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Chapter 2

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The low and soothing coo, coo, coo of the night birds was a welcome contrast to the chaos of earlier. Yenni's father had at last given out and slumped forward in his chair. Yenni's mother and youngest brother had rushed off with her father, while Yenni forced herself to push back her anxiety and remain with Dayo and her sisters to attend to their guests and assure them that everything was fine. Her siblings were far better at hiding their fear than she was, but she did her best.

At long last they'd bid everyone farewell, and now she knelt beside her parents' softgrass mattress, holding her father's hand and wondering how by all those divine she would leave tomorrow.

"For the last time go to sleep, all of you," the chieftain said, glancing around at his family. Yenni hated how weak and breathy his voice sounded. "We have a big day tomorrow."

She would receive her final blessing and runes tomorrow. She would leave for Cresh. Tomorrow. Yenni closed her eyes and breathed deeply to still her fluttering heart, smelling the familiar sweetness of the tree violets, and relishing the hot breeze blowing in from the gap between the roof and the wall. Home.

Her brothers and sisters each came up to hug their father and say good night, but Yenni didn't want to leave his side, even as Dayo, the last of her siblings to go, called to her from the doorway.

"I can stay," she insisted, ignoring her brother.

"You know you cannot," said her mother sharply. She was seated on the other side of the large mattress, still wearing the beautiful blue and gold gown she'd put on for the feast, though it was now crumpled. Yenni knew her mother well enough to know the bite in her voice was not due to anger, but worry.

"Your iyaya is right—you cannot," her father agreed. "You made a pact with the Sha."

Tears pricked Yenni's eyes. Her father squeezed her hand and sighed. He pushed himself upright. "Dayo, fetch me my rune- paint, there," he said, pointing to a dark shelf in the left corner of the room. Her brother hurried to obey.

"Now, leave us. I would talk to your sister in private."

Dayo bowed, touching his fingertips to the ground. "As you wish, N'baba. Good night."

With Dayo gone, Yenni's father turned his attention back to her. "I had hoped to do this tomorrow after your final blessing from the Masters. But come, give me your hand. I will teach you a new rune."

Yenni's eyes went wide. Each tribe had certain runes they kept carefully hidden from the others. Some were passed down only among the royal family, and only as the Masters deemed royal children ready and worthy. Some were known strictly among the Masters alone. Slowly, reverently, Yenni gave her left hand to her father.

"Now, listen carefully." He sang her a rune hymn she had never heard before, the wordless tones of his voice bittersweet. As he sang his voice no longer shook, but came out strong. The hymn was not long, and he had Yenni repeat it twice after him.

"Very good. Watch and do as I do."

He dipped his brush in his paint and drew an unfamiliar rune, this one fluid and interconnecting, on her palm. His hand remained steady and sure. Yenni felt a brief warmth as the rune set, and her father kissed her hand before dropping it and handing her the brush.

"Pull on your rune as you draw the same one for me."

As Yenni pulled ach'e to the rune she found it easy to re-create it on his palm.

"Well done. Now, with your iyaya as well."

Once Yenni had completed the same set of runes with her mother on their right hands, her father sighed and leaned back against the blankets.

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