Bleed for Me

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Chapter 7 - Calix

Sound ricochets around the walls. I stand directly behind Rorik, holding my heart against my chest as if I can slow its rhythm by the pressure of my hands across my collarbone. s

The rush of hundreds of cheering voices spills into the corridor as the gate opens to the sun.

We dash forward into the arena, light steps on packed dirt, the Trinovan team matching our movements across the expanse of raw determination between us.

Breath pours out of my lungs, heat already rising from my pale skin. Halt! a horn screams, smooth and long. We freeze under the blaze of sun, cut in a triangle formation. Rorik steps forward, reaching out towards the Trinovan boy. They touch shoulders, bow.

A man in an elegant tunic rises onto a low stage. Voices hush in reverence. When he speaks, I understand nothing, the watery lilt of Trinovan slipping from his tongue.

A second, darker man takes his place next to the announcer - he translates for the Caerinian team.

“You will have ten minutes to choreograph a partial performance to the wallowing thirty-two bars of music using the theme of fire. Listen closely.”

Soft, sharp notes spring into the air rising up from the instruments across the field. Musicians carefully breathe life into the crafted wood and metal in their hands.

We only hear the brief selection once - I imprint each note in my brain, tasting the tones, holding the rhythm alongside my beating heart.

The air stiffens in sudden silence.

“Begin your preparation.”

Niall immediately takes charge. “Sharp but graceful moves for the improvisation - let’s use the star wheel pattern to move about the stage,” his eyes scan each of us in turn and he nods.

Rorik steps forward and glances with respect at Niall. “That’s good. You all heard the song. It lends itself well to partner leaps and a grande carry. Calix.”

Surprised, I hold his gaze.

“I want you to be the center of the grande carry. Partner off, let’s go.”

I find some space alone. I am the seventeenth this time, the odd number remaining. No partner. I am alone. The hard-packed dirt puffs up beneath my feet. While the others begin, I reach to the ground, pressing my palms to the earth until I feel a strain washing up my calves. The breath I release carries with it an ocean….

Raines. His hair cut short now, stripped of his green tunic and thrown into armor, holding a sword to the world. Afraid. The blade splits the vision of his face down the middle.

I practice the leap I am expected to perform.

Volcin. Home. Mom, Ama. How are they? This conflict - have they taken sides? And is it against Caerini?

Against me?

“Time!” The translator’s voice penetrates my thoughts. “Caerinian Warriors - prepare to perform.”

The Trinovan team forms a neat line at the opposite side of the arena. The sun stings my eyes. Tiago, Kari, Soren, Natja - they sweep into the center of the arena with the rest of us, placing themselves in a complicated star shape, one I have come to know well over hundreds of hours of training.

I step to the forefront.

I kneel in the center.

Hold my breath.

My heart flutters.

The announcer is speaking, the translator interpreting - syllables wash over my ears like leaves in a windstorm.

For Raines. Today I dance for Raines.

Music begins.

I am engulfed in a swirl of movement, muscles stretching my body into the vision of a fire; a flicker of a form, dashing, somehow brilliant and violent, but quiet. Quick flashes of my being in the air, music sings through my veins, my heart, my world. I follow it, notes buoying me up into the air, down to the ground, through some sort of block in my heart.

A vaguely familiar melody severs the previously unknown tones.

I release my heart. My hope. A sweet fleeting memory of home. My moms. Safe love.

Feet over the ground, behind the others; they’re waiting for my leap. Arms out, forward, like freefalling, look straight up, hold your spine. Perfect pointed feet. I jump.

And I soar, lifted by dozens of hands. I think I take a piece of the sky with me as I land and a crowd of voices crackles through the air in cheers. Breath sears my lungs as I try to take in enough oxygen.

The team surrounds me and we embrace.

The Trinovantes’ performance sticks in my memory as a blur, sharp and clean, but almost painful. The druids, the judges, all I recall distinctly is their raising the Caerinian flag in victory.

---------------------------------------

A celebratory feast, brief respite of sleep, and we are careening across the water again, spirits ecstatic with victory and hope.

I stand at the starboard edge of the ship, imagination flitting over the water. My two blonde braids wave gently in the wind.

Reaching up, I feel the shaved side of my head across my temple is already becoming soft as silk, smoothing out the original stubble. A smile perks my lips. I am proud. To have made the team. To have the privilege of the leap yesterday.

“Calix.”

I turn to Rorik’s form moving across the deck towards me.

“You did very well yesterday. You have a lot of natural talent.”

“Thank you.”

He leans his elbows on the wood, sun making his skin gleam bronze. “Athro Tiernan has told me our next competition in Icenäe will be more traditional. I’d like to choreograph our piece with you soloing with some leaps. What do you think?”

Wind sweeps up off the water, and I shiver with a volley of emotions, containing a smile.

“I’d be honored. Will we have a few days to choreograph once we reach the mainland?”

“Yes, two days I believe.” As Rorik walks away, he lets his hand graze my shoulder. “Thank you.”

I stand, gazing to the horizon until the orb of the sun is swallowed into the sea. The crew is attending their posts, and the rest of the team has already retired to their cabins.

I pad softly across the deck, barefooted. Wind whispers in my ears. I take a deep, slow breath and calm the hovering knot of worry in my stomach.

The knot that worries of the impending war. The knot that includes home. The knot where Rains is stuck, fighting through the brambles of violence with only his steel and his breath.

Tap, tap, down the stairs. It smells of wood and dark and a pleasant musk. I push open my door. Niall is sleeping snug on the bottom bunk. A lantern is lit. I extinguish the warm flick of light and tenderly climb up to my bed. The cots creak, but Niall’s patterned breathing continues. I lay back, eyes finding blemishes in the wood of the ceiling in the faint moonlight that sifts through our porthole. They appear not as minor divots, but gaping chasms of dark space. Ready to swallow me up. I let my lids wash back and forth over my pupils, leaning in, floating up to the chasms. On closer inspection, the abyss is not pitch. It’s full of the pricks of dozens - hundreds - of stars. Brilliant cashes of light, holding out hope. Determined to keep burning gold into the dark.

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