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“Princess Raya, a moment, please?”

Raya stopped mid-swing when someone addressed her. She turned to two people approaching. She straightened, dropping her stance completely seeing that one of them was wearing the colors of Heart. They both bowed, and the one of Heart pulled something from a pouch hanging at her hip.

“A message from your father.” She said, handing her letter.

“Oh,” Raya swallowed, “Thank you.”

She nodded, continuing, “I’ve been instructed to wait in Fang for your response.”

“Right, of course.” Raya turned the folded parchment over in her hands, “I’ll get right to it. Um,” She looked at the Fang worker standing next to them, “Could you get her food or something. She must be tired after the journey.”

“Of course, Princess, right away.”

Raya exhaled as they left, looking down at the letter. She turned it over again. It was just a bit of paper, folded over itself and a bit of wax sealing at the seam. She tapped it in her palm, before running her finger through the wax fixture. She walked to where Tuk Tuk was lazing the grass nearby. She sat down, leaning against him as she shook the paper open. Her father’s familiar scrawl flowed across the page and she couldn’t help but smile at the salutation at the top of the page.

‘Barest Raya.’ An inside joke from when she was a child and had misheard her tutor in a lesson. The tutor had been furious at the unintentional insult. But Benja had just laughed when he heard about it. Ever since he’d begin all his notes to her in the same way.  

She continued reading. The letter was short and simple enough, the opening a quick summation of things that had happened in her absence. And then she got to what was surely the reason for this message.

‘I’m sure you are aware Dang Hai has invited the five tribes to his wedding. I plan to leave for Talon in four days. You don’t have to return to Heart first, if you wish to travel there with the delegation from Fang. I simply want to confirm if you are traveling with them or if you’ll return home so we can travel together.’ 

Raya stared at the words on the page. There it was. The perfect excuse to delay speaking with her father. Handed to her on a platter. She itched to take it. It would have been so easy to send back a response saying she’s met him in Talon. Once they were there, it was almost a given they wouldn’t have the time for a personal conversation. But Namaari and Virana’s words rang in her ears.

She’d like to think she knew her father well enough to know how he’d respond if her history with Dang Hai. She couldn’t think of a convincible circumstance where he’d react rashly and disrupt the peace the tribes had found. But, on the other hand, he’d always been fiercely protective of her. And she had to admit, Virana was right. It was fair if she let Benja get blindsided by the information. Which meant she had to return home and have a conversation she very much didn’t want to.

She sighed heavily, tapping Tuk Tuk to wake him from his nap, “Looks like we’re heading home buddy.” She stood up, arching her back and looking up, feeling like the full weight of the sky she was looking up at was on her shoulders.

She packed her bag. It didn’t take long, all the belongings she’d brought with her fitting neatly into her pack. She headed to Namaari’s room once she’d gathered her things. Atitaya had taken up residence in the space Raya had occupied earlier. Virana seemingly hadn’t moved an inch from her place next to Namaari.

“Raya,” Virana stood as she entered the room, “I was just about to send for you. Namaari’s fever finally broke.”

“I did?” She couldn’t help the way some excitement seeped into her voice.

“It looks like the worse is behind us,” Atitaya said.

Raya looked to Namaari, still unconscious, but the sheen of sweat was no longer across her brow and her breathing was easier.

“I’m so happy to hear that.”

Virana eyed the pack on her shoulder, “But you’re not here because of Namaari?” She asked although it was more of a statement that a question.

“I’m sorry. I wish I could wait for her to wake, but my father is leaving for the wedding in a few days. I’m returning home so we can travel there together.”

“Of course, completely understandable.” Virana stood, “Thank you, for taking care of Namaari. Thank you for getting her home.”

“It was nothing.”

“Downplaying your part won’t change the importance. Can I offer an escort back to Heart?”

“That won’t be necessary. I know you’re people are already spread thin.”

“And supplies?”

“I already have everything I need for the journey, thank you.”

Virana nodded, “Very well, at least allow Atitaya to accompany you to the edge of the island.”

Atitaya stood up at this. Raya didn’t argue with this, getting the feeling that she wouldn’t win this one.

“Will you send a message when Namaari wakes?”

“Of course,” Virana nodded.

“Thank you.” Raya bowed, her hands clasped in a circle, “And will you still the wedding?”

“I will have to, with my delegation.” Virana said, looking at Atitaya, “I can’t allow Fang to miss out on this opportunity. Dang Hai obviously wants to make a show of having all the tribes there. It will be rude to deny him his spectacle. But it does seem like Namaari will have to miss out.”

Atitaya snorted, “Missing out a Talon brag fest? She’ll be so disappointed,” her voice dripped with sarcasm, and Raya couldn’t help but smirk a little.

“I was planning on leaving on the day after tomorrow, but I’ll delay if I have to, until I’m sure Namaari’s condition is stable. I might have to send Atitaya ahead of me to keep up appearances.”

Atitaya groaned, “But you know I hate the polite conversation. At least I know one person there speaks my language,” she gave an encouraging smile to Raya.

“No need to be dramatic. It's only if Namaari’s condition worsens in the coming days. Now, may I have a moment with Raya?”

Atitaya nodded, “I’ll wait for you outside,” She said to Raya clapping a hand on her shoulder as she moved past her to step out of the room.

Once they were alone, Virana clasped her hands, “This isn’t fair of me to ask you this, but I’d ask that you not share the discoveries of the vaults with anyone from Heart. For now, at least.”

“Another Fang secret.”

If the dig got to Virana, she didn’t show it.

“You already know the reason Fang needs the jade in those vaults. And you’ll know that it’s for those same reasons we can’t have this information reaching the wrong ears. Is it duplicitous? Maybe, but it's what is going to keep my people fed and housed. I won’t apologize for it.”

“I won’t share your secret Chief Virana. You know what’s best for Fang and I just want Kumandra to work. Something to spark infighting will only undo what we’ve done thus far.”

“Thank you,” She seemed to relax some, “For understanding.”

Raya nodded once, before taking her leave. Atitaya was standing nearby, leaning against the wall. She straighten when she saw Raya.

“Did she threaten you?”

“Why would she threaten me?”

“Why indeed,” Atitaya smirked. Then, without warning, she pulled Raya into a hug.

“What is happening?” Raya asked.

“That is my thank you. For everything you did to get Namaari here as quickly as possible. For everything you’ve done for her.”

“You really don’t have to,” She suddenly felt very awkward.

Atitaya stepped back, quickly swiping at her eyes, “If you tell Namaari I got emotional over her, I’ll deny it.”

“Your secret is safe with me.”

“Oddly, I think you’re the only person from another tribe with whom I believe that statement to be true, Raya of Heart.”

Raya wasn’t surprised to find her father in the kitchen she returned to Heart.

“Dewdrop, impeccable timing, come join me.” He patted the spot next to him. He had three bottles in front of him, “Tell me, is Lambango still an acceptable wedding gift these days?” He poured some into a cup for her, “I don’t want to seem out of touch with the current culture.”

“I wouldn’t really know. Didn’t have the time to attend any weddings the last few years.”

His smile dipped a bit, “Of course. But I’d still like your opinion.”

She sipped from her cup and instantly gasped. Benja chuckled.

“I should have warned you. That packs a punch.”

“Yea,” Raya rubbed her throat. She exhaled, feeling like the vapors were still burning even though she’d swallowed, “Punch is an understatement. I think Talon will be more than happy with this.”

“Excellent. Have the three barrels loaded with the rest of the caravan.” He said to a servant.

“At once, Chief.”

“I’m excited to get to share this with you. The first wedding in a united Kumandra. This is everything I dreamed of.”

“Um, about that, ba there is something you should know about the history between Dang Hai and me.”

“So serious. Should I be worried? Shall I guess how many times you flung obscenities at each other or just have you tell me the number?”

“It’s a little more than that. We should speak in private.”

That caught his attention and the easy smile melted off his face. He nodded and they retired to his room. Once they were alone, the words still didn’t flow from Raya. But once she started, she didn’t know how to stop. Or maybe she was scared if she stopped she wouldn’t be able to say anything more.

Benja, as he listen, his face remained almost emotionless. Almost. There was a hardness to his eyes that got harder and sharper as Raya told more and more. When she finally stopped, just short of the graphic details, there was a silence in the room too loud to even attempt to break.

Benja’s whole body shook as he exhaled.

“Why? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“It didn’t matter.”

“Didn’t matter? Raya-”

“Its bad. I know. But it happened. Ba, when the Drunn returned… everyone got desperate. If I were to tell you every bad thing that happened in those years we might not leave this room for another month.”

“Then maybe we shouldn’t. Raya, I’m your father, I need to know about these things.”

“But I don’t want you to know.”

“I- You don’t.”

“No. It's useless now. I just want to move on from it. From all of it.”

“Then why tell me this now.”

“Because on the chance it gets brought up while we’re in Talon I don’t want you to be blindsided.”

Benja took a moment to process this. “Okay. I’ll respect that you don’t want to share anything else. But after what Dang Hai did, I can’t ask you to attend a celebration for him.”


“I’ll go to the wedding, but you don’t have to.”

“But, that would like I’m shunning him.”

“No appearances is worth you being uncomfortable.”

“I… thank you, dad. But I’m still going. Dang Hai isn’t going to be the reason I let the early days of Kumandra be marred.”

“Are you sure?”

No. “Yes.”