Well, friends, I had a long weekend for Thanksgiving–and I FINISHED REWRITING CHILD OF THE KAITES!!!!!
If the Lord wills it, that means you will receive your weekly updates five more times after today, for a total of 47 chapters.
Now it’s back to my regular schedule, which for now means waking before the sun rises and getting home long after it’s set. So that’s my excuse for today’s chapter being late in coming to you.
Savi leaps from his axex before it lands, rolls, and sprints to Yori. My axex lands with a lurch that half sends me tumbling from its back. I pull myself up using Bathatyz’s proffered hand and drag myself toward my sister using whatever support I can find.
“Saviayr!” Yorchan calls. She hops down from the dock.
Savi swoops her up. “Little Yori!”
She laughs. “I thought we were past that nickname. Oh, I’m so glad you’re here.” As soon as the hug ends, she smacks him. “Where have you been? I’ve heard you’re getting a big head. People are calling you Champion! You know you shouldn’t do big things without my approval. And you didn’t even let me bless your wife!”
Savi grins at her. “I missed you, too, sis.”
She pokes him, and he flinches away. “Where is your wife, Saviayr of Charn? Don’t make me use the voice.”
He winks at her. “Oh, you’re going to like this.”
I’ve managed to make it most of the way to her when I run out of handholds. I’m stranded, holding onto a stranger’s shoulder, sword dangling from my other hand, ankle too weak to cross the last stretch to my sister.
Yori’s crystal blue eyes find me. Laughter lingers in them for a heartbeat. The expression slides off her face. Yori blinks, and her forehead puckers. “Rai?” She shuffles a foot toward me.
I grin. “Hi, Yori.”
She doesn’t say anything, just reels across the gap between us and draws me close. She’s taller than she used to be, warm and soft and strong. I clutch at her and shake.
My little sister.
“How are you alive?” she whispers against my shoulder.
“I never died. I had to run away to save you all.”
She pulls back. Her blue eyes shimmer. “I want to hear all about it.”
“What’s going on?” someone asks, and the question is repeated. It’s enough to remind Yori and me that we are not alone, but surrounded by our kinsmen.
Yori squeezes my arms. “Later. But now, do you have any idea what’s happening?” She addresses this to Savi and me. “The strangest things have been happening, and the local royals freed all their Maraian slaves, but these boatmen won’t let us leave Izyphor. And there’ve been rumors about Champions rising.”
With a nod to her, I turn to face the Maraians. “My brothers and sisters and cousins,” I raise my voice. “Long have we been in slavery, entreating Aia for liberation. At long last, He has heard us. He chose me, Raiballeon of Charn, and Saviayr of the same clan, to Champion our people. We have just come from the capital, where Aia introduced Himself to the Izyphorns with seven signs and demanded our release from captivity. This very day, Aia’s promise has been fulfilled: We are free!”
A cheer rises, almost deafening.
“That’s all very well.” The harbormaster stands with feet spread and arms crossed in the middle of the dock. I recognize him from when we returned to the mainland just a couple weeks ago. “But I’m going to need some higher authority than a slave’s word to convince me to let you on our boats.”
I slip off my chanavea and draw the sultan’s ring from the cord. Savi takes it and hops up on the dock. He holds it up for the harbor master’s inspection. “This is the signet ring of the sultan himself,” Savi says. “He gave it to us as a token of our freedom.”
“And I attest that I witnessed this very thing that the Champions speak of,” Bathatyz declares, striding forward with all the confidence of a powerful royal.
The harbormaster bows low. “Then I bow to the wisdom of my great royals and illustrious sultan. My boatmen will take these Maraians wherever they wish to go.”
The crowd presses forward, but Savi holds out his hands for them to wait. Using Yorchan as a crutch, I move closer to him. “My people, will you accept and follow Saviayr and me as your Champions?”
They cheer. The anxiety in my chest warms into joy.
“Then, harbormaster, we ask to be ferried to Ira,” Savi says, in accordance with our plan.
He nods. Yori makes sure I’m leaning against the dock, then jumps back onto it. She calls out orders for different elders to direct the people.
It’s chaos, but people get where they need to go.
Yori and Savi eventually rejoin me, though the rest of the group comes over first. Yori squeals and hugs Nihae, who only looks slightly puzzled. “Mama Nihae?” Yori asks. “Is everything okay?”
Nihae pats Yorchan’s hand. “It’s kind of you to ask,” she says.
Yori frowns at Savi. “Is everything okay?” she repeats. “Something’s different.”
His eyes sadden. “She’s…fading. Her mind is.”
My sister shakes her head and looks around. “Where’s dad?”
Savi touches her arm. “Yori…”
She shakes her head, looking at him with suspicion. “No. Please, Savi.”
“He…it was…the royal Yrin imprisoned us. When we were escaping, aivenkaites…”
Yorchan steps back, eyes wide with horror. “They didn’t possess him?”
“No, no. But he…”
I slip my arm around Savi. “Papa Elesekk died,” I finish the words for him.
Yorchan covers her mouth with her hands. Her face reddens, and tears flow from her eyes.
Savi and I reach for her at the same time. She weeps, and Savi’s breaths are short gasps. Tears dampen my cheeks. Together, we share in the loss of this man who was father to all of us in some way, and in the coming loss of Nihae.
After a while, Nhardah interrupts us. “I am sorry, dear ones, but we need to be moving. Most of the people are already on their way across the channel. They will be needing their leaders when they arrive on the island.”
I rub my wrists over my eyes and sniff.
“Are we sailing or flying?” Forziel asks, fingers buried in his axex’s fur.
Flying would be fastest, but the creatures look tired. They’ve flown far and fast today. I’m also exhausted. The long ferry ride may be our last chance to rest before the aivenkaites overpower the kaites and we have to fight again.
“Let’s sail.” At Forziel’s drooping shoulders, I add, “But you can fly, if you’d rather.”
He perks up.
While Forziel and Drigo set to splitting the treasure load–ours and some that the other Maraians have compiled–between the axex, Savi and I seek out the harbormaster. “Which is the fastest boat you have left?” we ask him.
In short time, we’re settled in a sheltered nook against the boat’s railing, Savi, Nihae, Yorchan, and me. Not far away, Hoenna, Liwin, and Drigo sprawl on the deck. Bathatyz perches on a roll of rope, surveying the other Maraians on the boat with interest. Nhardah leans against the railing. His mahogany eyes sweep over the deck and the other boats bobbing out of the harbor.
I’ve never seen him so content.
“I’m so confused about how this all happened,” Yori says. “You left to marry that Iranine Maylani and disappeared for almost a month, then you come back as Champion, married to my resurrected sister, and Maraiah’s suddenly freed from centuries of slavery.”
We tell her our story, and ask for hers.
“There’s not much to tell,” Yorchan answers. “I was off on an errand for Yrin when you got back, it seems. I returned a couple days after your escape to find the royal sequestered in his rooms. The servants say he was pouring over some scrolls, muttering about witchcraft and mysteries and speaking Aia’s name.”
I squeeze Savi’s arm. He looks at me. “Your scrolls, Rai.”
Could it be? Was it Aia’s plan for me to lose those scrolls in the scuffle in Yrin’s throne room?
“Could be,” Yori shrugs. “Soon after, the world started falling to pieces. Our city was surrounded by fire for hours, then the all the running water filled with dead things. Pests poured into the houses of everyone but Maraians. The Izyphorn children grew deadly ill, then suddenly healed–and just as suddenly, the masters were lashed by invisible hands. They were still moaning when the food stores dried up, then all the faces of the dead disintegrated. When that happened, the royals along the coast, the ones in charge of our building projects, they all threw up their hands, shoved cattle, chickens, and gold at us, and declared that they would no longer enslave us.
“Well, there was a lot of chaos, as you can imagine. But the elders all knew me. We decided we should leave the mainland. There’s nowhere for us on the continent, and what if the Izyphorns changed their mind? So we gathered all the people here at the harbor. We’d actually just finished when you showed up.”
With that out of the way, we decide to rest. Sleep claims me instantly.
It’s the dark of night when I’m shaken awake. “We’re nearly there,” Yori says.
It takes a while to straighten. I’m more sore on this second day after the prison battle than I was yesterday. Savi and Forziel’s groans tell me they feel the same. Forziel cradles his splinted arm close to his body and curls forward. He must have changed his mind about flying sometime in the night, but his axex and the others’ wings flap overhead, mingling with the creak of the boats and the splash of waves against the hull.
The eastern horizon warms where the water meets the sky, the sight that grew so familiar in my years in Tatanda’s household. The first glow of dawn shows the force of aivenkaites still towering up toward ierah, but further away than before.
I doubt that will last, but it’s nice for now.
Ahead, the three hills of Ira break through the surface of the ocean’s ebony depths. A couple yellow lights shine as pinpricks on the residential hill, the first movements of early risers.
I had no idea I’d feel so happy to see this island again.
Savi stands beside me at the railing, arm around me for support and shelter against the chilling wind on the water’s surface. Nihae and Yorchan have the couple blankets we’ve managed to scavenge.
We draw near the harbor. Savi stiffens. “Rai, I know how we’re going to do it,” he says. “I know how we’re getting from Ira to Tion Beriath.”
He tells me, and I laugh aloud. “That’s perfect! How did we not think of it before?”
Savi chuckles and squeezes me. “I have no idea, but hae-Aia for His provision.”
I have to agree.
The boat bumps into an open dock.
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