“…f you don’t mind telling me, Gannara. Have you written to your shadow parents yet?” Initaeran’s face wasn’t judgmental, just her calm, quiet face. Gannara lay on the massage table, the head of it angled up so it was almost a seat rather than a flat table, a towel over his middle, looking up at the bright mobile twitching and dancing in the steady onshore wind. The open, roofed room was high on a cliff, overlooking the ocean. The crash of the surf on the outer reef was steady as the wind.
Initaeran’s hands, one on his shoulder, one on his chest, gently feeling for whatever Haians felt for. Gannara had tears running down his temples, the storm of tears over, these the last of the rainshowers, tapering off. He wiped them. “I don’t mind.” He took a deep breath that jerked and shuddered as if his ribs had forgotten how to move smoothly.
“Um. No, Initaeran. I’ve sat down a few times.” He gulped, eyes reddening again. “But I couldn’t.”
“Why?” Again there was no condemnation in her even tone, just mild inquiry.
Gannara shook his head back and forth on the table as if he could squirm away from things. “I… I’m not… it’s like I’m not their boy any more.”
“They don’t believe that. Why do you?”
He waved his hands at the scars on his body. “I… I had the teeth done so they just look like teeth again but I know they were capped with gold once. And my scars and… and…” his voice choked silent and he sat up, wrapping his arms around his knees looking out over the sea so far below. “…what they did to me,” he whispered. “In my head… and I haven’t told Minis this yet… but they did everything to me that they did to Ch’venga… I’m not ever going to have children. I’m not their shadow-son anymore, really. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to write.”
“Let me examine you, please, Gannara. You hadn’t mentioned that before.” He shuddered and laid back down.
“They didn’t cut them off, Ch’venga,” Gannara said, shuddering all over, thought it was far from cold. “So they didn’t cut them off me, but…” his voice locked up tight and he shook his head again side to side as if to try and get away from the memory of pain.
“Take a deep breath, Gannara. Look at the ocean, the horizon. You aren’t held in, you can see to the edges of the world… breathe…” Her voice as soft as the hands that gently examined, found the small knot of scar on the delicate skin at the root of his testicles, and the knot of scar hidden inside. “It is something that I can recommend you see another healer for. He has fixed such damage before. I am afraid that it is an expensive technique but if you can afford it he might be able to fix the damage.”
Gannara’s eyes filled with tears again. “Really? Oh. Oh good! Oh Spirit of Life! Um… money’s not a problem, Initaeren.”
Her hands, on him, had cradled him there, as if to over-mark the memory of being touched by Mahid. She knew. They’d talked about it before. When she let go it was nothing like him being dropped or abandoned but set gently down, the way one would set down an egg, or a shell that was fragile. “His name is Piatsri. When we go back to the University office we can arrange to have him examine you, shall we?” Gannara signed a double chalk, both hands flat and spread out before him, hard, lips tight.
When she let go of him, he drew his legs together and up, to sit with his chin upon his knee. He didn’t say anything but sat, merely breathing, and looking. “I believe your shadow parents would want to know that you are safe and healing. I believe they love you and want you back with them, changed or not, you are still Gannara Melachiya.”
“But that’s the problem, too!” Gannara burst out. “They’ll want to take me back to Asinanai and leave Minis and Ilesias all alone and they’re my friends. Minis is my best friend and they’d hate him just for being Arkan, and they’d think I was twisted into liking Arkans better than Yeolis and… all kinds of weird things.”
“Perhaps the Mahid did that. You cannot know until you have actually spent some time away from Minis,” Initaeren said. “I suggest a full eight day in a room of your own at the University, to test whether you are compelled to be with Minis, or if you merely wish to.” Gannara stared at her.
“You think I’m compelled to stay with him?”
“I do not have an opinion, but I suggest you test your own mind this way and we may speak about it both during and afterward.”
“Um. All right.”
“And your shadow-parents deserve to know you are safe on Haiu Menshir. Everything else can be talked out or fixed or adjusted.”
“I’ll write them today, Initaeren… but I want Minis to be there when I do the Piatsri thing. And we’ve signed up to learn how to fly, all three of us, so I will try the ‘alone’ thing later.”
“As you choose, Gannara. You’re doing very well and the flying lessons will help you. They are a tremendous therapy for anyone who has been held captive.”
“Do you know how?” Gannara yawned and stretched before curling up again, his eyes half lidded.
“Yes, I do. I’ll call the chair bearers to carry you home again. You need to sleep after this.”
“All right, Initaeren.”
Ili’s healer took him out to see the Haian moyawa-school and he convinced me that if there was a safe place to learn how to do something so dangerous, this was it.
He told me true that even the teacher’s dog knew how to fly, grasping the chamir – that’s Niah name for the rod that controls the moyawa – the flying machine -- with a bite loop for it’s mouth and he would follow his master, running and then flying down the beach. Even once or twice I saw him follow the teacher or a student up high as a bird, following close as if he were at heel, which put him into the same moy – the Niah word for ‘up-going wind’. Sometimes the dog would stand by its wing and whine and bark until a student harnessed him into it and called him up into the sky. Clearly the dog knew that to do it he needed to follow another flyer.
Misa, the teacher, suggested that Ili go first since, as she said, children don’t have to unlearn that they can’t fly. Ili, such a serious look on his face, listened to every word Misa told him. All our hair, even Gan’s riotously curly mop had been braided back tight, the red rope of it peeking out from under the safety helmet.
Ili’s wing was the same size as ours, big to catch the wind more easily, and not meant to go very high… not more than a dozen man-heights or so in the air. “Oh, is that all,” Gan whispered in my ear as we watched him do the testing hanging thing, the enshachik as they called it, to make sure that every part of the harness was properly closed and that it was properly hooked to the moyawa, itself.
“Shh.” I was so excited and nervous I wanted to throw up, or laugh, or sing. I did none of those things. How could someone do this? How could something so frail carry someone so precious? I hadn’t realized I was afraid for Ili and would be for Gan, more so than afraid for me.
There were two tether-people, who held long leashes on the tips of the moyawa, not to pull it and him into the air, I saw, but to hold it down. “That’s so the students, drunk on flying, don’t just decide to disobey and just keep trying to fly without any more instruction,” Misa said. Her Enchian was better than mine, but then she had to teach in it. “There,” she said, as the three leapt into a run down the sand dune, Ili’s pale little legs flashing.
Three, perhaps four steps into this steady wind off the sea and he was up, his hands flipping from the carry-grip to the flying grip without him seeming to notice. The two anchors ran hard, laughing as he seemed to float all the way down the dune and to the flat, hard sand near the water. I could hear him giggling the whole way.
Once he was up and comfortable with his instructors we could go to our own and Gan and I put the harness on, made sure it didn’t pinch around the tops of our legs. For once I was glad of my groin wrapping. I didn’t get pinched there. We had all done the ‘hanging from solid frames… triangles in the sand thing’ before hand and when my instructor pulled the nose forward and down I settled into the breastplate of the harness as though it was a hammock.
It felt solid, with both tethers, one a strap and one a metal loop that screwed shut, so I said ‘It’s good.’ And he let me down. This teacher – named Dana -- was a young man, barely older than I was. Misa was with Gannara.
We got up and Gan went first, hands curved around the triangle bars sitting on his shoulders as if he’d done it a hundred times before. Same as Ili, except we had neither tether straps, nor human anchors, to hold us down. He had only a handful of steps before his toes were flailing clear and his switched his grip, but the moyawa dipped down as he did and Misa yelled ‘Ease up! Ease your grip! Let it almost go!”
He must have obeyed because it lifted again and floated gently down the length of the beach on the wind, his whooping echoing back to us, thin as a gull’s cry of joy on the wind. Then it was my turn.
My heart was banging in my chest and I suddenly thought, this is too good for me… can I do this? Is it allowed?
“Ready?” Dana called me. I nodded and he said ‘Go!”
I ran and the moment I moved the moyawa came alive. It wasn’t on me it was part of me but as it tugged me up I switched my grip and heard Dana yelling ‘Ease your grip!’ I thought I did but the wing got itself off the ground but not me, and I ended up on my face, plowing up sand. Grit in my teeth.
I spat and got up, sand pouring off me and out of my harness. I was just as glad it was as soft. I spat again as Dana came running up. “You grabbed. Light hand. Let it lift you. Let go. You cannot control it by holding on tightly.”
“Let go,” I dutifully repeated.
“Don’t lean on it either.”
“And don’t lean. I understand.”
I didn’t understand. My body kept seizing the rod in front of me as if my life depended on it and I kept chewing sand. Once. Twice more. Then Misa came. “Stop. Stop. You’ll get into the air. No worries, my friend.”
My stomach was in knots. This was too good for me. I could feel myself getting heavier, locked to the ground. I trudged back up the hill, carrying my useless wings, hearing Ili laugh… in the air behind me.
Good. I took a deep breath. She’d said ‘no worries’. I had to trust.
I had to trust and let go. From across the beach someone pulled a long, long length of wire, or cord… very thin. It led to a huge wheel with a handle on either side. Misa called two students and they trotted over, one to each side, facing the same way, one holding the high handle on the one side the other, on the other side, the low. “We’ll pull you up… like a kite… you’ll go up, and the rope will drop slack and you will feel how.”
Pull me up? The winch men were too far away to hear a clear bellow. Misa had a whistle in her hand. “No hands. It’s hands that are the problem. Hook your thumbs here and let the moyawa carry you up. It, not you.”
I shook my head and hooked my thumbs into the two straps. “When you’re up you can take the chamir.”
She certainly seemed confident enough that I could do it. “Wait till the rope is just barely tight and hold. Don’t let it go slack or you’ll tangle and trip. I’ll tell you.”
They winched until the rope was tugging at my belt buckle… or would have been if I’d been wearing one. I so wanted to grab that bar but told myself… no hands. “When I blow my whistle the second time, run!”
One blast from the bamboo whistle, and the rope, if anything tightened. I swallowed hard. As the second blast shrilled I sprang into a run as if 2nd Amitzas was on my heels and the rope pulled and the moyawa rose off my shoulders and drew me into the air as if it was my wings. I yelled, I couldn’t help it, I was laughing and whooping and a couple of blasts from Misa’s whistle called me back to my task and I put one finger of each hand on the chamir. And didn’t plow down into the sand.
I was lightness and airyness. I floated over the black sand feeling the heat from it pressing me and the moyawa up. I realized. I had to let go to remember how to fly. It was natural and normal and meant to be. It was right and I could feel it. I was a winged thing, meant to soar. I overshot the end sand and trailed my toes in the water, landing on the edge of the surf, sending my laughter and tears into the waves coming up to see what had fallen from the sky.