It’s hard to believe we’re already 12 chapters in! I finally got down to creating this table of contents page to make it easier for you to find earlier chapters. Anyways, I hope you’re enjoying Child of the Kaites, and I hope you’ll let me know your thoughts as we keep moving forward 🙂
Fun fact: I wrote the original version of this chapter in my sleep. And by that, I mean it came to me in a dream. It’s changed a lot since then. There was a heartbreaking time when I thought I would have to cut it entirely. Anyways, I’m pleased to bring to you Chapter 12.
By the time evening falls, my scrolls and the least Iranine, most serviceable of my clothing are bundled in a sack and Maylani’s bridal shawl is finished. When Nhardah-Lev calls, I will be ready. All that remains is for me to dress for the night’s festivities.
Tonight is the eve of the wedding. Iranine custom reserves this night for a private dinner at which only the bride’s family is allowed. I am not technically family, and now everyone knows that, so I’m excluded from Mayli’s last dinner as an unmarried woman.
“If I had my way, you would be with us,” Maylani says. The candlelight from inside the house and the warmth of the evening sky shine in her brown eyes, casting soft light over her cascading curls. Her simple white dress sets off her glowing bronze skin. Even in plain clothing, she is beautiful.
“There’s nothing I can do, though,” Mayli continues. “You’ll be okay. You’ll be with Saviayr and his family, and Sandat will make sure you have fun. You will be fine, right?”
“Mayli.” I lay a hand on her arm. “I understand. I’ll be fine. Go, enjoy the night with your family.”
Maylani nods, hesitates, and leaves me on the porch by the front door. I won’t see her again until she appears for the ceremony tomorrow morning.
The bride’s family must have a private dinner, but the groom’s family and the rest of Ira will feast and dance in the canvas tents erected on the cliff over my secret beach. No matter how much I want to hide until the wedding’s over and I can focus on inciting a rebellion, I must join the party. I take a deep breath, force my lips into a smile, and step down from the porch.
Tomorrow’s celebration will reflect the wealth of the bride and bridegroom’s families, but tonight is the whole island’s undertaking. I pause when the towering tents come into view, bold against the sunset sky. The beauty surprises me. “Thank you, Aia,” I whisper in appreciation.
Inside, tables and benches flank the tents’ walls, leaving the centers open for mingling. Later, when the musical Iranines begin performing, dancing couples will fill the free space.
Most islanders are here already. They feast on wheat bread, pomegranates, figs, cheeses, lentil soup, and an unusual abundance of roasted pork, beef, and sheep.
It surprises me when I know the names of everyone I see. Then I feel foolish for being surprised. Ira is small; I would have had to try to avoid meeting everyone on the island in the past couple years.
Across this tent, I glimpse someone I know more than I know the Iranines. For a brief moment, Saviayr and I lock eyes.
I still love him. It washes over me like a wave at high tide. I’ll never forget him, the boy who found me in the river, who swore to be my partner and free our people. But I have to separate myself from the past. He’s marrying Maylani. I’m fighting for Maraiah.
I turn my head, and then Savi is gone, caught up in the crush.
Filling a plate, I eat in silence. Then feasting slows and melodies trickle through the tent walls. The music draws those young enough to dance as the moons draw the tides. For a couple of songs, I join in and try to forget about tomorrow’s wedding. Then I glance Saviayr, closer than before.
Any enjoyment I could have found in tonight evaporates. I can’t handle talking with him tonight. There is no point in remaining and risking running into him.
Besides, I’ll be gone in two days. It doesn’t matter what the Iranines think of my absence. I have nothing to prove to these people who have done nothing to protest Izyphor’s wickedness.
Alone, I push between people.
I leave the merrymaking and duck out into the night with a heavy heart. The cool sweetness of the air outside reveals how stuffy the tents are. I relish the sea breeze. When I’m back in Izyphor gathering the Maraians, nights will be almost as hot as the day. There will be no cool stirring of the air as there is here.
Since it may be my last opportunity, I should bid my spot of beach farewell.
At the bottom, soft sand fades into a bed of sea shells and rocks revealed by the abnormally-low tide. I lay my head against the tree’s trunk and wrap an arm around it. My skin detects no quiver of energy beneath its bark, nor the slightest unnatural movement in its limbs. This tree, though alive, feels dead to me. My kaites aren’t here. I am alone.
I’m alone, and I’m going to have to free Maraiah alone. I have no idea how to start being the leader of a revolt.
Approaching feet crunch the gravel behind me. It’s probably Nhardah. Maybe I won’t have to do this completely alone.
“How can I stand up to the Izyphorns in a way that won’t get me promptly arrested and killed?” I ask the Firstborn.
My heart jumps into my throat as I whirl. “Savi,” slips out reflexively.
He crunches a couple steps closer, fists shoved into his tunic pockets. “What do you mean about standing up to Izyphor?”
I shake my head. “Nothing, forget it. I thought you were someone else.”
Savi’s mouth quirks up. “Clearly. Who? Are you planning something?”
I haven’t told anyone except Nhardah. Savi might be the best person to tell first. After all, this was the dream that kept us going through our adolescence. It was what brought us together in the first place.
“What are you doing here?” I ask instead. “Your wedding is tomorrow.”
“I know that.” Saviayr moves closer, close enough that I can see his eyes. He stares at me with single-minded intensity, like I’m the only thing in the world that matters right now. It’s too much. My throat feels swollen. “Please, tell me. What are you planning? Are you going to do it?”
Even with our time apart, Savi still won’t let me skirt around and brush him off. He still sees into my words and is trying to make me share my burden with someone. That was how I first realized that I loved him, back in the slave camp, and tonight it might be my undoing.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I lie. Anything that will get him to leave.
“Yes, you do.” Savi steps closer still. He takes my hand. “Rai, if you’re going to go against Izyphor and free our people, I want to help.”
“You have to think about Maylani,” I say.
Saviayr blinks. “That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.”
I pull my hand from his and turn away. “I understand. You’ve moved on. Savi, it’s okay. I just want you both to be happy. There’s nothing to talk about.”
“That’s not what I was going to say.” Saviayr steps to the side, to where I can see him from the corner of my eye.
I turn my head away. “Please, Savi. If we’re going to be friends, we have to put the past behind us.”
Saviayr grips my shoulders and turns me to face him. “If you’d just let me–”
I push his hands away. “I need to be alone. I have to focus on the future now. Go. Be with Maylani.”
We face each other, neither talking. Then Savi’s shoulders sag. He shakes his head. “Fine. Peace to you, Rai.”
I stare at the moonlit sea, blinking to stop the water from blurring with the sky. Deep breaths—that will keep the tears at bay.
Savi’s footsteps swish away through the sand. Everything in me wants to call him back. I don’t want to lose him. I know, just as I know that the sun will shine in the morning and that the Izyphorns will never release the Maraians easily, that I’ll never love anyone else as much as I loved him.
It wasn’t fair to silence him. But I can’t hear what he might have to say. Why did this happen tonight, of all times? Why not when he first appeared at Tatanda’s door? It’s too late to change anything, and I need to focus on taking a stand against the greatest empire in the world.
It’s not fair. The injustice overcomes my last restraint. I crouch at the edge of the sea and let the tears slide down my face.
Tomorrow, Savi marries Maylani.
The next day, I announce revolution against Izyphor.
Within the week, I’ll probably be dead.