Thanks for waiting for this 🙂 As I said last week, for the rest of the school year I’ll be posting every-other Monday (as long as I can keep on track with lesson planning, grading, AND story editing). In the summer, we should return to weekly posts.
If you need a refresher, you can find previous chapters here.
Limping over the exposed bedrock and sandy dunes on my blisters and sore ankle, I end up falling to the back of the caravan. Saviayr stays beside me, but after talking all through the ferry ride, he seems content to walk in silence.
Instead of talking, I mull over my easy re-entrance to the mainland. Why would Aia have done that? I did pray, but I hardly dared hope that He would answer. While Aia has often responded to my prayers in the past, I usually only ask for Him to affect me, nature, or the aivenkaites.
That, I decide, is why passing without a seal of freedom startled me. It wasn’t just Aia working in something that acknowledges Him. It was Him breaking human laws and blinding the captain to what was right in front of him. “Trust Me,” Aia seems to have said. “I can do whatever need happen to make My plans succeed.”
And so it is full of gratitude and humility that I take my first look on the royal Yrin’s land. The sun, setting in the west, gilds the slave-made hill rising out of the desert a living gold. The shining glory of the city takes my breath away.
“Peace to you,” Elesekk bids farewell to the leader of the caravan.
The man–a Carinite by his square poncho and tattooed cheek–nods and keeps plodding on across the glowing sand. Saviayr’s hand on my back guides me toward the city gate, where the Izyphorn horned viper twists up the posts. The guards nod to him as we pass.
Saviayr and his parents stride easily through the city’s paved streets, but I scan everything with wide eyes. When I was in Izyphor before, I saw only the unsettled oasis in the northeast and the slave dwellings at major building projects. Our families, together with much of the clan of Charn, lived in square huts of mud bricks covered by canvas roofs while we built a mountain of stone.
This city is nothing like that. Oh, at one point it must have been a small natural incline surrounded by toiling slaves. Now, even the smallest buildings are three times the size of slave huts, with walls of sandstone and wide openings supported by columns. Carved faces, each unique, cover every surface of the pillars.
A shiver runs down my back. These are the faces of the dead, etched into an unfading image to tether their souls on the surface of Orrock. Izyphorns believe that, unless a person’s face is replicated before they decay in death, their spirit will be sucked into the Void and consumed forever by Akir the Devourer.
Their beliefs are mostly lies, I know. The dead wait in rest for the day when Aia-Thaies will punish the wicked and raise His faithful ones to walk again. Then the world will be perfect, as it once was in Elcedon before the Pond of Separation, before the Rending. Our spirits aren’t devoured eternally. The Void is not the realm of human souls.
But, though they call him by another name, their Akir of the Void sounds too much like Aivenah for me to dismiss. Akir consumes everything he touches, as does Aivenah. He was rejected by the other divinities, as Aia cast Aivenah out. Akir has dominion over the Void, as does Aivenah.
“I forgot how morbid Izyphorn architecture is,” I whisper to Saviayr.
He glances at the pillars. “You stop noticing them, eventually. At least most of the time.”
We crest the hill, and the two buildings there dwarf those we saw on the way up the hill. Both the temple and palace have similar structure, made of granite blocks twice as tall as me with one large door. Gaping holes near their roofs, filled only with curtains, expel the desert heat. Teal curtains flutter over the temple to Havil, guardian of the River, but the royal Yrin’s curtains are red, the color of Izyphorn royalty.
A royal’s palace close to the shore must pale in comparison to the sultan’s palace at the capital. Doubt wiggles in my chest. I am so small, and Izyphor is so large. I remember the ferry–Aia is in control–and push my shoulders back.
Savi leads across the plateau, paved in red and white stone laid in a pinwheel pattern, separating the temple from the royal’s palace. Gigantic white textiles drape between pillars bearing the faces of dead royals. My footsteps slow as we approach the palace entrance. Never in my life have I seen such wealth, even in the luxury of Tatanda’s house.
“Greetings, Saviayr, Elesekk, Nihae,” one of the guards at the entryway calls. He wears short, flowing pants and holds a spear twice as long as I am tall, tipped with a point as long as my forearm.
“Peace to you, Fynor,” Savi says.
“Glad you finally made it back,” Fynor says. “Who is your companion?”
Only now do I realize that Nhardah is not with us. I think I remember him meeting the caravan leader, but can’t recall the last time I saw him.
Saviayr takes my hand and grins. “This is my new wife, Raiballeon.”
“Huh. What happened to the Iranine?”
“It’s a long story.”
Fynor accepts his explanation and looks at me. “Forgive me, that was rude. It’s a pleasure to meet you, wife of Saviayr.”
I can’t decide if I trust him. Fynor sounds earnest, but I’ve never known Izyphorns to be courteous to Maraians. I settle for answering with a nod.
“Well, go on in.” Fynor waves us past. “Yrin’s waiting for you. He should be dining now.”
“Thank you, and peace to you,” Saivayr takes our leave of them.
“And the divinities be kind to you,” Fynor and the other guard reply after the Izyphorn fashion.
The fading evening light does not reach inside the door. Instead, torches line the walls, spaced far enough apart that we move in and out of shadows between them. We wind through corridors with low ceilings, and soon I am completely lost. “You know where we’re going, right?” I ask Saviayr, Nihae, and Elesekk.
Nihae chuckles and smiles back at me. “It took me a long time to figure out where everything in here was, too.”
In the end, one of the corridors dumps us into a cavernous room lit by candles. A small fire blazes on a platform in the center of the room, sizzling under drippings from a large roasting bird. Smoke rises up to the ceiling high overhead, where the corners of the red curtains flutter. An ornate, red-cushioned chair left of the fire reclines between towering statues of a Zyphor’s horned viper and Havil’s crocodile. A man lounges on the chair, picking food with wizened hands off a tray held by a young, pale servant girl. His skin, orange as the coarse desert sand, glistens from the costly oils rubbed into it.
He can only be the royal Yrin.
At our entrance, he turns his shaved head toward us. A genuine smile slides over his face. “Saviayr, you have returned,” he greets. His deep voice echoes off the stone.
“Peace to you, your Greatness.” Saviayr strides forward. The serving girl slides to the side of the chair. Nihae and Elesekk follow their son, so I trail after them.
“I am sorry your sister could not be here to greet you,” the royal says. My heart sinks. The closer I get to Yori, the more I long to see her. “There was some unrest down at the shore, so I sent her to help with restoring peace. Yorchan really is good at diplomacy–even I, old and feeble-minded as I am, can notice that. You’d better watch, or she may supplant you.”
Saviayr chuckles. “I’m just pleased we’ve both found favor with you, your Greatness.”
The royal’s eyes fall on me then, and his thick gray eyebrows shoot toward each other. “What is this?” he asks. “You left to marry that charming Iranine girl. Where is she? Who is this?”
Saviayr and I look at each other. His face softens, and his eyes fill with warmth. He’s proud to present me to his patron, and that makes me feel like I could glow. “I present to you Raiballeon of the clan of Charn, my wife. If your grace allows it, I will tell our story.”
The royal Yrin straightens in his chair and waves away the servant girl. She disappears down another dark hall. “Yes, yes, what are you waiting for? You know I enjoy your stories. That is why I hired you, after all.”
Saviayr dips his head and begins. While he explains what our story, I watch the royal. He calls himself old, and his gray eyebrows support his claim, but few wrinkles mar his skin. His thin eyes peer at us with clarity only lessened by a milky film, and his large nose cuts like a knife down the front of his face. His build is that of a man who never labored physically yet rarely overindulged in fancy foods—loose skin stretches over thin, undeveloped muscles.
Savi tells briefly of our past promise to marry, the events that separated us, and our reunion on Ira. I listen eagerly when he explains his feelings this past week: His initial anger when he thought I abandoned him purposefully, his warring concern at how Tatanda treated me, his growing awareness of his continued affection for me, and his final decision that marrying Maylai would be unfaithful to her and to me.
When he finishes, Yrin stares at me, lips pursed. Silence drags on. I want to edge closer to Savi as Yrin’s inspection continues, but instead raise my chin. Savi clears his throat. “Did I mention she knows the histories far better than I do? She taught me much of what I know.”
Yrin looks at me a moment more, wrinkles his nose, and flops against the back of the chair. “Eh. I like her. She suits you better than that other girl,” he pronounces.
“Thank you,” Savi breathes. His shoulders drop, and I breathe in relief.
“Away with you all now,” the royal orders. “Saviayr, tomorrow you must give a report on the situation of the slaves this past year. My nephew will want to know if our policy must change when I see him at Api’s Feast.”
Saviayr nods and signals us to bow. Having dismissed us, the royal Yrin signals for the entertainers in one corner of the room. Before Savi, Nihae, and Elesekk lead the way to our rooms, though, something makes me hesitate. Warmth spreads through my heart and wakes my stomach with energy. I’ve never felt this, but I have no doubts. Aia wants me to speak now. I whirl back to Yrin and open my mouth. Words flow out like air.
“Royal Yrin, I am Raiballeon of the Maraians, a child of the kaites, and a servant of Aia who is Thaies. He formed Orrock by the song of His lips and spoke creation into being. Aia has heard the cries of His people whom you have oppressed, the weeping of Maraiah under your whip. He is ready to act. He has sent me to lead His people into freedom, and He gives you a choice today: Will you release us, or will you continue to rebel against the one true God?”
Silence so deep I can hear the curtains rustle overhead reigns when my words dry up. Yrin stares at me again, eyes stretched wide. His face melts into fury and terror. “Guards!” he shrieks, and my heart sinks. A dozen guards armed like the ones at the door materialize from shadows in the walls. “Sorcery! Rebellion! Witchcraft! Mother Weaver preserve us from the Devourer.” His gnarled finger darts out, pointing at me. “Seize them and throw them into the dungeon!”
The guards spring forward and grab Saviayr and his parents. They hesitate before touching me.
“Your Greatness, please!” Saviayr cries out. “Have mercy. Let us talk—”
“Silence,” Yrin snarls. He half-rises from the throne. The smooth skin on his forehead stretches tight, and his arms shake. “How dare you bring black magic and uprising into my halls, after all I have done for you! Would you have the Devourer consume my house?”
“My royal Yrin, please,” Saviayr begs, straining against the hands around his upper arms. Hot, dry hands clamp onto me.
The royal holds out his hands, palms down, and flicks his fingers away from him. “I cast you away,” he growls. “Saviayr is nothing now. By Havil of the River and Zyphor Groundshaper, I denounce you.” I glance at the crocodile and viper statues of the divinities he invokes. They remain unchanged.
Then Yrin grasps his staff, leaps down from his chair, and swings the staff at Saviayr’s face.
“No!” bursts from my throat. I drop my bag and lunge toward them—I have to shield Savi! His guards’ knuckles are pale. They don’t let him dodge.
My captors yank me backward. Shouts echo through the room. I don’t know if they came from Nihae and Elesekk or are simply in my head.
Another blow of the staff, this time against his stomach. The thunk makes me flinch. Savi curls forward. I strain against my guards. “Savi!” His name grates my throat.
Brute strength drags me away, down a steep passage, through a maze. The guards shove me onto coarse, unpaved dirt. My hands automatically catch my fall, and tiny stones scrape my palms. Elessek, Nihae, and last of all Saviayr tumble into the cell on top of me. “Savi!” I call again, under the tangle of limbs.
Elesekk pulls himself out of the pile and lunges toward the door. “Wait!” he shouts.
The guards pay no heed. A door swings shut, iron scrapes against iron, and we are locked in prison.