“NO! Don’t take it!” Ania screamed, but it didn’t sound that heartfelt. A slave put a moist cloth on her forehead and changed her sheets. The midwife threw her an overbearing glance as she left the hut with the boy, it was still screaming. They both knew it was just a part of the ritual, and that the overwhelming feelings she was left with were just the remains of the crushed hope it would be a girl, an actual child. She’d felt it the last time too. Like she wanted to protect and nurture this little creature. Like a… pet maybe? At least she would get to keep the next one, whether it would be a child or a slave. Her sister Sima came in, gave her a cup of water and shook her head. “I’m sorry. Next time.” Sima already had two children and a slave. She’d been through this twice too. Ania squeezed her sister’s hand and fell asleep from exhaustion.
Sima went to the river bank with her slave to prepare the ritual for her sister’s mourning ritual.
“No, Sima’s the pyre needs more air in the bottom, you know this!” She put her hand on it’s head and pushed down as a sign of humiliation.
“Try again”. Sima’s adjusted the logs a bit, and Sima nodded. “You’ll be 16 soon, and if you don’t perform well you’ll be bullied when you join the worker’s squad. You wouldn’t like that, would you? ” The slave straightened it’s back. Of course it didn’t. It could see the midwife arriving over the small hill with four other slaves, one young, like itself, and three from the worker’s squad. They were carrying more wood for the pyre, and the young one seemed to be carrying more than it could actually handle. Sima’s recognized it, it was Dara’s, they had grown up with neighbouring families. It too had to show it’s worth these days to be accepted by the workers. Their eyes met briefly before the workers started distributing tasks. Sima and the midwife discussed something, pointed at the slaves and seemed satisfied for now.
“It is time, Ania”.
The midwife startled her. She had been sleeping for hours, but her body was still tired and in severe pain. She knew what to do.The bath was lukewarm, and she ritually washed away blood and sweat before she put on the white mourning dress. In a minute her sister would come and get her and support her the short walk down to the river. They would be standing there, the whole village. 100 people on one side, about 30 slaves on the other, the midwife in front of the pyre.
Sima’s couldn’t help feeling privileged. It had done well today. And it got to be part of the ritual instead of watching the younger slaves this time. It seemed unfair sometimes, that the first two slaves to be born of a person didn’t get to live. But it got it. How would the village be able to feed all those slaves? It felt privileged to be a thirdborn. It grabbed the hand of Daria’s. “We are lucky”, it whispered. Daria’s squeezed its hand.
“Oh, Ania, oh Ania, why are you crying?” The midwife spoke in a deep voice. The whole village repeated the words.
“I am crying for the child that wasn’t born.”
“Oh Ania, oh Ania, what to do with this slave?” The people of the village repeated the words.
“Give room for the people to eat and prosper.”
“Oh Ania, oh Ania, what to do with this slave?” The slaves of the village repeated.
“Give room for the slaves to eat and work.”
The midwife lit the pyre. If the boy was still alive it didn’t make a sound.
“Thank you, Ania.” The whole village repeated.
They all stood and watched the pyre for a while, before going back to the village. The people in front, followed by the slaves. They all got to take part of the feast that followed.
Sima’s put a moist cloth on the person’s forehead. It had been a long night, but Sima’s had done well. It couldn’t help feeling privileged. “NO, don’t take it!” she screamed. The midwife looked puzzled for a second. “No, Ania. This is Ania’s, it is yours.”