Thursday, May 6, 2010

265 - On the Beach

“It's a bit of a walk,” he said. “Or we could run.”

I was just considering how safe our things were locked in the inn, when Ili jumped up and yelled ‘Let’s run! Come on! Come on! I want to swim!”

“Wait, wait!” I locked our trunk, with everything in it and then the door behind us. “All-right… Go!”

Gannara knew the way. I thought his family must be one of the ship barokeresin and he had been in this port before. I didn’t say anything though.

We found a shady spot on the edge of a white sand beach after going into an alleyway between two houses. It was a beautiful stretch of sand with perhaps four other people on it. “If we get up early enough we can come out and watch the sun rise over the sea. If you want to sleep in, all right, but I’m going to.” The bank of grass left a lovely place to sit with the sand below and I dug my toes into the warm grit. Down the beach a group of people were building a fire-pit.

“Hey, I'll drag myself out of bed for that.” The sun was blinding blue and Ili dropped his clothes in my lap and ran straight out to where the waves broke and sat down, letting the water foam over his legs. “Any sharks?” I asked a little nervously.

He waved at us and Gannara grinned at my nervousness. “We won't see them till it's too late, if there are. He dies, oh well.”

I was sweaty and tired and in no mood for his teasing me. I stripped off my own clothing, as shameless as a Yeoli, even my groin wrapping, and ran down to the water myself. “At least we’ll die clean.”

We ran in until we were floundering, Ili chasing us until we all fell into the water and floated between breaking waves. Ili squealed and I splashed him and he splashed me and Gan back and we had a wild water fight until we were tired and couldn’t see because of the salt.

Ili went back to build a sand-Mezem and Gan and I swam out into the deep water just because it felt so good to do that.

“It’s easier to swim in the sea,” I said and Gannara laughed at me.

“You didn’t know that?”

“No, idya.” I dove under and opened my eyes just in time to see a sleek gray shape arrow by me, just below my feet. I clawed for the surface and tried to climb straight out of the water into the air. “A shark! A shark!” I couldn’t yell, I didn’t have enough air gasping and coughing water and air into my lungs and we looked around us wildly.

There was a snort and a fin… a triangular fin and I clenched my teeth together and watched it streak toward me. Selestial—it arced out of the water over my head, I ducked under and realized I wasn’t going to die even as Gannara’s laughter cut off by the water in my ears. I came up coughing feeling like I’d swallowed half the sea.

Dayanal! No sharks, not with them around.” They surged around us, one came up under me and rubbed along me, squealing, gibbering, making their singing, rippling, creaking noises that sounded so close to a language I found myself straining to understand.

It wasn’t an accidental touch but a deliberate stroke with its whole body. “Hey!” The sound it made was so like a giggle, I had to giggle back and then it blew water and air out of the top of its head and dove under. The ends of their long noses… snouts… mouths… their mouths, curled up. They didn’t have lips but their faces looked as though they laughed all the time, as if they laughed at everything, at life.

“That’s how they touch! It’s how they pet people,” Gannara called and rolled over one as it nudged him. “If a shark did that it would take your skin off!” He knows so much about the sea. “With a dayan around there’s no chance a shark would show itself, they’ll protect us.”

I put my hands out and one swam up next to me, rolled half way up to grin at me, its smooth skin slick and warm. Ili was yelling and waving from the beach. I thrashed up in the water to wave back at him and one of the dayanal bounced up and backwards on its tail as if to show me how it was done. Ili came paddling out shrieking, his voice as high as a dayan. Their eyes were very human, very warm, even if they were not blue.

They pulled us and pushed us, and bounced us around as though we were dayan themselves until they all dove at once as though commanded by a centurion and were gone as fast as they’d come.
Ili floated, with our hands helping keep him up, looking around, a lost look in his eyes. Then he called what was in my heart. “Come back! Oh, please! You’re happy. Please come back!”

“They’re free, Ili. They wanted to go. They’ll come back, sometime. And we’ll see more of them.”

We paddled slowly back till our trailing toes brushed the sand on the down wave and we were able to walk. Ili flung his sodden self at me and sobbed. “I didn’t want them to go away. I didn’t!”

Gan patted him on the back. “Hey, Ili. It’s like Ailadas and Kaita and Kyriala and Kefas and all the people you’ve made friends with… and the dayanal… you have friends in a lot of places.”

“But I want them NOW!”

We couldn’t persuade him immediately. He was tired and had had a lot of sun. I laid him down on the grass verge on his towel and threw mine over him. He lay and cried himself to sleep, his shuddered fading under my hand as I patted his back.

Gannara wandered over to the group around the fire and came back with a fistful of sticks with tiny little roasted fish on them. “They shared,” he said simply. The fish were juicy and oily and sweet, the skin crunching crisp. It was hard to save some for Ili when he woke up.

We sat and watched the waves roll in and foam all along the sand, the sun already down low enough that the shadows of the trees almost touched the water. “The fat guy used to throw me… have me thrown… into the Great Bath.”

I nearly choked on my last bite of fish. “He threw you in?!” I was seized with sudden rage.

 Gan shrugged. “Maybe you won’t swim this time, maybe this time you’ll sink,” he’d say. He dug a stick into the sand by his toes. “I’d swim. I don't know whether he'd have left me if I'd sunk, or had the servants fish me out...”

Shenner,” I spat. “The fat guy, I mean.” I put my empty fish-stick down and put it on his shoulder, holding Ili with one hand and Gan with the other. Ili was still asleep.

“Minis...” He took a shuddering, fearful breath. “I sometimes think, or worry, or dream… that he’s not really dead.” My hand on his shoulder twitched hard and I just barely kept him from clawing his shoulder. I managed to turn it into a firm grab. “Maybe Ch'venga made a mistake and killed some other fat one and he’s somewhere… waiting…I shouldn’t… shouldn’t think about this.” He was so scared he was pale and sweating.

“No!” I shook him a little, took my hand away from Ili to not wake him up. “Only one fat guy would have the seals. No mistake, he’s gone to Hayel.

“What if he found some other fat guy and put the seals on him?”

“No, he would never do that. He’d never give up the seals. Never. And Chevenga would never mistake him for any other fat guy. Never.”

Gan turned away from me, still shaking. “This sounds really barbaric… but… I wish I’d seen it. I… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t say that to you, because he was your father.”

“I…” I swallowed past a dry throat. “I sometimes wish it myself.”

“You do?”


“It’s one reason I figure I’m going to Hayel myself when I die. Father hatred.”

“That’s just more Book shen isn’t it?”

“Yeah. I still hate him, though he’s dead.” I didn’t realize I needed to say all the words that came pouring out of my mouth then. “I hate him for what he did to me and you and the people of Arko and Chevenga and the people of Yeola-e. I hate him. I hate his shennen guts, even though he’s dead. When you have the nightmares, when you can’t sleep safe, when you can’t talk and when I see the scars he had put on your body, I hate him. I was trying to figure out how to kill him and I hate him for what he taught me, that I could even think of killing my own father. I hate his soul.”

I panted, trying to get my rage and upset under control. “Gan, you know. If you have any of those nightmares... if you need someone to hold onto you… I’m awake a lot, you know…”

He turned back to me and flung his arms around me and I held onto him. His voice was muffled against my shoulder. “I hate him for a lot of that too. I never know when I'm having them until afterwards. I've tried to teach myself to wake up, but it's hard. His touch was never giving, not like yours, Min. It was always… I own you… and he took.”

I tightened my arms on him and we held onto each other as we’d learned to do and listened as he went on. “We're still kids and we need arms around us and we had no one to do that but each other.” He took a shuddering breath. “He liked pulling hair, like a little kid.”

“Yeah,” I said, thinking of the pseudo-affectionate tugs.

“He pulled your hair? Or did you see him do it?”

I shrugged in our knotted hug. “With me, he thought it was affectionate and I saw it with others.

“He'd grab my hair and make his hands into fists as if he were crushing it. He hated my hair.”

“Because it looked like Chevenga’s. Yeah.”

He signed chalk before latching back onto me with that hand. “Yeah. Sometimes he'd just scream at me, I hate you I hate you I hate you! Like a baby.”

That startled a laugh out of me. “Really?”

“Really, like a baby, except he was a big man. You know… something else that was really weird?”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know but I nodded. “What was weird?” Ili stirred in his sleep and we were quiet for a while. I’d have to wake him soon or he wouldn’t sleep the night through.

“He'd arm-wrestle me. He'd grab my hand and put me in the position and he'd say “Yes I'll beat you you little fikken kaina marugh a whole string of curses. Of course because he was a man and I was a boy, he would. Over and over and over.”

“Ow. He just had to arm-wrestle a ten year old; a Chevenga he could beat. It had to do with him, of course.” I told him about that wager I’d overheard.

“That explains a lot. It didn’t hurt me because I wouldn’t try that hard… and if he was arm-wrestling me he wasn’t doing other stuff. Though he would do the other stuff afterward, sometimes.”

I tried to send him comfort through my hands and arms. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.”

“Stop that. It’s not your fault.”

“Yes, Gannara.”

“All I was thinking was… just wait till I grow up… Ch'venga could have beaten him with one finger.”

“And did.”

Another fire circle had been started along the beach. I didn’t want to let him go but the stuff he was talking about was so hard to hear, I felt so bad to think of him in father’s hands. “Gannara do you want to go join one of the fire-circles for a while? Introduce yourself? Be with your own for a while? Maybe with the one group that gave you the fish?”

“No. I want to stay with you, while we talk about this stuff. I think we're talking about it because it's good for us.” He held onto me harder.

“All right. I just wanted to be sure.”

“Tomorrow we'll be back on the ship and we won't be able to talk really freely for long. Someone might overhear us. I want to talk without having to look over my shoulder every moment.”

“We need to get the gross off you,” I said.

“And you!” he retorted and sat up, wiping his face.

I shrugged. “Gold and gems and featherbeds just don't make up for craziness do they?”

Ili stirred and yawned and sat up. “It’s almost dark!”

“Yeah, little brother. Have some fire-cooked fish.” I handed him his sticks.

“No, they don’t,” Gan answered me as Ili took his fish and wandered out into the sand to nibble on his roast fish and kick his toe into the sand and tease little crabs with sticks. “Give me some nice soft sand and the Miyatara and an evening breeze any day.”

“You know one Imperator felt he was so pure and divine he tried to live off gems and gold?

“So he died really really skinny?”

“Yeah, with a belly stuffed full. His Heir opened him up after to get the treasure back.”

“Eww... Are a lot of Imperators crazy?”

“Yeah... the later ones mostly. That’s Arko for you.”

“You just wrote about them eating poison all the time, maybe that's why.”

I started tossing stones from the verge at a larger stone on the beach as a target. “The ones who don't really touch the real world a lot, too, maybe.”

“The fat one always smelled weird. Under the heliotrope... that weird smell.”

“Kind of metallic, right?”

“Yeah.” His answer was short and he swallowed hard. “He… umm… tasted like that too.”

“Eww. I don’t think normal people do.”

“I figure my stomach is never going to really sit easy. The fat guy used to have me eat the really spicy stuff and have me taste for poisons in them no matter how powerful the spice was.”

“That's why the akopo-e Lakani bothered you so much. I’m sorry.”

“Now you can stop that. Not your fault. I chose to put it in my mouth in the first place.”

“But I was daring you.”

“I could have said no.”

“If I'd known how much it would bother you I wouldn't have.”

I sighed and managed to hit the bigger stone with my latest pebble. The waves were dying down as the light went away. “Like always, Gan. I know that. I was pushing myself too hard. That's the other side of me... my mother was Mahid.”

He stared at me. No one would have ever mentioned to him who or what my mother was. “Really? Is that why you never say anything about her until now?”

“Well, I don’t know which of the fat guy’s concubines she was.”

His eyebrows knit. He looked so like Chevenga. In the twilight his dyed-red mane of hair looked dark. It made my heart twist. “But didn't she nurse you?”

“Nope. When he took me that was it. I didn't belong to the Mahid I belonged to him. I had a bunch of wet-nurses.”

“Like.... maybe... he shared his with you.”

I had to laugh. Ili looked up at me, barely visible in the dark.

“My father and I… tit brothers!” Gannara snorted, trying not to laugh and I did. Right out loud.

“I'm sorry, I shouldn't laugh,” he said.

“Heya, it’s funny.”

“It’s the way you said it!”

I dug around in the sand for more pebbles. “My life is full of jokes like that. I meant to make you laugh. If I didn't laugh I'd be nuts. More nuts.”

He started laughing harder again. “Like the arm-wrestling thing, and him yelling ‘I win! I win!’ every time. He's the most powerful guy in the entire world, and he's jumping up and down because he's stronger than a ten year old. ‘I win! I win!”

I picked up our towels. “Just think the big old fat twin pushing his rival off the other tit! Little baby! Fifty-five year old going wah wah wah! Like a cry baby.”

“Never-grown-up crazy.” Gannara checked to see if we were leaving anything behind. We got up to walk over to where Ili was digging with his empty fish stick.

“His dad was more cunningly crazy,” I said, thoughtfully. “If the old man had been alive that would have been a merry parade in the Marble Palace wouldn't it? Grandad, dad and kid all chasing after the same wet nurse.”

He stopped short and stared before starting to laugh so hard he had to bend over. “Oh, oh. I hope she could run fast!” Ili didn’t know the joke but laughed too and then I had to roar until we all ended up on the sand, rolling with laughter. Until I had to hold my sides with Ili and Gan and I all in a pile, with arms wrapped around each other.

“… shen I got sand in my nevermind... too gross, heheheh!”

“Oh stop! Hee hee, ha ha ha! Better sand than other things, ha ha ha!”

We ended up lying on our backs, looking at the stars. “A million times better.”

“You know,” Gannara said quietly. “All this shen happens, people run around on the earthsphere like ants on their hill... And that never changes.” He meant the stars.

“This is Selestialis, Ganara. Yeah. I don't hurt anywhere and no one is trying to shove some idea down my neck and my little brother is safe –“ I poked him and he laughed again a little weakly. “And I'm with one of my best friends in the world. With sand in my nevermind.”

“Away from you know who, who’s dead. I’ll bet he’s not up there.” I could just see the sweep of his hand taking in the stars.

“Not scared, hurting or too tired to think. That's the best.”

Ili bounced all the air out of my chest. “I’m cold, Min! And I could eat something! Crisps! Or…”

I rolled over and up and swung him up as Gan scrambled up too. “Why not? Let’s get some more of those Yeoli crisps for a bedtime snack!”

I could barely hear Gan whisper, not meaning me to hear. “Tomorrow night...We'll be in Asinanai.”


  1. I'm so relieved! I was worried about this one!

  2. I agree. These are some very important moments, and you show them simply and quietly. Very nice.