Chapter 20 - Raines
I’ve never seen him in a travelling cloak before. Watching him sweep to the crest of the hill, something stirs deep within me. A longing. Or a fear. Or both. Somehow, in that dark swish of fabric, silhouetted against the ice blue of a crisp, dawn sky, he seems a world away from the tender ease of the man I know.
This stormy Cal is regal and shuttered off. The boy I love is warm, full of fresh sunrays and laughter that feels of mint. The boy I love is….is this. Is regal and shadowy and minty and full of sunrays. He is all of these things.
Wind ruffles my hair. It feels good. Familiar. Finally grown out enough to play with the breeze.
The warmth of Cal’s breath still tingles on my lips.
“Raines?” Talia calls me gently. My eyes flick back to the hill, expecting Cal’s form to be gone; a strong shadow already hidden behind the swell of land. “Come inside and have some food.” He’s still there, cloak billowing ominously.
My feet take me to him in a dash; I’ve grabbed his hand before my momentum is gone. “Cal. What is it?” My sudden momentum makes him sway.
“Look,” he tells me in a voice full of confusion.
Talia is approaching now. “What’s wrong?”
Across a wave of greenness, Helen comes swiftly and, beyond her in the far distance, a trail of smoke leaks into the sky. Cal reaches for his ama and she embraces him briefly. There’s a grim crease between her eyebrows.
“Something’s happened in town.” A charred and wrinkled paper is clenched in her white-knuckled hand.
Talia takes the hand of her wife gently. “Let’s discuss this inside.”
I can’t take my eyes off the smoke.
The mug of tea is on the verge of scalding my hands as the four of us sit in a horrible, pregnant silence between ease and disaster.
Helen’s fist loosely grips the paper while resting atop the scarred and darkened wood of their kitchen table.
“You might as well see it.” Her hand doesn’t move. Gently disengaging the paper from Helen’s smudged fingers, Talia then smooths it carefully before us.
It’s a poster.
Beneath the bold lettering is a picture of Cal’s face. The rendering must have been drawn for publicity after he achieved status as a Warrior Dancer; the side of his head is bare, indicating a fresh shave, his remaining two braids swoop across his right shoulder. He’s still in costume. The same white, flowing tunic with gold trim he wore at the Natur Celebration.
Talia stares blankly at the image of her son’s face laid out before her. Her eyes skim the paragraph emblazoned beneath. She clears her throat.
“Raines, if you wouldn’t mind waiting in the other room.” I startle at the hoarseness suddenly encroaching upon her voice, and push myself up from the table.
“No.” Cal’s grabbed my hand.
“Calix, this is a family matter,” Talia snaps abruptly. “I’d like him to wait in the living room.” She gives me a brief apologetic look, but doesn’t renege the sentiment. I feel my eyes daring between them. Son and mother. Mother and son.
“Love, I think it’s alright if he -”
“No!” Talia cuts off her wife, hand clenching on the table. “Please, this is family business, no one else’s, even if -”
“Raines is my family, Mom! He is my family and I trust him more than anyone. He’s been more family to me than you. You broke the rules to try and send letters to your son, well, I broke the rules so that I could have a partner! Someone to confide in after years! Someone that’s not on the team. Who will always come home. I….” Cal’s voice chokes, and I squeeze his hand. “He’s staying, Mom.”
A shocked silence descends upon the room. Talia takes in her son with a critical, hurt gaze. After a few seconds, it softens.
“Very well.” Talia nods, but I catch the strain in her voice.
There’s a tug on my hand, still clasped between Cal’s own. He eases me to my chair. I clear my throat, letting my restless gaze bounce around. Do I say something?
“Ama.” Cal rests his empty hand on the table. His pinky brushes the edge of the crumpled poster. He firmly ignores it. “What’s happened? What is all this about?”
“Well. A Trinovan navy ship in disguise as a merchant vessel docked Minta’s harbor yesterday afternoon. Apparently they were looking for the infamous dancer who was attacked, one Calix Mandalia.” A pointed look at Cal. She sighs, suddenly sad. “When they broke into the Kiptor Elvin Embassy location which is, of course, where your records are kept.” Helen’s voice is growing tighter with every passing word. “They publicized your records, Cal. Everything. About how you were sold to Caerini. About how we couldn’t save you.” A glance at Talia.
How many thousands of questions can I think of before I burst? Cal, sold? Sold to Caerini. Sold to my homeland. As what, a slave? A...no. As a dancer. I suppose I’ve heard of this before. Promising young dancers are sometimes bought and sold between countries before they join their nation’s team. But sold from Volcin to Caerini? Despite our centuries of peace, Volcin and Caerini have experienced bouts of animosity and tension towards each other all of recorded history.
“This,” Helen continues, gesturing to Cal’s propaganda poster and shaking me from my reverie, “is clearly a crude rendition of the peoples’ minds but….unfortunately accurate. The Trinovantes have sparked a coup, and Kiptor is calling for your Trial of Treason.
“Treason?!” Talia exclaims. “But he’s done nothing wrong! Dancers have been sold across borders for years, most always legally! They -”
“Mom.” Cal looks hollow, shocked. Pale. “It’s alright, I’ll just…. I need some air.” He’s suddenly standing, and my hand is cold where a steady palm used to be. A few rays of setting sun duck into the room, then disappear again as the door snaps shut, taking Cal with them.
Talia reaches for me, and we’re both surprised when I stand, pulling away.
“You sold him?” Anger is bubbling in my stomach, up my throat.
“Oh, Raines, it’s not like that, we -”
Rigid, my hand cuts the air in front of me; her words bounce off my palm, extended halfway between us over the table. I accuse her this time. I accuse them both, hurl the words from my lips. “You sold him! Your son -”
Helen flares in defense, “Raines, this is not your place -”
“No,” I spit. “But it was yours.”
The shock on their faces is enough to almost cause my hesitation. But only just. Snatching the doorknob, I’m out over the threshold, into the sear of sun.
“I’m sorry, Raines. This isn’t what’s supposed to happen.”
“Love.” I take his hand. It’s cold.
“This is my fault. I’ll turn myself in.”
Freezing lead descends upon my stomach. “No, Calix, stop. You can’t change this, you -”
“I can! I can stop this! All I have to do is hand myself over! That’s what they want. It’s not so difficult,” his voice has turned soft. “If I could save you.” Cal turns to me and takes my hands. “Raines -”
“Stop. Stop this, Cal. You can’t single handedly stop this war.”
“But I can stop this scandal! It’s my fault, I’ll turn myself in.” His eyes dart back and forth between my own, jade green and gem-bright.
“No, Calix. You won’t. Your turning yourself in won’t solve anything. Perhaps a temporary respite; that’s all.” I have never refused him anything before and I see he realizes this. “I am trying to protect you. And I cannot know you’re safe and be at peace with my conscious if you go running off to the Trinovantes in Kiptor!”
Birds are flitting about, tossing their notes into the air. I’m still holding his hands. I watch Cal’s chest rise and fall beneath his tunic.
“Alright.” His voice conceals a note of desperation. “Alright. What do I do?”
“We….we go back to your team. They can stand up for you. Keep you in safety. I can stay nearby. I’ll go back to Nemia’s inn.”
“But what about my mothers? They’re going to be pulled into this. It’s only a matter of time, they will be blamed for my scandal. For….”
Anger coils in my stomach. I lock my eyes onto one of his cheekbones, trying not to show it.
“For selling me,” he finishes.
I want to ask what happened, why they did it, but it is this moment when the door swings open behind us.
Talia is speaking, trying to get my attention but I keep my back to her, squeezing Cal’s hands.
“They will stay here, keep a low profile. But you have to get out. I’ll go with you -”
“Calix, I forbid you to leave. We will not lose you again.”
Without turning around, I hear his mother start to cry. I feel Cal’s hand jerks from mine by Talia’s desperate fingers. Like leaves drifting from a tree to the earth in our emerald-studded autumns, her words fall. And then Helena’s calmer tone joins, another layer of leaves muffling the first. And when Cal speaks he is the filtering dappled sun.
“I must go, Mom, Ama. Raines is right. He is leading my right, with sense. With love. It won’t be like last time. We will keep in contact.”
I finally turn. It’s to see Cal holding their gazes tenderly, as if it is a precious thing that might be ripped away if he blinks too slowly.
Talia glances at me, murmurs, “What of him, though? What of Raines? It is illegal already, what you are doing. This partnership.” I bristle, though already she looks sorry for saying it.
“Mom, he will be in no danger. I will return to my team while he stays nearby. We have done it before.” Then Cal says something which makes me ache for his every remaining breath. This man that I love. “I would sooner hide my true heart than surrender to abandoning it.” Cal looks to me sidelong with his maddening eyes of jade. It is all I can do not to gasp or to cry in the ringing echo of his sentiment.
All of Talia’s misgivings are clearly evident flashing behind her irises. Slowly, very slowly, they fade. After a few rapid blinks, she smiles faintly. “I trust you. I know you need to do this. Raines,” her hand extends to me and I step forward to grasp it. “I am sorry for what I have said. Be safe. Please.” I find myself nodding.
“Well,” Helena smiles. “Shall we get inside? We can have some food and work out the details.”