I spend mornings with Lesatren, but today I wanted so much to be outside. I dragged Sini in by the tail, not wanting to go in. "Hello, Ilesias. Please come in," she said.
“Hello Lesatren.” I plunked my butt down and then lay down on the soft floor, really not wanting to be there.
She looked at me like she was thinking. "I have a new thought of what we could do. Would you rather stay in my room or go out into the garden today?"
Was she joking? No. I jumped up and grabbed Sini by her top fin, jumping up and down. “Outside! Oh, please we can go outside to play?"
"Certainly. There is a climbing tree house you haven't seen yet."
"I like tree-houses.” I had never seen one but it sounded nice. “That sounds good. That sounds shady. I'm sunburned again."
"I have paper and charcoal if you want to draw me any pictures today as well." She had a basket with all her stuff in it and got up. She was dressed like everyday, in a kind of robe like they all wear off Haiu Menshir... the healer’s black with their white stripes on either side of their necks falling down the front, but on Haiu Menshir they wear them thin and gauzy just like my shirts. When they’re not working they wear all colours of white and barely-there colours.
"All right. I like to tell you stories."
We walked down the shell path, me swinging Sini and Lesatren swinging her basket and she pointed off to a stand of a bunch of trees with thick, gnarly branches and lots of moss trailing like Aitas’ sleeves and shawls and skirts. The path went from teeny broken shells to boards over a lot of water with tall grass growing out of it higher than my head. Higher than Lesatren’s head. Higher than both of us if I could stand on Lesatren’s shoulders which she wouldn’t allow. The bunch of trees looked like a big green island in an ocean of bendy grass.
In between the trees there were ropes and bridges that creaked and groaned a little as the trees swayed and from every tree there’s a big round fruit-thing... big as a hut but smooth like the trees grew these big squashes. Big enough for two or even three people to sit in. Or play in. Some had a curtain door, some had bead curtains that rattled and clicked together. Others had real closed doors, some were closed.
“They look like big, smooth balls or nests or some kind of fruit growing on the trees!”
“There’s a craftsman named Arsuber who builds all kinds of houses, huts and homes in trees and on cliffs around the island. He says he dreams them.”
“I like that.” We climbed up a swaying pole with steps winding around and around and a rope to hang onto all the way up like a twisted sugar candy. The pod we were going to had a round door with the edge all the way around painted with flowers and the inside there was a flat floor with grass mats and round windows all around the back. The biggest was open and had a kind of wicker cage so you could lean out and look down without falling.
Lesatren set her basket down while I went to look out the biggest window and set Sini so she could see.
“It's like my machine that Minis gave me!” I went to sit next to Les and arranged the charcoal and wax ‘n coloured pencils she gave me, next to the paper.
"A machine that Minis gave you?”
I picked up the red pencil and drew the slide. “Like this... for my birthday. It was all linked together, and you went from one part to another.” I drew the bucket in blue and the big wheel in blue and red and yellow.
“That looks wonderful... very happy.”
“That’s the big slide and here’s bucket I could sit in, an’ a ladder an' a whole room of my big toys.” The pod swung a little in the wind and when I bounced, remembering, it bounced too.
“It sounds like Minis thought pretty carefully what you might like. What else did you get for that birthday?”
“Umm.. That was, no I was three? I was little. All my toys in the Marble Palace were good! I had a BIG swing in my bedroom. It was Minis’s and he and the Companions found it and sent it to my rooms to be put up.” She looked thoughtful, like she always did. I drew some more. I tried to daw a picture of Minis but it looked all wrong. I didn’t scratch it out because Les said everything I tried to draw was good for her to do her job, which was to play with me and talk to me. I think Minis and Uncle Gan were too worried about me. But I liked her so I was glad we were all three of us talking to Haians.
“Did your father give you anything?”
“I...yes,” I started on a new page of paper and started drawing spiderwebs. The black charcoal was good for that. I could do a web and then rub my thumb over it and make it all smudgy and shadowy so I didn’t have to draw any spiders. They might be there, or they might not.
“There was always a room full of presents that the chamberlain said were from my Divine Father.”
She nodded like an Arkan. “So, you and Minis are close. It looked like it when he brought you to meet with me the first time.”
“Yeah. He’s my brother always, no matter what else we pretend about, he’s always my brother.”
I pulled another page to draw the spider, a big one. Fangs as long as my fingers. People’s eyes. But spiders have lots I learned in Haian school, from Jeramaer. I’d wanted to know about the big green and brown ones with spikey legs in the flowers – ‘Villa spiders. They were nice but this one wasn’t. It was a bad spider. I put in a bunch of eyes. I had him in a web but he was so big you almost couldn’t see it so I smudged it all shadowy. My fingers were all black and I looked at them.
Lesatren offered me a cloth and it felt good to wipe them clean. “It’s good to have someone close.” She looked at my pictures. “Ilesias... do you ever have any nightmares?” I jumped up and went over to check and see if Sini was all right.
“Most of the time I go to sleep an’ nothing bothers me. ‘Specially here. I don’t wake up yelling like Uncle Gan or Minis sometimes do.”
“Yes. But sometimes dreams can be bad without waking you. I’m glad to hear you don’t have the loud ones.”
“No, they’re quiet. And cold. and dark, sometimes.”
She held out her arms for me and I crawled into them. They were Haian warm and even strong.
“I’m sorry I’m asking you about them. But perhaps you and I can make them go away altogether, hmmm?”
I wrapped her long hair around me. It was thicker and heavier than Kaita’s or Kyriala’s or Binshala’s. And it was black as night. Did the colour make it heavier? I picked up her Haian poppy from where it hung around her neck from a red cord. “I was going to ask you to do something a little scary, if you can.”
The middle of the poppy was painted a bright gold with gold streaks going up inside the red. It was made out of paper and I guessed dunked in something that hardened it and made it shiny. I frowned at her.
"Something scary? I guess. Sure.”
“In fact you’re already doing it... drawing pictures of monsters... like your spider there with the human eyes. Would you draw me some more pictures of what you think monsters look like?”
“But that’s just a spider, not a monster.” I fumbled and dropped her poppy. “Monster pictures? You want me to draw scary monsters? What are they doing?”
“Whatever you like. We can talk about what monsters are... and then we can... if you want... send them back into their place by burning the pictures, so they don't remember how to come and be with you.” I didn’t think that was possible but I guessed if a Haian healer said so, it was. Maybe they had monster... ummm. I couldn’t remember the word. It chases things away. Maybe they had stuff like that.
“Hm. Monsters like in stories that are scary like dragons? I like dragons. The best dragon I ever saw was by the tunnel and it was made outta glass and it was blue and red and then it was purple.”
“Those kinds of dragons I like too.” She tightened her hug and it felt really good. “So those dragons aren't monsters. Anything that scares you. Really monsters.” Lesatren looked like she might know what she was talking about. “I once drew a picture of the scariest monster I ever met to make it go away.”
I nodded. “My monsters pretend to be people. Those monsters look like scary evil old men that wear black and never smile. Or young men. Sometimes the young Mahid are worse because you know they want to rape your...” I stopped. She was a Haian and I shouldn’t say things like ‘rape your dead behind’ to a Haian.
But she was nodding. “I really wish you didn’t know such things at your age and I’m glad Kaita kept you from a lot of it... Yes. I hope I never meet one for real. But if one came to me to help get better and learn how to be a person again... I'd really want to help them.” Haians are too nice.
“I just want to stay away from them forever and ever. I don't like to think about Him.” We hadn’t talked about either Father or Second Amitzas, really, though I’d drawn a picture of father flinging Bumpy over the edge of the orrery.
“Him... sounds like there's a Head Monster. A Master Monster.”
“Yes.” I buried my head in her chest. It didn’t matter that it was all sweaty and too hot. She was holding me with the right kind of hands. Minis and Gannara and Kaita hands, not Mahid hands. Haian hands. They made me feel safe. “The worst and the meanest and the scariest of them all.”
"But you are free, even though he had you all prisoner, right?”
I nodded, against her chest. “Yes, we got away clean, is what Gan says.”
“It sounds like a fairy story. A picture story... And they all lived happily ever after.”
That was a good idea. I liked that idea. I sat up a little and sniffled and she handed me a handkerchief. I rubbed it back and forth across my nose and sniffed hard. “Yeah! A little like the stories Min tells me at bedtime.”
“What kind of stories? Heros and dragons?”
“Oh, all kinds of stories. Min tells me a new story every night, with brave princes and talking donkeys and wicked step brothers and. and and everything.”
“Good for him.”
“Yep! We're brothers, and Uncle Gan is our brother too. Like he ‘dopted us or we ‘dopted him. But I miss Kaita. She’s back home in the city.”
“And Kaita was your... nanny? She wasn't your mother, was she?”
"No, Kaita wasn't my mother. Kaita was my nurse, and she took care of me. Min says she’s working for a good family at the University in Arko.”
“So she’s safe. That sounds like you have good family. It’s always nice to hear that.”
“Yeah, family are the people you love, right?”
“And who love you. Exactly right. Though one can have loving friends, too.” The wind came up and the whole pod swung over but it didn’t feel like it was going to rip loose. It felt really safe, like the hammocks on the ships. ‘Sini only wobbled a little on her fins and didn’t even fall over.
“I have lots of friends here. I like Haian school.”
“I am very glad to hear that. I hope you think I'm one of your friends, too, Ilesias.”
Of COURSE she’s my friend. She was nice from the start and said she liked me! “Um, yeah, we already said that the first time.” I didn’t want to say anything, but she smiled like she knew what I was thinking.
“Of course. Im just being a stuffy Haian and not assuming anything.” She poked me in the ribs with her finger. She was a lot gentler than Min or Gan and I hardly felt it but it still tickled and I giggled and rolled off her lap onto the grass mat. I rolled all the way over to Sini and sat up and looked out the window.
“What’s that up in that pod?” I looked and pointed. Haians never minded if you used your bare hands or fingers to point with.
“Perhaps another healer with their patient. Or someone playing.”
“Oh, so no big birds?” I tried not to giggle but it popped out of me as she started looking alarmed.
“WHAT?” She moved very quickly for a Haian and peered up over my shoulder. “Which pod? Where?”
“I just thought that big nests like those should have big birds.” And I laughed really hard as she fell over in relief making the whole pod bounce around some more.
“You joker! For a moment I thought we might have a sea-eagle problem! They’re big enough to carry little children away!”
“I want to learn to fly! I want to fly higher than a sea-eagle, and swoop on them.”
“I’m sure you do.” She sniffed and sat up and pulled her tunic straight.
“Better you than I, Ilesias. I might be comfortable up here but I am not so sure about those flying machines.”
“They are AMAZING. People who can fly for real are better than stories.”
“All right. Shall we go for a walk out to the school and watch them?”
“Yes, please. I'd like that.”
She gathered up her pages and my pages in the basket and rather than climb down the roundy stairs we put these ropes on us tight, and a thing like a helmet out of plates of padded coconut shell and slid all the way to the ground on another rope. I yelled and hollered the whole way down.
“No, you may not learn to fly, Ili! You’re too little, it’s too dangerous!”
“No, I’m not!” I jumped up and down. He was being a stinky, fussy poop! “The teachers were teaching teeny kids… on leashes an’ the head teacher is a Niah with lots of scars and a DOG that knows how to fly his own wing – umm moy-thing! If a dog can learn I can!! I’m smarter ‘n a dog!!!”
Uncle Gan kind of laughed. “He’s got a point, Min.” But Min looked like he was still gonna say no, so I interrupted.
“’n if you think I’m fibbing you can come to the school, Lesatren and I finished our time today watching them an’ talking to the flying teacher. Her name’s Misa aht Ranu, nar sept Daekun! Her dog’s named Shati which means treasure an’ –“ Min held up his hands flat.
“Wait, wait! I want to learn how to fly as well, so… I’m not saying yes but let me go out to see for myself. I’m hardly going to let my little brother go jumping off a cliff without at least seeing the cliff in question!”
“That’s not how they do it! Not to teach! An’ if there’s an accident we’re already on Haiu Menshir an’ there’s healers all over the place…” Min put one finger over my lips, gently.
“You don’t need to shout little brother, or I’ll have to start calling you Blob again. I said I’d look. Gan, you have time before you get flattened?”
“Yup. And the healing doesn’t flatten me every time.”
“No, just lots, like me. I know.”
Min said yes and we’re all going to learn! We’d all get to start on the black beach under the cliff where the good students got to jump off. The beach was for babies or people who’ve never flied before. I guess the word was flown not flied. I just asked Gan and he told me.
The sand there was always hot when the sun was out so we’d have sandals on. We got to go from a big tall sand-dune with mixed black and white sand and grass and run out onto the black sand. Min said he’d have to wear his cottons but it was always so hot he’d cut them off short, so his arms and legs showed… and I’m a little kid so I didn’t have to wear gloves for my ‘secret disguise’. Min couldn’t run in a scholar’s robe or a kilt, really, even an Arkan type of kilt which has a stiff front and back panels, they’d flap around.
Every day I wear a thin thin thin shirt with long sleeves to keep me from burning my skin in the sun and an Arkan kid’s kilt but when we’re finished school we all take all our clothes off on the beach just like the Haian kids. They have lotion they get me to rub on that helps me not burn. Min laughs and says I’m the colour of ‘cream on toast’ because my hair’s so white and my skin so tan. It’s only a little tan though.
I was drawing everyday now, for Jeramaer and Lesatren both. Lesatren said my first stick drawings were good to help her help me with what happened. An’ now I was going to start drawing amoyawa an’ pictures of Min and Gan yelling and screaming when they learned to fly. I’m not going to scream like some people.