I woke screaming, half in half out of the nightmare whose images I would thankfully not remember when I had broken free from its grip. As I became aware of Navaari at my side, doing what all parents do for terror stricken children, I wondered if this would ever end. His whispered gentle words which won over the unnamed fear and when I had calmed down enough he let go of me and lit one of the lanterns. Light helped. He got the small brazier going and put water on to boil. The small space filled with the scent of what ever tea it was he was making and it was good smell. I watched, huddled in the warmth of the blankets as he fixed me a cup.
“These night terrors, you have them often?” he asked, pouring himself a cup of tea as well.
I nodded, cradling the warm cup in my hands, welcoming its heat. “I have always had bad dreams on and off, but not like this and not every night.”
“Why will you not speak of what happened to you?” he asked getting straight to the heart of the matter.
I shook my head. “I can’t.”
“Why not?” he was going to push now, I knew that. There would be no avoiding this conversation and there was no place to run. I shut my eyes tightly and gritted my teeth.
“Stop fighting against what will happen anyway! Why will you not open up and talk to me?” I heard him move closer to me. “Why?”
“Because I am ashamed.” I whispered. Letting out the awful truth I had locked away inside myself.
He had not expected this answer and he knelt in front of me, taking my face in his hands and holding it so that I could not avoid looking in his eyes.
“Look at me , Tjällh, you have done nothing to feel that way.”
I tried to turn away from his gaze but he would not allow me to. With his eyes and his hands he made me face not only his questioning stare, but my own fears. I struggled to get the words out, but they tangled on my tongue. The deep shuddery breath I took was not enough to quell the rising sense of disproportionate panic.
“Do you know what I used to tell my daughter when something had her so tied up in knots she could not even speak?” he said gently. “Start at the very beginning and do not stop until the words have done their job.”
I shook my head and struggled to get clear from his grasp. He did not let go.
“Tjällh, there is only you and me here and we are in the middle of nowhere surrounded by the snow and wind of a spring storm. There is nothing and no one who will hurt you. So speak to me, tell me this thing that destroys you from the inside out before there is nothing left of you and I must mourn another loss.”
His words sank in slowly, he saw this and he let me go. I trembled as took a small sip of my hot tea and then without further games or hesitation I began to talk. I told of everything that had happened and I left absolutely no detail out. My voice trembled when I spoke Jyrki’s name, when I recounted his violence and his silent, brutal anger. I faltered when I spoke of the filth and the disgrace I had felt at being so dirty and so weak, of the humiliation and the despair. I side tracked a little and told him everything about my relationship with Jyrki, as I had known him, as I had wanted to know him. All the secrets I had been carrying for so long right from my earliest memory of Jyrki through to the most recent of hurts and the terrible sense of loss came tumbling out. All the things I just could not seem to come to terms with. I poured my soul out to Navaari in a way I had not ever done with any other person before, not even Thrawn, and he listened without comment or interruption. When I was finished and there were no more words left inside I just looked at Navaari, waiting for him to respond. I huddled into the blanket around my shoulders. I felt for the first time in a very long time, a deep sense of stillness, of emptiness as though the white noise in my head had suddenly been switched off. Navaari took the empty cup from my hands and refilled it for me. I accepted it gratefully.
He was silent for a very long time and I realised that I could no longer hear the wind outside either. The silence was deafening I was glad when he broke it.
“No one should ever have to go through such a betrayal.” He said in a voice that did not hide his own anger. “This terrible sense of guilt you carry is not yours to bear. You did nothing to deserve this, you did nothing wrong.” He said.
“Then why did it happen? Why did he do this to me?” I was on the verge of tears but I bit them back. Tears would come later, in private when I could let everything go with no one around to watch.
“I cannot answer that, only Jyrki Andando can.” He said. “But this I do know, you must understand what happened was not your fault. You need to stop blaming yourself. He had no right to harm you in this way, no matter what he thinks you have done, or have become.” He shook his head. “This man you once loved, I do not even think he sees the person you are now. If he had he would know that you are not evil or even shaped by it. That you have a lovely spirit touched by difficult times. You did what you had to do and you acted with great courage.” He cupped my face once more in his hands and made me look at him. “I am so honoured to know you, to have you be a part of my family, of my tribe. You may not be my daughter by blood but in my soul I know that we are bound by something powerful and I tell you this as I would were you my own, I am proud of you.”
He pulled me to him and held on to me tightly. I had not realised how much I had needed absolution, how much I had needed for someone to tell me these things. With a sigh, after a long pause, I pulled away from his embrace and sipped at my tea.
“You miss her very much.” I said wanting to talk about something else other than me.
“Yes, I do. My wife and I thought that we could not have children, so when Il’lyar’ea was born, we knew she was a gift from the gods. Do not all parents think this way?” he added with a smile. “She was a cheerful, happy child but her eyes always looked to the far away and I knew that even though she was raised with us she would not stay with us forever. She longed for more, she longed for the stars. She was always looking past the now, beyond my shoulder into the future.” He said. “I should not have been surprised then, when a young scholar came to Hjal to study the Dantassi way of life and I watched as he stole my daughter's heart.” He shook his head. “I do not mean that in a bad way. She was happier than I had ever known her to be and when, one night she came to my wife and I to tell us that she wished to marry this man and leave us, we both knew that no matter what we said we would lose her. It was better to give her up gracefully with our blessings than to will for her to remain here and have her leave in bitterness. So, after we convinced her to have a traditional Dantassi bonding ceremony, she left to start her own life on Csilla. She returned only once, when her mother was dying and we knew there was nothing to be done about it. Those were difficult days. I know she felt guilt and remorse about not being here for most of the illness and I was so tied up in my grief that I could not help her through her own. When she left after the death rites, many words had been left unspoken that should have been said. We have not seen one another since, although we keep in touch. I feel the distance between us keenly but I am unable to bridge it”
I looked at him. “Fathers and daughters.” I said. He nodded with a slight smile because he understood exactly what that statement meant.
“I am quite certain that this is a dance that will always be so, for eternity and it should be no other way. But it is a hardship that is sometimes difficult to bear.” He said. “Without these hurts and these terrible times, how can we know joy and peace?”
“It seems like an awfully high price to pay, though.” I said.
“Everything comes at a price, A’myshk’a.” he said.
I nodded and not knowing what else to say commented. “Storm’s died down.”
“Aye, and once we have eaten we will head back. It will be very late by the time we reach the village but you will see it is a different world outside.” He told me and set about making some sort of food. We sat and ate the stew in silence. It was hot and surprisingly good. Once we were finished and everything cleaned and put away, I helped Navaari pack.
“Put your warm clothes on, it will be cold outside. After a storm like this the wind drops and so does the temperature. It will be very cold and, A’myshk’a, it will be very beautiful.” He said handing me the clothes I had worn when I had left the village.
The world that awaited me as I crawled through the entrance tunnel was vastly different from the one I had walked out into the day before. Where there had been wild winds and blinding snow was now an eerie stillness and a crystal clear night. I breathed the night air in deeply and it was a sharp, icy shock. It made me cough. Navaari laughed as he packed the sled. The wolf-hounds were happily chewing on what ever food Navaari had given them. I wondered how they survived the storm.
“They curl up in the snow and their fur keeps them warm. They are born and bred in this climate.” He explained reading my thoughts. “Put your mask on, it may not be windy but the cold will still freeze your flesh.”
I drew the mask from the satchel across my shoulder. Navaari grinned when he saw my reaction when I saw it.
“It is tradition to write one’s history upon one’s mask. I carved your story while you slept.” He said. “Now any Dantassi will know who you are and where you have come from by the symbols.” He tapped two of them. “This one says you are part of my family, and this one is for Nikätza’arth’pavjaska.”
My fingers traced the new marks he had carved. They had been made black by some sort of soot and then sealed with a waxy substance.
“I guess every time I need my story updated I shall have to come back to see you. I can’t carve to save my life.” I said as I slipped it onto my face. I drew my hood up and took my place on the sled. It was exhilarating and this time I was wide awake. The wolf-hounds were swift and, in the moonlight, glorious. The scenery was breathtaking. All around me was pristine white snow that glittered in the moons’ light. It was beautiful. I lifted my face and gasped at the clarity and sheer numbers of the stars that shimmered in the sky. Their formations were foreign to me and I wondered if the Dantassi who lived on this planet had names for the patterns they created. After about an hour Navaari stopped the sled, the hounds sat on the snow, their misty white breath decorated the air as they panted. He motioned for me to get up and follow him a little ways from the sled and the hounds.
“Lie down and look up, Tjällh.” He said. I did as he bid and could not keep the gasp of wonder from escaping my lips.
“The sky, it’s dancing!” I whispered.
Navaari chuckled as sat in the snow beside me. “I am certain that Nikätza’arth’pavjäska has told you the scientific reasons behind this but we call them Kiana sukaj’taiva, heavenly dancers. My people know why they happen but we still see the magic. We tell our children if you whistle the lights will dance for you and sometimes they even whistle back.”
I laughed and whistled and sure enough the lights of deep turquoise green and pale yellow rippled and shimmered across the sky. Navaari pointed out some of the patterns the stars made, telling me the stories behind them. I lay in the pristine snow, bathed in the twin moons’ light watching the shimmering lights in the sky until Navaari pulled me to my feet.
“We should go, before you get moon touched.” He said. “While I am selfish and wish to spend as much time with you as possible sharing the wonders of my world, your ta’kasta’cariad will be waiting and he will be worried beyond reason now.”
“I doubt that.” I said under my breath as I took my place on the sled.
Navaari laughed. “You are far too hard on that man.” He said and he signalled for the wolf-hounds to run. I threw back my head and laughed. It had been a very long time since I had felt so free, so light, and so alive. It lasted until we reached the village and I had to face Thrawn, angrier than I had ever known him before.