[This is a multi-part story. We previously read that Liana delivered a healthy baby boy and named him Kenju. Sura, Liana’s friend and nurse, was there to help her. Miko’s aunt Adoka was also present.
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For 10 sunrises, Liana felt like a queen as Sura pampered her with delicious banana bread, honeyed walnuts, mango, and goat milk. Kenju nursed and grew plump while Liana marveled at his silky dark hair, bright black eyes, and soft baby skin. He was her treasure!
On the 11th day, Sura brought a friend into Liana’s room. “This is my cousin Nami.”
“Congratulations on your beautiful baby.” Nami came over and kissed Liana’s cheek. “He is so healthy and alert! A prince!”
“I told you, cousin,” Sura said, smiling at Liana.
“Thank you. It’s so nice to meet you. Sura said you were caring for her father.” Liana put Kenju on a blanket and stood up. She wasn’t used to being so inactive.
Nami peered at Kenju as she spoke softly. “I was. But now my sisters are there with him. He is a little better, the doctor says. But we must go. Today. You are strong enough.”
“Go? Where?” Liana was finally happy and relaxed in her own home now that Miko’s sour-faced aunt had gone home for his funeral. She couldn’t imagine being more content… except if Kenju’s father could be brought back from the land beyond, which was of course impossible.
Sura sighed. “The Royal Hall. We must talk to the Queen before Adoka confronts her with nonsense.”
Liana glanced from one cousin to the other and saw fear in their eyes. “What are you talking about? What would she say?”
“Tell her.” Nami touched Sura’s shoulder. “She needs to know.”
“I told Adoka to leave your room, that she reminded you of Miko and you couldn’t bear it. So, she spent hours outside, in the garden. And she found the blackberries.”
Liana gasped. “Oh no!”
Nami nodded. “She immediately accused you of murder, but you were deep asleep. Sura argued with her, said you were too simple to know the secrets of plants.”
“Yes.” Liana seized on that. “I’m just a stupid girl who washed ashore in a storm. I don’t even know how babies are made.”
They all laughed. “This is serious though,” Nami said. “If the Queen believes her, you and Kenju will be killed and roasted.”
“Not necessarily in that order,” Sura added.
Liana grew cold with dread. She began rushing about the room, grabbing clothing and blankets. “What do we need? How long is the journey? I think… four days?”
“We don’t have four days,” Sura said. “Nami just arrived to tell me that Miko’s in-home ceremony ends tonight. It is shorter than usual. The body will be then brought to the Royal Court and Miko’s spirit released to the land beyond.”
Her thoughts swirled in a tangle of despair. Liana wondered why she couldn’t leave the same way she’d arrived. “A boat? A little canoe for Kenju and me?”
“The pirates would find you in hours.” Nami shook her head. “We will take the short way.”
“The short way!” Images of vicious snakes and sand traps tumbled through Liana’s head. “Not the monkey jungle!?”
Kenju woke from the yelling and began to cry. “Shhhh,” Liana said. She picked him up and cuddled him.
“While you were sleeping, I packed all we will need for two days and one night,” Sura reassured her. “We will stay together and be fine.”
“It won’t even be two full days,” Nami said.
“Let’s get started.” Liana knew it would be worse to wait and imagine the horrors of the jungle along with the possible wrath of the Queen should Adoka get to her first.
And so the three women closed up Liana’s house and walked along the stone path until it gave way to sand. They got out their knives to hack at the vines that grew back across the faint jungle trail soon after anyone had passed. The air grew thick and and sweet and humid, but it wasn’t quiet–it buzzed and clicked and chirped and hissed and howled.
Liana remained tense and alert, thinking about those deadly blue snakes Adoka had mentioned. Every time a creature howled or hissed, she jumped. She waited for Kenju to cry and attract a jungle monster right to their location, but he didn’t. Cocooned to her chest, he seemed to take everything in and absorb the new sensations.
After two hours passed, they stopped so Liana could rest and nurse. She sat under a tree in a relatively clear spot where she felt comfortable that there were no snakes or monsters. When she arose, she saw that a green scorpion as big as her hand had been on the grass next to her the entire time.
They took turns resting and keeping a lookout, with Liana getting two rest turns for each of theirs. Sura and Nami wanted to carry Kenju, but Liana wasn’t happy unless his weight pressed against her. She needed to know his little baby body was safe at all times.
When the dawn came, turning the jungle golden apricot, Sura crouched down to where Liana was nursing and handed her a piece of dried fruit from her pack and said, “See, everything is fine.”
“Thank you.” Liana glanced over at Nami, who had been resting with her. “Nami?”
“Dear cousin!” Sura cried. “Nami! Wake up!”
[to be continued]
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