a distant
shore. We passed through (I could never quite get used to the slight
electrical buzz on my skin) and had the famed city of Wibuwwa,
forbidden anyone but vohieks, rising in front of us. I've heard of it
during my studies, but it was a whole different thing to see it in
person, towering above us like a giant bird's nest about a mile from
the shore, and for once I was truly at a loss for smart-ass comments.
A fleet of boats awaited by the shore to carry travelers
across the water. I counted approximately two hundred scattered huts as
the city unfolded in front of my eyes, caught in the flimsy looking
cobweb of tarrite threads. The structure seemingly lacked any conscious
planning, but as the boat got closer I could see there were further
inner webs within the outer mesh, with bigger and more elaborate huts.
Apparently the closer one lived to the center the higher social status
Airy meshwork connected the huts in every direction, but these
bridges were sturdier than they looked; horses and ox drawn carts
passed on them. There were no joints or any other sign of construction
where the threads met.
We climbed to the upper levels dodging clusters of locals of
every possible and impossible size and shape. I couldn't help noticing
the looks some of them gave bossman varying between distaste and pity.
I even heard a few mumbled Mydzi M÷jz!'s, the vohiek expression of
shock or outrage. He showed no sign of noticing any of it, heading, as
it turned out, to a jewelry shop in the high-end inner mesh.
"The lady here is my Oiskog-bride. We need commemorating
I was just as confused as the shop owner. The Rev took this
from firstborns. Vohieks didn't have the habit of giving each other
rings, even for real marriages, let alone for Oiskog. The man shot a
questioning look at me. "She doesn't speak our tongue," Tim shrugged. "Is from one of those families."
Families, where a vohiek is born to by'arna--human
parents. It happens--the proof of that was standing beside me. That was
a good enough explanation for the man; one glance at Tim told him we
are prospective well-paying customers. He is, at least.
We picked out two silver rings made out of intertwined leaves,
with tiny blue stones in the holes between the leaves. They were
"Engrave Yarikh & Nenya on the inside," Tim instructed
him. My eyebrows shot up. Very untraditional. I knew he had firstborn
ancestry, but this was just over the top. The man retreated into the
tiny workshop behind the store, but not before sending out his
assistant to watch us under the pretext of offering refreshment to the
"There is really no need for this," I hissed. Tim didn't
answer, busy looking at some necklaces in one of the display windows.
The man was back soon. "Here you are, Ai--I wish you
all the best with the lovely lady. It is to be applauded, Eas,"
he turned to me, using the word of respect for ‘Lady', "agreeing to be
the wife of a namw÷ os. You are a gem among women."
I opened my mouth to protest--I wasn't about to become his
wife, but decided that maybe this wasn't the best moment to point that
out. I let Tim pull the ring on my finger--left index, where I used to
wear my Death Bride ring up until yesterday.
We climbed to the lookout at the top of the city, with the
whole of Wibuwwa beneath our feet, visible through the mesh. I covered
up against the chill wind, but bossman didn't seem to mind. His smooth,
dark tresses whipped around his face, beneficially hiding it.
"Where I come from you put a ring on a girl's finger, you kiss
His eyes--well, his good eye narrowed. That's right mister,
two can play this game.
"You're not there," was all he said.
* * *
"Why are you doing this shit job? You should be married to a
king or a prince, with that blood of yours," Gaita once asked me. I
couldn't mistake the longing in her voice.
"I'm not gonna be the breeding mare of no fucking prince," I
told her then. I was no breeding mare, alright--but I'd been Death
Bride to a king. By all means I should be dead, I mused, as I turned
bossman's ring on my finger, so the tiny sapphire drops caught the
light. It cost more than a month of my salary. Not like money mattered
any to this aristocratic prick.
"Sooo?" Gai barged into my room as soon as we got back.
"He goes pretty vanilla on me so far. I guess he reserves the
hardcore stuff for later..."
She chose not to get the clue. "What do you mean?"
I sighed. "Nevermind." Damned vohieks!
In the afternoon we headed out again, this time to Kensington,
one of the poshest cities of the empire, capital city of Kensington
princedom. Knowing his past involvement with the Kensington princess it
was a rather piquant choice. Even more so, knowing my opinion of the
princess, which I never really kept quiet. As it turned out, neither of
that figured in his decision to bring us there.
We walked along high street, the only vohieks--well, a true vohiek and
a pretend one--as far as I could see, in a barrage of scornful glances
and nasty remarks, until we reached a glitzy hotel. "Do you think this
is a good idea…?" I began, but he was already in the revolving door.
Tim went straight up to the concierge. "Sir, I'm looking for a
guest." His humble tone I hated more than all the insults we had to
endure so far. "By the name of Liliana Saqueroy. To my knowledge she
"No such lady staying here, and even if she did, I'd not
harass her for the likes of you, boy. Now get out of here, while I'm
telling you nicely."
* * *
We were watching the sea from the promenade in relative peace.
There weren't many passersby, but I pulled up my hood regardless and
hated myself for it.
"So, how are you feeling?"
I winced at his voice. That was the longest string of words
I've heard from him today. "Was that supposed to freak me out? A show
of the sad vohiek life?" I snorted. "Bitch, I'm a dark sister. I've
been the Death Bride of the leper king. I died to get into this
world. Hardly anything surprises me anymore."
He cast me a long, inscrutable look. "Why are you not dead,
"I am, I guess, in a way."
"That's not what I meant."
I knew full well what he meant. My mask of bravado slipped. "My services were, um. Not required."
"That's really not your business."
"Why did you elect to be a Death Bride? You're a daughter of
the Lady of the Stars; there are so many things you could've learned in
the Sisterhood. This way the only thing you did learn was how to die."
I did not like this. How did he know so much about our order?
Well of course, spying on each other was an ancient sport between dark
sisters and Aziz priests. "Neither is that."
He shrugged. "You could still be a princess though--you're not
too old yet. Any prince or noble would be glad to have that pure blood
in their dynasty. Instead of cleaning shit for aristocrats – something
you deem so beneath yourself."
I cast him a glance. "I'd much rather clean shit for some rich
fuck than to be a breeding mare to one."
Next day he came to me with his face veiled in illusion, with Esty in
"Today you're firstborn", he said before I could lift my hand
"Oh. And why is that?"
"We are seeing Lily and the babe!" Esty enthused. "She wants
the firstborn blessing on the little lamb."
"What? No! Didn't you say she was staying in that hotel?"
"Left early evening yesterday. You better start preparing."
"No! I will not handle no fuckin baby! You can't make me!" "So you give up then?"
I felt like slapping that smirk off his face. "I'm not, but
I'm not going near a baby. End of story."
He pulled off his gloves. "Well, then I guess I have to
pronounce our Oiskog-marriage over."
* * *
Two hours and a fancy dress, makeup, hair and jewels I
couldn't afford from a year's worth of salary later we were jolting in
a carriage. Esty was over the moon, feeling the need to express her
gratitude every five minutes. "It's the only way we could see our
little nephew," she squeezed my hand.
"Uh, great I guess. I hope it's not gonna puke on me or
something," I mumbled. "And I'll have a word or two with your snobbish
bitch of a sister."
Esty looked horrified. "Oh no, please don't. It's not her
fault. I promise." She shot a quick look at her brother. "In her place,
I'd probably do the same."
"What, shit on your family?"
She let go of my hand and looked down at her own four fingered
ones in her lap. "This family has ruined us all..."
"No. I did."
"Oh, don't start it again, Timbo. It's not all about you, you
"It is, though, mostly. I'm the first son, after all."
"Let's just not dwell on these things now, shall we?" she
I looked from one to the other. Quite a can of worms I opened
here. Liliana, Estelle and Dorothy were older than him, but Tim should
have been heir to the whole vast Saqueroy estate. Instead he was the
living proof of their curse.
We continued in a tension-riddled silence until the Baru Nion
estate appeared on the horizon, where Lily was living with her husband,
Dain Baru Nion. She was the only one who managed to marry as was
befitting (if slightly lower than) her rank and as soon as she did, she
severed all ties with her family.
It was a tidy little manor we arrived to, nothing fancy--good
enough for the vohiek siblings.
A handful of servants waited as we got out of the carriage.
The point of the firstborn blessing was to make sure the infant passed
on no tainted blood. It should be done, as per definition, by a
firstborn, but since we are a rare commodity in this world, Lily made
the concession of allowing her defective siblings near her bundle of
joy. Esty and Tim both tried to trick, wheedle, bribe me to do it
before, but now the bastard found a hold on me.
We were waiting in a spacious tearoom with tall glass windows
opening on a neat garden, with tea and cookies in front of us on an
ivory inlaid table.
"The fuck takes them so long?"
Esty shot me a disapproving look. "They have to get the babe
ready. It may take time, you know."
I mumbled something and stuffed some cookies in my mouth.
They came at last; Lily at the front, loveliest of all the
Saqueroy girls, tawny skin glowing in the dusty afternoon light, silky
brown curls piled on top of her head, big, dark eyes on us, with the
squirming parasite, I mean baby in her arms, followed by a guy that
looked to be a catholic priest, Lord Baru Nion himself, and a flock of
assorted servants, hand-picked to watch every breath of the heir. The
procession halted a few steps from us. I looked at my companions. They
looked equally abashed seeing their sister for the first time in years.
They stood, not quite knowing how to proceed.
I cleared my throat.
Lily's face lit up. "Firstborn! It is such an honor to have
you here! I have firstborn ancestry too, you know..."
"Just call me Nenya. For a week now, I have a name." I
gestured towards bossman. "We are in Oiskog, or how you call it." I
noticed Esty shaking her head, gesticulating frantically, too late.
Lily's smile withered. "Oh? You are not tainted yourself, are
you?" She turned to the priest. "There's really no point if she's
tainted, is there?"
"She's not tainted," Tim said through clenched teeth.
There was something in his look that made Lily not press the topic
further. "Alright then, here's William," she offered the sprog to me.
"It's not gonna start screeching or something like that,
She cast me an offended look. "He's a very well-behaved babe.
His diapers have just been changed too."
I could do without the gross details, but I took the kid
nonetheless and held it up at an arm's stretch away.
The priest stepped forward. "Repeat after me. May the Lord
bless this child..."
"May the Lord bless this child..."
"So his days be long upon the earth, blessed with health,
happiness and abundance..."
"So his days be long upon the earth, blessed with health,
happiness and abundance...
"and that his progeny not be tainted."
"and that his, do I really gotta say this?"
He looked taken aback. "Why, yes, please. It's the most
important part of the ceremony."
"and that his..." I swallowed. I looked at them in turn, the
priest, Lily and Dain watching anxiously, the whispering servants, Esty
and Tim staring at the kid transfixed. The sprog started to get fussy
and my arms began to hurt, so I quickly finished. "That his progeny not
I felt like washing my mouth, so I showed the whining baby in
Esty's arms. Lily's eyes shot wide. I poured myself some tea and turned
to the priest. "What kind of ceremony is this? It's not like any of the
Christian rituals I know."
"It's, well, it's like baptizing, adapted to the local
"It's not really Christian-like, shoving that poor lamb like
you did," Lily snapped.
"Nor is it to ban your sibs from seeing it," I retorted. "I
mean if that's their thing, looking at sprogs."
The sprog in question was in Tim's arms now, and he looked
down at it in wonder. I felt uncomfortable spying on them, so I turned
back to Lily. She was watching them with thinly veiled distaste.
* * *
"Thank you," Esty said on the way back. "Not welcome. And this
was the last time you pulled that kinda shit on me," I turned to Tim.
He chuckled. "Seeing Lily's expression was half the fun."
"Yeah, pissed myself laughing," I grumbled. "William, what a
pretentious, bullshit name!"
We went to the vohiek quarter of the city and sat in a
relatively elegant patisserie. I couldn't help admiring the Rev as he
walked in ahead of us, dashing, elegant, seemingly self-confident. I
caught myself looking at him with something akin to pride. We sat at a
corner table for a light lunch.
"We do owe you thanks," he spoke up suddenly.
"That you do," I replied between two bites, "and let me tell
you partner, that's gon cost you a lot."
"I don't know. Let me give it some thought." I knew I couldn't
say an amount he couldn't pay. I wanted him to pay with something that
actually cost him effort to give, something that couldn't be bought
"He didn't move you at all?" Esty asked. She was still stuck
with the baby. She gave me a wide-eyed, innocent look. "Not that
cherubic little face, those perfect little starfish hands…"
I pulled a face. She knew exactly how to push my buttons. "I'm
afraid I have to disappoint, Princess," I shook my head. "Jesus!"
Tim watched us with the ghost of a smile on his lips.
"Having fun, are we?"
The ghost widened into a grin. "Aren't you?"
I pursed my lips. "If you want to ruffle my feathers, you
gotta try harder."
Again, that smirk of his. Challenge accepted, that smirk said.
The girls barged into my room late in the morning. Gaita,
Sindre, and the girls usually working on the Saqueroy princesses. They
whispered excitedly among themselves in their tongue, giggling
occasionally, but of course none of them would tell me what was going
on. Damned vohieks! They brought a dress compared to which my dress
visiting Lily was plain and unassuming; a whirlwind of rustling velvet
and silk the color of a raincloud, light like a cobweb against my skin,
breath-fine lace, and then there were the jewels; a spray of sparkle,
caught in a spider web of filigree silver.
"White-gold," Gaita corrected me.
"Okay, I don't know what you want with all that stuff; I'm not
putting them on."
The makeup brush stopped in Sindre's hand. "Why not?"
"Because. I'm not putting them on, unless I get to know what
The girls exchanged a look. "Bossman's orders."
"Now we're talking. Please elaborate."
Gaita crumpled a muslin underskirt in her hands. "Please,
Alula. We were instructed not to tell you."
The excitement was gone; they looked genuinely worried. I knew
I'd just get them in trouble if I didn't cooperate. I gestured towards
the constellation of sparkles. "Those are not diamonds, yes?"
"What's wrong with diamonds? You don't like them?"
"Gai. You're not being funny."
"Mydzi M÷jz, you act like you are not used to grandeur, having
lived in a royal court and all that."
I sighed. This misconception again. "I did notlive
in the king's court. I didn't have a rank. I was there for one reason."
She shrugged. "Whatever. Will you put them on, then?"
* * *
I pulled aside the curtain of the carriage. We were riding on
a wide cobblestoned road that cut through a forest.
"Let me guess; we are going to Saint-Pierre-le Moűtier."
"What makes you think so?"
"Otherwise why the dolling up?"
Bossman was wearing his Sunday best too, looking every bit the
prince he was. Not gonna appear in front of Daddy looking anything less
"So when are we gonna get to the estate?"
"We are already there."
I took a closer look at the trees. "For how long?"
"Quite a while." Was I just imagining, or was he really giving
me a smug look? Not earning any brownie points with that shit. I turned
back to watching the forest.
There was light ahead; as we got closer it turned into the
biggest, fanciest castle I have ever seen--ChÔteauneuf-du-Faou--all lit
up, glitzy, flashy, over the top. "An ancient dynasty; really no need
for all that in-your-face show off. I wonder what Daddy is compensating
for." I shot him a glance. "Wait; I think I know."
The smug look was gone; he was glaring at me with something
akin to hatred. It was already worth it.
The forest gave place to a meticulous French garden, sparkling
with the light of a million lampions, mirroring the myriad stars above.
"Ain't that pretty," I sighed. The breeze brought laughter from the
We got out at the feet of marble steps half the length of a
racecourse and walked past a wall of unmoving servants and entered an
anteroom with its ceiling lost in the murk above the light of crystal
candelabra. Imagine cleaning all that shit.
I linked my arm in his, and we walked along a wide corridor.
For the first time in the evening my stomach clenched under the corset,
as we entered the great hall. The best of the best, everybody who was
anybody was present at the Spring Eve banquet held at the ancestral
seat of house Saqueroy. There was the princess from the side branch of
the imperial family Charles Saqueroy managed to bag for Aziz – the only
son he had that wasn't fucked up. And here we were, entering as the
music and chatter slowly died and all eyes turned towards us.
Charles Saqueroy, himself almost a god, barely below the
Emperor, stared at us in disbelief. I was not used to such welcomes,
but then again, I was in my vohiek disguise, and Tim, well, he didn't
bother to put on any.
We sat next to Dodi. She paled some shades.
"You have the nerve," the Prince hissed in the utter silence, "to show up here like this, with your vohiek slut."
Tim turned to look at him. My first instinct was to protest
that I wasn't a vohiek, but the Prince went on. "I should have killed
you when I had the chance. I might, still."
My heart skipped a beat. He might, at that; no one would lift
a finger. Not that that would wash the shame off his name, but no doubt
it would give him some degree of satisfaction.
Tim stood and walked briskly towards the head of the
table--towards the Prince.
I scuttled after him, hissing; "I really don't think this is
He didn't even hear me. Charles Saqueroy was stunned into
silence at this audacity. Armed guards barred our way when we were only
a few steps away from him; they flew back in every odd direction at one
hand gesture from Tim.
He kept glaring at his father. The Prince swallowed. It might
have only just begun to dawn on him that his defective progeny may
actually cause him harm.
Tim lifted his hand and the Saqueroy flag above the Prince's
throne burst into flames. We were followed by cries of outrage and the
shouts of servants trying to put out the fire.
* * *
"Hey, I figured out how you could repay me for the
sprog-handling ordeal. I had to find something you can't buy, but the
options are rather limited in that regard, so here's the deal. You put
a ring on my finger, you give me a kiss. That's how it goes where I
come from. And don't give me that ‘you're not there' crap. You took the
whole ring idea from my world." We were standing on the patio outside
the villa. It was late, so most of the residents were already asleep.
He glowered at me with his famous narrow-eyed stare, then he
made up his mind. He stepped to me and pressed what was left of his
lips on mine. It was a little awkward with all the missing bits, but it
was all in all an okay way to pass the time until the pain came. It
came sharp, cutting into my lips, flooding my mouth with blood.
I whimpered and banged my fists on his chest. He let go.
"Motherfucker!" I screeched and shoved him in the
chest. I heard noise from the staff quarters, but I didn't care. "How dare
He had the nerve to shoot me an amused look. "I think we
better go in..."
I backed away from him. "Don't you dare touching me.
I'm not going anywhere with you, you sick fuck."
"So...you're giving up?"
I stared at him, stunned wordless, so I just shook my head and
stormed in, slamming the door in his face.
Friday found me in a cell on a hard bunk bed, under a coarse
military blanket. There was a filthy loo in the corner, a tiny
washbasin with a cracked soap on the rim that looked like it's been
slumping there in its own puddle for the last decade. The whole setup
uncomfortably reminded me of a prison or one of those gore B horror
movies, where a couple of teens get kidnapped and chopped up by some
maniac, complete with the metal door with a peep slot and the bare,
dusty lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, mournfully flickering
sometimes. At least I wasn't tied down. I was also back in my human
form, dressed in clothes familiar from my old life; jeans, t-shirt,
sneakers. Was I back? Could I be back after I died there? If so, this
was not where I wanted to return.
I looked around, but there wasn't a ventilation shaft or
window to see where I was. I lied down by the door, but could see
nothing through the gap underneath. The corridor was lit outside--if it
was a corridor at all--that was all I could tell for sure. There was
absolutely nothing I could make a weapon out of, unless I was willing
to break the bulb, plunging myself into pitch black, which I was not
ready for. The only thing I could use was the blanket to throw on my
captor--if there was a captor at all and I wasn't just left in
this hole to rot. I didn't want to dwell on that. Someone must have
noticed my disappearance. Dodi or Tim, someone will look for me, and
the Rev has ways to find me. Unless it was him who put me in this
place, growing tired of my antics, getting rid of me for good. I felt
panic rising in my throat. He can't do that to a Sister. Even he can't
be that insane. He can't.
I had no way to tell the time, but after a while I heard
steps on the corridor. "Hey! Let me out! Hey!" I banged on the door.
The steps stopped outside and the light dimmed in the gap underneath.
Whoever it was, they didn't move or say anything. I backed away and
curled up on the bunk bed.
The peep slot opened and a tray of food was pushed inside. I
ran up to the door. "Where am I? Why are you keeping me here?" I tried
to see the person on the other side. The slot snapped shut. I looked at
the tray; scrambled eggs, cereal, orange juice, toast, jam. A pretty
decent breakfast, straight outta my world.
"Hey! Come back please!" The plates and the cutlery clinked
softly as I banged on the door until my fist hurt, but there was no
* * *
"It's not laced with anything," came a voice from the other side
of the door. It was a male, that much I could tell. The breakfast tray
stood on the shelf untouched.
"Please! Why am I here?"
There was only silence, then I heard keys jingling. I took a
step back. My hands curled into fists, aching for a weapon.
The door opened and I could see my captor for the first time.
No, I was definitely not back. He was either the most extreme vohiek
I've seen so far, or a genuine freak. He was much taller than a man,
tall even with the standards of this world and wide; he pretty much
filled the doorframe, so there was no way I could dash past him into
freedom. He was bald, his skin bluish-yellow, slimy looking, with a
wrinkled snout and fangs hanging out of his mouth. Whiteless black eyes
stared back at me.
"Wh...who are you?"
"I'm To-ong, last and most dangerous bastard of the wizard
"Where am I? Why am I here?"
"You are important to the vohiek..."
There was only one vohiek he could be talking about. "I'm
sorry, but you got that wrong."
"...because of your music," he continued as if I hadn't said a
word. "Once he comes for you, you can ask him about it. You'll have
ample time before the sacrifice."
"My music? Hold on, sacrifice, what sacrifice?"
He gestured towards the tray. "Eat." The door shut with a bang
* * *
There was only one thing he could have meant by music--Tim
heard people's music, their basic, underlying tune, what made them, them.
It was one of his vohiek Talents. Why mine would matter to him I could
Judging time from meals, at least a week had already passed. "I guess the Oiskog's already over," I said when To-ong next came.
"And you are still married to your husband..."
"He is not my husband!" I snapped. I remembered our last,
unfortunate encounter. My lip was still somewhat swollen and tender. "I
don't even like him. He's an asshole."
To-ong shrugged. "I though the sacrifice would interest you more than
such minor details."
I snapped my head up. "Yes, yes it does, please! What kind of
sacrifice is it? Does it require, um. Me dying?"
"Your blood, and his magic, but ─tile could tell you more
"Can I talk to him then?"
"Could I just give you, you know, just a small vial of blood
and be done with it, or does he, um, require all five liters?"
He chuckled on the other side of the peep slot. "Nice try. No,
your husband has to be here too."
"Not my husband, damn you!"
"Why does it irk you so much? He is your spring husband, isn't
"So what? It means nothing."
"There you are wrong. The Oiskog is an ancient mating ritual.
You lasted longer than any of his previous brides."
"Oh, yay me. How do you know so much about him?"
"Your question reveals a na´vetÚ that is surprising in a
"I was trained to be a Death Bride, okay? The main thing, the only
thing I was taught is how to die properly."
"And you botched even that."
I was left with the echo of his annoying snicker.
I don't even know what day anymore
"Hey! Could I get some books at least? It's pretty boring in
"Prison is not here for your entertainment," To-ong declared,
as he pushed in the food tray. Well, at least he had a sense of humor,
"Could you at least tell me what day it is?"
"Does it matter? Does it change anything about your
Well, if nothing else, To-ong, last and most dangerous bastard
of ─tile was rather articulate I had to give him that--I guess that
came with serving a wizard.
"The point is, you are still married to your husband."
"I'm not...he's not...why is this so goddamn important to
"The union of a firstborn and a vohiek -- it is unheard of. It
happened only once in recorded history."
I knew the story of Elizabeth, or Bessa, as she is called by
vohieks, and Bokte, doomed lovers, executed in all sort of gruesome,
horrendous, not nice ways. I was a Death Bride by profession, but I
didn't feel like dying at all. Not for such a stupid reason. "You are
not thinking of some kind of reenactment of the Bessa and Bokte story,
are you? I mean I'm not involved with him that way, you know. As I've
pointed it out countless times already."
"Don't get all worked up..."
"Don't tell me not to get worked up. You're not the one locked
up in here, with no idea what's gonna happen to you."
He didn't reply.
"Can you at least tell me how you'll sacrifice me?"
"Not me; my maker, ─tile will."
"Maker? Are you a robot, or something?"
He made an irritated sound. Obviously, he said more than he'd
I entertained myself by walking up and down, doing
strengthening and stretching exercises between meals. I was almost
hoping against hope that Tim would come and we would get done and over
with the sacrifice, but obviously he had no plans of joining me. I was
annoyed with him and with myself for expecting him to rescue me like I
was some kind of stupid damsel in distress. The princess in the Tower.
Which, come to think of, I was, sort of. Sort of princess in a sort of
tower. "I'd really rather get on with that goddamn sacrifice than rot
in this cell another day. Please, is there no other way to bring him
here? He obviously has better things to do than trying to save me."
"Don't call him that, damnit! If he was my husband, he'd at
least make an attempt at freeing me."
"Maybe you just have to call him. Have you never thought of
"What do you mean?"
"He can't hear you if you don't talk to him."
I tried to get a better look at him through the slot. "Are you
He just stood there waiting.
"Hey! Tim! You hear me? Come ‘n get me out of here, bitch!" I
peeped at To-ong through the slot. "Look, I really don't think this is
gonna work. We did not part on the best of terms."
"There are ups and downs in the best of marriages."
I took the orange juice off the tray and threw it at the slot,
trying to splatter him with it with mixed results. "Oh, piss off. What
are you, some kind of marriage counselor?"
"Maybe you should try it with some feel. I know you are used
to getting your way but maybe, just this one time you could try asking
I tried to catch his eyes, which was kinda hard as the slot
was around the height of his waist. "With feel."
"Go ahead, give it a shot; do you have anything better to do?
The sooner he gets here, the sooner we can get started."
I sighed. "Nicely," I echoed with all the scorn I could
muster. "Tim," I whispered breathlessly, "my beloved husband! Come and
get me out of here, I beg of thee!"
I dearly hoped To-ong appreciated the show I put on, but when
I checked, he was gone.
Day n+2 found me in my room, in the Debil klub. I sat up with
a start and looked around wildly. Was I dreaming? I ran out to the
corridor. "Sindre? Gai?"
Tim's door opened. "Oh. Good morning."
"Wh...what's going on?"
I sat on the chair he offered as if I was moving in a dream.
"So you did call for my help in the end." He shook his head,
as he poured some water. "All that sarcasm, though..."
I felt suddenly faint. The length he'd go just to win, just to
have the last word. "To-ong, ─tile, the sacrifice, all of that was a
load of crap..."
A light smile crossed his face. "How did you like the food? A
taste of home – a nice touch if you ask me." He offered me the glass,
but I didn't take it.
"What day is it?"
"Sunday. You made it. You are still my Oiskog-bride."
I looked up at him, into those very blue, whiteless, three
pupiled eyes, the clear one and the cloudy, ruined one. "You are sick.
A psychopath." I said with numb lips. "Just…go away."
He laughed. "Where to? This is my place, remember? Don't
worry, a lot of people who don't understand magic and catch a glimpse
into its depths react the same way." He stopped and looked down at me
as if struck by an afterthought. "So, you give up then? Just before the
I felt a surge of hate towards him. He knew exactly how to
play me. "Is this all this is for you? A fucking pissing contest?"
* * *
So, only two days have passed. Two days, during which he kept
me in this… limbo. Illusion? Dream? Or did he actually open another,
timeless dimension? He was right; I had no idea of the power
Aziz-priests wielded, or of his rank within the order. Just thinking
about the possibilities filled me with fearful respect. I was never a
match for him. In the end, he did manage to freak me out, the bastard.
In the evening, we gathered in the Golden Knight, the biggest
and most popular vohiek tavern in the capital city, where the Oiskog
I went with the other vohieks--with the vohieks, I mean. I was
back in my disguise. The mood was cheerful, ribald as is fitting a
spring ceremony, with food and draught abundant on the long table. Only
I sat in a glum silence.
"What was that about my music?"
He flinched. "What?"
"Your creature, or robot or whatever it was said you needed my
music for some reason. What was that about?"
For a long time, I thought he wouldn't answer and when he did,
he spoke so softly I thought I misheard him. "He is not a robot."
Before I could ask him further, Esty squeezed my arm. "You did
I turned to look at her. She saw the wound in the corner of my
lip and her smile withered.
"So, Nenya," that was Johnny, one of their numerous second
cousins. He sat across the table from us, a blond guy with a scattering
of small, round insect eyes on the top half of his face, all of which
were focused on me now. I could never get used to the sight of them
blinking all at the same time. "Any final thoughts?"
My hand crept to my mouth. "You want my final thoughts? He is
a total whacko, a full-on psychopath." I thought for a while. "At least
he's not boring, I have to give him that, I guess."
"Mydzi M÷jz!" Johnny muttered. He turned to Tim instead. "Rev?"
He deliberated for a long moment. "She is hard to get rid of."
Some of the beetle eyes flicked back to me. "Do you think you
could stick by him long term?"
I looked at Johnny incredulous, then at the Rev. I took the
ring he gave me at the beginning of this long-long week and put it on
the table. "I really don't think so."
ę 2017 Susan Anwin
Bio: Ms. Susan Anwin was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary,
ELTE University in Budapest and majored in English. Her flash-fiction
Talk of Armadale Trees was featured in the anthology My Favourite
Place, published by the Scottish Book Trust in 2012. Her short stories
Fog-People, Eddie's Lousy Saturday, You'll Die as Fish, People of the
Green Cloud and Dragonfly-man were published by Aphelion in 2016 and
E-mail: Susan Anwin
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