It all happened too fast, yet Chanda was used to those attacks. If only her mother would accept the sickness and resign herself to the fact that there is nothing anyone can do. All Chanda can do is control the symptoms and deal with the complications. Well, thank goodness Chanda had friends and family looking out for her well being. During that attack, it was Plio who fed her several berries, the plump purple ones known for their incredible sweetness. That little snack did the trick, and within a few moments Chanda calmed down. Too bad Vonda could not see that her daughter could take care of herself. That she told her mother the day of the ritual.
"Mom, I know you freak out every time I have an attack, but I can take care of myself. Yesterday was different, though. So much was going on what with the mating ritual, and Omar's preoccupation with our future as parents...I just forgot to have a supply of berries nearby. Next time, I'll be sure to watch myself, eat right, and make sure I'm aware of any signs of an attack. After all, if you want grandchildren, you must let go of me, let me grow up and become a mother, just like everyone else. It's what I want, Mom."
All right, so Vonda gave her blessing to Omar and Chanda's union, but there was something amiss, something Chanda had yet to reveal. And Vonda was right...
"In which direction is the shadow pointing now?," asked Chanda as she prepared to arrange her newly laid eggs. In these weeks since making her nest, Chanda noticed her eyesight was not as sharp as before. She suffered bouts of blurring; some shapes were undistinguishable. However, she made the best of it, relying on her mate's assistance, and that of her female friends.
"The shadow," said Omar, "is pointing towards the distant mountains." "Nearly sunset, Omar," she replied as her right forefoot rearranged the eggs so they lay in a perfectly neat circle. "Did I do that right?", she asked. "Perfect," Omar replied.
He looked out over the whole Nesting Grounds, taking in other females busily tending their new nests. So many little ones scampering about, sticking their noses in the nests only to be shooed away by exasperated expectant mothers.
Ah, nearly dusk, and the expectant mothers hastily rearrange their eggs before settling in for the night. Omar, letting Chanda lean on him, guided his mate to their special sleeping spot near the lake. From there they could watch the nest, shooing away any nosy dinosaur and lemur children who happen by.
It bothered Omar that Chanda took on so much, but that was her way. She had yet to tell her mother about the vision problems, and she played off her weakening eyesight with such perfection no one knew she was on the verge of blindness. At least the attacks were fewer these days what with Chanda being more careful in watching what and when she ate. Omar took it upon himself to keep his mate amply supplied with sweet berries and other fruit; it was a gesture of love if anything. Yet he still insisted Chanda tell her mother.
"After all, my love, it is the right thing to do. And she has the right to know. Have you at least told your brother?"
"Omar, I've told Quinten so much, and he promised he wouldn't tell Mom. She would freak for sure. You know how she is, always hovering over me to the point of smothering. I don't want to end up like that, overly protecting my own children so they can't stand on their own. No, Omar, I'm fully aware of my illness, and I accept its complications. If blindness is the product of this malady, then I'm prepared to deal with it."
Omar nuzzled Chanda's neck, saying in whispered tones as if not wanting anyone else to overhear, "I understand your need for independence, but I don't you to wreck your health just to show up your mother."
"I'm not showing her up, Omar. The problem is Mom has yet to accept my fate. My brother has, so has everyone else in the Herd. Why can't my mother?"
Omar nodded at the lone figure under a nearby tree settling for the night. He said, "Look, your mother sleeps alone, where her children used to join her. Now that you and Quinten have grown up and moved on, let's say Vonda is suffering from what Eema calls 'empty nest syndrome'. That is when mothers have a hard time letting their grown children go. She has only you and your brother, no one else. Her mate died en route to the Nesting Grounds that year of the Fireball. All her offspring following that harrowing journey across vast wasteland, not knowing if our Valley would be here intact, died before they hatched – all save two: you and Quinten. The journey took much out of her, at least that is what my mother and Eema tell me. While her son is healthy and strong, her daughter suffers from a strange illness. You, Chanda my love, may die from this sickness. That is what Vonda fears most: Losing her only daughter."
Now Chanda began to cry. She said through choked voice and tears, "I had no idea she felt like this. She told me so much about losing my siblings. I guess she feels its her fault I'm this way." She glanced at her nest, wondering, "Omar, what if one of my children is doomed to suffer like me? I don't know what I'd do if..."
"Don't think like that," Omar said, still nuzzling Chanda's neck, easing her fears, "We'll find ways to help our children if that happens. Right now, I want you to get your rest. And, please, for my sake, and that of our children, tell your mother of these vision problems. You know you can't hide it forever, and Vonda will sense it, if she hasn't already."
Eema noticed it, so did Baylene, and so did Neera and Plio. The problem was whether they should tell Vonda.
"I saw Chanda asking Omar if her eggs were positioned right," said Eema, who glanced over at the now sleeping corythosaurus couple.
"I noticed that, too," said Baylene, "and Chanda asked Omar the position of the tree shadow...Such a shame the girl is having trouble with her eyes. Yes, the same as what happened to my cousin Skylar. She, too, had to lean on her mother and my parents, asking what time of day it was and so forth. What bothers me is Chanda may go the way of Skylar: completely blind."
Sarama, the parasaurolophus with the gift of foreshadowing, said, "My dears, our Chanda has yet to face her worst trials. The eyesight is fading fast, and her own mother hasn't noticed this. But I say to you, Vonda knows her daughter's troubles, but she is reluctant to say anything."
"And," said Plio with marked concern, "if Chanda does go completely blind, it will be up to us to help her out. I'm sure Vonda will, but she vowed, ever since that day Chanda and Omar were paired, to butt out of her daughter's life. I feel Vonda is suffering in silence."
"Then," said Neera, "we must take it upon ourselves to rally around Vonda, let her know we love her, and support Chanda in her time of need."
At that moment, Aladar approached, saying, "Uh, ladies, if it is any comfort, I spoke to Quinten today. He knows what's happening to his sister, and so does Vonda. Poor kid. I can't imagine her going blind. Neera, I know what Kron would do with her."
Neera spat out, "He'd leave her behind to fend for herself. Let her take her chances with the predators."
"Well," said Aladar after some thought, "We're all this together, and we look out for each other. Which is why I want you ladies to help Chanda any way you can. You know, just be there for her, help her with the hatchlings."
Plio understood this; after all, as a former resident of Lemur Island where teamwork and community were paramount for survival, she reared a baby Aladar to embody those qualities. How unnerving for the Herd, during those awful days following the Fireball disaster, to encounter one of their own who didn't think like them – Aladar was raised to believe in teamwork, not blindly follow a leader because that was the way it was always done. She also understood Neera's feelings on the Chanda/Vonda issue: That Kron, if he was alive today, would sacrifice both mother and daughter all because they, in his eyes, are too "weak" to survive. The girl is going blind anyway, and the mother would have to stay behind or leave the daughter to fate.
"Aladar," said the lemur matriarch, "Chanda is one of us. Of course, we will look out for her. Illness notwithstanding, she deserves compassion and support. Whatever happens to her, we'll stand by her."
Baylene muttered under her breath, "Even if the mother doesn't."
Weeks passed as the female members of the Herd waited patiently for their respective offspring to emerge. So much fussing over the precious eggs – arranging them in the nest so they lay just right, in order to get full sunlight and warmth. Such watchfulness is necessary as the children are the Herd's of survival a promise fulfilled.
One such couple, Quinten and Yolande, rotated responsibility for watching over their eggs. While the task was usually a female's domain, Quentin, taking a cue from Aladar, loved and looked forward to tending the nest. Perhaps it was Quentin's gentleness and highly curious nature that made him appreciate the anticipation of seeing his first children. There would be many more in years to come, so he said to his mother who shared his joy. Too bad Vonda didn't feel the same about her daughter.
"Quentin," she said one morning while Yolande took her turn tending the nest, "I've noticed something very strange over at Chanda's nest." She nodded at the spot where her daughter and son in-law hovered over their nest of eggs with the former pointing at what Vonda swore was a shadow.
Quentin saw this, too, replying nonchalantly, "Mom, I'm sure it's nothing. Maybe Omar is showing Chanda how the shadows the sun makes helps us tell what time of day it is." Quentin was not too good at lying, and Vonda saw right through her son.
"No, Quentin," she said with some displeasure, "Omar is – has been – helping Chanda almost to the point of telling her how to do everything. As if there is something wrong with her. I've noticed how she gauges distance as not to bump into things. Do you know something I don't?"
Omar hedged, not wanting to upset his mother, but isn't it obvious Vonda already has some inkling what is wrong with Chanda?
He chose his words carefully, but even that didn't help matters. He glanced over at his sister, noting how Omar guided her around. Oh yes, the eyesight has grown worse, and any day Chanda will not be able to see at all.
"Mom, if it is any comfort, Chanda has Omar to look after her, and all the Herd. I'm sure Aladar has asked Eema and Baylene to–"
"She is going blind, isn't she?," Vonda said with sadness mixed with anger. Why was she so upset over her daughter's impending blindness? Surely Vonda, out of love for her daughter, would stand by Chanda, yet she chose to deny the girl's predicament. Omar saw through this, and so did Baylene who, from a safe distance, overheard mother and son's conversation.
After a while listening to Vonda, the elderly brachiosaurus finally said to Eema, "Looks as if someone needs a good pep talk. I must say something to her, Eema. Vonda is in the worst denial. I guess it's her way of slowly easing herself out of Chanda's life, but there is something else eating at her."
Eema nodded. "Oh Baylene, I know you want to go over there and give Vonda a good ear-thumping. But please, be gentle. Vonda is suffering in silence. My guess is she thinks Chanda doesn't want her mom around, so Vonda remains in the background, watching her child go through all this alone."
She had a dream that night, a dream unlike any other before. In her nocturnal subconscious, she could clearly see strange beings coming before her. What are these creatures? They are certainly unlike anything she'd seen. She spoke not, but remained transfixed as the creatures hovered overhead.
Those creatures, with gossamer wings and glorious voices singing songs of great joy and comfort...Their very heavenly light illuminated the Nesting Grounds, bathing the entire valley with otherworldly splendor.
"Chanda," said one of the ethereal creatures, "do not be afraid. For we have been sent to comfort and cheer you. There are many trials ahead for you, Chanda, but something is amiss: Your mother's love. She does love you, but she chooses to deny your suffering. She has her reasons, one being she doesn't want to witness your suffering, and she fears losing you. We will say this: We will return for you, when the time comes. Be strong, Chanda, and face your trials with joy, not sorrow."
What did they mean by facing her trials with joy? What joy is there is going blind?
When Chanda awoke, she swore it was still night, but when Omar aroused himself from slumber, Chanda realized...
"Good morning, my love. Did you sleep well? I see one of our little ones is stirring within its egg. Do you think it is time...?"
"Omar, is it truly morning? Why is all I see so dark?"