Chapter Nineteen: Family and Friends
In spite of E’nes’s assurances, Adesina had been prepared to be treated like a prisoner. To her surprise, she was treated more like a guest. Granted, a carefully watched guest.
When the evening meal was finished, E’nes gave her an official tour of the fort. He gestured ruefully to the room in which they were standing. “This is the main room, obviously. This is where we have all of our meals, hold our large meetings, gather in our free time, and so forth.”
She nodded, trying to look politely interested, but not succeeding.
He moved towards the hall and indicated that she should follow. “This first room is currently being used as a more private conference room. This is where L’iam and the others are planning.”
He pointed to a couple of rooms across the hall. “That is where we sleep.” E’nes gestured in the direction of the cell. “Our secure room, of course.”
Across the way from one of the bedrooms was the final room. He opened the door and indicated that Adesina should enter.
It was small and plain, but it was clean. There was a single cot in one corner of the room with a pillow and a carefully folded blanket. There was a narrow table by the window, which held a washbasin and a hairbrush, and on the other side of the window sat a worn wooden chair. The whole room seemed to have been tidied with great care.
E’nes glanced around the room uncertainly. “This is where you will be sleeping.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Not in the cell?”
He gave her an incredulous stare. “I am not going to allow my sister to spend the night in a cell.”
Adesina didn’t bother clarifying that she was being sarcastic. Instead, she walked over to the bed and sat down. “You seem to place a lot of interest in a sister you have never known.”
E’nes took the chair by the window and shrugged. “Of course. The fact that we have never met before today does not change who you are.”
Her expression became stony. “You do not even know who I am. Perhaps you will not want such a sister.”
He didn’t seem convinced by her hard words. He folded his arms expectantly and leaned back. “Very well. Tell me why I would not want you for a sister.”
“I am a Shimat,” she replied simply. “That should be enough for you, since we are a plague on this world.”
The young man shook his head angrily. “Our uncle should not have said that. I hope you can forgive him.”
She cocked her head to one side. “Why?”
“He has seen many hardships,” her brother explained, “and it has made him rather bitter. The Shimat have done much to harm our people.”
“But I have not,” Adesina pointed out.
E’nes nodded thoughtfully, but did not say what was going through his mind. He leaned forward and clasped his hands together. “Tell me about yourself.”
She frowned in confusion. “What do you want to know?”
He shrugged. “What was it like growing up as a Shimat?”
“Difficult,” she said curtly.
A short laugh burst out of his lips. “What made it difficult?”
Adesina didn’t really want to answer, but found herself searching for the right words. “Most Shimat begin training when they are ten years of age, but I began when I was five.”
The amused expression slipped from her brother’s face. “Why so young?”
“Children learn much faster than adults,” she reasoned, “and if we begin early, our education can be much more thorough.”
E’nes shook his head. “But why did you start your training so much sooner than your peers?”
She looked at him, surprised he couldn’t guess. “Because I am gifted.”
Understanding dawned in his eyes. “Oh.”
“My leaders saw my potential and wanted to begin shaping it as soon as possible.” She tried to keep her voice offhanded, but there was a hard edge to it that she couldn’t hide.
E’nes took note of this and decided to take the topic in a different direction, trying to keep the conversation amiable. “The L’avan begin their training when they are twelve years of age. Most of the time this means an apprenticeship after school. As mentioned before, I am a Protector. I recently finished my specialized training, and this is my first mission outside of L’avan lands.”
Adesina’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Specialized training?”
He hesitated a moment before answering. “I am a Royal Protector, which means that eventually I will be assigned a member of the royal family whom I will serve as a personal guard. That means extra training.”
She tried to not appear too interested. “Are there many Royal Protectors?”
“One per family member,” he replied shortly, “and a couple of extras.”
It was clear that E’nes wasn’t comfortable talking about it. Probably because he didn’t trust Adesina yet, and he felt that it was dangerous sharing information about the royal family with her. It was now her turn to politely change the subject.
“You said this is your first mission, but have you been outside of L’avan lands before now?” she asked.
He gave a slow nod. “Yes, when I was young. Father was on a commission for the king, and he took Mother and I with him.” After a brief pause, he added softly, “That was when Mother disappeared.”
Adesina looked down at her clasped hands. “Do you remember what happened?”
He stared out the window with pain in his eyes. “I was five years old at the time, so my memory is limited. I remember being excited about the trip, and I remember that Mother was as well. She decided to take a ride on her horse and explore the surrounding area, and she never came back.”
Adesina frowned, trying to remember if Signe had mentioned anything about a horse. “What were you doing so far south?”
Her brother was confused by her question. “South? We were here, in this forest.”
She shot a quick glance out the window. “You were by the High City?”
E’nes shook his head. “We are not by the High City anymore. We are about a day northwest.”
She looked at him in shock. “What?”
His expression was slightly smug. “Why do you think your Shimat friends have not found you yet?”
Her stomach jolted when she thought about the worry Kendan must be feeling. But even with this new revelation, something didn’t make sense. “They still would have been able to track us.”
“The L’avan are what you would call magic-users,” he reminded her. “We are quite able to hide our trail.”
Adesina’s mind was reeling, trying to process two things at once. She set aside her curiosity about their location for the moment and returned the focus to the story of her mother’s disappearance.
“You were here when Mother disappeared?”
E’nes nodded his head solemnly. “We were staying in this very cabin.”
The young Shimat didn’t understand. None of what her brother was saying lined up with the story she had been told by Signe. How was she to know whom she should believe?
They were both distracted by the entrance of Ravi, who gave them a cursory glance before joining them. He appeared to not notice the heightened emotion in the room. “How do you like your accommodations?”
She forced herself to respond, even though her thoughts were far from the room. “There is not much room for you to sleep.”
Ravi was unconcerned. “That will not be an issue. I will not be sharing your room.”
This got her attention. “What? Privacy? How strange. Why do you suddenly feel it is acceptable to let me out of your sight?” she asked sarcastically.
Ravi looked amused. “You do not need protection here, Ma’eve.”
Adesina frowned. “Why not? Why is this fort different from anywhere else?”
“Do you remember the forest we passed through on our way to the High City?”
How could she forget?
She replied, “Of course.”
“This forest is similar to that one. It is protected from intruders.”
E’nes added, “That is why we have an outpost here. It requires little fortification.”
“Although,” Ravi said in a wry tone, “in my opinion, it is foolhardy to leave it without guards when it is not in use. Just because the forest offers some degree of protection, does not mean that outsiders are barred from the area.”
Adesina’s brother straightened his back and spoke in a slightly defensive voice, “There are enough rumors to keep the locals away. Even travelers know to give this area a wide berth.”
Ravi smiled at Adesina. “Your brother seems to think the L’avan infallible.”
“Really, old friend,” E’nes protested. “You will make her think that I am naive, or worse.”
The Rashad got to his feet. “It is starting to get late, Ma’eve. It is time to sleep.”
“I am not tired,” she insisted.
He gave a feline smile. “But I am. Goodnight, Ma’eve.”
E’nes took the hint and moved towards the door. “Goodnight.”
She waited for him to leave before calling softly to her guardian. “Ravi?”
He paused. “Yes?”
“Do you think I will Dream tonight? Now that I am in a forest like this one?”
Ravi sighed softly. “No, Ma’eve. This forest is not like the other in that way. It cannot help you to Dream.”
Adesina wasn’t willing to give up that easily. “But I might Dream anyway.”
He hesitated. “I do not know. You still seem to struggle Dreaming on your own.”
She frowned. “What do you mean? I Dreamed in the High City.”
Once again, he seemed unsure whether to answer or not. “That was a projected Dream, not your own.” He could see that she didn’t understand. “The Dream you saw was a re-creation of the one that I had right before I left you. My mind had been dwelling on it so long that it imprinted on your psyche as well. Apparently our minds are more closely connected than either of us realized.”
Adesina was baffled. “I shared your Dream?”
Ravi nodded sadly. “I saw in my Dream that you were in danger and that your father was reaching out to you. I knew that you needed to grasp each other’s hand or you would both be lost. This meant introducing you to your father, which I was not allowed to do. I could not decide whether I needed to break that rule or simply protect you until you found your father on your own. I went to discuss the matter with one of my own kind. By the time I realized that it was more important that I stay with you, it was too late. You had already turned your father over to the Shimat.”
She shifted uncomfortably. She was torn between the shame of betraying her father and the compulsion of doing her duty as a Shimat.
Ravi continued. “I had another Dream just before you returned. It showed me what you had done, and I realized the depth of my error. I did not know how to make it right. That is why I became so withdrawn. I was searching my mind and my Dreams, trying to discover a way to right my mistake.”
“It was not your mistake, Ravi. You did all that you could,” Adesina said quietly.
He shook his head. “No, Ma’eve, the blame falls on me. I was meant to protect you, even from yourself, and I failed.” There was no self-pity in his voice, only deep remorse. “I am sorry, Ma’eve.”
She shook her head readily. “No, Ravi. I am sorry that I did not honor the promise that I made to you.”
They smiled at each other, both glad to heal the breach that had formed between them over the past few weeks.
“Goodnight, dear one.”
He disappeared from sight, something that Adesina still wasn’t used to happening. She heaved a tired sigh and moved towards the table. She began letting down her tightly pinned hair, glad that she couldn’t see what a mess it had become. Adesina brushed her hair smooth and then sat down on the bed. She had no nightclothes to change into, so she merely removed her boots and set them neatly on the ground. She laid back and closed her eyes, grateful to get some rest.
She could hear the gentle breeze outside of her window, stirring the leaves of the trees. The chirping of crickets sounded in the distance, accompanied by other sounds of the night. It all came together in a soothing sort of symphony that lulled Adesina to sleep.
L’iam was waiting for E’nes when he left his sister’s room. His leader beckoned him into the conference room and shut the door behind him.
Ri’sel and Sa’jan were already in the room, sitting in chairs around a small table. L’iam moved to join them and E’nes did the same.
“Well,” said Sa’jan, “what do you think of your new sister?”
Ri’sel snorted. “She may be the daughter of Me’shan and E’rian, but that hardly merits welcoming her into the family with open arms.”
“You think she is dangerous?” asked L’iam.
His expression became more respectful, but his voice was no less decided. “Of course she is dangerous. She is a Shimat.”
E’nes leaned forward and spoke up adamantly. “I disagree.”
Everyone was surprised by his reaction. They looked at him expectantly, waiting for an explanation.
He chose his words carefully. “That is not to say that she cannot be dangerous. Of course anyone with Shimat training has the potential to be a threat. That being said, I do not believe that she is a naturally dangerous person. She has a good heart.”
His uncle was incredulous. “You can tell that by a few minutes worth of conversation?”
“Yes,” he replied simply. “She is a lot like Father.”
Sa’jan cleared his throat delicately. “I know that you want her to be a good person, E’nes, but your conclusions may be too hasty.”
The young man gave a stubborn shake of the head. “You do not understand. When I look into her eyes, I can see the goodness of her soul. She wants to be a person of honor and integrity but has been lost on the wrong path.”
After a momentary pause, L’iam nodded in agreement. “I can see that when I look at her as well.”
Sa’jan also nodded, but Ri’sel folded his arms and leaned back with a darkened expression on his face.
L’iam looked around the table and clasped his hands together. “All I need to know for tonight are your thoughts on the matter of our guest.”
He looked first to Sa’jan, who gave a small shrug. “She has given her word to behave for now. If she gets unruly, Ri’sel can throw her into another tree.”
Ri’sel shook his head and said, “I think it is foolish to allow a Shimat to dwell among us. Even if she keeps her word to ‘behave,’ she is still acting as a spy. I say we render her unconscious, take her back to the High City and leave her there.”
Finally it was E’nes’s turn to speak. For a moment he could only look pleadingly at their leader. When his words came, they were spoken quietly. “Please, L’iam. I know it is a risk, but I believe that if we show her trust she will learn to trust us in return.”
A thoughtful silence followed for several minutes while their leader considered what he had heard. When L’iam came to a decision, he announced it to his comrades firmly. “We will follow E’nes’s suggestion for the time being. If there is a change in circumstances, we will adjust accordingly.”No one argued, even though it was clear that Ri’sel thought they were making a mistake. E’nes was excused from the meeting and went to his room to go to sleep. He laid awake for hours, thinking about his sister and praying that he wasn’t wrong about her.