Game: Session 7
The baby kicks. Or something. Everyone says that when they’re doing whatever it is they’re doing inside a woman, they’re kicking. Gods alone know what they’re actually up to. For all I know the little Sprout could be clog-dancing. (Oh, I could look. But I’ve not looked for this long, I’m not going to look now.) I like that the kicking lets me know it’s alive, but I wouldn’t mind if it would go to sleep for more than an hour at a time and let me rest.
One thing it’s doing is making my bladder work way more than it ought to. I have to pee about twice an hour, and that includes when I’m trying to sleep. I’m tired most of the time, I’m hungry all of the time, my breasts ache (and sometimes they leak), and my balance is off from where it usually is. I’m also ridiculously happy. It’s probably something that the baby produces that makes me believe all this discomfort is actually making me happy, but I don’t care. If I think I’m happy, I feel I’m happy, who’s to say I’m not?
They also say pregnant women glow, but I haven’t noticed much glowing when I look at myself. I’ve gained about forty pounds, and I can’t say it doesn’t look good on me. I was always kind of wiry-skinny before and could be mistaken for a boy. Now I look a whole lot like an actual girl. But I haven’t seen this famous glow in the mirror. When I look, I just look tired.
Felicitation is, in her reptilian way, also delighted about this. Or something equivalent. It’s sometimes hard to tell her better moods it’s easy to tell when she’s unhappy. She hisses and spits and bites. But whenever I’m not standing, she climbs down from my shoulder to lay herself across my belly. I think she’s got the impression that I’m an egg. Not that she’s laying there to incubate me lizards don’t have those instincts, being not warm-blooded like birds are. No, she’s there to defend her egg and hisses at anyone who comes close. When it’s someone I’d to be close, I tap her on the head or give her a finger to gnaw on. (After all the years we’ve been together, I’m pretty much immune to her venom. It’s not that potent anyway, beaded lizards don’t have fangs so they have to chew a lot to deliver their venom, and I’ve been exposed to so much of it that it just doesn’t affect me any more. I’m not in a hurry to find out if it’s just her venom or if I’m immune to beaded lizard venom in general.)
I’m also apparently really aware of pregnancy and birth around me. Not necessarily human, either. We were working on our Ambushing Ibrahim the Uncle Plan we’ve acquired an infiltration specialist named Nicolai. We’re not expecting too many problems with the infiltration, but infiltration specialists also know about exfiltrations too, and getting the hell away is really the weakest part of our plan. It’d be great if we actually managed to kill Ibrahim in our little ambuscade, but given what we know of the guy and how he’s equipped, that doesn’t seem very likely. He’s stupendously armed and armored, and he’s likely to be very, very unhappy with us.
Anyway, during that meeting I suddenly knew that one of the mares on the farm was foaling, and having a lot of trouble with it. I excused myself and left they’d work out a fine plan without me, and this was important. I didn’t really want to explain why it was important, so I just didn’t mention it.
The farmer was I found out later that his name was Yezir there when I got to the barn. He knew that the foaling wasn’t going well, but didn’t know what to do to fix it. It was obvious that things were wrong. I washed my hands well (I never know when I’m going to need it, so I just carry soap with me) and felt up inside the mare. The foal was breech I felt hooves, and the head had to come out first. The foal was already starting to come out, and I was going to have to push him back in and get him turned around.
The mare was not happy about this she’d been carrying the foal for long enough and she wanted it out. She stepped on my foot, kicked, tried to bite me. I grabbed her ears and pulled her head down to put my forehead against hers. It’s not really possible to stare a horse in the eyes, with them set so wide apart. “Listen here, horse. You don’t know me and I don’t know you. But we both know you and your baby are in trouble, and I know how to help. So you’re just going to stand there and let me do this, okay?”
She didn’t answer in words, of course. And she didn’t really understand my words. The basic tone of the message got through, but not the specifics. But she did shake her head free, snort (horse breath is warm and very wet and smells like fermenting beer) at me, and lip my hair. It was enough of an apology. I smiled and kissed her on the nose and said, “Okay. We’ll get through this real soon. I promise.”
And then I went back to work. It was not easy. For any of us. I had my arm in the poor horse up to my shoulder pushing and pulling on the foal. Every so often her womb would contract and try to push the foal out, and I’d have to push with every bit of my strength to keep him in there so I could get him turned around. There was a time limit, too. If I took too long, he’d suffocate and die. She might die trying to birth him the wrong way.
Finally I got him to where his head was going to be the first thing to come out. “Okay, baby, we’re almost done,” I told the mare. “You just give me a couple great big pushes and it’s all over.”
And that was pretty much that. The foal came out in a gush (I was already covered in sticky fluid from working in the mare, so what was a gallon or two more?). I cleared gunk out of his nostrils and blew in them to make sure he was breathing okay. Pretty soon, he was standing up all wobbly on so-long legs and his mother was ignoring me completely she was busy licking her foal clean. I waited for the afterbirth to come out and gave it to the farmer to bury. Even though I’d washed my arms and hands as well as I could, I was still worried about causing an infection in her womb. It could leave her barren, or even kill her. So I asked the spirits to cleanse her of disease, just in case, and cleared up a minor threadworm infestation in the process. They were both going to be just fine.
I was tired, loopy, and grinning like an idiot. I didn’t even notice that the farmer had come back until he grabbed me up in a great big hug and kissed me on both cheeks. “You save my mare! You save the baby!” he said in heavily accented Trades. (Which reminds me: I need to learn to speak Kesserit.) “Thank you, lady. We do not have much, but food we have. You must come to dinner. We make big dinner for you.”
This was really something, especially considering how much of a Kesser patriot farmer Yezir was. I mean, I’m really obviously Saydean, being much darker than the average Kesserit, and having my own accent. And I’m a witch. Most people are a little uneasy about that. But I’d saved his mare and her foal, and that made me practically family.
“Okay,” I told him, hugging him back. (Can you tell I felt really good about myself just then?) “How about tonight?”
“Tonight, yes, tonight dinner,” he said. Pulling back, he looked down at my belly, then back up to me. “You must eat, yes? To grow the baby, yes?”
I gave him a sloppy grin and nodded. “Yeah.” Farmer Yezir was a really nice man, more than old enough to be my father, with a big, well-trimmed beard. He felt like he was whole, not like most of the people here in the war zone. Most people are stunted and twisted the way the spirits around here are.
Even though we’re part of the war we’re fighting in it we make parts of this gods-awful place safe enough that people can grow right. If we manage to banish Steel, maybe we can make the rest of it safe.
Anyway, I got washed up and changed into clean clothes (I’m in civilian clothes all the time now, though with the Freemen patch on an armband. They don’t make uniforms to fit little pregnant girls.) and went back to the planning meeting. Quin filled me in while Sal and Nicolai went over maps and lists of supplies and plans for who would do what. One thing they did was ask around for a boy about the same age as Jalane, Lord Cassiter’s son part of the getting away plan involved splitting into two groups, each with a young man and a chest. Hopefully that would confuse things enough that we’d both get away and be able to make our ways back to the Farm. As long as we did everything we could to keep the kid (listen to me I’m what, two years older? It feels like a lot longer, though.) safe, I was okay with it. Sal can be more ruthless than I’m comfortable with. A boy called Rorir volunteered. He’s excited about getting to be an adventurer. We tried telling him about the ugly parts of what we do, but I don’t think he listened. He’ll find out soon enough.
A couple of things happened that afternoon. A dispatch rider came in, and had letters for each of us. Mine was a letter on creamy-smooth vellum. I knew it was from him even before I cracked the seal and opened it. It smelled like the scent he favored, a spicy scent that reminded me of the desert, and him, and the time we had together. Otaan told me once that I smelled like the desert. Yes, it was a compliment. He meant I smelled like the heat and the wild open space of it. That morning, he said a lot of things. I was too overwhelmed to put many words together, but I liked listening to him.
“Missing you,” was all the letter said. No signature, no return address, no anything.
I’m keeping the letter here in between the pages of my journal. I’m not telling Quin or Sal about it. They don’t like Otaan at all, and probably wouldn’t like it if they knew I was missing him too. Gods all help me, but I do miss him. And I want him something awful.
I should have gone with Nanel. Or one of the other men and women who’ve asked me. Maybe if I had sex with someone who wasn’t Otaan, I wouldn’t want him so much.
I have no idea, really. But it might help.
The other thing was that the tutors the Company hired for us arrived. All pretty much at the same time, which puzzled me until I figured they all came on the same ship from… somewhere. None of them were from around here. Sal’s was a scary-looking woman wearing a black sash with a bright-red border and the sigil of the Order on it. Even if she was a wielder, she looked like she was well capable of teaching How to Kill People lessons. Quin’s was introduced as Goodman something not Master. Interesting. But he was definitely a sorcerer and seriously arrogant. He acted like there wasn’t anyone else but Quin there, and took her off to the astral realms (I could feel it when he opened the gateway.).
Mine is a woman who looks to be about thirty, and might be a housewife. She’s pale, light-haired and green-eyed, from somewhere far north of here. Her name’s Dedri, and she’s part of the Verdant Order of Witches, and she’s spirit-called like me. She felt familiar and comfortable the same way Ira did, and hugged me close and kissed me. Everyone feels comfortable when she’s around. Even Sal looked less scary-angry-intense when she came in. I squeaked when she introduced herself, and she looked at me funny.
“Sorry,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s just that you’re part of the Verdant Order! I heard of you a little while back, and I’ve been wanting to meet you all ever since.”
“Really?” she asked, stepping back to look me over. I grinned and nodded to her. “Well. We’re always looking for beautiful women to join us.”
“Me? Beautiful?” People keep saying that I am. Why can’t I see it?
Dedri nodded and put a hand on my belly. I could feel it there, warm and soft through my dress. “Yes you, beautiful, little one. Especially now.”
I’m too dark to really blush, but I felt my face get hot. “Oh.”
“If you want to join us, go to the city of Barador, in the north. South of there is a forest that people say is haunted.” Dedri grinned at me, the corners of her eyes crinkling into crows’ feet. “It is, but it’s haunted by us. Bring no men with you, and tell the trees that Dedri sent you. Someone will come to find you. And you do want your child raised in a proper environment, don’t you?”
It was just about exactly what I wanted. I felt like I was going to cry. Instead, I bit my lip and nodded.
Still smiling, Dedri reached out to touch my face. “Good girl. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the next eighteen hours, little one.”
“Okay. Um.” I swallowed and managed to get words out. Complex sentences, even. “Can we eat dinner while we get started? There are people expecting me for dinner. It won’t be any trouble if you come.”
“Sure.” I took her hand and led her off to farmer Yezir’s house.
She wasn’t kidding about having to do a lot over the next eighteen hours. It wasn’t easy, but I loved every minute of it. I’m still processing everything she told me, trying to make sense of it all. We talked a lot about philosophies of magic. Not so much with how it works it does, and we’re not too worried about why that’s more for wizards to lose sleep over. Mostly we talked about what magic should be used for, what to do with it.
I don’t want to hurt people with my magic. I especially don’t want to kill them with it. I’m afraid that if I use magic that way, my soul slips a little bit farther towards the demonic. I can’t help having the blood. But enough of me is human that I get to decide what I’ll make of it.
I want to use mine to help people, to fix injuries, cure diseases, to give back strength and health and life. Death is part of the cycle, but death comes for everything eventually. I don’t need to risk my soul to hurry it along. If I need to kill someone, I’ll do it with sharp pointy things.
For dealing with enemies, I’d rather use my magic to defend myself and to confuse and deceive and annoy them. The charm I know for asking the plants in an area to grab onto anything that moves is a good one, and the one for summoning swarms of rats or bats or spiders. (It can be a little hard on the rats and bats and spiders, but they’re small and fast and hard to hit.)
Maybe I’m just fooling myself, but it feels right this way. For me. Maybe I’m just wrong, and all I’m doing is closing off options that should be left open. I could wind up in a situation where I need that kind of magic to save my life or someone else’s and I don’t have it. What if I learned a few things along those lines and just didn’t use them except for dire emergencies?
I tried telling Dedri all this, but I don’t know how much sense I made. She just said that it was something I’d have to work out for myself. She’s right about that, but I don’t know how to work it out. When I try, I just get stuck in the same rut of fear and anxiety I always do. Having someone else to talk with can’t hurt.
Quin looked utterly worn out when she got back she said that she spent about two weeks with her tutor in there, and didn’t eat or drink anything the whole time. The woman from the Order apparently spent her day beating the hell out of Sal. Among other things, she didn’t think much of his decision not to sit for his Journeyman’s examination. I had to do some work on him so he wouldn’t be a huge mass of bruises and not able to march with the rest of us the next day.
Dedri made me go to bed eventually. She practically sat on me to make me do it, even though I was really wobbly from being so tired. “Dedri?” I asked. Even to me, I sounded really young. Except I’m not sure I ever really was that young. But my big sister (or something the relationship we all share isn’t that clearly defined, but it’s close) was tucking me in bed and it was okay to be little just then.
“Will you be there when the baby comes? Please? I’d really like you to be there.”
She didn’t make any promises she might not be able to keep. She just smiled and brushed a hand through my hair and said, “We’ll see, little one.”
I really hope she is. I’m pretty sure about my midwifery, but it’s probably hard to do that sort of thing for yourself.
We got about six hours’ sleep, finished packing I made room in my pack for my scrying bowl. It’s heavy twenty-five pounds of silver but I had a feeling I’d need it. Basically I’ve got that, clean socks, loincloths, and breast bands, grease for my boots, and medical supplies. I’m not worried about getting rained on. It’s good for trees, it’ll be fine for me.
And this book, of course. And a pen case. If I don’t have something to write with, I get edgy and nervous. There probably won’t be a lot of time to write for a while, but I wanted to get the past few days written down while they were still fresh in my mind.
We’re at Booster’s Crossing. We’re also the only people at Booster’s Crossing. The folks who used to live here, not being fatally stupid, all left this afternoon with the money we gave them. I’m hoping they’ll be able to make it to the north, out of Lord Warlan’s reach, and start new lives there. If they’d stayed, they’d all end up horribly dead for their part in our nifty little ambush plan. Even if they didn’t have any part in our nifty little ambush plan.
Nicolai and Maisel have the really incredibly dangerous job. They’re playing the part of the ferrymen, so they’ll actually be on the boat when we start trying to sink it. That would be bad enough, but they’ll also be close to Ibrahim the Uncle. He might just decide to take out his mood on the people that happen to be closest.But it’s a good plan the one thing that would screw it up very badly is if they don’t send Cassiter’s son Jalane across first. If Ibrahim comes first, we’re fucked. There’d be no way to get the boy from the wrong side of the river, and we’d have pissed off Ibrahim to no effect. Yay!
If we can get back to the Company, we’ll be all right. There isn’t anyone around here who really wants to start a war with a large, well-trained, well-equipped mercenary Company on top their fights with Sayd, other Southern nobles read “thugs” for the most part and the Kesserit crown. Of course, he might take issue with us personally and hire assassins, but there’s not much we can do about that. It’s unlikely the Company would be real unhappy about that. They’ve invested a lot in us.
I’d be real unhappy about that too. I’ve got things I want to do yet.
Stopping this war is getting to be pretty much the biggest thing. It might even be bigger than taking care of my baby. Everywhere we go, it seems like we see something worse than the last place. Everyone’s hungry except for the soldiers, so all the young people join up with some army or militia, and the people who are left to do the farming get taxed half to death and looted most of the rest of the way. The soldiers take what they want. Food, money, girls, anything.
I haven’t seen the Sayd side of the war zone, but I can’t imagine it’s any different than it is here. We were one people, once. We don’t have to be one people again, but the only ones who get anything good out of this are thugs like Lord Warlan and Harlan the Eater, and the demon Steel. There are almost certainly others, smaller ones, around here, feeding on the crumbs that Steel leaves behind.
It’s not like there isn’t plenty of pain and suffering to go around. The people suffer and the land suffers and I can’t help feeling it.
I worry about Sal sometimes. He has every reason to not like demons especially Kahn but he hates. I say I hate this war, but I mean I hate what it does, the way it cripples everything around here. Sal hates the way demons hate. The way people keeping this war going hate. Or at least he’s starting to.
I think I’ve changed some since we first decided to fight demons together. Archmage Ethan is responsible for a lot of it the demons were created for a very specific purpose, and though I’m not sure it’s the right way to keep the Three locked away, Shar is probably a better place for them being kept away from here. So going to Hehl itself and killing them there where they belong is not such the great idea. Banishing them from Shar and from the parts of Gates where they’re not supposed to be is an excellent idea, and worth much effort.
I’m already rambling the walk here was tiring, and my mind seems to change track every time the Sprout kicks so I might as well just let it happen.
Here’s the thing: I’m not even sure the Three are evil. Can gods really be evil? They might be destructive Serine’s storms kill a lot of people and we might not always understand their motives, but Oh, hell, I don’t know. Is a world without destiny even a better place? I can see how it might be really comforting to be able to give your life to a god and not have to make the hard decisions any more.
It does force us to take responsibility for what we do. We can’t say, any of us, that a god made us do anything. Even the people who do horrible things like throw hundreds of women off a cliff to pick an example at random can’t say that they did it because a demon made them. (Well, not unless they do something dumb and give up the protection of the Nine.) The demon might have given them the idea, but it was their choice to act on it.
Maybe a few lifetimes spent as slime molds (slime molds are at least useful they do a lot of the work of breaking down dead animals and plants) or sea-bottom worms or something might help them learn a little humility.
I have no idea where I was going with this. Every time I try to talk about big cosmic things, I get all tangled.
Even though it feels like we lost, I think we actually ended up doing pretty well. We didn’t die, which has to be considered a major accomplishment all by itself. Not only did we not get killed by Ibrahim the Uncle who is seriously pissed at us we didn’t die on the march back to the Farm. It could have killed us. With Ibrahim chasing us, we hiked a longer distance cross-country in the same amount of time we took getting to Booster’s Crossing on the roads. We’d walk for sixteen, eighteen hours, collapse and sleep for six or seven, (even I slept the whole time through, though my bladder was most unhappy with me) and then get up and do it all again the next day. Every day. For just short of two weeks.
Supplies were short, too. Ibrahim had scattered troops all over the place trying to find us, and they were destroying villages, crops, and livestock to keep us from getting food anywhere (and telling the locals that it was our fault, which I just don’t understand. They’re the ones burning everything, right?)So. Not dying is a big thing. We got Jalane back to his father, which I’m also counting as a win. Even though we found out later that the Crown also had a bounty out for the boy, he’s a nice kid. I just don’t feel bad about making sure he got home okay. (Says the very pregnant woman. I’m due in maybe two months at the most. I’m fucking huge now.) We didn’t get to keep the treasure, and we didn’t get to turn Harlan the Eater in ourselves, but even then, we didn’t lose completely. The Crown representative didn’t much like the way we were betrayed by Nicolai and the Golden Stag guys and said he’d make sure the Freemen got half the bounty on Harlan for the work we’d done bringing him in. He’s also going to recommend the Freemen for some Crown contracts. And we made Lord Cassiter a lot more likely to believe that we didn’t raze his village and rape his people. I think that’s a much better use of the helmet that was in the chest than having to turn it over to the Golden Stags when they captured us.
Yeah, we just went through our very first capture and ransom as mercenaries. And really, it went as smoothly as it’s ever supposed to. I can’t complain about the way they treated us they fed us well, gave us lots of hot water to bathe with, and gave us clothes that weren’t about to get up and start walking all by themselves. Sure, their spy sold us out, but these things happen. We’ve got our own spies out there, waiting to do something similar to somebody else. And they didn’t get everything they hoped for out of it, so hah!
The fight at Booster’s Crossing went off almost perfectly. It would have been nice to have killed Ibrahim the Uncle, but we didn’t really expect to be able to. We could’ve gotten lucky, but it would have taken better luck than I had that day I beat those guys’ barred dice in Davin.
Ibrahim the Uncle wore a full set of plate mail, with an odd symbol on the breastplate. There was the blue moon and the white moon, but linked to them both was a gray moon. It’s something I’ve never seen before I should look that up when I have the chance. His shield was decorated with a wave pattern that Sal said was carried by knights of the Davin Gold. The sword at his waist was an Athorian blade once, and had the power to call winged messengers. Corrupted by, well, this war we’re in the middle of, its power now kills birds in a space around it. The worst thing was the crossbow, though. It’s disgusting I felt sick from its aura from across the river. Quin and Sal each survived a bolt from it. The wounds they left didn’t want to heal I had to push hard to make them close.
Quin blew the hell out of that barge, Sal grabbed the helm it’s an artifact from the days when Sayd and Kesser were Kessel, and it’s an incredibly beautiful thing. I shot one of Ibrahim’s soldiers, scooped up Jalane, collected the man and woman assigned to me, and we all got the hell away. Half a day later, we split up according to plan. (Ibrahim and his horse ended up in the river. The crossbow sank to the bottom, but unfortunately wasn’t going to stay there. I still can’t believe that man was able to tread water wearing that much armor.)
The forest we went through was the first place in Kesser that had spirits that actually talked to me. I really can’t tell you how much of a relief that was. Even though spirits sometimes can be annoying like the ship-spirit that would not stop talking to me it’s really uncomfortable being in a place where they don’t. They’re there, I can see them, but they’re so warped they can’t talk any more.
I thought about asking the forest-spirits to play with Ibrahim and lure him off our trail, but he’d just come back with his men and kill the forest.
Have I mentioned how sick this war makes me feel?
We were at a set of really old Sessalorian ruins taking a rest when Quin and me noticed that someone was scrying on us. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but I got out my own scrying bowl and asked to see the person who was doing the scrying. It worked and more, it ended up opening a way for that person and me to talk.
It was Lord Cassiter, which I wasn’t expecting I’d thought it would be some wielder working for Ibrahim. We talked for a little while, assured him that his son was well and that we had every intention of making sure he got home safely. (Of course I left out the part about taking him back to the Company and ransoming him back to his father. Some things just don’t need to be said.)
I didn’t think we’d make it very far with both Cassiter and Ibrahim after us, so it was time to make nice. We arranged to meet at the same place he was going to do the exchange of Harlan for Jalane. I also asked him for three thousand gold for the helm that was in the chest, which annoyed him a little. We should get something out of this, right?
I was very, very polite.
The next day, three wolves came towards us and turned into men when they got close. It’s a neat trick, and one I want to learn how to do soon. Dedri wants me to learn to bind spirits first. For one thing, it’s not a great idea to shapeshift while you’re pregnant, especially with a baby as gifted as this one seems like it’s going to be. It just gives them ideas.
Turned out they’re acolytes of Lord Cassiter, sort of borrowing his power to do the shapeshifting. They were a very polite escort. Though we do the same kind of magic, I didn’t get the feeling I had with Dedri or Ira they’re druids, they do spirit magic, but they’re not spirit-called. Is that something only women are?
More wolf-druid-acolytes turned up over the next couple of days, increasing our escort to twenty by the time we got to the meeting site. The Mayor was waiting for us there he was nice enough to us, but he had something he wanted very badly. I can see that he’d be really scary if he wanted to. Jalane ran over to him and hugged him. (Maybe Lord Cassiter really is just as bad as Lord Warlan, but at least Cassiter lets some of the more pleasant sides of his personality show. I haven’t seen anything like that from Ibrahim. That crossbow he carries has to have affected him.) I gave the Mayor the helm, telling him that we apologized for the rudeness of asking for money when we’d spoken earlier. But if Lord Cassiter were kind enough to lend us some of his men to help us get back to the Farm, we’d be most appreciative. That was agreeable to everybody, and the Mayor appreciated our (my) good manners.
Harlan the Eater is incredibly fucking scary and doesn’t care enough to try to hide it. There’s something very, very wrong with his mind and I didn’t go any closer to him than I had to. Sal kept trying to interact with him, which I thought was a bad idea. But not my problem. Sal decided that taking care of the prisoner was his responsibility, and Quin and I were just as happy to let him.
Really, the man just needs to be killed the world is a worse place for his being in it. He even makes Ibrahim uncomfortable, which is some kind of an accomplishment.
Oh yeah, we ran into Ibrahim again. He showed up at the meeting site a little after we did. I leaked a little, but I’m blaming that on the Sprout. (No, I’m not. I was just that scared.) He’d sworn some kind of oath to not kill anybody at the meeting site, which is why we’re not dead. The Mayor invited Ibrahim to join him for dinner.
The most senior of Cassiter’s druids said, “We have to go now.”
I sighed. Whatever the Mayor and Ibrahim were having for dinner smelled really good, and we’d already been walking all day. “I know.”
So we started walking. We walked until we couldn’t any more and fell over. And we did it again the next day. And again for the next twelve days.
It was almost a relief when we were captured. There were forty-some men, all armed to the teeth, to get in between Ibrahim and fragile things like, well, me. Sure, I was pissed when it happened, but that didn’t last too long. I think Sal’s got a grudge, though. He’s really not happy about the way Nicolai sold us out to the Golden Stag Company.
We won’t be in camp long, but with my belly as huge as it is, Lieutenant Tedir isn’t going to send me anyplace I’m likely to see a lot of fighting. Or any fighting. But I’ve got a couple of days to learn spirit-binding charms from Dedri before we go.
Felicitation is telling me that I need to put this down and go to sleep. She doesn’t use words she did once, but that was a special occasion. She just tries to sprawl across my book or steal my pen or bite my arm. I get the message. I’m going to go get some sleep, if the Sprout will let me.
Besides, what would be the point of having a familiar if I didn’t listen to her?
Even though I’m hugely pregnant, I still think about sex. Otaan’s part of it, but I try not to think about him too much. Instead I think about Ira, what her skin feels like, the way her nipples pebble when they’re touched. I want to squeeze her thigh between my legs, I want dip my fingers into her and taste the ocean/blood/tears. I picture getting fucked up against a tree, the bark rough against my back, my legs barely able to support my weight. Yes, I’m imagining most of that. She held my hand, hugged me, we kissed goodbye. I don’t have actual memories of it. It would be much fun to find out what I got right, and what was wrong.I think about what it implies that the Verdant Order witches don’t let men into their forest.
So. I have these urges. And with the Sprout so big, I can’t reach myself to help take care of them. It’s frustrating.
We’ve got our new assignment there’s a keep called Hedrin Hall where the Company has a small hospital and a larger prisoner processing center. They know I can still heal and will not send me out into any more fights, so this is my not-on-the-front-lines duty. I hope there’s at least some fighting. Sal gets difficult when there aren’t any opportunities for him to hurt people.
I want very badly to get out of here. Hedrin Hall is being rebuilt so that it’s defensible again the keep had gotten wrecked some time ago. There’s scaffolding all over the place. With this much stonework going on, there are going to be plenty of injuries both small and large to deal with. But being the newest, least senior person in the medical detachment, I get the shittiest jobs. Mostly that means making sure the people in the terminal ward stay comfortable while they’re dying.
I don’t like it that I can’t do much to really help them. I could try to heal one or two of them, but I might break myself doing it, and it probably wouldn’t work even then. It does have its good sides, though. I can sleep on the Sprout’s schedule there, catching a few hours in one of the empty beds in the ward. I have lots of time to read and write.Worse, there’s a Kesserit major in charge of the Saydean captives here. He’s had five of them chained to big stone blocks. A bone-laced scourge hangs from a hook under a sign reading, “Feel free.” Feel free to beat the prisoners, is what it means. I was ordered to heal them every few days, to make sure they stay alive for more torture.
Worst of all, I know one of them. Or at least I recognized him. His name’s Amina, and I knew him back when I lived in Sayd-the-city. He wasn’t one of the really bad ones, but he wasn’t my friend either. I still felt tired and cold and very sad when I saw him chained up there. His bones showed through the gashes in his back. “The pain’s gone,” he mumbled as I healed him.
“I’m glad I could help that much,” I said quietly.
“You’re Saydean. I can hear it in your voice.” Amina had switched to Saydean for that part.
“Yaa salaam aleikum,” I whispered. Peace be upon you. It’s traditional.
“Waleikum a salaam.” And unto you be peace.
“It’s been a long time since I heard my tongue,” I murmured. Quin and Sal and I usually spoke Trades with each other, just to stay in the habit.
“Help me, cousin,” Amina pleaded. “Free us from our chains, so that we might escape.”
“You’ll just be caught. They’ll torture you to death.”
“And that is different from what they’re already doing?”
I let out a breath. It was almost a sob, but not quite. “I can’t. I’m a mercenary. I took an oath to follow the orders given me.”
Amina sagged so that only his chains were holding him up. We didn’t say anything else to each other, and I came back to the cool dark of the hospice ward. My patients aren’t the best company, but then, neither am I.
I don’t ever want to see Sal like that again. Last night he went and let all the men on the stocks go. The Kesserit major, a man called V’kal, was really pissed. So captain Crandu ordered Sal flogged. He probably would have died without help. But I was able to knit the skin and flesh back together and nudge his marrow to make more blood.
Sal baffles me. Most of the time he comes off as this deliberately amoral killer like when he suggested we start a big grass fire to slow Ibrahim down and then he’ll go and do something like this. (One of Cassiter’s acolytes explained why I was so very adamant that it was a bad idea I was having trouble with the words. A fire like that would kill all the little things that live in the grasses, and we would feel every single one of them.)I don’t try to predict what he’ll do any more. I just hope he remembers that we need to stop this war, and getting ourselves killed before we even get to be really working on it will not help much.
Major V’kal is very upset with us. If he weren’t so prejudiced, he’d just be mad at Sal, but since the three of us are all Saydean, we get lumped in with him. He wants us out of his sight. In fact, he wants us sent back to Minoth. Captain Crandu was signing orders to that effect when Quin gave him a letter from captain Navarr.So we’re going to Widow’s Peak instead. We leave in a few minutes. I’ve said goodbye to my patients and colleagues already. Widow’s Peak is closer to the front, but I hope it’ll be a better place than this. It should be captain Navarr doesn’t tolerate things like V’kal did with those Saydean prisoners. Or anything else that might be bad for discipline.
Me, I’m tired. The Sprout is getting to be enormous. So big I can’t keep up with the stretch marks. They’re faint, just ripples of silver across my belly. Hopefully I’ll have time to work on those later. I do this with other scars, too, not just these stretch marks. Part of it’s just vanity, but I also want the only marks on my skin to be the ones I had put there deliberately. Like the tattoos on my hands and my back. There will be more.
Time to go.
Widow’s Keep. I did not go fight the giant gods-damned spiders along the way. It’s a very long waddle here from Hedrin Hall I was too damned tired to go fight after more than five weeks of walking, and I couldn’t draw a bow at all with my belly in the way. For once I was content to be treated like a delicate little flower and protected from all the icky nasty bad things. (Though I did remake my skin into tree bark, just in case.)
I am grateful for my younger self’s decision to run for endurance so much. If she/I hadn’t, it would have been an even worse trip. Really, it was more than bad enough. Marching for distance is fine. I’m perfectly okay with that. Marching for distance while my womb clenches every few minutes in false labor is very much not okay. That didn’t happen the whole time, of course. I’d have been in a homicidally bad way if it did. Actually, the false labor only hit me twice during the day (no, we didn’t keep going. We stopped when the contractions started.). The other three episodes just kept me awake most of the night.I am going to get some sleep. Right after I take a hot bath and eat something. A lot of something, if I can get my hands on it.
I’m tired of being pregnant now. The Sprout can hurry up and join the rest of us out in the world. I want to see it and hold it and watch it grow into a person.
It was nine months three days ago. (First babies are notoriously late arrivals, I’m told.) Any time now, I’ll finally get to meet this person I’ve been spending so much time with. Yes, I’ve been thinking about names, but I feel kind of weird when it comes to writing them down. I haven’t even found out if I’ve got a boy or a girl coming yet.
I’ve had to ward my bed to get any peace the spirits gather around in droves, wanting to see my baby. It’s very weird. They just drift there and stare at my belly. None of them talk, and the silence makes me uncomfortable.
It’s going to be harder work taking care of a baby than it is carrying one. I know that. I’m not going to get a whole lot more sleep than I do now. And all the time I spend being a mother, I get to give twice as much to the Company. What I really wish I could do is travel instantly poof! to the Verdant Forest and have my baby and my maternity leave there. There’s so much I could be learning from these women. I bet someday I could learn to sidestep into the astral realms and navigate across the world from there, like the way we got from Ashiri to Minoth. I’ll have to ask Dedri what she meant by the raising my child in a traditional environment thing. I wish she was here. I wish I didn’t want Otaan to be here, but I do.
I think captain Navarr is sweet on Quin. He had the troops at the camp all lined up in a full dress inspection when we arrived rumor has it he never does full dress inspections. They think he’s infatuated with someone, but don’t know who. I think I know who. I see how she looks at him.
I hope that Quin’s first time is as special as mine. Oh, not the ritual, or the extra people all around, but the way he can makes her feel. And I wonder what he’s like in bed. The captain is so very very controlled, and sex means giving up some control and just letting things happen.
He could do a lot of damage if he truly let himself go, but I doubt he’ll do that. Quin isn’t that fragile, but the habits of a lifetime are hard to break.
Sleep now. More later.