“And one day you will lead your people to the next island. You will brave the seas, cross the waves, discover a new land, and tame a wild and unknown place. You are my son, and you will be brave.” Daeun spread his lips in a tight grin at his second son.
“But daddy, I can’t be brave like you.” Laggur frowned.
“Of course not! But you will be brave like you, my young voyager. And you will see such sights!”
“No! I’m going!” Pannul jumped out of the bushes, waving a stick. “I will find birds that have wings made of water and fish made of fire! I will discover them all and lead my people to wonder after wonder!”
“Oh, my oldest son, you will stay here. We must not abandon our island, given to us by those who came before! But do not think you will not have adventures. And do not envy your little brother, or it will not end well for you or for our people.” Daeun scooped up his oldest son, all of seven years, and squeezed him with ferocity. “You have both been called to adventure, but such different ones. And in the end, you will stand on different lands, but your hearts will beat, oh, they will beat as one.”
Business called the chief away, and Laggur and Pannul watched him go off down the trail toward the tanner’s hut. Pannul’s head spun toward his little brother. “I found something. Come on!”
Pannul raced into the jungle. Laggur pushed hard after his taller sibling, but he could never keep up. He liked staying home; Laggur had not climbed to the top of the near mountain, nor even seen the far one. He had never swum across the bay. He didn’t want to.
But he loved his brother. And that was enough.
Pannul went farther around the base of the near mountain, farther than Laggur had ever gone. Over stones. Under roots of the pale cracao trees. Through streams that burbled, “Oh, Laggur, do not go!” But Laggur did not listen.
At last Pannul stopped at a shallow pool embraced by the roots of a tree on one side and a rocky outcropping of black stone on the other. And there, in the middle of the pool that came to his knees, lay a man’s face made of white sand.
Pannul gestured to his little brother as he slipped into the pool. “Come! See!”
And as Laggur’s toes dipped into the water, eyelids made of sand opened under the water and looked toward him. Lips made of sand bent into a smile. And a voice as wet as the pool greeted him. “You must be the brother that is so brave!”
Laggur shook his head. “I’m not brave.”
“Oh, of course not! That’s why you followed your brother so far. Oh, you don’t know how far you have come, do you?”
Laggur looked up at his brother, but Pannul kept his eyes down at the center of the pool. “I brought him. Can you do it?”
“Of course I can, young one, but only if this other young one agrees. I will do nothing unless you both want it.”
“Do what, Pannul?”
“You want to stay here, right?” Pannul splashed over to his little brother, keeping well away from the face in the center of the pool. “And I want to go. But the Drowned Sands – they say they can change things. They can make it so that I get to go on adventures, and you stay safe here at home!”
Laggur looked back down at the face. “Who are you?”
“Oh, young one, I am the Drowned Sands. I have laid here for many years. Only the blood of chiefs can find me, and only at great need. Your father found me when he was young, and it is only because of me you have a mother. Your grandfather found me when the far mountain belched smoke, and it is only because of me your village is safe. And now, now you have found me. And I, only I can give you what you need. Laggur, I can give you the life of your brother, so you will stay here, and become a chief like your father, judging your people with wisdom. Here you will find safety. And I will give Pannul your life, and he will brave the seas, cross the waves, discover a new land, and tame a wild and unknown place. All you need to do is say this is what you desire, and it will be yours.”
Laggur looked from the sandy face to his big brother and back again. “But it would not be who we are.”
“Young one, who is to say who you are? Your heart calls you to stay. The heart of your brother yearns to adventure. You were meant to stay; it is only because you were born second that your family urges you to fly.”
“But it is not who we are.”
Pannul struck him on the shoulder. “This is our chance! What are you doing?”
Laggur backed away, refusing to let the tears come to his eyes. He hated it when his brother got pushy. “It is not who we are. I don’t want to go. You don’t want to stay. But it’s like eating the greens. We don’t like it, but it’s best for us.”
Pannul snorted. “If I were chief, I wouldn’t make anyone eat greens.”
Laggur looked back down at the face. “I can’t stay. I have to go.”
“You will never find happiness over the horizon.”
“I’m going home.” Laggur turned to step out of the pool.
Or he tried.
The sands twisted around his ankles and held him in the pool. “Young one, you will stay until you are wise enough to accept my offer.”
Laggur kicked. The sands held firm. He splashed. He fell. The sands wrapped around his wrist and snaked around his legs.
Pannul watched. “Laggur, just say that you’ll do it. Come on. I want to go! Let me go! Let me go in your place!”
“No!” Laggur flailed. The sands grabbed at his waist, dragging him farther and farther down. His neck slipped under the surface of the water. It tickled the edge of his chin. It brought his mouth under.
Tears dripped down Pannul’s cheeks. “Laggur! Just let it give you what you need! Why are you fighting what you need?
And then Laggur’s head sunk under the calm, calm surface of the pool.
Pannul gasped for breath. His eyes darted from the sandy face to the hair on the back of his brother’s head and back again. “Let him up.”
The jungle birds sang in the distance.
“Let him up, Sands!”
The face remained passive.
Pannul ran to his brother and dragged him up. The sand slid from his body. The big brother struggled to slide him over the edge of the pool, squeezing him until the water came from his lungs. Laggur coughed, wretched, coughed, wept.
He did not weep alone.
And in years to come, Pannul stayed on the island. He had to. He knew how dangerous the island could be. He had walked its paths as no one else had, and knew how to warn his people, and how to tell when someone was ready to explore the far mountain. But it took learning the dangers of the Drowned Sands for him to know how to do it. The Sands gave him what he needed: an adventure at home.
And Laggur? Oh, you know the answer to that. He braved the seas. He crossed the waves and discovered a new land. Oh, he tamed that wild and unknown place. And the Drowned Sands taught him he could stand against danger, even if it cost him his life, because he knew who he was: The second son of the chief, fated to sail, and beloved no matter where his courage came from. The Sands gave him what he needed: the knowledge that he could be brave.
And the brothers, at the end of their lives, though parted by oceans, their hearts beat as one. For on that day at the edge of the Drowned Sands, each knew that the other was what they wanted, but what they needed was to be who they were and desire nothing else.
When they returned to the village that day of the sands, days had passed. They never told their father, Daeun, where they had been, but he treated them both with great respect. Once, late at night, he told them, “I couldn’t have withstood the Sands until I was ready to marry. You, though?” And he shook his head, but whether in shame at himself or pride for them, they could not tell.
And when the day came for Laggur to leave the island, to find his way, he clasped hands with his brother. “You are Pannul, and you will adventure on this island.”
“And you are Laggur, and you will adventure far away.”
And they wept together again.
But the stories of their adventures… ah, you do not need to tell me them again, child. Go to sleep now. Perhaps tomorrow I will tell you of the six-legged serpent, or the glass heart of Tagrid.
What was that?
Oh, I was never called to the Drowned Sands. I don’t have the blood of chiefs in my veins. But you? Well, I need to prepare you for that trial somehow, don’t I?