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Chapt. 28: Going Home
By Michael Jesse
For a long while Jack was aware of little except that he was with Laura again. They hugged and could not let go of each other. They looked in each other's eyes and excitedly told their stories. Jack told Laura of the death of Verdu and how they had made their escape plans. He wasn't ready to talk about MacWilde's death and Laura didn't ask. She already knew because some of the ruah had seen it happen from the deck of the ship. They had, in fact, assumed MacWilde had been chasing Jack to keep him from escaping. It was Riona who told them of the captain's change of heart and his sacrifice, as she would tell the story to her students for years afterwards until a new legend grew of the savien who helped rescue the ruah from bondage.
Laura related the story of what she'd seen in the Museum of Discovery, including the fossils and especially the ancient ship, The Adventurer. Although it had been too old to use, the ruah had built a new one like it, which was piloted by Riona's Aunt Vera.
"That's her over there," Laura said, pointing to a female ruah who was at the wheel steering the ship as it made its way down the river away from the city. Jack recognized her from the funeral so long ago, and he saw another familiar face.
"And there's Haran," Jack said. "The gardener."
"But remember, he was also the leader of the communal home-building projects," Laura reminded him. "It was Haran who organized the building of the ship."
As the Adventurer II cleared the city gates the ruah hid themselves while Jack, Laura and Liam stood along the ship's railing and waved to anyone who took notice of the unusual ship. But no one paid them much attention because of the crisis in the city.
Liam got off when they reached his homeland of Luvia. "There won't be work for me in Margaid anymore," he said. "Not that I mind so much. I've had me fill of the big city and farmin's not lookin' so bad anymore."
Jack and Laura waved to Liam as he walked away through the green, open fields. It was only then that Jack remembered the shards of Verdu's horns in his pocket. He felt queasy as he held them up to show Laura and whispered, "I need to give these to Riona."
Not willing to risk being separated ever again, Jack and Laura held hands as they made their way to find Riona. Several females stood in front of the little cabin and Jack and Laura were stopped at the door.
"Riona has gone into labor," one of them said. "But don't worry. She seems fine and Irenia and the doctor are attending to her."
They waited along with everyone else and soon heard a celebratory whistle from inside and Irenia came out to join them. "I'm pleased to tell you all," she said, "that Riona has given birth a son. He is healthy and . . . quite special. Let's give them some time alone. You will all have plenty of opportunity to see them during our long voyage home."
The ruah played songs of celebration, both for Riona's new motherhood and the safe return of the captives. But quietly word began to spread among them about something Irenia had left unsaid.
She came up to Jack and kissed him on the cheek as she squeezed him tight. "I haven't had the chance to make a fuss over you in all the excitement. Riona told me how much you did to help them escape. Thank you."
Jack blushed and wanted to say something in reply but could not.
"He wants you to give these to Riona," Laura said, holding out the pieces of Verdu's horns.
Irenia's large eyes became wet. "Come. I think you should give them to her yourself."
She led the children to Riona's bedside, where she was quietly whistling a lullaby to her baby, nestled beside her on the mattress.
Riona smiled at Jack and Laura and a tear rolled down her cheek as Jack handed her the two pieces of Verdu's horns. She took them between her toenails and held them each in turn to her nose. Each played a single, slightly different note.
"I'm so grateful to have this one note," she said, laying one of the pieces down beside her child. "Jack, I'd like you to keep the other one for me, and pass it down to your own children when you tell them about him."
She handed the second section of horn back to Jack, who sobbed when it touched his hand.
"I'm sorry this is all that's left," he said.
"Don't be," Riona said serenely. "Verdu accomplished what he had prepared for all of his life. It was his voice that sounded The Call at just the right moment and in just the right location to save his people. And he has given me this beautiful child to keep me from being too lonely. Laura, do you want to hold him?"
With instruction from Irenia, Laura sat nervously on the mattress and Riona lay the newborn in her lap. He was hairless and his little toenails were pink, but there was something different about his feet. As the infant on Laura's lap squirmed, it opened and closed its front feet the way a human would make a fist. But unlike human hands, the thick nails grew from the knuckles, so when the fist was closed the toenails fit together to form a little, pink hoof. But when the fist opened, the nails parted like petals opening to reveal tiny fingers where other ruah had only pads.
"Omigoodness!" Laura exclaimed as the little ruah fingers gripped one of the charms dangling from Laura's wrist and pulled it right off of her bracelet.
"I really don't know what to think of it," Riona said, " but it doesn't look like it will prevent him from walking."
Irenia leaned down and brought her face close to Riona's. "I know what Verdu would think."
Riona nodded. "I know, Gran. He'd probably say it's the Mother's Second Gift to Cetaceous. And who knows, maybe it is. All I know is this baby is a gift to me."
"Well you're exhausted, my dear," Irenia pointed out. "You need some sleep and so do these brave children. Come, Laura and Jack, I have a little bed prepared for you right over here." In a corner of the small cabin Irenia had rolled out a small red canvas mattress, but as she gestured toward it with her chin she stopped and stared. The simple red mattress had transformed into a big red sofa sleeper and behind it a pair of glass-paned doors where sunlight from somewhere else sparkled off a universe of dust in the air around it.
"Blessed Mother," Irenia breathed.
"Omigod!" Jack cried. "Laura, it's happening! There it is!"
Laura knew he was right. They had to go now – it could disappear in a moment. She turned back to face Irenia and Riona, who stared at the apparition in shock.
"We . . . we have to go now," Laura whistled, suddenly mournful that she would no longer whistle to communicate. Her vision went blurry as tears fell down her cheeks.
"Go now, child," Irenia said. "It's your time."
Jack had already stepped close to the sparkling light. "Laura," he called. "We have to go."
Laura knew it was true and backed up toward the gateway, knowing she had to hurry before it closed again.
"I'm sorry," she sobbed. "I'll never forget you."
"And we'll remember you," Irenia said. "So go now, child. It's time."
Jack and Laura held hands as they stepped through the shimmering and ephemeral doorway back to their own world. As they did so, Laura felt suddenly exhausted, as if she had not slept in days. She stumbled and fell onto the mattress, reaching back as she did so.
As one who sleeps so deeply it seems only seconds have passed, Laura found herself staring at the painted clouds on the playroom ceiling. She sat up on the big red sofa sleeper and pushed the covers off of herself. Jack was walking around the room touching everything to make sure it was really there.
When he saw that she was awake he said, " you do remember what I remember, don't you?"
Laura nodded, springing out of bed. "We were gone for weeks! Have you seen Mom?"
"No, but listen — she's singing in the kitchen. Laura, it's still the same day! Did all of that really happen?"
Laura looked down at her white nightgown, which had been torn and dirty, but now it was clean and undamaged. Her feet were clean also, as were Jack's. Doubt came into her mind and she held up her wrist to see her charms. The two she'd sold in Margaid were missing.
Now they both thought of the same thing. Jack patted his robe and felt the familiar shape of his flute. Reaching inside his pocket, Jack withdrew his hand and held out at arm's length like a wand the section of Verdu's horns that Riona had given him.
"Ohmigoodness," Laura whispered.
They heard footsteps coming up the spiral staircase and Jack's hand was back in his pocket as their mother appeared, carrying the blue wooden tray loaded with soda and crackers and new books to read.