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Kibi and the Search for Happiness
Rini and the Old Slave
Buna's New World
First Taste of Freedom
What're Friends For
Boro and Sata
NEBADOR Book Four: Flight Training
This book includes the short story Kibi and the Search for Happiness by Katelynn Persons, winner of the 2010 NEBADOR Writing Contest.
The new crew of the little ship must learn countless lessons before they can visit far-away places without grave danger. Many of those lessons could not be predicted, even by the captain.
original cover art commissioned to artist Rachael Hedges
After training and practice at every aspect of atmospheric flight, and some hard lessons dealing with other cultures, Ilika and his crew depart on a grand tour of the planet. They learn from many challenges, and eventually receive their first passengers when they find a man and his daughter stranded on an ice continent. But their act of kindness nearly ends in disaster.
"One thing I can guarantee, is that the world will never change itself because of our weaknesses. In fact, it has ways of actually becoming more dangerous when we approach it with a bad attitude."
-- Ilika, after Miko's death
Chapter 8: An Unexpected Ceremony
When the group gathered in the late afternoon, Ilika announced that they had been invited to join the trader from the west for dinner in the large tent where the tribal leaders and other important people ate.
Boro and Sata, already feeling a bit like royalty in their new cloaks, grinned at each other. Ilika had to pass out more money so the others could purchase an article or two of new clothing for the occasion. Kibi and Rini dashed away, knowing they only had an hour to prepare for dinner.
Kibi found a robe of soft, dusty green material with brown trim that made her feel like Tima the elf. Rini bought a gray tunic with black trim, and a black leather belt. As they were leaving the clothing tent, a girl of about twelve years, who had been waiting outside, suddenly knelt in front of Rini and held up a little tray that contained a single small, fancy pastry.
She was slender, just entering the first flowering of youth, and Rini remembered her from the dancing circle earlier in the afternoon. Her dark gray tunic complimented her olive skin and black hair. He dug into his pouch and held up a copper piece to determine the price of the little treat.
She quickly shook her head and held the tray closer to Rini.
He looked into her sparkling brown eyes, then smiled back at her as he picked up the sweet.
She grinned happily, but waited.
Rini took a bite. The flavor of the honey and nuts, combined with the perfectly-baked shell, made him cringe with pleasure for a moment.
Her eyes grew wider, but still she waited.
Rini glanced at the remaining bite of pastry, then knelt down in the sand in front of the girl and offered her the other bite.
A huge smile flashed onto her face. She opened her mouth and closed her eyes.
Rini placed the little pastry on her tongue and watched as she blissfully chewed and swallowed the shared gift.
Kibi watched with a slight frown as Rini and the twelve-year-old girl stood up and faced each other. A moment later the girl dashed away, barely touching the ground as she went.
The sweet smoke was even thicker in the tent where the rich and important people were served dinner. The six crew members of the Manessa Kwi, and the bearded trader from the kingdom to the west, sat in a circle on rugs as slaves brought platters of fancy food that could be eaten with fingers.
"You wouldn't believe how much money I've made today!" the trader announced, pouring himself a drink from a fancy bottle of sweet liqueur. "They even bought my pack horse!"
"Any news from the capital city?" Boro asked, eating a piece of candied fruit. "Last time we were there, people were burning the religious orders."
The man laughed. "Two of them managed to get their gates shut, but not much of their wealth was left. The slave master bought the one near the city gate to expand his operation. That's the last time they go beast hunting for a while!"
The others around the circle laughed, but the trader didn't notice the knowing glances they exchanged.
Rini took a bite of some delicate pastry that Mati offered him, then put the rest in her mouth, just as he had done earlier with the desert girl. She smiled as she chewed.
"What brings you folks to the desert? I can tell the others are from my kingdom, Cobble Town in the capital by their education and bearing, but you're a foreigner, are you not?" the trader asked Ilika.
"Yes, I'm from another land. I have a ship, and these five are in training to be my crew." He took a bite of some sweet fruit he couldn't name.
"You're a long way from the port!"
"Just getting some training done. We depart for distant shores in a few weeks."
The five crew members grinned, noticing how Ilika kept everything within the trader's understanding.
"Do you come down here every full moon?" Kibi asked, nibbling a large briny olive.
"No. I come maybe four times a year. This moon more people come, and have more money to spend, than at any other time."
"How was the meat at Cattle Town when you came through?" Sata asked with a smirk.
"You know about that! It gets better toward winter, but the place still stinks. I buy what I need, eat bread and drink ale, and head on down the road. Then I have a good meal at the hamlet of Pos before tackling the steep trail down to the desert."
"Pos is nice," Kibi remembered aloud, dipping crisp bread into some sauce. "I had my last birthday party there."
Ilika noticed his students eyeing the liqueur, so he poured small amounts that wouldn't get them too tipsy. "What should we look forward to tonight?"
"Dancing and merrymaking start right after dinner," the trader explained, refilling his cup, "and go most of the night. I hear there's at least one wedding, the middle daughter of a rich man who has five daughters and is happy to see one of them off. Everyone sleeps all day tomorrow, heads home in the evening."
When the captain, crew, and trader finally left the eating tent, they were all stuffed with the delicious food and drink. Torches flickered all through the ravine, but especially around the ceremonial circle. Several young women, wearing little but flowing scarves, danced to the beat of drums and the melody of pipes.
Plenty of free space remained around the circle, so Ilika looked at his students. They all nodded. The group gathered between two torches at the edge of the circle, and Rini helped Mati onto a rock.
As they all got comfortable, the youth in the circle began a new dance, slow and sensual, to a tune plucked from a stringed instrument. Rini noticed a girl peek out through a tent flap on the other side of the ceremonial space, the same girl who had shared a pastry with him earlier that day. Then she disappeared back inside.
The dance ended and a large man on the edge of the circle clapped twice. The dancing youth quickly scattered, but the musicians began a new melody, both rhythmic and sensuous. The tent flap was opened by other girls, and the girl Rini had seen stepped through wearing a rich, shimmering blue gown with silver trim and gold accents. She took slow, measured steps and entered the ceremonial circle as the music played.
"Beautiful ..." the trader whispered to himself.
Rini felt his heart beat faster, as she seemed to be looking directly at him. When she passed the middle of the circle, it became obvious that she was approaching the group. The music picked up its tempo as more people gathered to watch.
After several more measured steps, she stopped right on the edge of the circle and held out her arms toward Rini, still seated on the ground. Sweet, heady smoke came from many tents and filled the ravine with an otherworldly air.
Rini rose and took the girl's hands, and she made several careful steps backwards to guide him into the center of the circle. Many people clapped and cheered as the music changed again to the slow melody of deep-voiced pipes. The girl released Rini's hands and began a mysterious dance, slow enough that Rini could easily follow her movements. This brought a huge smile to her face, and the people around the circle clapped or pounded walking sticks on the ground in approval.
The dance lasted several long minutes, and Rini became completely engrossed in the movements of the girl, quickly learning the nuances of the dance.
Mati had a slight frown on her face. "I wish I could do that with him," she whispered to Ilika.
"Soon, Mati. Very soon."
"Amazing!" the trader from the west said. "I didn't realize ..."
As Rini and the girl continued the slow dance, their movements now almost perfectly coordinated, other girls carried out four small tables and placed them in the circle, near the edge, at the four compass points. The girl guided the dance toward one of the tables.
Without quite ceasing the motion of the dance, she picked up a small cake and offered it to Rini. He took a bite, then offered the rest to her as he had done earlier in the day.
At another table, they did the same with a cup of some strong, sweet drink. The cheering and pounding of the spectators increased.
The third table held a large feather with which she pretended to tickle him under the arms, then handed the feather to him and he did the same to her as the crowd laughed and cheered.
"I had no idea it was him!" the trader said.
Ilika took on a puzzled expression, but conversation was difficult because of all the noise.
At the last table, the girl picked up a sharp knife and pricked her hand.
"Rini sure does love to dance!" Ilika said in the trader's ear.
Rini pricked his hand.
"That's not a dance!" the trader said loudly over the clapping and cheering. "They're just now completing their wedding ceremony!"
The girl reached out her hand toward Rini, and he did the same, a single drop of their blood coming together in the palms of their hands.
Manessa's Passenger Area and Bridge
J. Z. Colby, 2001
(not exactly right, but close)
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