Friends, you know how I’ve been hinting at a super secret special surprise? It shall be revealed this week!!! Stay tuned for more information. I am SO excited about it!
For now, here is your weekly chapter:
Savi shakes me awake in the thin light of morning. “Rai, wake up.”
I tremble under his hands, frantically blinking away the images besieging my mind. Savi pulls me to his chest. “You’re okay,” he repeats.
When my shivering subsides and my breathing calms, he says, “Was that another nightmare?”
“Rai, why do you have so many nightmares? What are they about?”
We haven’t actually talked about them before, so I tell him now. I share what they used to be when I was living under the slave master’s threat and how they’ve changed since our reunion. “This one, though, I’ve never had one like this. Nhardah was–so many screams, so much blood.” I shudder and cling to Savi.
“Hey.” He rocks back and forth, crooning. “None of your other nightmares came true, right? We’re okay, we’re alive. Nhardah’s going to be fine.”
Eventually I calm, though the nightmare still unsettles me. May Savi be right, and may this be as harmless as my other nightmares. Regardless, it’s time for us to move.
“We’re in for rough sailing,” Forziel remarks, eyeing the clouds that darken most of the horizon.
“I know. But we can’t stay here.” Savi gently rouses Nihae.
Yesterday afternoon, I tasked Liwin with finding me another crutch. He found nothing then. This morning, he runs up brandishing a gnarled stick as Hoenna kicks dirt over our fire. “Rai, will this work?”
It’s rough and knobby, but better than nothing. I fit it under my arm. “Thank you, Liwin.”
With our camp packed and our people leading the way to the boats, Savi and I climb the hill one last time. At the top, I look over the hills that sheltered me for three years and lately hosted all my people.
This is goodbye.
Despite the bustle of preparing for our voyage, the Maraians notice Saviayr and me on the hill’s peak and gradually stop to listen.
“People of Aia,” I address them, “peace to you. Please gather your families and prepare to board your designated boat. We will leave for the bay in order of clans. Move quickly, but do not endanger each other. Everyone shall have time to find their place safely. Now, would the clan of Lacashain follow your elders along the path?”
Thus begins our exodus from the island.
We expect it to take a couple hours for everyone to board. That leaves us with time to take our gifts to the Iranines. Hoenna looks after Nihae, Bathatyz is tasked with carrying our meager belongings. Yorchan helps direct traffic with the elders. Forziel prepares to bid the axex farewell.
That leaves Drigo and Liwin for us to enlist, since Nhardah hasn’t appeared yet. They help us lug the gifts up to Tatanda’s house. Despite our last parting, I hope he will distribute our gifts to the Iranines and allow me to say one last farewell to my cousins.
We brave the glares of the Iranines on the way, then find Tatanda’s house in chaos. Servants rush back and forth. My cousins call to each other across the house. The usual neatness is in utter disarray, so much so that we initially go unnoticed.
Then Maylani runs through the room, doubles back, and squeals.
“Maylani, where’s your mother’s keepsake box?” Tatanda shouts from the bedroom.
She doesn’t answer him, but throws her arms around Savi and me.
“Maylani?” her father calls again.
“Oh, you’re here! Then we’re not too late.” Mayli clasps her hands. She’s clad in the plainest clothing I’ve ever seen her wear. “Isn’t it exciting?”
“Isn’t what exciting?” I ask.
“Where is that girl?” Tatanda yells, storming through the house.
He stops abruptly when he sees us.
“What is happening?” I ask whoever will answer.
Tatanda straightens his shoulders, yanks his vest straight, and declares, “Isn’t it obvious? We’re coming with you. Anik, will you bring out the trunks already?”
Pitka appears, struggling under a bag that’s far too heavy from her. She squeals when she sees us–a shocking likeness of Maylani’s squeal–and throws herself at me.
Savi has to catch me, or I’d fall over.
Tatanda resumes shouting orders at the servants, who hasten out the door bearing what looks like boxes holding all of Tatanda’s possessions. Then he notices Liwin and Drigo. “Who are you?”
“Uncle, this is Drigo and Liwin. We brought gifts from our people to thank the Iranines for their hospitality.” I look around the disaster the house has become, and the next statement becomes a question. “We thought you might distribute it for us?”
He humphs. “How would I do that from a boat out at sea, hm?”
I blink. “Wait–you’re coming?”
Tatanda mutters a response that gets lost in a crash from down the hall.
“Uncle.” I take hold of his arm. “You’re coming?”
He holds himself stiff, a sure sign that he’s trying to hide his emotions. “We will not speak of it. Leave your gifts here. They’ll deal with it when they come to ransack the house.”
“You really think they’ll do that?” Anik asks. He runs into the corner of the doorway.
Tatanda raises an eyebrow. “Can you remember a time when one of our people have left the island for good? It hasn’t happened in my lifetime. They’ll be angry, they already are, and they’ll take it out on what we leave behind.” He rushes us out the door, then turns back to the quiet rooms and halls. “Ah, my home! These walls have been my shelter since birth.”
Tatanda lowers his head. After a pause, he turns and starts down the path. “Onward, before I change my mind.”
My cousins take that as a warning and stay remarkably quiet–except for Maylani. She grabs my arm and whispers, “I kept begging, and Anik kept reasoning with him. We knew Tatanda loves you, he’s just stubborn. Then this morning the other men snubbed him. He came home and started throwing things into bags.”
I can’t tell if Tatanda heard Mayli or not. Head held high, he leads us past the neighbors, who come from their houses to glare at us. Some spit as we pass and flick their fingers to ward away evil.
None of us talk until we reach the bluff over the harbor and find Forziel arguing with the axex. “No, you can’t come,” he says, stretching between them and the ramp.
The hawk-lions bump into him.
Yorchan, a few paces down the ramp, grins and chuckles quietly.
“What’s going on?” Savi asks.
Forziel sidesteps to block one of the axex. He blows at the hair hanging into his eyes. “The stupid creatures won’t listen to me. Go home! We’re going on boats far away. You won’t want to come, trust me.”
One of the axex, the one he’s ridden since we found them, flaps its wings, takes to the air, and settles below him on the ramp.
Yorchan cackles, cupping her mouth.
Forziel turns slowly to face his axex. “Really?” he grinds out. “It’s going to be like that?”
The axex squawks and soars over the edge of the cliff. The others follow it down to the beach.
Yorchan clutches her stomach and guffaws.
Forziel glares at her. Then he throws up his unbroken arm and huffs. “Fine! I give up. They’re coming with us.”
When I check on my cousins, Pitka’s eyes are huge. She stares open-mouthed at the axex.
Anik whistles and flicks Pipit’s shoulder. “Pretty neat, huh, little squirrel?”
Pitka just nods.
I limp down the hill, leading the way. “I wish you’d seen the whole thing,” Yori says, wiping tears from her eyes. “Forz was trying so hard, but the axex wouldn’t have any of it.”
“Are we going to be sharing space with those creatures?” Tatanda asks, frowning.
I peer down at the axex, who are settling themselves on the decks of various boats, and can’t help but smile. “It looks like it.”
Down in the bay, we find the boat closest to the exit. Savi helps me over the gap, and Anik swings Pitka across. The boats are simple, with a single sail and a wheel to turn the rudder but no other adornments. There’s a single hatch to below deck, with bunks for three score people built into the hull and barrels of drinking water fastened to the wall. Whatever miracle kept the boats in repair also kept the water fresh.
Climbing down the ladder will be challenging for me for a while, so Savi shows our families below deck to claim sleep space.
I hobble to the wheel, where Forziel’s taken his place. He’s the only person we have who’s studied maps of the world, a product of his time in his father’s house. He’s also one of our most experienced sailors, so he remains our guide. He’s more essential now than before, as we head into unfamiliar waters.
“Sorry I couldn’t get the axex to go home,” Forziel says, frowning at the animal lying on our dock.
“You did what you could,” I assure him. “They’ll just have to look after themselves on this trip.”
Forziel turns his eyes to the sky. “They’re gonna have to. We’ll have our work cut out for us against those clouds, and these waves. I don’t like the way it looks.” He taps the wheel restlessly. “Ain’t it folly to head out in weather like this? The aivenkaites’re gonna come for us.”
I’m quiet, listening for Aia’s guidance. “Something tells me we’ll be better off out there than in here,” I answer at last. “We’re not safe either way. Goodness, they almost killed me on this island before I left last time.”
“They near killed us in prison, too,” he points out. “How’re we gonna keep thousands of people safe against enemies we can’t kill?”
Nerves grow in my stomach, energy that won’t rest. “We trust Aia. He didn’t bring us out here just to let us die.”
“You sure?” a stranger asks, fidgeting with his chanavea.
I nod decisively. “I’m positive.” And I really am.
It must be midday by the time the last Maraian is on a boat and ready to sail, but by then the sky is dark with angry clouds blotting out the sun. Forziel calls out orders. We scurry about at his command. The sails lower and fill with wind. The ropes binding us to the island are untied. We inch toward the bay’s inlet.
Rocky cliffs striped red and yellow slide past. Then the ocean opens before us, vast and gray and angry. Our little boat teeters in the waves.
Behind us, boats trail out of the bay in a haphazard trickle. They remind me of the ducklings who came to the pond where the kaites raised me, tiny fluff balls bobbing between their parents.
I split my time watching the boats and watching the sky. Savi joins me. He casually unsheathes Elgarnoseth and rests its tip on the deck.
The last boat leaves the harbor. I copy Saviayr, readying Luemikaroeth.
Slowly, Ira shrinks into the distance. It’s a small hill, a short hump, a tiny speck.
It’s gone, swallowed by the sea’s expanse.
The waves still. The boiling clouds hush.
Then the sky breaks.
Muahaha, you’re welcome for the cliffhanger. Please like and leave a comment if you enjoyed the chapter 🙂