Chapter 7

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The morning that Rojud was gone was a dreadful one. My father and mother both lost their wits entirely and fretted over him for two whole hours, and Ata forgot to leave for the warehouses, he was so distraught, and finally, when I could not bear to keep total silence, I reminded them that Rojud had said he was going home with Aklik.

"With Aklik!" said Ata, wiping a hand of relief over his furrowed brow. "Yes, of course, my daughter. He must have meant he was going to Aklik's home for the night."

I turned my eyes to the ground and flushed the colour of the setting sun, and words burned in my throat, but I could not say any of them. I heard Ata's footsteps walk quickly away, and rushed up to my room suddenly, burying my head under all the pillows I could find, so that I could not hear my father leave. I meant to stay there until after he had returned, too. I did not want to see him coming back.

When the bell sounded for the noon meal I heard it even under my tearstained mound of pillows, and, sure that Ata must have been long back by now, I sprang up and splashed water over my face. I entered the dining hall with a false lightness and gave my mother a smile.

She returned mine without any heart in her eyes. "Your father is not here yet, Amli," she said.

"You mean from the warehouse?" I asked, knowing she did not mean the warehouse, but Aklik's.

The door opened then and he entered, and I felt all at once very hot and sick and cold. I knew his words before he said them – I wanted to scream them aloud, I wanted to tell them everything.

"Innem," he said, looking at my mother. "Amli."

I looked away.

"Rojud was never with Aklik last night."

There had never been a more dreadful morning.

After that, my parents were not long in discovering where Rojud had gone – not that the word made them any happier. It was Jih-Uika who came and spoke long with my father, and gave him stern and good advice on where to seek.

"He is a dutiful son, your Rojud, is he not?"

My father could not answer, so Atra took it upon herself to speak. "He is good, Rojud, but of late he has often slipped away at night and would not tell us where."

"Often?" asked Jih-Uika, his white brows bristling together in a slight frown. "How many times?"

My mother hesitated. "Twice, Uika. The night before last, and two nights before that one. And then this last time, but the others he returned."

"Does he love a girl?" asked Jih-Uika bluntly.

My mother gasped, and I thought she might slap him for an instant. "Rojud is a respectable young man, not a gutter-brat!" she snapped fiercely. "He would never conduct himself in any way not irreproachable. And certainly he would associate with no girl that he thought I might disapprove–"

"Sazin-a-Innem," said Jih-Uika with slight displeasure, "cease your protestations. I merely asked because it is one possibility, but it is not terribly likely and does not explain his latest disappearance. I would seek out the dockyards and the barracks, Hizru. You have not brought him up to run on the streets with gangs; neither is it likely that he would wander in the disreputable part of the city, asking for a knife in the back from a thug. But boys have strange yearnings for adventure sometimes. If you do not find him as sailor or soldier I shall be surprised."

When my father made inquiries at the drafting office, he found of course about Rojud. Rojud, he was told, had signed into a company of soldiers that had left that very morning to quell the slave rebellions in the east of Arahad. My father came home very quiet, with shoulders stooping more than usual.

So the truth of Rojud's whereabouts was out. But I – I was still bound by secrecy as to the reason for his going, and that secret lay in me like a hot, painful weight. I avoided my parents and could not bear even Saraji's company. I felt as if one little question, one wrong look, would cut me open and everything would come pouring out. Looking around me, seeing my unhappy family, I was angry with Rojud in my head. I told him at night, staring up from my bed, that he should never have gone. I blamed him for making us more miserable. But I knew he had a reason for going, and when I could no longer accuse him, since I had no-one else to blame, I blamed myself.

I should have done something. I should have noticed sooner that Rojud was worried, and pried the secret out of him earlier. Then maybe there would have been a way to fix matters without sending Rojud away to the army.

Besides all this, my new consciousness of our family's monetary situation was now a burden to me. I fretted and wondered about whether Rojud's plan would even accomplish its goal, and whether our finances were doing well; yet I dared say nothing. I was not supposed to know.

It was three days since Rojud's departure and I was moping in a corner of the courtyard, watching Julimin burnish the pots, when I heard a familiar voice.

"Hello, Amli."

I turned and scowled at Celvid. "Shouldn't you be working?"

He scuffed the ground unconcernedly with his bare, dirty toe. "The cook has nothing for me to do right now."

"What do you want here?"

"To be with you."

I frowned deeper, but he did not go away, and I was too tired to argue with him. "Tell me about yourself, Celvid," I said, wanting to hear something that would take my mind away from my worries.

"Oh–" Celvid flopped on the sandy soil of the courtyard in that annoying way he had, as though nothing in the world could ever disconcert him. "What about me?"

His placid, almost whiny tone irritated me still more, but I looked away from him and said, "What was your home like? Who were your family? How did you get here?" Quickly, before he could begin prattling any nonsense, I said, "Now I want the truth. No more lies about being a prince of Orden or any other silly thing. If you give me lies, I'll go right into my room and never talk to you again."

He pouted. "Well, I wasn't a prince, but I did live in a castle."

I was prepared to believe that much. "What castle? Was it the king's castle?"

Celvid scoffed. "Oh no. That's Mitheren. It's way north of where I lived. My father owned a castle near the Thissa mountains on the south border, by Lake Dracaman."

I listened, fascinated, to the foreign-sounding words dropping easily from his lips. "Go on."

"It's in the lowlands, and the ground is marshy right near the castle, but not too far up it is drier, and the grass is always a greyish-green and rough. I used to play there with my dog in the summer." He looked wistful, but I pressed him on, not wanting to feel sorry for him.

"Is it hot there?"

"In the summer it is, but not as hot as this place. In the winter it snows."

"Snow..." Where my mother had come from, the mountains in the north of Arahad, it sometimes snowed on the peaks.

"The snow is fun," said Celvid, his pale lashes quivering dreamily over his eyes as he spoke. "I like it much better than lessons."

"Lessons? Do you have a tutor?"

"Oh yes." Celvid smirked at me. "But I usually get away from him."

I sighed. Suddenly Celvid seemed much too happy for my mood.

"Amli – wait!" he called as I got up.

I did not answer.



For those of you who have not seen my messages lately, I was working madly on a separate story throughout December(which I finished -- yay!) and could not take time to update this. However, SoS should be getting much more regular attention now. I hope I can get to a schedule of at least a chapter every week, if not more.

Thanks for all you great readers, and hope to see you again soon! :)

- a very nervous-about-how-school-is-going-to-cope-with-writing author

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