Prompt: I have been working on a book, which is why I am so far behind. here is chapter One.
Rani woke to the soft sounds of Sasha waking up. Her eyes automatically searched for the place next to her where she knew Dais would be sleeping. She smiled at his look of sweetness in his sleep. She wondered, as she often did, about the things he saw while he slept. Her heart ached slightly around the edges for this small son of hers. She could only pray that his dreams were better than his life had been so far.
“Rani,” Sasha whispered in the darkness.
“I’m awake,” she responded just as quietly.
She felt Sasha kneel by her side and place her clothes on the floor. “Today is a big day,” she breathed. Rani nodded, yes she knew what today was.
She got up and quickly pulled on her pale brown shorts and matching sleeveless top. The material was as plain as the design, but practical. Always practical. Sasha helped her pull her long hair into a knot on the back of her head, and then they both poured water into a pot for boiling.
“We’re almost out of water,” Rani commented.
“Won’t be long now,” came the whispered reply. A small flame flickered to life, casting an eerie shadow into the small room. Rani quickly set to work making the cooking fire while Sasha pulled out clothes for everyone. Being careful not to wake anyone, Sasha set clothes by each of the six slumbering bodies throughout the room.
“I’ll be glad to see the last of these four walls,” Sasha said a bit louder. It was almost time to begin waking the others.
No light came into the sealed off room, no sunlight to tell them that it was morning. Only the small wind up clock told them how much time had passed, and the tally marks along the door. One for every day they had been in the safe room. Yesterday they had counted eighty-nine marks.
“I will be glad to see the sun shining again,” Rani agreed. “It will be especially nice for Dais,” she added quietly.
Sasha smiled widely. “Yes,” was her simple agreement. It certainly wasn’t easy for an eight year old to be in one small room for so long.
“The cereal is ready.” Rani sighed as she pushed herself up off the floor. She scooped herself and Sasha a generous portion and joined her friend along the wall closest to the flames.
“It will be nice to see Nanny Grace and Tabitha, and Avery, and Peter,” Sasha blushed over the last name. Even at her age, her new friendship with Peter still made her blush.
Rani laughed behind her hand, squishing back the sound. “Yes, it will be nice to see Nanny Grace,” she tried to say without giggling.
“You hush!” Sasha swatted her playfully.
Rani shoved another bite of oatmeal into her mouth, trying to stifle her laughter. “Doctor Gauri says that Angali should go with in the next two months.” Rani looked over to where the young pregnant woman slept.
“Sonya has a while yet.” Sonya turned in her sleep as if she had heard her name.
Doctor Gauri and Betna slept soundly in the corner, while Constantina slept on the only bed with Sonya and Angali. The bed doubled as a sofa during the day, but now it was piled with blankets and pillows and slumbering bodies.
Sasha picked up the clock to bring it close to her face. “Eight. Time to go,” she announced in a loud whisper. Rani nodded, taking a huge bite of oatmeal before she got up to help Sasha get the ladies ready for the day.
Rani, servant to Angali, rounded the bed to the left side and gently shook the young beauty. It was hard not to be envious of Angali, she was very pretty, and her husband loved her. He was showing much promise to join the council one day as a tradesman. And now this year, they would have a child to add to their happiness. Angali had the perfect life.
Angali opened her eyes expectantly. “Today is the day,” she declared eagerly before her feet even touched the floor.
“Indeed it is,” Rani agreed quietly.
“Sonya,” she called loudly. “Wake up Sonya! We are opening the door today!”
“Not until Twelve noon,” Constantina interjected with a grin of her own. “An exciting day!”
“What time is it?” Angali demanded.
“Eight O‘clock,” Rani answered patiently.
“Is that all?” Her shoulders slumped.
“We need time to make you presentable,” Constantia told her in a sing song voice.
That made her brighten back up. “Oh Sonya, I get to see Lee. I miss him so much.” Her face changed into a dramatic expression of sadness.
“We all miss our loved ones,” Constantina added. She cast a dark look towards Rani, but no one else noticed it. “Come along now servant, we need to get dressed and our cereal.”
Sonya crinkled her nose. “When we get out of here, I shall never eat oatmeal again,” she vowed. Constantina laughed and patted her leg affectionately.
Although Constantina’s brown hair had turned to grey, she still felt young. She couldn’t help but feel as excited as the other two that they would soon be rejoining their beloved city – Ortec. Constantina’s heart thrilled at the thought. Beside her husband, Avery, she had ruled Ortec for many years. She loved each and every person on her home island. Well almost everyone, she amended to herself.
With little help from their mistress’s, Rani and Sasha managed to get Angali and Sonya up and dressed, the bed made back up, and the women back on it eating their breakfast within a half an hour. Angali pouted that her shirt was now stretched tightly over her swollen abdomen, but after a few compliments from the doctor, she managed to smile about it. The doctor and his nurse, Betna, found a place near the bed to have their own breakfast while Rani went to tend to Dais.
Sasha had already given the boy his cereal so Rani set to washing his face and changing his clothes. “Do we really get to open the door today ma?” In his excitement, his voice carried to where the trio sat laughing. Constantina threw a disapproving glower towards the mother and son.
Dais cringed away from her anger. “Sorry,” he whispered to his mother.
“It’s ok,” she whispered back. “Yes, today is the day.” Rani knew that if Constantina had gotten her way, Dais would have been left out of the safe room.
“There are already too many people that are going,” the older woman had insisted. “it is only for the people we do not want getting sick. And since you are Angali’s servant and Sasha is Sonya’s servant, you two have to go. How will they survive ninety days without you?”She wanted to scream at the woman. He was only a child. Their hatred was misplaced, but she held her tongue. The people of Ortec had always hated Dais. He was different. He wasn’t one of them. Rani had fallen from their graces when she had Dais. It was clear that he was not her husband’s child, and no matter what the circumstances were, there would be no forgiveness.
She had prayed fervently to the God that Nancy Grace and her grandfather had taught her about. They told her of His great love for all the people of the earth and how much He wanted them to love Him back. She had clung tightly to God during her exile from her people. Awkwardly, but eventually she had found a place in Ortec where she could be content with her life. Most of the people of Ortec did not share her belief in God, they shrugged off the stories of the elders as merely that, stories. Sasha was one of the few exceptions to the normal thinking.
Her heart only began to beat again when they came to her in the night and informed her they had changed their minds about Dais. “There is no one else willing to care for him. He is your burden, he will go with you.” He had been her burden all these years, and she was thankful for that burden. Alone in her room that night, she had cried as she praised God.
“Now Son, be sure to stay close to me today,” she told him for what seemed like the hundredth time. He started to squirm. “There is bound to be much excitement,” she said sternly. She suppressed a smile when she added, “Mostly from Sonya and Angali of course.”
“No one will be excited to see me,” he wasn’t sad or bitter, it was just stated as a fact. It was a fact that he had known his whole, short life.
“I don’t know what you are so excited about,” Rani said, trying to close the last few buttons. “It is still just going to be water that you will see.”
“Nanny Grace said there used to be a lot of land,” his eyes nearly glowed. “Land as far as you could see. And animals that….well,” he stopped, at a loss for words, “they were huge ma, just huge.” He stayed still for a brief moment to let her finish her task. “Ma, do you remember a time before the water?” It wasn’t the first time he had asked such questions. She sighed and shook her head. She couldn’t understand why he always wanted to know everything, why he asked so many questions.
Rani herself couldn’t remember a time before the waters covered everything. She had heard the stories, just as all the children had, passed on from their grandfathers. She recalled sitting at the knee of her grandfather when he told of his childhood. His eyes would grow glossy as he looked back to a time she wished she could have shared. A time of running through meadows of flowers and climbing trees that grew taller than the council building. She eagerly drank in his every word as he told of that time.
“You know, mija, there were creatures that swam in the waters that were almost as big as this island. And there were animals that walked on the earth that were bigger than all the houses in the village combined. And when they walked, the earth trembled.”
“Is that why the world tipped over grandpa?” She would ask innocently. “Maybe the big animals made the world tip over.”
“Maybe,” he always became sad at this point in the story. “Whatever the reason, the earth tipped over and the water spilled all over the land.”
“Where did all the water come from?”
“From the oceans.”
“Where did the land go?”
“It’s here, just under the water.”
“And the animals?”
“And the flowers?”
Rani shook her head to free her memories. “Don’t distract me Dais. We have a big day today.”
“Can’t we just open the door now?” Rani heard Sonya whining from the bed.
“No,” Constantina said firmly. She wasn’t budging. Avery had given her strict orders and she would not be deviating from that plan. She pushed a wisp of her grey hair back behind her ears. No one would dare question her authority, but she didn’t like to have to make all these decisions. She had always left most of that up to Avery. “We have to give them every chance to be healthy.” She patted Angali’s protruding belly. It would be time soon. Her wizened eyes sparkled at the thought of a new baby to hold. They had not had a good year for babies on Ortec. Of the seven pregnant women, five had got the sickness and lost their babies. The year before had only yielded two babies, both male. There was a great deal of importance placed on these two women, who were still with child.
Rani smiled and glanced at Sasha, who was sitting on the floor against the wall. She and Dais went to join her along the wall. Sasha jutted her bottom lip mockingly and began wagging it up and down. Rani ‘s shoulders shook in silent laughter as she held her hand tightly over her mouth. Dais played nearby. He didn’t play with toys but he was able to keep himself entertained. (2051)