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   Chapter 7 In the small hours of the morning

The Curse of Kalaan By Linda Saint Jalmes Characters: 18946

Updated: 2018-05-18 10:16

"Get the men on the yawls and lead them to the levee!" Kalaan shouted orders to Lil' Louis in his baritone voice. "We will meet later at the longhouse to get organized."

"Ya!" shouted back the chief mate who then turned to join the rest of the crew.

Kalaan closed his eyes and took deep breaths of the salty air. He was almost euphorically happy to be back on Croz, especially as he'd arrived home in a man's body and not that of a female. He tried as hard as he could to get accustomed to his female version, but to no avail. He was constantly fighting the thing he became at dawn.

That was the other reason for which he had braved the incredible storm, to win his race against time and bring his ship to port safely, in the skin of the Count of Croz. He defied Poseidon, danced on the waves and triumphed over the elements. Nothing and no one could have stopped him.

If he had been forced to go ashore as a female, it would have been such a dishonor. God only knows what would have happened then, for the idea of putting an end to his days was a little too present in his mind these past few weeks.

But now his men were in the yawls on their way to safe shelter behind the port ramparts and they would soon be joining their families, Kalaan started to regain his self-confidence. At nightfall he would go with Salam and Lil' Louis to find the guardian of the stones. The old druid would help him, of that he was certain.

"We are not going with them?" Salam looked worried, with his clothes soaking wet and his heavy pack sliding off his shoulder.

"No, we are taking the dinghy, " Kalaan told him, using his oil lamp to show him the small skiff well below them, pitching wildly on the water and banging against the ship's hull.

"Never!" Salam's accent was even stronger when he was offended.

Kalaan threw his head back and laughed heartily. His hair was dripping wet, and he licked his lips to savor the salty sea spray.

"I don't have the time to persuade you, but we will gain precious time with the dinghy. I could take a short cut by the ramparts and be home before sunrise. So, are you coming with me, or are you swimming?"

At this point Kalaan turned out the lamp, put it on the bridge and slid down the long rope to land in the dinghy. At least that is what Salam imagined, for he could not see a thing! He did not know how to swim, but was not going let a little salt water stop him, so he felt around in the dark for the rope and followed Kalaan, sighing in relief when he felt the wood of the little boat under his feet. He sat down and firmly gripped the gunwale1. He was surprised to see that it was no longer pitch black and that in the early signs of dawn he could make out shapes and forms, such as his friend's imposing silhouette.

Kalaan was amused by his discomfort and stood laughing after picking up an oar. This devil of a man was fearless… except, of course, where women were concerned. That thought alone helped Salam to relax, and he began to laugh with Kalaan, who was far from imagining what the Tuareg was laughing at. The irony of the situation put Salam in an even better mood.

With his hair flying in the wind and his long coat flapping behind him, Kalaan sculled2 powerfully away from the frigate. Suddenly, something in the opposite direction caught his attention.

"What do you see?" Salam shouted, pestered by the gusts of wind and heavy rain. He knew his friend was endowed with excellent night vision.

"The last yawl with Lil' Louis and the other men has just reached the levee. There are a lot of people there to greet them, for which I am happy."

Indeed, in the far lights of torches and oil lamps, they could make out the forms of many people moving on the embankment. The sailors were reunited with their wives and children after long months of separation and in the coming days, their return would be joyfully celebrated. Kalaan pushed away any sad thoughts when he realized no one was there to greet him. After all, it was his decision and given the circumstances it was a thousand fold better having his mother and sister in Paris.

They arrived quickly at the bottom of some very steep stone stairs that went up along a very high wall. Kalaan docked the dinghy, tying the docking rope with a mariner's knot and began climbing the slippery steps four by four. He seemed to forget Salam behind him. The Tuareg was severely hindered by his long dripping robes and heavy pack. He could not move nearly as easily as Kalaan and swore in a most undignified manner when he faltered on the last landing. He would have fallen backwards had Kalaan not caught him in his strong grip.

"Follow in my steps, brother, " he advised, as he stepped onto stone and dirt path.

Salam tried to do just that, muttering and swearing every time he stumbled. The desert sand was far less treacherous, even if your feet sank into it at each step. And in Egypt, it was much warmer; rain was a rare treasure, whereas here, the rain froze you to the bone and water became your enemy!

The two men walked quickly despite the steep ascent, which brought them to the heights of the isle. They soon found themselves on a strip of land dimly lit by the light coming from the windows of a long stone house.

Kalaan strode onto the courtyard cobblestones and pushed the heavy entrance door open letting Salam enter first. There was a good strong fire going in the hearth of what was obviously someone's home and they quivered with pleasure at the warmth of the place.

A young boy of about twelve jumped up from a bench at the table and ran towards Kalaan grinning.

"Oy've kept the house well cap'n!" he shouted pr

weren't already red with anger at her brother she would have blushed.

"The butterball is here?" Kalaan sounded quite displeased. "And why not the King of France while you're at it? That child is so clingy, and a walking catastrophe! She set fire to the papyrus collection my father gave me. Her father Josephe can take her back to Paris and…"

"Josephe de Macy is dead, " Amélie said curtly. "He left this world over a year ago, the week following your departure to be exact. As for the fire, well, my son you must realize the child was only five at the time and you were fourteen! You can't hold the incident against her forever."

"Yet another letter you didn't receive, I suppose." Isabelle was more than displeased. "And if I hear you call Ginny 'the butterball' one more time, I will cut out your tongue!"

Kalaan sighed with fatigue and tried to control his shaking. Amélie noticed the tremors and stepped towards him with worry.

"You are ill, my son!"

Kalaan raised a trembling hand to stop her. "Mother, please, take Isabelle and your guest, and leave. I beg you. If you love me, you will do as I ask!"

Amélie shed a tear, and Isabelle began to share her mother's worry.

"Is it serious?" Isabelle asked quietly, her voice almost a whisper.

"Yes and no." Kalaan gripped the edge of the table as he replied. His legs were beginning to feel weak from the pain.

"We will find a doctor; he will take care of you and…"

"No doctor can help me."

Amélie and Isabelle whimpered in terror as tears ran down their cheeks.

"Are you... going to... die?" Isabelle could barely speak.

Zounds! Now Kalaan was terrorizing the two women in his life. This saddened him so much; it was absolutely unbearable. But how could he tell them the truth?

"He will not die, " Salam calmly said, the sound of his voice startling everyone.

"Salam!" Kalaan warned, giving him a dark look, which the Tuareg grandly ignored.

"He will become a woman as soon as the day breaks."

Amélie and Isabelle were dumbstruck at first, but then began laughing nervously. Kalaan, standing near the fireplace, weakly wiped his face and eyed the whisky bottle. He would have liked to get as drunk as the dickens right now.

"What form of insanity is this?" It was beyond Amélie's comprehension.

"'Tis not insanity Madame, " replied Salam, "but a curse."

"A… what?" Isabelle gasped, trying to catch her brother's eye.

"You heard perfectly well, my sister. I am not ill, I am not going to die; but I am cursed. You will understand everything soon enough, as you are incapable of obeying my order to leave!"

Salam walked around the women to go stand at the window.

"It is time, my brother."

As if Kalaan didn't already know! The transformation had already begun and the radiating pain made it difficult to breathe.

"One last time... I beg you… leave." He could hardly get the words out, without moaning in pain.

"No!" Amélie and Isabelle replied together, more determined than ever to help Kalaan.

"Well as you wish...but please, for God's grace, do not scream when it is finished."

Slowly and insidiously, night gave way to day. It was a cold gloomy day and the sky was heavy with clouds. In a few minutes, Kalaan transformed before the eyes of the two horrified ladies.

Where once there was a man, a woman now stood; and both Amélie and Isabelle disobeyed Kalaan once more. They screamed at the top of their lungs. Good God! Their screams could probably be heard on the other side of the Earth!

Kalaan, who was slowly getting his strength back shook his head mockingly and said in lovely crystalline voice, "How utterly perfect! The small hours of the morning with my family."

At the sound of his new voice, the screams got even louder.

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