In case you’ve forgotten what’s happened so far, here is a list where you can access previous chapters.
The door barely shakes under Elesekk’s pounding fists. He yells, but no one comes to release us.
Saviayr pushes up from the filthy floor with a groan. He cups his swollen jaw. “Rai, what happened back there?” Fear tints his voice.
Nihae leans against the wall and rolls her ankle, a grimace crossing her face. “Yes,” she agrees. “What was that?” She seems to press away from me.
Giving up on his pounding, Elesekk braces himself against the door with the heels of his hands. He peers over his shoulder, likewise awaiting my answer.
I crouch next to Saviayr and pull his hand away so I can check his jawbone. The bone feels whole, though his skin is already swelling. Even in the dim light of the cell, I can see a dark bruise forming.
Their question is understandable. When we talked on the ferry, we planned for more subtlety and time in trying to earn the royal Yrin’s support. Their expressions, though–they look afraid of me. I can’t understand it.
“Normally I would have discussed it with you first,” I promise. “But…it just felt right. I thought Aia was telling me it was the right time.”
Saviayr pulls my hand away from his face. His voice is deep but strained. “That’s not what I’m talking about.”
My brow wrinkles and I tip my head, hoping to read an explanation in his face. Nothing about his guarded expression clarifies what he could mean. I look to Elesekk and Nihae, whose expressions mirror their son’s. I’m the only confused one among us.
“Rai,” Savi says, “you really don’t know?” I shake my head. Savi says, “When you spoke, your voice…”
“It sounded like–like a great multitude all speaking at once, through you,” Nihae finishes.
I blink at them. That makes no sense. Only once has someone spoken and it sounded like many voices coming from his mouth.
How I wish Nhardah was here! He is the one living person who remembers that occasion. He’d agree with me. He’d prove to Nihae and Saviayr that their accusation is impossible.
But the only living creatures in this hole are me, Savi, and his parents—and a rat peering out of a hole.
Where did Nhardah go?
Without the Firstborn’s testimony, I have to defend myself. “It can’t be. The only time someone has ever spoken with many voices at once was when the priest-king of Betha prophesied to Nhardah’s great great grandson Robiroeh.”
“That’s what it sounded like,” Saviayr insists. “Why do you think the royal Yrin reacted the way he did? He wasn’t just angry at your rebellion. His first reaction was to call it witchcraft.”
Slowly, solemnly, Elesekk turns from the door and nods. “They’re right, Rai. You weren’t speaking with your own voice. It sounded like a big crowd of people all speaking through you.”
Desperately hoping they’re joking, I search each of their faces in turn. Only truth looks back at me. “What can it mean?” I ask. I just accepted my purpose, freeing Maraiah. This–speaking with a multitude of voices–this changes everything. This must mean something remarkable.
I don’t want anything more. All I want is for my people to be free.
Nihae rests her hand on my shoulder. “Would you remind me of the story?” she gently asks. “I can’t quite remember. My memory’s not what it once was.”
I want to look at Savi to see if he notices anything strange about her request. My concern grows. Nihae never used to be forgetful.
It’s a reminder of how much we’ve all changed.
Saviayr and I start talking at the same time, then stop with a half-laugh. “Sorry,” he says. “I got used to being the resident storyteller. You go ahead.”
I nod. “Thank you.” It takes a moment do dredge up the memory of this specific story. It isn’t one that Pitka often asked to hear. “Robiroeh, Vander-Maraiah’s father, was on the Tion Beriath peninsula in the land Aia promised to Nhardah-Lev for his descendants. There were many other peoples ruling the peninsula then, as I’m sure there are now. Thaies blessed Robiroeh and his kinsmen with wealth. As their power grew, the other peoples grew suspicious. Fearing Robiroeh would become a dangerous rival, their kings conspired to weaken him by plundering his family.
“Robiroeh heard his kinsmen had been taken captive by the king…sorry, it’s slipping my mind, but I think it was the king of Coarnome. Enraged by the report, Robiroeh raided their capital and executed the king for his unprovoked assault. When he and his freed kinsmen were returning home, they passed the city of Betha, where they worship our Thaies. The priest-king of Betha came out to them wearing a robe Robiroeh had given him in friendship, with a great company singing a song of peace. So Robiroeh went to meet him. The priest-king put his hands on Robiroeh’s shoulders, and everyone who heard listened in awe, because it sounded as if multitudes were speaking through his mouth. He said,
‘Most praised be Aia the Thaies of Robiroeh;
may all Orrock bow before Him.
Most fortunate be Robiroeh and his descendants;
may they possess the land and bless all the people.’
“It was then that Robiroeh, of all Nhardah’s descendants, was chosen to bear the promise Aia had made, that through Nhardah’s descendants He will redeem creation,” I finish reciting.
Saviayr leans back against the grimy stone wall with a grunt. “What you said at the end makes me think,” he says, moving his jaw tenderly from side to side. “Maybe this multitude voice happens when Aia is acting on His plan for redemption?”
It’s an interesting idea.
“Might be,” Elesekk hedges, “but what about those other times Aia’s acted on His promise to Nhardah? Like Robiroeh blessing of Vander instead of his brother or Vander’s renaming by the indree?”
“Hm,” Saviayr frowns.
“I suppose we can wait and see?” I suggest. “Maybe it’ll become more clear later.”
Elesekk crouches on the ground beside Nihae. “I think waiting’s all we can do. Yrin isn’t likely to let us out, and that door is solid.”
An air of gloom settles over us. We sit in silence, until all remaining shreds of light leave our cell. If only we could leave so easily! In the utter darkness, I cradle Savi’s head in my lap. Nihae and Elesekk also fell asleep, but squeaks and scratching keep me awake. When tiny feet scamper over my legs, I suppress a shudder and curl them closer to my body.
At least my ankle is happy with us sitting in prison instead of trekking all over.
“Are you awake?” Savi’s deep whisper barely rises above the rats’ noises.
I stroke his hair. “Did I wake you?” I whisper back.
“No, I can’t sleep. Too uncomfortable.”
“Can I do anything?” I hate to think how he must be aching from the royal’s beating.
“Can you pour me some water?” A hushed chuckle punctuates the joke.
“Oh, yes. Let me send a servant to draw some fresh from the well,” I tease back.
In the dark, his hand finds mine, and he weaves our fingers together. Neither of us speak for so long, I almost wonder if he is asleep. His thumb gently runs over mine, telling me he is awake while calming my fears of the rats and the royal.
Warmth blossoms in my heart. These past two days happened so quickly, our marriage still hasn’t sunken in. Here we are—my beloved Saviayr and me. We are each other’s. I am his wife. He did love me all these years, even as I loved him. He loved me enough to risk his future happiness by telling Maylani our past. He loved me enough to brave his lord’s displeasure in marrying a fugitive slave. Though he was powerless, he tried to defend me from Yrin’s wrath.
A hint of moisture dampens my scratchy eyes. Thank You, Aia, for the love of this man. Help me love him as he deserves. With my free hand on his hair to guide me, I bend down and lightly kiss his forehead.
At most, we likely have days left to live. Yrin will execute us, squashing any threat to Izyphor like a bean under his heal. If I am to die, though, spending my last days with Saviayr is a bittersweet comfort.
“We’ll get out of this.” Saviayr’s whisper comes like an answer to my thoughts. “Aia chose you, chose us. He got you off the ferry, right? We’ll find a way, and somehow we’ll lead Maraiah.”
“How can we get out that door, or past the guards?” I protest.
“Shh. Don’t speak like that. Aia is always victorious.”
I find his hand and squeeze it. “I’m scared, Savi. I never really thought this through. The plan was always so simple, but now that we’re doing this–I feel like I’m crazy. What can one girl do against Izyphor and the aivenkaites?”
Savi’s warmth disappears from my lap. Then an arm snakes around my shoulders, and another completely encircles me in an embrace. “Rai.” His breath rustles the hairs by my ear. His chapped lips brush my cheek. “It’s okay that you’re scared. But it isn’t you that is going against them. It’s Aia.”
I curl into his embrace. At Savi’s reminder, some of my anxiety lessens. I try to hold on to the truth that Aia is in charge–just like Nhardah said when we were leaving Ira–but the idea feels like it’s just words. “Do you remember the song we used to sing at times of mourning?” I ask Savi.
His breath tickles my ear. “Oh–yes, I do. We should sing it.”
“Will it wake your parents?” My voice shakes.
Savi huffs a quiet laugh. “They could sleep through an attack by Aevenah himself,” he assures me. “Even if we do wake them, they won’t mind.”
Trusting his judgment, I nod, and his voice fills the chamber with melody.
“You are good;
all good things come from You.
You are near;
we are not forsaken.
We are bowed,
our burden is too heavy.
are strong and near at hand.
You are light;
darkness cannot triumph here.”
I sing with Savi in a trembling voice. Strength flows from the echoing notes. The song makes it easier to believe, and makes the dark less oppressive. My voice grows steadily as we repeat the verses.
A couple rounds in, hairs tickle the back of my neck. I reach back to scratch the itch, and air moves across my hand. Savi’s head is on the other side of mine, so it can’t be his breath.
Savi stutters to a stop, too.
“Savi,” I whisper, “I think something’s here.”
His arms squeeze tighter around me. “You feel that, too?”
We are silent. The air stops moving. Then it starts again.
“Rai, there’s only stone behind me,” Savi whispers.
I clench my teeth, then straighten up. When we were just sitting in the dark, I was terrified, but now that there might be an actual threat, I calm down enough to put my shoulders back, turn, and feel along the cool wall behind us.
My fingers find a divot between two of the stones. With my palm stretched across the crack, I feel a breath of air. The dungeon is under the rest of the palace, and the architecture keeps this the coolest place in probably the whole man-made mountain. The air flowing through the crease is warmer.
I hold my breath and listen. Is it an animal trapped on the other side? The only sounds are Savi, Elesekk, and Nihae breathing.
Not an animal, then. And not an aivenkaite, either. Neither kaites nor aivenkaites breathe.
I try to dig my fingers into the stone joint. “Savi,” I murmur, “there may be something behind the wall.”
His hand on my hip tightens. “Any idea what?”
The warmth comes again. I press my nose close and sniff. It’s dusty and smells like the orange Izyphorn clay soil. “Maybe…it might be a passageway.”
There is shuffling, then Savi’s fingers brush mine. “Really?” Hope fills his voice.
“See if you can find some way to move one of these stones.”
I scratch along the edge of the nearest stones. My fingernails snap, but I don’t care. If there’s a way out, it’s worth it.
I push against the top of one of the stones, and it wiggles–just barely.
“Savi! This one moves. Help me.”
There are no handholds for pulling, at least none that we can find blindly. “Maybe we can push it,” Savi suggests.
“We can try.”
I wedge my shoulder against the rock and dig my sandals into the grimy floor. On the count of three, both of us shove.
Rock scrapes against rock. I stop pushing to breathe, and feel for the rest of the wall. The stone has moved, two fingers’ width farther back than those around it.
“Papa, Mama, wake up,” Savi calls. I put my back to the wall and push with my legs.
Savi speaks again, voice further away. Elesekk and Nihae groan and grunt. When Savi says, “We may have found a way out,” though, they stop complaining.
All four of us throw our weight against the stone. Little by little, it scoots back. Sweat breaks out on my forehead. I retie my hair in a quick bun, roll up my loose sleeves, and keep pushing.
When it clears the wall, the stone slides much more easily. I keep one hand on the edge of the opening, and feel around with the other. “It seems like some sort of passageway,” I tell the others.
“Where does it go?” Nihae asks.
I breathe again, and the air smells fresher than before. “I don’t know for sure, but it might lead outside.”
“What are we going to do, Rai?” Savi asks, close to my ear.
I lick my dry lips. “We’ll follow it and see where it leads,” I decide. “It can’t be any worse than waiting for Yrin to execute us.”