The Thread Bearer

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  • Publiceret: 15 feb. 2015
  • Opdateret: 28 aug. 2015
  • Status: Igang
A kiss with a 'hot' stranger starts a chain of events that Lori is unprepared - and unwilling - to accept.

Worse, she finds herself entered into a trial to select the next Thread Bearer - a woman of immeasurable power but little freedom.

Except that there are more immediate concerns for Lori; the girls that fail each round are not expelled from the process. They are sacrificed.

Freedom is all Lori wants. Can she avoid death - even though it means she'll have to be the next Thread Bear - whilst maintaining her freedom?

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1. Chapter One

 

I was a fraud. Lying through my teeth; deceiving the world about my abilities to read their future from my deck of tarot – stolen - cards. Of course, it wasn't my fault that they hung on my every word, believed the lies I fed them like a pig through a fence. It was easy to do; to shuffle the cards, to invite them to cut the deck, to select three and lay them face up. Every single one of them studied the cards and then glanced up at me for an explanation; this reaction never changed, and I'd grown bored of it over the years. But they paid me for a reading, and the job kept me out hidden for a few hours at least.

So I carried on pretending to be a lady of the tarots - not that I had anything else to be doing with my time these days, apart from keeping my head down. Which was fine by me; I’d happily stay holed up in a musky tent, unbothered by people and their expectations, if it was my choice. Except that, like most things in my life to date, I had next to no choice about how they would pan out.

"I see a tall, dark handsome male entering into your life very soon."

The female in front of me squealed in delight, the sound rattling the bones around my brain. I'd already felt the beginnings of a headache but now it was about to burst into a full migraine. Great - I'd be nursing it for the entire evening at this rate.

"Is he rich?" she asked.

"He could buy the whole Kingdom," I replied.

Her excitement caused her to shake; her tight curls bouncing around her face and exposing her pointed ears. When she smiled, her lips got caught on razor tipped canines. I cringed - eight years in the Fae kingdom and I still hadn't gotten used to these features, even though I saw them everywhere I went. I ran my tongue over my own teeth, appreciating their bluntness.

"When will I meet this handsome stranger?" She was wearing a fuschia gown – every hem decorated with hideously ornate lace - so bright that the colour was transferred on to her glossy skin. She looked like an overdone birthday cake; but this was Fae fashion. Even though my experience in the human realm was limited to the first eight years of my life, I never recalled such garish outfits in the courts. And this Fae didn't even look like she attended court.

"Soon," I replied, rubbing my temples to try and reduce the ache.

The female frowned, her nose scrunching up until it sent cavernous creases across her forehead and cheeks. She'd been attractive, as most Fae were to human eyes, until now.

"You already said soon. Can't you be more specific?"

"No." My response was terser than I meant for it to be, but I didn't regret it; she was already starting to get on my nerves, as well as causing my migraine.

The female drew back her lips in an offensive gesture I'd grown immune to over the years; wherever humans went in the Fae realm they were treated like animals, doors slammed in their faces, chased away from towns if the Fae there in a good mood. I had yet to experience them in a bad mood but I'd heard stories; stories to chill the blood. Though none of that could even compare to the rumours that were smuggled across the border as the human realm was conquered.

Not that conquered was the right term; this implied some sort of battle. But against the force that had invaded us that night ten years ago, we never even had the chance to mobilise our troops. We were defeated the second our conqueror decided he wanted the human realm for himself. For now, human refugees were safe in the Fae realm - or safer than those that hadn't managed to sneak out. I didn't hold much hope for the survival of those that didn't make it to the border or were beaten back by the Fae armies protecting their lands.

"You humans are all the same. Filthy, lying con artists!" The female spat. Her face had turned an angrier shade of red, as if a pot of red food dye had been split across a cake.

"Says the Fae who has come to have her fortune read. Aren't you supposed to be above such baseless magic?"

"Magic? What would your kind know about magic? You have no special talents other than being a rancid stain upon this continent."

I grinned at her, unwilling to show how her words stung. It wasn't that this particular female - spoilt by a daddy who hadn't let her experience a day without food or adequate shelter - offended me, but that humans were treated horribly because of views such as this.

"Get out of my tent."

"How dare you order me about!"

"I said, get out of my tent before I remove you myself." She was stronger, faster and probably had magic on her side, but I grabbed the sword - which was blunt, not that she needed to know - by the side of my table.

She huffed. "I'm not going to pay you!"

"I don't want your money."

She rose in a single, fluid movement that made me think of a reverse flowing waterfall; I'd be jealous if I didn't despise her kind so much.

"I'm going to warn all of my friends about you. You'll go out of business by evening."

"Fine by me."

The Fae growled at me one last time before storming out of the tent and finally leaving me alone. I leaned back in my chair, massaging my head, hoping that the tension would ease now that the squealing Fae had left. But I wasn't going to find peace anytime soon.

The fabric door of my tent was pulled aside. I knew who it was before they entered; the distinctive tread of their feet gave them away. It was a tread I'd grown up hearing, looking out for in games of hide and seek, and now I'd recognise it in a crowd of a thousand people.

"Scaring away our customers?" Gavin asked.

"Good riddance."

My cousin folded his hands across his chest and gave me an exasperated look. I flipped my hands open as if to say: what do you want me to do about it? Gavin wasn't having any of it. There was lines of worry in the corners of his eyes - these were permanent, etched there the day we fled for the Fae realm in the dark heart of night, but they were more pronounced than usual.

"We're supposed to be keeping a low profile, Lori."

"I know."

"I don't think you do. We need the guise of our circus to travel through the Fae realm undetected. But if you keep pissing off the Fae then we'll have no customers, no disguise and be kicked out the realm on our asses."

I snorted. "Anywhere is better than here."

"There is no-where else for us to go. We have to keep-"

"A low profile. Yes, I know."

Gavin's eyes implored me and though I was losing my patience, going over the plan we'd had for the past five years now, one which I lived and breathed every day, confined in this tent like a dog in a cage, I calmed a bit. If only because he looked exhausted enough that a fight might knock him out.

He thought I accepted my role because I wanted to stay hidden, stay safe, from those that would relish ending what they'd started by killing me. But I played my part because of him - he had promised to keep me out of harm’s way the second we left the human realm and everything he'd done since had been to accomplish that. It was a promise he couldn't keep on his own, even I knew that if he wouldn't admit it. So I shuffled my cards, flipped them over and sprouted nonsense about the relevance of the lovers to those insecure enough to pay for my services.

"Lori, please tell me you haven't forgotten what's at stake here." For you, he should have added but ending with the danger for us all. We were all danger, but of those that had begged and borrowed and stolen our way across the border that night, none were trailed by death as closely as me. Some evenings death came to perch beside my spot in our camp, and on the coldest nights, where my dreams would be flashbacks of drums and fire and beating wings, death would slip into bed with me.

"Our kingdom was burnt to a crisp, my people slaughtered like cattle and my mother and father ripped apart until they were mutilated pieces. How could I ever forget what's at stake here?"

Gavin winced; he had a tough stomach when it came to eating exotic foods but these memories always turned him green. Not that they were pleasant for any of us, but I'd dreamt about it so often I'd become numb to their effects, at least my stomach had.

"Please, Lori, make it easier for me to protect you."

I felt guilty about bringing this up when he'd been broken in the same places, bore such similar scars to me, both losing our parents. We were all the family we had left; not including my court. Which, without a castle, wasn't much of a court, but they referred to themselves this way for morale. To keep the hope of returning to our kingdom alive. One day. But not one day soon, I knew. Gavin had his own demons, of course; guilt at letting his king and queen perish, shame at not being able to return my throne to me. 

"Okay," I relented.

He seemed satisfied with my answer, coming closer to the table and taking the top card – the world.

"What does it mean?"

I shrugged. "How should I know?"

He laughed, which set me off, and for a brief moment, we were two kids darting through the castle hallways, getting caught under the servants’ feet, not a care in the world other than what our next game would be. However, as soon as the laughter had bubbled up, it was extinguished. Gavin was about to lecture me again, I could tell. Something about him finding Fae sympathisers willing to help our human cause - we all knew these leads were as fertile as a mule. I didn't want to hear it, not with my raging headache where every sound around me was a knife stabbing my mind, so I cut him off.

"I'm having one of my bad days," I said.

Gavin tensed; every member of my court knew about these bad days, and when I lessened my pride to mention the pain, they all went out of their way to help me feel better. Even when

"Should I ask Evaine for some of her herbs?"

"No, I think I just need to be alone."

He nodded, not before insisting he would still ask Evaine - my mother's former handmaiden - for some of her tonic, which she produced from whatever herbs she could coax to grow in this continent. Buying her seeds was the first thing we did whenever we settled our circus in a new Fae town. It helped us whenever we were ill, but also distracted her - gave her a sense of purpose, despite the bleak outlook of our situation. Gavin would be back later for sure but at least I'd have an hour or so to myself to wallow in my migraine, without having to pretend I was okay to keep my court's spirits high. They were my responsibility, even if they'd taken it upon themselves to protect me. Not that I saw the need; what good was it being the heir to the human kingdom, if your kingdom was in flames and your castle had been commandeered by the enemy who killed your mother and father?

 

I made the decision to leave my tent; it was too cramped anyway and the incense that Gavin insisted I burn to make it feel more authentic, were making my thought dry and intensifying my migraine.

I'd had bad days before the invasion but they began increasing in potency as time went by; I had no way of knowing whether it would have done this had I remained in the human realm. But I was stuck with blinding - literally a white light headache that seared through my vision regardless of me closing my eyes or not - headaches for the foreseeable future it seemed.

There were only two things in the world that eased them - forced sleep and playing my flute, although the latter was not a suggestion by the castle doctor. The soothing properties of music from my flute was something I discovered all on my own.

I was about ready to leave when the swoosh of my tent flap opening caught me off guard; my first thought was that I'd underestimated how long it would take Gavin to return with Evaine’s tonic. I was sure it was him - assuming he'd shut the circus after leaving - that I greeted him without turning round.

"Gavin, I'm fine!"

The temperature suddenly soared; as if I was standing on top of an active volcano. I'd never seen a volcano, but I’d been told that the Dragonaite realm had plenty of them - just thinking about the Dragonaite realm made me shiver as if I’d downed a shot of terror and wrath.

I cautiously faced the individual in my tent.

It wasn't Gavin who’d stepped into my tent; unless he'd grown a whole head taller, bulked out his already muscly frame and started wearing black leather cloaks. Another Fae fashion, I imagined, although I was sure this one wouldn’t catch on anytime soon.

"Sorry, we're closed," I stated.

The hooded figure remained immovable in the entrance of my tent, taking up so much of the space that I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic.

"You read futures." It wasn't a question. Their voice was like gravel grinding against itself in a low pitch that made my bones quake. If their sheer size and the need for a hood wasn't altering me to danger, their voice certainly set alarm bells ringing.

"You'll have to come back tomorrow, I'm afraid."

I wanted him gone as quick as possible. I strained to hear if Gavin was close by and if he'd respond to me calling for him. Although I wasn't so sure he'd make it in time anyway; this figure was mountainous, but they portrayed cunning and agility too - which I was surprised to note despite them being entirely concealed.

"I want to know my future." Spoken like an individual used to getting what they want, so I weighed up my options. They were asking for a reading, not lunging at me to attack; as far as I could tell they hadn't advanced from the same position as when they entered my tent, so maybe I could get out of this quicker if I just read their future and asked them to leave.

The more I glanced at the hooded figure - and the less sure I was that Gavin was close by and could make a difference in this situation - the more I accepted the sensible, albeit terrifying option of entertaining this unidentifiable entity. Doing so would either placate them or give me more time to think of an alternative plan for getting rid of them.

"Take a seat."

The hooded figure approached my table with a walk like molten lava; every inch of their body was oozing raw power and under strict control. Though I couldn't see their face, I guessed it'd be just as well managed. Even as they sat on the small stall I offered my clients - which the hooded figure didn't complain about or look bothered by - they dwarfed me. I was the pebble in the shadow of a towering peak.

My deck was already in position, having shuffled it after the female Fae marched out; it was habit for me to have it set up for my next client, even if they would be likely to attend the next morning. I looked at the figure and immediately fell back to staring at the cards - fiery yellow eyes flickered beneath their hood; who the hell had entered my tent? Perhaps that was my answer - it seemed like hell had entered my tent.

"I'll need to see your palms." Thankfully, my voice didn't tremble as much as I’d expected it to. The figure was wearing leather gloves as well and though I sensed their reluctance, their limbs didn't move an inch to betray this.

"No touching."

That was fine by me - I didn't know if I'd faint from fright if our skin connected. I drew a card, determined to hurry through this reading.

"The dragon," I translated, although it was pretty obvious from the picture.

Their snort was so fleeting that I almost believed I'd made it up.

I drew a second card and flattened it on the table – they didn’t react.

"The lovers." Strange, even for my limited understanding of the cards.

The final pick was Death.

Forgetting the terror of their eyes, I looked up to see if the cards had affected the hooded figure in any way, but they were patient, waiting for my response. I'd never selected the dragon before - it was a card I could almost ignore – but knew it to mean terrible, painful things were about to happen. Not that researching the tarots had told me this; I knew from experience.

Death made sense, especially alongside the dragon. Those who were drawn death usually reacted with instant panic, but the hooded figure was as silent as a gravestone. I went back to considering their future - the lovers were the real red herring. How did passion fit in with a dragon and death – they were the total opposites. Or so I’d always believed them to be – maybe there was a link, although I didn’t want to think what link that might be, and how much suffering would follow as a result.

"Do you ever read your own future?" Their voice was softer this time but it didn't change the way it dragged the hair on the back of my neck up in warning. When I didn't immediately answer, they leaned forwards, their yellow eyes demanding my attention. The smell of smoke – think and woody - accosted every single one of my senses, leaving me dazed.

"I wonder if you read the future of others, to avoid looking at your own?"

I frowned - thrown out of the hooded figure’s hold as they sat back, the smoke around them dispersing.

"You don't know anything about me." It was meant to sound ferocious but it came out as a squeak. They'd unsettled me and they were enjoying it. I jumped up.

"I think you'd better leave."

"But I paid to have my fortune told?" This time when they spoke, there was amusement in their smouldering tone.

"Self-destruction and passion. Those are your cards."

"Passion with whom?" I knew then that the hooded figure was male; if they'd dropped their hood they would have no doubt revealed a wink, too.

"No idea,” I shrugged. “Perhaps you could tell me, since you seem to know everything."

He laughed; a sound that sent shivers of heat down my spine.

"Thank you for your time. And the entertainment."

The hooded figure rose, chucking down a silver coin on my table – much more than my usual price – a whirlwind of heat leaving with them.

I hadn't realised I'd been clenching my fists until I was alone, or the fact that my entire skin was flushed - as if I'd been sitting close to a fire all day. It was spring outside, though the temperature of this season never reached as high as it was in my tent with the hooded figure present.

Who was he? I couldn't tell Gavin about our encounter or he'd freak out and move us on to another village before dusk, and I couldn't be bothered with more travelling, not so soon after we'd just set up camp here. Our goal was to keep a low profile in the Fae realm, not trek ourselves to death – which we’d do, if Gavin’s paranoia was in charge of our travelling schedule.

Not that it mattered with him gone, having walked away without harming me. Still, whoever the hooded figure was, he was trouble and hadn’t come here to have his future read – though the combination of the dragon, the lovers and death was still plaguing my mind. Except that this raised a more dangerous question - what did he want with me?

 

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