Chapter Eleven

Life in the monastery had settled into a pleasant routine. Shiama's life once again was filled with good friends and laughter once more. With Alaia to guide her skills and Caden to bring a smile to her day, her only sadness was that Arcadia was so far away. She had taken to wearing the bracelet her gave her all the time. Occasionally the light would reflect and twinkle happily, giving Shiama the feeling of contentment and reassurance that all was okay.

The defence skills which had become part of life now, gave a new purpose both emotionally and physically. The balance of her inner and outer body had increased, with more confidence that she had ever know in herself, Shiama's 17th birthday drew nearer.

Caden checked that the contents of this trunk was secure, leaving just a travelling bag to pack before his departure. His year at the monastery proved more beneficial than he had ever imagined, not only with his technical performance and knowledge, but with the many happy days of new friends.

That was his one regret, leaving them behind. Yes he had been older than most of them, but it hadn't mattered. One person in particular made his return to Elona hard; Shiama. Remembering that first day, the girl with the face haunted by shadow, and now transformed into beautiful young woman with a confident smile, but he knew the hurt that hid behind it.

-oOo-

A yelp of pain followed by a muttered "Only for you Shiama would I rise at such an ungodly hour." Caden rubbed his toes as he glared at the bed frame then sighed, grinning to himself he washed and dressed, then grabbed the cloth wrapped bundle and headed out the door.

After finding out that Shiama's birthday was after his departure, Caden wanted to give her a special gift. A token to represent not only a birthday gift from a friend, but a thank you for all time she had spent helping him master skills after class.

The rising sun silhouetted a solitary figure gracefully moving with poise and precision, dancing like a flame teased by the breeze, for as he watched it seemed to glow with an aura of flame, or was he just seeing things?

With a sense of awe he watched the beauty of Shiamas' dance unfold and dwindle to an end. Then as they had been taught in class, she assumed a posture of rest.

After a few moments Caden approached, Shiama heard the footsteps and opened her eyes, and blinked with surprise. "Dee... what are you doing here?" Seeing he was holding something she rose to meet him.

"As you know I'm leaving today, but I couldn't go without giving you this." Feeling awkward, Caden thrust what he was holding forward, at the same time pulling away the cloth that hid it. Revealed was a simple staff, elegant in it's simplicity. Shiama gasped. "My goodness Dee!"

"I know it's your birthday soon, but I won't be here, and I wanted to give you a token to thank you for all the help you have given me with my casting, a staff seemed appropriate."

Shiamas' eyes lit with a smile, and she reached out and hugged him.

"I had it attuned to earth, cos I know you were practising an earth build to tackle the kirin in Pongmei Valley, as you have to travel via there to see your relatives."

Taking the staff carefully but deliberately, Shiama felt the balance of it between her hands. "It feels perfect Dee, and knowing you chose it for me makes it doubly so."

Seeing the hesitation of what to do next on his face, she linked her arm through his and took control of the situation. "Let's get some breakfast and I can show everyone my gift."

Breakfast was a bittersweet affair with many wishing him a safe journey, but sorry to see him go. Due to her classes, Shiama knew she would not have much more time to spend with her friend, therefore she hurried to catch up with his disappearing figure as he strode towards the dormitories. "Dee!" she shouted.

At the sound of his nickname Caden turned, and welcomed Shiama with a beaming smile. "I just had to thank you again, and say that I'm going to miss you." Impulsively she threw her arms around him and gave him a bear-hug. Caden taken by surprise for a moment paused before enclosing Shiama in his arms, delighting at the feeling of her head resting against his chest. As they released their hold on each other, Shiama looked up into his face, and without hesitation Caden placed a brief soft kiss on her mouth. Pleasantly startled Shiama shyly smiled.

"My dearest Shiama, you cannot know what it has meant to me to have a friend as special as you, I hope we meet again someday."

"I hope we do too Caden." Never before had his given name sounded so wonderful uttered from a persons lips. Feeling a tightness growing in his chest, Caden gave her a brief hug and turned away, not wanting her to see the tears forming in his eyes.

Sensing the change in Caden's body language, Shiama knew it was best to say nothing at this point now knowing how much she meant to him, but unsure of her own feelings, she watched him walk away.

In her own room Shiama placed the staff carefully in the special rack provided, and then hurried to class.

Later that afternoon a solitary figure stood a the guardrail of a ship headed for Elona. Memories flooding through his mind and his eyes scanning the shore for a certain person although he knew they wouldn't be there. With a knot of sadness inside his heart he turned to face the open sea and home.