She woke up to the sounds of falling water drops and for a moment thought it was raining. Heaving a deep sigh Kerrana opened her eyes to a worry-stricken face. As she made to sit up her body was strangely weak. The face belonged to a stranger - some old woman in a most extraordinary get-up. A tribe’s woman? There was a turban instead of the customary veils. Then she registered the pale blue, pulsating bubbles her limbs were covered in and the energy feeding it that fell from the woman’s hands. A magic healer, then? She had never seen one before.
Halfway towards the closed door she saw her mother with an expression she could not read but that chilled her to the core. “Mother?”
As if the sound of her daughter’s voice caused her physical pain, she shifted her gaze away. Why wouldn’t she look at her? A lump rose in Kerrana’s throat.
“Mother?” her voice was heavy with fear.
“Look at me,” she whispered, but her mother’s head remained turned towards the door, her hands cramped into a tight knot. Pushing the old woman away, the girl got onto wobbly feet. The bubbles around her body burst and water streamed down onto the floor but she didn’t realize. She edged closer to her mother. As she touched her arm, her mother shoved her away, sparking flames. Kerrana fell backward and through a puff of steam saw her mother’s face distorted by hurt and fear and – disgust.
“Don’t touch me,” these lips muttered. Her mother’s lips.
Kerrana could do nothing but look up in horror. Her mother looked equally horrified. She made to leave, but the healer yanked her back, ignoring the flames her mother shot.
“Let me go, you hag!” her mother hissed.
“Don’t be a fool. Listen,” the healer said with a rasp of a voice that was strangely compelling. “You know what happens to them. To the water tribe found here.” The wheat blonde looked at the little crumpled woman like she was a fly that needed swatting away. Unperturbed, the healer pulled her closer. “And you know what happens to their families.” At that, Kerrana’s mother went dangerously still.
“Are you threatening me?” she said in a seemingly emotionless voice.
“I am telling you not to be rash. If you speak to a soul, if anybody knows, this is the end of your family. Of you.”
At that, her always-in-control, always-proud mother crumpled down. Like a handkerchief dropped in the dust.
At length Kerrana found her voice. “What is going on?”
The old woman turned a gaze of pity and deep pain on her. “You are a child of the water tribe.”
Kerrana blinked and failed to open her eyes again.
‘Kerrana! Kerrana, child!’
Patches of light floating in the blue above, dancing, swirling.
The fish weaving through her flowing hair.
Wafts of seaweed tickling her arms like green, licking flames.
Something cold touched her shoulder and she turned around to a kindred face.
“Time to come home.”
That’s what her dreams had been telling her all along. It was true. What the healer said was the truth. Kerrana looked at the heap that was the woman that had been her mother for so long and felt nothing but wonder.
Looked at her arms and saw the scales for what they were.
“You need to get out of this country, towards the sea, as soon as possible,” the old woman said. “I don’t know how to arrange it though.”
“You will help?” Kerrana asked tonelessly.
The healer gave a grim nod. “Tonight at the ceremony, you have to choose something that will leave you mobile, maybe trade? And then you move with a caravan.”
At that, her mother snorted. “Move with a caravan? Unescorted? My husband won’t allow it.”
“Her husband. Not my father,” Kerrana registered.
“There’s no one who could escort her then? No brother or cousin?”
“That could be trusted with that truth? No,” her mother said mechanically.
“We need some credible story. One where you need to move out of the country quickly that doesn’t leave people questioning.”
“Unless I run off with some bandit tribesman and we have to flee the country due to our crimes…” It had escaped Kerrana without thinking.
“That’s it!” the old woman said.
Kerrana paled: “What? No!! I’m not going to… they are dangerous!”
The healer rolled eyes. “Yes, well, maybe we don’t have to go to these lengths, but what about marrying you off to some traveller? You would have a reason to leave the country and if you invent some history of premarital romance, it’ll be embarrassing enough to make little fuss and quietly sell you off. And no questions will be openly asked.”
Kerrana gave her a horrified look.
“Unlikely, but it might work,” Her mother said, “Do you have anyone in mind?”
Kerrana didn’t say anything. She had planned to die an old maiden for most of her life and was a little overwhelmed.