A moment later Jettena called them for lunch. Kairma was famished and Isontra agreed to continue the lesson later. Laying down the ancient records, the two women joined Jettena at the long dining table. Her little brothers were at the table already playing with their food, but Zedic was nowhere to be seen. Kairma was sure he was at the temples with Collin. She was envious and wondered how far they had gotten. A bubbly Kinter came bounding in to the room, giggling as she sat at the table. “So why aren’t you with Zedic today? Did last night scare you?”
Kairma glanced at her but ignored the question.
Hearing Kinter’s question, Isontra asked, “What happened last night?”
Kinter looked at Kairma, who was giving a sign to keep quiet. “Oh, nothing, Gramme. We just got home kind of late from the Godstones, that’s all.”
Isontra knew her granddaughters well and knew there was more to the story than Kinter was saying. Kairma was buying the talkative Kinter’s silence with the Crystal. She nudged Kairma, and asked, “Was there not something you promised to do for me?”
Kairma cringed, not knowing how Kinter would react to the request. Resigned, she looked earnestly at Kinter with a promise to make amends clearly etched on her face, and said, “I have to ask you to give the Crystal back.”
Kinter frowned, but when Isontra scrutinized her she handed the prized possession to Kairma. Slowly a sly smile tickled the corners of her mouth. It was apparent Kinter felt like telling Kairma’s secret, but thought she could work this to her benefit by waiting until they were alone to exact her due pay.
Kairma sat quiet for a long time, eating her lunch. “Gramme, do you think we covered enough today? I was hoping I could go with Zedic this afternoon. He’s down at the lake and most everything is ready for the feast day after tomorrow. Please?”
She saw Kinter’s face light up, and Kairma knew her sister’s silence would be expensive.
Isontra thought for a moment. “Well, I suppose. We did cover quite a bit this morning. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for you to spend some time playing.” She held Kairma’s hand tightly in her own. “We will continue our discussion about the stranger tomorrow. In the meantime, I want you to think about the past decisions that have been made on the subject.”
Kairma finished the meal quickly. She would have to come up with something to keep Kinter quiet, and it wasn’t going to be easy. After helping their mother clean up the dishes, the two girls went outside. Kairma took Kinter by the arm and led her away from the house. “I had to have the Crystal back. Gramme had a real seizure this morning. She went on and on about it.”
Unflinching, Kinter looked straight into Kairma’s eyes. “And why should I keep your secret?” She looked longingly at the Crystal, now safely around Kairma’s neck, waiting for the answer.
Kairma let out an exasperated sigh, “You could just do it because I’m your sister, and because telling wouldn’t be nice.”
Kinter laughed heartily. “You think I should just be nice?” Smiling mischievously, she sat down on a log usually used for bow practice and waited for Kairma to make an offer. When no offer came, she said, “The deal is, I’ll wear the Crystal whenever we aren’t around Gramme, and I’ll wear it at night too, after Gramme’s gone to bed. But, instead of three weeks, it will be for three annums.”
Kairma cringed and numbly sat down on the log next to her sister. Three annums! How can I keep up this charade for three annums? If it was up to me, she could have the Crystal and everything that goes with it. No. I promised Gramme. “Kinter, do you really think we could hide this from Gramme that long? She isn’t dumb. She’d catch on before the end of the week.”
“Well, if she does, I’ll have to tell her what you did yesterday, and where you’re going today.”
Kairma thought about her options and concluded there was no way she could let Kinter wear the Crystal for that long. She would have to come up with another plan. “What if I ask Gramme to let you attend the lessons with me? After all, the Crystal isn’t much good if you don’t have the knowledge that goes with it.”
The look in her eyes told Kairma her sister hadn’t thought of this. Kinter’s face was radiant, and Kairma knew she had struck the right cord. Kinter was fascinated by medicine and, although her training had ceased when Kairma recovered from the fever, she had a natural aptitude for recognizing herbs. “I’ll have to ask Gramme. Wait here.”
It was a long time before she returned, and Kairma couldn’t hide the fact she’d been lectured again. Kairma knew the reprimand tickled Kinter and gave her sister a sense of power. Kinter often suggested Kairma was not Miral material, feeling herself to be the true Healer, and Kairma only having the Crystal by default.
“Gramme says it is all right with her if you start coming to the lessons. She won’t go back over what we’ve already covered, but you’ll have access to all the records to study on your own.”
Kinter beamed with delight. Her script reading wasn’t very good so there was little she could actually understand of the ancient documents, but Kairma knew just touching them gave Kinter pleasure.
Kinter gave Kairma a triumphant look before whirling around and racing off to play. Kairma shook her head. Why do I let her get to me? When Kinter was out of sight, Kairma hurried toward the temples.
Jettena walked into her mother’s suite of rooms carrying a small vase filled with purple coneflowers. With her right hand touching her forehead in greeting, she asked, “Can we talk for a moment? It’s about Kairma.”
Isontra rolled up the last of the scrolls. “Of course, Jett. What lovely flowers! By the way, that soup you made for lunch was exquisite,” she said as she walked to the storage room to put the scrolls away.
“Thank you. I guess cooking is a useful talent.”
Isontra’s forehead crinkled. “You have many talents. Don’t berate yourself. It isn’t becoming.”
“Old habits die hard.” She set the flowers on the large table in the center of the room. “I’m worried about Kairma. She seems preoccupied and flighty lately. Do you realize she went fishing today with Zedic and that rogue boy, Collin?”
“Yes, I’m aware.” Isontra sat at the table, and Jettena joined her. “Tell me something. If you didn’t have four little babies to take care of today, what would you be doing?”
“Well, I wouldn’t be fishing with boys!”
“No, I expect you would be experimenting with a new recipe to fatten us up.”
Jettena’s face grew hot. “That’s not the point really. It’s that she’s with those boys again.”
Isontra held back a knowing smile. “I’m guessing there’s a reason you don’t want her running around with them.”
Jettena looked down. Her hands were damp, and she rubbed them on her thighs. “It’s just that I worry she’ll make the same mistake her father and I made. Tamron was such a striking young man.”
“Yes, he was, and you were a beautiful girl who had matured early. I know you blame yourself for this, but the fault belongs to me. To be honest with you, I was too interested in my own study of the Ogs. I never gave you enough time.” She leaned across the table and held Jettena’s hand. “I had become used to my aunts, Madison and Isabella ,taking care of you while I studied. I just didn’t pay attention. I am so sorry.”
Jettena fidgeted in her chair, not meeting her mother’s eyes. “I didn’t know what it was to be a woman. I was fourteen. I only remember how he made me feel. How could I have known what the consequences would be?”
“You didn’t know very much about nature, or procreation. Again, the fault is mine. I should have let you have household pets. A child learns amazing things watching the lifecycle of an animal. As a member of the Healing family, you were never required to help in the fields or pens so you never spent much time around the goats.” Isontra’s smile was wry. “I would have thought Tamron would have known better. He was fifteen and most young men are well aware of nature by then. I realize now he hadn’t passed his Seridar. He never saw the mating rites.”
Isontra had called for a change in the laws, and young men were now allowed to attempt the Seridar as early as fourteen. “He really was too young to be a Comad. If tradition had been followed, you probably would have been mated to a much more mature man.”
Jettena gazed off, saying wistfully, “To this day, his touch still sends shivers down my spine.” She sighed and then added, “I want Kairma to be happy, but Collin is uncontrollable.”
“Although the Mating Rites had been altered for the two of you, and any would-be contenders for your hand surrendered their claims, it outraged several people.” Her steel-gray eyes crinkled at the corners. “I don’t usually have to be hit over the head to learn something. This is why I began teaching Kairma medicine before she was ten. I had hoped to instill the weight of her responsibility in her before her hormones had the chance to tangle up her emotions. I don’t see her making the same mistakes. Naturi is quite mature and has made his intentions clear.”
“Yes, but does she see it?”
“She does. Kairma is all too aware of how much depends on her. Deep down, she’s scared witless.” Isontra lips curled into a knowing smile. “But a little fear can be healthy.”
Jettena got up, kissed her mother on the forehead, and said, “Thank you, Mother, for everything.”
She left the room with vivid memories creeping into her thoughts. She heard the whispers of how the Healing family had strayed from tradition, the gossip about how outsiders had corrupted the royal line, and how the great family had brought the wrath of the gods down on the village in the form of the coughing fever. Jettena tried to shut out the gossip, but it cut her deeper than anyone could know. After what she had done, allowing her oldest daughter and the heir to the Crystal to be attacked inside the walls of the canyon, Jettena gave the Crystal to Isontra and lost herself in raising her children.