A Promise Broken
Release Date: 27 February 2015
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It’s a rainy day when four-year-old Eiryn has to say goodbye to her mother. Scared, confused and unwilling to do so, Eiryn tries to summon water to stop the funeral from happening and her life falls apart. Her uncle is always sad and busy; she keeps hearing her mother’s voice asking her to follow; her best friend keeps getting into fights; and some of her classmates hate her for existing.
Arèn never wanted children, but he’s desperate to protect his niece from his people’s extreme caution regarding magic and other races. Kerisaoina children aren’t capable of using it and his niece is no exception. Despite being only half-kerisaoina, Eiryn is already starting to show that she’ll be one of her generation’s most talented magic-singers and those who don’t approve of her existence are trying to take advantage of a young girl’s grief.
Eiryn is determined to make her uncle happy, but it’s hard to make other people happy when you have to struggle through the day yourself. She’ll find a way, though. She’s promised. And even if her mother won’t keep her word Eiryn will keep hers.
She’ll make everything right again.
KEILAN-MINNAI SWEPT THE four-year-old into her embrace, ruffling the girl’s brown tresses with one hand. “Poor girl,” she muttered, but Eiryn didn’t understand why. People had been treating her like that all day, but no one would tell her why.
When the woman let her go, Eiryn turned to the stack of wood in the middle of the drab, grey courtyard and ran towards it. She was barely tall enough to touch her mother’s arm. Eiryn turned again and sought her uncle in the small crowd. The night before, he’d told her they’d be going to the beach to see boats sailing into the sunrise, but they were in a small courtyard instead. And why was dai lying outside on a pile of wood? Why didn’t she rise to hug Eiryn? Dai was just sleeping, wasn’t she?
But kerisaoina didn’t sleep on stacks of wood where twigs could prick uncomfortably in their backs. Eiryn knew that. That’d be silly. But she didn’t know why everyone looked so sad. Or why most people felt Eiryn should be too. She’d spent all day trying to find a word for that, for why she resented the adults for throwing their grief at her, for not telling her what was happening, but she hadn’t found one. Amaru-dai would have told her. Amaru-dai always told her everything, even if it was hard to understand.
“Dai,” she whispered and, annoyed by her mother’s unresponsiveness, tried to climb onto the stack of wood. Dai loved games, but she never worried Eiryn like this. Never.
Her uncle pulled her away before she could reach the top, and her new blue dress got torn where the pricking, nasty twigs had got hold of it and refused to let go. Arèn-minnoi ignored the wood, and Eiryn’s struggling, as he carried her back into the crowd. That was her mother lying there. She wanted her mother, and Eiryn squirmed and cried and fought her uncle with everything she had. She wanted her mother.
Her feet kicked against Arèn-minnoi’s chest and her hands alternated between beating against his shoulders, pulling his hair and scraping his face, and when Eiryn finally looked at him, worn out from struggling, she was taken aback by the pain in his eyes. It made no sense because she knew she hadn’t hurt him, but she felt bad and fell silent and still all the same.
“It’s all right, Eiryn-adai,” he whispered, too softly for Eiryn’s liking. After a few moments, he added, “It will be all right.” He smiled, but the tears pricking at the corners of his eyes belied the promise and she squirmed in his grasp once more. He didn’t let go.
Someone else spoke from behind her, but Eiryn couldn’t make out the words. She wriggled in her uncle’s arms until she was positioned in such a way that her neck didn’t hurt from the effort of turning around. The speaker was a middle-aged man dressed all in still-sea blue — even his sash matched — and she didn’t understand most of the words he was using. Keilan-minnai had lectured her on some of them just this morning, but they hadn’t made sense then and Keilan-minnai had been too upset to explain again. Dai wouldn’t have been.
When Eiryn dared to look around her, she saw that no one was happy, no matter what Keilan-minnai had tried to tell her. No one was looking at her either, but she didn’t dare try to slip out of Arèn-minnoi’s grasp. It’d only make him angry with her and she was certain he was already angry enough. “We shall say goodbye to our friend, our sister, our mother –”
A loud sob escaped Eiryn’s lips at that. Arèn-minnoi had told her to be quiet, but why? Why did she have to say goodbye? Where was dai going? Why wasn’t she taking Eiryn? She hadn’t said anything! She would have said something. She would. Amaru-dai had told Eiryn that she was leaving for a night, maybe two, and that she’d come back with a little sister. Eiryn knew very well that something was wrong and everything was all messed up, but she wanted her mother.
Still held firm in Arèn-minnoi’s arms, she buried her face in his clothes instead. Eiryn didn’t want to see everyone stare at her with those eyes, like something terrible had happened and she just didn’t understand what because no one would tell her. She didn’t want to be stared at at all. Didn’t want to see. To think. Arèn-minnoi’s shirt, blue as everyone else’s, smelled faintly of flowers, but it didn’t help distract her. She didn’t know which flowers and she didn’t care because she was scared. Her fists clenched around both the blue silk of Arèn-minnoi’s shirt and her own sash.
Eiryn tried very hard to be strong and not to cry out in fright. Arèn-minnoi didn’t like it when she cried. She’d already learned that. And, anyway, maybe there was nothing to cry about. Maybe dai would just be gone longer than she’d expected. But then they wouldn’t be here, saying goodbyes. Would they? Eiryn didn’t want it to be that bad, hoped that everything would be all right. She wanted dai to tell her that everything was fine. That she was just having a bad dream and she’d wake up soon, had already woken up to sunlight and tickling and dai’s constant, soft farakaoina. But it wouldn’t happen. Would it?
“Dai,” she sobbed softly, into her uncle’s shirt, and she felt Arèn-minnoi stroke her hair. Grateful for his presence, she pressed her face against his shoulder.
“It’s all right.”
Eiryn sobbed again. He sounded so pained. How could he try and comfort her when he was hurting so much himself? Was it something she’d done? She hadn’t meant to, if she had. No one seemed angry, not at her. Eiryn was scared anyway. She was scared and she wanted her mother to tell her that everything would be all right. Eiryn wanted to know that, wanted to hear that. But only Arèn-minnoi tried to comfort her, and he was hurting too much himself to be any comfort at all. Eiryn could feel drops of something falling on her head, and she wasn’t sure whether it was rain or Arèn-minnoi crying. It felt like he was crying. It was a long time before Eiryn calmed down enough to look up at her uncle’s face again. He was looking away, over her head, and what she saw of him was only bronze stone.
So she looked to Keilan-minnai beside them for some form of support or comfort, and when the woman noticed her she gave Eiryn a small smile. Eiryn didn’t smile back, but she craned her head to look around again, surprised that a few people did look almost cheerful now. It couldn’t be so bad then. Others were trying to look happy and failing. Eiryn turned back to Arèn-minnoi, letting go of his shirt long enough to brush a strand of her hair from her eyes.
Her uncle smiled at her. It was a pained, tear-struck face that looked down at her, but it was filled with tenderness and even relief. Eiryn buried her face against his shoulder again. She didn’t want to understand what was happening; she only knew that he was warm and it was cold outside. The courtyard wasn’t sheltered against the wind and it blew in, stinging Eiryn’s ears and nose with cold and salt and tangling her hair. Before she’d noticed dai, she’d gone over to the low wall that looked out over the water to see whether the rocks below were also drab grey instead of shiny, but Arèn-minnoi had pulled her away. Now it just showed a darkening sky. Eiryn decided she didn’t like the end of summer very much. It snarled and growled and it’d done something to her mother.
Eiryn’s head shot up. No, no, no. That was all wrong. Arèn-minnoi shouldn’t be saying that. It was one of the words she had understood, somewhat, when Keilan-minnai had talked to her that morning. Eiryn had thought it was just a lesson, like the ones Mayry-minnoi and dai gave her every morning, playing with words because Eiryn liked them. But they shouldn’t be saying that, not fasaoibound. Her mother was coming back. But the crowd around her murmured the words in echo of her uncle and, when they were silent, she knew they were waiting.
Eiryn was silent. Digging her fists into the smooth fabric of Arèn-minnoi’s shirt once more, she was silent. Until she started crying and she didn’t care whether her uncle would like it or not. It wasn’t fair. She was going to have a baby sister and dai was going to come back. They weren’t going to stand out in the cold, nasty wind and say funereal words of goodbye. They weren’t. Dai’d promised she’d be back. She’d promised.
Eiryn heard nothing but the wind, not even whispers, and, eventually, Arèn-minnoi set her down on the ground. He crouched before her, almost a mirror image of her mother, and wiped Eiryn’s tears away with his thumb. Her head ached and her throat felt thick. “Someone get her something to drink,” he said, looking away from her. Eiryn tried not to cry because she knew it hurt him, but she couldn’t stop. It only made her cry harder. Dai was leaving. Her mother was leaving forever. That’s what it meant. Dai’d broken a promise, and now she’d be gone. Eiryn called for her mother; time and time and time again, she cried out the honorific. Eiryn didn’t know what to do with herself, whether she wanted to run or stomp her foot or fling herself at her uncle or at her mother. Arèn-minnoi pulled her back when she ran for dai and crushed her against his shirt. He smelled of salt now too, salt and flowers, like dai never had. She smelled of ink and soap.
Someone smoothed Eiryn’s hair back and pressed a cup to her mouth. She barely managed to take a few forced, hiccoughed sips before she started crying again. Arèn-minnoi pushed her into someone else’s arms, gently, and she calmed a little when she recognised Keilan-minnai’s voice whisper a silly bedtime story in her ear. The woman used her sash to dry Eiryn’s tears and smiled at her.
Eiryn didn’t smile back, but when she was given the cup again, she obediently took a few sips of the cold water and leaned against Keilan-minnai. She felt tired.
“You have to say it, Eiryn-dai. You know you do,” Keilan-minnai urged her. Eiryn shook her head. “What would she think of you if you refused? Is that how Amaru-minnai would want her daughter to be?”
Eiryn stubbornly held her tongue. If she didn’t say the words, no one was leaving. Her mother wouldn’t be leaving. Kerisaoina could only truly leave if everyone they loved said the words. That’s what Keilan-minnai had told her. So she wouldn’t say them. Never.
“You’re hurting her,” Keilan-minnai’s gentle voice tried again. “It’s hard to say goodbye to someone you love, I know. I know, Eiryn-dai, I know. But she’ll never be completely gone. You can feel her all around you, Eiryn-dai. You can see her all around you too. But you have to let her go now.”
“F-fasaoi–” Eiryn struggled with the word. She didn’t want to say it, never, but she didn’t want to hurt dai either. Never, never, never. Keilan-minnai had said she was, said she’d still see dai and feel her. And kerisaoina didn’t lie…
Eiryn couldn’t say it. Her throat closed up and the words caught in it. She started to cry again, but she made herself continue, made herself finish the word. “Fasaoibound. Dai. Dai!”
Arèn-minnoi thanked her and hugged her, but Eiryn felt nothing to be grateful for and she pounded his shoulders with her fists. That word was final. It didn’t matter what Keilan-minnai said or that her uncle didn’t seem to notice she was trying to hurt him. Her mother was never coming back to her. Never.
Arèn-minnoi didn’t let go as he raised voice in farakaoina. Eiryn was surprised by how firm, clear and high it was, like her mother’s. And then she caught some of the words and she beat at his back again and fought against his hold because she didn’t want to be there. Arèn-minnoi pressed her head against him, but not before she saw the blue-robed man carry a torch to the wooden structure. Muffled by her uncle’s shirt she cried out for her mother anew. Eiryn groped around in her memory through the farakaoina that her mother and Orryn-minnaoi had been teaching her, hoping, praying, that fasaoi-willing, she’d already learned one that called forth water. Water doused flames. They were surrounded by water. It was right beside them.
And Eiryn sang. At first her voice sounded broken and off-key even to her, more a semblance of her sobs than anything else, but then her voice grew steadier and clearer, as she’d always been told all the voices from her family had been even at so young an age. Dai’d said it’d made their family perfect for researching farakaoina.
Eiryn could hear the small crowd stilling as she sang without any regard for the volume the farakaoina called for. All she cared about was that it drowned out everyone else’s farakaoina. All of them. She knew farakaoina didn’t work like that, but she didn’t care. If she sang louder and better than anyone else, everything would be all right. She shifted frantically in her uncle’s grasp to look around the courtyard for any sign of change, for any sign of the water she was trying to call.
There was nothing. The flames licked at her mother’s body and a shout cut through Eiryn’s farakaoina before she managed to catch herself. She sang and sang, louder and higher, as she called for water. Water. Water. Water.
It started to rain.
When she felt the first thick splatters fall on her head, Eiryn fell silent. Thunder rumbled in the distance, but she hardly cared. It was raining. She’d laugh with joy and thank fasaoi, but she was swaying with exhaustion and it was only her uncle’s arms that kept her upright. The flames were being doused. No one moved in the small, barren courtyard. Some, such as Arèn-minnoi kept singing, undisturbed by the way the weather had turned. Yet, as long as the fire was gone, Eiryn didn’t care.
When her uncle let her go, she sat down on the grey stone and glared at the drenched torch. Amaru-dai wasn’t going anywhere. Not yet. But Eiryn had said goodbye already, so she wasn’t coming back either. Eiryn shivered. Did that mean her mother would be caught between the world and fasaoi forever now? She wanted a hug.
When she saw the floating spheres going upwards, Eiryn lunged forward, caught only by Arèn-minnoi’s arm around her waist. The spheres were beautiful, almost like soap bubbles. They were much brighter, though, and they floated around her mother, slowly drifting upwards, swaying in the wind. In the rain, they gleamed and glittered like Spring Star celebrations. As they rose, their colours slowly dulled and faded; Eiryn didn’t know why. No one had told her there’d be bubbles, not even Mayry-minnoi. She could feel the fasaoi in them, though. It touched her cheeks, caressed her hair. It danced around her and called to her to follow, offering a comfort so familiar it would have been frightening if she’d had any energy left to be afraid. Mute, she followed their path with her eyes.
Eiryn wanted to touch them, but she didn’t want to move from Arèn-minnoi’s warmth either. Looking was all she did, his high voice singing softly beside her ear. Eiryn watched her mother’s body slowly fade away, like the bubbles did once the colour had drained from them. They were her mother. Dai was there, all around Eiryn, just as Keilan-minnai had said. Amaru-dai was dancing among the currents of fasaoi. Eiryn was captivated.
Faintly, she could make out murmuring and she could feel herself being handed over to someone else again. She knew she was lifted up into the air, but she hardly cared until whoever was carrying her started to make their way to the back of the crowd and Eiryn cried out, stretching her arms out to the bubbles floating steadily up there. She wanted to be near her mother. That was dai, calling for her, wanting Eiryn to join her wherever she was going. It wasn’t fair that someone was taking her away. It wasn’t fair.
Eiryn pounded her fists on the shoulder of the person carrying her, but she was too tired to struggle much. It wasn’t until she was sat down in a chair that she realised they’d gone all the way back up to Arèn-minnoi’s chambers and that it was Keilan-minnai who had been carrying her.
Eiryn bolted for the door as soon she could, stumbling and scraping her knee in the process. Keilan-minnai’s voice trilled and the door slammed shut just before Eiryn reached it. Even on tiptoes, she couldn’t reach the handle and pushing it didn’t make the pine door budge one bit. Eiryn spun to face her family’s friend, her entire body shivering with anger, fear, hurt and cold. She wanted her mother.
“Oh, child,” the woman muttered. “What have you done?”