Risa had never seen the moon before.
And she couldn’t picture it either, though they told her of it as often as she asked. They spoke of it at times as though it lived; often of the way it moved across the sky, or of its ability to curl in upon itself, so that sometimes it was just a curved line. They told her of its origins as well; legends of how it tore itself from the sun for the love of the night, only to be cursed for its defiance by the ugly black spots that dimmed what little light it managed to shed. But the moon had outlived the sun, they said, which was an accomplishment of it’s own--even if only for a time.
And with their descriptions almost always came the remarks of how she mustn’t worry that she had never seen it before; for it was only an imitation, a mere reflection of the sun.
But their words, (or dissuasions, as Kalauda often called them), never helped. It was like trying to put to words a color for a blind man. She could never hope to conceive of it.
But despite her constant questions and insatiable curiosity, Risa’s greatest wish was not to see the moon. It had never been.
Her only dream was to someday escape the person who had stolen the night from her, forcing her to live out her days in sweat and humidity like only the town of Maura could provide. Reihem--her beautiful, bottle-green mountain--never would’ve been like this. How could she possibly be expected to withstand such a transition, from Reihem to Kor? How could anyone?
But the final words of leaders killed on the battlefield were not ones to change, and it was common knowledge among the people that selfish complaints were a loss of pride; so Risa kept such comments to herself as well, at least in public.
But whenever she was alone, or with Hime, she would complain. She loved to rant about the sun and how hot it was, how it made her skin turn scratchy and swollen so that it eventually peeled right off and how it fried the food they planted, making it tasteless and dry; she loved whining almost more than anything else and since there was an awful lot to complain about, it often occupied her long and uneventful days on Kor.
(Pride was of no concern to Risa anyway; and anyone in her situation would soon realize that such a lofty trait was unattainable from any position in likeness to hers. But it was much more comfortable this way, Risa told herself, as it wasn’t nearly as formal or tense; so she had learned rather quickly not to mind.)
Aside from her complaining, which often grew tiring after awhile, the only other distractions she had were the stories she often made up, tales of princes who lived somewhere far from Maura.
They were usually quite handsome too; they would whisk her away on particularly hot afternoons, to palaces simply teeming with ice and cool water. They would hold her trembling hands outside on the terrace, where dozens of plump green plants grew instead of the forsaken dead things that crept in the desert; and he (or whoever he was at the moment) would smile at her ever so softly. And she would smile in return, if only she could muster up the courage to; and he would hold her there in the moonlight, the blessed and cool moonlight, where she would finally be free of the sun.
But the chances of that ever happening were slim; Hime told her so every time she got the chance.
“He’d probably die of heatstroke before ever reaching you,” she’d sniff, thrusting her thin sharp nose into the air as she stared off at the distance with misted and squinty eyes. “And, if possible, in front of you as well! His dying breath but a whisper--oh! Except you couldn’t catch what he said--and the light is fading quickly from his frightened eyes--wouldn’t that be simply tragic?”
And, after clutching her hands dramatically to her chest with an overly exaggerated sigh, she would whisk off to sob over another awful story that tugged at her ever-so-tender heartstrings.
Hime, Hime Lumina. That was the name of the girl who had chained her to the sun. The dead Justice’s daughter, the honorable and noble-blooded Hime. Last in a royal line that had survived for almost a thousand years. Fitting, that her name means ‘princess’.
It was simply a pity that no one ever pronounced it right.
“Good day, High-mee,” someone outside of the tent would say, and Risa would snort in the corner.
“As if Ree-suh is so much more dignified,” Hime would retort, enunciating the commoner’s name with a pretentious flair. “Laughter, that’s all it means. What’s so good about that then, hmm?”
“It sure is better than being laughed at, Lady High-mee.”
Hime would then squint at Risa, and not her usual squint either, but a cold and calculating one, which Risa had soon learned was to forewarn beholders that whatever objects were within her reach were soon to go flying in their general direction. Hime was of course a very lovely name, when spoken correctly.
“Hee-may,” she’d sing to herself from inside her tent each day, hoping the others would hear.
They never did.
In all honesty, no one in the town paid much attention to her at all, even though they knew she was to be their next Justice. But then again, no one ever pays much attention to someone that they never see.
There is a time before becoming a full-fledged wielder of that feared and holy magic that one must spend their time in solitude, to focus solely upon growing as a human. This is generally referred to as the Stay, because isolation often means confinement. When the Stay ends, the Justice then becomes required to perform a ceremony known as the Awakening, in which the magic that had lain dormant in the wielder would then be unleashed, and viewed by the public for the very first time.
Of course, Risa had no knowledge of just what this ‘holy magic’ was; but no matter how her curiosity burned, she never dared to ask--for she knew that Hime would be so very appalled at her ignorance that she wouldn’t ever shut up. And then Risa would lose any chance she’d previously had to complain.
Though she had only to suffer her curiosity a little while longer before it could be satisfied. For in a few months time, on her eighteenth birthday, her lady would finally become a real Justice; and then she would no longer need Risa, or her teachers, or anyone else for that matter. She would rule the land solely with her magical powers, and Risa could visit her family on the far side of town whenever she wanted to, and without having to worry about disobeying the Justice’s Law of the Stay. She could see the night then too, with all of its wonders. She would be free to do what she pleased.
Unlike now, where she was captive to her work as well as to the Law. Everyone knew that the Justice’s desideria would never be allowed such privileges out of free will. Risa was to remain tied to the Law until the Awakening, just her the Justice would be.
But despite it’s iron grip and ceaseless attentions, Risa still had some secrets the Law didn’t know about. Her family, though they lived on the far side of Maura, visited her sometimes at night, sneaking her little brother Kalauda into the tent; and he would visit quietly with her while the Justice slept, until it grew lighter again and he had to leave.
Kalauda was perhaps the happiest boy you could ever hope to meet, with a smile that made his bright round face light up with dimples, and a childish grin that was simply contagious. Oftentimes Risa found herself spending their precious few hours together simply trying to stifle their laughter, for fear that Hime would hear them and wake, and send her brother away.
But the Justice never stirred at the sound, not even once; she slept like a dead woman, Kalauda sometimes remarked. It was funny to him that she rested so soundly, when she did next to nothing during the day.
Sometimes Risa wished that Hime would help with her own chores, like any other able-bodied person. It couldn’t hurt her--in fact, it would probably do her more good than harm. But it was forbidden by Law for Hime to even step foot outside of the tent before her Stay was over--which was, of course, why she required a desideria. Were it up to Hime though, Risa was sure she’d rather be alone.
The only time Risa ever dared to ask Hime a question, two and a half months ago, had dealt with this subject. It had been Risa’s first day as Hime’s full time desideria, instead of just as an apprentice in the Palace of Reihem; and while she should have been afraid, or weighted with grief, the Justice was actually quite confused, bordering irritation.
For instead of worrying about her people, who were having a difficult time adjusting to the new and inadequate farmland, or grieving over the very recent loss of both her parents and her brothers, Hime was complaining about how chilly it was, how stuffy and cold, as though entirely ignorant of the fact that the Reihimians were slaving away in the impossible heat; she whined of how the air, recycled by commoners, was horrid for her noble lungs, she shouldn’t be breathing it...
“Then why don’t you just go outside?” Risa had muttered, too irritated to remember due politeness.
That was perhaps the only time Hime’s eyes had opened fully.
“Have you not read the Law? I would have thought you had, as it was required.” Her head tilted downward thoughtfully, and a delicate hand was rested upon her chin. “I heard it said once that commoners cannot retain knowledge as we do, and that is why they toil each day with such a pitiful reward. I am wondering now if what was spoken was truth.”
Risa swallowed hard. These ‘commoners’ of Maura were not stupid. It was true that they worked, and for hardly anything at all; but a good sum of their profit had always been ‘borrowed’ by the leaders, which was why they had never prospered as a country. It had nothing to do with how educated they were (or, in this case, weren’t). And what right did she think she had--to mock them, as a thief instead of a ruler?
All the mildest traces of formality were forgotten by this point (if indeed there were any to begin with); and Risa obviously didn’t care to remember them.
“Of course I’ve read it. Everyone has. But we aren’t as foolish as you’d like think we are; we understand it for what it was truly meant to be. You see, for while you learned of your people’s stupidity, I learned of how our Law was just a bunch of senseless words strung together by lazy officials who used fancy excuses to cover up their thieving ways. And of course, you’ve proven time and time again for this to be true, so I don’t see why I should believe anything else either.”
A flame sparked somewhere behind Hime’s eyes; and Risa was sure that much more would’ve happened had she been given the time to fully comprehend what Risa had said. “You...you little waste! Do you understand nothing at all?” She swept across the room, her many skirts rustling, and turned dramatically to face the wall opposite from where Risa was standing.
“I must abide by the Law, or else forfeit the magic that has been set apart for me since my birth. I am the final Justice, destined for greatness! I must not disgrace the Law, even if it means--” she turned to face Risa, pointing an accusatory finger “--having to live in this place with the likes of you, a filthy Reihem girl! I would rather walk a thousand hot sands than allow myself to be cared for by a lesser...such shame is involved in this Law, such misery upon my part! You people who toil in vain, what will you ever know of how the noble-bloods think, how they feel? How could you possibly hope to comprehend?” Her voice had risen to such a degree that Risa was almost sure the whole town could hear. “How dare you defile my presence with your dirty clothes, your filthy feet, the stench of your unwashed dress? How dare you!?”
“My Lady,” Risa said finally, after a particularly long pause in which she had been attempting to control her voice long enough to respond, “do you want your clothing washed or not?”
“You will wash them,” Hime smirked, the volume lowering only slightly as she straightened her shoulders, rising vindictively to her full height. “Whether you like it or not. And you will do everything I wish. For the Law is powerful, and will see to it. The Law is on my side alone.”
And so it was. For the longer Risa refused to do her work, the more it felt like she couldn’t breathe, like an invisible hand was squeezing the air from her neck and lungs. A tight pain would constrict her chest, and Hime told her that she would faint and stay that way unless she began her work. It’s taunting grip nagged at her for the remainder of the day, as though it could react again at any second; and it released only at night, when Hime was asleep and could no longer control t. That was how the Law worked; and, being only a larva of the real magic, it sometimes made Risa wonder what the Justice’s true position among the people was to be.
But she never asked.
And this was why Risa had never seen the moon before. Hime had forbidden it, saying that ‘no commoner should ever be allowed to behold a beauty her superior cannot.’ And since the Law was then made to watch the desideria even while it’s Justice slept, it would wake and inform Hime if Risa so much as poked a finger out into the night.
And so Kalauda’s visits slowly became more and more important to her. She could never visit her family in the day because the delaying of her chores meant Law, and night wasn’t even an option; so they’d planned very early on to come to her instead. Hime had never once considered that Risa had a family she wanted to see; and since Risa had never spoken of them to her, it was nothing she could forbid. It wasn’t against the Law for Kalauda to visit either, so it never woke Hime; and so long as she remained asleep while they met, their meetings were secure.
Risa had always felt particularly clever about this arrangement; every defiance, no matter how great or small, was considered a victory of sorts to her.
Whenever they were together, Risa and Kalauda would speak of whatever was important at the time; most usually their family, or sometimes the Reihimians. Kalauda would tell her of the meeting times Celandine had arranged, or of the new child born to such-and-such; or, (if there was absolutely nothing left to talk about), the crop yield of one farmer as compared to another. And Risa, in turn, would tell him of her stories, and of whatever prince she dreamed of at the moment; and though she wasn’t always sure that he enjoyed such things, he had never spoken otherwise, so she continued to share them with him. Most often he would close his eyes and simply listen to her talk, as though the sound of her voice was enough to soothe him; and he would appear entirely content in every respect.
She had never complained to him though. Kalauda was one who would go to any lengths to make sure that the ones he loved were happy, and she didn’t want him worrying any more than he already had.
And he had funny ways of worrying too, so very carefully concealed that you wouldn’t notice them if you weren’t trying to. He had the strangest ability to distract people from what was bothering them without their realizing it, steering their minds toward happier thoughts; and when they least expected it, he would tell them exactly what they needed to hear, and in such a way that it would stay with them for a very long time afterwards. If you were in a right enough mind, it was how you knew he was worried; for if he pressed a certain subject, then he definitely was.
He had shown this trait for the first time two weeks after Risa had come to Kor. She had been terribly restless and missing her home, wanting then more than ever to leave, to return to the only place that she had ever been loved and appreciated; and Kalauda had come to her specially then, for he knew that she wouldn’t be expecting him, and wouldn’t have time to disguise how she felt.
He’d smiled brighter than usual when he saw her, and started up a conversation before she’d even had a chance to say hello.
“Can I sing to you a song about the moon?” he’d asked, his eyes sparkling visibly in the dim light. He fell onto several pillows which Risa had stacked together and looked up at her expectantly, waiting for her response. She’d nodded, too distracted to think, and he began.
Moon is soon to rise
In the evening
With a midnight sky
Dark and sleeping
And it’s whitened light
Seems to lead me
To the night
To the night
Kalauda’s songs were strange because they nearly always had words. Normally Maura’s had none; instead they were riddled with intricate harmonies that crossed back and forth inside the melody. Risa had always enjoyed Kalauda’s simple forms so much more though, and not just because he was her brother. She’d seen them as original, something only he could do, from the very moment she first heard them. He had tried explaining to her once that adding words was easy, and that all you had to do was speak your heart; but she’d never been able to write anything quite like him.
Can I hold the light
Here before me?
May I watch its rays
In their glory?
In this sleeping time
I am mourning
For the night
For the night
He finished and the candlelight flickered. Risa had been staring at it absentmindedly, and it had burned a spot in her vision without her realizing it.
“It’s perfect, isn’t it?” Kalauda piped, grinning. Risa smiled and turned to look at him, her eyes shining.
“Perfect for me.”
“I thought so,” he’d answered as they both laughed quietly. And after watching him for a moment, sighing once or twice for good measure, Risa ruffled Kalauda’s unruly brown hair and helped him to stand.
“Thank you, sister,” he’d said. “You’ve always been there for me.”
She laughed. “You, thanking me? I would’ve lost my sanity ages ago had you not begun visiting me. Heaven knows it’s hard on your legs.”
“They’re alright, so long as you are.”
Risa glanced down, to verify his words. They were indeed swollen and purple-colored, though they usually were; they had always been that way, from the day he was born. Deformed and weak. Crippled.
When he stood comfortably on his own, she let go of him; and, leaning against the wooden crutch that Father had made for him, began limping his way toward the curtain. Risa tore her eyes from the bruises to look back at his dimpled face.
“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow night, sister,” he’d said.
And then he ambled off into the night, soon met by their parents, who helped him somewhere near the bushes surrounding Hime’s tent. Risa knew this only because she could hear the rustling of the leaves, and the scuffling of the sand beneath their sandals.
She never watched them leave, though she wanted to; she knew they would be safe, that was never a question. It was only that she was tempted then more than ever to peer out into the night; her fingers itched to move the rough cloth aside, to catch just a glimpse of the darkened sky Kalauda sang of, and the moon.
But she never did. She would only study the curtain and sigh.
If only Hime would realize how much of a tragedy her life was sometimes; now that would be a story she’d like. Maybe that was why he treated Risa so--she was the villain in a story of her own creation.
But no one could hate a person so, and for no reason at all...could they?