The Atlantic Ocean
Late summer, circa 1816
The stench of urine and feces combined with perspiration, other body fluids, and filth assailed Jai’s senses. It was so terrible that she found it difficult to think of what was happening to them. Or, where they were being taken?
What are they going to do to with us?
All of these questions crossed her mind before she and her ward were thrown down the steep stairs and chained to others whose skin color was like theirs. She even thought about what her people would do when they discovered they were missing.
As hopelessness washed over Jai, she could only think of her ward, Marda, who clung tightly to her. The girl’s thin arms were wrapped around her neck so tightly that breathing through the stench had become even more difficult.
Jai gently pulled at Marda’s arm so she could take in air. Loosening the girl’s grip caused Marda to slide a few inches down Jai’s torso, settling more into her lap. Awake now, Marda moaned.
Jai sighed. Even if she could focus, even if she could use her ability, there wasn’t much she could do to the pale people who held her and many others with dark skin captive on the water vessel that was carrying them. She was just a neophyte, a novice that no matter how well she knew how to wield her power it wasn’t an ability that could save them. In truth, Jai’s ability was only enough to secure her future as the first wife to the Prince of her tribe and secured her position of handmaiden to his sister, the Princess Marda, until their joining.
A loud cry rising above the continuous sobbing caused young Marda to squeal and tighten her grip again. Another has passed, Jai guessed.
Jai understood their language like it was her own. The ability was a gift most Coesen were capable of. So, she understood the pale man when he came down with a pair of clothed men of color to haul off the one who’d passed. They carried the body up the steep stairs and through an opening, which was the only source of light shining into the sunken room, and tossed the body overboard. None with shackles moved.
The light was the way to freedom but only through death.
Jai looked down at Marda who began to shake and cry uncontrollably. She wrapped her arms around the girl, squeezing a little tighter. “Close your eyes little one,” Jai whispered in their tongue.
As Marda closed her eyes, Jai gently stroked her cheek. She may not be able to use her ability to escape but she could take Marda away from this place. Not physically, of course, but to Marda the images in her mind, whimsical and amazing, will be as real as the stench of the floating prison they were in.
Jai closed her eyes and called on her ability and almost instantly young Marda fell silent.
With the girl tucked away in a world of sweet dreams, Jai opened her eyes. She looked around the room at the scared, lost faces that were crammed together so closely that there was little space to extend a limb. Her attention settled on the men who were kept separated and who were chained to one another and shackled to the floor. Her gaze landed on one particular male. He was watching her too.
She was considered a beauty among her people. Her eyes were dark brown, her black lashes were long, and her dark brows were naturally arched. Her chin and nose were long and narrow due to her Egyptian ancestry but they blended perfectly with her warm beige skin, salmon colored lips, and her darker than coal hair. And even though she’d only seen sixteen dry seasons, her intelligence matched her beauty.
Jai still wasn’t certain that attraction wasn’t his motive.
The man watching her slowly bowed his head while maintaining eye contact with her.
He knows what I am.
Did he think she could save them? There would be no saving them, at least not by her anyway.
She studied the man’s features—his comely looks, his build which showed his physical strength, and his quiet reserve that spoke of his patience.
A tear rolled down Jai’s cheek when she saw the tribal markings on his chest. He was from the small village where Jai and ten other Coesen representatives were sent on behalf of the Quende King, Garwe.
King Garwe had also sent his daughter, Marda, to show how serious he took the Kepe King’s proposal. Talks of joining the two tribes had gone on for two full seasons. King Garwe knew the Kepe wanted to merge due to the raiding of villages by pale men that had consumed the coastal lands, but according to their law, the Coesen people were to remain indifferent to the dealings of Middlings.
It was rumored that King Garwe wanted more power. By joining the two tribes he could gain that power. His youngest daughter Marda, whose beauty at eight dry seasons shamed other Coesen, was to be presented as bride to the Kepe King’s son.
No one foresaw that the Kepe village would be raided and the Coesen King’s daughter would be taken from their lands.
Jai shook her head at the man who bowed, then lowered her head in a modest bow to him. She’d seen the Kepe warriors fight bravely. Most were killed in the quick raid. In some backward way, Jai considered those who lost their lives to be the fortunate ones.
She let her head fall back against a wooden beam she was leaning against. Somehow, she knew that where they were going, her regal status no longer mattered.
Maiden Hall Plantation
Virginia, Fall of 1816
Marda lifted her head when the wagon stopped. Shaking with fear, she tried not to think of how empty her stomach was as she thought of how far from home she was. She looked up at Jai, who was watching a pale-faced man who stood beside the wagon. He was speaking to a Negro standing next to him. The pale-faced man barked out commands and the Negro just mumbled and nodded, never looking the man in the eyes.
Negro was what the pale-faced people called people with dark skin. She heard them say it many times since her capture. She didn’t care for the word. She didn’t care for the word Nigger either, another of their words for dark-skinned people. If she had to choose between the names she heard the pale people use for people of color, she preferred colored, but that didn’t seem right to her either.
Marda also disliked their way of speaking. Their words sounded harsh, clipped, and forced. Not like her language. Her language sounded like a soothing song. And her people often smiled at one another. Not like this pale man or the others she saw in this land.
Marda eyed the Colored man as he made his way to the wagon where she and four others like her were huddled together. It wasn’t long before she felt herself being pulled from Jai’s arms and out of the wagon. She tried to tighten her grip around Jai. Marda even clawed at Jai’s arms and screamed, but the brown-skinned man yanked her free.
“Simma down here girl,” the brown-skinned man said.
Only, Marda kept screaming.
“Ain’t nobody gonna hurt ya here, chile. I’m Barkly.” He placed her feet on the ground, grabbed her by her arms, and shook her.
Marda looked up at the man’s face staring down at her. He had a tired face but his light brown eyes had a gentle look to them. When he let her go, she moved closer to him as he helped Jai down from the wagon.
Marda shuffled to Jai’s side and grabbed her arm as the brown-skinned man slapped his hand against the wagon. As the wagon pulled away, Marda watched through hooded eyes as the others in the back huddled closer together.
The brown man spoke to her and Jai but Marda just continued to look at the wagon as it rolled further away, down the dirt path. Marda’s eyes searched out the pale man who made some kind of trade for them when they were herded off the boat earlier. He sat in the front of the wagon with ropes that were tied around the others’ necks in his hands.
The man was called Shaw, and his pale gray eyes peered back at her as he rode away. Marda cringed when she saw his thin lips turned up into a wicked smile. When Marda felt Jai pull her close, she turned away from Shaw’s crooked grin.
“Dis place, ‘tis new for y’all but all gone be fine.” The brown man smiled as he led them through a field of low cut grass. “The misses, she fair to us.”
Ahead, there was a small white dwelling with openings for air and a portal for entering. It was the prettiest thing Marda had ever seen but the man didn’t stop there. Marda slowed to appreciate the dwelling as they passed but the brown man continued walking and Jai continued to pull her along. So, Marda quietly followed but was rewarded as they traveled through a maze of hedges and colorful flowers.
In the distance, a large white dwelling came into view. Marda exhaled a breathless sigh. In her eight dry seasons, she had never seen anything so grand, so beautiful as the dwelling that stood before her. For the first time since being thrown into this new world, she thought of something other than home.
She wanted to explore every corner.
As they approached, she saw that the sheer size of the dwelling was magnificent. The paint was so white it was blinding. It had so many air openings and tall white beams that seemed to hold the upper-level up. Her current thought was where the opening for her to go inside would be in such a place.
Marda was so enthralled that she wasn’t paying attention to where she was going so she ran into Jai, who had stopped at a white wooden entry on the ground.
Barkly bent down and tapped two times on the wooden entry. “Barkly here, wit dem girls the Missus asked fer.”
Jai and Marda looked at one another, then to the entry as it was pushed up and open. Marda felt the urge to back away but relaxed when she felt Jai squeeze her close. A round face woman with a round body popped her head out of the large hole in the ground. She wore a head wrap and was dressed in coverings that made her look like one big mass of fabric.
“Don’t just stare at me. C’mon in now,” the heavy woman said. She reached for Jai but Jai ripped her hand from the woman’s grasp then looked at the man.
“Dey fresh off the boat,” Barkly said to the woman. “Don’t know our talk much.” He pointed to Jai and Marda, then to the heavy woman. “Y’all get on in now.”
Jai slowly extended her hand, but held onto Marda tightly with her other. They slowly walked down into the underground space with the round woman’s help. When the entry slammed closed above them, they both whipped their heads around.
They were alone with the round woman in a dimly lit room. The woman took Jai by the hand and pulled her over to where light flickered in the room.
“Let me eye ya some,” the robust woman said as she stood in front of them. She circled them slowly. Every so often she would touch or move them closer to the light. She inspected them the same way the pale man, Shaw, had. She looked in their mouths and worked her hands through their hair.
“Good,” she muttered under her breath. Then she saw the mark behind Jai’s ear.
Marda watched as the heavy women licked her thumb then wiped at the mark.
“Hmm,” she said when the mark didn’t come off. She shrugged. “Seein ya both, I got a mind to guess why Shawpay fer ya. A fine face don’t mean spit if y’all can’t learn proper. ‘Cause me no never mind if ya can’t use words but it gone be hard learning ya’ll to.” She shook her head. “Don’t want ta think what it gonna do to my work load, to learn ya’ll and get ya right for Miss Catherine. Goin’ be some work fer sure. Humph,” she rubbed her apron, “well let’s get ya’ clean.”
The large sash windows allowed the sunlight to brighten the entire room. Jai and Marda stood next to each other with their heads lowered but stole glances at the objects in the room. There were so many things that neither of them had ever seen before. Things that Marda wanted to touch but she stood still as the heavy woman, who called herself Tempie, talked to a woman they couldn’t see clearly because she sat in a chair facing a window with her back to them.
“Scrub ‘em real nice Miss Catherine,” Tempie said to the woman.
The woman stood and turned around slowly to look at them. Jai somehow knew not to look at the woman. But Marda couldn’t help looking at the beautiful pale skinned woman that walked over to them. Her fair hair looked soft and was pulled up and secured with jeweled ivory combs. Not one single hair was out of place. The light beige dress she wore had short sleeves. A brown satin trimming was tied just under her bosom and the sash stretched down in the front of the long narrow sarong all the way to the hem.
Marda watched the woman with wonder and excitement in her eyes. And when the young woman kneeled down in front of her, she looked into the woman’s bright green-blue eyes.
“This child is lovely,” Catherine said to Tempie. She placed her finger gently under Marda’s chin and moved her head from one side to the other.
“Markedbefo’ dey come miss,” Tempie said as Catherine focused on the pie shaped mark behind Marda’s left ear.
“And dey ain’t speakin’ much. Guessin’dats good.”
“Why is she clothed in this attire? It hardly fits.”
“Youngmasta Fredrick’s old things’ all I find dat’s small enough. Ain’t never hadno small girl in the main house befo’. I speck I can fetch some from de field folk.”
“No,” Catherine said sweetly. “I’ll see what I can find in my trunks that you can make use of.”
Marda, mesmerized by young Catherine’s eyes and beauty, slowly lifted her hand to touch the woman’s face. But before she could touch Catherine, Marda screeched when she felt a burning sting on the back of her hand. She jerked her hand away.
The shock of being touched in anger for the first time was overwhelming. Never had she felt the sting of anyone’s aggression. Marda’s eyes began to water just as Jai stepped in front of her, giving Tempie a vicious look.
“Tempie!” Catherine yelled as she stood. “You know I don’t allow that type of treatment in my home. You will never touch this child in that manner again.”
“Miss,” Tempie said as she cowered, “she was fixin’ ta touch you miss.”
“Never you mind that Tempie. In this house, you abide by my rules,” Catherine said firmly. Tempie backed away and lowered her head. Catherine then kneeled down in front of Marda again. She looked to Jai and spoke.
“Is she your daughter?”
Jai didn’t look at Catherine. She just held a cowering Marda close, eyeing Tempie.
Marda could see how the green-eyed woman would think that. She and Jai shared a common Egyptian ancestor and they did indeed resemble each other but Marda’s skin was a darker, a soft sable color.
“Dey don’t speak like us, Miss.” Tempie slightly raised her head but quickly lowered it again.
“Well,” Catherine said, “I suppose we will have to talk more so they can learn.” She looked at Jai and smiled. “I am sorry.” She then slowly extended her hand.
Marda, sensing the woman’s gentleness, slowly walked around Jai and stood face to face with her. Catherine took Marda’s hand and lifted it to the side of her face. Marda felt the woman’s soft, warm skin under her hand. Catherine looked to Jai. “You and your daughter will not be treated unkindly as long as you are in my home.” Catherine gently pulled Marda’s hand away and cupped it to her chest, then she slowly stood. “Tempie, take them to the kitchen and give them something to eat. They look starved.”
Caleb is here…and he has a story to tell. A century of life, and he remembers EVERYTHING.
With her family shattered, Cianne clings to the people left in her circle. That includes Caleb Scott, the father she never knew. She is aware that he and the Coesen share a terrible past but he’s her father. She won’t thank him for his help by turning him away. Not with all the people around her dead or dying.
Caleb has had several lifetimes to get it right. A death dealer in every way, Caleb won’t shy away from doing what he knows is best for Cianne. Even if that means threatening what she holds dear and testing the fragile threads of her sanity.
In order to prevent Cianne’s DESCENT into madness, Caleb comes out of hiding. Undeterred by the Coesen threat, and unchallenged, he won’t let the mistakes he's made over his century of life interfere in his plans for his daughter. Those in his way will either bend or break.
In The Beginning
Copyright 2013. Shea Swain. All Rights Reserved.