Bleed for Me

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Chapter 8 - Calix

We reach the coast of Icenäe at dawn a few mornings later. Our welcome here is smaller and warmer.

Following Rorik off the ship with Athro Tiernan bringing up the rear, our escorts - two women uniformed in white and soft blue - greet us.

“Welcome to Icanäe. It’s an honor to be hosting this next competition with the fine dancers of Caerini.”

We are led to two small cottages on the coast. Frost glistens on the roof. A brisque wind picks up. This must be the far North of Icenäean territory.

“Divide yourselves any way you wish. There are four sets of bunks in this one and five doubles in the other. I am sorry, three will have to sleep out here in the commons; we are not accustomed to hosting larger teams of dancers.”

Athro Tiernan bows courteously as we proceed to the huts and the escorts return the niceties.

The cottage I enter is quite warm, a fire heating the round common space, its light glancing off the frames of two doorways.

“Oh, this is nice.” Natja scampers into the first room “Wow! These are feather pillows!” His call draws Soren racing to his voice, and the second boy vanishes into the room. “I love Icenäe!” Natja shouts. We clamber into the space, myself and Tiago with Natja and Soren, the others laying claim to the room next door. Natja and Tiago sprawl on the bottom bunks, giggling. I laugh, bounding up the ladder.

Ohhh the mattress is so soft. I sigh and Soren laughs at my reaction, grinning from the other top bunk.

“Losing all sense of formality and presence, I see?” We quiet instantly. Athro Tiernan leans into the doorframe. A small smile melts his stoic demeanor. Tiago releases a stray giggle. I hold my breath, bursting with a smile and then all of us are laughing. Somehow all this nonsense will be okay. “Have a good night, boys.” Athro Tiernan chuckles and turns away. “Get some rest.”

I sit up, swinging my legs over the small wooden rail on the edge of the bed. Natja hops up and closes the door.

“This is much nicer than Trinova.” Tiago is on the lower bunk across from Natja and myself. “It’s smaller, the accommodations, but it’s cozy. And….” he trails off, eyes grazing the room in search of the right words.

“They were kind to us,” Natja’s voice is soft, and we sober. A minute stretches between us in the thin, quiet air.

“I can’t believe we’re at war.” Tiago’s hands hold fistfuls of the blanket spread neatly across his bed.

“It’s not war, yet,” Soren adds, but without conviction. “Not officially.”

“The press doesn’t decide when it’s official. I think the war started the second my - my friend was forced to put down his lunar maps and pick up a blade of steel.”

Soren nods at me across the space between our lofted beds, sympathetic. “I’m sorry, Cal.”

The response bubbling up in my throat is stilled by a sudden choke of tears. I push it away, angry at myself. One moment, perhaps even a whole day and I’m happy, ecstatic to be a Warrior Dancer, drinking in the journey, the travel, the company. Proud. The next…. The next, choking on memories of my mothers, Volcin, Raines, home. Hot shame floods my cheeks.

Natja is talking to the others - they’re not seeing. Chin up, Cal. This is your duty. To Caerini. To your tribe. Make Mom and Ama proud.

When I resurface into the conversation, Soren sits, letting his chin rest on his hands, eyes sad as I’ve never seen them, and looking at Tiago.

Tiago murmurs softly, “I miss Caerini.” We breathe. “I miss home.”

My hand finds its way down over the edge of the bunk and his smooth fingers interlace with mine. I give his hand a squeeze.

“Thanks, Cal.”

“When do you think we’ll be sent back home?” Soren asks hopefully.

Natja’s quiet laugh is bitter. “When the war is over, I imagine. And it hasn’t even started yet.”

“Could be years,” mutters Tiago. Silence eats at us for a few minutes.

“Do we have a schedule yet? When we’re going and where for the next few dances?” I give Tiago’s hand another squeeze before unlocking our fingers and pulling my arm back to my chest.

“Athro Tiernan mentioned…. I think he said we’ve got maybe half a dozen competitions moving down the coast of Icenäe and then maybe one in Volcin? I can’t remember.”

Volcin! Mom and Ama! Home, I could see them, perhaps get away for a day. My flushed, happy face everyone sees.

“What’s got you so excited, Cal?” Soren tosses me a playful grin.

The air stiffens in my lungs. Natja, Soren, and Tiago all have their attention on me now. I feel their curiosity growing with every second I don’t answer.

“I-I….” Somehow my voice is cracking away. The cabin suddenly feels abnormally hot.

“It’s okay, Cal, you - “ Soren looks sympathetic but I cut him off.

“I’m Volcäean!” I toss the words out in the middle of all of us. They seem to tumble around in the air, flashing and sparking, more violent than I meant to release them. But it felt good to say. “I’m Volcäean. I was sold as a dancer from Volcin to Caerini before I began Ceremonial Dances. I haven’t been home since. If we dance in Volcin, I might be able to see my mothers. Or they could even come see me perform for Caerini.” After a time, my voice runs out. Quietly, I whisper one last thing to my teammates who are listening caringly. “Volcin and Caerini are on opposite sides of this conflict. Please don’t hate me.”

“We don’t.” Natja’s eyes are genuine and pull away my fear. “You still stand with Caerini, even if you have ties elsewhere. We trust you.”

“Thank you,” I’m already smiling with relief and filling up with love and support for my teammates. A feeling of safety flickers to life in my chest. “Thank you.”

“Do you know where your mothers are?” Tiago asks.

Oh…. Actually, I don’t. After I was sold, I wasn’t allowed to write them. “No,” I breathe. “I’ll check our house, where we used to live….”

“They’ll be there,” Soren encourages. “Or close.”

I only half listen as they keep talking, laughing, and letting off steam. The candles burn low and we snuff them out. The room quiets to the rustling of sheets as we get settled, swept off to thoughts and dreams. I roll over and cozy into my sheets.

“Goodnight,” Soren says gently.

“Goodnight,” we chorus back in soft, sleepy murmurs.

Tonight I feel safe.

I hope Raines does, too.

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