It had been a very long time since either of the girls left the house. Tanmar would hear them chattering away no matter what room he went into; and now that most of it was in Korish, it never ceased to make him smile. The young Reihimian girl was making a lot of progress--though most of this was, he knew, due to his daughter, Thali. That girl could chase away any stormcloud, making it so that even the sadness itself seemed impossible.
He was on his way up the stairs one day when the Justice bumped into him, almost completely unaware that he'd been there. She looked up at him, at first shocked, and then a little afraid; but suddenly a huge smile sprang onto her face, and Tanmar was completely taken aback by its sincerity. While Hime was very close to Thali, she ordinarily wasn't inclined toward anyone else.
"Where are you headed?" he asked, smiling kindly in return.
"Oh, Thali say of something she have want to share with me. She have told me go up stair and get it." She held a well-worn book out to him.
"It seems as though you two have grown close," Tanmar said, taking it from her and smiling at the cover. Risa grinned in response; but there was a hint of something else in it, something deeper that Tanmar couldn't quite identify. It left him puzzled.
"She remind me much of someone I once have known," the girl answered softly, noticing the confused look that Tanmar had given her, and his fidgeting with the book. He studied her, looking for a hint of something in that look again; but she had brightened once more, and any trace of it was long gone.
"Well, Thali wait for me!" she piped, and flew down the rest of the stairs, turning a tight corner to the girl's room. He chuckled.
"What a strange child," he commented before disappearing up the stairs.
There were some days when neither girl would emerge from Thali's bedroom; and Thali began to send for Juris' potions less and less now that her recovery seemed to be speeding up. It was almost as though the Justice brought laughter with her everywhere she went; and in those times she seemed truly like a princess, one that loved her people and cherished them over herself. Hime though, while a lovely name and suitable to her position, did not seem to fully suit her. For she was too kind and understanding to be just another princess, too cheerful now for who they knew that she should have been. It was confusing to all who met her, especially Tanmar; and it only served to do so further when he sat down next to Thali one day, while Risa was upstairs practicing her Korish (for Thali had insisted upon it) and spoke to her of the girl.
"You would never believe it, Papa. She told me that she was only staying inside with me so I could teach her Korish; but I know it's so much more than that. She's lonely, Papa, terribly lonely."
"I know," Tanmar said, patting his daughter softly on the head. She smiled
"But even though she says such things, they never hurt me. Do you want to know why? Because sometimes she says one thing, and you almost believe her; but her eyes will say something else, something entirely different, and you can't help but believe them instead of her words. They never lie, I don't think. And even when she's the proud and stuffy Justice of Reihem, she still has this sadness about her, this weight, like a heavy cloak." The girl stared off at nothing in particular. "And I can't help but wonder why."
"She has not told you?" Tanmar asked, surprised.
"No, of course not. She's very close-mouthed about such things. There are times she asks me about something, and I ramble on and on about it without remembering to ask her something too; but this never seems to bother her, because she just sits and listens contentedly. I always have this nagging feeling that she hears me then, but not really--like my words are reminding her of something else, and she's lost in it. And even though we talk a lot now, she never tells me of Reihem, or her people, or her family. It's like she doesn't even remember them."
"Perhaps she doesn't want to."
"That's true," Thali mused. "But why?"
"I suppose that it is something," Tanmar said, rising slowly, "we shall just have to wait for her to tell us on her own time, when she is ready."
"Aww," Thali pouted, "But that's so difficult!"
"It can be," Tanmar answered, chuckling, "but it is well worth it in the end. So long as you look at patience within the grand scale of things, you will never have the strength to push on; but if you take it one day at a time, you will somehow find that you have all the strength you need, even if only for that moment."
"Hmm," Thali said, her eyes reflective. "Thank you, Papa. I think I needed to hear that."
"You're welcome," he said, bending down to kiss her on the forehead.
"Now Thali," he said, when he had straightened up again, "Hime has to go outside sometime soon. She has been cooped up in this house with you far too long, and I can scarcely stand to hear her pacing around upstairs because she has nowhere else to go. I know not of what she did before she came here, but that girl has too much energy to be doing nothing."
"But Papa," Thali said, "she's already doing all the chores for me, even the lights. And I'll be up in a couple of days--can't it wait?"
"I suppose it could." His eyes suddenly twinkled mischievously. "But...I heard that some new books came out in the Library just yesterday...and I figured that, since Risa obviously needs to stretch her legs out a bit, we could send her out to fetch them for you..."
"New books?" Thali started, sitting up suddenly in bed. A knowing smile spread across Tanmar's face, and he knew he had already won.
"Yes, that's what I said."
"Any more from the Djenna War Series?"
"You shall just have to wait to hear that from the Justice now, won't you?"
"Papa!" Thali cried. "That's...that's not fair!"
"Is it now?" he chuckled. "Especially when the girl wants to leave so badly anyways?"
Thali sighed, rolling her eyes up to the ceiling. "You win," she groaned. "Hime!" she called, glaring at the sound of Tanmar chuckling as he left the room.
"What is it, Thali?" Risa called, surprised by the unexpected sound of excitement in the girl's voice. She trotted down the stairs and to her room, passing by a strangely satisfied Tanmar in the hall.
"Papa just told me that some new books came to the Library yesterday! And I'm not well enough to go out and get them just yet...but I know you've been itching to leave the house for quite some time, so this would be the perfect opportunity for you, not only to get some exercise, but also to practice your Korish...but Hime, whatever is the matter?"
For Risa's face had turned a chalky white, as though she had become very sick all of a sudden.
"You have want me...travel...to Zarkera capital city...by self?" she repeated, mortified.
"Not really wanting; this is more like begging. I've been waiting a very, very, very long time for those books," Thali said. "And you know how patient I can be."
"But, but," Risa stammered. "Alone?"
"You'll be fine!" Thali encouraged. "If I didn't think you would be, I wouldn't entrust my new books to you."
Risa somehow didn't find this very comforting.
"Now listen," Thali said sternly, as though to wrestle the very fear out of Risa herself, "The Library is a little while away from the Ailis, which you saw the last time we were there together. It is made out of the same stone, and has a large symbol shaped like this--" she traced her finger wildly about the air "--carved into the front, above the doors. You can't miss it."
"But, but," Risa pleaded.
"No! You can do it," Thali said. "I believe in you."
"No you do not. You just have want for book," Risa cried.
"That's not true!" Thali protested. "Though I do admit...they do have something to do with it," she added sheepishly, after seeing Risa's sarcastic look.
There was a pause, in which Risa watched Thali; but the girl only glared at her irritatedly. "Well? What are you standing around for?"
"I was...hope you not mean what you say," Risa said slowly.
Thali raised an eyebrow. "Go," she said finally. So Risa went.
She felt as though her legs were going to go out from underneath her almost the entire way there; and when she got to the lifts, she had to sit while riding them for the first time in several months. When she reached the opening to Zarkera, she paused, peering nervously inside the wide and gaping opening, and wishing she had just told Thali no.
"Are you going to move? I have people waiting," the man on the lift said impatiently.
Risa nodded, wishing for a second that time would stop, to wait for her mind to catch up to it; but it didn't, and she knew it never would, so she took in a deep breath, and placed a shaky step inside.
The capital city was much busier than she had expected it to be. People were hurrying here and there with an air of business surrounding them, scarcely aware of the stranger that walked alongside them in the streets; though they would've had to look hard to notice her, for Risa was trying very hard not to be seen. She ducked her head and was careful not to run into anyone; and her eyes remained constantly downcast. Somehow, she had the strangest feeling that no one would respect her here, even if they did know of her title.
She was halfway down the bustling path to the Ailis when something strange began to happen. There was a thundering as though a storm was brewing from the outside; and the ground began shaking wildly. Risa wondered if it was an earthquake, and she fought to keep her ground.
And then the dust started kicking up from somewhere in the distance; people began to fall to the ground, their foreheads touching the stone floor as though in reverence. Risa watched them, a confused expression on her face. What were they doing?
It took awhile for her to hear it over the sounds of the thundering, but she soon realized that the people were yelling something; and they seemed to be yelling it to her. She couldn't understand the words they said due to the thunderous roar of the dust-cloud, and her heart began quaking like the ground beneath her; oh, how she wished that she had stayed at home, and ignored Thali's protests about the books!
The dust was stirring up too quickly now, and the ground trembled to such an extent that Risa closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around her head, as though to shield herself from anything that might come at her. She silently prayed; it seemed to be becoming a habit as of late.
But then the thundering ceased; the dust-wind died down, and Risa cautiously lowered her arms.
She opened her eyes, her ears barely picking up the sounds of the horse hooves as they stamped the ground before her; she lifted her head, squinting.
She took in the sight of the horse hooves as she blinked, and her eyes widened. Eyebrows furrowing in confusion, she followed the hooves slowly up to a regal and muscled white horse, which stood tall and proud before her; for this was a royal horse, a horse fit for a king. She swallowed, understanding slowly and fearfully why the people had been falling to the ground; and then, even more hesitantly, she allowed her eyes to rest upon the man who sat atop the horse, and on his face.
She gasped when she realized who he was, and her hand went flying out of instinct to cover her mouth; for out of all the people she knew within Kalpar, she had not been expecting him.
For there before her sat the Yonshu Aasir Kalevi, the ruler of the Kalpan nation; and he stared down at her with a suffocating gaze as his bright green eyes pierced straight through her heart.