“I did the right thing.”
The night was calm and clear, without a cloud in the sky. It was the new moon, which left the land bathed in nothing but soft starlight. The darkness was not threatening here, though, where the air was warm, and a gentle breeze rustled through the palms. The sound of waves rolling onto shore was a steady constant in the background; lulling, once you got used to it.
The stars weren’t the only light. It was hard to see from a distance, but the orange-yellow glow of a small, flickering fire was unmistakable. It was nestled in the mouth of a simple shelter made out of large palm fronds, and a blanket on the ground to provide some protection from the sand. It was makeshift, but it had only been meant to serve for a night. Camping on a beach wasn’t something either of the occupants were unfamiliar with.
Despite the fatigue, Seibel couldn’t sleep. They’d had a long journey that day, culminating in setting up the shelter, and making sure they were alone and safe. He looked down at the sleeping form beside him, lulled by the soft crashing of the waves. It was warm enough they didn’t need blankets, though he’d rolled one up to serve her as a pillow. He reached out a hand, gently running it over the young girl’s forehead, brushing away dusty blonde hair. She hadn’t hesitated to follow him away. He kept telling himself he hadn’t planned to take her along, but part of him knew that was a lie. He felt ill at ease, unable to settle. It wasn’t a feeling he was used to, or much liked.
Seibel sighed softly and moved quietly out of their shelter, careful not to wake his charge. He’d removed the top layer of the robes he tended to wear, along with his shoes, a welcome relief from the warmth and the sweat that had built up during the day. The sand was cool and calming below his feet as he walked the short distance to water’s edge. He looked up.
The blue-black of the sky was sprinkled over with light, offering just enough illumination for one to see by. He knew the constellations here, but wasn’t really focused on them, his mind moving to something far beyond the stars.
“My lord Kalindas,” he began, not bothering to whisper. He was far enough away from his charge to wake her with his words and, even if he did, she’d long become used to seeing him pray to his god. “I thank you, with every fiber of my being, for granting me enough power to free myself from from bondage. Being trapped there, without magic, and nearly cut off from you… I could hardly stand it.” His god would have known that. He’d never stopped praying.
He’d never expected divine rescue; that wasn’t what gods were for. He prayed because it soothed his soul, and because he was sure his god could hear him. People had to solve their own problems. It was a tenant he’d always tried to teach others. The island where he’d been enslaved had been cut off from magic, keeping him from sweeping himself away the very first day. Being tasked as the tutor to a young girl wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to him. He hadn’t been particularly ill treated, but no one deserved to be a slave.
Eventually, he’d discovered that, while conventional magic was completely cut off, he’d been able to find a thread of divine power, something he’d always wielded as an extension of his faith. It had taken him years to strengthen that connection enough against the magical dampening to make his escape. By then he’d grown very fond of young Naia. Denied his magic for so long, he’d scraped together enough power to escape. Without even thinking about it he’d gathered just enough for the both of them.
Seibel skirted the waterline, digging his toes into the damp sand. “She’s sweet, isn’t she?” He asked, glancing back towards the shelter, bathed in the glow of the fire. He smiled, though after a moment it faltered, and he hesitated. “I- I know some would condemn what I did. But the thought of leaving her there, to become a slave owner like her parents… I just couldn’t.” The thought had galled him to the core, causing him to do what he never would have considered before.
That morning, they’d woken on the island, headed out to the beach for their lessons, and that afternoon he’d told her he was leaving. She’d looked heartbroken. Already not wanting to leave her there, he’d asked if she wanted to come along. He was her beloved teacher; she hadn’t hesitated to say yes, so he’d taken her hand and walked away with her across the sea.
The sun had been setting by the time they finally found land, both tired from a long day of walking. She’d been thrilled to see a completely new shoreline. Away from the island, his once denied power returned. Shelter had been the first thing on the list, and after it had been set up they were finally able to relax. There had been food, water, a story before bed. Another of their grand adventures, and more than enough to satisfy a young girl. He was starting to wonder what would happen if- no, when she finally asked when they were going home. He hadn’t yet come up with an answer.
“How could I have just left her there?” He questioned the sky, waving his hand as if fending off a disapproving stare. The bond between a parent and their child was something of a sacred thing. Not every relationship was perfect; some parents didn’t deserve their children. He’d been forced to admit that her parents loved her, but their love would have turned her into someone terrible. Someone who thought that another person could be bought and sold as property. “I rid the world of one less slaver.”
Logically, it made sense. There was a problem, and he’d solved it. But it had been personal too. He’d become emotionally attached to the girl, and would have missed her dearly if he’d left her there. The thought of her as a grown woman, buying and selling human life, had made him sick. Both his heart and head had been, for once, telling him the same thing. He’d been so sure of himself, had no doubts during the walk, as she’d chatted and laughed. Here on the shore, his toes half buried in the sand, he was starting to doubt. “Was I right to take her away with me?”
He looked up, beseeching the sky, part of him desperately wanting direct guidance. He’d never demanded answers from the gods, but in those moments he came close. No answer came from above, no divine inspiration, or even condemnation. The heavens, the stars, and the gods, were silent. A person has to solve their own problems.
Right now, her parents would be frantically looking for her. They’d be seeking him too, the gentle teacher who’d won their trust over the years. Would their loss ever ease? In the morning, Naia would no doubt ask him when they were going home. She would cry for her parents, her home, her things. It would break his heart to hear it, but he could never take her back there. This was one choice that could not be undone. Despite the pain, he was sure she would have a better life with him. He could raise her to the light.
“I did the right thing,” he said softly, the words nearly swallowed up by the waves. He was silent again, so many thoughts threatening to mob his mind. He gently pushed them away, squaring his shoulders, and setting his resolve. He started back up the beach.
“I did the right thing.”