The Sanguinary: Part IV.

12 Feb

There was no sleep that night for the one up in the kula.

His thoughts whirled around in circles. What could he do? What human force could contend with or defeat that unnatural power he had seen from a distance?

Zi began to comprehend why Proni had insisted upon returning him to Bridzha and keeping him in a tower cell. The separate parts now fell into place, forming a definite pattern.

Was Kadal claiming Geoma as his own?

That should be the explanation for why the father had ordered him brought back to the village and kept as if still a prisoner. Proni had been attempting to break the spell that Kadal exercised over his daughter. That was why he had ordered Geoma to show him about Bridzha and discuss with him the traditions of the Kasati tribe.

Zi now saw the hand of the father everywhere, throwing him together with his daughter.

But she had not been completely drawn away from her sanguereous pursuer yet. That power had proven too strong to break. She continued to dwell under the evil spell of a strig who held her in orbit about him.

All of a sudden, Zi comprehended the state of his own emotions.

Since being brought to Bridzha and seeing the beauty of Geoma, he had become enthralled. She was now his dream, his guiding star, his conscious and unconscious compass.

All of his previous ideas were changed. He saw how modifiable and impermanent his feelings could be.

His fear an loathing toward Proni was now quiet admiration for his stoic suffering.

Some action was called for to restore justice, Zi told himself. But he was befogged over how to go about it.

This was a strange situation: he knew that he had to act, but had no idea what it was to be. Any mistake by him at this point would be too costly to bear.

The sleepless Zi was surprised the next morning when Geoma herself entered his still darkened cell. He felt like rubbing his eyes to make sure that she was not a vision resulting from his own exhaustion.

“Good morning,” she chirped. “I have an invitation to present to you for this evening.”

“An invitation?” he replied in confusion. “To what?”

“A bone-reading that is set to take place. If you wish, your own future fortune can be told, along with that of the others who are present there.”

Things now started to fall into place for Zi.

“Who else is going to be there?” he asked with curiosity.

“You and I, along with father and Kadal. That should be just enough persons, but not too many.”

“Yes,” smiled Zi as agreeably as he was able. “I foresee an evening of enlightenment and illumination. Indeed, I do.”

As the attractive young woman said good-bye and departed, a sense of approaching climax fell over the mind of the semi-prisoner.

Was he prepared to deal with the results of what was coming?

A guard brought Zi from the kula to the bairak’s stone house as the daystar fell and evening commenced. The ethnologist knew that he was going to a showdown of sorts, but the outcome was unforeseeable and unpredictable for him. Courage and resolution were called for. He must be prepared for any contingency that might occur.

Would he measure up to the demands of this occasion?

He was surprised to find himself the last to appear in the front parlor as the servant ushered him in. By the candlelight, his azure eyes caught sight of Geoma, to whom he gave a slight nod. To her right sat her father on a low stool. On the other side, extremely close to her, was Kadal Fondi. The latter seemed to be looking away, avoiding any greeting to the newest arrival.

“Please, sit down,” declared Proni Bridzha in a hollow tone of voice. “We are about to begin with the reading.”

Zi took the one available seat, an ottoman facing all of the other three persons who were present.

“Is a bone-reader being awaited?” he asked no one in particular.

“I shall be the one leading it,” announced Kadal. “My experience in this field of activity is considerable, the result of many years of readings. But since this is so new to you, I will ask Geoma to provide a brief explanation of what to expect this evening. Geoma, will you proceed?”

She began to speak in a soft, sleepy tone that Zi had not expected and had never heard before.

“This practice goes back ages, to the earliest inhabitants of Maltsia. It became a way for our ancestors to cope with the uncertainties of time and the misfortunes it might eventually bring to human beings.

“What is always used in it is the breastbone of a chicken or the scapula of either a sheep or a goat. No other kind of bone will do for this purpose.

“A chicken must be decapitated. If the neck is only wrung, the blood will flow the wrong way and the marks it makes will be spoiled.

“The reader holds up the bone against the light. The lines of marrow in it are then read and interpreted. The art of how to do this is born, not acquired. Once one has this skill, it can never be lost.”

She turned to Kadal. “Shall I reveal more?” she said.

He nodded to her to go on.

“The keel of a bone is the part that is needed. The fate of the owner of the chicken, sheep, or goat is told by the line of marrow at the thicker end of this bone. A hole in the line indicates that a death is near. Any kind of break or change in direction can mean illness or some great loss. The location of the hole or break indicates the time at which the unholy event will happen. Death in the family of the owner of the animal appears as a branching off from the primary line. Any red spot means that blood is soon going to be shed.

“Those are the fundamental principles of bone-reading, as I have learned them,” concluded the young woman. She glanced first at Kadal, then turned her purple eyes on Zi.

“The chicken that was slaughtered for tonight belonged to me,” suddenly announced Proni Bridzha. “So, it will be my fate that is to be revealed.”

A solemn seriousness fell over all four of those present. This was not to be some amusing pastime and nothing more.

All at once, Kadal rose to his feet and took two steps forward until he stood at the side of a small circular taboret. He stretched his arm and picked up a square red cloth on which rested the bone that was going to be interpreted.

The man Zi suspected of being a strig stared downward for a time, as moment followed moment. All eyes were upon him and what he was about to pronounce.

Kadal looked up and stared directly at the bairak of Bridzha.

“Do you wish to know the truth of what I can read from this bone?”

“Yes, of course I do,” said the excited old man. But then a new, apprehensive feeling took hold of his mind and emotions. “Is it something that would tend to discourage and dishearten me? Perhaps if it is that kind of future, it might be best for me to be completely ignorant of what the bone says.”

Geoma intervened at this point.

“It is best to have it told, father. Why worry yourself in ignorance? No, you should hear what Kadal sees in this chicken of yours.”

Zi was astounded when the bairak immediately turned to him.

“What do you say? What is the best course for me to take?”

“It depends, sir. If you anticipate a negative, mortal verdict and know that the impact would devastate you, then refuse to continue. But if, on the contrary, you believe that it makes no important difference whether the prognostication is a good or bad one, then it is best to accept the reading.

“It is up to you alone, and what sort of a person you happen to be. I cannot at all advise you. No one else can either. Whatever decision you reach, it is yours.”

“Yes,” said Proni. “I will have o live…or die…with that choice. There is no other way it can be done.”

“So, what is it to be?” demanded the bone-reader with barely suppressed anger. “If this were to occur that way, I would not have agreed to any of it.”

“Very well,” relented the bairak. “Give me the prediction based on the bone.”

After waiting a short spell, Kadal revealed what it was that he saw.

“I find a tiny hole that tells me that your remaining time to live is limited. There is a final hour coming that cannot be prevented or avoided. This result is as certain as it can be.”

What Proni did upon hearing this was something no one could have foreseen.

He plunged forward toward the man who had pronounced his impending doom. As the attacker stretched out his head toward the other’s throat, the two made physical contact. Raising an arm, Kadal blocked the raised hand aimed at him.

But then Proni raised his other arm. In less than a second, this one was also stopped by the bone-reader.

Frustration boiled over inside the old man. A small amount of froth emerged out of the corner of his mouth.

All at once, Geoma spang to his feet and moved over beside her father.

“Father, you are overwrought. Please calm down,” she pleaded. “Come with me. I am going to take you to your room. You must lie down and rest.”

Proni looked at her in surprise, his gray eyes enlarged and bewildered. Then he took the hand that she offered him and allowed her to lead him out of the parlor.

The two men who were left there eyed each other suspiciously.

What should I do now? wondered Zi. What must I say under the circumstances”

“Proni has revealed to me what your true essence happens to be,” boldly said the ethnologist. “Is that what you are? I do not know why he would lie to me about such a matter. It has to be something that he knows for certain.”

The reaction of the other was not at all what Zi expected to hear.

“Yes, I was hired by him as a revenger. That was the mission assigned to me. But it has now been years since that type of activity ended for me. For a long time now, I have kept myself inert and inactive. That is difficult to do, but a possibility for someone with a sanguinary inheritance. Nothing about a condition like mine can be eternal. I might revert to my behavior of long ago at any moment. But I have been successful all these years in Bridzha, especially since Geoma befriended me. She has now joined with me.”

“Joined with you? What do you mean?” angrily demanded Zi.

“I inducted and trained Geoma. She is now more of a strig than I ever was. She has become a fully skilled striga. Much of what today occurs is a result of her taking justifiable revenge on those who commit serious evil.

“Are you surprised by what I have revealed to you? None of this could you have discovered by yourself. THat is why I myself had to tell you the truth of our situation here in Bridzha.”

“This is all incredible!” gasped Zi, breathing strenuously.

He realized at that moment that he was almost completely helpless to change any of the conditions that surrounded him.

“What are you going to do now?” asked the bone-reader.

Zi did not have to think long about that.

“There is only one alternative. I believe that I must leave this village at once. My hope is that no one interferes with this wish of mine. Do you think that I can obtain permission for that?”

“I will ask Geoma to talk to and convince her father.”

“Thank you, if what you say happens,” murmured Zi.

Turning about, the folklorist made for the door. Once under the starry canopy of night sky, he stopped and gave a long, heavy sigh.

Was he going to succeed in leaving this strange tribe of Kasati?

Zi was compelled to wait two weeks in Ilezha before he was able to leave for abroad on an ocean steamer. The day before he was scheduled to depart, he went to the shipping office on the dock to pick up his voyage ticket.

The ethnologist moved with a joyful spring in his step. He was feeling the relief of escape from what meant to flee.

He was soon going to leave Maltsia, a land of regret and sorrow for him.

There was no reason for him to remain there any longer. Enough material for a folklore study had already been collected by him.

It was time to begin a new chapter in life, Zi told himself.

He took a seat in the waiting room where travelers sat, expecting to be summoned at any moment to receive their tickets and sailing documents.

Zi saw a copy of the “General Gazette”, the official daily newssheet in Maltsia. In fact, the only one.

Skimming the front of the journal, his eyes caught something to which he himself had intimate connection. The short item was concise and fateful.

“The bairak of village Bridsha in Kasati territory died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving one child, a daughter. He will be succeeded in office by his son-in-law, Kadal Fondi.”

That is all, acknowledged the one reading the notice.

“Zi Guri,” called out clangorous voice from behind the service desk. The one being summoned stepped forward into a new chapter of his life.

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