The next morning, the children were gone again, and many of us, including Ilen, were uneasy yet again. But they came back that evening, and over time, we grew to understand that even if we did not agree with the Captain’s methods at first — the children never quite seemed to be worse for wear, and indeed, our garden was growing, and our little refugee camp seemed to be growing strong. Day after day, they left — Ilen stopped trying to follow them, and at that, the last of those who might have opposed the Captain gave up.
One morning, Riesa, one of the children was found at the water’s edge, weeping bitter tears at having left behind. The Captain tried to console her, but she would have none of it, and only railed at the unfairness, angry at the world at having been left out. At the twilight, before the others were to return, she went to Luroteo, and asked if she could sit with the fallen thing alone, for a time. Seeing her distress, Luroteo gave this time to her, without reservation. She sang the song the creature taught the children, and something within it resonated, seemed to sing back.
It was this sound that brought the Captain, racing from the far side of camp, from where he had been talking around the fire. He ran for the pool, carrying his feather, fingers clutching it tightly. He ran over the rocks and dodged the makeshift sleeping shelters and his face wore something that was either terror or excitement, and either way, we ran with him, to share in the joy or to die with him, in fear. He was our Captain, and for all that the land seemed to want us dead, he had given us back enough of a life that we wanted to fight for the rest.
Our Captain arrived at the water’s edge, to see Riesa floating on her back, her hair a grey halo clouding the water in curls around her face, her shift cast off at the bank of the pool. Her face was calm and clear, her eyes wide and blank, staring up at the star-dark sky. The Captain waded in and retrieved her, and she put her arms around his neck and laid her cheek to his, promising him that she understood, now. He walked by Ilen, who seemed baffled, and gave her to the women of our group who immediately fussed like mother hens, and took her away.
When the children came back later, as everyone sat around the fire for the night meal, they looked on Riesa with awe and jealousy — she wore herself differently, lifted her chin higher, and met the eyes of the adults like an equal.