Find previous chapters here.
This is the beginning of Part II of Child of the Kaites.
Golden dust twirls in lazy eddies under the roof of plastered reeds. A curtain rustles in the unshuttered window. The early cries of the auklets, petrels, pigeons, and gulls down at the harbor echo up into the hut. The air is perfectly cool.
I stretch my arms over my head and settle deeper into the mattress. A weight presses on my stomach. I smile and lightly rest my hand on the arm encircling my waist.
Turning so my cheek touches the pillow, I watch Saviayr sleep. His golden hair swirls over his smooth forehead. His thin eyelashes curl at the bottom of his rose-blue eyelids. One eyelash has fallen onto his flushed cheek during the night. I don’t brush it away, for fear of disturbing him.
Waking up next to Savi, seeing the freckles on his neck and hearing the soft pufts of breath leave his parted lips, makes it easy to dismiss the nightmare that interrupted my sleep. Here before me is the proof that the slave master’s sword didn’t slice a red line across his throat. Saviayr is alive. The nightmare was just a shadow.
Memories from yesterday crowd the dream out of my mind.
Saying Tatanda was displeased by Saviayr ending his betrothal to Maylani and wishing to marry me instead would be an understatement. We sought him as soon as we left the porch and found Maylani already there, doing her best to make him approve of her betrothal ending. When she saw us, she said, “And you won’t even have to waste all the food and other resources you put into the celebration, Tatanda. Saviayr and Raiba can marry instead.”
Tatanda’s face turned deep purple. Only consciousness of the islanders outside the house kept him from yelling. It took a couple hours of entreating him and explaining how generous he would look to his neighbors, how truly undesirable it would be for Maylani to marry a Maraian. In the end, our pleas and reasoning, plus the fact that he’s never denied Mayli anything as long as I’ve lived with them, made Tatanda cave.
I readjust my head on the pillow, and notice the yellow crochet covering it: My bridal shawl. The lace is soft and cool to touch. When I made it, I never guessed I would end up wearing it. The thought, like a joke Aia is finally sharing with me, stretches my smile wider.
Maylani had draped the bridal shawl over my head when Tatanda dragged Saviayr out to explain the situation to the neighbors. “I wish you had just told me,” she whispered.
I bowed my head. “Mayli, I’m so sorry. At first, I was just protecting myself. Then I was trying not to hurt you.”
She sighed. “I understand why you couldn’t tell us everything when you first came here. I just thought we were closer than that by now.”
“You were on the mainland,” I reminded her. “And…I thought he hated me, when you showed up together. I didn’t think our past mattered, and I thought telling you would only bring you pain.”
She adjusted the crocheted lace over my forehead. “I guess I understand. It still hurts. But I do forgive you. I’m sure I’ll even stop being mad at you pretty soon. After all, you’ve put up with a lot from me. I guess it’s time for me to return the favor.”
We joined the rest of the island after that, the master of ceremonies joined mine and Saviayr’s hands, and then we had to dance with every Iranine who stayed for the party. Not only did that mean dancing until my feet blistered, it meant explaining for hours why Saviayr married me, not Maylani. I flex my toes against the wrinkled bedding. My heels register the cotton only through blister pillows, but they don’t hurt as long as I’m laying down.
Sandat was the hardest to convince that Savi and I love each other. First, I had to convince him once and for all that I am Maraian. I’m still amazed at how persistant his wrong beliefs were. Maybe Mayli was right, and he had some feelings for me that I never noticed. The conversation and dance ended with Sandat squinting at me and promising that I would regret deceiving the Iranines.
I shudder, and remind myself that the unpleasantness of dancing with Sandat didn’t characterize the entire evening. The memory of what came next makes me grin.
When candlelight added to the glow of the fading sun, Saviayr pulled me away from the others. In a lonely corner where the canvas walls dimmed the light, we faced each other. Savi grinned at me, and my cheeks hurt from smiling back.
“How are you feeling, wife?” he asked me.
I quirked my head. “Well, my heels are blistered, my stomach’s growling, and—” a well-timed yawn broke loose—“I’m very tired.”
Savi brushed his fingers over my cheek. “Yeah?” Concern wrinkled the skin between his eyebrows. Up close, I could see new lines on his forehead, lines that hadn’t been there when we were younger. The shadow of stubble darkened his jaw. That was new, too. The urge to feel the change for myself filled me.
I stepped closer. His chest brushed our joined hands when he inhaled. “And, husband,” I bit my lip to keep my smile manageable, “I’ve never been happier.”
Saviayr’s smile grew, and the wrinkles on his brow smoothed. His fingers grazed the spot under my ear and slipped into my loose hair.
My heart beat faster.
“I’m glad to hear it,” he murmured.
I laid my free hand over Savi’s heart. His breathing hitched. He had more muscle than I remembered. “What about you?” The nerves in my stomach twisted with anxiety. Hopefully he wasn’t regretting our hasty decision.
Savi’s lips parted. His head tilted to the side. Then he leaned closer, and I forgot how to breathe.
Our lips met for the first time, and the island melted away. My hand slid up to cradle the back of his head. Savi let go of my hand. His arm wrapped around my back, pulling me close. My toes tingled. The separation between us faded, and all that existed was Savi—lips, chest, arms, toes touching mine.
He broke the kiss when we needed air, but stayed resting his forehead against mine. A laugh escaped him. “I’m all right.”
I leaned against him and tried to catch my breath. “Glad to hear it,” I echoed.
His fingers toyed with the chain around my neck, then trailed it down to my chanavea. “Rai,” Savi whispered, “I know you just got it back, but will you exchange chanavea with me?”
I touched my chanavea. The fordue leaf and raindrop etched with the runes marked me as belonging to Aia. The kaites made the stone in the center, swirling brown and crystal, from the first cry that left my lips.
This charm, in a deep way, embodies my very essence. Because of this, Maraians wed each other by exchanging chanavea. No longer am I simply myself, or is Saviayr simply himself. We belong to each other.
Did he really doubt that I would? I pulled back to see him better. Uncertainty clouded his olive eyes. With a laugh, I framed his face with my hands and kissed him again. “Savi, of course I will.”
My chanavea glitters now on his bare chest, and I can’t resist brushing the charm with my finger. Savi’s eyes flutter open. When he sees me, a sleepy smile spreads over his face. “Morning.”
“Good morning,” I answer.
He drags me closer and presses his lips to my forehead. “Sleep well?”
My mouth is open to admit to having my nightmare when knocking intrudes on the morning. I instinctively scoot closer to Savi. “Is this normal?” he whispers.
I don’t have extensive knowledge of marriage hut traditions, but I suspect not.
The knocking repeats, accompanied by a familiar voice. “Raiballeon! Saviayr! I know you’re in there.”
I groan. “It’s Nhardah,” I tell Saviayr.
His brow wrinkles. “Who?”
“We’re awake,” I call to Nhardah. “What’s wrong with you?”
The Firstborn’s head ducks under the door hanging, followed by the rest of his body. Saviayr jumps and curses. I yank the blankets up. “A little warning next time?” I gasp at Nhardah.
Nhardah’s face is stern. “Get dressed. We’re leaving.”
“What, right now?” I protest. “Can’t you give us a few minutes?”
Saviayr holds up a hand. “Wait, what did you call him?”
Nhardah-Lev rolls his eyes. “I see Raiballeon didn’t tell you when she realized I’m Nhardah, one of the Firstborn. Now you know, and we have to go.”
I shake my head. “I have to say goodbye to my uncle and cousins—”
Saviayr looks between me and Nhardah. “You mean…Lake-of-Living-Water, Neemech-tried-to-kill-him Nhardah? You’re joking.”
“Who else would I be?” Nhardah answers Savi, then me. “Some of the islanders are gathering. They plan to arrest you and turn you over to Izyphor as a runaway slave. That odious boy from the market is with them.”
“Sandat,” I mutter. I should have known. If that’s true, they’ll be here soon. Returning to Tatanda’s house to say goodbye would be too big a risk. “My bag—”
“I got it,” Nhardah assures me. “It’s down at the ferry with Saviayr’s parents.”
“My parents?” Savi asks.
“We’ll be out as soon as we’re dressed,” I promise Nhardah.
He ducks back outside, calling, “Hurry.” As soon as he disappears, I roll out of bed. My ankle hurts more today, swollen from dancing so much. Hopping on one foot, I pluck my clothes from the floor. The only outfits we have here are our formal clothes from yesterday, but that will have to do.
“Rai, what’s going on?” Savi asks, following me out of bed.
I pull the maroon dress over my head. “So you know now that Lev is actually Nhardah,” I say. “And you figured out that I’m planning to free Maraiah from Izyphor, if Aia helps. Nhardah’s helping, too, and we’d planned to leave this morning. Plus, some of the Iranines are apparently ready to capture me, so we have to go now.”
Saviayr steps into his breeches and pulls them up under his tunic. “Is there anything else I should know?” He frowns.
His sarcasm reminds me of how much I’ve kept him in the dark. Now that we’re married, that needs to stop. “Probably?” I offer apologetically. “But can it wait till we’re on the ferry?” I tie the laces on my golden vest and gather my hair together.
“It seems it’ll have to wait,” he sighs. “But you will tell me everything?”
“I will,” I promise.
“Stop prattling on and get out here,” Nhardah calls. “You can get all gooey later.”
I blush, wrap my ankle, and tie my sandals at the side. A glance at Saviayr shows that he’s dressed. Delaying only to snatch up the yellow shawl, we shift the door aside and step out into the warm sun. Dew from the night rises in steam that blurs the ocean and smells of growing cilantro and garlic.
Nhardah turns mid-pace and glances over us, then nods. “Come,” he says, and takes off down the back of the hill. No path travels this way, so we have to weave from side to side when the ground slopes sharply from decades of winter landslides. “Why not go the front way?” I ask. My sandal slips on loose gravel. Only a quick flail and step save me from falling.
“That way lies the mob,” Nhardah answers. “Now hush.”
Savi’s hand find my back and offers extra support. I smile at him. Even though Nhardah’s here, even though we’re running from danger, I want to kiss him.
“Hasten,” Nhardah hisses. I duck my head, blush, and scurry over the ruddy soil.
Nhardah starts whispering. I try to get closer, but his long strides outstrip my shorter legs. A breeze carries a few of his words back. “Aiasav nini. Thaies fait garnosh i karoeth.” He’s whispering prayers for protection.
Just as we reach the foot of the hill, Saviayr’s hand drops from my back. I glance behind. He’s standing still, eyes wide and face white. His mouth opens and shuts like he wants to say something but can’t.
I hesitate. “Savi, what is it?”
He swallows. “I–I’m afraid. Rai, I don’t…it just came over me. I’m really afraid.”
I grab his hand. Moments earlier, he was warm from sleeping. Now, his hand is cold like a pewter dish dunked in the winter sea. I rub it, trying to warm it up, and notice he is shaking. “I know. But Aia will protect us. Come on.”
Savi doesn’t move. “I can’t,” he chokes.
I pull at him, growing impatient. “Savi, you’re fine. The biggest danger is staying here. Come on, we’ll get to safety if you’ll just come now.”
He shuffles a foot forward, then goes rigid. The usual pink flush under his skin drains away.
Savi’s terror seems like it’s spreading to me. I bite my lip. “Nhardah? There’s…something wrong.”
Dry brush crunches behind me. Nhardah pokes his head in Savi’s face, then scowls. “I should have known,” he mutters.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Aivenkaite,” Nhardah answers. “Must have snuck out of the battle.”
The full force of fear hammers through me, but it doesn’t feel supernatural. I was terrified the other night when aivenkaites were attacking me, and they were just external threats then. An aivenkaite attacking Savi’s soul is even worse.
“Help him,” I beg the Firstborn. “Is there anything we can do–it’s an aivenkaite! Where are the kaites?”
Nhardah doesn’t answer, just stares intently into Savi’s eyes. The mahogany of Nhardah’s irises almost glows. A ruthless smile contorts his face. He declares, “Giel, I call you by name. By the power of Aia-Thaies, the creator of all of us, I command you, Fear, to leave.”
Savi scrunches his eyes shut. He whines, high and quiet. Veins stand out on his forehead. A shudder passes through him.
Then Savi’s eyes open, and the pallor leaves his skin. He takes a deep breath and starts forward again, as suddenly as he stopped. “I’m okay,” he says.
I jog to catch up with him, and Nhardah’s long strides easily match our pace.
“You can just do that?” I ask Nhardah. “Command aivenkaites to leave?”
He shrugs and strikes west to circle toward the harbor. “It doesn’t always work, but sometimes all they and we need is a reminder of who the real power is.”
I’ve never heard of something like this, such a concentrated effort of the enemy and resilient resistance by the kaites, or a human winning any sort of victory over an aivenkaite. Those ideas occupy my mind the rest of the way to the harbor, which we reach otherwise unscathed and undetected.
Once there, Nihae and Elesekk gesture to us from the ferry’s deck. “Hurry,” they call. Savi lends his arm to help me across the gap between dock and deck, and his dad waits on the other side to pull me forward. I turn back to watch Saviayr and Nhardah jump aboard. At the edge of the port, Sandat appears. He and those with him frantically searches empty crates. Any moment, they will see us.
Nhardah yells to the ferryman, “Cast off!” His shout draws Sandat’s attention. The Iranine shouts and sprints toward us.
The ferryman slips free the ropes binding his vessel to the dock. Unrestrained, the ferry glides away on the tide’s current.
Sandat races up the dock. He surges off the edge of the pier, arms spinning.
I hold my breath. He might reach us. His jump might land him on the ferry. Aia, no!
Just shy of the boat, we both realize Sandat won’t quite reach. His eyes widen. He shrieks and splashes into the water. Droplets splash me with salt, and I sag against the railing. He can’t catch us. Nor can his accomplices. No other boat in the harbor is ready for sail.
I’m still free.
Except I’ve never been free. Technically, I’m still a runaway slave. Once I’m back on Izyphorn soil, I may lose this stolen liberty at any time.
Saviayr joins me at the railing, watching the harbor pass. When Ira is shrinking in the distance, he says, “Hey, I’m sorry for freaking out earlier.”
I tuck a hand between his arm and side. “It was an aivenkaite,” I remind him. “Not your fault.”
He squeezes my hand. “No, I meant when I was upset that you hadn’t told me everything. I did the same thing with you, up until yesterday morning, and we haven’t had time to talk. I don’t know why I expected to know about Lev–Nhardah–and everything you’re planning.”
I press my lips against his shoulder and concede, “I probably should have told you what I was planning even when you were still marrying Maylani. I should have talked to you; I shouldn’t have assumed you already knew what I was thinking.”
Savi chuckles. “I can’t actually read your mind all the time, you know.”
“What is the point of having you, then?” I bump him with my elbow.
“I’m sure you’ll figure out something.” Savi rests his cheek on my head and breathes in. “So, what are you thinking?”
“Right now? Or about Nhardah and my plans?”
“Hmm. I’m glad we’re away, even if I’ll miss Pitka, Maylani, Anik, even Tatanda. And I love you. I love you, my Savi. I’m so glad you convinced me to marry you now. That’s what I’m thinking right now.”
He hums and moves to hold me against his chest, with his arms around my stomach. “I’m glad, too, Rai-dorni.”
The endearment warms me inside. I cuddle against him. “And, what I’m thinking about Nhardah and my plans: I decided to stop hiding and stand up for Maraiah two days ago. Nhardah helped me realize it. Do you remember how he asked me if I believe my name?”
He nods. “He’s a lot less strange now that I know he’s immortal,” he observes.
I agree. “I finally understood his question. Do I believe Thaies chose me to be a leader of a revolt, to lead Maraiah out of slavery? I decided I did. I mean, I do.”
Saviayr slowly says, “So you’re saying Aia chose you to free His people?”
I nod. “Yes.”
He hesitates before saying, “I don’t think I understand what that changes. Isn’t that what we always said?”
I forgot he doesn’t know how I let running away change me. “We used to think that, yeah, but I’d stopped believing it when I had to flee. I lost hope. I convinced myself that I just was a recorder of history.”
His arms squeeze. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, Rai. But Lev, who is actually the immortal Firstborn, convinced you that we were right in the first place?”
“And it’s happening now?”
“Nhardah said something about the Feast of Wheat.”
Saviayr blows out a breath of air. It tickles my hair. “Well. That certainly is fast.”
I’m afraid he’ll protest, and then what will I do? I was planning to do this without him, but now that we’re married, now that I know he loves me still, I don’t want to have to go forward alone. “Please, Savi. I know it’s a lot to burden you with, with everything changing the past couple days, but this really is important.”
“Of course it is.” He turns me so that I can see his face. “I’m glad, really glad. Aia’s finally heard our prayers. I always faintly hoped to carry out our plan someday. That’s why I kept working for the royal Yrin. I thought a connection to a powerful man would help. I just didn’t expect it to happen so fast, all of the sudden.”
“Is that a problem?” I check. “I understand. It feels really fast to me, too. But would we ever feel prepared to stand up to Izyphor?”
Savi looks past me at the ocean. “The royal Yrin…” He hesitates. “No, that doesn’t matter. Leaving his service would never be easy, and no amount of time could change that.”
The ocean wind and the water lapping against the ferry conceal Nihae and Elesekk’s approach until Nihae speaks. “Saviayr, Rai, what exactly is happening?”
We turn to his parents. “Um,” Savi starts. Savi and I look at each other, then look to Nhardah-Lev. The oldest man smirks and shrugs. What did he tell them? What do they know already?
“Tell us what you already know?” I ask.
Elesekk does–it isn’t much–and I sigh. Being with people from whom I need hide nothing feels strange, after so long of living on Ira. Nihae and Elesekk are safe, though. They took in me and Yorchan when we were orphans and they had nothing. They deserve the whole truth, especially if they decide to accompany Saviayr and me.
“Let’s sit down,” I suggest. “I have a lot to explain.”