Already, Maraians clog the small Iranine market. Big Akima, first of the shopkeepers to arrive, eyes the strangers with consternation. Fists on her hips, she approaches an old Maraian woman. The sea and the crowds drown out her words, but I imagine Big Akima’s demanding an explanation. When the old woman answers her, she seeks out a younger woman. Whatever the latter says, Big Akima scowls, throws her apron over her shoulder, and stalks back up the path to the residential hill.
Savi and my plan is already being shaken. We need to get our people to the grazing hill and find Tatanda as soon as possible.
He helps me over the gap between boat and dock. I wince when I step too hard with my injured ankle, compensating for dock’s lack of movement. I had to loosen my sandal straps on the boat, but the swollen skin is tender.
“Rai, can I look at your ankle?” Hoenna asks, easily hopping over the railing.
There’s a crash. Someone knocked into one of the supports of one of the stalls, loosening it. Without support, the roof caved in.
I take Savi’s arm and limp forward. “I’m fine, Hoenna. We have to hurry.” If we don’t, the whole island may be destroyed.
My shouts catch no one’s attention, so Drigo whistles.
Every head turns.
“We cannot stay here,” I order my people. “Gather your possessions and take that path. It leads to an empty hill where we can camp. Settle away from the animals grazing there.”
It’s slow work, getting so many people to move together. Yori seems to be everywhere at once, finding the elders and other leaders, enlisting their help. Nhardah keeps close eye on Nihae, reassuring her when the crowd confuses her. Forziel hops up on an axex and leads the way from the sky.
We stir up choking clouds of red dust. By the time people are settling in, the sun has risen in a crimson glow. The cloud of aivenkaites looms in the north, taller and darker than any stormcloud I’ve seen before.
“Let’s go to Tatanda,” I tell Savi, “before Sandat and the rest who hate Maraiah can agitate the Iranines.”
Hopefully we’re not too late.
Yori snags my arm before we can leave. “Not so fast,” she says.
“Yori, we don’t have time. I need to talk to Tatanda and the other prominent Iranines.”
“They can wait long enough for someone to look at your ankle. Savi, how can you let her walk on that?”
He raises an eyebrow. “I’m not letting her do anything. We haven’t had time to slow down, and I didn’t think there was anyone on the boat who could help.”
“See?” I tell my sister. “Don’t blame my husband for not taking care of me. It’s my decision, and I say I’m fine.”
Yori snorts. “Yeah, but I’m your sister, and I get to be annoying. Here’s Ayri, one of the Jorahittes and the best healer we have.” She throws her arm over my shoulder and hangs on me, throwing off my balance. “She’s going to take a look at your ankle.”
I wobble and try to shove her off. “Yorchan.”
“It’ll just take longer if you resist,” she sings.
She has a determined glint in her eye, one I recognize from growing up. I’ve forgotten how determined Yori can be.
Savi sighs. “Yori, please?”
She squares her shoulders. “Savi, it’s for her own good.”
“Fine.” I huff and lower myself to the ground. There’s no getting around Yorchan at times like this.
She grins, and I cross my arms. Then Ayri undoes my sandal and probes my ankle with gentle hands, and I hiss.
“Your ankle may be broken,” Ayri announces after a while. “At the very least, it’s badly sprained. I’m going to wrap it, and you need to keep your weight off of it.”
She digs some cloth out of her bag and binds my ankle. I grit my teeth and squeeze Savi’s hand through the process. As soon as Ayri gives her permission, I struggle to my feet. Wrapped tight, my ankle doesn’t hurt quite as much.
“Better?” Yori grins.
“Be quiet,” I tell her. “Okay, yes. It’s better. Now we have to go find my uncle.”
“We have an uncle?” Yorchan asks, trailing behind Savi and me.
“I have an uncle, of sorts. I told you about him on the boat; he took me in when I had to flee.” We pass Forziel, and I snag his arm. “Hey, make sure the Maraians stay on this hill. Get the others to help you.”
He nods and runs off to enlist Liwin, Hoenna, and Drigo’s aid.
I would expect the Iranines to crowd close to our encampment, but I only glimpse a couple daring children peeping out from behind a serviceberry bush.
At first, Yori peppers me with questions. I try to answer, but the questions running through my head distract me. Do Sandat and his anti-Maraian mob know we are here? Will they stir up violence? Will Tatanda receive me in his home, after the way I left? Will the other Iranines listen to him, if he agrees to help us?
Savi answers a couple of Yorchan’s questions, then she falls quiet.
Climbing the residential hill takes longer than I remember. Now I see why the Iranines weren’t observing us set up camp. They congregate around the houses at the top of the residential hill, talking with agitated voices. Snippets of conversation reach us–outnumbered, defend our homes, invasion.
My heart sinks, even though we expected this.
Sandat recognizes us first. He points and spits. “Maraians!”
I ignore him, but take advantage of the Iranines’ attention. “Where is Tatanda? We must speak with him.”
Sandat squints. “Raiba? I should have known. Friends, she planned this invasion all along!”
“Raiba?” Maylani’s voice echoes Sandat’s, with far less derision. She steps around a few people, the gold trim on her vest glinting in the sunlight as she does. The sight of her familiar dark curls and laughter-filled eyes draws a smile from me. She squints. “I didn’t recognize you. You came back?”
Her statement lacks the warmth I expected.
I want to hug her, but I suspect she might not accept the gesture. Still, I ought to try. “Peace to you, my cousin.” I reach out to her.
She holds back. “I–I’ll take you to Tatanda.”
With a nod, I drop my arms. She leads back to the path and up to the highest house.
Our feet echo on the porch. My sandals are much thinner than last time I stood here, thin enough that I feel the wood grain worn smooth by many years’ worth of feet. No one waits at the door to welcome us in with a footwash and cool drink. This is not a homecoming. We are not welcome guests.
Still, it’s cooler inside than out, the thick adobe walls holding in the remnants of the night’s cool.
Inside, Maylani turns and purses her lips. “Why did you leave without saying goodbye? Where have you been? Tatanda wasn’t happy that you disregarded us like that. And why are all these Maraians invading us? Did you come with them?”
She’s still frowning, so unlike my cousin, but I laugh. “Oh, Mayli, I’ve missed you.” I decide I don’t care if she’s upset with me, I need to hug her. And I do.
Maylani stiffens, but then she relaxes and hugs me tight. “I missed you, too.” Her voice shakes. “Do you know how worried I’ve been? You didn’t even say goodbye! And Pitka’s been so unmanageable, and Anik’s grumpier than I’ve ever seen, and—”
Footsteps, then Anik’s disheveled hair appears. “What’re you saying about me?” He notices the presence of others with his sister and straightens. Anik looks us up and down, then breaks into a grin that makes him squint. “Raiba?”
He crushes me in a hug. “Took me a moment to recognize you. You disappeared! We thought you disowned us.”
I laugh. “Oh, I’d never! But some men were going to do us harm, so we had to flee.”
“Who?” the siblings ask in unison, then recognize Saviayr.
“Saviayr!” Maylani exclaims. She starts toward him, then stops. “I mean, um, well. You’re Raiba’s husband now, aren’t you? Goodness, that is strange to say.”
Anik nods at Savi, then looks back at me. “Who was going to harm you?”
I’m trying to think of an honest, vague answer to protect their view of Sandat, one of Mayli’s best friends, when two little feet and solemn brown eyes appear as a distraction. “Pipit,” I grin, reaching for the little girl.
Pitka stays where she is, pressed against the wall. She scowls at me.
Anik slouches to her level. “Hey, squirrel.” He tugs one of her curls, which are messier than I have ever seen them. “Raiba’s back. Aren’t you going to say hello?”
“Why not? You missed her. You wouldn’t let any of us tuck you in or braid your hair.”
“No,” Pipit repeats, crossing her arms and sticking out her lip. “I didn’t. I don’t like her anymore.”
I crouch down. “Oh, Pipit, I’m so sorry for leaving without saying goodbye.”
Anik leaps up. “I just remembered–I’ll be right back.” He sprints out of the room, and Maylani and I look at each other. Things never end well when Anik moves so quickly. Something’s going to end up broken.
“Anik, slow down,” Mayli calls after her brother. To me, she says, “Seriously, though, how are you here? What’s going on?”
“I’d rather tell the story once. Can I see Tatanda?”
Maylani agrees, but Anik reappears before we turn toward the hall. He bears a pitcher and a bowl full of water. Two steps into the room, his sandal catches on a rug. Anik lurches forward. The bowl arcs out of his hands, spraying me with water before shattering on the cedar floorboards.
“Anik!” Mayli shrieks.
“Sorry, Raiba!” He gives a half-smile, pushing himself upright.
Water seeps through my breeches. I laugh, glad that Anik will never change. Squeezing my pants in hopes to wring some water out of them, I turn to Yorchan. “These are my cousins, Anik, Maylani, and Pitka. And this,” I turn to them, “is my sister Yorchan.”
“Sister!” Anik makes a show of brushing off his pants and straightening his vest. “May the spirits be kind to you, Yorchan. Raiba, I didn’t know you had a sister.”
“I didn’t tell you much about my past.”
He nudges my shoulder. “You had no other option. I’m just glad you came to us in the first place, then and now.”
“You don’t look anything like sisters.” Maylani tilts her head to the side.
“Except for Rai, all Maraians have been adopted for decades,” Yorchan explains.
Maylani snaps. “I remember now. That makes sense.”
“Can we please talk to Tatanda?” I remind them.
“Not until we welcome you properly,” Anik declares. He sends Maylani for another bowl of water, and they rush through the hospitality ceremony. With clean feet and quenched thirst, I follow my cousins to the parlor. Anik pushes back the curtain in the doorway and clears his throat.
Inside, almost a dozen men turn their attention to us.
“Sorry for the interruption,” Anik talks over them. “Tatanda, there are some people here to talk to you.”
He barely glances at us. “Send them away. I told you not to let foreign rebels in.”
“Yeah, but I thought you’d want to see your niece,” Anik says nonchalantly.
Tatanda looks at us a second time. I see the moment he recognizes us, and decide I definitely need a bath if none of my family recognize me.
“Please excuse me,” my uncle tells the men in the parlor. “This is a matter I must see to at once.”
A couple of the men stand. I recognize Sandat’s father among them. “Get out of here,” they demand. “Do you think to bring our island to ruin? Do you bring devastation to us, too? We will not stand for this!”
Tatanda looks at them. “I will not have such unfounded accusations flung in my house, at people who have come on peaceful terms. You may see yourselves out. We will continue our deliberation later.”
He sweeps out of the parlor and toward the dining room. One by one, we file in after him and spread out.
Pitka keeps her head down and avoids touching me, but her brown eyes peek up at me from time to time.
Tatanda crosses his arms and watches me. Under his heavy gaze, the girl I was when I lived with them would shrink.
But that girl has gone through much. Savi’s hand warms the small of my back, and I take a deep breath. “Tatanda, I apologize for leaving without saying goodbye.”
His gaze does not waver or change.
“It grieves me that I dishonored you in such a way. I will always be thankful for your kindness and hospitality toward me. When we left in haste, it was to escape attempts on our lives.”
Tatanda clears his throat. “I had suspected as much, especially after my counsel in the parlor today. Why do you return?”
“I have told you about Aia my Thaies,” I remind him. “Aia sent Saviayr and me to the Izyphorn sultan and royals to demand Maraiah’s release from slavery. Aia performed great and miraculous signs. Just yesterday, Izyphor freed us and sent us away. By Aia’s foresight, my people had already been gathered to the coast. My sister Yorchan and the Maraian elders led our people to the docks. We came to Ira for a temporary refuge as we seek a way to sail to our homeland across the sea.”
Anik holds up a finger and looks at his father. “We heard about the great signs, Tatanda. The merchants had wild tales—”
“You already told us,” Maylani interjects
“–about fires and sickness and pests,” Anik finishes anyway.
Maylani sticks her tongue out at him.
“When you interrupted my counsel with the leading men of our island, we were disturbed by the unannounced invasion of Ira by your people. If violence should arise, will fight for our homeland.”
Yori spreads out her hands. “Sir, we do not want violence, not at all. We want peace, and we want to leave as soon as possible.”
“What authority do you have to speak for the Maraians?” Tatanda frowns.
“She is our sister, and she helped lead our people while Rai and I were at the capital,” Savi answers.
“We don’t even have any weapons,” Yorchan continues. “If you don’t trust us, at least be assured we’re not prepared to fight.”
“That may be true, but can you say that all of your kinsmen share your peaceful inclinations?” Tatanda asks. “In my experience, people burdened with new liberty are likely to celebrate, and revelry can lead to damage that will grieve both our peoples.”
“I will talk with them,” I promise. “We will do everything possible to assure we are good guests, and I hope to leave in the morning. I had them gather on the pasture hill to be as out of the way as possible.”
Pitka’s voice interrupts us. “What?” Her eyes are pink and her bottom lip trembles. She finally looks fully at me. “You’re leaving again?”
I kneel before her. “Oh, Pipit. I’m so sorry, but we can’t stay.”
A large tear rolls down her cheek. Pitka jumps forward, wrapping her arms around my neck, and buries her face in my shoulder.
I squeeze her close and run my fingers through her tangled curls.
“Don’t go, Raiba,” she whispers. Hot tears drip onto my shoulder.
I bite my lip. “I have to.” Then I look up at Tatanda and speak as his niece instead of as an ambassador. “Uncle, come with us. I have always told you about Aia, and now you’ve heard about who He is. He is so powerful and wise, and He is so, so good. Come with us. Be my family. You’ll be welcome in our land.”
The corners of Tatanda’s lips turn further down. My heart sinks.
Anik crosses his arms and lifts his chin. “She’s right. After all this time, we’d be fools to ignore what Raiba’s told us about Aia. I’m going with her.”
Maylani takes a shaky breath. “Me, too.”
Pitka grips me tighter.
The veins in Tatanda’s forehead stand out. His face reddens. With a sudden burst of movement, he starts pacing the length of the dining room.
Maylani flinches, then forces her shoulders back and gulps.
“You’ve put me in an unfair situation. The people accuse me of sheltering the leader of the Maraian revolt. If your people do anything, however small, to cause trouble with my people, the Iranines will hold me accountable. And you have shared your rebellion with my children, so I am doubly shamed. I took you in and shared everything I have with you, and now you repay me by taking it all away.”
“I am sorry, Uncle. But please, come with us. Leave the Iranines to grumble and cast blame. Join us, follow Aia, and start over in Tion Beriath. Please.”
His dark eyes are stern. He stops pacing. “You need to leave. If you are not gone by tomorrow, the Iranines will wage war on you. Pray to Aia that He will provide a way off the island.”
Pitka starts crying.
“Leave,” Tatanda repeats. “Now.”
Thanks for reading 🙂 Please remember to like and/or comment if you enjoyed the chapter!