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“Child,” a voice wafts through the heavy fog darkening my mind with sleep. I want to ignore it, to succumb once more to the painless nothing of unconsciousness.
The voice repeats, louder now, “Child!” This time, shaking accompanies it.
I want to curse whoever is so rudely waking me. Consciousness brings the return of pain in my chest, returns my mind to the knowledge that I must give Savi up once and for all.
With a deep frown, I peek through slit eyes. The sun, setting over the ocean to the west, is fully on my face and silhouettes my obnoxious assaulter.
“Are you well?” he asks, shifting slightly on his heels. His new position in relation to the sun gives me a glimpse of his features. His skin is dark, almost as dark as the ebony statues of the spirits the Iranines worship. In the light, his black hair glints with hints of red and orange. His lips are thin, his nose is strong, and his eyes—his eyes stop me. They are the color of aged mahogany, dull red-brown, and deeper than any eyes I have ever seen. Vast sums of knowledge lie behind those eyes. For someone who looks no older than his late twenties, his eyes have surprising depth.
“Are you well?” he repeats, in the Common Tongue this time, though I barely notice the switch from Iranine.
“Yes,” I grunt.
“Good. It appears you fell asleep here on the shore,” he informs me. “It’s fortunate that the tide has not come in.”
I push up from the sand and stifle a groan. My back and neck muscles ache from napping on the ground. Sand covers nearly every part of me. “It looks that way,” I mutter, brushing the sand from the side of my face. “Thank you for your concern.”
He doesn’t move away to an acceptable proximity. Instead, he stays kneeling just a little too close and considers me for a moment. Then he asks, “Who are you?” His eyes slip to the chain around my neck. I resist the urge to cover my chanavea with my hand. It should still be hidden under my vest.
“Raiballeon,” I answer. Who is he? I certainly do not recognize him, and I know all the people of Ira.
“Are you?” It’s less a question and more a statement of delight and satisfaction. “Do you really believe that?” he asks.
What kind of question is that? Muddled from sleep and, even more, sleep in such an unusual location at such an unusual time, I don’t know what to make of it. “Of course I believe it,” I answer. “That’s my name. Who are you?”
He gives me a wry smile. “I have been Lev for a while now.”
I accidentally translate “Lev,” which is a Maraian name, out loud. “Sorrow.” The poor man. What kind of parents name their child sorrow? But, of course, I do not have room to talk, I who my parents named “Mailoua,” meaning, “Unnamed, Without Blessing.”
“Yes?” he asks.
“Sorry, that’s a Maraian word. It means ‘sorrow,’” I explain.
He knits his eyebrows together at me, and I realize he was not asking what I had said, he was simply responding to his name in another language.
There is something familiar about him, but a quick search through my memory yields no one like him. Rather than puzzle it out, I decide to ignore the mystery. “Well, Lev, thank you for taking time to make sure I am well.” I draw myself slowly to my feet. “I should go now. My family is probably worried.”
I do not stay to hear his response. When I reach the path that leads back to Tatanda’s villa, I think I hear a voice speak the Maraian greeting and farewell, though it could be a trick of the wind: “Peace to you, Raiballeon.”
With hope, dinner has not begun yet. I creep into the house, listening for voices, and discover everyone is still in the parlor. Two new voices, those of Maylani’s best friends Nadina and Sandat, join the mix. I don’t want to go back to the parlor. Part of me yearns to see Saviayr, Nihae, and Elesekk again, to assure myself that this isn’t a dream. A bigger part of me dreads this being reality. Nothing could be more painful and awkward than having to pretend nothing is wrong while Maylani hangs on Saviayr, Tatanda asserts his authority, and Sandat makes ridiculous comments about my people.
Not yet ready to rejoin them, I return to my room to clean up. Tatanda’s final words reaffirm my decision: “Come back when you have remembered yourself.”
His order reminds me of the strange man on the beach. Do I really believe my name is Raiballeon? Of course I do. I am not Mailoua anymore.
By now, the water on my dresser is warm from absorbing the day’s heat. I splash my face, then wipe my arms to remove the sandy residue. A glance at the surface of the pewter pitcher confirms that my hair is straight. The humidity from the battle of the kaites, combined with laying on it during my nap, uncurled it. Not that it matters anymore. My cousins know I am Maraian, and soon the whole island will, too.
Maybe I am Mailoua still. I do not feel blessed right now. I almost think I am cursed. Is it a blessing to be exiled for witnessing a murder when I was fifteen? To lose my families twice? To finally reunite with Saviayr, only to have him belong to my cousin? To be a disgrace to my uncle?
I run my fingers through my hair, dislodging most of the sand, and tie it back in a loose ponytail at the nape of my neck. With my hair straight and my chanavea dangling over my heart, the only thing keeping me from looking completely Maraian is my clothing.
Still, I do not feel like Raiballeon, the Leader of a Revolt. The only person who would follow me, maybe, is Pitka, a six-year-old, and that is only because Anik and I are the only people who pay attention to her. I cannot lead a conversation, much less a revolt.
I suppose I have remembered myself, then. I am an orphan, an outcast, weak, and totally dependent upon Tatanda’s good will. A deep sigh leaves my lungs. Now I can return to my family’s company.
On the way to the parlor, the voices down the hall move toward the dining room, so I alter my course. They are just sitting down to eat on the bright cushions around the low wooden table. I slip through the door and stand against the wall with hands folded and head bowed. Tatanda sees me at once, but he ignores me until everyone is seated and ready to begin the meal. Their chatter peters off in expectation of his blessing over the meal. Instead, he stares straight at me, his dark brown eyes cold. “Raiballeon. Why have you come?”
I bow to him. “My kind Uncle, I have come to beg your forgiveness. I was proud and ungrateful. Forgive me for dishonoring you.” My voice quivers. I pinch myself. I cannot cry in front of everyone.
Silence stretches out.
Tatanda clears his throat. “You may join our meal,” he allows.
I glance up, but avoid eye contact with anyone. There is an open space between Pitka and Nadina. I drop onto the cushions as quietly as possible.
Tatanda raises his hands over the table and speaks the Iranine prayer. “Spirits, we invite you to partake of this bounty with us, and request your blessing on our house.”
The Iranines chorus, “Come,” as indication of their agreement, but the Maraians are silent. For the first time in three years, I stop pretending to agree. I don’t even mouth the word.
Then the meal begins, and I am once more in Tatanda’s good graces. As long as I keep my mouth shut and behave like a perfect Iranine daughter.
I retire shortly after supper, pleading fatigue. Two candles fill the room with a wavering glow. I’m staring out the window at the moonslight on the residential hill when the curtain rustles behind me. “Good, you’re still awake,” Maylani says. Her tone is still cheerful, but much more subdued than I’ve heard yet today.
“Is everything okay?”
“Of course, silly. I just wanted to talk with you. I haven’t gotten to say more than two words to you since I arrived home.” Maylani plops onto my bed. I join her. “So how are you?” she asks.
There’s no way I can answer her truthfully, not fully. I shrug. “I’ve had better days.”
She nods and pats my shoulder. “I’m sorry about Tatanda. He was worried about you, but the storm just…it was really, really strange. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
I have seen battles before, and still, this one was strange. “I know.”
“So will you be okay? He’s already forgiven you, at least.”
I manage a smile. “Yeah. I’ll be okay. What about you? How did Saviayr’s interview go?”
She looks down and plays with the quilting on my blanket. “Oh, well, Tatanda said yes. That’s what counts, right?”
Her evasive answer worries me. “Mayli. What happened?”
“Well,” she rubs the corner of her vest between her fingers and pauses. “It’s just…I don’t think Tatanda realizes how things actually are in Izyphor. We’ve always been so proud of our Izyphorn cousins, right, who are related to the sultan? But almost every actual Izyphorn can trace their family back to the sultan. So our cousins are nobles, but it’s not like that actually means much. To most people, they’re not really any better than the freed slaves employed by the royals.”
“Okay,” I agree slowly. She needs some encouragement to continue.
“It was different than I’d expected. And I don’t think we–our family, or even Ira–are as important as Tatanda thinks we are. It kind of seems like Izyphor’s honored our treaty not because of respect for our ancestors’ friendship, but just because they can’t be bothered by such a small people who pose no threat and can’t…”
“And can’t provide them many slaves?” I fill in.
She takes a deep breath and her shoulders relax. “Yeah. So, really, Saviayr isn’t beneath me. My cousins and everyone else agreed it’s a very good match. And he’s so nice, too. I like him. And it’s not like there are many options of men for me to marry here.” She glances at me. When I nod, she relaxes more. “It feels good to say that.”
We sit in companionable silence for a while. It’s nice, having her back. And she’s changed. I’ve never heard her talk so deeply about meaningful or political things, especially not voluntarily. I like the changes.
She nudges my foot with hers. “So how were things here?”
“I missed you,” I blurt out. Then I think through my answer more. “We all missed you. There was no one to distract Tatanda when he was stressed or upset. Anik was more clumsy than normal, and teased me relentlessly. Poor Pitka followed us around like a lost kitten.”
“I shouldn’t have gone.”
“No, of course it’s good that you went.” I shake my head. “It wasn’t bad.”
“Oooh, do tell. Did you fall in love with anyone?” she tease, poking my side.
I flinch away from her finger and laughed. “No, I didn’t. But Anik’s probably going to marry Amnis any day now.”
“Really?” she gasped. She bounced on the bed, clapping her hands. “That’s amazing! I can’t wait to tease him about it!”
Once I manage to talk her out of giving him too hard of a time, we settle with our backs against the wall. She leans her head on my shoulder. “So I’ve been dying to know, how did you know Saviayr?”
It feels surreal, talking about my past in this room with her, knowing that Saviayr, Nihae, and Elesekk are just a couple rooms away. “I met them when I was ten. He…he was my first friend, ever. We grew up together, until I…well, until I came here.”
“I can’t believe you never talked about him. There’s so much I don’t know about you, Raiba,” she reproaches.
I bite my lip. “Well,” I keep my voice as light as possible, “you didn’t ask.”
“I want to know.” A deep yawn interrupts her. Mayli ends it with a laugh. “Just maybe not tonight. I don’t recommend taking a night ferry from the mainland. It’s not very restful.”
“Go to sleep,” I nudge her off the bed.
She hugs me before she leaves. “Good-night, Raiba. I’ll see you in the morning!”
With that promise, she slips by the curtain and leaves me alone.