For days, they languished, catching what vermin they could between the barely edible meals and tepid water.
Whole days passed in silence, sleep, and more silence.
The new prisoner, no longer new, began to lose weight and weaken.
Kahi’s brother was somehow holding on; the swelling on his face was down, and his voice was stronger, but still husky.
To count the days, the prisoner broke pieces of dirty straw and stuffed them in a crevice that let in air between the stones.
“What purpose does that serve?” Spirit asked.
“It gives me hope.”
The well-worn, raspy laugh followed that, though the man behind it still kept to the shadows, even during the day, as if he could no longer tolerate even the shades of light that warmed his seemingly sightless eyes.
The new prisoner wondered if he was in fact blind already, or going blind; he’d pushed his face into the last patch of light as if he were a traveling player hitting his mark. He would’ve asked, but the thought of Spirit being able to see him anyway, while blind, would’ve disturbed him more.
He chuckled inwardly at his flight of fancy, and dismissed it; there were bigger things at stake.
“You said I would see her.”
“She knows you are here, and she is in no hurry. After you do, you may wish that you had not, so don’t be too eager, my friend.”
“You believe she has powers?”
“But you believe she’s mad.”
“I believe her ‘ritual,’ as you so delicately phrased it, has made her so.”
“Before she sends for me, tell me what happened between you.”
Spirit shifted like a lump of coal settling into the flames to burn, little more than a brighter shadow in the fading persimmon light of sunset as it came through the thick bars of their only window.
More silence ensued as the shadows lengthened.
A guard brought the jug of tepid water they used for drinking and whatever else, though nothing seemed to get rid of the smells.
The prisoner waited; sometimes Spirit answered, sometimes he didn’t.
“You won’t be able to stop her.”
“Just because you couldn’t, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
“If you would go to your death so willfully, so foolishly, your blood will not be on my hands.
“Absolve me of the curse of spirit blood, and I will tell my tale.”
“If I die, my blood will not be on your hands, and my eternal spirit shall leave you in peace.”
“Pass me the jug.”
The prisoner passed it, and Spirit drank, but didn’t put the jug to his lips; neither of them did, for their faces were foul and rank as well as their bodies, and the water, though tepid, was at least clean.
Spirit sighed and shifted again as the prisoner set the jug aside.
“It may be, my friend, that you will succeed where I’ve failed, but her power’s increased, as well as the men at her beck and call; getting close to her will be harder.
“Even so, listen carefully; you may see a weakness where I saw none.
I was on a voyage to secure a trade route, and deal treacherously with the ruler of an island nation along the way that had harried both our ships, demanding tribute from a share of the profits since we sailed in his waters.
Kahi begged to go, since she hardly got away from the palace grounds, and I relented, deciding to enjoy her company, since we seldom saw each other within its walls.
As it turns out, it was I who secured the trade route, and Kahi who dealt with the island chief.
I left them alone to ‘negotiate,’ so to speak; it was no contest, and he was no match for her.
She cut him open at the moment of his release, blood splattered, and she got some, she told me later, on her lips.
Next to his bed was a golden chalice, a gift from the other ruler with whom we traded, and whether or not it was full, or what it was full of, I can’t say, but when I came into the room, she’d placed it to her lips, and some of it ran from the corner of her mouth.
It was his blood, dark and pungent, the scent permeating the room.
Seeing me, she lowered the chalice, licked blood off her lips, and put her finger in back into the gold cup, stirring it, her stare gathering a dark power I felt like heat shimmering on my skin, as if I were a sunning reptile.
She put her red finger to her red lips in a ‘be quiet’ gesture.
I could see the island chief’s spirit raging at her, gesturing, but whether or not she heard him, or cared if she did, she gave no outward sign that he was there.
. It tried, vainly, to re-enter its body, but she’d butchered it beyond healing.
I backed out of the room, and it seemed her stare now had heaviness to it; she was hypnotizing me, and shaking my head to break her gaze, I turned and quickly hurried to the ship to make ready for the journey home.
But I was too overwhelmed by what I’d seen, and the first mate, seeing I wasn’t well, told me to go below; he would see us safely off for home.
Grateful, I went below, and Kahi, going into her own cabin, turned and smiled before she closed the door.
I locked mine, and put a weighted trunk in front of it.
From the other side of the wall, I could hear her soft laughter, and I knew it was at my expense.
When we got back, we never spoke of what happened.
A month later, she raided her first village.
“She’s all I have.”
“No. The succession fell to me, but she usurped me with the help of those she enthralled.”
“The surrounding villages, any allies?”
“They’ve heard whispers and rumors, but none has come to see, much less help; her…purges…are thorough.”
“So no survivors, no avenging families.”
“Then before we get much weaker, we have to stop her.”
“And how do we do that from here?”
“When she sends for me, I will act.”
“You speak of killing?”
“From what you say, is there another choice?”
“I told you, she’s my only family.”
The prisoner sat back, and made a sweeping gesture with his arm.
“That’s where you’re wrong, friend. Look around you.”
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015