Chapter Thirty-two: An Unexpected Companion
Adesina glanced back over her shoulder one last time before Yavar was out of sight. It was strange that she had been there for such a short time—less than a month—but she felt such a strong connection to it. It felt more like home than any other place in which she had lived.
E’nes noticed her reluctance and studied her face worriedly. “Are you having second thoughts about this mission?”
She gave him a half smile. “No. I am just sorry to leave.”
He nodded. “Yes, I understand.”
Adesina suspected that her brother’s feelings were quite different from her own. It had been heartwrenching to watch E’nes and his wife part. He had been away for so long, and this new mission would not likely end well. They had refused to say goodbye to each other. Instead, E’nes had kissed Wren’na and promised to be back soon.
Adesina desperately hoped that this promise would be fulfilled.
They traveled through Pevothem at a quick pace, though not as quickly as Adesina would have liked. Still, she understood the need to pace the horses. The journey ahead of them was bound to be a long one.
Her eyes fell on the horse she was riding. It had been a gift, although she was not exactly sure from whom. E’nes had presented it to her, but it looked suspiciously like one of the horses she had seen at the palace.
He was a large warhorse with a satin black coat. He had a single white star on his forehead, which had inspired the name she gave him: Torith, which was the Shimat word for star. It seemed fitting that her horse, like herself, should have a Shimat name. He was beautiful and proud, and Adesina had loved him immediately.
E’nes pulled his horse closer to Adesina’s, speaking to her in a soft voice. “I have something for you. I wanted to give it to you before we left, but we ran out of time.”
She looked at her brother in curiosity. “What is it?”
He extended his hand. Lying across his palm was the dagger that had belonged to her father, the one that Horas had found in an alley of the High City. Adesina shook her head when she realized what it was. “No, E’nes. You should have Father’s dagger.”
E’nes smiled. “He would want you to have it. It has been passed down through our family for many generations. You should have something that shows your heritage.”
Adesina took it reverently and attached it to her belt. “Thank you.”
He shrugged, indicating that it was nothing. Then he glanced at Ravi, who was trotting alongside the horses. “What did Rajan say when you told him you were leaving again?”
Ravi’s reply was simple. “He knows where my first duty lies. He supports the path I have chosen.”
Adesina joined the conversation. “What about your family?”
He snorted softly. “Rissa almost threw a fit, but my parents were more understanding.” After a pause he added, “Remah was sad.”
E’nes could empathize, but Adesina could not. “You seem to be in love.”
Ravi and E’nes both laughed, which made Adesina feel defensive.
“It was my understanding that your betrothal was an arranged affair. I assumed love had little to do with it.”
Her guardian inclined his head, only slightly less amused. “Yes, it was arranged for us, but Rashad marriages are created the same way L’avan marriages are.”
She looked to her brother for an explanation, which he was happy to supply. “The L’avan occasionally have arranged marriages as well. A child is taken to a Reader by it’s parents, and they are told who the child is meant to marry.”
Adesina frowned. “A Reader?”
He inclined his head. “Someone who specializes in the reading and understanding one’s spirit. They are able to project their vyala further and deeper than most. This enables them to find the perfect match for a child—the one they would be happiest with and love the most. A more common term would be ‘soul mates,’ although it is not quite accurate in describing a L’avan match. We called them our dava.”
She was strangely unsettled by this revelation. “I am surprised that a civilization as advanced as the L’avan would continue such practices.”
Her brother quirked an eyebrow. “You said the same thing about our religious practices.”
She waved a hand impatiently. “Yes, but this is different. To choose a mate for a child before they are old enough to have a say in the matter…”
Ravi smiled calmly. “Ma’eve, how many times must I tell you that there is always a choice? No L’avan is forced to marry, but they always choose to do so. Not only that, but they often choose to marry as soon as they are old enough rather than waiting a few years more. Why would they not want to spend the rest of their existence with the great love of their heart?”
“How old are the children when they are taken to the Reader?” asked Adesina.
“Well, both children of the match must be living. Most parents go to the Reader as soon as they discover they are with child. The Reader reaches out to the unborn infant’s spirit and then searches the rest of the L’avan for their perfect match. The dava and it’s parents are then summoned to the Reader for a more in-depth check to make sure they are meant for each other. If a child’s match is not currently alive, they wait until they are summoned by the Reader.”
She was doing her best to keep the incredulous expression off of her face, but wasn’t sure if she was succeeding. “How old were you when you were matched with Wren’na?”
A smile stole over E’nes’ face. “I was six months old. Wren’na and I are one year apart in age.”
Adesina’s tone became dismissive. “I suppose it is easy to fall in love if you grow up knowing that you are going to marry each other.”
Her brother nodded slowly. “That may be true in some cases, but I did not meet Wren’na until one week before our wedding. Her family raises horses on a farm north of Yavar.”
“Yet you still wanted to marry her?” she asked in amazement.
His expression softened as he thought of his beloved wife. “Yes. I was actually infatuated with someone else at the time. It was a hard decision to make, but I trusted in the Reader’s ability enough to follow through. I have been so grateful ever since. No one could make me as happy as Wren’na.”
Adesina frowned. “What if someone’s dava dies or chooses someone else to marry? It does not seem fair to be told you have a soul mate out there somewhere if you can never be with them.”
“Not every L’avan has a dava,” her brother clarified. “One of my good friends was told that he would be happy with any woman he chose because of his joyful nature and his determination to build a loving relationship. I would estimate that only one out of every ten children has a dava.”
There was a brief pause as E’nes chose his words. “As for the first part of your question, it is extremely rare for one’s dava to die young. That is to say, before adulthood. Personally, I have only heard of it happening once.”
A troubling thought occurred to Adesina. “Did I have a dava?”
E’nes shifted in his saddle uncomfortably. “That does not matter, Adesina. You have been away long enough that no one expects you to follow our traditions.”
“I did, did I not?” she pressed on.
“Well, yes,” he admitted reluctantly, “but like I said before, you are not held to the arrangement. Everyone assumed you were dead, so your dava has been in mourning long enough to honorably choose another to wed.”
“Who is it?”
There was no room in her tone for argument, and had they not been interrupted, Adesina probably would have gotten the information she demanded. Fortunately for E’nes, L’iam’s voice broke over them, calling her attention away.
“Adesina, we are leaving Rashad lands. Would you be willing to provide us with some cover as a precaution?”
They were now within sight of the thieves’ forest. With an irritated glance at her brother, she reached inward to connect with her vyala. In response to her desire, Adesina’s vyala touched the light around them, becoming one with it, and her vision was tinted red with the change that occurred. She bent the light around them, creating the illusion that there was nothing but grass where they were riding.
This took all of Adesina’s concentration, since she was still a beginner at using vyala. She had been assured that practice would make it easier in time. Still, as of right now she was left with her focus solely on her vyala, and was unable to prevent E’nes from moving his horse to ride alongside L’iam.
She couldn’t even pay attention to the quiet conversations going on around her. Ravi and Sa’jan were chatting with each other in low voices, and E’nes and L’iam were conversing. Adesina had not yet learned how to cover their sound as well as their visible presence, therefore they could not speak in normal voices without running the risk of being heard. It irritated her that she didn’t have focus to spare to listen to what was being said around her.
Adesina provided cover for them until they were once again under the safety of the trees. She held the shield until they were all able to draw the long hooded cloaks around themselves, then she let the illusion drop.
The group continued riding through the trees in silence. Gruesome memories of what took place there haunted Adesina as they traveled through the shadowed domain. She was so distracted by these thoughts that it wasn’t until the second day in the forest that she noticed the almost inaudible whisper of leaves.
“We are being followed,” she said quietly to L’iam, who was riding next to her.
He frowned. “Are you sure?”
Adesina raised an eyebrow at him. “Of course.”
L’iam brought the group to a stop and turned to face the direction Adesina indicated.
“Whoever you are, come out willingly or you will be driven out.”
There was a slight pause before the rustle of underbrush grew louder. A slender figure stepped out from behind a tree, her expression chagrined.
L’iam’s face flushed with anger. “L’era!”
Adesina stared at her in exasperation. “What are you doing here?”
The princess tried her most winning smile, to no effect. “Following you.”
This only seemed to goad her brother. “Father will be furious. You must go home.”
She came forward, leading her snowy white horse. “Well, if Father will be furious, why would I go to meet his anger? It would be better for me to wait until he will be merely relieved to see me alive.”
L’iam took a calming breath. “L’era, this is serious. We are talking about a dangerous mission, not some countryside picnic.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “I know that, L’iam.”
“You are not trained as a warrior.”
L’era shook her head obstinately. “I am not suggesting that I be placed in the middle of the fighting, but I can still help.”
Adesina was growing impatient. “L’iam, we do not have time for this.”
He nodded in agreement. “L’era, there is nothing you can say to convince me to let you come along. Go home right now.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I will just follow you if you do not let me travel with you.”
“Not if I send someone to escort you home,” he retorted heatedly.
She gave an amused laugh. “Whom would you send? You cannot wait for them to catch back up, and you cannot do without any party member.”
L’iam turned to the only one who would be able to take L’era back to Yavar and then catch up without any problems. “Ravi?”
Ravi shook his head apologetically. “I feel very strongly that I should not leave Ma’eve.”
L’iam looked around at the faces of the others in the group. He did not see anyone whom he felt they could do without.
His sister suppressed a triumphant grin. “Does that mean I can come?”
L’iam turned to Adesina and spoke to her in a low voice. “Do you have any suggestions? No matter what I say, she will not listen to me.”
She frowned. “Do you think she would listen if I told her to go back to Pevothem?”
Ravi quietly cut in here. “She cannot travel by herself. She will be captured if left alone.”
He spoke with a certainty that sent chills of dread through both listeners.
“We cannot let her come,” L’iam said hopelessly.
Adesina sighed heavily. “We have few options. We cannot wait any longer for this mission, and we cannot spare anyone to take her back.”
His expression was void of its usual light. “I know.”
Adesina fixed her most intimidating expression on her face. “You many only come on one condition, L’era: you will listen to everything I say and obey without argument.”
The young princess nodded instantly, her eyes solemn. “Of course.”
Her brother’s tone became sharp. “Do not say ‘of course,’ L’era, because you know that a time will come when you are told to do something that you will not want to do. No matter how ridiculous our orders may sound to you, must swear to obey them instantly.”
She lifted her hands defensively. “I promise!”
Ravi got to his feet. “We must hurry if we are going to leave the forest by nightfall.”
L’era meekly mounted her horse and moved to ride next to Sa’jan. He was farthest away from her brother, and she felt the distance was wise at the moment.
They passed through the rest of the forest without any other problems. They didn’t run into any others travelers, but Adesina could tell that they were being closely watched. Words of warning about the silent cloaked strangers seemed to have spread since their last visit, leaving a wake of fear before the L’avan.
They continued southward, saying little to each other even after they passed out of the thieves’ forest. It took L’era a few days to feel secure enough in her position as their companion to return to her usual chatter. Once she did, it lightened the mood considerably. She seemed like a ray of sunlight in the gloom of the knowledge of their final destination.
The L’avan chatted amiably as they rode the duration of each day. Adesina was instructed on L’avan history, shown the finer points of how to work with her vyala, and taught various folk songs. Ravi even began telling her about the history of the Rashad, which predated the L’avan by many thousands of years.
They sat around the campfire every evening, sharing stories of the past and dreams of the future. Adesina tried to pry more information from E’nes regarding her dava, but he firmly refused to discuss it with her anymore. He merely insisted that it didn’t matter and told her to put it out of her mind. Adesina rolled her eyes at the suggestion, but eventually stopped pestering him.
Every once in a while they discussed the mission, but this wasn’t done often. Adesina was still working out details and contingency plans in her mind. She assured them that she would fill them in as soon as she determined the best course.
There had been a lot of apprehension about starting on a mission without a set plan, but Ravi had informed them that if they didn’t leave right away they would arrive too late. Therefore, in spite of all the reluctance felt by many parties, they had left Yavar as soon as their bags were packed. Now they drew closer and closer to the southern lands, still not knowing what was waiting for them or what they would do when they arrived. It left them all feeling unsettled, which even their nights of music and merry tales couldn’t dispel.
As for Adesina, she was fairly fixed in a world of her own. She enjoyed the company of her companions, and she warded off the tension by engulfing her mind in planning. She frequently asked the others to tell her all that they knew about the Shimat, and coupled this information with everything that she knew. With these two contrasting views, she filtered through a multitude of variations in the mission they were attempting.
In spite of her efforts, most of the details would have to wait until they could contact Kendan. He would have access to important information that Adesina was currently without.
Her stomach jolted when she realized how long it had been since she had seen her former Shar. Her heart ached with missing him, and she felt sorrow for all the worry he must be going through. She was anxious to see him again and to let him know that she was all right. She also felt a wave of confidence knowing that he would not hesitate to do what was right once he knew the truth about the Shimat order.
Together they couldn’t fail.