by Dionne Lee Nelson
Paperback: 404 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 24, 2012)
Set in a fantasy world that is both harsh and beautiful, Grandelyn follows the journey to freedom of an enslaved group of people. Oppressed by an evil dictator, the slaves appear doomed to a lifetime of torture and servitude. But an unlikely leader rises among them and offers a chance for freedom. Ariyah, the beautiful young daughter of a rebellious slave, grows to become a fierce warrior and a reluctant leader in the eyes of the people. Ariyah attempts to lead the slaves out of bondage and into a new life – in a beautiful yet mysterious land called Grandelyn. After years of pain and suffering, Ariyah and her people find that Grandelyn offers the potential for peace and happiness. But Grandelyn has dark secrets that are about to be revealed. Those secrets, and a dictator who is unwilling to relinquish his grip, threaten everything that Ariyah and the others have fought so hard to attain. In effect, Grandelyn is the story of two journeys, and two transformations. One is the journey of an enslaved people struggling to transform themselves to a free people. The other is the journey of a young girl struggling to quickly transform from a child slave to a leader. Both journeys have unexpected and dangerous consequences. All journeys must end. Will both of these journeys end in the peace and prosperity of Grandelyn, or in a dark new world?
It was dawn. Between the white dunes stood a woman over six feet tall and almost as round as the Earth. Adding to her girth was the unborn child she carried. Out of breath from running, the woman stood concentrating, stolen sword in hand. In her dirty tattered beige clothing, she took a savage fighter's stance, wielding the sword up to shield her chest. As she heard the sand ripple from behind her, her ears perked up like a cat. Her eyes scanned every direction, making sure to protect all her sides. Once again she heard the sand ripple.
A gust of wind blew as the first metal-clad soldier leapt toward her. She swung the sword, blocking his oncoming blow to her face. Quickly she turned as a second soldier leapt at her from the side. She swiped at his feet. He grabbed her and put her in a choke hold but as she kicked the first soldier she thrust her sword into the other soldier's throat. He screamed and fell over in pain as blood began to spill on the beautiful white sand. The soldiers were angrier now. They thought this mission was going to be easy, but not with this woman. She would not be going down without a fight.
Back in her fighter's stance, the wind began to pickup as sand flew around rapidly. By now four more soldiers came to the dunes. Her heart began to race harder because she knew this was the fight of her life. Being sure to guard the growing baby in her stomach; she timed herself for the first attack. Two soldiers lunged at her. She began to spin around, using her sword like a helicopter propeller. Blood and body parts splattered against the earth. A war cry came from another soldier as he ran toward her in hopes of landing a punch or a kick. But every move he made was either blocked or counterattacked. At 350 pounds, this woman fought like a samurai warrior.
Yet another soldier threw daggers at her. They struck both her arm and leg. But she kept fighting. She threw her sword at the soldier, and it found its mark in his unguarded chest.
With three dead soldiers down and a fourth badly wounded, she thought she had won the fight. Suddenly she felt the ground rumble. Breathing deeply as blood and sweat glistened on her caramel skin, her ears were soon filled with the sound of galloping horses. She quickly got back into fight stance and the soldiers on black horses appeared. She knew she could take them all on.
The wounded soldier pointed toward her and cried out “She's with child! There! Look! She's with child! Attack her belly!” With that, the fighter in her became the mother and she dropped the sword, shielding her stomach with her big brown arms.
“Charge!” The horse soldiers rushed toward the woman, throwing darts that struck her back and legs. One soldier landed a star dagger in her stomach. She cried out in pain, and went down trying to protect her baby. She fell forward but continued to hold her belly. She cradled herself. The soldiers hog tied her, strapped her to four horses and carried her away. The immense pain and worry became too much for her, and she passed out. The once beautiful white dunes, considered a primary attraction of a majestic land of beauty, were now covered with a trail of blood. It served as a reminder that the location is where a fight began. And perhaps as a sign that many more were to come.
In the remote country of Mandune sits Grandelyn. Often referred to by locals and visitors as “the land of the big and beautiful”, or “the place of the massive and great”. Grandelyn is a city famous for its statuesque warriors. But it is equally famous for the physique of its people. Big-breasted, wide hipped, rotund bottomed, puffy women. Thick-legged, pot bellied, strong, ample men.
Grandelyn is home to those who were once enslaved by the treacherous city of Ferocities. A little more than 25 years ago, the multicultural Ferocities was ruled by the mighty Emperor Kalos and his many minions. They called themselves the Savage Kingdom. The Savage Kingdom's mission was to capture and imprison the poor in order to build a bigger and better land for themselves.
The poor, the impoverished, the slaves; Queen Ariyah was born among them. Born to a mother whom was living in the lower burrells of Ferocities during the seize, Ariyah would be the product of years of heartache, strife, and the eminent war.
The poverty-stricken lower burrells of Ferocities was dominated by many immigrants from other countries who migrated to Mandune with promises of better jobs and wealthier land. When the country’s leader, Garren Ickbar, died before he could sign a treaty to allow work from foreigners in his country, all the promises had been broken. This forced the immigrants to merge into a small portion of unoccupied land within Ferocities. Those lucky enough to find work toiled in low-paying jobs as dishwashers, fence builders, farmers, and clothing weavers.
One of these “fortunate ones” was Crystaline Alia. Crystaline worked as both a candle-maker and bird trainer. Despite this, she struggled to make ends meet. She lived in a wooden hut like the rest of her neighbors in the lower burrell. In spite of the struggles of being a poor single 35-year old woman, Crystaline was generally in good spirits. She was giving and very helpful to those around her.
Crystaline was known around the destitute portion for her big, bright, beautiful, smile…her long, thick, coarse hair…her smooth honey brown skin...and for her unique physique. People often wondered how Crystaline maintained a full figure while everyone in the lower burrell barely had enough to eat. They knew she was just as poor as they were and yet she had such a healthy stature. She was also very tall for a female, so many male suitors wanted her. But Crystaline was widowed and expecting a child, so finding a new companion was the furthest thing from her mind. The secret of her healthy stature was one that she was not yet ready to reveal.
Though life for the impoverished living in the lower burrell was tough, it was about to get a lot tougher. Because they were seen as insignificant, all of the lower burrell citizens were captured and forced into slavery for Kalos and the Savage Kingdom. The first four years of captivity was hard. The newly enslaved people were treated terribly. They were branded. Each and every slave, young and old, had the letters ‘SK’ scorched into their skin, behind their right shoulder blades. This made it easy to identify them as the Savage Kingdom's captives. The slaves were often beaten, ridiculed, severely punished and starved. When they were given food to eat, they were served potatoes, mashed and mixed with peanut butter paste. The only reason this meal was given to them was to give them energy to continue to work each day. If ever defiant, the slaves, both adults and children, were stripped naked and beaten with leather whips that had been fashioned with metal hook tassels. The ultimate punishment to the rebellious was being smashed by the Boulder Guillotine. But with the type of fear that Kalos the Emperor had instilled in them, the Boulder Guillotine was never needed.
This imprisonment was especially hard for Crystaline. A woman who was completely use to her own independence was now made to adhere to a cruel person’s rules. She didn’t take the treatment lightly. Crystaline was a very defiant slave. She tried many times to escape but was often caught and severely beaten. Because of her big stature, sometimes her captors would isolate and starve her. By the time she could join the slaves again she was skinny, all except her pregnant belly.
Crystaline had the war wounds to prove her defiance. Her once flawless, smooth brown skin was now scarred and bruised from lashes and other beatings. But none of those things killed her spirit; instead she grew stronger and more determined.
Crystaline knew that she was too far along in her final trimester to attempt another escape. One day while she was out in the vineyard, she went into labor. Typically when a woman goes into labor she is taken to the kingdom’s laboratory to give birth inside the dingy ragged oval bath tub. Crystaline had too much dignity and refused to bring her child into the world like a wounded dog.
Mr. Toplin, Crystaline’s good friend, begged her to reconsider this position. “You’re about to have to this baby, Crystaline. We have to get you inside.” Her water broke and further stained her dirty, tattered dress. She resisted.
“No, I want to have my baby out here, surrounded by all of you. My friends, I want you to share this joy with me.” She breathed heavily trying to ignore the painful contractions.
Vanka, Crystaline’s Reemian best friend, attempted to take charge of the situation. “Okay, well lay down, chile. You don’t want the baby to come bustin’ out on its head, now do you?” Those who had gathered nearby collected grass and leaves and gently laid Crystaline down.
The contractions were getting closer and more severe as Vanka instructed Crystaline on how to breathe. Mr. Toplin could see from a distance that the main minions, Zodner and Semp, were watching the group from the kingdom’s tall tower balcony.
“Is there a way to hurry this up?” he urged. “The soldiers are watching.”
“Be easy. We can’t just reach in and rip de’ baby out. It’s coming soon.” Vanka scolded. Crystaline’s panting sped up and she began pushing harder as she gripped Mr. Toplin and Mr. Crowesh’s hands. Mr. Toplin looked to the tower again to find that the two soldiers were mounting their horses and making their way to the vineyard. He nodded to Mr. Crowesh, who lifted his head long enough to see the same sight.
“Ummm…Crystaline you may want to push that thing out of there. They’re coming.” Mr. Crowesh’s raspy voice said calmly. And with that Crystaline gave a final hard push and a loud scream. The circle was filled with the angelic cries of the baby.
Vanka gave a reassuring look to the new mother. “It’s a girl, Crystaline! She’s beautiful.” The exhausted Crystaline held her new daughter closely, and was overjoyed by the sight. The baby looked very healthy and surprisingly chubby given that Crystaline was being starved by her captors. The infant was truly a beauty. She had creamy caramel brown skin, smooth and shiny jet black hair, pretty oval eyes that were puffy and wet with tears, and pouty pink lips.
Crystaline kissed the baby on the forehead and instantly she stopped crying. There was an instant connection between the two. She looked the baby over and said, “Hmmm…I think I’ll call you…Ariyah.” And with that, the baby fell asleep at her bosom.
The moment of joy was interrupted with the kick of dust into their faces by the horses that stopped abruptly before the slaves. They looked up to find Zodner and Semp looking down on them from horseback.
“What do you peasants think you’re doing?” Semp asked with a look of disgust. His metal mask was lopsided and his long messy blonde hair covered his eyes.
“What does it look like?” Crystaline sassed.
“You know that you are to give birth inside the castle walls. The Emperor is not going to like that you soiled his precious vineyard with your mess.” The pompous Zodner whined. The surrounding slaves continued to be in awe of the infant that was lying peacefully in her mother’s arms. The two minions did not like that they were being ignored.
“Alright break this up. Give us the baby.” Zodner commanded. Crystaline grasped her baby tightly.
“Absolutely not. You cannot have my child.” She argued. Zodner was flabbergasted at the audacity of her defiance.
“No? You need to get back to work.”
“Work? You can’t expect her to work after she just gave birth to de’ chile.” Vanka pleaded.
“You shut up, peasant!” Semp shouted. Crystaline held even tighter to Ariyah as she knew she wasn’t going to give her baby to these evil men.
“Now, Crystaline, you can either give us the baby or its back to the Wall for you.” Zodner threatened.
The Wall was another torturous punishment for the rebellious. The defiant slave would be chained to the Wall face first, arms up. In this position, the slave was pelted in the back with rocks and half-bricks. Crystaline knew this punishment all too well. The polka-dotted scars on her back showed she was a constant victim of the Wall.
As Crystaline continued to lie in the grass and holding her daughter, Sarah observed from the vineyard. Sarah was a slave who sometimes worked in the baby cages to take care of the infants or toddlers. She could see that Crystaline wasn’t going to back down. Not wishing to witness a new mother being abused, she approached the scene and intervened.
“Crystaline, give the baby to me and I’ll care for her in the cages.” Crystaline didn’t want Ariyah to be locked up in a cage like an animal, but she no longer had a home for her as she was a captive herself. She’d rather see her with Sarah than with the soldiers. Crystaline looked at Ariyah once more, kissed her forehead and gently gave her to Sarah.
Sarah quickly walked the baby to the cages and stayed with her. Zodner and Semp forced Crystaline to get up and continue to work in the vineyard. Weak, bloodied and in intense pain, Crystaline did what she had to do. The other slaves helped her get through the day’s work.
The next four years were quiet but painful ones. Each year the slaves would get weaker and wearier – and the abuse and torture got worse. Ferocities grew in size as the slaves’ work allowed for more plowed land and continuous farming, making the Savage Kingdom bigger and more dominant than any other land in Mandune.
By now Crystaline had mellowed. Since Ariyah was a toddler of five, she knew she had to be strong for her daughter. It angered her that Ariyah had to be raised in slavery. She couldn’t accept the fact that her child, along with the other slave children, had to be subject to the overwork and terrors of the land. It made her even angrier that she wasn’t even allowed to sleep with her child at the end of a long hard day. Just like all slave children, Ariyah was made to sleep in a cage, while the adults slept in the nooks outside.
Ariyah’s cage-mates were a boy named Orraco and a girl named Sheevar. Orraco had been sleeping in the cages since he was two and Ariyah and Sheevar were both infants. All the slave children from the Savage Kingdom had to sleep there. Children from every race and culture were all stuffed inside, sometimes four at a time. This way of life was normal for them. They never knew the luxury of freedom, even if impoverished. Orraco, whose family was from a small country called Jai and migrated to Mandune in hopes of finding better employment, was an adventurous young boy. He was very overprotective of both Ariyah and Sheevar and he always felt the need to show his bravado. Orraco was two when the seize occurred, and both of his parents were slain trying to protect him. The Savage Kingdom minions took him and held him with the other orphaned children to be made and trained into slaves. Sheevar, Ariyah’s other best friend, was a pleasant five year old. After hearing about the great abundance of jobs, her family had migrated to Mandune from The Land of Livian a decade before the seize. They were poor and living in the lower burrell of Ferocities with the others. Sheevar's mother, Sylvia, was a brilliant artist, but often times she would have to paint with mud because they couldn't afford paint; this limited her ability to make money. Her father, Mr. Bandi, was a hen collector. He collected hens and sold them to the local chef's in order to make ends meet. After becoming slaves, her mother became pregnant and died in childbirth without medical attention. Mr. Bandi was allowed to raise Sheevar with the help of the other female slaves. But the harsh labor and abuse of the Savage Kingdom minions caused him to fall of a heart attack by age 69.
Despite all of this, Sheevar was an optimistic child. She always had a smile on her face, framed by her beautiful curly golden locks. She was a nurturer by nature. When Orraco and Sheevar became Ariyah’s cage-mates, Vanka felt sorry for the two orphaned children and decided to be their caretaker. From that point forward, the three slave children were inseparable.
Ferocities was a very cold and windy city. Because the adults were made to sleep outside in the nooks - often without blankets – illness was rampant. There were many deaths because of the lack of medical attention. It was especially painful when the babies or young ones would die from sickness. These atrocities stirred up the need in Crystaline to be free, and gave her more fuel to try to do something about their predicament.