Kibi and the Search for Happiness
by Katelynn Persons
2010 NEBADOR Writing Contest, first place
This story takes place a year and a half before Ilika arrives in the kingdom in NEBADOR Book One: The Test.
"Learn your place! You're a slave, our slave, and nothing more."
I stared blankly at the ground as I heard another whip lash toward me. Covering my face, I immediately yelled in pain.
"Now get moving, slave girl!" his cold voice barked as he grabbed my bruised and bleeding arms and pushed me back in line.
I watched my friends turn and look at me with knowing eyes, but not a word was spoken until the guard cracked his whip, making us yelp and whimper in fear.
"I said get moving!"
We all turned around and walked slowly back out to the field.
"Why do you let him do that, Kibi?" the tall boy asked as he looked up from his shovel.
I stared at the gashes in my arms and legs for a long time before finally looking up. "What would you do, Miko?" I asked, frustrated, careful not to let the guards hear us. "Fight back?" I jabbed my shovel back into the soft soil, throwing the dirt over my shoulder onto the pile behind us.
"I guess so . . . I don't know. Something is better then nothing."
"If you come up with a way to get out of here and not get us all killed, you let me know." I looked down at my shovel as it sliced through the rich soil again.
Miko looked slowly down at his work. "Kibi . . . I want out."
I looked up at him as he continued working slowly. "What do you mean?" I stammered with hesitation.
"Hey!" one of the guards yelled, cracking his whip. "Get back to work!"
We nodded and quickly picked up the pace.
"I mean I want out, Kibi. There is so much more out there for me, I just know there is!"
"But, Miko," I replied, not daring to take my eyes off my shovel, "how would you ever do that? Trust me, I feel the same way you do. We're too smart to be here, we know that, they know that, everyone knows that . . . but we can't! Not right now at least. Not while those guards are looking at us."
"Kibi, I'm not stupid. I know. I'm going to get out of here, and you're not going to stop me!"
"I don't want to stop you, Miko," I quickly replied, choosing my words carefully. "I just don't want to see you get hurt!"
"I'm not going to," he replied sternly, glancing up at me. "I'm going to be free. And I'm doing it tonight. Neti will surely be on my side and go with me, even if you're too chicken."
"I don't want trouble," I replied, staring at my shovel.
"You'll never be free if there isn't any trouble, Kibi."
I stared down at the ground as I swiftly kept digging.
"I know your logic and realism are probably in the way of seeing that, but you have to put them aside and think about freedom! Isn't that what you want?"
"Of course that's what I want . . . but . . ."
Suddenly the alarm clanged and we all hit the ground, slamming our stomachs against the dirt. Uh oh. Trouble.
"Everyone on the ground!" one of the guards yelled.
We could see a man running through the field, one of the smaller slave boys in his arms. It's Jalo, the young boy of about seven that I hold so dearly to my heart.
"Jalo," I whispered softly as tears began filling my eyes and rolling down my cheeks. I knew in that moment that I might never see my little friend again.
"Another kidnapping," Miko whispered, obviously detaching himself from the situation. I didn't take my eyes off the man and crying child until they were tiny specks in the distance, some of the guards still charging after them.
"Everybody up!" the remaining guards yelled.
We all scrambled to our feet.
"Back to work!"
Later that night, back in our shelter, I sat alone on my mat as a figure walked toward me. I scooted over and made room for Miko beside me.
"I'm leaving, Kibi!" his sharp words pierced my ears.
I stared ahead, emotionless. "Where do you plan on going?"
"Anywhere, anywhere but here. And Neti is going with me," he quietly but firmly responded, gesturing to the small, pretty girl sitting on a mat against a wall, holding her knees. "Are you coming?"
I looked sternly into my handsome friend's eyes. "You're serious?" I asked dryly.
"Do I look like I'm kidding? Come on, Kibi! We deserve better then this! All of us do, and you know that."
I felt my face flush as I looked at the ground for a long time.
"Are you with us or not?"
I sighed and played with a small rock, running it over my fingers and back again. "What are you planning?" I asked slowly, looking up at him.
His eyes lit up with enthusiasm. "We're going to wait until all of the guards and the master fall asleep. We'll go through the door as quietly as possible, dash through the vegetable garden, through the nook between the far cabin and the river, and out where that man took Jalo this morning."
I cringed at the memory of the little boy. "How do you plan on living? We have no money, no food, no other clothes, no shoes."
"It's better then living here," Miko responded softly. He stared at the ground for a long time. "Neti has a couple of copper pieces; she found them while digging a few weeks ago. I know a couple of others have coppers they'd be willing to give us too. That should give us enough to survive until we know what we're doing."
I looked up at him. "Why is Neti going?" I asked playfully.
He blushed a little bit. "She's one of my best friends, Kibi,"
I smirked. "You sure there isn't anything going on between you two?"
He giggled and nudged my shoulder. "She's pretty . . . and I could see myself with her, sure," he shrugged. "But . . . right now . . . I have my eye on another girl," he informed me as he looked back into my eyes.
I looked at him with slight confusion.
He leaned in and softly kissed my lips.
I kissed him back, still somewhat confused.
He gently pulled back and looked into my eyes.
I took in a deep breath; looking into his dark eyes, I told him softly, "I'm going."
"Everyone is asleep," Neti whispered after she tiptoed to us in the cabin.
Miko and I looked at each other, both with unsteady stomachs.
"Guess this is it," Miko responded, swallowing.
"Now or never," I whispered back as I glanced around at my friends in the darkness for what may have been the last time.
"Are we going or not?" Neti urged. "You know they'll be up soon to keep guard. They don't think any of us knows that they leave us unguarded at this hour."
"Surely they have some sort of security system . . ." Miko started.
I grabbed his arm and looked into his unsure eyes. "Miko," I whispered. "Do you want us all to have a shot at freedom, or is your logic and realism in your way of seeing that?"
He swallowed again as he looked at me with a smirk.
"Lets go," he whispered.
We gathered our copper pieces, collected from our friends when we said our goodbyes earlier. We were sure not to mention it to anyone who would tell the guards.
Neti offered to go ahead. We let her, agreeing to follow her once she had made it.
Miko and I huddled together in the small space between two of the slave cabins, just barely wide enough for Miko's large body to fit in.
"Are you ready?" he whispered, looking into my eyes in the darkness.
"As ready as I'll ever be," I said as my stomach churned and I looked down at our feet, just inches away from each other. He took a step towards me and put his hands on my waist, pulling me to him. I looked up into his eyes as he kissed my forehead.
"We're going to make it, Kibi," he said as he ran the back of his hand down my cheek.
I smiled and put my hand over his, confused about why we went from a simple friendship, to so much more in a day. "I know . . . this has to work," I said looking into his eyes.
He smiled and kissed my lips once more. "Kibi . . . I love you."
I took a step back in confusion, looking into his eyes breathlessly. "What?" I said dumbfounded.
"I . . . I'm sorry," he stuttered. "I shouldn't have said . . ."
Suddenly we heard footsteps, and we fell to the ground in the little space, our dark clothes blending in with the rotten wood of the cabins and the dirt surrounding us.
Miko gripped my hand tightly as we both held our breath. A shadow from the moonlight came toward our niche.
Miko turned his head to silently watch. One of the slave boys about my age, fourteen going on fifteen, rounded the corner and I looked up, ready to make a dash for it.
"Zoko!" I whispered as I stood up.
"What are you guys . . ." he started.
I dashed to him and put my hand sharply over his mouth. "Shh!" I hissed into his ear. "They'll hear you!"
"We're escaping. We're getting out of here," Miko murmured quickly.
I released my grip on Zoko's mouth, as he looked at us with wide eyes.
"You guys can't leave! What about all of us? I thought you guys were kidding earlier . . ." he responded through his teeth, realization taking over.
"Well, we are leaving, Zoko. You're free to come with us. If not, go back inside," I told him sternly.
"Kibi . . . you can't go . . . we need you . . . you teach us things. And Miko . . . how are we going to do all of the work without you?"
I ran my hand down Zoko's face. "We need to go. Are you coming?" I asked softly.
"I can't go . . . I can't . . ." he said, tearing up.
I smiled weakly. "I understand. Go back inside. We'll meet again someday, I'm sure of it."
He stood there, motionless, and looked at me.
I looked back at him.
"Go on," Miko hissed, as he waved him away.
Zoko looked into my eyes and pulled me into a tight embrace.
I kissed his cheek and whispered that I'd miss him too, and to take care of himself and the young ones.
He pulled back and I saw tears glistening in the moonlight on his cheeks, just as I felt tears on my own face.
I wiped the moisture away from his eyes and he gripped my hand for a second, before he quickly turned and went back inside his cabin.
Miko put his hand on my shoulder as I fought back a waterfall of tears. He tenderly wrapped his arms around my shoulders and held me against his warm chest, where I cried. I cried for the unknown, I cried for little Jalo, I cried for the friends I was leaving behind, I cried for my confusion about Miko, and I cried for my future.
We met Neti in the garden behind a tool shed. Neti embraced us both when she saw we had made it okay.
"We need to hurry," Neti declared. "Dawn is coming soon. They will catch us easier if that happens."
Miko and I nodded. "Run quickly, and quietly until we reach the nook where the cabin meets with the line of the river. We'll cross there," I said quickly, looking at them both.
Miko and Neti nodded as they glanced at each other.
"I'll take the lead," I continued. "Follow me once I make it behind the cabin. Follow quickly, and one at a time. But we don't have too much time."
They both nodded with understanding and I peeked out from behind the tool shed. Everything was still, and hadn't moved. So with one look back at Miko and Neti, more specifically Miko, I took in a deep breath and walked low and quickly through the tall wheat and grass. After dodging a couple of holes that had been dug into the ground earlier that day, I found myself behind the cabin. I breathed deeply as I waited for the next person to come running. I leaned back against the cabin wall and looked up as I closed my eyes, trying to catch my breath and settle the butterflies in the pit of my stomach. Am I really doing this?
Next thing I knew, Neti came around the corner, out of breath. She smiled and threw her arms around me for a long embrace.
"How are you holding up?" I supportively responded, rubbing her back.
She nodded into my neck and shoulder.
I pulled back and smiled.
"Miko will be here soon," she whispered, her face getting a little pale, even through the darkness.
"What's wrong, Neti?" I asked with uncertainty. She looked down, but said nothing. "Neti?"
"Kibi," she said finally. "How . . . how do you feel about Miko?" She looked timidly into my eyes.
I took in a breath and rested my hands on my waist. "Honestly, Neti?" I admitted, letting out a breath. "I don't know right now. Why do you ask?"
She ran her tattered shoe through the dirt and back again. "I think he likes you."
I hesitated. "I think so too," I said, nodding as I tripped over my thoughts. "But at the same time, I think he's just confused, with everything that's going on. I think he's taking his emotions for me as a friend to unprincipled extents. Why do you bring it up?"
She looked down for a long time, and then back into my eyes. "Kibi . . . I think I love Miko."
"Made it!" Miko said rounding the corner.
Neti smiled and wiped away the tears that our conversation had brought to her eyes.
Miko immediately wrapped me in his arms to embrace me. I smiled weakly and accepted a short hug. I kept urging Neti with my eyes to embrace him next, which she did with grace, as she does everything else. I couldn't help but feel a hint of jealousy as she held him . . . jealousy that she wanted him too.
"Now what?" Neti said, reluctantly leaving Miko's grip.
I forced myself to smile, before bringing my focus back to the task at hand. "The bridge over the stream is down there," I said, pointing to the left of us about fifty feet. "But it's through an open field. So we'll have to move quickly and not look back. Neti, I'd like you to go first this time. Once you get across, I want you to go a little ways into the forest, and hide behind the first large tree you find. When Miko and I come across, one at a time, we'll whisper your name. I want you to whisper your name when you hear us coming to you, and we'll hide beside you until all three of us are across. Got it?"
Neti nodded with a gleam of eagerness surrounding her face. "Keep watch for me, just in case anyone's coming," she whispered uncertainly.
I smiled. "Of course, Neti. Now go, we all need to get across."
She nodded solemnly as she scanned the area around her before quickly making her way down to the bridge.
We watched her for a moment before I lost sight of her in the darkness and leaned back against the wall. I remembered Miko's presence beside me and smirked, happy to be alone with him again. I looked up at him and smiled once our eyes met.
He came closer and slid his arm around my waist, gently kissing my neck and whispering in my ear how much he cared about me.
I smiled as a chill went down my spine, and wrapped my arms around him. He held me against his chest for a long time, before finally kissing my lips and letting me go.
"I better get moving," I murmured reluctantly. "We have a lot of ground to cover."
"Of course," he said, running his fingertips down my cheek.
I smiled as the butterflies flooded my stomach once again, and observed my surroundings as I made my way across the open field and across the rickety bridge, taking a last look back at Miko's figure in the darkness. I looked ahead of me and ran forward, whispering Neti's name over and over until I heard a faint whisper coming from behind one of the trees. I stopped and listened to where it came from. I whispered her name again and she stepped out from behind a large oak tree. I jumped before I realized it was her.
"Shh, Kibi! It's only me!" she said as she took a step towards me.
I put my hand over my quickening heart as I went and hid behind the large tree with her, neither of us saying much of anything until Miko showed up, where we both unconsciously and jealously fought for his affection.
We soon were walking through the large, dark forest, all of us making small talk. Miko held my hand for a while, which I felt fortunate for. I really did care for Miko . . . and still I felt guilty about Neti. She had been trying so hard to get him to notice her. We kept walking through the forest until dawn rose. I looked at Neti as she yawned.
"We should probably get some rest," I said finally.
Miko looked at me and I saw Neti smile briefly at the idea.
"Here look good?" Miko suggested as we came into a clearing with trees, and minimal rocks covering the ground.
Neti and I nodded and immediately found trees to sleep against for the night. I sat against a large tree and leaned my back against it, closing my eyes.
Neti was soon fast asleep, with her girly little snore that made me giggle to myself.
Suddenly I heard slow footsteps and my eyes shot open. It was Miko coming to sit next to me. As I had done earlier that evening, I scooted over to the side and Miko sat down with me. Soon Miko has his arms around my waist and I was nuzzled into his chest, fast asleep.
"No! Neti!" I heard a voice yell as my eyes flashed open, squinting instantly at the bright morning sun.
Men were surrounding us and had Neti's arms held back, one man throwing her over his shoulder.
"Neti!" I screamed, scrambling to my feet. I ran and hit the man who was holding her, obviously not fazing him any as he grunted and shoved me to the ground, yelling at another man in a foreign tongue and pointing to me.
I felt Miko jump over me to protect me, just to get thrown down by a large man with a whip.
The man holding Neti started to run and I grabbed his ankle. As I made him stumble, he let go of Neti, who instantly fell to the ground. I saw Miko run to her aid, and hold her to his chest as she yelled about a pain in her arm.
A small man picked me up and swung me over his shoulder as I kicked and screamed. I saw Miko grab Neti's waist, and even through my conscious jealousy, I yelled for them to run.
Neti held Miko's hand as she went to take off into the forest. Miko reluctantly followed behind her, staring back at me with regretful eyes.
I nodded and mouthed for them to go, and saw a tear falling down his cheek as he turned to run with Neti back into the forest.
"You really thought you'd get away, didn't you, girl?" the man holding me asked with amusement.
"It's Kibi," I responded bitterly.
He and the two men following just laughed.
The large man that had thrown Miko to the ground was following us, and ran his hand down my cheek. "Pretty girl. What business do you have in the forest?"
I coldly pulled my face back. "Independence, just out of my grasp. If you lugs wouldn't have held me back, I may possibly have had it by now!"
The man smacked me across the face as I yelped. "You will talk to us like superiors. Words like that should not be said from the tongue of someone like you. Shut up before I shut you up."
Tears filled my eyes in pain as I felt a trickle of blood slide down my cheek from where he had struck me, but I remained strong and held back my tears.
"Your friends may have escaped us this far, but they'll be back," the third man informed me with a chuckle.
I stared back the way we came, soberly wondering where my friends were now.
"Kibi!" all of my friends yelled as I entered the cabin. Hugs and kisses surrounded me instantly.
Tears filled my eyes once again at the sight of my brothers, sisters, friends, and what I considered to be my family.
"You came back," I heard a boy's voice say as I looked through everyone surrounding me. It was Zoko.
I smirked with a hint of embarrassment as he smiled. I broke through the crowd and went to him.
"I hoped that you'd make it," he uttered softly as he looked into my eyes.
I smiled. "Yeah, I wish we all would have," I murmured with sadness in my voice, staring down at the insecure floorboards of the leaky cabin. I felt Zoko hold me in a warm embrace, which felt good after so much uncertainty. His friendship comforted me, even if only for that brief moment.
"Where are the others?" he asked me through our teary-eyed hug.
A tear fell down my cheek as I whispered that I didn't know.
He held me tighter. "Maybe they made it," he said, trying to reassure himself, more then me, of his confidence.
"Thanks," I said, running my hand up and down his back before reluctantly pulling away from his arms.
He smiled and ran his hand down my arm.
"Okay excitement over! Everyone get to work!" the guards said as they threw shovels, plows and gloves outside of our cabins.
We impulsively jumped as we all headed outside.
I ran and grabbed my routine shovel and gloves, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"Oh no no no, pretty miss. We have a special day planned for you." I took a deep breath and turned around: the guard who had smacked me.
I kept my eyes closed the entire time; whip after whip after whip, screaming as I felt my blood trickling down my body, wearing only my torn and tattered rags for protection.
"Get in there!" I heard a voice yell as the beating came to a pause.
I saw two guards come in, and throw Miko and Neti onto the ground beside me.
"Miko! Neti!" I yelled, instantly grabbing them both in a hug and kissing Miko's cheek, all of us crying.
"Get off!" the cruel man yelled as he whipped us all.
We screamed and jumped back, each of us getting whipped by separate masters.
They beat us and beat us and beat us, until they finally wore me down and I couldn't fight back. I fell down onto the brick floor, holding my body, my head hidden by my arms as he whipped me mercilessly.
I opened my eyes hesitantly, only to reveal a layer of darkness surrounding me. I went to sit up slowly, but instantly shot back down. I looked around, only daring to move my neck at this point. It was a dark room with one small window up in the corner, letting in a stream of pale moonlight. I looked across the room to see Neti and Miko fast asleep, holding each other. As much as it pained me to see them that way, so happy together, I kept my focus on the throbbing pain in my ribs. I had obviously cracked one of them when I hit the brick floor after being beaten. I looked around the room; it was one of the security cabins for any wannabe runaways, which was now being kept guarded during all hours.
I looked back over at Miko and Neti, and saw Miko looking back at me.
I smiled weakly as tears filled my eyes.
He gently untangled his arms from around my pretty friend, and came to sit beside me. He touched my shoulder gently and looked into my eyes.
"She loves you," I muttered weakly, holding back tears.
He nodded solemnly. "I know, Kibi."
I looked down at my shattered ribcage, trying to imagine myself anywhere but there. "Do you love her?" I asked, not daring to look at him in fear of me completely losing it.
"Yes, Kibi," he sighed, "I love her."
I closed my eyes in pain, both emotional and physical, as tears ran slowly down my cheeks. I felt his hand being removed from my shoulder. "I am so sorry." He whispered softly, as he went to stand up.
I held his arm to keep him there. "It's . . . okay, Miko," I said dryly, surprised that I could say it honestly. "You two have always been cute together."
He smiled. "Thanks, Kibi . . . that really means a lot . . . coming from you."
I smiled weakly as he kissed my cheek, stood up and went to a mat in the far corner of the cabin by himself, curling up and going to sleep.
Tomorrow is another day, I thought to myself. I lay there and remembered my tender moments with Miko, and the not so pleasant past; the fighting, the anger, and the most recent affairs with one another. How could I have thought it would ever last? His heart is obviously with Neti. But, as long as Miko's happy, I guess I'm happy too. I closed my eyes as I felt a cool breeze coming in through the high-up window. I put my hands gently on my cracked ribcage for comfort, and softly drifted off to sleep to the sound of my friend's breathing.
"Kibi," he said looking up into the stars. "What do you see?"
I smiled and ran my hands down his arms. "A beautiful starry night."
"What are those stars, Kibi?" he said looking at me tenderly.
I looked back at him, smiling, then back at the stars up above. "Holes in the sky. The universe shedding little lights."
The man laughed and kissed my forehead. "My Kibi," he whispered softly.
I nuzzled into his shoulder and looked up into his eyes.
He looked down at me and kissed my lips.
I gazed into his eyes, and felt a wave of comfort come over me, being completely at peace with life. Something that I had never known existed until lying there, in that man's arms. "Thank you," I whispered through my tears, "so much."
The man smiled and pulled me close to him. "Go to sleep, Kibi. You deserve it."
I rested my head on his chest and gently closed my eyes, thinking that maybe this world wasn't such a bad place after all.
I felt him kiss my forehead and whisper words of affection in my ear, as I fell into a deep sleep.
I woke up to the bright sunlight streaming in through the window high above me.
I looked around and saw Miko and Neti gone, but I was covered in the old blanket that Neti was using last night, and felt the comfort of my friends.
I lay there, and recalled my dreams of that night. I dreamt of a man, a slightly older man, one I had fallen for. I couldn't recall the young man's name, but he was smart, very smart. He taught me words that I didn't even know existed, even with my large vocabulary. I couldn't recall if he was another slave boy . . . but he seemed too educated and well dressed to be a slave, and I couldn't imagine him being a slave master or guard. We didn't look like we were in a slave camp . . . and I don't remember ever seeing his face in real life. All I knew for sure was that there was something about that dream that called to me. Maybe Miko isn't the one for me . . . he's Neti's man. I'll just have to find my own dream man some day. The one that will hold me like Miko holds Neti, and kiss me how Miko kissed me, except actually mean it. I smiled softly as I took one last look around, and snuggled into the comfort of my blanket, drifting back into sleep, into my dream man's world for one last visit.