Wow, we’re already eleven chapters in! If you need them, you can find previous chapters here. Are you ready to find out who Lev really is? Then read this chapter 🙂
A dream awakens me, though its memory is already blurry. My neck twinges when I sit up. I blink at the room around me. Pitka and Maylani share the same pillow, faces tranquil in sleep. I must have fallen asleep still leaning against the wall, and my back and neck are not pleased with how I spent the night.
I ease off of the mattress, but Pitka stirs anyway. “Raiba?” she says.
I brush a hand over her forehead. “Sh, Pipit. It’s early still. Go back to sleep.”
Her eyes flutter shut, and I slip out of the room.
In my own room, I roll my head to loosen the crick in my neck and splash water on my face. The action reawakens the memory of this morning’s dream, at least enough to know that Sandat had grown five times his size and was trampling a village of Maraian slaves, and I was the only one who would stand up to him. Maylani had clutched my arm, predicting that Sandat would squash me, but I pushed her aside and stood between Sandat and the other Maraians. I was unarmed, but I had not been afraid. In the dream, I’d been convinced that Sandat could never get past me.
The dream lacked sense, of course, but I savor how it felt to stand up to Sandat. In that moment, I felt brave, strong, and free. In that moment, I didn’t care if I lived or died, I only knew that I was doing the right thing.
I squeeze the towel resting on my dry sink. I don’t want to lose that feeling, to go back to cowering in the shadows and slinking by while my people die and the powerful trample on the weak. I want to act. I want to raise my voice, to stand tall, to say, “Enough.” I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of biting my tongue and ducking my head. I hate the thin shadow of myself that I’ve become.
Last night’s dinner conversation rolls back through my head like roiling waves in a storm.
One day we will become a great nation.
All they need is a voice.
Izyphor could have a revolt on their hands.
It’s me. I’m Raiballeon. I am the leader of a revolt.
Lev. It’s time to find him.
The swish of my door announces someone’s arrival. I expect Pitka, maybe Maylani or Nihae. A crazy hope flits through my mind that it could be Lev, arrived just at the right moment.
Instead, Tatanda fills the doorway. I blink at him.
“I was hoping you’d be awake,” Tatanda says, voice low so he won’t awaken Anik next door.
I straighten the towel and drape it over the edge of the sink. “Is something wrong?” I ask. I bounce my knee, needing to move, wanting to run out of the house and follow this revelation.
Tatanda gestures at my untouched bed. “Let’s sit.”
Tucking my hands together in my lap, I perch on the edge of the mattress. Tatanda sinks down and rests his hands on his legs, palms up. He inspects his hands for a moment before talking.
“Do you remember when I found you?”
I smile a little. “Of course. I was starving, hiding between the scriptorium and the smithy. You probably saved my life.”
Tatanda chuckles. “Do you know why I took you in?”
I’ve often wondered that, but never dared ask. “I always thought you took pity on me.”
“You were pitiful,” Tatanda agrees. He glances sideways at me, a glimmer of warmth in his amber eyes. “Mostly, though, it was because the spirits gave me a dream about you the night before. I thought it was nothing, but then I found myself living in the dream and knew I had to obey.”
That touches me. Three years of living among the Iranines have convinced that what they call the spirits are actually the kaites. Over and over, my kaites have looked out for me, even when I had no idea. “I’m very thankful,” I say. “I’ve always thought myself fortunate to be part of your family.”
Tatanda’s small smile twists, and his forehead creases. “I know I’ve been harsh on you,” he says. “Especially since my wife…well, I’ve criticized you far more than my children. I hope you know I did it because I wanted you to fit in here. It would have been bad for both of us if my people thought you weren’t one of us.”
Frustration and resentment wiggle into the warmth I’ve been feeling toward Tatanda and the kaites. “I guessed as much,” I say.
“I didn’t know you were Maraian.”
“Would it have changed things?” I ask.
Tatanda rubs a hand over his eyes. “I don’t know. The spirits still told me…Most of my neighbors hate your people. It’s best for us Iranines to keep peace with Izyphor. They could destroy us like a cricket stomped underfoot, and Izyphor especially detests Maraiah. But my wife’s great grandmother was Maraian, before they became slaves. And she always said it was our responsibility to help those who needed it.”
Bits of this I’ve guessed, but I don’t know how to respond.
Tatanda sighs. “It’s dangerous for me to let Maylani marry Saviayr. If any Izyphorns cared to look into the marriage, it could seem that Ira is sympathizing with the slaves. I’m letting her because there aren’t many options on this island, he is in a powerful position, and she loves him. I can convince my neighbors that marriage to a royal’s personal advisor is more advantageous to our people than marriage to one of their sons with no prospects. But I can’t be seen as having more sympathies with the Maraians. Anything else would spell disaster for my family especially, but also for Ira.”
I know what he’s going to say next before he says it, and even though I understand, it makes me angry.
“People know you’re Maraian now. I think of you as part of the family, Raiba, but after the wedding, you need to find somewhere else to go. I have to think of Anik and Pitka.”
I stand and brush my skirts. My jaw clenches. Raising my chin, I look Tatanda square in the eyes. “I understand.” Leader of a Revolt. “I was planning on leaving, anyway.”
As I turn to leave the room, Tatanda says, “Raiba, I am sorry. Please stay for Maylani, for now.”
“I have business to attend to right now,” I say, and leave. It is time to find Lev.
I don’t know where he’s hiding on the island. Ira doesn’t offer many hiding places, especially for an adult. I could check where I last saw him, around Crazy Tolak’s bay, but the memory of the aivenkaite grasping at my ankles deters me. The marketplace seems as likely a place as any to begin, so I take the path down to the harbor as the sun trails new light over the sea.
Despite my intention of locating Lev, he finds me. “Out alone at this time of day?” I hear behind me in the market. “How did you manage to escape?”
I spin around. He’s standing alone in the middle of the path, but he still manages to look like he’s reclining against something. His lips quirk into a smile.
“I know who you are,” I say. I stand straight, more confident that I’ve ever been around him.
His mahogany eyes squint at me, then he straightens up. “Let’s go somewhere we can talk.” Then he whirls and strides up the seldom-used path to the top of the farming hill. We pass plots of beans, cucumbers, and onions almost ready to pick. I have to skip every few steps to keep up.
At the very top of the hill, empty with yellow curtains flapping in the wind, hunches the marriage hut. Like all newly-wed Iranines, Maylani and Saviayr will spend their first night here tomorrow. I push aside the heaviness that fills my stomach with that thought and focus on the man I’m with. He stops several paces from the hut and twists his legs into pretzel positions as he sinks to the dirt.
“By all means, sit.” He sweeps his arm over the ground beside him.
I obey, trying to keep my back as straight as his.
“Now, what did you have to tell me?” he asks.
I take a deep breath. “I know who you are.”
“You’re Nhardah. Nhardah the Firstborn.”
He glances at me. “Very astute, Raiballeon. Yes, I was. But ‘Lev’ is a more accurate name as long as my children—well, you know the situation of my children.”
“I can’t call you ‘Sorrow,’” I protest.
Nhardah-Lev purses his lips and looks back at the sky, which is brighter now. “I suppose not,” he agrees. “Well, since you discovered it, you may use my birth name.”
The reality of who he is hits me. I am sitting next to a truly ancient man. The Firstborn. After growing up with the kaites, I thought I was beyond awe of humans, but Nhardah may be the only exception. He saw Aia-Thaies face to face. No other living human has done that. He’s seen the kingdoms begin, seen Orrock and ierah split, lived through the stories I’ve only memorized.
Pipit would squeal loud enough to deafen all within a mile if she knew.
Despite that, something feels familiar about him. Nhardah-Lev reminds me of the kaites, though he is undeniably solid and human while they were unmistakably ephemeral. I search for a word to describe it. He and they have perceivable power, but it’s more than that.
Goodness. Both Nhardah and the kaites feel good, on a more intrinsic level than anything I’ve ever encountered. That goodness gives me courage to continue. “I also know who I am.”
Nhardah cocks his head to the side. Inside his ancient eyes, I see hope.
“The answer to your question,” I say. “I’m Raiballeon. I’m the Leader of a Revolt. I can lead Maraiah to rebel against Izyphor and gain their freedom.”
Nhardah’s dark face wrinkles in the brightest smile I’ve ever seen. “I knew you would figure it out.” He peers at me. “You say you can be your name. Will you?”
It will mean leaving Ira. It will mean an uncertain future with probable danger. This is what I once planned on doing, before I had to flee the slavemaster. But before I gave up this dream, I was going to accomplish it with help. Now Saviayr has chosen a different path, one with Maylani. I will do it alone.
Logic says I should say no. Izyphor is undefeatable. I am just one girl.
But I have no place here, no where else to go. The slave master is dead. My people have suffered too long.
I already made my decision before leaving the house. Now I must confirm it. A spark of the passion I had as a child glows in me. If Aia thinks I can do it, who can say no? I was brave, confident, unhindered by fear, and I can be again.
I want to be again.
“Yes.” My reply comes out as a squeak, so I clear my throat and try again. “Yes. I will be my name. I am Raiballeon, and I will lead Aia’s people out of slavery and into our inheritance. So long as He helps me.”
There is no sudden burst of wind. No ray of light shines brilliantly upon us. Nothing indicates this statement’s magnitude to the island around us. The only that proof I actually vocalized my resolution is my ancestor’s dazzling grin.
“Hæ-Aia!” Nhardah-Lev exclaims. He shoves his fists toward ierah with a whoop that echoes between the three hills of Ira. I haven’t heard the Maraian expression of joy in years, so I translate it in my head. Hæ-Aia—Aia saves. A prayer for Him to act and a praise that He has done so.
My lips stretch in an impulsive smile. “Hæ-Aia,” I agree.
“This is perfect,” Nhardah gesticulates. I can’t tell whether he is talking to me or an invisible kaite, which now seems to explain some of his earlier erratic behavior. That night with the falling indree—he must have been going to talk to Mithrida, his wife the kaite. She must be whispering in his ear, incorporeal. “The wedding’s tomorrow—yes, you’d better act quickly—so we’ll leave in two days. Just in time for the Feast of Wheat, so they’ll all be gathered. Send word to the others that we have our champions and need what’s in their care. Raiballeon, be sure to pack today.”
“O-okay.” It sounds like a question, but he does not notice. “Wait, you said champions? Who is the other?”
“Did I? Don’t worry about it.” Nhardah’s eyes glint in the sun. “I must be off on business now. Peace to you.”
To the Firstborn’s back I reply, “May it also return to you.”
Alone, I breathe deeply and exhale. The smile stays on my face of its own accord. I do have a great calling on my life, after all. My original interpretation of Taikah’s prophecy was right. Where do I start?
Lev’s instruction returns to me. If I am leaving, first I must prepare. I may not know how to talk to a king and royals, or how to gather Maraiah, or even where exactly our promised homeland is, but I do know how to pack my few belongings. I can begin there.