Unlike Kalina, who as a knyginya was bound to dress in a certain manner, Beloslava was free to choose simple clothing. One that made her almost invisible, which was exactly what she wanted. The less she was in the was in people's eyes, the easier was to avoid Albena. She didn't like her being around Kalina, she didn't like her being around, she didn't like her for being a witch...even if she was a whole different person from the one she was, it was highly unlikely she'd be approved of. She knew she was different, different by most people's standards that were, most of them were weird by her own, as well. Yet this feeling of alienness was new, unfamiliar and troubling. She could share this with Kalina, right?
After the trip to Zmeykovo and the reveal of their kin, things between them weren't the same as they were before. It was the first time they ever doubted each other. It wasn't like she knew or wanted the tzarica of the samodivi for a grandmother! Knowing how old her mother and aunt were, she just assumed she had died a long time ago and never cared to question of her. Kalina had enough royal relatives already, it was only fair if she had one too...All these thoughts prevented her from interacting with the beautiful surroundings they were passing by.
"I want to visit mother and father!" Had Kalina proclaimed suddenly the day prior. And though seemingly reluctant to agree, her elder sister had it arranged for them to go. Why did she have to go, as well? The two guards? For protection. Blogovest? He also wanted to pay respect! Albena's husband? To keep an eye on her? Oh, right, she was the only one who could use murtva and zhiva water on Kalina.
But being in the open, outside, with nature once more, was better. The slight early autumn wind had a few pieces of hair fall out from her braids, and the more she was trying to fix it, the worse it was getting, so in the end, she just let it be. She was used to riding on a horse, but not being the one pulling the briddles...The sudden stop of their party caught her off guard and she barely managed to keep her balance. Then, Beloslava raised her eyes above to see they reached their destination - Strazhica!
Strazhica, or Strashishte, as the commoners had started referring to it, was the first and original home of the Petrosinovi, but three-hundred years ago, with the building of the current palace in Vulchekraishte, it's use had been reduced to that of a family tomb. A big part of the family were buried there and that combined with legends of some not so noble practices they had engaged in the early years of their reign had resulted in the ill fame of the place. Ghosts, talasumi, vengeful upiri were just a small part of the stories that had been spread. Still, it's position was of too much value to be completely abandoned. Build within a cave, high on top of a cliff, it gave off an intimidating and cold feeling, but also a good strategic defence had it needed to.
Kalina always felt there is something in this place, but was yet to put her finger on it. Like there were a thousand eyes watching her, hundreds of lips whispering a call...and numerous hands pulling her as if they would tear her apart. But she kept her composure. She had to! Falling down on the floor suddenly was one thing, but on these narrow, carved steps, would be not only painful but possibly deadly. They were here to visit the dead, anyway. No, that wasn't a thought she should be having! How would have Beloslava react? Laughed? Would have she scolded her? Or trow a clever remark? After the Zmeykovo events, she hadn't dared to connect with her or hear her thoughts, nor did they talk much, well not like they did before. She wanted to apologize, but what were the right words? "Sorry, that doubted you for adding your grandmother from me?". Ugh, no! Definitely no!
The way the tomb was build always seemed peculiar, not that she knew much of tombs building. Like it never ended, as if it knew that it always has to have a place for one more. In a thousand years, you would think they would have run out of.
The light of the torches allowed for the names and years to be read:
"Страхил Петросинов, княз Костиченски, свързан в брак с Румяна, както на земята, така и в Царството небесно! Управлявал справедливо над народа и предано пред царя си Маламир, ггето му беше зет от брака с кнагиня Хуба, царица Сънтолска. Възнесе се у Божието царство лето 994 от създаването на Сънтолското царство или 6482 от сътворението на света."
Blogovest ran his fingers across the names a few times while lowering his head to say a silent prayer. Out of these people mentioned he was the only one who was still alive. Why?
Right next to the resting place of her grandparents, the newest "contribution" to the collection stood that of her parents. In the same grey stone, carved with golden lining were words of praise, written to deceive that the creator actually cared.
"На туй място са положени пречеститите княз Светлин и княгиня Бисера, управлявали Костица в мъдрост, доброта и справедливост, но най - вече с любов към народеца. Бисера, най - красивата измежду земните жени краси престола на Бог, седейки до престола му редом с най - праведния сред земните мъже, Светлин от лето 1002 на Сънтолското царство во веки веков!" And they, how would have they reacted? A small crack had started to make it's way right in the middle of the text, just above the sitting next to God's throne part. Was God dissaproving of the fact that whoever wrote this didn't knew by which side the most rightgoss stood? Once they got home, she'd speak with Albena over chandging it to something else. Something simple, they would have liked that, right? She wish she knew more of them, that they had more time. To know for sure the words she spoke to them reached them! Would have they liked Beloslava? Would have they approved of their friendship and posestrimstvo? After hearing the story Bisera's life before being a knyaginya, she knew they would have. Sometimes, though faintly, she felt as if someone was giving her a kiss on the forehead, or a stroak on the head. And in those moments she knew, they were with her! Regardless of her being a witch or a knyaginya. But would they support her if she choses one over the other, or decided that she wants to be both, regardless?
Meanwhile, Bela, stood behind, at a reasonable distance. Never been to a church, raised by a mother, who even if not been born a witch, would be just so religionless, she had no choice to repeat the gestures of others and pray to either not commit a mistake, or no one noticing the ones she surely did. But, strangely, she didn't dislike being in it. The one in Vulcheraishte was comforting and welcoming, even to her. And the act of praying gave her time to dive deep to the back of her mind and aks herself of things she'd never usually do. Did others speak their deepest thoughts in those moments? Were the two guards - Mico and Zapryan, doing that too? Unknowing to Beloslava, due to her naivety and unfamiliarity with the world, the two guards were thinking of the alcohol they were going to share with each other once they go back. Fine red wine, they had snatched from one kitchen maid and some homemade rakia, Zapryan, native to Vulchekraishte had taken from his weekly visit to his parents home. The tenth of twelve children, he, with the exception of his four married sisters and two elder monks brothers, was the only one living with his parents. And the only one who visited them.
The days being shorter was more and more visible already and they had to hurry up if they did not want to spend the night at Stazhica. The red and orange sky could make even this place beautiful for a while. But that also meant they'd be home when long after the sun had set down. And they had to cross that bridge. So he'll surely see whoever was committing those attacks, but at the same time, he couldn't place Kalina, Beloslava or Blagovest in danger. Svilen shook his head and came back to his senses - three against one in the best way possible. They could make it work. He was armed, Mico and Zapryan were skilled and had proven their loyalty more than enough times for him to doubt them now. But the feeling of something unsettled wasn't going away, in fact, the closer they were getting, the stronger it became. And it wasn't only him that felt that.
"Do you feel uneasy, too? Like there is something you should be keeping your guard up for?" The sound of Kalina's voice between her ears took Bela by surprise at first, but none the less she answered, with not a hint of hesitation.
"Something, or someone!" The last rays of the sun, gave a somewhat metal hue to her blonde hair, complimenting the always present one in Kalina's.
Soon the rulers of the forest by night started making their presence known - a bird cry or some movement in the bushes had them alarmed at all time, though they were nothing unnatural. A female singing, that sounded more like crying, however, was not. And the closer they were getting to the bridge, the louder it became. And when the last horse stepped on it, Svilen knew who, no, what was attacking people.
A figure, resembling a woman, with an unclean, shabby riza and messy, tangled hair, stood by the edge, weeping and howling. They must not provoke it at all costs! If it didn't attack them when they started crossing it would leave them alone once they get off of it. At least he hoped to. But they could never know, as it suddenly snatched Zapryan off his horse and started strangling him. Mico, who was right next to it tried to slay it down with his sword, but it broke the moment it touched the being. Blagovest, despite his old age, was as swift as all three of them and with a sword, he was carrying unknowingly to the others, proceeded to attack as well. Thankfully, this time it did not break, still, it did nothing but to shift the attention onto himself. Svilen rushed by his side, in an attempt tho shield both girls. Kalina, who had gotten off Vihur, however, not only bravely grabbed its hand but punched it as well, to the surprise of everyone, but Mico, who was too busy, placing the unconscious Zapryan back on his horse and giving it instructions to cross the bridge. The creature let out an ugly scream, piercing their ears, reducing their balance. Yet, the young knyaz was quick to react and backed by Mico, attempted to break Kalina and the being, and not to fall in its grip in her place.
Bela was the only one who wasn't doing anything. Yet.
"Everyone, cross to the other side! I have an idea!" No need to tell anyone that, but Kalina and that thing were still holding to each other. Another punch and she was free of its grab, but with a very bruised wrist. The moment, Bela saw all three back on the horses, she simply, almost unnoticeably waved her hand with the river's flow direction and created a wave big enough to flood the bridge, washing the being away in the water. It wasn't anything big and she wasn't sure how much time she had won them, but it was better than nothing.
Maybe spending the night at Stazhica wasn't a bad idea after all, but at least now Svilen knew who was attacking people. The new question was - what was it and how does he stop it?
Hey, Springmaid here! Would you be afraid to cross a bridge in the dark?
As usual, explanations will be here and in the comment section : ).
To start with the images - the Beloslava's portrait was made using Azalea's Elven portrait creator - https://www.azaleasdolls.com/dressupgames/elven-portrait.php
The castle is Predjama castle in Slovenia. I remember seeing an image of it and thinking "Wow, this fits Strazhica, almost perfectly!". It has a very interesting history and I recommend you check it out.
"Strazhica" comes from "strazha" in Bulgarian, which means guard, hence it means a place that guards.
"Strashishte" comes from "strashen", which means scary, hence - a place that is scary.
The text in Cyrillic had to in Glagolitic, but my convertor decided not to work :).
The first one: "Strahil Petrosinov, knyaz of Kostica, married to Rumyana, both on earth and in God's kingdom! Ruled fairly upon his people and was loyal to his tzar, Malamir, who was his brother in law due to his marriage to knyaginya Huba, tzarica of Suntolia. Descended to God in the year of 994 of the creation of the Suntolian tzarstvo, or 6482 since this world's creation."
Yes, Suntolia has two calendars - one that was established with the year of the creation of the state and another that was used prior to that by some of the tribes. The second calendar is based on the Protobulgarian calendar.
The second one: "At this place are laid to rest the most noble knyaz Svetlin and knyaginya Bisera, who ruled over Kostica in wisdom, kindness and justice, but above all else, love for their people. Bisera, the most fair among the earthly women is now gracing God's side, sitting along the most rightgess among the earthly men, Svetlin, since year 1002 of the Suntolian tzarstvo till the end of all days!"
Young knyaginya Kalina Petrosinova grows up between two worlds - that of court life and the responsibilities that come with titles and that of magic, where she learns how to be a proper witch while bearing the weight of her powers. The older she gets the more she realises how hard it is to survive the clashes of them both. And having an older brother, reigning over the whole realm as a tzar, one sister ruling over the family province and another proclaimed for the most beautiful woman in the land doesn't help either.
And what's a good story without a family curse, a few loyal friends and an ancestral spirit who just can't get off her case... Which path leading to her destiny will she choose?