Risa had never been a very good liar to begin with.
At least the man with the green eyes had stopped watching her now; for a split second Risa had been worried that Hime’s position wasn’t powerful enough to keep her alive. His eyes had widened after she had finished speaking, then clouded over, as though he had tasted something terrible; and he had turned away then, so she couldn’t see his face anymore. She wondered if he believed her, or even understood what she had said.
The man rose softly, turning to address the Kalpans that had gathered behind him. He kept glancing back at Risa as though afraid she might disappear; but when the boy who had tried to help her before came rushing back to her side, he turned away for the final time, walking back toward the horses.
Risa relaxed now that he was gone. He had a forceful air about him that was rather unsettling; it was suffocating, and she couldn’t think properly around it. She glanced around momentarily; none of the other men he came in contact with seemed to be bothered by it. Perhaps they they had grown accustomed to it.
But Risa had never grown comfortable with the grip of Hime’s Law; so the thought that it was something you could ‘get used to’ didn’t settle quite right with her. Besides, this man’s power was much greater than Hime’s ever was; she could feel the magic rolling off of him in waves. She watched him curiously from far away as the thoughts mulled around in her head.
“May I unwrap that?” a voice asked, and Risa flinched involuntarily. She hadn’t noticed the boy sit beside her.
He pointed again to Risa’s knee when he didn’t get an answer. “I’m afraid I can’t do much so long as it’s covered.” His voice was surprisingly high, and it had the same soft sound that she’d heard earlier in the cloaked man.
Risa squinted at him. She couldn’t see his face; it was completely covered, except for his eyes, in the same green fabric as the uniforms. A wisp of hair, extremely blond and curled, had escaped from somewhere beneath it, and was floating softly with the wind.
“Why would you want to help me?” Risa growled; but the boy had already begun unwrapping the cloth, completely ignorant of everything outside of his work. Risa clenched her jaw in frustration.
“Ooh, that looks terrible,” he said suddenly, pointing at what Risa quickly realized was her bone, though it looked as though it was about to break the skin. “There’s no way you’re getting out of this without a potion or two.”
He began rummaging through the many pockets of his cloak, studying the glass phials carefully as he pulled them out and set them down. “You’re lucky that Ponne is my specialty,” he said, he cloth over his mouth stretching into a grin.
“Ponne?” Risa asked. She regretted it almost immediately, for the boy turned to her so suddenly and with such a look of surprise that Risa couldn’t help but blush in embarrassment.
“You haven’t heard of Ponne? How have you lived?” He clicked his tongue. “Maura must’ve been even more uncivilized than Juris thought.” He paused to think, and Risa froze at the reference to Maura in past-tense. “Well, no bother. Watch me for a moment, you’ll see soon enough.”
He pulled the stoppers off two bottles of liquid, one lumpy and the other very smooth, and poured them both into a large and empty bowl. Fumes colored differently from their mix emerged; and once he had let it set for awhile he added roots and plants and other ingredients, changing first the color, then the amount, and finally the texture. He whispered the formula quietly to himself as he worked--his focus was incredible. It looked practiced, almost to an artistic extent, and his movements seemed fluid and simple (though Risa was sure that they weren’t). She became almost entirely mesmerized, though completely without the intention of it.
“That’s about it,” he announced, tossing the empty bottles away. It changed colors three times as he poured it into another bowl, which he handed carefully to Risa. “Drink it up; I’ll start my work on your knee when you’ve finished, alright?”
Risa didn’t want to trust the boy; but seeing as how she had no other choice, she nodded, taking the bowl from his hands. It was a murky purple color now; and clots of roots and things she wasn’t sure she wanted to know about were surfacing to the top and falling back out of sight as it bubbled, despite the fact that it wasn’t hot.
“It won’t taste bad, trust me--I created this one myself just a few months ago. Forced several people to drink it too, and they all survived. If they hadn’t, then of course I wouldn’t be telling you it tasted good, because it probably wouldn’t--wouldn’t feel too good going down either, I suppose--but in any case, I’m still completely confident in it’s taste!” He looked very proud of himself.
Risa paused; she didn’t know why, but she believed his words. This feeling swelled and stung--a proud Reihimian, trusting a savage?--but her very life was in their hands now, so she buried the thoughts deep inside. She glanced at the mixture one last time, not entirely sure that its flavor would be the greatest of her concerns; but just to be safe, she squeezed her eyes shut, drinking it all at once.
To her surprise, it tasted of absolutely nothing at all. It had been more like inhaling instead of drinking; only she was swallowing the air instead of breathing it. She paused after she had finished, waiting to see what would happen; the tips of her fingers began to tingle, and then her nose and mouth. Realizing after awhile that the potion invoked more sense than simply the taste, she kept very still so as to understand what they were doing.
“Oh!” Risa gasped, suddenly wishing very strongly that she had refused the potion before ever taking a drop.
It smelled of Reihem, of its trees and its river. It tasted of its food and drink, and Risa could almost feel its biting wind rush past her fingertips. She couldn’t see it, nor could she hear it; but everything else about it was alive and real, and it was with her.
And these were all the things she had fought very hard to forget since she had come to Kor; but now that they were with her again--albeit against her will--she remembered them stronger than ever before.
The boy began reorganizing his potions, humming as he did so. Risa reached out blindly and grabbed at the sleeve of his uniform.
“Oh, has it begun to work already? That’s good.” He smiled. “Just so you know, I’ve shut down your sense of touch so your body doesn’t register the fact that I’m working on your knee. That, and the smell of the potions can be quite nauseating at times--you’ll move if you start throwing up, so I didn’t want to risk it. You’ll just be feeling something else for awhile; and this potion’s a crafty one, it sifts through your memories and replaces your dulled senses with ones it detects as your favorites. It took me the longest time to create, you wouldn’t believe how often I failed...oh, those poor people, they couldn’t feel anything for the entirety of the Sah-Maar Zhadi...”
Risa only nodded, entirely unable to speak. Her mouth didn’t seem to want to move. Everything was coming back to her in a rush with the memories this potion had reminded her of, and the thoughts of it polluted her mind.
This boy was nothing more than a filthy Kalpan. He had been involved in the murder of her people--the slaughter of her beloved Reihimian people, whom she had loved so dearly and would’ve give her very life to protect had she the chance...
“It’ll only be a while, the potion’s already fading. I have to work quickly so you don’t start to feel it.” He began humming an aimless tune, pushing Risa’s knee around, poking at it and rubbing herbs and lotions into the massive purple and green bruise that had budded on its surface.
Risa didn’t want to look at the boy anymore; his kindness made her sick. She glanced around the area, catching sight of the man she had fought earlier talking with Green-Eyes; but she dropped her eyes when they caught her looking. That man had fought her alone earlier, while the others simply watched; they’d had the perfect chance to dispose of her then, as they had so many others...but they didn’t. Why?
“That should do it,” the boy said. Risa turned, somewhat surprised to hear that the work on it was already completed. It was a sickly blue color now; and she winced, trying not to imagine how it would feel in the morning.
“Don’t you worry, it’ll be nightfall soon, and I’m sure Papa will let you sleep if you ride with me on my horse. You remember Papa, right? He’s the one who fought you earlier; his name is Tanmar, like the sword. I’m really very good at riding, better than everyone my age, even some that are older; and I doubt there’s anything Papa wouldn’t trust me with when I’m riding Shantari.” He stopped, squinting at the labels on the bottles before putting them back in his pockets. “In your language, I think that means...something like...oh bother, what’s that word again?”
“Runner,” Risa offered absentmindedly.
The boy’s eyes widened and he stopped, gawking in evident surprise.
“You know Korish?” he asked. He rolled his eyes up to the sky. “Of course you know Korish. Curses, I could’ve avoided using Reihimian again. It’s harder to say exactly what I want to say when I’m using a language I barely remember.” He laughed suddenly. “Did I just say remember? Lan’s been teaching me, it’s not like I ever lived in Reihem or anything...”
Risa’s heart stopped cold for a second. “You mean...you’ve been speaking to me in Reihimian all this time?” She scolded herself inwardly. How could she not have noticed it earlier?
The boy’s eyes widened even further (though Risa had thought this physically impossible); his eyebrows disappeared entirely into his uniform, his jaw dropped partially. “Ha...you’re joking, right?”
Risa’s expression changed rapidly; it turned first from shock to shame, and then a very deep shade of red.
The boy laughed, the sound throaty and high, like that of a rogit in flight. “You’re pretty dense, aren’t you?”
Risa glared at the sand around her feet, the thoughts whirling about her mind at an unrealistic pace. Who was this boy, to talk to her in such a way? Hime never would’ve permitted it.
The boy turned his eyes back to the sky, still smiling, and appeared to be very much amused.
“Sure is getting dark now, isn’t it? I love the nighttime, it’s so much nicer than the day. The moon’s supposed to be real pretty tonight, Juris told me it’s gonna be a full--”
“Moon?” Risa exclaimed, launching back into reality as quickly as if someone had doused her in cold water. She groaned, feeling something pull deep within her leg.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing? You can’t move yet, I just healed you!” the boy cried.
“We have to make shelter,” Risa argued.
“Make shelter? When we’re so close to Kalpar?” he whined. “We’re almost there; you can wait just a little while longer to rest, can’t you? Oh...oh, just stop moving, okay?”
Risa didn’t answer; she was too busy trying to drag herself away from the boy and towards the horses, where the cloaked man Tanmar and Green-Eyes were. “I need to talk to him, to that man I saw earlier. We can’t continue traveling at night.”
“Oh, oh, but why not?” he pouted.
“Because!” Risa answered sharply, so irritated with the boy that she felt as though she was going to develop another headache. “I’m demanding it. And you had better stop whining and do what I say, or my Law will find you; and then you’ll be sorry that you didn’t listen to me.”
Her eyes pierced the boy; and he flinched, withering visibly under her glare. If he had been expecting any sort of reply, it most definitely wasn’t that.
“Oh,” he answered finally. “I’ll...I’ll go get Papa for you, then.”
His voice was detached and impersonal now, void of the lightheartedness it had held just moments before. Risa felt a small tinge of guilt, but she ignored it. That boy was a Kalpan, after all; he didn’t know anything of how the Reihimians felt.
The boy remained for a while, talking only to his father; but in the end neither of them returned.
Risa watched with a sudden nervousness as the man with the green eyes came storming back toward her instead. She bit her lip; she could tell how agitated he was simply by the way he was walking. He was watching her as well; and when he got close enough that she could see the brilliant color flashing in his eyes, she turned away.
“Ano un Thali ahntra?” he demanded, stopping right in front of her.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” Risa replied, an edge of irritation in her voice. She understood his words even less than the others. Why didn’t he just use that boy from earlier, as a translator?
The man squinted in frustration and crouched down beside her. “Ana can je dyar shara ke-fuune?” he repeated, enunciating everything clear and slow, as though speaking to a child.
“Shanari yn dyar long--ei yn only two Kalani ne Djan’dyale, je can laan de.”
There was a sudden forced kindness to his voice that she didn’t understand, which only confused her further. Her temples throbbed; she didn’t wish to hear anything more, especially in that harsh and rugged Korish. She only wanted...what did she want? There was nothing anymore.
He opened his mouth to speak again, and she powerfully wished that he would stop.
“I said I don’t understand what you’re saying!” she exploded, slamming the sides of her fists into the sand.
The man with the green eyes glared down at her, locking his jaw; he drew his hand back and, with forbidding determination, slapped her hard across the face.
The sound of it reverberated throughout the suddenly silent desert. Risa’s hand jerked up involuntarily, cautiously touching the place where he had slapped her; and she quieted, watching him with wide and disbelieving eyes.
“Now, kyoje, ano yn ei ne need?”
Risa stiffened. “A tent,” she replied quietly, hoping he understood. The intensity that followed the man had returned, and it was suffocating her again; she felt almost like a small child that had been publicly disciplined, and the shame of it was almost unbearable. “I can’t be out at night, it’s against the Law.”
“Fahrnir the Law?” His eyes never left her face.
“Yes,” Risa nodded, her eyes stinging with inconvenient tears as she wished he would stop looking at her. “A great many things are against the Law for me; and the night is one of them. Have you never read the Law?”
This final comment reminded her slightly of Hime; but she ignored the unsettling feeling it gave her.
“He hasn’t read yours,” Tanmar offered; and Risa recognized the Reihimian more readily this time. Green-Eyes turned to glare at him, though Risa didn’t understand why. Tanmar bowed his head submissively back to the ground and fell silent after that.
The man gave an irritated sigh, watching them both. “Dya sharar de, kayno girl. Je laan ke-fuune.”
Tanmar’s expression lightened, and he looked at Risa as though to translate; but he apparently thought better of it, because he quickly returned to his previous stance when he noticed the man glaring threateningly in his direction. Green-Eyes turned to look at her once more; but since he obviously had nothing more to say, he went storming off back toward the horses.
Risa sighed after he left, hoping that neither he nor the boy from earlier came back. She didn’t want their kindness, or their help. Especially their help.
The men began to slide off of their horses one by one, none looking too pleased with the prospect of waiting a little while longer before returning home. Some took longer than others, protesting very openly; but when Green-Eyes came around, they quieted and fell to the sand with the others, grumbling discontentedly.
When all the horses were unloaded and fed, the men began tethering them together, securing the ropes to the sand with their swords. The Ponne-Boy went around soon after and gave the animals a potion that he’d made; and Risa didn’t have to wonder very long what it was supposed to do, because they fell asleep moments after taking it. And once they were all taken care of and a fire had been lit, the Kalpans spread their blankets in the sand and prepared for the night.
After her bout with Green-Eyes (which Risa assumed that everyone had seen), no one went near her, or even looked at her; and though she did sometimes catch Tanmar and the Ponne-Boy glancing in her direction , they always looked away soon after.
The camp was close enough to her that they could stop her if she tried to escape (though technically she couldn’t); but they were far enough away now that she couldn’t hear what they were saying anymore. Was it really such a terrible thing, to have yelled at the Green-Eyed man? They didn’t treat him like a royalty, so it couldn’t have been that.
The sun was already beginning to set, massive and great, on the far side of the desert. Though Risa wasn’t looking, she knew; for her sight was already growing shadowed when she had purposely turned away.
The realization that the night was suddenly hers--and that her greatest dream had finally come true--burned in her mind like a wildfire, and she felt a the heavy weight of it settle on her chest. Kalauda’s words echoed in her head, slightly warped, like a distorted memory she could scarcely remember; and she grew frantic at the sound, a little afraid she was forgetting him already. She kept expecting him to show up, appearing like a pinprick in the distance; but she knew he wouldn’t. It was simply her mind settling into its new reality; but it was painful not to fight it, to deny the truth for what it was.
But she still couldn’t see the moon...not now. Though her dream had finally come true, it was too much to bear--for it felt empty now that she had no one to share it with. That single thought throbbed in her brain, pulsing through her being; she most definitely wouldn’t see the moon. Not until her brother was beside her again.
She grabbed a handful of the material from the bottom of her dress, ignoring the sudden ache in her knee when she moved. It tore very easily, to her pleasant surprise; and she folded it around so that it was thicker in the middle and easier to control. She took the cloth in both hands, closing her eyes with a sigh; and after a moment, she began to wrap it carefully around her head.
It took a couple of tries, but she eventually fixed it so that it wouldn’t slip. There was something unnerving about opening your eyes to darkness; but she knew that she’d get used to it soon enough. She shivered, wishing that Hime’s dress had been a bit thicker (how was it so heavy!?) and shifted around in it a couple of times.
Something pulled at her throat; the dress had tangled around the whistle she’d bought at the Caravan earlier that day. She pulled a little too hard trying to untangle it and heard the fabric tear somewhere; sighing, she dropped her head back to the sand, too tired to care.
Kalauda would’ve laughed at her right now. “Do you remember the time,” he would’ve said, “when we had that staring contest? Whoever could watch the sun the longest was the winner. You look now like you did then, with your head all wrapped up like that.”
Risa smiled very softly, her hand tightening around the whistle.
“You couldn’t see for three suns because of your stubbornness. And remember how angry Hime was when she found that her only desideria couldn’t do the chores anymore? I did them for you then, and you would sit and talk to me for hours. I loved those days, sister.”
“I did, too,” Risa whispered.
“You were scared that you’d never be able to see again. Tried hard not to show it, but I knew. You never were very good at lying.”
“You should hear the one I came up with today,” Risa half-laughed. She was so tired that she was almost convinced that Kalauda was right there beside her, as he always used to be during the nighttime. “I told the Kalpans that I’m Hime. I only hope...I only hope that they believe me.”
“I’m sure they do. I believed you too, almost,” he smiled, “when you said that you wouldn’t mind being blind so long as you got to stay with me. A very convincing argument, if I do say so myself.” He chuckled. “I never did forget that, did you?”
“No,” Risa said, “I didn’t.”
“Oh Risa,” Kalauda laughed. “I can barely understand you, you’re mumbling so much. Maybe you should rest now.”
“It’s alright, I can stay...” she yawned “...awake.”
“No, you need your sleep.” His voice was stronger now; softer still, but somehow demanding. Had he just put his hand on her head? She couldn’t tell.
“You’re always...there for me,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
The hand that was brushing her hair back stopped.
“Good-night Kalauda, I love...”
Her voice trailed off, her throat tightening too much to finish the sentence. She was sure he’d understand her anyway.
Risa turned back over, barely recognizing that the cloth covering her eyes had somehow grown damp. Subconsciously rubbing her thumb over her brother’s whistle one final time, she fell into a deep sleep, dreaming that she was talking with her brother again, and had started their conversation right where she had just left off.
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