Although it was published as a stand-alone story, “Sleep-waker” is a continuation of Elizabeth/Elisbet’s adventure from “Roar at the Heart of the World.”
“Mbaisa sana,” terribly bad, Togom said in Swahili. He inspected the cultivated patches terracing the western hills that sloped up from the village. Overnight maize had spread from its own stone-edged plots to invade neighboring soil and choke out the young wheat.
Togom’s dark, lean-muscled body flowed among the stalks, barely disturbing the wide leaves. Always he moved as a muran, a hunter of the Nandi tribe. I didn’t follow him into the wheat patch. Instead I bent to the earth where the maize had been planted, where it had a right to be but was not content to stay. In the long shadows of the African morning, remnants of old, dried out stalks stuck from the ground amid new green growth. It was as if in a single night the crop had matured and reseeded the ground, with some of the seeds dropping across the stones into the wheat. I crushed a long-dead, papery brown leaf in my hand. “How can this be?” I asked Ruta who stood closest to me. We spoke mostly in Nandi, using Swahili, Kikuyu, even English, according to need.
“Am I ol-oiboni to know such things, Elisbet?” he countered, as if it were foolish for me to ask. In the early morning coolness he wrapped his shuka under one arm of his naked body, slanted it across his back and chest and knotted it on the opposite shoulder. He was wider and rounder than most Nandi but quicker with a spear than any except Togom. “It is. That is all.” He meant to take away my frown, but worry dwelled beneath his grin. I felt my stomach clench.
The pale tufts of silk hanging from the maturing ears were beginning to darken, a sign that the thick yellow seeds encased in leafy cocoons approached maturity. Togom ordered the maize patches cleared.
“All,” he said. “All.”
I was seventeen. I had known Togom, the village’s ol-oiboni, spiritual leader, since my father brought me from England to Africa when I was four; and I had lived in his hut as if I were his daughter since the closing of the Rongai Valley nine years ago. That was longer than I had lived with my father. I had learned not to ask for explanations Togom was not ready to give.
It had taken the combined power of three ol-oiboni to create the metaphysical dome that sealed us from the rest of the world, protecting us from the war that had burned Africa, and probably other continents as well. Although wonderfully wise in the way of the earth, Togom could not have raised the barrier on his own. Two other leaders came to join him, bringing the people of their destroyed villages. The ritual was successful but left us with three times as many to shelter and feed.
Find the complete story in my collection Roar at the Universe, Tales of Crisis and Survival. The ebook and print book are available through Amazon and other distributors. Published by Wayward Serpent.
“Sleep-waker” was first published in The Fractal.