Bounce. Pick up one. Catch.
He had the wrong name. “Ethan” was supposed to be strong.
Bounce. Pick up two. Catch.
Or maybe he was just the wrong person. Perhaps if his mother had given him his own name, instead of an Old Worlder name, it would have better. He could have made his own meaning.
Bounce. Pick up-Madik!
He almost said a swear word he learned from his visit with the Masari. He hadn’t, he had stuck to his mother’s own “exasperation word” of “I don’t like” but he almost had. Maybe his people were right. Maybe he was…No, he wasn’t going to say it.
“Words have power,” his mother always said. First law. Remember that. He must watch his language. He is not Masari. He is Nadaldi. He needs to be Nadaldi.
He bent down to pick up the scattered jacks, admiring the Old World plastic colors again. Just another foreign item he couldn’t throw away. The others didn’t like them. He knew. And the fact that they were his grandfather’s gift only exasperated his divided blood.
Calm down. Try again.
It was just a child’s game. Mashallum said it would help. Said it would help with his reflexes, keep him from freezing.
Bounce. Pick up.
Yellow. Like his mother. The Old Worlder. The Lady of the Yellow Ribbon. The Weaver of Worlds. She was afternoon sunlight and stories. The creator of a new era. A true persuader and storyteller. Not so great a warrior but people stilled when she spoke. They listened.
Bounce. Pick up two. Catch.
Lightning blue. Like his father. Jay of the Blue Feather. War hero. The one who fought for years alone against the Curodoc. The one who finally made Azin-ak surrender. Ethan was almost like him. A little darker, a little shorter, curlier hair, but when people saw him, they called him Jay's son. But when they met him…
He just didn’t-he just didn’t flow like his father. Jay was sure as water. But Ethan-he kept faltering. Ethan's blood was weak, Mashallum and Yuusha-sarin said. But he would become stronger. He had to.
He was 15, the age when his father became great. Something had to happen.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” his mother used to read. It was about a war, the revolution that started her country long ago in the Old World.
She and his father knew their own courage. They had proven themselves and were recorded in the Hall of Honor.
But there was no war now, just Paretha’s rough unsteady peace. Nothing to try him, nothing to prove that the cowardice he felt was just in his head.
“You should go,” his mother said. She knows, probably more than he’s told her.
“I should know this by now,” he says.
“Growing isn’t easy,” his mother said, “As you grow up, fewer things become obvious. And it’s awful. But it’s necessary. You can’t find the answers until you know the questions. But you’re not going to find them standing here.”
He’s not running away. He’s finding the words for the questions.
“You need to go to new places.”
He’s been to new places. Met new people. The summers among the Masari, short visits to the Kanika-ak and the Amalish, and the rare visits to the Old World. He thinks that’s part of the problem.
“You need to get out of our shadow. Find out who you really are.”
The night is heavy. He feels the darkness, far too big for his thin shoulders. He keeps feeling his skin prickle like someone’s watching. He doesn’t like this, this sneaking out, this running away. Paretha won’t like it. He knows that. No matter what his parents say, this is treason.
Dami will really call him Daichi now and he will have nothing left to say. After all, if he was not a disgrace, he would have proven himself years ago among his own people without having to run into a different place. But the only thing worse than leaving without permission would be getting caught. Besides, he had permission. His mother had told him to. His father had agreed.
“It’s not running away if you’re running to something,” she said.
But he wasn’t running to anything particular, no plan, no clear quest. He just wanted to be able to be someone who could stand up under their eyes, someone who would not stumble after his father. Someone who wouldn’t drown in the ibraqi of the awkward silence that always seemed to fall around him. To walk straight, see clearly, speak wisely, to be respected and well-remembered. To not be a disappointment or a jest. To not be Daichi anymore.
If they really thought it was ok, then he wouldn’t be leaving in the dark.
He’s not running away. He’s finding the words for the questions. And then he can find the answers. He repeats it to himself as he walks. He’s ready as he could possibly be. He feels like he might throw up.
"Now is not forever,” he whispered to himself. He had said it so many times, making himself wait, swallowing his words, hoping eventually…But eventually hadn’t happened yet. And he was tired. If it didn’t happen this year, he didn’t think it ever would. And if you wanted things to change, you had to change, had to step out, “but it is the beginning.”
He still doesn’t know where he’s going, what he’s doing but he’s going anyway. Sometimes, you have to, to make a step, to take a stand. Go scared, his mother sometimes said. Well, he was scared and he was going.
And there was a stirring inside him. He could feel it. Something more. It was close. He could not back down.