Day Four: 1,213 words (5,554 total.)
Laborers lit torches along the pathways of the island and villagers walked toward the square to enter the longhouse for the meeting. Mesaul walked with much less pep than usual. He had just found his son at the mercy of a jungle boar. He was so thankful for his wife, Imangel. She was adamant. While he assured her that the boy was safe at play, she knew otherwise. Mesaul was beginning to see his son change and grow angry. It comforted him that his wife stayed home with their child, but tomorrow’s trial worried him. More so, what his son might do tomorrow worried him.
But when he reached the longhouse, he put on his cheerful, confident face that the villagers knew. He shook many hands and laughed at many jokes. Some made less sense than others. Particularly the one about the sea cucumber. The man who owned the tailor shop told it time and time again and it still failed to be funny. But Mesaul made sure to have the largest laugh of all and would always compliment the tailor on his comic genius.
After everyone was seated in benches, Chais rose to the stage, “Hello, people of Zehnai. Before we begin the meeting, let us all bow our heads and give thanks to the spirits that guide us,” everyone bowed low and closed their eyes, even Talau who behind the curtain of the stage, “It was them who guided us to these islands many moons ago. We fled from disease and slavery and here we are now, free, and in health. We obey their wishes and they will rescue us from the Daeman and anyone or anything that attempts to destroy us,” Talau lifted her head, “The spirits will guide us. Chermek!”
In unison, the villages chanted, “Chermek!”
When the chants died, Chais continued, “Now, we will hear from our Chief, Talau who is watched by both the bear and the python.”
The villagers clapped and from behind the curtain, Talau emerged. She stood proud on the stage and had much to say, but knew there were many who didn’t wish to hear it. She pursed her large red-stained lips and watched as the villagers bowed to her. They did so out of courtesy, but Talau knew many disliked her as chief and she knew many more would dislike her after tonight.
“The spirits have brought us here and they have helped us build these islands to the nation they are today,” she paused like she was about to drop a slab of meat into a pit of crocodiles, “But it is we who must begin to help ourselves and begin to find new lands.”
Mesaul let out a throaty laugh, “Chieftess, have you had a few too many cups of rum? Are you suggesting we abandon the spirits, the ones who watch and protect us, and marsh blindly onto the mainland.”
“No, what I-”
But as she tried to explain, the jeweler chimed in, “We send laborers to the mainland when your father was chief. They never returned!”
“They were untrained, what I sugges-”
The florist exclaimed, “This is blasphemy! And right before the festival, too! You will anger the spirits, Chief! And we all will pay!”
Talau could not get a word out and the villagers spat out their concerns. Mesaul sat back with a grin and watched the scene unfold. But as the people grew louder, they were silenced by a thundering crash. The longhouse doors blew open and everyone turned to see lightning strike a palm, sending it crashing down in the village square. They whispered among themselves. They were scared.
Talau took the opportunity, “In case anyone forgot, the storm will be directly on the island by tomorrow night. This is not the first calamity that has come. In many moons, we have not seen a tortoise, a panther, nor a macaw. The fishing has been scarce, we have been unable to breed enough chickens for food, and the boar have grown restless. We cannot stay here and watch the island wither. The animals have moved on and their spirits will follow. They will not wait for us.”
The tailor was hesitant, “But how do you know?”
Talau frowned. She lost them again.
“Chieftess, you are brash. We need not uproot a village because a few birds flew north. Animals migrate and they’ll migrate back.” Mesaul stated so proud.
“And if they don’t? Will you all stay here while your children starve? I am not asking anyone to uproot and enter the mainland blindly. I wish to build an army. Warriors who are trained to tread harsh lands and who can mark the way for all of us. I am not asking you to abandon our isles. Let us expand our boundaries.”
Mesaul cackled, “I can’t wait to see the sign-ups for this ‘army’. Who would leave their home and family to go on some far-fetched quest at your whim, Chief?”
Before Talau could retort, Chais came back on the stage, “Enough! It has grown late. We must rest for the festival tomorrow. The spirits will tell us if this travel nonsense is to be entertained.”
The villagers exited the longhouse, muttering amongst each other. The storm worried them, but so did the thought of losing their homeland. Before Chais could leave the stage, Talau grabbed his arm.
She was furious, “How dare you mock me. You are my adviser and messenger.”
“Yes, but I am no laborer,” he pushed her hand aside, “Your father would be disappointed of how irreverent you’ve become.”
It took everything inside of Talau not to shove the oval-shaped man down the steps as he exited the stage. She rushed behind the curtain as her eyes welled. But she wouldn’t cry. She was Chief; she had to stay strong. Behind the curtain, she walked back to a large empty rum cask. She pushed it aside to reveal a trapdoor. She descended on a ladder attached to the door and entered the basement of the longhouse. It a cramped room, once used for storage and now forgotten. Crates were stacked all around, some overflowing with scrolls, and other with junk such as broken farm tools and old toys. Talau didn’t care to snoop around, she just came down there to get away.
She could hear the storm roaring overhead, gusting through the trees, pounding on the stone of the building, and sending out bolts of lightning. It was getting vicious and it would only get worse. Hopefully by the time of the festival, the eye would be overhead and the villagers would have time to celebrate before the ferocity continued.
“Why don’t they see it?” she asked herself as she laid down on a broken crate filled with blankets.
It was hard to be Chief. She often had to be the one to say what no one wanted to hear. But it was only because she couldn’t watch them suffer. And she certainly couldn’t watch them die. Talau could feel something coming. Not just the storm, but something dark. She couldn’t explain it, but she knew she needed to be ready. Sitting on the blankets, she began drifting off to sleep. She began to dream of her father and the tears came.