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Resistance: Chapter One
Of course Claudia, one of the most fussy and unreasonable people I know, would have her fussy, unreasonable baby in the middle of the day. Her shrill shriek when she realized that she was going into labor roused every single one of us from our much needed sleep.
At first I wasn’t aware of what was happening. A few lanterns around the room clicked on, bathing the large drafty room in flickering orange light. A few of the men swore and pulled their raggedy blankets over their faces and went back to sleep. I propped myself on my right elbow and rubbed my eyes sleepily with my other hand. Tessa, who was supposed to act as a midwife for Claudia, hurried over towards Claudia’s mat. On the mat beside mine Winter was sitting up, as wide awake as if she’d been up for hours.
“What’s going on?” she whispered urgently, her young blue eyes meeting my world-weary brown ones. Never before had I met a three-year-old as talkative as my little Winter. Well…she wasn’t technically ‘mine.’ But she was close enough to being mine.
“Dunno.” I mumbled groggily. “Somebody die?” Of course that was always my first assumption whenever I heard screaming and running. I wasn’t the most optimistic human you’d find in the manor.
Winter was looking towards Claudia’s mat, only about twenty feet from ours. “I think the baby wants out of her belly!”
“Yay for the baby.” Babies weren’t my forte. It seemed that every child under the age of ten was out to annoy me to death. (Well, excluding Winter. She was the only sensible child I’d managed to meet.) I wasn’t about to get excited about Claudia’s new little bundle of ‘joy.’ They were noisy and stuffy little things that required ten times the work. Even when you did all you could there wasn’t any garuntee that they would live. And there wasn’t anyway I would allow him (or her) to steal my sleep. I closed my eyes again and pulled my thin blanket close.
Well, so much for sleep. I threw off my blanket with an irritated sigh and crawled over to see what I could do to help.
The labor was short with minimal screaming, thankfully. Master Free would have been furious if they’d woken him. The actual birth, however, was a different story entirely. I had retreated back to my mat at that time and crouched there for half of an hour with my hands over my ears. Finally a baby’s shrill, life-giving cry ripped through the Slaves’ Chamber. I risked a glance, but quickly looked away. The baby was covered in blood and other bodily fluids that made me cringe. I’d seen blood before, of course. But every time it always made me want to heave up what little food I had in my stomach.
Tessa clipped its cord and quickly bathed it in a bucket of lukewarm water. After wrapping it in a blanket, she retreated back to her mat to let mother and child be in peace for an hour or so. At least until Master Free either permitted Claudia rest for a bit or until he came in and ordered her to kill the child and get back to work.
“Jo, does having a baby hurt?” Winter asked, crawling over to sit on my mat. She hugged her knees close to her chest.
I shrugged. “How should I know? I’ve never had one.” Thankfully. None of my masters had tried to breed me yet. “I guess it does, though. Just judging from the way she yelled.” Another reason why I would never have a little one of my own. I added, “Don’t go near her for a little bit. New mothers are always protective.” Claudia was cooing over her new baby as I spoke. She was holding it close and letting it nurse. If anyone came to close she would narrow her eyes at them in warning.
After a few moments of silence, Winter said quietly, “Tell me a story. About Before.” I raised my eyebrows, which caused her to add in the word ‘please.’
My mood darkened. Stories about Before always made me angry. But Winter was the closest thing to kin that I had. In truth, I’d give my life for the little one. So I nodded once. “What would you like to hear?”
“Tell me about families.” Winter uncurled herself and set her head on my lap. Ever since she’d been sold to Master Free she’d acted as if I were her mother. “About mommies and daddies.”
I had to dig in the recesses of my mind for information on that particular subject. No one liked to talk of previous happiness. Most folks preferred to focus on the bad. That way we wouldn’t miss how things were back then. I eventually found that story, however, and said, “Well, males and females used to go through this ceremony called ‘marriage.’ Shades stole that ceremony from us, actually. But before they got married the man would pro…pro…something. He would ask her to marry him and give her a ring.”
Winter held out her hand experimentally, as if she were trying to imagine what it would look like with a ring on it. Neither of us had any jewelry of our own. I’d never met a human that did.
“And at the wedding, the females wore pretty white dresses and were called ‘brides.’ Then after they were married they’d find their own home and have children. Then they became…er…mommies and daddies.” I tried to imagine sitting in a nice, Modern house with my mother and father, and my older brother that I’d never met.
The picture refused to take form even in my mind’s eye.
“And their homes.” Winter said quietly. Her hand fell limply on to my knee. I guess she was done imagining about being a bride. “Tell me.”
“It depended on how rich or poor you were…but the children and the parents had bedrooms to themselves. And they had rooms with running water and they could control how hot or cold it was in the house.” It sounded suspiciously like magic to me. All I’d ever known was drafty manors and castles with rarely changed chamber pots.
“Then the War?” A shudder went down Winter’s spine. It was a question, but she knew the answer to it.
I nodded, trying to keep the fury from bubbling in my veins. That was a story we all knew. “Yes…all of the Shades-vampires, werewolves and werecats, dragons, witches, and the merfolk-emerged from hiding. Because back then humans didn’t believe in them anymore. They thought they were stories.” How wrong they’d been! Centuries before the Shade uprising, my ancestors had driven them into hiding. The Shades were driven to near extinction, and for centuries afterwards they hid in the shadows. “And the Shades got tired of hiding. So on the winter solstice four hundred years ago they came out of the shadows.”
No one could remember the actual War anymore. No human anyway. All of the actual people that lived through it had long since perished. But I could imagine it: Dragons soaring through the smoky sky with blue flame spouting from their mouths. Vampires chasing humans through the streets. Werewolves and werecats battling over a freshly killed human. Witches tormenting humans with their magic, laughing at their foolishness. Mermaids and mermen destroying ships as they tried to escape on to the choppy waters.
“Two years later the humans lost and were either slaves or Food.” I said quietly. I wouldn’t include the grisly details that I knew to be true. I had a bad habit of shielding Winter from the nastier side of things. “But then the Shades started to fight with each other. Half of them wanted to return to their Golden Age. Back when they lived in castles and were feared by all humans. Before electricity and everything else.”
Winter raised her head a bit. She always perked up at the mention of Modern things. Most of it was attributed to mortal success. We liked to look fondly on our creations. It reminded us that once, long ago, we were the masters of the planet. “Others wanted to take all the things we’d created, like light bulbs and stuff, and advance. So they divided the world in half. One half would let humans be free, so long as they knew their place. And they would keep all the technology.”
“And the rest would keep humans as slaves.” Winter finished solemnly. “And go back to the Dark Ages.” She looked longingly at one of the lanterns. It was the only light, other than that of the moon, that she’d ever seen. All Shades were nocturnal, because night was when their power was at its peak. So of course humans had been forced to become nocturnal with them. And since we’d been out of the sun for so long, humans believed that, like vampires, we’d die if we went into sunlight. As you can imagine, no one I’d ever met had ever felt the sun on their skin.
I looked over towards Claudia and her newborn baby. She was letting people approach now. Tessa was inspecting the baby for signs of weakness or sickness. If the baby showed any sign of failing health when we presented it to Master Free he’d have it killed. Weak slaves were never an option. One day when it was old enough, we’d have to tell it the story of the War and how it was Before. Because all we had were the memories of our own Golden Age.
Those memories were all we’d ever have.
The baby was a male, who Claudia named Samuel. Eventually Winter coaxed me into going over to meet the newest slave. He already had thin black curls on his head, much like his mother’s own. His brown skin was blotched with red, like all newborns, and his eyes were sealed closed. His mouth seemed to hold a subtle frown, as if he was disappointed with the mother and life he’d been born to. The head was too big, the skin too soft…
What was so cute about babies again?
I managed to compliment mother and child be saying, “He looks healthy.”
“Thank you, Josephine.” Claudia replied shortly. She was the only person in the household that called me by my whole name. And she only did so because she knew it made me cringe. “I had no idea he’d be such a big baby! Tessa thinks he weighs nearly ten pounds!”
We all stiffened as the lock on our door was unlatched. Master Free had awoken and had come to let us out. The door swung open noisily and Master Free strode in. A brief look of surprise flashed across his aged face. Usually we were all asleep at this point in the day. But at the moment we were very much awake.
Master Free was an old, rich warlock. I suppose, when he was younger, he could have passed for dashing or handsome. But the years had not been kind to him. Now his skin was the color of aged parchment and was stretched tightly across his bones. There wasn’t a bit of muscle on him anymore. If you got close enough you could see bulging blue veins on his hands, his skin was so thin now. He was bald on the top of his head, but white curly hair still clung desperately around the sides. His nose, which in his younger days might have given him the dangerous air of a majestic falcon, now just looked big and gaudy on his wrinkled face. Not only had his looks failed him, so had his magic. Now he relied on human slaves to do practically everything for him as he’d never learned so much as how to manually sweep the floor.
“What,” he began in his drawling monotone, “is going on in here?”
“Claudia has had her child, Master.” Kenley was the first to speak up. Always so brave, he was.
Master Free arched a single silver eyebrow and strode forward. The people around Claudia, including myself and Winter, scattered like frightened birds. Claudia held Samuel up to him with strong arms. Master Free held the baby with his hands under his armpits and at arm’s length, as if Samuel was infected with some sort of contagious disease. He lifted him up and down, to test his weight I suppose, then brought him in as close as he dared to inspect his face and the rest of his body.
“Hmph.” Master handed Samuel back to his mother. “You may rest for today. The rest of you, to work!”
With a shaky, relieved sigh Claudia took Samuel back into her arms. She kissed her baby’s forehead and his cheeks gratefully. Samuel had met Master Free’s standards. He would not die. At least, not by our master’s hand. Most children did not survive their first year of life. There was still a good deal that could go wrong. Babies are fragile little things.
Our master left us to dress hurriedly. I pulled off the dress I’d worn the day before. That dress was one outfit out of two that I ‘owned.’ Now I pulled on my second outfit. It was my Modern one that I’d received from one of my first masters. She was too cheap to supply us with new, Traditional (Ironic, no?) work clothes, so instead she found some old Modern ones for us to wear. It was a baggy plain black shirt and a dirty, worn pair of trousers called ‘blue jeans.’ When I received this outfit the shirt and jeans were far too big for me, which was how I was still managing to wear them years later. I wrapped the dirty pieces of cloth that substituted for shoes around my feet.
Winter, however, was having difficulties. She was only three years old and not quite as good at handling herself yet. The poor mite was having trouble pulling on her drab brown work dress. With an exasperated sigh I helped her pull the coarse dress over her head. She smiled gratefully, wrapped her feet, and took my hand.
“Another day, another dollar.” Kenley said as he fell into step beside myself and Winter. I wasn’t sure what the saying meant, and I’m not sure that he knew what it meant either. But he always said it every morning.
“Another day, another dollar.” I agreed quietly.