The chains clasped to the cuff around Nadia’s ankle snagged on a rock, and the fell in the mire for the second time that day.
A voice called playfully behind her, “Watch your step, Nadia. The rocks are slick.”
“My chain was caught, you bully. You would think that after fifteen seasons I would be used to these blasted tools of imprisonment.” She shook the water off her body and pulled pieces of moss out of her hair. She turned around and watched her best friend in her whole world, Damien, work to loosen her chain from under the rock that had caused her to stumble.
“Oh Nadia,” Damien exclaimed, his tone suddenly switching to sympathy, “you’ve torn your wings again.”
Nadia looked over her shoulder and saw a twig had run straight through her left insect-like wing. She tenderly pulled it out; tender not because it was painful but because she didn’t want to do anymore damage to the wing. She had no feeling in the thin membrane portion of the wing, only in the stalks.
“Well,” Damien said, “at least it will mend quickly enough. But it will be a chore to fly for a while, especially if you’re carrying anything heavier than a grape.”
Damien and Nadia were faeries, although if you mentioned the word faery to any of their kind, they would have absolutely no idea what you were talking about. Born into slavery, the only word they knew to describe themselves was “slave.” Sometimes they would say “our kind” or “our people” but they certainly had no idea of the meaning of faery.
These faeries were probably a little different from the ones you’ve heard about before. An adult is about the length of a human hand, and they all have wings, but because of the harsh rules of their captivity, it was very rare to see one flying. They were all naked, which you might think is silly and embarrassing, but an animal doesn’t realize its nakedness. The concept is similar with the faeries: if you have done it your whole life, and everybody else does it, they find it no more strange or shameful than we do taking our shirt off before we have a swim.
There wasn’t a single faery in the entire village that wasn’t a slave. They assumed this was true for the entire swamp in which the village was located, but none had ever left the village, therefore there wasn’t a single faery that was absolutely certain anything existed outside the village. Most of their kind believed there were other villages, but they also believed the entire world was made of swamp.
The slaves only knew of two kinds of creatures in their world, besides the unintelligent beasts of the swamp. The faeries were the slaves, and the Nadu were their masters.
The Nadu were a race of toad-like creatures that walked on two legs and stood 1.5 to 2 meters tall. They wore clothes made from fish skin and algae tied together with bits of twine. For weapons, they fashioned spears from reeds and sharpened fish bones. A few of the Nadu who played the role of slave driver also carried nets shaped like badminton racquets, only the netting was woven spider web, with razor sharp barbs of poison that instantly paralyzed anything it touched.
Nadia, Damien, and the rest of their kind had always served the Nadu. From the time they were born, a silver chain was attached to their wrist or ankle, and was never removed. The chains were enchanted in many mysterious ways, but one such way was that they were impossible to break.
Or so the slaves were raised to believe.
Though Nadia and Damien could not see their master through the bog, they knew he wasn’t far away. Their chain’s were always connected directly to their masters, like thin silver leashes. The only way a chain was ever removed was death, either the master’s death or the slave’s.
Nadia and Damien had been best friends their entire lives. Both were born into the service of the King, and therefore they were afforded the most luxury a faery of their kind could have. Everyone in the King’s court had a bed of moss to sleep on and with all the leftover scraps after a royal banquet, they ate pretty decently as well.
Damien was a general manservant, though he would acquire the position of cupbearer once his mother died. Nadia, on the other hand, hand-fed the queen. This may sound demeaning if I describe it to you, but it was one of the very few jobs where a slave could use his or her wings. For almost every other slave, including Damien, the punishment for flying was death, because it was perceived as an attempt to escape.
Nadia loved being able to stretch out her wings, even if it meant flying bits of food back and forth from the royal plate to the royal mouth.
The servants of King Doku, the king of the Nadu, were afforded luxuries, but this wasn’t to say he was a kind king, or even a just slaver owner. In fact, he was quite the opposite: viscous and malevolent. Despite this, even an evil master knows that slaves will do more work if they are well fed and will do less work if they have crushed wings and crippled limbs. Even the cruelest master avoided killing any of his slaves; the village was completely cut off from the world by the cruel swamp, so there was no slave trade. If a Nadu lost a slave, he or she would have to wait until another was born, then try to buy it from the owners before the enchanted chain sealed its fate.
That afternoon, Damien and Nadia were gathering fruit for the night’s feast. There were other slaves harvesting grapes and mushrooms as well, but they worked solemnly and silently, moving from one crop to the next. Both the friends knew that if they didn’t have each other, they too would have been miserable that afternoon.
As it was, though, Nadia was quite in love with Damien. There was no such thing as marriage among their kind, and even having a child was considered an act of slavery instead of an act of love. Bearing a child was only done under the permission, or rather orders, of the master, and it was only done if it seemed economically viable. A child would just be another mouth to feed for three seasons before it was ready for even the smallest of tasks.
As the two faeries gathered dreasae seeds (these were fruity seeds that grew like an inside-out pomegranate), Nadia longed to be out with the hunting party. It was the one thing she was never allowed to do, because it required the master to travel along with the hunters, and her master, the King Doku, never left his throne. The only time she could gather food was when procuring produce from the garden that grew right outside the royal chamber.
“Nadia?” Damien asked. “Do you think there are other villages like ours?”
“I think so,” she replied, uncertain of his train of thought. They wouldn’t dare talk about this near the Nadu, and probably not within hearing range of the other slaves. Most were loyal to their own kind, but it was known for faeries to suddenly disappear if they said something risky to the wrong person. Damien and Nadia had a feeling that one of their own was working for the Nadu, but they had no idea who it was, and therefore kept all their conversations between the two of them. “Why do you ask?”
“It seems strange, almost unlikely even, that we are all that’s left of this world. That the village of Nor’doku, in the middle of a swamp, is all that’s left of this entire world. Do you remember Jason?”
“Isn’t he owned by a royal guard?”
“That’s him. He told me the craziest story, and I’m still wondering if I believe it.”
“What did he tell you?” Nadia had stopped gathering the seeds for a moment, and was incredibly interested.
“He said that his master lets them fly.”
“Well, that isn’t very unbelievable-”
“Just let me finish, Nadia. Jason said that when they hunt, they leave the rest of the Nadu. His master, the one called Parsh, would tell all his slaves stories about the Nadu; these are stories that would endanger Parsh if the King ever learned. He claims, you know Jason claims that Parsh claims, that the reason we aren’t allowed to fly isn’t because they are worried about escaping. He gave a different reason, that the Nadu have always been jealous of our wings.”
“That can’t be true,” Nadia disputed.
Before Damien could reply, another slave called from across the swamp-garden, “Hey you two, get back to work. We need to start preparing this food before sunset.”
They walked and whispered, still collecting food for the evening meal. “Think about it Nadia, if these chains are unbreakable, why would flying look like escaping? Well, Parsh may still be jealous of our wings, but he figured out a way to fly.”
“What!” Nadia whispered, excitedly, “how?”
“The way Jason describes it, Parsh has built a contraption made from sticks and enormous leaves that he puts his feet into. He ties all the slaves’ chains into a knot, and grabs on to the knot. They fly as hard as they can, and eventually he begins to soar. You remember how much Paragon we’ve been having this season? It’s one of the hardest birds to trap, especially from the ground, but it seems we have it every ten days. Well, it’s a lot easier to hunt if you’re flying after it. Can you imagine Parish gliding after the bird on his flying machine, and spear in hand, soaring through the treetops?”
“You’re right, that is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“And there’s more. Jason said that yesterday they were chasing a dragonfly, the largest one you could possibly imagine, but he said they flew too high, higher than they had ever gone before. He said that the trees rise higher and higher, but they end, and his hunting party flew above the tops of the trees. Everyone was shocked, especially Parish. Jason says that above the trees, you can actually see our day, and it shines like a giant flame in the sky. And above the trees, there is another canopy, but it hangs like a blanket, and is bright blue. He says that there are giant fogs, white instead of grey, that float under the blanket, or in the blanket, he wasn’t sure. The trees stretched all around him, and he said the world is larger than anyone could have ever imagined.”
“I don’t believe it,” whispered Nadia. She had stopped picking fruit and thought in the back of her mind that someone was about to yell at her for that, but couldn’t help herself despite it.
“Jason told me two things that I haven’t been able to shake from my mind. These two things scared Parsh so terribly that after falling back to the ground, he smashed up his glider and swore to never fly up again. Jason thinks that Parsh was afraid for his life, and forced his slaves to never speak of what they saw.”
“What on earth did they see?” Nadia’s wings fluttered, and she almost took off, she was so enraptured by Damien’s story.
“Two things he saw and he will remember until he dies. One was that the trees end. They go on and on and on, but there is a point where they thin out, then end altogether. Do you see what this means? The swamp is enormous, but it ends, and there is a whole other world out there. The second thing he saw was smoke. Not just any smoke, but way out in the distance was an enormous pillar of smoke, like a camp fire, but way too big for being so far away.”
“What do you think it means?”
“I think there are other creatures in this world, capable of building fires with trees instead of sticks and moss. Perhaps there are giant Nadu that live on the outskirts of the swamp, five times larger than the ones we have here, or maybe,” and at this point his voice dropped to a whisper of a whisper, “there are enormous beings that are like us, flying around. Maybe they are like us, but free.”
Nadia shivered; the idea was just so amazing she couldn’t quite wrap her mind around it. She caught the eye of another gatherer, and quickly returned to work, this time in silence. Still, she thought about it all day, and into the night.
As Nadia lay, trying to sleep, a feeling washed over her. It was a mixed feeling of dread and wonder. She had no idea why, but she was absolutely certain that something large and incredible was about to happen. Something wonderful and terrible at the same time. It would have been impossible to predict the future, and she couldn’t have known the rise that the slaves had begun to feel as this story was spread.
Little did she know, other slaves of Parsh’s had told the same stories to the other faeries, and the same feeling Nadia had was being shared by their entire tribe.
Little did she know, the revolution was about to begin.