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A shooting star. My breath catches in my throat. “Yes,” my voice shakes as I rub Pitka’s back. “Very good. Now, why don’t you go and wash up real quick?” I suggest. “I’ll be in to tuck you in and sing you a lullaby in a moment.”
“Okay,” she agrees, giving me a quick hug with her tiny arms. “Good night, Saviayr.”
He is still standing on the walkway, his face in the shadows. “Good night, Pitka,” he replies. I have to guess his expression, but he sounds fond of her. Then I chastise myself. There are more pressing matters on hand than Savi’s opinion of my littlest cousin.
He moves to follow Pitka inside, but I stop him with a soft, “May I speak with you?”
He does not turn to look at me, but he pauses where he is, one foot on the bottom step up to the porch.
In a second, Pitka is out of earshot. “Savi,” I leave no room for nonsense in my voice, “I know you saw it.”
That at least makes him turn around to look at me. With the light from the house behind him, I still cannot see his face. Mine, I know, must be completely illuminated, but at the moment I do not care that I am in a decidedly more vulnerable position than he is in.
“You saw it,” I repeat. “An indree fell.”
“I know,” he finally speaks to me.
“What does it mean? What is happening?”
Saviayr shrugs and turns his face to the sky. “Wish I knew.”
An indree falling must mean something big is about to happen. If Aia sent a star, there is an important, urgent message.
The feeling that everything is about to change returns with a vengeance, but now I can’t shake the sense that this change will affect the whole world.
“Father,” I pray aloud, “please, tell us what is happening.”
There is a moment of silence, of listening. Saviayr breaks. “Have you heard anything from the kaites recently?”
I turn away from the house to hide my face. “You know I haven’t. Not since the day I met you. They said I never would again.” I inhale slowly. “Have you?”
He makes a noise that I interpret as a yes. I look back to him.
“Right after I met Maylani.” He sticks his hands in the waist-level pockets of his tunic. “A kaitairie. I thought she was telling me I should marry Maylani.”
“What exactly did she say?” Saviayr and I both start and turn toward the fence. The speaker steps into the light and leans with his dark hands rested on the fence. Lev. What is he doing here?
“I beg your pardon?” Saviayr responds, taking his hands out of his pockets. Savi adopts a loose defensive stance, as if expecting Lev to pose some danger and readying himself for the attack. Our encounter in the market today must have unsettled him.
“What were the kaite’s exact words?” Lev repeats, pretending that Saviayr’s response was a request for clarification and not a vocalization of surprise at his sudden appearance.
Saviayr moves forward to stand next to me. Now I can see the frown on his face. “Why should I tell you? We only met today.”
Lev laughs gently. “Ah, son, this is not about me. The wording of prophesies is important. Sometimes one can misinterpret and stray from Aia’s plan.”
“It’s okay,” I tell Saviayr, fighting my impulse to reassure him with a hand on his arm. “We can trust him.” Something in my spirit promises that Lev is good, even if I am increasingly uncertain if that is even his name.
Savi crosses his arms over his chest and his frown deepens, but he answers. “She said, ‘Peace to you, Saviayr son of your forefather Maraiah. Our Father has heard your cry.’”
“Is that it?” Lev prompts.
Saviayr shakes his head. “We had a conversation. I said, ‘I am His servant. What word do you have for me?’ Then she said, ‘You are His. He has chosen you for a great purpose, but you will not accomplish it alone. Through Maylani the Iranine you will find your counterpart, who will walk beside you to victory. Without her you will fail.’ So I asked if she meant Maylani was supposed to be my wife, and she said, ‘Only by friendship with her will you wed your beloved.’
“Oh.” Savi’s frown dissolves into a blank look. Understanding washes over both of us.
“She could have meant Maylani would be your wife,” I say slowly. “Or she could have meant Mayli would be a tool for you to meet your beloved.” I falter over the last word, as I realize the prophecy probably refers to me.
Lev watches us. Compassion clothes his face, but he chooses not to speak.
When Saviayr speaks, he uses the voice in which he speaks promises, but it is devoid of hope and sounds like his heart is tired. “No. I will not abandon Maylani. I am bound by my word to marry her, and I will go through with it.”
I don’t bring up that, long before Maylani, we were bound to each other by vows, too. I don’t need to say it. By his averted eyes, I know he is thinking the same thing.
Savi tries to divert our attention by asking Lev, “Why did you come here?” Gone is his earlier mistrust, leaving only a quietness about him.
Lev answers, “The shooting star.”
“Yes,” I remember. How could I have so easily forgotten such a momentous occurrence?
“Aia has heard His people’s cries,” Lev says. “He is ready to act with a mighty hand. It will not be long now. Raiballeon, do you believe your name?”
Frustration takes over. “What does that even mean?” I hold my hands out to him with bent elbows and palms upward, as if my gesture of being ready to receive could drag an answer from him.
Lev looks disappointed and shakes his head. “No. That you must realize on your own.”
“I’ve tried. I really don’t think I will.” I cross my arms. “Who are you, even?”
“I told you. I’m—”
“Oh, you’re Lev. That’s not a name, it’s an emotional state,” I argue. “What’s the name your parents gave you?”
His frown deepens, transitioning from disappointment to restrained anger. “You already know my name. I will not speak it after all these years, not now.” His mouth is open to continue a rebuke, but he pauses. It’s almost like he’s listening, but neither Saviayr nor I have said a word. He closes his mouth with a curt nod and continues, “Now, I must go speak with my wife. Remember your names, Saviayr, Raiballeon, and decide what you will do with them. Peace to you.”
I’m too petulant to return his blessing, but Saviayr does. Lev spins on his heel and strides off into the night, talking to himself. I only catch a couple syllables, but it almost sounds like he’s speaking the tongue of the kaites. If so, the only words I can make out are “stubborn granddaughter,” which makes no sense coming from such a young man. It even surprises me that he is married.
“What was that about?” Saviayr wonders.
I shrug and hug my arms to myself. Lev’s questioning discomforts me. I’m not sure why, but I have the distinct impression I’d rather ignore everything he’s said.
“Well,” Savi says when I don’t respond. In the quiet, neither of us dare look each other in the eyes. I don’t know how to move forward after the things our conversation with Leve revealed, and apparently neither does Saviayr.
After a moment, I begin searching for an excuse to escape and remember that Pitka is waiting for me. “I…Pitka’s in—in her…I should go,” I mumble without looking at him.
“Rai, wait,” Saviayr calls. The urgency in his voice grabs me. I glance back from the stairs up to the porch.
A line creases the dip between his eyebrows. “Dad just told me, what happened with the slavemaster, why you ran away. I’m sorry…” he hesitates… “for assuming the worst, for not just asking you right away.”
Combined with everything else, it’s too much. I really need to cry.
Instead, I nod and flee to Pitka.
The house is dimly lit with only a few candles, since no one but the servants was home before us. I use the dim light to flee from the man I must learn not to love, from what could have been if he’d interpreted the kaite’s prophecy differently.
Pitka is in her room, cupping water from her washbasin and watching it drip between her fingers. “Pipit, why aren’t you in bed?” Her fascination with the water lightens my frustration and stress.
She jumps, almost knocking the bowl to the floor. We tense, watching it rock, and sigh in relief when it settles down.
“You scared me!” Pitka squeaks. “I was waiting for you, but I didn’t hear you.” She gives a sheepish smile, drying her hands on the clean white towel beside the basin.
“Well, let’s get you to bed now.” I hold my hands out to her. Even though she’s getting too big, I pick her up, twirl her around once. Pitka’s feet fly out behind her in the air, and I drop her onto her bouncy mattress like I used to when she was younger.
She shrieks and laughs. “It’s my favorite thing when you do that.”
I groan and hunch over, rubbing my back. “Oh, but you’re getting too heavy for my old back,” I complain.
“Did I hurt you?” Pitka worries.
I chuckle and straighten up. “Not yet. Now, lay down, and I’ll sing you your lullaby.”
While she obeys, my mind wanders to the future. What lies ahead for my sweet Pipit? She is growing up faster than I can comprehend. The past three years with her are suddenly precious, but a heavy sense of foreboding clouds my chest. Danger and changes lie ahead for all of us, I sense. How will they affect her? A shooting star can change everything.
So when she nestles into her pillows, I sing to her the lullaby Maraian mothers sing to their newborn babies before they bid them farewell:
This river’s mouth is open—
Soft currents draw you to the fall
Where your breath will be stolen,
But the water’s mighty source won’t let you die.
The weeds far from the shore there
Are reaching out their arms for you.
Their rest will make you starve, dear.
Aia will bind their arms and guide you by.
The evil winds may toss you,
Their breath spin your basket around.
Whatever storm you go through,
The Creator keeps you warm and keeps you dry.
At night, the creatures wild
Come out and search the banks for food.
They’ll never find you, child.
The Father of all life will close their eyes.
When you feel lost or frightened,
When danger lurks at every turn,
One thing can leave you lightened:
The One who holds Orrock is by your side.
When the song is over, Pitka’s eyes droop shut. I kiss the dark curls on the top of her head and smooth the wispy strands off her forehead before blowing out the candle and leaving her room.
For hours, I lay awake, unable to fall asleep. The laughter and shouts from the bonfire are muted by the time they float through my window. Neither they nor Ira’s humid heat distract me from today’s events.
So Saviayr was meant to marry me. Then my jealousy is justified. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it right for me to keep loving him like this. If only the kaites would give more straightforward prophesies!
The kaites aren’t the only ones giving cryptic messages recently. Actually, Lev’s vague warnings and incoherent references remind me a lot of the kaites.
I bolt up in bed. It feels like I am on the verge of making a vital connection. If I lose focus for a second, it will vanish.
Who is Lev? He looks young but is old. He seems to know more about my future than I do, but it’s not like he knows it by himself—he is more of a messenger than a foreteller. He was instantly fond of Saviayr and me—why? Why did he have such a strong, instant hatred toward Sandat? Oh—Sandat had just insulted Maraiah when Lev began to treat him with spite. Savi and I, we are Maraians. Lev calls us “child,” as though he is our father, but he can’t be. I knew my birth parents for a couple years.
Who is he?
The pieces click into place.
I lie back on my bed for a moment, too shocked to think anymore. Then a grin slides over my face. “Thaies,” I whisper in prayer. “Really?” Is he really who I think?
It feels right.
Too giddy to sleep right now, I push aside the thin sheet and go to the window. A hint of coolness in the barely-moving air refreshes my body and heart. Above the rest of the island and the shining surface of the ocean, the indree continue their slow dance. Shadarass is up there, guarding the night. Even though my ears don’t register the sound I’ve heard my whole life, I know the stars are singing, calling humanity back to faithfulness to Aia-Thaies.
My heart lifts. Yes, I may have little control over my life. What is happening now is far from what I desire. But chaos and disorder do not reign supreme.
Aia has not abandoned us. Lev’s presence is proof of that.