Chapter Twenty AND Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty- A Night To Remember

As I hurried with Melissa back to the caves, I ran through in my head what would happen tonight. This was the first fire dance since Respato left and everyone was a little unsure of what would happen. I locked Melissa in a cell across from her family and ran up to the fire. I sat on a log and looked into the fire as people gathered around and sat down. Wanepi came and sat down next to me, smiling broadly. 

“What is making you so happy?”

“Everything!” She swept her arm in a circle, motioning to everyone around us.  “Being back here and being able to show Philippe everything. I get to show him where I have come from and everything.”

“What has he thought so far?” I smiled. 

“I am not sure. He hasn’t said much, but he seemed to like it. I think it is somewhat hard for him to comprehend me coming from such a rough background.”

“Well, I don’t see how he can’t like it. It is your home and he loves you, so he must love it.” We both looked over at where he was talking with Joeté. Wanepi sighed. 

“I hope you’re right. Because if he doesn’t like it, he could do bad things to Antioch.”

I looked at her, confused. “What do you mean, bad things?”

She sighed. “There may have been more to this visit than just our honeymoon. He doesn’t think I know, but I overheard him talking with one of his advisors the day before you came. He wants to make sure that everything here is operating according to his wishes.”

“You make him sound like he would change everything in Antioch.” I laughed a little.

“That’s just it. I am not sure what he is willing to do. We are married, and we are not supposed to keep secrets from each other, but he has not said anything about it.”

“Then say something to him. And if he doesn’t like the way that Antioch is being run, then remind him that it raised you. And you didn’t turn out too badly.” I laughed. “But really- he knows that we are the people that have protected France so far. We have sacrificed so much for France. And he also knows that our loyalties go deep. But only as deep as the people that support us. If he tries to disperse us, or stop us, I can’t guarantee that the people will stay behind him. And as much as he is my family… so are these people. And I have to do what is best for Antioch. No matter what.” She nodded.

“I know. And if it comes to it, I will never stop pushing for Antioch. Antioch has always had France’s best interest in mind. And I will always have Antioch’s in mind. No matter what.” She looked over the people sitting and talking on logs. “These people raised me. They brought me up when I had no one. When I didn’t know who I was, they accepted me as their own. I can’t turn my back on that, not even for my husband.” I smiled. 

“Thank you.” I stood up. “Listen up everyone.” Everyone’s heads turned to look at me. “I know that we are all a little unsure of what to do. We have always had a chief to lead us. And I know this brings back some memories of what we once had. The last Fire Dance was special to all of us. We all have our different reasons for remembering that night. But tonight is different. Tonight we will teach our children what the Fire Dance is. Tonight we will show our children what Rise of the Phoenix means.” There were cheers all around. 

The Rise of the Phoenix was a dance that every child was taught when they were young. All the young women stood and walked around the fire. I looked into it as the drums started to beat. “Girls, follow your sisters. Boys, your brothers.” 

The little girls ran up to the fire giggling and walked in a circle with us. The boys followed the young men as they filled the gaps in between us. We all grasped hands and the girls leaned in while the boys leaned out. We pulled together until the girls were leaning out and the boys in. I closed my eyes and let out a breath before letting go of the hands of the boys that were next to me. Everyone found a partner, and once again I was paired with Joeté. I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about that.

We climbed onto the boy’s shoulders and leaned back onto each other in a linking circle. The boys knelt down and we climbed off their shoulders. We proceeded to finish the dance and teach it to anyone who didn’t know it. It took a while, as we had to repeat several parts. Finally, it was completed and everyone could do it well. 

Breathless, we sat down on our logs. 

Matthias stood up. “In teaching the Rise of the Phoenix, we pass on our legacy to our children. We show them what it means to be Antioch. I am ashamed to say that I have done a poor job of showing my daughter her ancestry. A poor job of showing that I am proud of who I am. That being Antioch and protecting France is one of the most important things you can do. 

“I know that in the past few months we have felt discouraged and like we have failed. Losing our chief to treason has made us realize that maybe things aren’t as black and white as we thought. We thought that if we were Antioch, we were good and if someone was English, they were bad. But we have an Englishwoman among us who is not our enemy. Our chief turned out to have worked with the English. Many of us felt like we failed. Like if we had reached out to him more- even if he was like family to some of us- this wouldn’t have happened. But he is responsible for his own decisions. He made that choice- no one could have made it for him. It is up to us to decide what we will do next. How will we move forward? Will we fall apart again?”

A chorus of “no’s” came from around the fire. 

“Will we cower because we have been weakened?”

“No!”

“Will we stand up to our enemies and protect the people we love?”

“Yes!” 

“Will we willingly run into the line of fire to protect Antioch and France?”

“Yes!”

“We will not back down a second time. We have taken our stand, and we will not give in or give up. God has taught us many lessons in the past year and a half. Lessons that we will learn from, not try to ignore. We will push the enemy back, not cower in fear. Who will stand when the battle to end this war comes?”

He looked out over the faces illuminated by the fire. Joeté stood up and I followed suit. As everyone around the fire stood, Matthias nodded. Everyone sat back down and I stood up. Matthias returned to his seat by Hypoleta. 

“Life has been hard the past year and a half. I have seen first- hand what the pain of losing people has done to everyone. I have seen how bitter it has made us. How guarded and unloving it has made us. We haven’t been able to open up to people and welcome people without interrogating them first. We have lost our trust in people. And I know that we have reason to be guarded. I know we have reason to make sure that we know everyone’s background. But we can’t let our fear guide us. We have to break away from this. We can not let our losses define us. Yes, we have lost. But our loved ones that died in the fight would not want us to be weak and afraid. They would want us to stand up. To say that we will not be silenced, and we will not be pushed around. We are Antiochs first and foremost.” I glanced at Wanepi. “Even before we are French, we are Antioch. And we can never forget that- no matter what comes our way, or who stands against us.” Everyone nodded and smiled. 

As I sat down, Jarika stood up and moved to the middle of the circle and stood next to the fire. She looked into the flames before speaking. 

“I know what it has been to think I have lost everything. I thought that I lost my children and my husband. When Jeekis brought me here to use me as a bargaining tool, I didn’t think that it would matter to me. I was okay with dying, because I had nothing left to live for. But when they pulled that hood off my head and I saw my son standing in front of me- standing up for what was right- I knew that I needed to keep fighting. I needed to stay strong. Seeing who my children have become has made me so proud to be their mother. But it has also made me realize something. I missed a year of their lives. I missed one of the most important times in my daughter’s life. And it made me think about something. We have taken for granted the time we have with our children.” She looked around. “All of us. Because we started training them at such a young age, that was what we did to spend time with our children. We pushed them harder than our parents pushed us because we thought that was the right thing to do. We had been training our whole lives, so why shouldn’t our children? We didn’t think about what they wanted. We thought that teaching them to be tough and strong was a true accomplishment. But I have learned that that isn’t right. I have learned that our children need to be nurtured. I missed parts of my children’s lives because I thought that making them strong was the only thing I could give them. I didn’t try to offer them the proper care that they needed to make it in life. My children had to navigate this world on their own for the past year because I didn’t provide the proper instruction for them. I didn’t tell them what to do in case of an emergency. I thought that nothing bad would ever happen, so I did not need to prepare them. And I never realized how much,” her voice broke a little, “how much I neglected to teach my children the things they needed to know. I taught them to fight; I taught them to stand strong and never give in or give up. But I didn’t teach them how cruel the world outside of our valley could be. Here, pain comes from an injury- from a physical injury that we can see and help with medicine. But out there, more often than not, the pain is mental and emotional. It is not something that can be healed easily. It takes courage to withstand the judgement inflicted on us. We are different because we are stronger than most people think is right. We are different because when faced with an enemy and a challenger, we do not run- we stand and fight. And the world will always look down on us- even people who are French- because of that. France will look at us and say we are different, and therefore, we should be treated as less, even if we have saved them more times than they can count. I took for granted the things that I did teach my children, and ignored the things I didn’t. Please don’t follow me.” She sat down quietly, ending her speech abruptly. The tears falling down her cheeks shown in the firelight. 

As I searched the faces of everyone, I saw tears rolling down the cheeks of many of the older men and women. Even the most tough and strong men had tears falling unheeded down their cheeks for the sons and daughters they had lost. Matthias’s words and my words had meant a lot to these people, but Jarika’s speech had touched people’s hearts. 

I looked into the fire. My parents had prepared me and my brothers in ways that most hadn’t. They had taught us that the world could be a nasty place; they had taught us how to live and support ourselves without them. I had never understood why they had done that, but I did now. They had wanted to make sure that when the day came that they could no longer look after us, we were ready. I had always thought that my parents had not cared as much about us as other parents cared about their children. I had felt as if we were just warriors they had to train and take care of, rather than their own children. Looking back now, I understand that they had cared about us more than we could ever fathom. They had made sure that no matter what happened, we landed on our feet. 

I sat thinking until long after everyone had gone inside and the fire had died down considerably. I heard soft footsteps behind me and turned my head to look. 

“Hey. You alright?” Renaglo spoke softly. He was always the most gentle of my brothers. 

“I will be.” He laughed a little and sat down next to me. 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I was just thinking. I used to think that Meisha and Pasha were… uncaring, and that they didn’t care about what we thought. To be honest, I thought they didn’t care about or love each other.”

“I guess it did appear that way sometimes. I never really thought about it that way.”

“You spent a year in prison, and never thought about it?” I laughed a little. 

“Maybe once or twice- but I guess my relationship with Pasha was a lot different from yours. I never really doubted that he loved us. He always seemed to be proud of us… I guess he showed that more to me and the boys and not as much to you.” 

“But that’s my point- it always seemed as if they didn’t care as much about us. But really, they did. They prepared us for things that no one could have foreseen. Jarika said that her generation didn’t prepare us, but our parents did.They made sure that we were alright without them. In a way, they left something behind to make sure that we were never out in the cold, alone. Looking back, I see now that they did care about us, they just didn’t show it as much as others, and in different ways. I think that for the first time, I am really coming to terms with them being gone.”

“You know, I have always wondered which of us brothers you would be the most like. And I think I finally figured it out.” I looked at him and smiled. 

“Who?”

“None of us. You aren’t like one of us anymore than the other. You are thoughtful and considerate like me, you are tough and temperamental like Matt, and you are independent and witty like Titro. But you are also your own person. You would think that after three of us, you wouldn’t get a new personality on the fourth. But you have proven that wrong in every way. You are proud of your roots in a way that none of us boys are, and you love like no one else. After the attack, you had to grow up too fast. The boys and I were already at that point of adulthood, but you were still only a little girl.”

I nudged him. “Little? I was sixteen.”

“You were still the baby of the family.”

“There was one of those in our family?” I smirked.

“Regardless of how old you were, you still were the youngest by six years.”

I nodded a little. “The youngest and the strongest.” I winked. 

“Anyway,” he raised his eyebrows, “you hadn’t had to grow up yet. All of us were married at that point- even if we didn’t know about Matthias- and had a kid. We didn’t ever think that you would have to grow up for a long while. I am sorry that I wasn’t there. I,” he closed his mouth as if thinking things through, “I am sorry that we didn’t come to find you. We should have looked for you after it happened.”

“You couldn’t have- you were in prison.”

He nodded slowly. “But Matthias could have. I think that when Titro first left, that was what he was trying to do. I think his first priority was finding you. But over time, I think everyone just thought you were dead. We still sometimes find bodies in the woods surrounding where people tried to run while they were injured and didn’t make it. But we could have looked for you. You weren’t far- it wouldn’t have been hard. We could have kept you from thinking you were alone in the world.”

“I managed.” I smiled a little. “It wasn’t easy, but I managed. I had a couple reasons to keep on living and pushing.”

“You kept going for him, didn’t you?”

I laughed a little and nodded. “I couldn’t lose hope. And I knew that if I stopped trying to live, he would come back with no one to love.” I looked down at my hands. “But I guess that happened anyway.” 

“He still loves you, and you know it.” Renaglo pushed me a little with his shoulder. “He has practically told you on more than one occasion.” I looked over at him, my eyes wide. 

“Were you listening in on my conversations for- say the past month?”

“Before you get mad at me, it was unintentional the first three or four times.” 

“The first three or four?” I burst out laughing. “How many times have you done it?”

“I don’t know, I don’t necessarily keep count of how many times my sister argues with her ex- fiance.” He held his hands up in defense. 

“When was the first time Renaglo?” I raised my eyebrows.

“When you were waiting for everyone to be ready to leave for the Capital. I was ready before everyone else and was just waiting to come out. I waited a bit too long.”

“Ren- what did you hear?” 

“Maybe… everything?”

I felt my eyebrows shoot up and my eyes widen until I couldn’t open them anymore. “Everything?” He nodded and cringed a little, as if waiting for me to hit him. “When else did you hear?” 

“On the balcony, and then in the grand hall.”

“How many of you were listening? And you didn’t feel the need to, I don’t know, come out? Let me know you were listening? And in the grand hall? You had to be intentionally listening then, because there was way too much noise in there for you to have just happened to hear it.”

“For the record, I wasn’t trying to listen, but it wasn’t hard. And I didn’t realize until after I had listened to you what you were saying. It was hard not to listen to my own language in a room full of people babbling on about everything.”

“Ren… why?” I groaned. “Why couldn’t you let me have my privacy?”

“You are my sister Antepi. Like it or not, I am going to look out for you. And I wanted to make sure that my little sister wasn’t going to get hurt again.” I stood up and faced him, the heat still emanating from the fire warming my neck. 

“I am not a little girl anymore, and I can take care of myself.” I turned and faced the fire, trying to keep the anger from exploding. My fists were clenched at my sides and I could feel my nails digging into my skin.  “Everytime. Everytime I think I have earned your trust and respect, something like this happens. You just can’t trust me, can you?”

“We are trying to take care of you.” He said quietly.

“No. No, you are trying to keep things from happening to me. But in the process, you are taking away everything. My freedom, my privacy. I can’t have one conversation without one of you listening to me.”

“That isn’t true, and you know it.”

“I am eighteen, Renaglo. I can take care of myself!” I turned around, feeling the anger rising higher and higher. Renaglo sat with his head down. I opened my mouth to continue when steps sounded behind me. 

“Antepi.” I turned quickly to find Matthias walking up behind me, Titro following slowly behind. “We are only trying to take care of you.”

“This? This is not taking care of me. This is controlling me. You know that I am right.”

“Antepi, you know that isn’t true. You are our sister- we love you, and we want to protect you.” Matthias stepped forward and put his hand on my arm. I felt it like an iron band around my wrist. I looked down at it, then up at him. 

His eyes were clouded with concern, but also something else. Whether it was fear or anger, or something different, it wasn’t good. When I turned to look at Renaglo, Wanepi was now standing next to him. They all had the same look of apprehension, concern, and danger. 

“Maybe we should save this for another time.” Titro said suddenly. 

“We need to have this conversation now.” Matthias answered. 

I could feel the panic swelling inside me and tried to take a deep breath, but couldn’t. I turned back to Titro and his eyes widened a little. He knew something was wrong. I felt my breathing become labored and I felt my hand trying to claw his off rather than make myself do it. 

“Let go of me.” I felt my eyes widening in fear. I blinked several times trying to clear my head. “Let go of me.” I whispered. I fell to my knees.

“Let go of her.” Titro growled and stepped toward Matthias menacingly. Only then did Matthias let go of my arm. 

Titro dropped to his knees beside me and grabbed my hands gently.

“Antepi? Antepi, what’s wrong? You have to tell us what is wrong.” His voice sounded distant. 

Through the haze of my vision I heard a voice calling my name. A sharp pinch on my arm pulled me out of the fog. I felt myself lowered onto the ground and saw Catania, Joeté, and all my siblings bending over me. 

“Antepi, you have to stay with me, okay? Everything is alright- you are safe. No one can hurt you.” I tried to sit up, but Wanepi gently pushed me back down. 

“You need to stay laying down okay?” Catania spoke soothingly. 

“No, no I can’t.” 

I heard rather than felt my breathing start to get labored again. I knew where I was, but part of me was convinced that I wasn’t safe. I wasn’t home. Catania grabbed my hand and pulled me against her chest. I felt her stroking my hair as I clutched at her shirt. I felt someone’s hand grab mine and squeeze it. When I looked down, it looked like Joeté’s hand, but I couldn’t tell.

“It is okay. You are safe. You are home with your family.” Someone said. 

 I nodded slowly as my breathing evened out and I drifted off to sleep. 

——————————————————————-

I opened my eyes to find my whole family and Joeté and Catania looking at me. I jumped a little at all the people looking at me. Hypoleta smiled and grabbed a cup of water from the table beside my bed. 

“This seems a little familiar.” I smiled wryly and took the cup from her. 

“A little too familiar.” Titro motioned Pasha and the younger girls out of the room. Everyone sat down in a chair around my bed. A wave of dread washed over me for the second time that week. I had known that I would have to tell my family about my panic attacks at some point, I had just hoped it would be after they stopped happening. 

“You want to tell us what happened last night?” 

I looked at my hands. “Not particularly.”

“Too bad- you are telling us anyway.” Matthias leaned forward in his chair. Titro glared at him and his features softened to be a little kinder.

I sighed. “It started after the first attack. It happened frequently when I was tired, or had just woken up from dreaming about it. My mind and body would panic, and I would have trouble breathing, seeing, and thinking. They usually only lasted a few minutes. As time passed, they became less and less frequent. And when we came back, I thought they had stopped entirely.

“But then when Joeté and I were going to the Capital to tell Philippe what happened, I had one of these… panic attacks. And I knew that they weren’t  over. Then again, at the wedding, I had a small one during the ceremony. Only Joeté and Matthias noticed as far as I know. Yesterday was the worst one I have ever had. I don’t know why it happened. I could just tell when I looked in everyone’s eyes that something wasn’t… well something wasn’t entirely right. You all had a look of apprehension, concern, and frankly, danger. I was afraid.” I sighed and fell back against the pillow. “I was afraid of you for the first time in my life, because even when I had nothing, I could cling to the hope of your love. Your protection. And what I saw in your eyes was far from protection. Catania and Joeté are the only ones who know what to do about it because I told Joeté, and Catania has learned from experience.”

“But why didn’t you tell us before? After everything that happened with you getting upset with us for not telling you the truth, why didn’t you?” Renaglo asked.

“Because I didn’t think it was a big deal. I thought that now that I was home, they would stop happening. I hadn’t had one in over a month, so I hoped they had gone away completely. And then it happened at the wedding, but it was so small, I thought it was just part of it fading away.” I shrugged.

“Antepi, we shouldn’t have made you feel that way. After I talked about how thoughtful and considerate I am, I nearly pushed you over the edge.” Renaglo leaned forward. “We should never be afraid of each other.” He sighed. “The truth is, we had all noticed you were a little on edge, and we decided to try and talk to you. But we weren’t sure if you would react happily, or try to throw something at our heads.” He smiled wryly. 

 Titro continued for him. “I guess we were all a little afraid of you too. You have always been the strongest warrior in the family, and we knew that it would take all of us to keep you there if you didn’t want to be there. But we shouldn’t have done that.”

“But what I still don’t understand is why? Why didn’t you tell us? We could have helped you. Everything that happened last night wouldn’t have happened if you had told us.” Wanepi looked around the room, looking for everyone to agree. Even Philippe was nodding from where he stood at the back of the room.

Everyone else nodded at her, then turned to look at me. 

“I didn’t think it was important. I thought that if I told you, you would think I was weak. And I couldn’t bear that. If you haven’t noticed, I don’t really like showing weakness.” Catania smiled a little and looked down at her hands. “And when I knew that they weren’t going to go away, I just thought that I would be able to handle them. I was learning how to keep them from happening, and I guess I thought that was enough.”

Renaglo stood up and walked over beside me; he put his hand on my shoulder. “We don’t want you to ever feel like we think you are weak because of something you can’t control. You are our sister, and we love you. We will never try to hurt you.” I nodded. 

But even though they said that, I would make sure that I never ever showed them how afraid I was. I would push it down like before. Even now, they didn’t realize the full extent of what had happened last night. And I would make sure they never did. I glanced up at Cat and found her looking at me. I let out a little sigh- she knew what I was thinking. I bit my lip and looked at the cross hanging on the wall. 

I can’t take this anymore God. I need someone to listen to me for once. To be able to accept me for all of who I am, not just the strong part. Maybe I was over exaggerating a little bit, but that was the way I felt. It was happening too often lately that I felt as if my family wanted me to be strong- and I couldn’t be weak sometimes. I felt like I couldn’t trust them to know that I wasn’t always able to stay strong. But too many people needed me to be strong. I pulled my gaze from the cross and looked around the room. 

“Well? I don’t see anything else to talk about.” I raised my eyebrows. 

Matthias sighed, got out of his chair, and walked out the door. Everyone looked after him, surprised at his abrupt exit. Hypoleta hurried after him and Titro and Gracia followed her. Renaglo motioned to Wanepi and Philippe and the three of them left the room. I waited for Joeté and Cat to get up, but both stayed sitting. 

“You want to tell us what really happened, and why you were arguing with your siblings?” Joeté raised his eyebrows and sat back. “We all three know that this doesn’t happen to you for no reason. And that you didn’t tell them everything.”

“I just told you all. I felt afraid of them. I knew they would do what they had to do to make sure that I listened to what they said- even if that meant hurting me.” I paused. “Except for Titro. He stopped them before it went too far- I have to give him credit for that.”

“Tepi. What did they do? Why did it start?” Catania’s eyes showed genuine concern for the first time since before the battle. 

“Why would you care? It’s not like you’ve cared about anything I have done in the past month or two.” I knew it was wrong, but it felt good to get it out. 

Catania sighed. “You know that isn’t true.”

“Isn’t it? You could care less what happened to me- you can’t deny it.” My eyes filled with tears.

“So I have been distant the past few weeks. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about you.” She said quietly.

I took a deep breath. “Renaglo came out to me after everyone had gone inside. We talked for a little bit about what had happened- how we felt like our parents had prepared us better than most. Then we started talking about what happened after the attack. How I had been basically left on my own to take care of you. And then he mentioned that he had been well… listening in on basically all the conversations Joeté and I have had in the past few weeks.” Joeté’s eyes went wide and he looked like he didn’t believe it. 

“All of them?” 

I nodded. “Most of them at least.” 

“Fantastic.” He said under his breath.

I nodded. “I felt like it was a breach of my privacy and got upset. I must have seemed more upset than I was, because they all seemed to think I would hurt them. Then Matthias grabbed my wrist, and when I looked in all of their eyes, I saw something I didn’t like. I guess the panic just took over me. I tried to calm myself, but he didn’t let go of my wrist until Titro threatened him. I think that just pushed me over the edge. It felt like…” I closed my eyes, trying to dispel the tears that were starting to gather in my eyes, “like a hot brand, burning my skin.” I opened my eyes and found both looking at me intently. I laughed a little nervously. “You know how unnerving that is, having you two with your blue eyes staring at me? It really does stuff to you. And neither of you will ever experience that, because there will never be one of you looking at both of you.” They both laughed and looked at each other. “Like, Cat’s eyes are darker, and Joeté’s have that little bit of green in the middle, but it’s still very… I don’t even know how to describe it.” 

“Well if we are talking about unnerving eyes, try looking at you and all four of your siblings at the same time. It is literally hypnotizing and terrifying at the same time. You all have the green eyes in different shades, and it is completely mesmerizing.” Catania and I started laughing as Joeté looked between the two of us. 

“Is this what you two did when you were in that village? Did you just analyze people’s eyes? Just at dinner talking about random people’s eyes that you saw that day?” He raised his hands in confusion. “Is this just what women do everyday? Do they say ‘This person’s eyes are absolutely beautiful and this person’s are stunning and,’ like is that just what you do?”

I fought to control my laughter. “No.” I tried taking deep breaths, but as soon as I looked at Catania, the laughter bubbled from my throat again. “No, this is completely not natural in any way.” He shook his head and looked up at me again. I smiled at him and for a moment my eyes widened. I had just smiled at him, and for the first time in a long time, I really, truly meant it. 

Chapter Twenty One- Catania’s Story

The next morning I got up early and hurried to the church. Everyone was starting to take their seats in their pews. Senepha climbed on my lap and smiled up at me. I laughed and tickled her a little before focusing my attention on Spake.

“As you all know, we have been unable to continue hearing the testimonies and stories of our people, due to the battle. But today we will continue with that. Catania, please come up here.” Catania got up and made her way to the front. She smiled at Spake and then turned to fully face the congregation. 

“Thank you Spake.” He nodded in acknowledgement.  “As you know, my name is Catania. I am Joeté’s younger sister.” She took a deep breath. “Before the attack, I never thought that anything could take this world away from me. I thought that things would be happy and peaceful for the rest of my life. But something could, and it wasn’t. When they attacked, I fought as hard as I could until Antepi found me. Together we fled. When we were in the village, I would frequently go out and see what was going on in the town. I would see people sitting on the streets begging for food. And more often than not, I would bring them back and make them some food. And then they would come back the next day and then the next. Eventually they would meet Antepi, and that scared most of them off. Although one man came back again, and again, and again. Liam was an interesting character- he was down to earth, but still had a little bit of that street wise personality. He almost never missed a meal.” She laughed a little. “He looked out for us, and made sure that we always had everything we needed, even though he had nothing. Then one day, he disappeared. I don’t know exactly where he went, but I know it was better than what he was doing. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew that many of the people in the village wanted to leave and find someplace better. But they didn’t have the means. So with Antepi’s help, we started teaching them how to work with metals, twisting and forging. Soon many more blacksmiths had popped up all over the village. But the only problem was, there became too many. So then they moved away. They finally got to leave. I felt so accomplished after that- but I knew the only way I would really feel accomplished was if I could thank Liam. When Antepi told me that we were going back, a part of me hoped that maybe I would find him somewhere on the road. I didn’t- but I learned something. Sometimes, we don’t always get to thank our inspirations for the things they have given us. But we can show our appreciation by using what they taught us to help others.” 

She sighed and took a deep breath.

“When we got back here, I thought that things would be perfect again. But when things weren’t- I got upset. I thought that life would go back to normal, and things would be fun and I would be able to live my life the way I wanted to.” She smiled wryly. “It didn’t quite turn out that way. 

“When Joeté came home with Hannah, I thought my world was crumbling. He had betrayed me, my best friend- basically everyone I cared about. But then I realized, life wasn’t going to hand me what I wanted. That isn’t how faith in God works. I realized that maybe what I thought was ideal wasn’t what God wanted. But I didn’t want to believe it. I kept pushing through on my own, hurting people I cared about- the same people that I was angry with Joeté for hurting. I never thought that giving up what I wanted the most was the way to finally get it.” She smiled. “Having my Meisha back has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. When you have lost so much, having even one person makes it feel so much better.” She nodded her head and made her way back to her seat. 

Spake stood and walked up to the pulpit. “Thank you Catania. It was nice to hear your story.” There was a russling at the back of the room and Spake looked up. His countenance fell slightly before he hid it. Everyone turned to see what was happening. My eyes widened as I watched Eleanor Jeekis make her way to the front, a determined look on her face. Once at the front of the room, she nodded for Spake to move over so that she could stand behind the pulpit. When he didn’t move, she fixed him with a glare, hoping to scare him. He raised his eyebrows. She cleared her throat and faced the congregation.

“Since you all do not know how to have a proper church service,” she raised her eyebrows, “let me enlighten you. We can forget that whole story about peasants and beggars.” So this was where Hannah got it from. I glanced over at Wanepi and Philippe. Wanepi’s face was grim and she kept glancing at Philippe, trying to gauge his reaction. His eyebrows were raised and he looked slightly amused. Before Spake could stop her, she continued. “We should worship God for the great and wonderful things He has done for us.” Before I could stand up and interrupt her, a voice came from the back. 

“Are we not worshipping Him by telling of how He has protected us? Are we not praising Him by showing what he has done for us?” As everyone turned Hannah strode towards the front and continued speaking. Her mother’s jaw dropped slightly as her daughter contradicted her. “Catania’s story was one of happiness, of joy that God has brought her this far.”

“Hannah, you obviously have been too influenced by these people. Sit down, and we will talk about this later.” Her mother interrupted her. 

Hannah shook her head. “No, Mother. Not this time.” She turned to face the people. “I made the same mistake of trying to prove that these church services aren’t right. That they are uncivilized, and need to be changed. But one of the people here taught me something. They are trying to teach their children, and the people who haven’t already learned it, that God will always provide and care for us. That God will never leave us, nor forsake us.” She turned back to her mother. “If anything, we are the ones that need to change. Yes, there is always room for improvement, but at the same time, we should always do our best to try and give our testimony. That is something that is so important. To see and hear the works of God firsthand is amazing.” She shook her head decidedly. “So don’t try to change or condemn these people when they have done nothing wrong. We can’t try to teach the people who are the teachers in the first place.” She smiled, grabbed her mother’s arm, and pulled her back down the aisle to their seats. Everyone looked at each other in amazement. Was this the same Hannah who had just weeks ago told us how to do things in our church? 

Spake cleared his throat. “Thank you, Hannah for those words. They are definitely an encouragement to a church that has never had many habanos before.”

Instead of looking insulted at him calling her and her family outsiders yet again, Hannah smiled. “Yook welma. Meese pleasure.” 

I smiled back. She was learning. Hypoleta had been teaching her how to speak Antioch since she arrived, but she had never really caught on. Apparently she was getting better if she was able to think of a response so quickly. She had responded with the perfect lilt and accent to her voice. That was something that usually took months to learn when an outsider came to Antioch. Even Hypoleta didn’t have it down entirely. I smiled wider at her and she smiled back broadly. I could tell she was proud of how quickly she had been able to calm the situation. Her mother’s face was distorted with indignation. Spake glanced at her face and quickly ended the service with prayer. 

As we walked out, I turned to Catania. 

“Do you think Liam is okay? I haven’t really thought about him much in the past few months.To be truthful, I have kind of shut that part of our life out of my memories.”

“I think that he is probably somewhere enjoying the cool breeze on a beach.” She laughed. 

“I’m serious.” I smiled, failing at showing how serious I truly was. “Do you think he is alright? We hadn’t heard or seen him in months before we left.”

“I think that he is fine. Liam could always fend for himself. We just gave him that added little push in the right direction. He had been living on the streets since ‘before he was born’, remember?” 

As she quoted his words that he had told us many times when we worried about him living out in the cold, her smile faded slightly. For months after Liam’s disappearance, she had looked out the door and down the street at every meal time. She would glance down alleyways as she passed to see if maybe he was hiding in one of them. But she never found him. 

“I miss him. I miss his quick wit, and his jokes, and his happy smile.” I smiled sadly. 

“Should I be jealous?” A voice spoke behind us, almost right in my ear. I jumped and spun around. Joeté laughed and Catania glared at him. 

“You would make a great spy Joeté- you are amazing at sneaking up on people. Although I didn’t take you for a person who would listen in on others conversations.” She raised her eyebrows skeptically. 

“Well maybe I was intrigued as to what my sister and her best friend could be saying after such a display as that.” He nodded toward the church pointedly.I rolled my eyes.

“Not any of your business, I am sure.”

“So I should be jealous?”

“Of course not. Liam was just a very good friend. He looked after us when we had no one.”

“Then I should be grateful that he looked after my two favorite girls.” He smiled, trying to be charming. 

“If anything, you should be interested in him and Catania.” I grinned and sauntered away, leaving her to deal with the repercussions. 

“Antepi Sokonia!” I heard Catania yell after me, but she was laughing. I glanced back and saw the two of them laughing and talking. My plan had been a success. They had finally started truly being brother and sister again for the first time since the attack. 

Later, as I lifted a bucket of water from one of the wells, Joeté ran up to the other side and helped pull the bucket up. He smiled at me across the well, and I smiled back, confused. As I carried the bucket back to my hut, he ran alongside me. 

“What do you want Joeté?”

He looked around. “Why would I want something? What are you talking about?”

“You are being too nice. And you are nervous- I can tell. You have sweat running down the back of your neck, and you are fidgeting with your hands- which you hate. It’s almost winter, so there is no way you should be sweating, and you have told me on more than one occasion that fidgeting with your hands is one of the most annoying things ever.” I turned to face him, sloshing some of the water over my feet. “So what is it that you want?”

He held up his hands. “Okay, you caught me. Who was this Liam guy?”

“Cat wouldn’t tell you anything, would she?”

“Not a single thing. When you walked away, I tried to get her to talk, but all she did was make jokes and ask me questions, rather than answering. All I know about him is that something happened between Catania and him, and that he was a homeless person. But he suddenly disappeared after a few months, and she was upset about it?”

“There isn’t much else to it. Liam was always kind. Something about him was strange, but he was always respectful, and looked out for us.”

“What do you mean strange? And how far did his ‘relationship’ with my sister go?” 

“He was just always there. When people would make rude comments to Cat and I about being two single young ladies living alone, he was somehow always there to intercede and stick up for us. It was like he had some special instinct that knew when we were in trouble.”

“Or he was following you.” Joeté pointed out. 

“If he was, it wasn’t in a creepy, bad way. It would have been in a protective way. Why do you care anyway?”

“Because I like to know the type of people you two have been associating with.”

“Liam was a good man. Cat’s relationship with him never went far. They admitted once that they liked each other, in my presence, and that was as far as it went. They both agreed that they didn’t know each other well enough to have a serious relationship. They said they would get to know each other more, and then maybe they would try to be more than really good friends. Then one night he came by, and he seemed really sad. He acted really different and weird. The next day, he didn’t show up for any meals, and all the people that came to dinner that night said that they hadn’t seen him all day.”

“So no one knows where he went?”

“No one. I thought about looking for him, but decided against it. I didn’t know him very well, and I could just be wasting my time on someone who didn’t want to be found.”

“But if she really liked him, how could she fall for Respato so easily?”

“I do not know the answer to that. I guess she saw someone who cared about her, and could help her forget about him.”

“So did she ever really care for Respato?”

I looked askance at him. “Is that a legitimate question?”

He rolled his eyes at me. “I mean, what if it was all for show? Getting upset with us and everything, just so we would believe that she really cared about him?”

“Joeté, she wouldn’t do that. If she didn’t really care about him, she wouldn’t have been that close with him. And the minute she found out he wasn’t as clean as we thought, she would have put as much distance between them as possible.”

“I guess you are right.”

“Well I don’t just guess, I know.” I smirked and ran up the steps to my hut. 

“Did you just… smirk at me?” He hurried up the steps after me. 

I looked back and grinned before turning and nodding my head slightly in admission. “Maybe.” I stepped into my hut and set the bucket on the table next to the water basin. I started lighting the fire in the giant stone bowl against the wall. 

We had to find some strange ways to make fires when we couldn’t have fireplaces. Because of how high our huts are, we can’t have regular fireplaces, so we make our fires in huge stone bowls that hold the heat so that it is easier to start the fire next time.

Joeté sat in one of the chairs. “Someone’s more confident now that Hannah has complimented her in front of everyone.” 

“First, I am not more confident, I am just in a good mood. Second, even if I was, it would not be because Hannah complimented me. It would be because for the first time in over a year, my best friends were truly acting like brother and sister again. Which,” I looked back at him, “is what I have been trying to do this whole time. Success makes me happy.”

“And I’ve been trying to win back the trust of my ex-fiance, but the results of that endeavor are yet to be seen.”

I sighed and laughed a little. “Not right now Joeté- please. I just can’t do this right now.”

“You say that every time I bring it up.”

“And I mean it every time.” 

“I am trying to be patient, but neither of us are getting younger.” 

A laugh escaped. “Joeté I am eighteen and you are twenty. We still have years before anything drastic needs to happen.”

“It doesn’t need to happen soon, but I want it to.” He put his hand on my wrist, startling me. I hadn’t realized how close he had gotten. “I care about you Antepi. More than words can express. And I want things to go back to the way they were. Why don’t you trust me?”

“I do trust you, but I am not ready for something like that.” I looked up at him. The pained look in his eyes, and the knowledge that I was the cause, hurt so badly. 

“Do you care for someone else? Is that why you keep pushing me away?” Understanding- or what he thought was understanding- dawned in his eyes. 

I was horrified. “No! No, of course not. It isn’t that. I just need time.” I looked down at my wrist, where his hand still held it. “Please give it to me.”

I heard him try to cover up his sigh. “How much time?”

“Just enough to know exactly what I want.”

His hand left my wrist and came under my chin. He lifted my chin, forcing me to look him in the eyes. “Whenever you are ready, I am here. I promise.” He kissed my forehead, and before I could react, was gone. 

I set my hand on the bowl to steady myself and immediately pulled away quickly. I blew on my hand as it burned and laughed at my own foolishness. No man had ever made me feel so jittery. I plunged my hand into the bucket of water on the table as the burning ceased. 

I shook my head and sat in the chair. What was going on with me? I put my head in my hands and sighed. I wanted to wait a while before giving Joeté a confirmation, but when he did things like that, it made it really hard to keep a strong will.