Chapter Eleven: Alone
Adesina had now been in the High City for six months. The late autumn and winter had passed and spring had arrived. Adrie had found her niche in the High City society. Although she was still viewed as an Outsider, she felt that she had discovered how to fit in.
Five days a week she went to school, where she led her class academically—much to the mortification of some of her classmates. Four days a week she went to Hass’s shop right after school and worked until evening. Aleron always walked her home, chatting about anything that came to mind, but not in the mindless manner that was typical of Gainor. Sometimes Hass joined them, and sometimes they walked alone.
She appreciated the friendship she had developed with this young man, but she was often reminded that it was founded on false pretenses. Most of the time she was merely playing a part, and that left her feeling alone.
Adesina missed being herself, and she missed the life of a Shimat. Most of all, she missed spending every day with Kendan—the way he challenged her to go beyond her best; the familiar banter that passed between them; the way he looked deep into her eyes, as if trying to read the etchings on her soul; and, more recently, how he had reached for her hand and warmed her with his touch. She missed all of these things, sometimes so much it was painful.
Now she was surrounded by the pretension of the High City, living among those she knew were not her equal. She did her best to keep Kendan from her mind, but that was difficult.
A good deal of her time was spent in the company of Gainor, Deasa and Rina. With the aid of these girls, Adesina was given a whole new set of lessons that had never before been presented to her. She watched the girls with a growing fascination as they practiced their charms, flirted shamelessly to get what they wanted, and displayed a wide variety of etiquette that was adaptable to almost any situation. These strange lessons ended with the fading light and Adesina returned to her host family for a quiet supper and an evening of storytelling, music, or individual amusements.
To the casual observer, it would have seemed like the happy, simple life of the majority of the citizens of the High City. But the casual observer would not have seen that Adesina was awake long after the others had gone to bed and up again long before dawn. Every day she reviewed her mission information, more out of habit than need. She practiced her skills in weaponry, and made sure that she remembered every lesson that she had been given during her years of training. There was only so much she could do in her limited space, but she did the best she could.
Once a month, in the dead of night, Adesina slipped out of the High City through a drain grate she had discovered early on. She would then steal across the open field to the refuge of the forest. There was a small hidden cave where she met her Shimat contact and reported on her status.
Kendan always greeted her with a tender smile and a squeeze of the hand. At first, Adesina found these attentions to be confusing, but now she looked forward to them. She began dreaming of him taking her in his arms and holding her close, but he never did. Instead he would touch her hand, and his eyes would twinkle when he noticed the blush on her cheeks.
Their time together was limited, and therefore precious. In these stolen hours or half-hours, Adesina finally felt that she was with an equal, and the fluttering of her heart whispered that maybe it was something more than that as well. She tried not to look too deep into those feelings, afraid of what she might discover there. Instead, she attempted to act as if it didn’t matter, even if she knew she was lying to herself.
Adesina rarely had anything of importance to report, and was frequently admonished to be patient while waiting for her first assignment.
But she was impatient.
Her task had been to establish herself in the High City so she would always have a solid alibi. With the exception of Chatham, who continued in his irrational dislike, anyone that Adesina had come in contact with would swear for Adrie’s character.
It was a fine spring morning when Adesina sat looking out her window, lost in thought. Ravi, who had missed his usual predawn ritual of watching and assisting Adesina in her training, opened his eyes from a deep sleep.
“Happy birthday, Ma’eve.”
Adesina blinked in surprise. It was her seventeenth birthday, and she had completely forgotten. “Thank you, Ravi. Have you been Dreaming?”
He was only a heavy sleeper when he was Dreaming. Ravi stretched and sat up. “Yes.”
She still had not been able to Dream without the aid of the strange forest through which they had traveled. She covered the envy she felt by smiling at him teasingly. “Is that how you knew it was my birthday?”
“In a way. I have great reason to remember this day. It was important to me.”
Adesina turned from the window to face him. “Why is that?”
He smiled as if the answer were obvious. “Because you were born.”
She was surprised to receive such a reply. “I had no idea that you had been so long aware of my existence.”
Ravi raised his brow slightly. “Of course. Your existence completes mine.”
The young Shimat frowned. “What do you mean?”
“The Rashad are sometimes born with a task assigned to them—a role or a purpose they are meant to fulfill. Mine was to be your guardian.”
Adesina stared at him, dumbfounded. “You are my guardian?”
A soft laugh burst from Ravi’s throat. “Why else do you think I would be following you day in and day out for all of this time?”
She shrugged defensively. “I stopped trying to explain your presence a long time ago.”
Amusement danced in Ravi’s eyes. “I see.”
Adesina pushed aside her aggravation to give priority to her curiosity. “So, you were born to be my guardian?”
Ravi inclined his head.
“You had no choice in the matter?”
His expression now became more serious. “There is always a choice. Even in matters that are called ‘destiny’ by some.”
She furrowed her brow. “Does that not contradict the very idea of destiny?”
Ravi considered his words for several moments before answering. “Destiny is like a labyrinth. One is given the choice of paths, but once on that path one is required to follow it until a new choice is presented. When I received the Dream that told me of your birth, I had two choices: I could heed the call to fulfill my purpose or I could ignore it. I chose to heed the call and prepare to seek you out, and that choice has set my life on the path I now am obliged to follow.”
Adesina thought about this carefully. “Is every life guided by destiny?”
“I do not know. I only know of its hand in my own life.”
She leaned forward, fixing her eyes intently on Ravi. “What of my life?”
A smile tugged at the corners of Ravi’s mouth. “Why do you think I would have the answer to that question?”
“Because you said that our lives were connected.”
“Intertwined,” he amended gently.
Adesina nodded impatiently. “If that is the case, then would it not stand to reason that you would have more insight into my life than with others?”
This time his smile would not be repressed. “An interesting observation.”
Adesina straightened in her seat triumphantly. “Well?”
Ravi, on the other hand, laid back down. “I suppose it would make sense for your life to be guided as well as mine.”
Her expression became troubled. “You said there are always choices, but I do not feel as if I have ever had any. My life feels more like my old ideas of destiny. I trained as a Shimat because I was born in the fortress, and I came to the High City because I was assigned to a purpose here. What kind of choices could I have had?”
Ravi shook his head. “That I cannot tell you. All I can say is that sometimes our choices do not appear to be clear until after they have passed. It may be that you look back on your life years from now and see momentous choices of which you were not aware.”
An odd expression came over Ravi’s face and he went very still. Although she wasn’t sure why, Adesina went still as well.
“What is it, Ravi?”
He didn’t answer for several moments. “Ma’eve…I…forgive me, but I must leave you for a time. Will you be all right if I go?”
The Shimat rolled her eyes. “I know how to take care of myself, Ravi. But what is wrong? What has happened?”
He shook his head doubtfully. “I am not talking about your physical well being. Something is happening, and I will not leave your side unless I know you will be safe.”
Adesina’s gaze became intent. “What is happening?”
Ravi hesitated before answering. “I do not know. That is why I must leave you. I have seen something I do not understand, and I must speak with one of my own kind.”
“Where would you go to do that?”
Ravi’s thoughts seemed to have turned inward. “Ruvim is probably the closest. Even so, it is quite a distance…”
After a few minutes of silence, his golden eyes snapped up to fix themselves on Adesina’s face. “Would you promise me to stay here today? Tell Jelana you are ill, and stay in this room.”
She was shaking her head before he finished talking. “I am not going to stay inside all day.”
His expression became stern. “Now is not a time to be willful. This is important, Ma’eve. Please promise me.”
“What could possibly happen to me in this city?”
She met Ravi’s eyes with a glare and folded her arms. He sighed. “Well, then will you promise me that you will do nothing that deviates from your regular schedule?”
Part of her wanted to refuse even that, but the better part of her nature won over her stubbornness. She gave a reluctant nod. “Very well.”
Ravi smiled and nudged her hand with his head as a sort of parting gesture. Then, without warning, he disappeared. Adesina was a bit startled by this and quietly called out before she could stop herself.
“Ravi?”But he was already gone.