Rhani watched a group of youths pass by the entrance to her shared home. Three daughters of Korren, a daughter of Mayal, and a daughter of Rhala like Rhani herself. They laughed and leaned heavily on one another. From the sloshing mugs they held, it was clear what had caused their general state of blissful disarray. Rhani smiled.
“Why not join them?”
Rhatak’s voice startled Rhani and it took a concerted effort for her not to fall from her perch and spill her drink. Face flushed, Rhani half-turned haughtily toward her mother.
“It wouldn’t kill you to say something before you give me a damned heart-attack.”
“Watch your mouth,” Rhatak scolded.
Rhani turned back to the street before she rolled her eyes; she might be recalcitrant, but she wasn’t stupid.
“Why not join them?” Rhatak asked again, eyes following the group of girls as they disappeared around the corner at the end of the lane.
Rhani shrugged. “I’m perfectly happy right where I am.”
Rhatak sighed. “You are too old to be a recluse, my child.”
“Says the hermit of the lower quarter?” Rhani retorted.
Her mother sighed again. “I am old enough to be what I am. You, however, should go out and meet girls your own age. Soon enough, you will be old enough to apply for a sire and start bearing children of your own.”
Rhani gagged at the thought. Neither aspect appealed to her. The Workborn males who wandered the streets—silent and eyes always downcast—had never really held any interest for her. Sure, when she was younger, she had often wondered why males were barred from Hadera’s caste system. If anything, many of them would probably make good Scavengers. But as she grew and attended Aunt Maloren’s lessons, Rhani understood: while Merchants and Scavengers might not claim to any real sense of the Gift, males were completely bereft of Mother’s blessings. Rhani remembered hearing somewhere that males had controlled the Metal World, and it was because of them that it had failed and the earth had been poisoned. In retaliation, Mother had cast them down and blessed her daughters to rise above all things. Rhani wasn’t exactly sure what it all meant, but she did know that it meant males stood outside the gaze of Mother, and that was certainly not a good thing.
Something like that.
“I am happy with what I am,” Rhani replied. “I do not need to meet anyone, and I have no desire to bear children.”
“That is a child’s talk, Rhani.” Rhatak stepped up to stand next to her daughter, steady gaze watching the festival-goers as they stumbled past. “It is important to herald in the next generation. It is your duty to give it life.”
“And what life is that?” Rhani asked, suddenly scornful. “The life of a Scavenger?”
“A child of yours could bear the Gift—”
“Right, just like you and I did. Just like your mother, and her mother before her.” Rhani snorted and took a long drink from her mug.
“Just like Aunt Maloren?”
Rhani glowered into her mug, her features twisted in the liquid within, but said nothing. Aunt Maloren had been the first in their family in generations to bear the Gift. It was why she had left the lower quarter and severed contact with everyone except Rhani, whom she was duty-bound to instruct just like all the other children. But that was years ago; Rhani had grown past the stage of learning and become a full-fledged Scavenger. Once that milestone had come to pass, Aunt Maloren had cut herself off from her niece, as well.
“I thought you said you were happy?” Rhatak said, butting into Rhani’s train of thought.
“I am happy,” the girl grumbled. “As happy as I can be, anyway.”
(This is a snippet from Chapter 3 of my novel-in-progress. To check out more, you can click on the big CB on the right hand side of the page, or here to start from the beginning. Visit me on ChapterBuzz, make a free account, and become a fan! Your support will be rewarded with digital cookies…but not the web server kind…)