The Buried Children
“As Long At The City Stands, We Live” (Episode 1 of Uprising — a six-part serialized fiction story)
In the morning, by order of the Night Queen, they began burying the last of the city’s children. The task had been grim and the soil was hard, and the soldiers dug in silence. Gone the usual banter, the jokes, the boasting. Gone were even the officers — the Reb’Mantos and Reb’Sellesin — The city had entered the realm of faith, over which the High Priestesses — the G’uthu — had command. Fourteen of them stood now, paces apart from one another, cloaks wrapped against the chill, overseeing the burials.
Each child went through the same ritual. Each was placed in the upright caskets, in a seated position on the small bench halfway up the wooden enclosure. Each was buried with the same urn, and each recited, ten times, the same words. The sacred words told the children how they might rise again, rise from the earth. It helped them stay strong.
Less than a hundred children remained. Outside the parapets, the enemy’s powerful war machines were turning the outer walls into dust. To Meeh’i, they sounded like a neverending thunder. When Meeh’i was little, she had clung to her mother’s tunic and wept. And that had lasted but minutes. Now Meeh’i was all alone, and the thunder had gone on for days. Soon Meeh’i would go into the ground. Meeh’i would weep no more.
G’uthu Meptchal came to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “Steady now, child,” she said. It sounded stern, but her voice was gentle, and her touch was soft.
Meeh’i knew the G’uthu well. She had learned her letters and the sacred dance under the old woman’s tutelage. As long as Meptchal smiled, the sky could burst into flames and the girl would not lose heart.
Meptchal was smiling.
“Mytr, we’re ready,” called out one of the soldiers. Though the man was covered in dirt, sweaty, his undertunic bloodstained, and he wore no armor, he still carried himself with the easy bluntness of an officer. Meeh’i took a step forward — her pride wouldn’t allow her to be prompted. Once she took the first step, it seemed natural to keep moving forward. She had learned the habit from summers at the seashore, wading into cold waters. Just walk, and don’t stop until the water covers your waist.
As she climbed in, Meeh’i glanced at the rows of children behind her, and to her left and right, the dozens of other children climbing into the earth. Two were weeping, although they were bigger than her. Meeh’i felt proud, and judged the two kids severely. “The city lives within us, as we live within her. As long as we live, the city stands; as long as the city stands, we live.” she thought. She had recited these sacred words every morning as far back as she could recall, but only now she understood their profound meaning.
The casket was not too tight. As she settled on the small bench, she was relieved to see her doll sitting on top of the urn in front of her. The cloaked woman knelt in front of the open grave and looked down. “Child, speak the words for me,” she said. Meeh’i did so, ten times, without hesitation. The woman nodded, and handed her the herbs. “Chew on them and you’ll sleep.” Meeh’i chewed. She knew she’d never see Meptchal again. Soon her eyes closed, and she was still.
Above her, the soldiers closed her casket along with many others, and covered it with dirt.
👉 Next Chapter — The Great Walls of Ulliah 😀
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