After taking my time changing into dry clothes, I select some yellow thread and return to the parlor. I slip into my rocking chair, thankful that I do not catch Tatanda’s attention. He hates it when his children or I disturb his conversation with guests.
I missed the first part of Saviayr’s interrogation. Now Tatanda asks, “What precisely is your task in the employ of the royals?”
I loop a crochet hook through the yellow thread. The first stitch is hard to make, not because of inexperience. I have crocheted for long enough that even making lace will not encroach on my listening. The difficulty comes from what I am making: Maylani’s bridal shawl. I don’t want to do this. But there is no one else to make it for her. Since her mother is dead, the task falls to me. Straightening my shoulders, I pull thread through the loop, completing the first stitch.
“I am a specialist for the royal Yrin,” Saviayr answers. He works for an Izyphorn royal? How did the son of two slave laborers become attached to such a powerful man? “Usually I provide him with historical information concerning Maraiah and the nations she has encountered. He considers me as a sort of personal historian.” Saviayr squirms slightly. “I also work as a mediator between him and the Maraian elders.”
Tatanda crosses his arms and leans back. “And how well are you compensated for your knowledge and skills?”
“Well enough to buy freedom for myself and my parents after two years of working for him,” Saviayr answers. “And I should be able to buy my sister’s freedom in a couple months.” He had no sister when I left. Did Nihae and Elesekk adopt another child from the river?
Then I understand: He must be talking about my little sister Yorchan. My parents adopted her after they had to give me away. Yorchan was hesitant to trust me when I first returned on my tenth birthday. That changed when she became ill and I fed her my portion of our meager rations. We were inseparable after that. When our parents died, Saviyar’s parents took both of us in. Longing to see my sister makes my throat tight.
“And what will you do with this money once that happens?”
None of us hear his answer. A breeze wafts through the open window. My lungs expand, and my eyes fly wide open. “A storm is coming,” I blurt out.
Everyone turns to stare at me. My adopted cousins are shocked at my outburst, but not Saviayr, Nihae, and Elesekk. Elesekk hunches forward and frowns. “A battle?” he asks. They remember about the kaites.
I do not answer. It has been three years since I last felt this shift in the air, this charge in the breeze. My crocheting falls to the floor. My legs carry me over to the window as the room dims.
A minute ago, the sky was cloudless, with the heavy sun burning the ground red. Now, dark thunderheads roll toward each other. Lightning splits the sky. A boom echoes off the three hills of Ira. In the flash of light, I see shapes in the clouds, dark and light shapes like animals constantly shifting forms.
This is a battle of the kaites.
Fear electrifies me. In the ten years I lived with the kaites, I witnessed dozens of battles between them and the aivenkaites, their wicked brethren. We humans are completely incapable of defending ourselves from aivenkaites.
There’s a high chance that we are about to die.
I sense a presence beside me and glance up at Savi’s concerned face. “Is it the worst? A battle?” he asks. His fingers graze my elbow.
The clouds explode. Shrieks and booms fill the air. A freezing wind surges through the window, and my sight goes dark. Something throws me backwards. My head smacks a sharp corner. Warmth drips down my forehead. Glass shatters nearby. Voices that make my bones freeze fill the air with evil words I cannot understand.
My heart cries one word: “Aia!”
Then warmth washes over me. I hear new voices in the wind, but these I understand. They speak the language of the kaites. “Begone, wicked rebels! You trespass here. How dare you come against Aia’s chosen leaders? Raiballeon and Saviayr are ours!”
A screech so loud it drowns out the words splits the air, and the darkness is gone. I am thrown forward, into someone’s arms. The pain leaves my head. Warmth returns to the air and to my soul. My vision returns. With it comes the sight of the damaged room, my family and our guests sitting dazed on the floor, and Saviayr, whose arms hold me steady.
His face is white. He reaches up to touch my forehead. “You were bleeding,” he says, “but now your wound’s healed.”
Of course. A breath catches in my throat. My kaites would make sure I was okay before they left.
The others slowly stand up, shaken. Maylani yells over the din that continues outside the house, “I’m going to get my harp!” The people of Ira have a superstition that music calms the spirits of storms.
Saviayr leads me to the couch. “May I have some water?” he asks.
“Raiba, you’re hurt!” Pitka squeals. She claps her hands over her mouth and starts to cry. Only Nihae moves to comfort her.
“Shh, Pipit.” I reach for her. She tucks herself into my side and squeezes me. “I’m fine. It’s healed,” I whisper in her ear.
Anik inspects the shards of a pot the aivenkaites knocked over. “What could have angered the spirits so?” he wonders, nudging the ceramic fragments with the toe of his sandal.
“Anik, get some water for Raiba,” Tatanda demands. Anik rocks forward off his heels and dashes out of the room. He and Maylani return together, Maylani clutching her harp and Anik balancing a bowl of sloshing water. Anik manages to hand the bowl to Saviayr before he trips over the rocking chair on his way back to the corner.
While Saviayr pulls out a handkerchief and starts wiping the dried blood from my forehead, Maylani perches on the edge of a chair and plucks the strings of her harp. I don’t know if the music actually does anything to influence the spirits outside the house, but it calms Pitka.
“What just happened?” Tatanda asks, now that everyone is back in the room. He plants his fists on his waist and scowls.
“That, I believe, was a battle of the kaites and aivenkaites,” Elesekk answers. He and Nihae have not stirred except to return to their seats. They look more peaceful than anyone else in the room. “Am I right, Raiballeon?”
All eyes turn to me. Heat rushes to my face, and Saviayr pauses his nursing. “Yes,” I try to say, but nothing comes out. I clear my throat and try again. “Yes. It was.”
“Will someone explain to me what that means?” Tatanda throws his hands in the air.
Maylani offers, “Saviayr knows the stories.”
He shakes his head and nods at me. “I learned them from her.”
Pitka looks up at me, excitement replacing the tears in her eyes. “Storytime with Raiba!” she sings.
I have no other option. Anyways, isn’t telling our history exactly what I am supposed to do with my life? “A long time ago,” I begin, “before there were humans or even before Orrock, the Creator made the Thaliel, beings entirely consisting of spiritual substance. The Thaliel dwelt in the sky and sang and danced for Aia. You know this; it’s in the Saga of Dawn.”
Tatanda and my cousins nod. Ira’s creation story, the Saga of Dawn, is close to the truth; they just are missing parts and have different names for many of the key figures.
I continue the story. “Aia–the Creator–made Orrock as a gift for the chief of the Thaliel, who was named Roeindree–that’s your Ronder.
“But Roeindree grew prideful and coveted the worship given to Aia. He plotted and led some of the Thaliel in rebellion. As punishment, Aia stripped them of much of their power and trapped them on Orrock. The planet that was once their gift became their prison. Roeindree was renamed Aivenah, ‘the evil one.’”
Tatanda interrupts. “Is this going anywhere?”
Saviayr gives him a strange look. “She is telling you everything you need to know,” he replies. “Go on, Rai.”
Hearing my old nickname from him makes my heart jump. I feel miserable. I look at Maylani to see if she noticed, but she is preoccupied with her harp.
Tatanda did not like Saviayr’s response. He resents people who correct or rebuke him. I can see a storm brewing inside of him, but I can do nothing to moderate or diminish it, so I follow Savi’s suggestion. “Then Aia made humans. It’s a long story, but some bad things happened, and eventually the faithful Thaliel gathered and presented requests to Aia. Some wanted to stay in the sky as lights to guide humans. Their dance gives us direction, and they are singing a song calling us to return to faithfulness to Aia.”
“They’re stars, right?” Pitka chimes in.
I nod. “Yes. The rest of the Thaliel came to dwell on Orrock, to protect humans. They are the kaites. They can reside in plants, water, or wind to take on physical form, and when Aivenah and his rebels attack humans, kaites try to defeat them. Aivenah’s followers are called aivenkaites.
“So this is what just happened: The kaites noticed a large gathering of aivenkaites here. The storm gathering was the physical display of the spiritual realm. Then the aivenkaites attacked our house, injured me, and would probably have done more, but the kaites stepped in. They were the second wind, the warmer one, and they said…” Uncertainty grips me. How much should I tell them?
“What did they say?” Saviayr whispers.
I swallow. I will tell them everything. “They said, ‘Begone, wicked rebels. You trespass here. How dare you come against Aia’s chosen leaders? Raiballeon and Saviayr are ours.’”
Throughout my tale, I’ve seen Tatanda grow more uncomfortable. My story is a reasonable explanation of what happened, but it contradicts Ira’s beliefs that Ronder can be benevolent and the Creator was consumed by the spirits it created. “That is preposterous.” Tatanda laughs. “Outrageous. Why would the spirits be interested in quiet little Raiba? You are out of your wits.”
“Father,” Anik protests, coming to my defense.
“No, son. Raiba, you are dismissed. Come back when you have remembered yourself.” Tatanda points at the door.
Tears sting my eyes. I drop my head and scoop up my crocheting in one arm. When I pass Nihae, she lays her soft hand on my back, a simple, silent gesture of love.
I cannot face people right now; I need to be alone. Too much is happening. I only pause to deposit my thread on a table before I rush out of the house.
Outside, my sandals kick up small flecks of mud from the recent downpour. Pebbles from the dirt road roll between my feet and leather soles, and mud makes my sandals squelch with each step. I ignore the discomfort, gather my skirt in one hand, and pick up my pace, jogging downhill.
I have a secret cove along the coast. It is on Tatanda’s property, but no one ever goes there. I turn aside from the path at a little fork that can only be seen if one is looking for it. It leads down a steep incline to a secluded little strip of beach. One lone tree grows there, sheltered by cliffs from the constant Iranine wind.
Panting, I drop down at the foot of the tree. The storm has mostly dissipated, and what remains is out over the ocean. Clumps of dark clouds roll into each other with lightning and booms. Beneath, the sea rolls with white spray. I lean against the tree to watch the remnants of the battle, but the trunk shifts slightly. I still, every nerve alert. The water lapping at the sand by my feet dances more than the water further along the coast. The breeze stirs up tiny whirlwinds of sand; elsewhere is calm. My one lone tree’s roots and branches quiver, like it is more alive than normal. “Taikah? Faialine? Airie?” I ask the water, tree, and air, calling the names of the kaites who raised me.
A rogue wave wets my feet, cleaning them from the mud of the path. A couple of leaves rain down into my lap. The breeze wraps around my face like an embrace.
It is them! My heart races. For the first time since I turned ten, I am in the presence of my real aunts and uncle. They will not appear in full bodily form. They warned me that I will never actually see them again. Still, they are close. Close enough for me to confide in them.
“My aunts and uncle,” I say, pressing my back to the tree and straining my toes to touch the water, desperate for any physical touch with them. “I need you right now. I dishonored Uncle Tatanda. I angered him enough for him to dismiss me from his presence. Father Aia, forgive me.” Tears drip from my eyes. “I wish I could please him. He has done so much for me. Please help me make him happy.”
Calm spreads over my mind. My kaites are speaking peace to me, though I cannot consciously hear their words.
“Something else happened today. Do you remember Saviayr, from when I lived with the Maraians? Of course you do. Who could forget Saviayr? Anyway, he’s here. Savi is here, after three years. Can you believe that? Oh! It feels like a lifetime.
“But it’s wrong. It is so wrong. We should be married. We promised. But then I witnessed a murder and had to flee. I came here, and Tatanda adopted me as his niece. So I’ve lived here, broken and alone, mourning losing him and you forever.
“Then Mayli, my cousin, went to the mainland, and she comes back engaged to my Savi! Only he’s not mine anymore. He hasn’t been since I ran, has he? But you fought the battle here, and the enemy tore him and me apart, but you pushed us back together. I’m so confused.”
My body shakes, I am crying so hard. I barely manage to keep whispering.
“It hurts. A part of me is mortally wounded every time I see him and her together. I’m despicably jealous of my cousin. It could be, it should be me. If only I had accepted the invitation to go with her to the mainland! If only I could know if our slave master is still alive. But my heart will break.” The pain is too much. I lean forward, curling into a ball. “I will be alone forever. I’ll always love—”
A sob catches in my throat. I was going to say, “love my Savi from afar,” but the words that almost came out were, “love my cousin’s husband.” I know my kaites put the thought in my head.
“You are right,” I choke out. “He is not mine, he is hers. This is wrong. I cannot love another woman’s husband like this.” Father, please help me!
How ought I to feel? What is the right way to respond to this, the way that is harmonious with Aia’s will? Thaies, I want to honor You, but I don’t know how right now. Should I weep? Should I be silent? Should I mourn? Should I rejoice? Should I push away any pain and ignore it? Will You cut this love out of me as surgeons cut out infected organs—or will You gently wash it away?
Because I am as certain as I am about anything in this life, besides Aia, that it is wrong to love another woman’s husband; and he’ll soon be her husband. I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know. I only know I need You.
Tears stream down my face, leaving their sticky trails behind. “I need You,” I whisper.
My throat is swollen and aching. It feels like a steady trickle of salt water is flowing from my heart, which is tender like new skin after a blister pops too early, flowing from my heart into a pool somewhere that contains my past, my past that haunts me. My body is not heavy, but I have no strength to move.
I let myself think of him, picture his perfect face. Eight years. Nearly half of my life I loved Savi. I bite my lip.
On my birthday, too. Now I shall always remember the day.
Silent sobs shake me. With self-discipline, which seems to have been given me in more than the ordinary amount since I first saw him and his parents, I manage to shut back the tears that want to fall and to choke down the sobs that threaten to suffocate me. My mind drifts into lethargy.
Hours pass. No one comes looking for me, but it does not matter. I do not move or think.
Finally, I drift into a numb sleep. Somewhere, life goes on.
Let me know what you think! Chapter 4’s coming next week 🙂