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Gestahlt
12.16.2011 , 07:06 AM | #6
Chapter Five: Perseverance.

I imagined that if the land could cry, it did so when my mother and brother left with Uncle Valgor’s regiment. That morning we awakened at the same time that we always did and made certain that everything was in order. The night before we had worked nearly into the early hours of the morning to ensure that everything was in place, but in gathering to piece over them once more we gave ourselves a little more time together. It would be the last time that we were all together for quite some time, after all.

Cassir promised me that he would send regular updates once they were established in Vace territory. To hear him speak of the future it sounded as though he expected to become a champion in his own right. Considering all of the time and effort I had seen him put into his training I did not doubt it, and told him that if he became lazy in sending me updates I would hunt him down and beat him. It was an empty threat that displayed affection more than anything else, and after I said it I made certain to hug him. Young Mandalorians did not have very high life expectancies.

Following Cassir’s well-wishing, I was given a chance to address my mother. Four days prior I had believed that I hated her, but as I looked at her standing there with her glistening black armor and her repeater slung over her shoulder, I realized that I loved her more than words could express. She was, after all, the woman that had given me life. Even in our most bitter of times she cared for me and protected me. I wanted to smile at her, but I found that the courage to do so was buried deep within my heart. The thought of hugging her was all but forbidden.

She stared at me. I stared at her.
And that was all there was to it.

“Make sure that she remains diligent in her training,” my mother said to Astra. The nod that she received was all the affirmation she’d require. I recalled that I had seen Mother and Father embracing the night before and wondered if I would again. They shared nothing more than a look, a nod, and with that my mother was walking off with Cassir in tow.

I did not know what it was, but something told me I would never see her again. I tried to muster up the courage to hug her one final time; to tell her that she was everything I wanted to be, but it was not there. Astra’s hand fell to my shoulder and I turned toward her and cried. There was nothing more to say of the matter.

It rained for nearly two weeks following the departure of Mother and Cassir. In that time, Astra informed me of the very real fact that Mother was not the fiercest taskmaster around. When I trained with her in the past she had always known just when to stop to prevent me from injuring myself. I suppose it made sense – she had trained three children before me. Astra on the other hand had never before had anyone follow her word and so I was as much a test for her as she was for me. Unfortunately, regardless of which one of us failed I was the one to feel the pain of it.

The rain was too bloated to farm, so my father remained indoors. He tried his best not to show us his sorrow, but when I came trudging inside in need of some form of medical assistance, I often caught him looking at where mother’s armor had once sat next to his. Stubble was forming on his chin already and he made no effort to shave it away. I had the good fortune of having a brutal drill instructor to occupy my time: my father had only his memories to fill the void between waking and sleeping. We no longer shared stories when dinner time came; there were no longer trips into the field in the middle of the night. Until my mother returned, it was as though my father had gone with her.

To Astra’s credit, there was ingenuity to my sister’s madness that would have been admirable had I not been the one to suffer through it. Each morning she awakened before I did and left to complete some task of another. It was not until the following week’s end that I was given witness to it. No longer was it raining but my father still had no desire to till any land. When I left in the morning he was sitting in his chair: when I returned at night he was still there. It was on a morning that I left that Astra revealed to me what she had been creating.

I had never seen an obstacle course before, but once I did I understood what it was. If a fish sees water, it knows to swim: if a bird is pushed out of a nest, it knows to fly. Astra’s clever machinations had created a rudimentary though functional course that would have me climbing, jumping, swinging, or vaulting. The trees near our home had been repurposed for this and in all, I knew that I had a good deal of work to complete before I was going to be able to accomplish my task. On top of the combat training, marksmanship, and survival lessons I had, the obstacle course introduced problem-solving and endurance.

My sister was trying her damndest to ensure that I became the ideal Mandalorian.

I hated her for it.

The days following Uncle Valgor’s march were the hardest of my young life. I awoke in the morning, prepared for my ever-approaching verd’goten by doing calisthenics with Astra, worked the fields with her until midday, and then returned to preparing for my verd’goten with one of the several training routines she had for me. When she fought she did not hold back; when we practiced shooting she did not give me easy targets; when I had to track something she made sure to leave almost no clues behind. Each day that I went to bed I was exhausted, and each day that I awoke I was sore. Through it all though, I kept a single concept in mind. I had to persevere; we all did.

One day, perhaps it was because I looked as though I was ready to collapse, Astra said that we could go swimming for our daily routine. Any that have been forced to choose between running six kilometers or having the chance to swim should know that even though both are aerobic, one of them is a treat. Although Astra made certain to have me brave some of the stronger currents initially, by the time that we normally would have been ramping up my training she allowed it to taper off. She wanted to relax. So did I.

“Are you going to marry Cadim?”

I don’t know why the question escaped my lips, but it did. Perhaps it was the mixture of fatigue and soreness, or the fact that he had been on my mind nearly as much as anything else. I was aware enough to give a negative twist to my tone, but the way that Astra smiled revealed that she either did not hear it or did not care about my perceived derision.

“Now why would you ask a silly question like that?”
“Because if you don’t, then I will.”

Astra grinned at me and dunked my head under the water. Even though I was growing stronger, I was hardly a match for her. She let me back up after I made a show of struggling. “And just who are you to go taking my man, huh?”

“So he’s your man now?”
“More mine than anyone else’s,” Astra warned playfully. “I thought you didn’t like him.”
“I didn’t.”
“But you changed your mind.”
“Yep.”

At the time I had expected Astra to view my pronouncement as something of a threat, but I now understand that she truly had nothing to concern herself with. I was her gawky kid sister, nothing more.

That was a factor that I had actually been thinking over as I thought of Cadim. My body was changing then, slowly but surely. I was slimming down in some places and blossoming in others. Adolescence, I have been told, is perhaps the most violent process that person’s body goes through: factor in the regiment I had and you can imagine that was nearly thrice as painful. I was forced to consider a duality of attractiveness that I still struggle to maintain: I had to appear feminine enough to attract a mate, yet strong enough to protect my family. My mother was a shining example of these traits, as was my sister. Each day that passed, I only hoped that I would follow in their steps.

On that day I came to realize that I was not as gawky as I may have once been, but I was still nowhere near as developed as Astra. I suppose that part of that can come from the fact I never felt (and still do not feel) that I measured up to my sister, and the other part was simply the byproduct of hormonal imbalances. Whatever the case may have been, I did try my best to ensure that at the end of the road I would emerge as more than an ugly duckling. After meeting Cadim I greatly desired to deserve a man like him, and as my mother had said there were only two paths for women: happiness or loneliness.

“I guess I changed my mind about him too,” Astra said and effectively pulled my thoughts away from my own insecurities. She motioned for me to follow her and sat on the bank of the river, her feet still in the water. Like any younger sibling, I copied her. It felt more adult to sit the way that she did.

I sat beside her quietly, the topic at hand one that neither of us wanted to directly address. Cadim may have been fun to think about, but in thinking of him we were confronted with the grave reality that at that moment he was properly fighting for his life against members of Clan Hundar or whatever foe Uncle Valgor had decided to throw his men against. When I thought about it I drew my legs in and hugged them to my chest.

“I think everyone’s alright,” Astra said, almost comfortingly. When I glanced at her I saw that she was looking in the water, so I lowered my eyes. “Cassir’s going to send us a message saying that Cadim’s already killed ten men.”

“Which means he’s actually killed four,” I joked. Astra chuckled and nodded.
“He’s such a liar.”
“The biggest.”

This was the hardest part of warfare, I would come to learn. Being the one that sat behind and waited to find out whether or not a loved one gained acclaim or was sent to join with the afterlife. I did not want to think of my mother or Cassir dying, but at the same time I wanted to imagine that they were both leading the vanguard and claiming as many kills as possible. High stakes, high risks. I would do anything to have them back, yet wanted them to return as champions.

I dug my feet into the soft silt and thought of when I had seen Father digging his hands into the soil. It seemed like a life time ago, yet hardly more than five years had passed. “Do you think he’ll be okay?”

“Dad’ll be fine,” Astra answered without having to ask who I meant. “You have to think about it; he hasn’t been without mom for nearly twenty years now. Takes some getting used to, you know?”

I nodded my head and placed my chin on my knee. “He just seems so sad.”
“He is,” Astra stated. “But he’ll get over it.”
“How do you know?”
“Because that’s what we do.”

I had to admit she was right. We Daue were all about persevering in the face of resistance. Just as Mother was forcing herself to overcome whatever obstacles were in her way, Father was going to have to push aside his anguish and dejection. I wanted to believe that everything would work out and that before I knew it they would be back together. But that sinking feeling I had when she left returned once more and I knew that I’d find no reprieve from it.

“I’m scared.” I confessed.
“Me too,” Astra said. I looked at her once more and found that she had abject sincerity on her face. She wasn’t lying to me; this was a side of Astra that I didn’t know existed. “But we can’t let Dad know that and we certainly can’t let it stop us from doing what we have to do. Mom and Dad have been through a lot more than clan warfare. She’ll be fine.”

Yet again my father and mother’s histories were mentioned, but I knew absolutely nothing of it. I recalled that Astra had looked nearly pensive when Uncle Valgor mentioned it before. If ever I would be given a chance to explore the depths of their history, now would be the time.

“Why doesn’t Father ever talk about his youth?”

Astra was silent for a minute. “I guess you’re old enough to hear some of it.”
“Some of it?”

“Don’t be greedy,” she warned me. “When I was born, Dad and Mom were just starting to settle down, but they weren’t always that way. Grandfather Regimus told the Clan Daue to settle, but Dad thought that he knew better. He wanted to make a name for himself – for the Clan Daue.”

I tried to imagine my father as a young man. He had always seemed solemn to me, but I suppose that was because I had never seen him anything other than it – and now, depressed.

“After he married Mom, they had me. This meant that Mom had to stay at home and raise yours truly, while Dad went out to gain more praise for the clan. He joined up with a band of mercenaries or pirates – I can’t really remember which, and quickly became one of their best men. As you can imagine, we Mandalorians are leagues ahead of the dreck that usually fills those outfits, so Dad was a shoe-in for a captain.

“Unlike the folks in his company that wasted their money on frivolous things, Dad saved up his credits and sent back only enough for Mom and I to survive. I was too young to remember anything directly, but from what I’ve heard we didn’t live in the best areas. Not that it mattered; Dad’s plan was to buy us enough weaponry to start an army of our own. We managed while he went around, robbing freighters, fighting the Republic and local militia – you know, all of the things he says that other heroes did.”

It was a good point for my sister to bring up. My father’s stories detailed the same exploits, but he never spoke of his own?

“Uncle Valgor signed on with him for a few missions and before long the Clan Daue had a nice little nest egg saved up, yes? Of course, Uncle Valgor wasn’t very frugal with his spending, but you know how he is – he wants this now, no matter what they are. They were twin terrors – Hellhounds, people called them. More beast than man! Wherever they went, chaos and violence followed. Dad was a brilliant strategist and Uncle Valgor could get things done. By the time that I was about three, the Hellhounds were feared by nearly everyone in this system.

“When Grandfather Dasius died, everyone thought that the Hellhounds would take over the system. With Uncle Valgor at the lead they could do whatever they wanted; attack whenever they wanted to and do it as a clan rather than a company of thugs. But that didn’t happen. One day, after a mission, Dad returned home to mom and I with Cassir and Polus, little more than babies at the time.”

She paused when she said Polus’ name, but I didn’t expect anything else. It was sad to think that in the upheaval of recent events he had almost been forgotten, but I suppose that was what my mother meant about the pains of beauty – so many loved ones to lose.

“He never told me why it was that he quit, but I know that it had to do something with how he came to adopt Cassir and Polus.” Astra gave a thoughtful shake of her head then. “Whatever it was, it made him want to settle down and start a family, so here we are now.”

I was having an extremely difficult time reconciling the image of my father was a fierce warrior. True, he always had a silent nature of command about him and even Uncle Valgor seemed to respect that quality, but he was a farmer, not a mercenary. If he was that good at hiding who he was, I had to wonder just how much of my father I actually knew. Was it possible that I didn’t know him at all?

“What happened to the credits he saved up?” My question was more one to break the silence than one of interest. By that point I was too focused on the identity of my parents to really care, but silence was the last thing I wanted to hear. I believe Astra picked up on that, because what she said next was so outlandish it drew me out of my stupor.

“He bought Mom a really big ring with it,” she said. “If you saw it up close, it’d look like a star sparkling.”

I had never seen my mother wear jewelry – in fact, the word itself meant very little to me. I looked up at Astra and saw that she was trying her best to conceal a smirk.

“Why would he buy her a ring?”
“Because he wanted to show her that he loved her, of course.” The explanation was given matter-of-factly.
“I’ve never seen Mother wear a ring.”

Astra clapped her hands and stood up. “That’s because she lost it when we were crossing this river to build our home, you see? If you come out here at night you can see it sometimes, glowing deep down in the bottom of the river.”
I couldn’t help but protest that notion. “You’re such a liar!”
“About some things,” Astra admitted. She gave me a clever grin. “But not all of them. Now let’s get back home. Your day’s vacation is over.”

I stood up as well and dusted some of the silt off my body. “You’re going to work me to death.”
“Only if you’re lucky.”

That night when we ate dinner I couldn’t help but look at my father more closely. Since he was normally clean shaven I would not have normally noticed it, but as his beard grew in I could see tufts of white hair where brown should have been. His face was so drawn, tired in a way that I couldn’t understand. To his credit he had started working the fields again, but we didn’t have so much work that it should have sapped him to the degree that it did. Even the way he chewed his food seemed to be without life, like it was an action that he completed out of necessity more than desire.

How was it possible that the downtrodden man that was sitting at the head of the table was a man that had taken on an entire Republic shuttle by himself? I could not wrap my head around it, yet I knew that it had to be true. Uncle Valgor had no reason to lie and Astra’s story only further added veracity to the claims. Whatever silent strength that my father had though, was diminishing with each passing day.

There was rarely any talking at the dinner table, and I saw no reason to encourage it that night. With three chairs that had once been filled now empty, it felt almost impolite to have a discussion without them. Astra broke the silence a few times by mentioning the growing seasons, but other than give noncommittal grunts or respond with a few words, my father had little to say. Even if he was not the warrior that he had once been, it broke my childish heart to know that he was no longer the man he had once been either.

Was I supposed to tell him that things would be okay, or challenge him to live more like he once had? In both cases I felt I would be stepping outside of my station and since Astra did not make an effort to do either I supposed she was correct in being reserved. She was, after all, my guiding light. But I couldn’t sit by and do nothing as my father wasted away before my eyes. After I had put away our dishes and tidied up the house, I went to bed and began to plot. There had to be something that I could do to make my father feel better.

Astra and I no longer shared the same bed, although we were still in the same room. While I could have taken Cassir or Polus’ bed, I didn’t feel that it would be appropriate to do either. I instead slept on the floor while she used the bedding as her senior age merited. With my thin blanket pulled over me, I tried my best to think of a solution to the problem at hand. It was when my mind began to enter the realms of sleep that an idea struck me.

Now, as I look back, I understand that it is rarely a good thing when an idea manifests in the realms of sleep, but as a child I thought it was a sign of brilliance. Astra had said that her story was only partially false, which meant that some of it had to be true. There was a possibility that Mother’s ring was still in the water and that I could get it for my father. If he had it, perhaps he’d remember the good times and forget the sadness of the day. It was truly brilliant, how could anything go wrong? I was a strong swimmer. True, I had never swum at night but it was not as though I had to see very much anyway. If the ring glowed like Astra said, it would be easy enough to obtain.

The only difficult part to my plan would be waiting until Astra had fallen asleep. I heard her enter the room a few minutes after my plan came about.

“Goodnight, sis,” she said to me.
“Goodnight,” I replied.

I waited until I heard her snoring – she denied that she did it, but I assure you that when she snored it sounded like a windstorm was trapped in her nose! After several minutes of her nocturnal choir, I crept off of my bedding and made my way into the hall. Five years before I had done the same, but that time I had not known why I was doing it. This time around, I had a plan. I was going to give my father a reason to smile again.

Our sitting room did look empty without my mother’s armor being on the wall. For so long it had been a fixture that seeing it absent was no different than when Polus had not returned from his verd’goten. I did not want to think that my mother had met the same fate, but that sinking suspicion had not left me. I could understand why my father would be so depressed over her absence and that only further strengthened my resolve. I had to do this because if I didn’t, my father would be swallowed up in his own grief.

When I made it outside there was a cool breeze waiting for me. Bird the Dog groggily lifted his head and looked at me as though he were irritated that yet another adventure was to begin. I never made him come with me, so why he was irritated was beyond me. Needless to say, the moment that I left the porch he yipped and followed close behind. We were on a mission; I the commander, he the soldier.

The moon shone down on the river as we came to it. The water looked murkier than usual, but I supposed that was because the sunlight was no longer illuminating its depths. As I had rationalized in the realms of sleep, if I was to find the ring I would be able to see its glowing from the surface, anyway. I walked down the length of the river, my eyes constantly skimming for any sign of luminescence but finding little to nothing. It was still possible that Astra had made the whole thing up – she was nearly as bad as Cadim when it came to lying.

There was also the very real notion that I did not want to go into the water. During the day our river was like an old friend, but as I saw it at night there was a dark and mysterious edge to it. I didn’t know what was in there and I didn’t want to find out. If I couldn’t see the ring then I would have to call off my mission and go home, right? It may have been disheartening to fail at something I set out to do, but there was no reason to splash around if it accomplished nothing.

I hated myself for thinking that way. I had gone to the river to help my father and I was letting fear misguide me. Bird’s presence as always acted as a deterrent from cowardice, and just as I was prepared to forsake my plan and simply leap into the water to forage for the ring by hand, I saw a distant glimmer downstream. It could have well been the moon reflecting off of water, but I doubted it. My mother’s ring was down there and I was going to retrieve it for my father.

I kicked off my shoes and took a running start. Bird the Dog barked and ran behind me, as though to indicate that he would be entering not long after I did. I splashed into the water and instantly felt the cold chill of its touch wash over me. A gasp left me as my body acclimatized, before I took in a deep breath and dove into the water below. This was the best thing that I could do for my father, I knew. The sound of Bird splashing into the water after me only further helped me believe that to be the case.

It wasn’t a lie when I said I was a strong swimmer – when you spend all of your free time training different muscle groups, you develop a knack for most physical exercises. Of course, this was further improved upon by the simple fact that I generally liked the water. I could hold my breath for about two minutes before I started to become lightheaded, and another one before I needed to come up for air. Later that number would nearly double, but for a ten year old it was not such a bad feat.

The murkiness of the water had not alleviated when I opened my eyes. I could see what was directly in front of me, but the rest was cloaked in the shadows of the deep water. I searched for any sign of the glowing ring, feeling as best as I could and trying to ignore the squishy undergrowth that played against my fingers. Thinking about it now I’d never go feeling around in a dark river unless I had to, but I suppose that is a lesson learned from experience.

My three minutes were up and so I pushed off the ground and swam back to the surface. When I remerged I gasped and allowed my straining lungs to fill with oxygen once more. Bird was still paddling in the water, but he seemed much less willing to dive. I gave him a little grin and then dove back into the water.

Again I searched for any trace of the ring and again I was rewarded with nothingness. When I came back up Bird was on the shore and barking up a storm. I was of half a mind to see what was bothering him, but as I began to look in his direction I saw the glowing again. It was closer and this time I knew where it was.

“Stop barking or you’ll wake everyone up!” I snapped at Bird. He whimpered and then started barking again. So maybe I wasn’t the commander – or at least, not a good one.

I plunged back into the water, my body by now used to the depths. In my mind I had charted where the ring was and swam with greater speed to get to it. Surely enough, as I made my way closer to the glowing object I could see its sparkle through the darkness. A piece of kelp brushed my leg as I moved inward and grabbed it. It was difficult to believe that I was going to be able to rescue my father.

And that’s when I realized that the kelp was doing more than brushing my leg.

At first it felt like something was tugging me backwards, almost as if to test what would happen. That sensation was soon replaced, though, when I felt a tentacle slide over my leg and forcefully yank me away. Startled as I was, I knew that the greatest mistake I could make was scream and allow the water that was around me to rush into my mouth. I balled my hands into fists and tried to swim to the surface, but the tentacle was joined by another and I was pulled back down.

I had another minute and a half before my air reserves were going to be lost. As I turned about, I saw the bulbous eyes of an octopus looking back at me. It was the largest one I had ever seen; easily as big as me and with enough arms to weigh me down with ease. I shoved and panicked, but it hardly seemed to notice. I felt the small teeth on its tentacles piercing my skin, and kicked out sharply. It pulled me closer, so I used the hand that was not clutching my ring to jab my thumb directly into its eye. We Mandalorians learn how to fight at an early age, and I was using whatever it took to escape from a watery grave.

Panic would be an understatement – I was terrified. If I couldn’t escape from the mass of tentacles that were holding me down I was certainly going to die. The thought of adding to my father’s grief only further weighted me down though and rather than think of that I focused on the fact that I needed to get air. I twisted my thumb in the octopus’ eye until it released me and retreated a step. Freed from its grasp, I surged up to the surface and broke the water with a gasp and a cry of shock. I don’t know what I said, but I know I said something.

The octopus wasn’t done with me yet, why would it be? It caught hold of my ankle and pulled me back down, while at the same time rising toward the surface so that it would wrap more of its tentacles around my body. The muscular strength of an octopus is something that a person cannot appreciate until they have one wrapped about their body – even an adult male would be hard pressed to escape one. I struck out again at it but it was hopeless. The octopus began to position itself so that it could sink back into the water and drown me.

That was when I heard Bird enter the water again. We were still close enough for him to see that I was in trouble, and my dog was not about to let me die without a fight. He splashed about and snarled, and then seized hold of the octopus in his jaw that could all but lock once it had what it wanted. The feeling of Bird’s teeth must have been more threatening than my feeble punches, because the octopus released me and turned its attention to Bird. I struggled back to the surface to get air, then looked to see that the octopus was preparing to sink with Bird. Just as he had saved me, I refused to abandon him to the horror of drowning.

I entered the water again and slid the ring’s gem through my fingers. Using it as a weapon of sorts, I struck the octopus several times on the side of its head, then jabbed it again in its eye I had previously injured. It released Bird, who scrambled away and broke for the shoreline. I knew that if I was going to survive I would need to follow after him, and so on his heels I swam as fast as I could. The octopus released a screen of ink that coated the area about us and made it even more difficult to see. Bird made it the shore first and turned back for me. I felt the river’s silt in my hand before that familiar tug caught hold of me.

“Run, Bird!” I demanded, wanting nothing more than for him to escape even if I couldn’t. It was a silly sentiment in retrospect, but Bird was my truest friend and losing him would have been more than I could stomach: even if it meant I had to die in the exchange. Not very logical, but children rarely are. I was, after all, swimming at night in search of a ring.

Once more I was pulled down, and this time I didn’t have the fortune of avoiding the taste of water and ink in my mouth. I watched as the moon faded into a watery blur above me and knew that even if I managed to fight the octopus off, eventually it would win. I twisted and turned, swiping at it as best as I could with the ring and praying that I could at least wound it badly enough that it would remember me for the rest of its life. One of the tentacles draped over my neck and I felt it constrict. I kicked outward with both of my feet and broke the surface again for air, only to be dragged down. The glimpse of the shore showed me that Bird was nowhere in sight.

Struggling against an octopus is an extremely taxing activity, and I was already close to collapse. I struck for its face with the ring again, but it evaded. Furious and terrified at the same time, I used whatever adrenal graces I had to pull back and strike at the octopus again. This time when I hit it, I caught its good eye and effectively blinded it. It released me and I was given the chance to grab just a bit more oxygen before I was pulled down again. My lungs were sore and my body ached; there wasn’t much fight left in me.

They say that when a person dies, she sees a light at the end of a tunnel. I started to see that light, though in all honesty I believe it was more from oxygen deprivation and my body slowly shutting down. I could hear my heart thudding in my ears and knew that it was only a matter of time before everything was over. I broke free of the octopus for what I knew to be the final time and gasped for air. This was it.

I heard Bird’s barking again and prayed that he wouldn’t jump back into the water after me. The world was no longer making any sense; I saw spots before my eyes and the octopus’ strength was too much for me to deny. As I sank back into the water once more I felt the octopus roll again and begin to fall to the bottom of the river. This was to be the end of my story: the last thing I would see was that blurry moonlight streaming down through the river.

I had given it my all to survive: done what any Mandalorian would have. I protected Bird (my family) and deserved a warrior’s death. For a ten year old to come to that realization should speak to how certain I was of my death, and although I refused to stop struggling I knew that soon I would no longer be able to. I had nothing left in me.

The statement that your life flashes before your eyes is not a false one. Mine did. Granted, at the age of ten there was not much to flash about, but what did was as meaningful to me as possible: the first day that I met Bird, when Astra showed me how to do a cartwheel, Polus chasing after Cassir because he tied his shoelaces together, Mother showing me how to field repair a rifle, Father smiling, Cassir's adulthood ceremony, Cadim's jokes.

But the thing that people often forget to mention is that you also see the things that wouldn't ever occur. I would never see Bird again; I would never again see Cassir or my mother. I would never get to experience love, or have my own family. I would never see my father's smile again. No one would ever find me, lodged at the bottom of a river with whatever scraps the octopus didn't devour of me.

I would never become a woman.

The sound of splashing again met my ears, and I recall my most strenuous thought being that I didn’t want Bird to die with me. But just as I was ready to see my canine defender come to my aid, I instead felt myself being dragged out of the water. The octopus struggled to prevent it, but against my savior it could not apply enough weight – I had, after all, injured it in the struggle.

I was pulled out of the water and placed on the ground. My lungs were filled with fluid, but I could distinctly make out the figure of my father as he hoisted the octopus into the air and slammed it to the ground. There was such power and drive in him when he did it that the cephalopod actually bounced before it released me and slithered back into the river. I struggled to cough, but could not. My eyes closed.

My father told me that it took him nearly a minute before he got me to cough up the water that was in my lungs. I recall the acrid feeling of my throat after I’d done so, but not the revival itself. As he lifted me in his arms, the white parts of his beard were all that I could see. I don’t know why, but that was what stuck out in my mind.

“Have you lost your mind, girl?” He asked me, his voice a mixture of anger and concern. I could hardly keep my eyes open, but I saw that worry was on his brow. “Why would you go swimming, alone, at night?”

“I wasn’t alone,” I whispered. “I had Bird.”
“And a good thing that you did,” my father snapped. “If he hadn’t of gotten to me in time, you’d…” He didn’t finish the sentence. I didn’t want him to. He hugged me closer to his body.

Astra was just leaving the door as we returned home. I could hear her shouting and yelling, but the words all seemed like a stream of one sentiment of disapproval. Father told her to get me some blankets and she complied. My blood was flowing naturally again and I could feel the ring in my hand. As Astra set to drying me off, I coughed and held my hand out to my father.

“I wanted you to have this.”

My fingers uncurled slowly and a bit of the water I had been grasping slid down my hand. In the center of my palm was a golden band, etched with writing that I certainly could not understand. My father took it from my hand and looked at it as though it were some ancient relic. His eyes moved to Astra, and then back to me.

“What does it say?” I asked the question sheepishly. Astra continued to towel me off.

For a moment I thought that my father didn’t hear me, but as I prepared to speak again he looked up and smiled. It wasn’t the smile that I had seen him give so long ago; this one was sad, but just as beautiful.

Ner cyar’ika, gar ka’rta cuyi’ ner runi. Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum..” He ran his finger over the surface of the ring again. “My beloved, your heart is my soul. We will know each other forever.”

It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard someone say. A look that I had never seen on his face appeared then, as he looked between my sister and me. I now know what it was and can understand why he revealed it: shame. While he had been moping my sister and I were trying our best to carry on. He did not say that he was sorry for it, but we did not expect him to. All that mattered was that he changed. We were of the Clan Daue; we did not sulk, we persevered.

My father patted me on the head as he stood up. “Make sure that she gets to bed soon,” he said. “We have a long day of work in the morning.”