Same character/same world/different time – I did the right thing
The sun shone down cheerily on the shore, its light glinting off the top of the waves as they rolled ever up onto the sand. The air was warm, but not so much so as to be uncomfortable.
Seibel walked just at the edge of the water, taking some pleasure in the way the ground sunk slightly under his feet with each step.
Just up the beach, in the shade of a palm tree, Naia sat on a blanket. Next to her, little Cael slept in a wicker basket, suspended from the sturdy trunk of the palm by thick rope. The breeze gently rocked the basket back and forth, lulling the child to sleep.
It was about as perfect a day as they could get. It had been a long time since he’d walked by the sea; and this shore in particular. Though he loved the ocean it was a place he had a rather complicated relationship with.
So did Naia, though she might not have remembered it. Twenty years was a long time to a human. Still, he’d debated long with himself before setting their course to this place.
The last time they’d been here she’d slept under a makeshift tent of palm fronds, lulled to sleep by one of her favorite stories, and the steady thrum of the waves. It had been a beautiful night.
The next morning had been less so. Her questions had started almost immediately after breakfast about when they were going back home. He’d been able to distract her, for awhile, but inevitably the tears had come and he’d been sure they would never dry.
Eventually, her desire for home had lost its grip. She had exciting new places to explore, new faces to meet, foods to taste, and the start of her magical training to occupy her. It had all steadily replaced the small island in her mind.
He’d been wondering, for perhaps longer than he’d allowed himself to admit, if she didn’t deserve to learn where she’d come from.
Her footsteps were soft on the sand as she came to join him at the edge of the water. She was smiling, and he couldn’t help but smile in return.
“I feel like you’ve been holding out on me,” she said, fixing him with a look for a few moments, “waiting so long to bring me to the ocean. I love it here. We’re going to have to visit far more often. It’s beautiful!”
“It is very beautiful,” he said, looking out at the waves, though his smile faded somewhat. In a way, he had been holding out on her, but if she loved it so much he wasn’t going to deny her any longer.
Silence settled over them for a few long moments, but next to him she shifted a bit from foot to foot, suggesting there was more on her mind.
“It’s more than just that. I feel a sort of… pull to the ocean I haven’t anywhere else we’ve traveled. Like there’s something on the edge of my mind.”
She sounded thoughtful, as if she were somewhat hesitant to speak of it. When he didn’t immediately reply she looked down.
“It’s nothing. You’ll just think I’m being silly.”
He shouldn’t have been surprised. He was sure he knew what that pull was, though he’d hoped she wouldn’t feel it. Part of him was tempted to dismiss it as nothing, but didn’t give in to the impulse.
“It’s clearly something, if it’s coming into your mind like that.”
“I don’t know.” She sighed and looked over at him. “It feels a bit like deja-vu.”
Her green-eyed gaze was seeking. He’d never been able to say no to her when she looked at him that way.
This was the moment, to face the choice he’d made. Even now, doubts plagued him, but she was a smart woman, and he felt sure she would understand.
“Well-” He started, and thought better of it.
Before he could change the topic, though, she’d fixed him with a look that he knew he wouldn’t be able to get away, prompting him to continue. She gave him similar looks during lessons when she wasn’t satisfied with his answers.
“Well, that’s because you have been here before.”
“I have?” Her brows knit together, and her lips pursed, the same face she’d always made when she was trying to work out a problem.
He gave an encouraging nod, and she closed her eyes, focusing.
“Wait… I have been here, haven’t I?” Her eyes opened in surprise, and she started looking around her, really taking in the beach separate from the initial excitement she’d felt. She knelt down and slid her fingers into the dry sand, letting the grains run between them. “I remember… sleeping in the sand, on a blanket. It’s all sort of hazy though.”
“You couldn’t have been more than six at the time, and you’d had a very long day. I’m honestly surprised you stayed up for your story.”
“If we’ve been here before why haven’t we ever been back?” She sounded a bit distant, as if she were chasing the answer for herself. She stood suddenly and strode the few steps to the waterline, the waves running over her feet and ankles.
She stared out at the ocean for a long time. When she spoke he could barely hear her over the waves.
“I used to have dreams, where I was walking on water. I never understood them, but, I remember… We walked on the water. In the middle of the ocean. I- I remember there wasn’t any land in sight, and it was scary and it took so long. I thought the sun was being swallowed by the sea, and you picked me up and carried me. That all really happened.”
“It did. We walked nearly all day.”
She turned back to him and her voice held a hint of desperation. “Why were we walking on the ocean?”
“We were running.”
“Running?” Her brows knit. “What could you possibly need to run from?”
“Slavery? I don’t-”
“We were trapped on a slave trading island, cut off from conventional magic. It looked like a paradise, on the outside, but it was run on the backs of slaves. I would never want to return there. I was one of the lucky ones, taken to be a caretaker and a teacher. Most were not as lucky. I was able to send out tendrils to Lord Kalindas, through prayer, and over time I managed to stockpile just enough power to escape.”
She was staring at him, as if she couldn’t believe it, but after a moment she closed the distance between them, reaching her hand out to brush her fingers across his neck.
“I remember you used to always wear an iron necklace.” At the realization of the truth, she gasped and drew her hand back, looking horrified.
“I was a slave when we first met.”
“And me? How did you find me? Was I a slave too?” She absently ran her fingers over her own neck as well, as if she could find some evidence worked into her very skin.
Here he hesitated, perhaps for the final time. She’d never seemed all that interested in asking about her past, despite knowing that he wasn’t her father. He could have lied to her, she would never have been the wiser, but he didn’t feel like that was fair.
“No, you were never a slave. You might not remember but you were the daughter of the people who owned me. You were my charge.” He kept his tone even, almost the same as he did when teaching his lessons.
Her expression shifted from horror to confusion.
“I was? Did- did they die? Did they give me to you?”
“No. They were at least alive on that last day. When I gained enough power to escape I made a choice. I used our outing as an excuse to get away, and I planned on sending you back home while I did so. But, by that time I cared very much for you. You were always a wonderful child, and I knew you’d make an amazing adult. But the thought of you growing up and becoming someone who bought and sold human life was too much for me to bear. So, you must understand Naia, that when the moment came to choose, I took you with me.”
She said nothing following his admission, staring at him as if she were frozen in place. The waves, the wind, and the distant gulls crying suddenly sounded far too loud in his ears. He reached out to lay a hand on her arm.
She came to life all at once, pulling back from him. Her arms shot out in either direction, and her face contorted in rage.
“You did what!? You took me away from my parents, my life, and you never told me!? How could you?”
The force of her reaction nearly rocked him back on his heels. He’d expected shock, surely, but this sort of reaction wasn’t like her.
“Naia, listen to me, you’re being illogical. I did the right thing.”
“The right thing? How do you even begin to justify that, Seibel?”
“Easily. Who knows who you’d be if I’d left you there? Could you imagine yourself being comfortable with owning someone?”
For a moment his words seemed to strike her and she went silent. He knew how she felt about the idea of slavery; he’d always made a point to speak out against it, and she found it as abhorrent a practice as it was. Surely she would understand if she thought about it.
But the stillness didn’t take and the anger returned, if anything, growing in intensity.
She pointed a finger right in his face, trying to loom, even if she was shorter than he was. He could almost see her anger roiling off of her.
“How was it any right of yours to make a decision like that!? It’s my life! My choice! And by the gods, Seibel, did you ever think of my parents? What would you have done if someone had just taken off with Cael? My world would collapse. I don’t believe for a minute that they didn’t love me, and try to do right by me.”
She drew in several breaths, in a way he’d taught her to help her calm down, but it didn’t seem to be helping. She shook her head but her gaze was no less intense.
“I’m sorry that you were a slave, but you had no right to take me away! None! Do you hear me?”
He’d never expected her to react this way, and it twisted his stomach. She’d never been this angry at him before, and he couldn’t help but think back to those same questions he’d asked the silent sky all those years ago.
“No! I don’t want to hear any more of your bullshit justifications. You think you did right? That you were saving me? What you did was selfish and nothing more. You bastard!”
Her voice was like a whip in the wind, and up the beach Cael gave a cry, unhappy to be so rudely woken from his slumber.
They both looked automatically but by the time Seibel had looked back the tears had started falling again, Naia’s green eyes swimming in the light. But her anger was still there too.
He tried to reach out to her, but she narrowed her eyes at him, pulling away and stalking up the beach. He moved to follow but she rounded on him, her face and voice gone cold.
“Don’t you dare follow me. I don’t want to see your face right now.”
Her words stopped him in his tracks and she continued on, stopping only long enough to gather Cael up in her arms before she stalked away in the direction of their cabin.
Seibel stood alone on the shore, wind pulling at his hair and clothes, like so many invisible fingers. He felt lost, as if a hole he’d filled long ago had suddenly burst open, and he’d found the wrong person in the grave. He’d been telling himself he’d done right for twenty years, but with her gone it felt horrible wrong.
Without thinking he turned and looked up at the sky, but the sun and clouds offered no more answer than the stars.
Read what my writing partner did with this prompt. The Blessings of Marriage, by Megan Cutler