A scandalous feast
Kerrana looked up into the night sky. It was a strained affair, this impromptu wedding banquet. But as promised, they would leaving Lofang as soon as possible – the next morning. For a moment she thought she’d caught another glimpse of the cloud buffalo, but it was only her imagination. The yard was filled with people who came “to give their blessings” but really only wanted to have a good look at the scandalous couple and some gossip to go with it. But thanks to that the buffet was brimming with food. Every one of those well-wishers brought a little something to buy their way into the party. And the present-table was drowning in a pile of parcels since they didn’t want to seem chintzy. It almost looked like a proper celebration.
In a corner Lady Gular was telling all the details of their scandalous yet romantic love story to an eager audience many of which were Kerrana’s friends. It seemed they were more interested to hear the story there than directly from her. But who could hold it against them? They knew how bad she was with telling stories.
Around the well, her older sister was saying in a loud voice how she would have never thought that her younger sister would marry before her. Her father sat on the other table with a big bump on his forehead. He accepted the neighbours’ well-wishes with a stony face while her mother was a model of elegance and hospitality.
Their plan worked far better than anticipated and it looked like she could start on her journey to safety without a hitch. She tried to brace herself. Would it be impolite to take to their beds soon? It was going to be a long, difficult road. And if she was found out or even suspected along the way, it would bring down not only herself but also Sanjeer. Kerrana looked over to her right where her younger siblings were hanging onto every of her husband’s words. Her husband. He didn’t seem to be the worst sort, after all. She had much to be grateful for and felt a pang of guilt for the dangers she would put him through. Whatever he’d been offered to take on the job, it could never be enough.
Jerra nestled close to her and took the amulet in her hands. “It suits you, I knew it.”
“Why did you give me this present? You know I couldn’t have used it if I hadn’t married.” Kerrana had wondered the whole day.
“Oh, but I knew you were getting married.”
“How?” After all, she hadn’t even known herself.
“I had a dream,” the girl said and turned away. That was Jerra for you, saying things like that out like it was obvious. The little rascal. Kerrana keenly felt how much she would leave behind. Even if her father would never forgive her and her mother thought she was infectious – her family was here.
Suddenly there was a loud banging on the door. The noise that rose had nothing to do with the happy din of an animated wedding feast. It was of military barks and drawn sabres. Everyone was on their feet as a group of temple guards entered the yard in full armour, ready to attack anyone venturing too close.
“Hand over the curse born!” they demanded. The agitated chatter died instantly.
“I’ll say it once more: hand over the water vixen!” the leader of the watchmen barked again.
Kerrana’s father made his way to stand between the armed invaders and his guests.
“What is this?” he said, his authority on full power, “I will not tolerate guests to be threatened under my roof. Explain yourselves!”
The watchmen collectively flinched and looked at their leader for cues. He visibly fought to withstand so much bundled authority and then, ever so slightly lowering his sabre, said, “Sir, we have had word that you are housing a water vixen under your roof. We are here to investigate, and, if necessary, to extract the evil subject.”
Her father laughed a roaring laugh that had the watchmen flinch again. Kerrana only realized she’d been burying her fingers in Jerra’s arm as the girl twisted out of her grip and looked up at her with fearful eyes.
“A water vixen, here? Where did you get such an idea?”
Kerrana clutched the hem of her veil to have something to hold on to.
The watchman looked embarrassed as he said, “Sir, we have a very reliable source. From inside your household, actually.”
Her mother was at Kerrana’s side. “Leave,” she hissed, manoeuvring her and Sanjeer out towards the back door.
“Elaborate,” her father challenged the intruders meanwhile.
“Your... your niece, Sir.”
“My niece? That impressionable girl? I would have thought you’d choose your sources more wisely.” Her father really did not approve of other people questioning his household matters. The guests hung onto every word spoken. This scandalous wedding exceeded expectations.
When Kerrana entered the building, there was another crash. A second group of temple guards came barging in through the back door. She hadn’t been spotted yet, but Kerrana froze. She jolted as someone crept up behind her, but it was only Sanjeer. “How can we get up? To the roof?” Kerrana shook off her fear and took his hand as she led him up the narrow, dark staircases to the roof. Once they reached, Kerrana couldn’t keep herself from looking down into the yard. The guards were rounding up the guests and making them show their arms. Many of the ladies did not surrender their arms for inspection peacefully – the impropriety of it – so it was a ruckus. Suddenly there was a deafening shriek behind her. She turned to find Sanjeer dancing about the roof with some sort of whistle.
“Shh! What are you doing? They’ll find us!”
The noise stopped. “You can hear it?”
“Of course I can! And everyone else in this city, too!” She was exasperated. The sound of shuffling feet alerted them to company. It was her cousin followed by two temple guards.
“I thought you might try that! Jump to your death with your fish-lover! You’re the kind to find that romantic, aren’t you?” Her cousin cried triumphantly.
Was that what they’d come up here for? Kerrana had trusted Sanjeer to have some sort of a plan. She had been a fool! He was a scholar, not a magician. He had no way of spiriting them away. The guards closed in on them.
“You... you are mistaken!” Kerrana said. Only that her shaky voice was sure to convince no one.
More guards and her parents arrived on the roof.
“Are we? Then show us your arms and prove it!” The one closest to her reached for her hand, but she dodged.
“Daughter, just show those insolent excuses of men your arms! We have nothing to hide,” her father said, not being very helpful.
Again, the guard dove for her arm, but this time he was swatted away by Sanjeer. “No one touches my wife,” he said with a certainty that gave Kerrana a shiver, but seemed to enrage the guards more.
“And who are you to tell us what to do and not to do? You filthy foreigner!” One of them yelled, charging forward. His sabre hit the arm Sanjeer had raised in defence – but not as hard as it might have if the warrior hadn’t suddenly found his trousers on fire mid-blow. Shrieking, he let his sabre clatter to the floor and threw himself down, to rolling about to stifle the flames. His colleagues jumped to his rescue.
“Must have gotten caught in the torches,” her mother said sagely.
Something hit Kerrana’s shoulder. She looked up. A rope ladder was hanging down from something big, red floating in the sky. Sanjeer grabbed her around the waist and shoved her towards it. “Hold on tight!” he told her. They did and with a jolt, rose off the roof. Suddenly there were dangling in the night-air off this rickety contraption. Kerrana’s stomach churned and she felt her hand shaking. Even in the night breeze she felt something warm trickle onto the back of her hands. “Sanjeer! Sanjeer, you’re bleeding!” she whispered horrified.
“I know, dear.” She did not think it was a matter to take so stoically. But she didn’t get to reply. There was a very distinct swoosh right next to them. An arrow! They were shooting arrows! Kerrana looked down. A big mistake. Not only could she see the men aiming arrows at them - an easy target as they were dangling in the air with no place to go – but also she saw for the first time how high up they were. She drew in her breath and watched as the men nocked their arrows, drew – and shot. But miraculously the arrows changed direction midway. And the bows seemed to be bent on dancing in the air. They escaped their owners and dove around the sky like pigeons. It was a sight to behold. Kerrana knew who she had to thank for it as she tasted a whiff of sand in her mouth that had stood open, gaping.
Her family did still love her, it would seem. She smiled a small smile till she remembered Sanjeer.
“Are you two alright? Hold on, I’ll hoist you up in a bit!” A voice cried from above.
They sat nestled up closer than she could ever have considered a mere day ago, the wind tearing at them as they rode through the skies on a cloud-buffalo. Kerrana had many questions and now that Sanjeer's wound was tended to, had enough piece-of-mind to voice them.
“Why do they hate the water tribe so much?”
“The people of the Sun Realm have always been afraid of the water tribe,” Sanjeer said matter-of-factly.
“But why? It’s something I could never understand.”
“Because at the end of every day, the ocean swallows the sun.” Sanjeer said. For a moment she thought he was mocking her again, but his face was sad and dead serious. So Kerrana didn’t probe further, but asked something different instead.
“Did you know I was curse born when you married me?” He tilted his head.
“You shouldn’t call yourself curse born, you know.”
“Did you?” Kerrana prevailed.
“I had my suspicions, yes.”
“But why marry me? Why vow to pro... to protect me? I’m cursed. And... insignificant every other way,” she finished lamely.“Because you have a nice singing voice,” he simply said. And when he did, it sounded like that actually was worth marriages and stealthy escapes from rooftops. At that, Kerrana’s bout of eloquence ended and they sat cuddled up in silence as the cloud buffalo sped towards the rising sun.
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