When she awoke, the room was darker than it had been before. It was light enough for her to still make out the shapes of things in the darkness, but just barely. She was sure it was sometime in the middle of the night outside of the mountain; she couldn’t hear a single sound, and the door to her room was closed where she had originally left it open.
She eased her way out of bed, careful of her leg--for it was throbbing again--and she suspected it to be the reason why she had woken up. Her feet hit the cold floor, and a shiver ran up her spine--yes, it was definitely nighttime.
Quietly, so as not to make any noise in case someone really was awake to hear it, Risa tiptoed out of bed, grasping her way through the dark room for the wall. She followed it to the door, which she pushed back as cautiously as she could, fearful of sound; she’d had too much experience with the rustling of cloth to treat it any other way. She crept noiselessly into the hallway and down the stairs.
Risa barely allowed herself to breathe when she reached the bottom step, peering out into the darkness. Her knee cracked with strain halfway to the door and she grimaced; she didn’t let herself move for a very long time after that, waiting for the silence to swallow and forget the sound. Silently, and after she was sure that everyone was still asleep, she left the room, wandering her way toward the door.
The Niche at night wasn’t much different from the day; it was the same as her room, just darkened a little bit. Risa didn’t dare escape--she would never be able to get past that contraption with her limited knowledge of Korish, assuming she even made it that far with her leg throbbing so. She sighed, looking for somewhere to spend a few minutes before she went back inside.
The roof of the house sloped down at such an angle that Risa could lean on it comfortably if she wanted to; but she would be easily spotted there, and told to return to her room. So she crawled her way up it until she reached the flat section that she guessed to be right above her bedroom; and there she sat, one leg dangling over the side while the other was curled up under her chin.
The wind, while mostly outside of the mountain, could still be heard, howling quietly over the sands; it sounded almost like a voice, mournful and sad. She closed her eyes and listened to it, humming alongside it.
Moon is soon to rise
In the evening
With the midnight sky
Dark and sleeping
And it’s whitened light
Seems to lead me
To the night
To the night
Kalauda. Oh, how she missed her little brother. There were so many things she wanted to tell him, things she wished she had told him before...but now she’d never get the chance. He hadn’t always been a part of her life; but it was strange, how irreplaceable he had become in so short a time.
She could still remember the day she first saw him--was it really only three years ago?--when he was no older than eleven years old, cowering silently in a darkened corner of the ship that had carried them all away from their defeated mountain. His legs were battered, as though they had been recently bruised; and he was gripping them and sobbing silently to himself, rocking slowly back and forth. She remembered hearing stories of how he was found that way, crying for his parents; and she had stooped down and gathering him into her arms, her heart aching miserably for him. She held him as he cried, whispering promises of a new life, better than the one that they left behind.
At this time back in Maura, Kalauda would’ve been by her side now, holding her hand, comforting her. He had devoted his life to her since the day she took him in. She gripped the rooftop. It was so lonely without him now.
Can I hold the light
Here before me
May I watch it’s rays
In their glory?
In this sleeping time
I am mourning
For the night
For the night
She hated the Kalpans; she hated them like she had hated nothing before. Angry tears streamed down her face, and she didn’t bother stopping them. Kalauda had told her once that hatred led to nothing more than hate; and she knew she shouldn’t do it, but she couldn’t help herself. Someone else had told her that too, but she couldn’t seem to remember who it was...
And then, as suddenly as if it had been sung aloud, a third verse came to her, riding on the wind.
But the sky is dark
Where they left me
Will I smile again
At their memory?
I am here alone
For the dawn
For the dawn
“Kalauda?” she whispered, her voice cracking through her tears.
“No,” said a voice, and she froze. Risa turned around very slowly, afraid of what she might find; but it was only Tanmar, and he was smiling. “Who is this Kalauda?” he asked.
“My desideria’s little brother,” she answered quickly. “He used to sing that song to her sometimes; though I am unfamiliar with the verse you sang.”
“It is the third verse of a Reihimian poem, written by the Prince Tarashir. I know of that melody, it is a famous Korish tune; but I had not realized before that the words fit so perfectly into it. I am surprised that this Kalauda knew of it--most of Tarashir’s works were said to be lost after his death--though I suppose it is fitting,” he remarked, “for the younger brother of a desideria to remember the ‘Desideria’s Lament.’”
His knowledge of Reihimian history surprised her, and she wondered how he knew of it. She opened her mouth to ask, but he chuckled, interrupting her. “The rooftop; what a silly place for a princess.”
He sighed as he settled himself down next to her, throwing his legs over the side as she had done. She pulled herself closer together, so as to make sure that he didn’t accidentally touch her; but he didn’t seem to notice.
“You must have been tired, Iuste,” he said suddenly. “You were asleep for two whole days.”
Risa’s eyes widened. “I...had been traveling for a long time,” she stammered.
He laughed. “There are no need to make excuses, one would not sleep for so long if it was not needed.”
“How...how did you know I was here?” Risa asked asked quietly, feeling suddenly ashamed.
“My wife, Channa, used to steal away to this very place many years ago; she knew I would’ve caught her if she tried to leave, so she used this as a ‘hiding place.’” He smiled up at the roof of the Niche; it was as far away as the ground. “I used to have to search around for hours before I found her. She was always in a different place; and it eventually got to the point that I had to tell the men at the Lifts not to permit her if she came calling.” He laughed. “Those were hard times.”
“Your wife did that?” Risa asked, puzzled. “But why?”
Tanmar gave a sad smile. “She was hiding from me, in a way; she hated me then. She still does, only she shows it differently now.”
The idea that someone could hate Tanmar seemed impossible, for even Risa found it difficult at times. “But why...”
“Why did she hate me?” Tanmar said, finishing her sentence. “Well, for a number of reasons. I kidnapped her and her daughter from their hometown. In doing this, I stole her away from the only man she had ever loved, a man by the name of Zeyar. And then I forced her to marry me in order to bring her and her daughter into Kalpar, thus separating her from her beloved permanently.” He smiled, his eyes shining with a strange light. “It is perfectly understandable that she hates me.”
Risa looked up at him, horrified. “Why would you do such a thing?” She shuddered, feeling strangely glad that she knew this. It gave her a reason to hate him; after all, the Kalpans really were the same.
“Channa’s daughter, Thali...something was happening to her there, something horrible, and the only way I could stop it was if I kidnapped her. I feared for her mother’s life also; and I didn’t wish to separate them, so I took them both together. Channa never knew about this, of course; Thali was much too strong for that, and loved her mother too much to tell her. Aside from myself and the person who told me, we are the only ones who truly know of what happened to her then.” He sighed. “And I couldn’t bring them into Kalpar alone, for they were not one of our people; so I had to marry Channa to make her and her daughter acceptable. Here they have been safe. But Channa has hated me ever since.”
“And Thali? Whatever happened to her?” Risa asked.
Tanmar bowed his head. “That is not for me to say, though Thali might tell you in her own time. But as for you...she has grown close to you. She sees a lot of herself in you, I believe. There was a lot of hate in her too, before she changed. She is hoping...that you will change also.”
“But she had a reason to,” Risa said before she could stop herself.
“She didn’t until she met Juris. Had it not been for him, I don’t know where she’d be right now. She probably wouldn’t even be alive.”
Risa couldn’t seem to say anything. Could she ever find someone to replace her brother Kalauda? She didn’t think she could, not in Kalpar.
And what if she didn’t want to replace him?
“Your words are falling on deaf ears,” she said slowly, after a pause. “I have no one here who believes in me.”
“I am sure that you will be surprised to find that you do. I believe in you,” Tanmar said, “and so does Thali. There will be others, though you won’t see them when they come; and even then they will remain hidden to you. You are a very strange girl, Iuste; you have a way about you that is unlike anyone I have ever known before. You say one thing, and yet I can’t help but feel that you mean something entirely different. And what could have ever called for such a feeling as this?”
Risa’s face reddened, and she looked away.
“And yet it is not my place,” Tanmar said, as let out a long breath, “to ask of such things. I am sure you will tell me in time, as Thali did.”
He stood, stretched, and softly ruffled Risa’s hair. “I will be waiting for that day, Iuste,” he said quietly, before sliding off the roof and out of sight.
Risa stared back at the ground after he left, her mind heavy and clouded with thoughts. She could never tell them the truth; that would ruin everything she had planned, so that the sacrifice of her people would mean nothing.
And they all treated her as though she had the problem, as though she had something she needed to recover from. But what? And for whom? Had they forgotten so soon that they had caused this hurt in the first place?
And who was Tanmar kidding? There was no one who cared about her now.
Her thoughts of her brother thoroughly spoiled, she slid down the side of the roof. If only she could talk to Kalauda again; he’d always seemed to know exactly what she needed to hear. She felt that if she could only hear his voice again, everything would make sense in her mind.
But perhaps he was teaching her even now, after he had gone. Perhaps he was helping her now to learn independence--to rely solely on her own strength, something he never could’ve taught her so long as he was alive. She took solace in the thought of how proud he would be at how strong she had become; and with that she entered the house, closing the door softly behind her.
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