Game: Session 8
It’s been six days since the spiders last rushed the walls, and the soldiers (the real ones, not wielder half-soldiers like I’d be if I weren’t nine months and then some pregnant) are Not Happy. They’re not exactly looking forward to having to fight spiders the size of wolves all night, but they’re worried that it just means they’re planning something really awful. So they fight with each other, and as long as they don’t do more damage than we can fix here in the infirmary, the sergeants and captain Navarr pretty much just let it go. They can’t get drunk, the women here aren’t whores, and there just isn’t a whole lot to do for entertainment except fight. You can kill someone with your fists if you try hard enough, but it’s not easy. These guys aren’t trying to kill each other, they’re just trying to work off the tension.
I can relate. The lack of spiders doesn’t bother me, but the Sprout’s unwillingness to hurry up and get born is wearing me out. I’m grumpy and snappish and not pleasant to be around. Felicitation’s losing patience with me she spends a lot of time curled up on the hearth where it’s actually warm, and doesn’t come unless I pick her up. Bending down to do that is not easy, in case you were wondering.
I’ve patched up a lot of split lips and cut eyebrows and broken noses and knuckles. If there are broken bones involved, I’ll use magic to speed their healing, but for anything less than that, sutures and poultices and willow-bark tea is enough.
Just in case you were wondering, I’m fucking enormous. There’s this huge belly out in front of me that gets in the way of, well, everything. I’m sort of in charge of the medical staff here, and I have assistants who are good with a needle, so I let them handle the sutures. It just wouldn’t be good to be stitching up some poor guy’s eyebrow and get hit with a contraction. He could lose an eye or something. And it’s not really labor yet these are just practice contractions.
The real thing can come any time now. I’m so tired. Just standing up takes an effort. The Sprout itself is just going to be about eight, eight and a half pounds, but Ive gained about forty since I got pregnant.
Captain Navarr asked me to do a scrying he had a piece of wood he said was from some kind of ship no one had seen before. Using the piece’s origin as a focus, I asked for sight.
I’ll do my best to describe it, but it’s hard. Start with the basics: the ship I saw in my scrying bowl was assuming the beings that crewed it were roughly the same size as human about three hundred feet from stem to stern, sixty feet abeam, but with a draft of only about twenty feet, implying only two or three decks at the most. There were I don’t have words for it. There were pods, on small wings, with spinning somethings above or behind them. The ship had no sails, no oars, and nothing I could recognize as a weapon.
The crew was as strange as their ship. Most of the sailors were creatures similar to minotaurs they had the heads of bulls and cows, the torsos and arms of men, and the legs and tails of cattle. Unlike the minotaurs in Minoth, they had thickly haired backward-bending legs and hooves in place of feet. A rabbit man of similar build was an officer of some kind. On the afterdeck, a canopy shaded three more people around a table, though I couldn’t see the third one at first. One was a jaguar woman she was obviously, devastatingly female and never mind the heavy robes she was wearing another was a jackal man, and the last, who I didn’t see until the last, was a lion man.
The jaguar woman and the jackal man argued for a while I couldn’t hear anything from my vantage point, and likely wouldn’t have understood anything if I could until the lion man reached his decision, and all the arguing cut off immediately. The jaguar woman looked pleased, and started some kind of ritual.
These people must have something that lets them talk to each other over long distances maybe something like the way Lord Cassiter and I could talk with each other when we both cast a scrying on each other. I saw maybe six ships turn and head east, away from shore.
There was so much that I didn’t understand, so much that was missing, that I felt useless. I really only had more questions than I did answers. But I wrote out my report anyway and presented it to the captain. Like me, he would like to have more information, but even with the little I could tell him, we knew more than we had.
A witch is a handy creature to have around. Even when she’s as awkward and ungainly as I am.
I can’t stop crying. Felicitation is a hissing spitting ball of hate and spite and venom. Quin’s worried. Sal wants to kill someone. That’s not exactly new, but he does have someone specific in mind.
Otaan came. I wanted so badly to see him, and it was good, at first. But he took my Suleiman away. He wasn’t even an hour old and he took him away.
(And someday I’m going to kill Sal. Not today, but someday he’ll do something to make me want to kill him enough to actually do it.)
Okay. Otaan, my lover and enemy, has taken our my son away. We’re going to go get him back. I’ve been hoping all this time that there would be some way that we could work out a relationship, but it’s not going to work. He wants to raise our son in his faith, in the worship and service of the dark glories, and I want to raise him to at least honor the Nine. I gave my word on that. But Otaan isn’t going to just let me do that, and I’m not just going to let him take the baby I just spent nine months carrying. I did all the hard work, and he just shows up and takes him away before I’ve had any time with him at all? I never wanted Otaan to be hurt before, but he can’t have my child.
We’re probably going to have to kill him.
I was sleeping when it started, sort of. When I woke up, I thought I’d wet the bed the mattress and linens were soaked but it wasn’t wet with piss. My water broke, and the Sprout was coming. Quin had been watching me sleep, and when I told her what was happening, she sort of freaked out. I cursed a lot and kept trying to tell her to go boil some water while I walked (waddled) up and down the aisle between the beds in the infirmary. I sort of moved in there I want to be close in case there’s an emergency. Especially since I was expecting me to be the emergency.
Women learned a long time ago that people could be really, really irritating when you’re busy trying to push a baby out and they keep trying to be helpful. So we tell them to go boil water. We don’t need cauldrons of boiling water, but it makes the irritating people go away.
It wound up taking a lot of just being blunt and saying, “Go away! Gods all bless, Quin, you’re making me crazy! It’s going to take hours, all right?” I love her dearly, but I could have strangled her to death just then.
See above about women who’ve just had a baby being crazy. Actually having the baby makes it about a thousand times worse. For fifteen hours after my water broke, I was insane. Raving mad. It hurt. Not all the time. The contractions hurt my womb was trying to push a baby’s head through an opening that wouldn’t admit a finger most of the time, and it didn’t really want to open that much.
Thing is, I can remember that it hurt a whole lot. But as soon as the baby was out, it didn’t matter any more. It doesn’t matter now. I was sore and sweaty and very, very tired (I keep saying that a lot sorry, but I really am just tired all the time right now) and I wanted to let my son nurse and get some sleep.
I heard most of this later. As the sun was setting, what looked like every spider in the world came out of the woods and just stayed there, right at the edge of the forest. It must have been creepy as hell out on the walls watching them. Me? I had no idea anything was happening.
And then a man walked out of the woods, on the road. Of course it was Otaan. The spiders didn’t bother him a bit. In fact, they looked like they were bowing to him. Sal was the gatekeeper on duty, and he wasn’t about to let Otaan inside the walls.
I wanted to see him again. It just seemed right that he should be there when our baby was born. He was there at the start, right? Mostly, though, I just missed him. I still miss him. And I still love him.
Since Otaan couldn’t come in, I had to go out. Sal sent some big strong soldiers to come into the infirmary and carry me outside the gate. I really didn’t want to have my baby out in front of everybody like that, but I wanted Otaan more. I’m pretty sure I said “Kiss me, damn it,” at some point. I cursed a lot. I spent a little energy on hating Sal, but there wasn’t much to spare.
So everybody up on the wall got to hear me scream and cry and curse and whimper and was treated to the sight of me shitting the bed as the ‘push it the hell out’ signals got all screwed up. I hope they enjoyed it, the bastards. They should’ve been watching the damn spiders, not me.
After a small eternity, it was over. The boy was finally out, and even though he was all gray and red and slimy, he was perfect, right down to his fingernails. Everyone I’d been hating for the past while was forgiven. Including the soldiers up on the walls they all cheered for me when Suli was born and when he yelled when Otaan smacked him on the bottom.
Otaan had cleaned him up with a towel, tied off and cut the cord (I kept boiled string and a small sharp knife with me at all times then, and I told him what to do), and put him in my arms. He didn’t have to hit him, though. He’d have started breathing just fine on his own. I was unhappy about that the first thing to happen when you’re born shouldn’t be a slap for all of half a minute until the Sprout was in my arms and sucking from my breast.
It wasn’t anything like the way it felt when Otaan had sucked on my nipples, but it felt really, really good. Part of that was just having the pressure relieved as they filled up with milk, my breasts had gotten heavy and achy and they leaked. But most of that was just him, just seeing and feeling him there. “Hi there,” I told him, nuzzling the top of his head. “I’m your mother, and I’m really glad you’re here.” The afterbirth slid out of me, almost unnoticed. (It was a whole lot more flexible than a baby’s head.) That half of the cot I was on was such a mess already that it hardly made a difference.
“You’ve never been more beautiful, Sofi,” Otaan said. His fingers brushed my sweat-tangled hair back from my forehead, and that felt wonderful even though I knew what was coming. “Will you come with me?”
Why did he have to do that just then? I wanted to cry. Up on the walls, Sal was giving orders to bring me back inside. “Which is it going to be, Sofiyah?” in that impossibly beautiful voice of his. “Me? Or them?”
“Damn you.” I was not going to cry. I almost managed not to. “I don’t want to have to choose.”
He kissed me, and it burned the way it always did when he kissed me. “But you do have to choose. I’ll give you anything. Everything. Just come. Please.”
“I’m sorry.” With my free hand, I reached up and touched the back of my neck. There’s a tattoo there, a nine-pointed star in a circle, with the names of the Nine Gods of Shar written around the edge, with Rial and Kial uppermost. “I have to stay true to this.”
I didn’t have the energy to explain why. The short version is that I don’t want to go to hell when I die, and I’m already halfway there. He knew why already anyway.
Sal gave orders for the gate to be opened and for me to be brought back inside. Otaan stayed on the other side of the gate. “I can walk,” I told the men carrying the cot. (They’d brought a clean one out for me the other one was pretty well ruined.) “Just put me down.”
Even if I was sort of an officer, that didn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that I was a young (and allegedly pretty) woman and I’d just given birth. They ignored me and carried me inside the infirmary. They’d just set me down when the screaming started, and they ran back to the walls, to the fight. It felt like my heart turned to ice in my chest, and I started crying for real.
Now that the icky screaming parts were over, Quin was much calmer. She sat with me while my emotions went all over the place. I should’ve been calm. Things should have been peaceful. Otaan could at least have given me that. Spiders had gotten over the walls and were trying to get in through the arrow-slit windows of the infirmary. Most of them were too big the ones that were small enough died pretty quickly when Quin hit them with her sword.
A portal opened up along one wall, filled with spiders. Big spiders, these, not the little hand-sized ones that had gotten through the windows. They didn’t come out, though. They parted, and Otaan stepped through.
“I’ll be taking my son now,” he said. I stared at him. I was way beyond furious and into something that was almost calm. I didn’t say anything. “He should be raised to a proper religion, to worship the true gods of this world.”
I sighed. I was so tired. So was my son we’d both had a very long, very hard day. At least he was able to fall asleep, milk leaking out where his lips were still on my breast. “I want him to have the same choices I did,” I said.
Otaan sneered at me. At me. He’d never done that before. But I guess that now I’d given birth to our son, and that I wasn’t going away with him, he didn’t need to be as nice as he usually was to me. “To serve the Nine or die?”
“To serve the Nine, or not,” I said.
There was someone pounding on the door. A lot of someones, in fact. They’d be through it pretty soon. “Give him to me,” Otaan said, holding out a hand. There was a sword in the other.
“No.” I felt bleak, empty, cold. I couldn’t stop Otaan from taking our son my son but I wasn’t just going to hand him over, either.
“Give me my son, Sofiyah,” he repeated.
“No. I can’t stop you from taking him, but I’m not going to give him to you. You have to do this.”
Otaan reached out like he was grabbing a sausage from me, not a baby. “Gods all bless, Otaan. Don’t you have any idea of how to hold a baby?”
He stuck the sword point-first in the floor and used both hands to take Suleiman away. The door burst open finally and a whole bunch of unhappy soldiers poured in. Otaan grabbed his sword and ran for the portal. Quin looked frustrated she was trying to figure out some way to keep him from leaving with my son, but there wasn’t much she could do that wouldn’t hurt him.
“I never hated you before,” I said.
“I never hated you. I still love you, Sofiyah. And you’re still beautiful.” Then they were gone, and the portal closed behind them.
Damn damn damn damn damn.
What could I do? I curled up in a ball and cried. I didn’t care who saw me. My son was less than an hour old, and he was gone, stolen away by his father. There wasn’t a single part of me that didn’t ache in one way or another. Eventually I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, one of the message runners was shaking me awake. It was actually pretty brave of him, considering how homicidal a mood Felicitation was in. She tried to bite him a couple of times, but he was too fast for her.
“Miss Sofiyah, ma’am? Captain Navarr wants to see you.”
“Okay.” I rubbed at my eyes with my knuckles and sat up, slowly. The nice message runner helped me up to my feet and led me off to the captain.
“I hear your son was taken,” captain Navarr said. He cuts right to the bone.
“Do you want him back?”
If I could have burst into flames just then, I would have. “Yes.”
“Pack your things, and pack light.” I stared at him. “Nobody takes one of my men,” Navarr said. I could hear the wolf in his voice. I guess we’re his pack. “No matter how old they are. Staff meeting in twenty minutes.”
“Yes, sir!” I ran off to get my things together. He said to pack light, so I did I had diapers and baby clothes already, and a sling to carry him in. I packed some medical supplies and gathered my weapons. I hoped it would be enough. Food wasn’t much of a concern, and I can always call water. I didn’t feel very hungry, and my breasts were way too full from not having the Sprout with me to nurse. Even if nobody else got to eat, he would.
We’d get him back. I didn’t dare doubt that.
The staff meeting was pretty short. Captain Navarr commended Sal for not letting Otaan into the fort and then sort of scolded him for letting me go outside and for not just killing Otaan outright. But it was my choice, so he didn’t make anything of it, really. Me, he just looked at and I tried not to shrink in my chair. I really didn’t want to have to defend myself just then. Or ever, really. But he didn’t say anything. The captain knew where Otaan had gone the ruins of Widow’s Keep, about three miles from here. It was almost evening, and going out into the forest at night was a very bad idea. We had to sleep the night and leave in the morning.
I need sleep badly, but I had to get this on paper. If I didn’t, it would all just stay in my head and I’d never get any rest.
I’m thinking a little more clearly now, and crying a whole lot less. Fortunately for me, everyone knows that women who’ve just given birth are crazy. I get cut a lot of slack.
My son’s name is Suleiman bin Otaan. He’s big, almost nine pounds, and not quite two feet long. And he’s healthy his eyes aren’t open much, but he sucked right away when I put my nipple in his mouth. He’s lighter than me, the color of coffee with lots of cream (I never knew that people put cream in coffee until I got to Minoth), and the few curls of hair on his head are dark but not black. His eyes are pale for now, but babies’ eyes often change color as they grow, so it might be another color entirely in a few months. His head is still a little squished from being born, but that will pass in another day or so.
He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life. Even if he is a little funny-looking right now. He’s asleep he sleeps a lot on my bed. Felicitation is curled up with him, ready to defend him from anyone she doesn’t approve of (which is pretty much everybody right now). I can’t help looking over at him every few moments.
So, yes. We got my son back, and my lover is dead, his soul banished to hell.
The night before we left to go get him back, I had a very disturbing dream. Mine was the sort of dream where I couldn’t do anything to change what was happening. That’s never good. There was a long queue of spirits. Each of their mouths had been sewn shut with gold wire, and their hands were bound in gold manacles (or their feet were hobbled with gold shackles, for animal-spirits who didn’t have hands). I was in the queue, but instead of gold, my hands were bound with rope and my mouth gagged with my mother’s scarf. It’s been years since I saw my mother’s scarf, but I knew that’s what it was.
We were all headed for a stone keep with a gaping black door. Inside, we were in the great hall. There was a huge ornate throne set on a dais, but that throne was empty. A less imposing chair sat lower down on it, and Otaan sprawled in it. We were all here to see him, or to be seen by him, I wasn’t sure.
“You are bound to me,” Otaan said to each spirit as she (or he, or it) approached. Each spirit made obeisance to him as suited their bodies two-legged spirits bowed, four-legged spirits knelt and exposed their throats. When they’d done that, he told them, “Now, tell me your secret.”
The spirit just ahead of me in the queue a stag-spirit refused to give up his secret. Anger turned Otaan’s beautiful face ugly and he made a gesture with his fist. “Then you are no more.” The stag-spirit tried to scream as it was torn apart, but the gold wire silenced him. Somewhere, I knew, a herd of deer died all at once as their spirit was killed.
It was my turn now, and I stepped forward. I wanted to cry, to kill him, to run to him. I could have him, and our son, but I’d have to give up everything else. Instead I just stood there passive. “You are bound to me, Sofiyah,” he said. “Come here.” I started to raise my arms and part of me was screaming to not do it, that I’d belong to him but hands reached out from behind me and pulled my arms back down. I don’t know whose hands they were, but I was grateful for the help.
Otaan’s face twisted again, and he raised his hands. “Then you are~”
I was too scared to scream, but I might have squeaked. Someone was shaking me awake. “Miss. Miss, please wake up. The captain wants you.”
My heart was fluttering in my chest like a rabbit’s. I sat up, but I had to swallow a couple of times before I could talk. “Okay. Okay. Where?”
“I’ll take you, miss,” he said. He was a nice-looking young man, light-haired and tanned, and looking at him all I could think was I’m going to kill my lover today. I felt old and tired, especially compared with this earnest young man who was probably older than me. He picked up my pack, I arranged my weapons, and we left.
Both captain Navarr and Quin had had nightmares, so he asked everyone if we had too. We all had. None of us had the same dream, but we all had something. I didn’t really want to talk about mine. Nobody else did either.
It was creepy as hell to get to Widow’s Keep and see things that were in my dream. The keep we were heading into was the same one I’d marched into with so many spirits. In my dream, it had been perfect, as if it had just been built, but in the light of day it was a crumbling ruin. We all saw things that had been in our dreams last night, in some form or another. I prayed it wasn’t an omen.
When I saw the inside of the keep, I let out a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. It wasn’t anything like what I’d seen in my dream. The dais was still there, at the far end of the great hall, but there were no thrones, only debris from the large holes in the ceiling. Actually, I liked the keep the way it was, holes and all. Moss grew on the floor where rainwater had pooled, birds roosted in niches in the walls and rafters, and the patchy light gave it something of the feel of a forest. I don’t suppose too many people would agree with me, but I liked it. There was a grand stairway sweeping up, wide enough for five, six people to walk next to each other, but it was crumbled along with the upper stories it once led to.
Another stairway just as impressive as the one going up had been led down. We went that way, and found ourselves in a room with a bunch of decaying stuff in it. There was a chandelier that must have been stunning once when its crystals were all intact, but it just looked sad and broken. (Though that might’ve just been me.) There was a chest with the mark of a Vessan merchant company on it and a couple of sacks nearby. Sal, bless his larcenous cold heart, went to go look at those. One small sack had a healthy number of gemstones in it. The chest held gold coins. Lots of them. And newly minted, from the look.
When Sal tried to move it, it moved. So did the door to the stairs going back up, and a portcullis over another staircase going up. Both were meant to close us in the floor panel under the chest came up and the room started to fill with water. It was moving pretty quick, but not so fast we didn’t have time to figure a way out. Thinking quickly and moving just as fast, Sal shoved the chest under the stone door dropping from the ceiling and kept it from closing all the way. Captain Navarr tried to push the portcullis back up, but it was locked very securely and wouldn’t move an inch, even with Sal’s help.
Quin knows a spell that breaks things. It sounded loud to us, but we were feeling paranoid just then. The portcullis shattered, and we were able to get out of the room before the water was even waist deep.
My boots were soaked and it seemed like a good time to try to be sneaky so I took them off. It felt good to have my bare feet in contact with the stone. It also seemed like a good idea to have a little extra protection, so I asked for the protection of the trees and turned my skin to bark. We actually managed to be fairly quiet, even captain Navarr, who had taken his breastplate off. Which was all fine, but I don’t think it made much of a difference. The next room we came to was a statue gallery where all of the sculptures had been broken or defaced. Some of the vandalism looked pretty recent, like the statue of a man with deep sword cuts across his face. Maybe someone didn’t like the guy, and tried to break his statue, but couldn’t manage it.
There was also an intricately-shaped gold symbol on the floor in the middle of the room. We found out what it was for when a giant dressed in something probably meant to be Vessan court dress appeared. He was not happy to see us. Bellowing, he rushed to the attack and the captain stepped up to meet him.
The giant was strong. Even though the long skinny sword he carried looked stupid in his hands, it was still eight feet long and must have weighed a hundred pounds. He hit the captain with it and smacked him into a wall. Navarr got up and rushed at him, halberd appearing in his hand, but stumbled on the uneven stone of the floor and went sprawling again. Sal stabbed the giant with his knives, getting his attention, and getting smacked around for his trouble. Quin tried one spell after another hoping to at least confuse the thing, but it was tough. I tried shooting it, but the arrow stuck in its armor without doing any harm.
When the captain got up, he was in his big wolf man shape. And pissed. Snarling, he waded back into the fight with teeth and claws. His axe had disappeared, gone back to wherever it was that it stayed when he didn’t need it. The giant, the captain, and Sal beat the shit out of each other blood was flying all over the place. I managed to stay out of the giant’s reach while I darted into the fight to give healing to Sal and the captain.
It wasn’t a long fight. The captain ripped big chunks out of the giant and his armor, and Sal hit the big artery in his leg with one of his knives. Dying, he faded to smoke and blew away, leaving only our men’s blood and the gold symbol behind. When we looked, the stone underneath it was cracked and splintered. The symbol was powerless now, and was apparently pure gold. Sal folded it up and put it in the sack with the gemstones.
We were in another corridor when we heard voices. One was Otaan’s, singing a lullaby; I didn’t know the other. Emotion rushed through me: fear, rage, longing, love. More fear. No hate, though.
“You shouldn’t have brought the child here,” said the voice I didn’t know. It sounded sort of female, but strange. I think we weren’t hearing it with our ears, but directly with our minds. For Quin and Sal and me, it spoke in Saydean; for the captain, it spoke in a northern dialect of Tradespeak. Weird.
“I don’t recall asking you for advice in hindsight,” Otaan said in a cold, dangerous voice. “You have your instructions. Follow them. Find them.”
“Your command.” It sure didn’t sound all that subservient the person with the voice sounded angry. I could relate.
We found out what the voice was about three seconds later. It was female. Ish. It definitely wasn’t human, unless humans somewhere on Shar have heads that look like octopuses, complete with tentacles and everything. It had breasts, but I got the impression they would never be used the way mine were. “Mind flayer,” Sal growled.
It also looked sort of transparent, and we quickly found out that most of us couldn’t touch the thing. If it was a mind flayer, it was the ghost of one. Sal’s mindblade appeared in his hand. I bit my lip. The mind flayer fired off a lightning bolt Sal and Quin and I managed to duck under the worst of it, but the captain wasn’t so lucky. It didn’t help that he was enormous.
Captain Navarr snarled and swiped at the mind flayer, but his claws went right through. So he just kept on going. I followed him, running through the mind flayer (There are advantages to fighting insubstantial enemies.)
Another lightning bolt hit me square in the back. I crashed into the wall and collapsed, unable to control my muscles for a few seconds. But I did get to see Otaan holding Suleiman and the floor fall away in front of Navarr, leaving a pit some twenty feet across. There was no way he could stop in time, and I closed my eyes, not wanting to see him fall. But he didn’t. He jumped across the opening, and was suddenly within arm’s reach of Otaan. And my son.
I did not scream as I pushed myself to my feet (good wall nice wall sturdy solid wall), but I did whimper a lot. There was a hole in my back where the lightning had hit me, and my nerves were still all jangly from the shock of it. And it hurt. But I needed to get to the other side of the hole real quick.
The hole went down almost a hundred feet, and bristled with rusty iron spikes at the bottom. I didn’t have to jump it I could get around it if I was careful. And I was careful, right up until the moment the captain hit Otaan and my son went flying. Suddenly, I didn’t notice the pain any more, and I moved fast.
I caught him with my left hand, snagging him by his clothes. Like Navarr, I couldn’t stop in time to avoid the pit and slid over the edge. Pain spiked through me as I caught the lip and held myself and my son. My poor abused muscles were not happy and were screaming at me. I knew I couldn’t pull myself up without help, but I could hold onto the lip for a little while until help came.
It sounds like I was calm when I write this. I was very much not calm. I was terrified for my life, for my son’s, desperately afraid that my grip on either Suleiman or the edge of the pit, not able to see much of anything, but hearing the sounds of fighting above.
And then, suddenly, there was something to see.
Otaan came over the edge of the pit, tried to grab the edge, and missed. Impossibly, I heard him say, “I love you, Sofiyah.” He bounced off of one wall before he hit the spikes at the bottom. I saw it all. I heard it all. I really wish I hadn’t.
“I love you too,” I whispered, swallowing past the fist-sized lump in my throat. I have no idea if he heard me or not.
He died with the name of his god on his lips. “Kaith.” I guess being that dedicated to your god is admirable, even though it means your soul is forfeit. All it meant to me was that another person in my life was damned.
The sounds of fighting stopped. “Help?” I asked, hoping that it stopped because we won. We had, and Quin came to help me and Suleiman out of the pit. I needed to put a little more distance between me and the corpse of my lover, and I went out to the hallway to sit leaning against the wall. The Sprout was not happy about all the excitement, but he quieted down once I got a nipple into his mouth. Gods above us, that felt good. It had been a day and a half since I’d had a chance to nurse him, and my breasts ached terribly.
We’d won, but we weren’t in great shape. I hadn’t felt this bad since that demon-cat-thing mauled me. Sal had taken some nasty gashes in his fight with the mind flayer, Otaan had done something ugly to captain Navarr, and Quin was scorched. Suleiman smelled terrible, like he hadn’t been changed or bathed since Otaan had taken him from me. I felt a flash of rage at that, stronger than any I’d felt before then if Otaan was going to steal my baby away, he could at least do a decent job of taking care of him.
After we’d rested a bit, we left. It was a little tricky getting through the now water-filled room to where the chest of gold still propped the stone door open, but we managed without drowning anyone. Sal tried to get the chest, but we were only able to get about half the gold Navarr chopped the chest in half with his halberd and we just picked up what fell on the outside of the door. We could come back for the rest later, but for now, it was time to leave.
We’re back in camp now. The first thing I did when I got here was go take a bath with Suleiman. When he’s clean, he smells very good. There’s a spot on the top of his head where I just love to rest my nose. We took two baths, actually. The first one was to get clean and the second one was to relax, letting its heat soak into my muscles with my boy asleep on my chest. Gods all, he’s pretty.
After that, I ate, and Suleiman ate, and we went to bed.
Busy day. It didn’t start off busy, at least for me. I stayed near my infirmary I sort of ended up in charge by accident, and by grace of spending time with the captain and his command staff and babied my still-aching body. Suleiman sleeps most of the time, but he doesn’t stay asleep for more than three or four hours at a time before something wakes him up.
Quin went to go check on some tracks she’d seen back up near the keep. Things started happening, but the first thing I heard of any of it was the lieutenant give the order to go to general quarters. Which I was at the infirmary’s my duty station already. And then a whole lot of not much happened for a while. There was a bit of whispering about seeing captain Navarr run off north in wolf form. Which surprised me I’d thought it was pretty well known that he was a werewolf, but I guess it wasn’t. The whispering came from the rookies, the veterans tended to shrug. Their idea of a good officer was one that didn’t get them killed, and captain Navarr was real good at not getting them killed. Sal turned himself into a condor and flew off.
And then we waited. After a couple of hours, the lieutenant told us to back down from general quarters it’s pretty stressful waiting to be attacked in the next few minutes for several hours at a stretch. I went back to playing with Suleiman when he was awake and getting caught up on paperwork when he wasn’t. (Oh. That’s another reason I’m in charge here I can read and write, which means I get to do all the paperwork.)
So I’ll talk a little more about what it’s like being a mother. The being a mother part of things is really good. It’s tiring I haven’t slept for more than three hours at a time in weeks, which is normal but it’s wonderful being able to see my son and hold him in my arms and find out what he smells like. Sometimes he doesn’t smell good, but that’s not hard to fix. I’m not going to tell you that washing diapers is anything like at all fun, but I’ve cleaned up much worse things than a little baby shit. I’ve been pissed on. I’ve been spit up on. I smell like milk. Even if I’m not leaking, my boy is not the neatest eater in the world.
His head is less squished every day, and I can see why people say babies are beautiful. (At least mine is beautiful. Yours may very well be homely.) Given how impossibly gorgeous his father was, he’ll probably grow up to be stunning.
I’m trying not to think much about Otaan. It’s hard, though. When I look at our child, I see how the color of our skin mixed, and I remember how his skin looked against mine. Someday I need to find his family and tell them what happened. Sal had lifted Otaan’s sword and shield out of the pit (we left his body there) an inscription on the inside of the shield said that he was of the Dawn family, which I vaguely remembered hearing about. I think they’re Vessan nobility, but they might be from Gregor. I don’t really want anything from them, but they ought to know for certain that their son is dead.
Eventually we found out what was going on. Looking at the tracks more closely, Quin found that the few human tracks were an illusion covering a whole lot of tracks made by something not human. Most of them were hoofprints about a foot across, which would fit with the minotaur-but-not-quite people I saw crewing the airship. That was confirmed when one of those airships came in relatively close to land and did something that resulted in three of our soldiers being transported to the deck of that ship. Quin sent a message back here to captain Navarr, which is when he and Sal took off.
It took a lot of work on both Quin’s part and Sal’s to be able to open any sort of communication with these people, but they did it, and they got our men back, and they invited the leaders of the airship people to the fort for dinner. Neat.
Quin had worn herself out casting as she tried to communicate with the airship folks and collapsed into bed. Someone thought she needed to be awake, so Sal came to me asking after something that would wake her up so she could be with Navarr at this thing that was happening.
If she’d collapsed, there was something at least a little wrong, so I said I wasn’t giving her anything until I’d had the chance to look her over and make sure it was safe. It wasn’t. The poor girl was exhausted working with as much magic as she did can be wearing, which is why a single wielder can’t destroy an army with fireballs. (There are some who probably could, and they are fearsome creatures indeed.)
“No. She can’t be woken. She needs to rest.”
“But she needs to be on the captain’s arm for this thing. She’s his mate.”
“It might damage her permanently. I won’t do it.”
“But she has to be there.”
“Fine. I’ll tell the captain myself and he can decide. You stay here, on this side of the door, and make sure no one tries to wake her up. Okay?”
There are times I wish I had a higher rank. A little respect wouldn’t be a bad thing. Of course, it’s kind of hard to be intimidating when you’re a girl with a baby in a sling.
I went out to wait for the captain to arrive, just in time to see him enter in full-out war form, some nine and a half feet of muscle and tooth and claw. He’s a damned impressive man. With him were the people I’d seen in my scrying bowl, lion and jackal and jaguar, rabbit and cow. The jaguar woman was unmistakably female in person, dangerous and seductive. I could watch her for hours. But I had things to do. “Excuse me, captain?”
The captain stopped and asked me “What?” His wolf man form isn’t well suited to speech in the human style, so I tried to keep it to where he could give one or two-word answers.
“I’ve been asked to wake Quin with stimulants so that she can be on your arm tonight. She’s exhausted herself casting, and it’s my considered medical opinion that waking her that way might cause permanent damage. Would you like me to wake her anyway, sir?”
“No,” Navarr growled. I could feel the rage in him at the thought of his mate being harmed. “No wake.” He winced.
I kept my expression respectful and saluted as smartly as I could, ignoring any impediments to his speech. “Yes sir. Thank you, sir.” All this time, the lion man had been looking at me, not as if I were prey, but curious. I didn’t know what that meant.
I went back to Quin’s room where Sal and the soldier waited outside her door. “He says to not wake her up. Okay?” I kept babbling and sounded like a complete idiot and felt a deep sympathy for the captain’s difficulties with speech. At least he had the excuse of a radically changed anatomy.
They left and I went back to the infirmary. The Shensai lieutenant stopped me along the way and asked if I could communicate with animals and would I be present at dinner. I told him that I had some way to communicate with animals who weren’t people, wild animals, sometimes, but I’d try if he needed me to.
Having things to do, I hurried back to the infirmary, asked Marta, one of my nurses, to look after Suleiman, and changed into my cleanest dress. My hair wasn’t too messed up, but I dragged a comb through it anyway, and then made it pointless by winding a long scarf around my head as a turban.
“Do I look okay?” I asked.
Marta was easily ten years older than me. She held Suleiman with the ease of long practice and smiled. “You look fine, Sofi.”
I grinned and kissed her on the cheek, rested a hand on the Sprout’s head, and hurried off to the dinner. The lieutenant was waiting for me and told me to stand against the wall of the mess hall behind the lieutenant. The captain and the lion man were already seated across the table from each other, and the lion man’s officers on the wall behind him. The jaguar woman managed to look like she was lounging, even standing up. She filed her nails to needle points, apparently bored with everything. The rabbit and the cow folk were further down from the head of the table, echoed by some of the more physically impressive soldiers.
For a moment I felt completely inadequate, but I remembered that the lieutenant had sought me out specifically. More importantly I remembered that I was a witch. I might not be dangerous in combat, but I had power. More settled now, I relaxed and watched the proceedings.
Sal came in a little late in his best uniform, earning a glare from the master of ceremonies the head cook, actually, but he knew his way around high-level etiquette. He looked a question at the lieutenant, who looked at Sal a long moment before tilting his head to indicate a place along the wall near him. I got the impression that he hadn’t been invited, and bit the inside of my cheeks to keep from grinning.
Only the captain and the lion man ate, everybody else just watched. Of what we had to offer, the lion man liked the raw meat and the cooked spider and didn’t care for the vegetables or the raw spider. (I can’t blame him on the last spider is pretty good if you cook it right, but the texture is awful raw.) The airship people brought food with them, big chunks of raw red meat carefully wrapped in leaves.
Feeling a little sick, I turned my attention to the cow people, and felt a nearly overwhelming sadness. The meat was from one of their kind, like I thought. The hierarchy was clear carnivores ruled over the herbivores. It felt like cannibalism to me, and it seemed like the herbivores would agree.
I just… I tried not to let my reaction show, but I doubt it worked very well. Of course, the airship people might not have much experience interpreting human facial expressions. And nobody was paying much attention to me except maybe the jaguar woman, but I had no idea what she was paying attention to.
The lack of a common language made things very difficult. One incident could have been a disaster the captain offered sake to the lion man, who apparently didn’t have any experience with alcohol. He must have thought he was being poisoned at first, but the captain’s obvious puzzlement at his distress (and the fact that they both drank from the same bottle) must have helped us move past that.
After the captain and the lion man finished eating, which required a ridiculous amount of food, it was time for the entertainment. The captain gestured with one hand and the lieutenant moved from his place against the wall to the space beyond the head of the table. He bowed carefully in Shensai style to the lion man, to the captain, and to everyone in general. Then he began a kata, a pattern of blocks and parries and strikes used for training in the fighting arts. I knew some of the simpler katas, but this one I’d never seen before.
When he was done, he bowed to the lion man, to the captain, and to the rest of us, and stepped aside. The lion man’s whiskers pushed forward he was amused. He also gestured and spoke a few words, and the rabbit man came up from his place against the wall to do a kata of his own. He bowed first, in much the same way the lieutenant had, though not with the same confidence. These people used different postures of dominance and submission. Probably this meant ritually exposing the throat or the belly, showing weakness and lesser status.
Where the lieutenant’s kata had been elegant and efficient, the rabbit man’s was flamboyant, mostly circle kicks with a few hand and arm strikes. It was beautiful in its way, and looked very lethal. Especially given the rabbit man’s powerful legs. They were those of a rabbit, scaled huge to match his height.
He finished his kata and stepped aside the way the lieutenant had. The lieutenant then took his place and bowed again. Then he did exactly the same kata the rabbit man just finished, allowing for differences in anatomy. He did it perfectly, step for step, though he was sweating by the end of the kata. That was more from the mental exertion of recalling the movements rather than the movements themselves. The lion, rabbit, and jackal looked annoyed. (The jaguar woman still looked bored and uninterested, her tail sweeping back and forth in slow arcs.) The lion man said something, and the rabbit man stepped up to do the kata the lieutenant had opened things with. He looked worn out by the end, mouth open and panting, but he matched the lieutenant’s moves perfectly.
Neither the lieutenant nor the captain looked irritated they looked serenely calm. The lieutenant then did an armed combat kata involving a short sword and a very long sash. He didn’t hold the blade in his hands, but with the sash, which was nearly twenty feet long. It was flowing and dancelike and very beautiful and made me wonder about his life before he joined the Company. I didn’t know much about Shensai culture, but this didn’t seem like a warrior sort of thing. Maybe I should ask him about that.
The rabbit man produced a weapon made of two batons the same length joined by a short chain, and gave us a demonstration of his skill with the weapon. It was blurry-fast and vicious and exciting and definitely had a martial feel to it.
Both men were tired, but the wolf and the lion hadn’t finished with them yet. Communicating with gesture and glance, they agreed that their men should fight. Not terribly seriously the intent was to match skill against skill, not to kill each other. They did, and I cannot possibly describe how they fought, just that each fought with masterful talent and with honor, and the rabbit man was declared the victor when the lieutenant thumped the floor in surrender. The lion man looked most very pleased with that.
Time to exchange gifts. The lion man gestured, and the jaguar woman stopped looking bored and put her nail file away. She swayed her way around the table to where the captain sat, drawing every man’s eyes. And mine. She knelt at the captain’s side, fluid as the lieutenant’s sash, and rested her head on his thigh. Captain Navarr then called the master of ceremonies to him and muttered orders to get one of the women I can’t recall her name now in here fast to entertain the lion man. He left and returned soon after with a pretty woman in her twenties, who went and knelt at the lion’s feet. She wasn’t as graceful as the jaguar woman, but she carried herself well and moved without hesitation. The lion put his hand on her head, grooming her hair with his claws.
Captain Navarr did likewise with the jaguar woman. I swear I heard her purr. I bit my lip a little harder and tried to ignore that. This was important, and I didn’t want to miss it. Quin came in, still tired-looking but still beautiful, immaculately dressed and made up. She rested a hand on captain Navarr’s shoulder, kissed him on the cheek, and stood behind him. Marking her territory, in case anyone was confused about that.
I think the captain and I figured it out at the same time. It was the jackal more than anything else that tipped me off he looked happy and excited, like he’d just gotten rid of an enemy. I couldn’t do much of anything except swallow and watch, but the captain stood up, offering a hand to the jaguar woman. She took it, puzzled, and he led her to the lion man, where he presented the jaguar woman’s hand to him. The lion man had been looking pretty happy with himself, like he’d put one over on us.
But it would’ve been rude to refuse (and dangerous), so the lion man lost his smug look and handed the woman who’d been sitting with him back. The captain took her back to his side of the table and stood there. It looked like everything was over. The two principals nodded to each other. The lion man gathered up his retinue and left. Once again, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the jaguar woman as she walked away. When they were all finally gone I shook my head and sighed. I’d just had a baby and seen my lover die horribly and this not even human woman made my heart skip?
“Do you know why I did that?” Navarr asked, back in his human shape. He was talking to the woman who’d sat with the lion man.
She shook her head. “I would have gone with him, if you asked,” she said, not quite getting it.
“Because I didn’t realize at first that it meant for good. I’m sorry about that. I do not give away my people. He was willing to give up his without a second thought.
“Staff meeting,” declared the captain. I ran by the infirmary to check on Suleiman, but Marta assured me everything was fine and that he’d gone to sleep an hour or so ago. Of course I looked at him. I marveled at the impossibly long, curling eyelashes he had, touched his head, and ran off to the captain’s meeting room.
Everyone everyone consisting of Captain Navarr, Sal, Quin, and the Shensai lieutenant was just settling into their seats when I came in, and I dropped into one. The first thing he did was look over at the lieutenant and ask, “Why did you not win?”
The lieutenant shrugged. “I didn’t want them to know my true strength.”
Captain Navarr considered that a moment, and nodded. “Good.” I was next on his list. “What were your impressions?”
“They’re an invasion force,” I told him. No hesitation on that. “Or they’re the scouts for one. Their social hierarchy’s pretty clear the carnivore types are higher-status than the herbivore types. The jackal and the jaguar weren’t happy that the lion man gave status to the rabbit. He needs to watch himself. There’s also no love lost between those two. Did you see the look on the jackal’s face when the lion gave the jaguar to you?”
The captain nodded and waved for me to go on. “They eat each other the meat they brought was one of the cow people. The cow folks don’t like it a bit. They’re sad about it, not angry, but that might be something to exploit if we ever figure out how. I get the impression that they have more herbivores than carnivores, but the herbivores haven’t really realized the power they have.
“I think they’re more comfortable with technology than magic. When I scryed on them earlier, I didn’t see anything to indicate that they realized I was looking at them.” That led us into a discussion of their magical capabilities. They obviously had some they’d transported our men to their ship (Quin said it felt like a summoning) and covered their tracks with a very good illusion but we had no idea how much.
There was just far too much that we didn’t know. I thought they’d probably attack soon, and said so. The captain probably thought so too, since he didn’t look too surprised by it.
The meeting didn’t last very long. The captain gave us our instructions I was to do a scrying centered on the rabbit-man and then check with the local spirits to find out what they could tell us, Sal was to find the spy Otaan had mentioned shortly before the captain killed him, and Quin was to get some damned rest.
We went our separate ways, me to the infirmary to my boy I was getting sore again, which meant that he was probably hungry. (I was also going to have to figure out a way to keep my nipples from getting too badly chapped.)
The scrying bowl might be large and heavy, but it makes doing it much, much easier. I don’t have to spend nearly so much time doing the rituals involved before I get a picture. Soon enough, I was looking at the rabbit man, though it was vision-only. I couldn’t hear anything. That was fine, since I wouldn’t be able to understand them anyway. With only sight to go on, I’d be less distracted by trying to figure out what they were saying. I’d have liked to have scent, but I wasn’t sure how to get it.
The rabbit man was sprawled across some cushions, a selection of fruits and vegetables in easy reach on a table while he talked. He noticed that he was being scryed upon, but didn’t react visibly. (Don’t ask how I knew. It’s magic, okay?) I asked for a wider view of the room he was in and saw the three predators at the far end, the lion sitting on a couch with the jackal and jaguar at his feet. Those two gave venomous looks to the rabbit, who seemed unconcerned about it.
If he wasn’t, I was. Sure, the feast for him was a reward, but it would also make him more appealing to a predator. I felt sick, but I kept watching, needing to know what was happening. At a guess, he was telling them all the details of his fight with the lieutenant, what strengths and weaknesses he found during it. And he was bragging on having whipped some human ass.
Eventually he finished and went to the lion man to make obeisance. I was right about their submissive postures the rabbit man offered his throat to the lion, who put a hand around it. He could have torn his throat out, but didn’t. It seemed pretty obvious to me, but I sometimes think I understand animals more than I do people.
He left the room, but a hunch told me to stay there, rather than follow him. None of the three predators seemed to notice they were being watched. The lion man called out, and two of the cow people brought in a large wooden chest. They left, and the jaguar and the jackal opened it to remove a large carpet. When they unrolled it, it showed the coastline where we were in relief a marker showed their position, and another ours. The jackal tapped at it, and the view focused on one area. Our camp.
The view the carpet gave them was like the one the hill-spirit had given me, an almost-solid image they could look at from different angles. There was the wall, the cliff face, all the buildings of our fort. And they had a long conversation about it. The jackal man would point to our warehouse and to the walls, and the jaguar woman pointed to the cliff face and held up three fingers. Three could mean anything. Three days, three weeks, three hours, three units of soldiers… you get the idea.
I wished I could hear and understand them, because obviously they were planning to attack us. Probably very soon, too. Eventually the lion man made his decision because the jaguar and jackal both shut up abruptly. They put the carpet away, closed the chest and left it there, and ritually offered their throats to the lion man before leaving.
He waited until they were both gone, then crossed the room to a small cabinet shrine. When he opened it, there were two figures, one male and one female, both humanoid in the two arms two legs upright posture sense, though a specific race wasn’t evident. The way they were positioned implied a close but not sexual relationship, probably twins. The lion man knelt and clasped his hands together in a prayerful manner, and spoke to the shrine. He wasn’t just praying. Something in the shrine glowed I wasn’t in a good position to see what, but probably something like a small mirror and he spoke with it. I was sure that if I could hear, I’d hear the something respond to him. After a time, he bowed from where he knelt and the glow faded. He closed the shrine doors and went back to his couch to think.
I waved a hand over the bowl, breaking the spell and stood up, my back popping. Ow. Still sore. Suleiman was fussing but stopped when I picked him up. I put my nose in his hair and took a deep breath. It was instantly relaxing.
It seemed like information the captain needed sooner rather than later, so I went to find him. As soon as I got close to the door I knew I was interrupting something, and they hadn’t heard me coming. I thought for a minute, then went back down the hall a ways and came back, deliberately walking loudly and singing a rhyme to my son. Then I knocked on the door.
I got a glimpse of dim candlelight and a Quin-shaped lump in his bed as Navarr came out, tying the belt on a dressing gown. He shut the door behind him while I was still saying, “I’m sorry if I’m interrupting anything, sir, but I’ve just finished with my scrying on the airship people and I thought you’d want to know what I found.”
He smiled and assured me that I wasn’t interrupting anything, that he was just heading to the mess hall to get a thing or so, and would I tell him as he did that? I pretended that I believed him, and told him what I’d found, giving him my impressions on what I’d seen, along with my reservations that I just didn’t know enough to give him as full a report as I’d like. He poured a glass of milk from the stores in the mess and headed back towards his room.
“This was worth interrupting me for, Sofi,” he said, forgetting about our fiction that I hadn’t. “Good work.” I grinned at the compliment. “Write up a report for me, and I still want you to call the spirits for what they might be able to tell us.”
“Yes, sir.” Even if I was all freshly not pregnant any more and carrying a baby around, I was still useful. There was one more thing, though. “Sir, my infirmary’s pretty close to the cliff face. May I have permission to move the wounded and as much of the infirmary as I can next to the forest wall?”
“Good thinking. Yes, you’re authorized to do that.”
“Thank you, sir.” We’d gotten to the hall outside his door, where we stopped. I smiled at him. “Good night, sir.”
“Good night, Sofiyah.” He went back inside, and I walked away. Through the door I could hear him say, “I’ve brought you some milk, darling.”
Definitely time for me to leave. I went back to the infirmary to put the things I’d need for a spirit-calling together, and tried not to think about Quin and Navarr. On the way, I ran into Sal. When I told him I was going outside the fort’s walls to talk with the spirits, he wanted to come with me to stand guard, but I told him I’d take the lieutenant if he was available, and besides, he had his own duties to take care of.
Duh. I totally forgot that I’d need his mindknife to cut the spirits’ bonds, though I remembered while I was packing up my stuff.
I don’t get him. I really don’t. He’s not a nice person in a lot of ways, but every once in a while he’ll say something that just floors me. After Otaan died, Sal told me he was sorry. I stared at him. “No you’re not.”
“I meant I’m sorry for you. For your relationship.”
“Okay.” I didn’t know what to say. He didn’t like Otaan a bit, and hadn’t ever given any indication that he gave a shit that I cared about him. But he cared about me, I guess, and it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t in great shape.
Then when I found him to ask if he’d come with me, he got all weird again. He said he’d come with me, and then, “Every time I see you holding your son (I had him with me so the spirits could meet him), I am reminded that there is still cause for hope, that there are things worth fighting for, that there is no price too high to ensure their safety.”
I said something, I don’t know what, and we went to find the lieutenant.
This late it was getting close to dawn it was cold out on the cliffs. But I found a place that felt right and got started. I got Suleiman settled in a little hollow in the rock and he quickly fell asleep. I had five bowls for the five elements earth, air, fire, water, life, and arranged them in (forgive me) the quincunx with life at the center. Blood is life, and I cut my left hand, letting the blood spill from my hand into the bowl.
I barely finished the invocation when something responded. She had been a harvest spirit once, but a thousand years of war had left her scarred and twisted. “Long have the children of this place dwelt in silence. Long ago the swords of hate and the weapons of destruction forged our bonds. Now we long for release, knowing that we cannot leave as we are promised to this land by they who made us.”
She moaned, and I heard others, rock and tree, echo her pain. “The ancient spirits of man, hearth, and home have left this place. My field, once fertile, now stands in ruin with rock and stone and blood and bone as its seeds.” The field-spirit lifted her long, long arms and pounded the earth even Sal felt the impact.
“All well?” he asked quietly. I nodded, not at all sure if everything was all right. The spirit was twenty feet away, but she could easily reach me with those arms. I could see splintered bone and bloodstains in the loam that was her flesh.
“What power binds you and your children?” I asked. I wasn’t afraid, really, but this was heartbreaking.
The spirit opened her mouth, impossibly wide, and howled. I’d have covered my ears to block it out if it would do any good. The stone all around us howled with her I thought the others would surely hear it, but they didn’t hear a thing. “We are bound with demon blood!” she screamed. Softer, sounding tired, she went on. “Every child that died in the war of hate, every woman who birthed bound by the future of regret, every man who fell within my earthen grasp tainted with despair forged the links of our captivity.
I couldn’t do anything to free them. Not yet. Someday I would, but I didn’t have the power yet. I had another question for her, though. “Where if anywhere have the animal people in the strange ships made landfall?”
The spirit’s answer wasn’t anything like I expected. She actually sounded hopeful as she told me, “The children have returned. They remember the old ways, and within the distant eastward halls of the Goretell they whisper ancient things and create homes and harvest. The winds speak of their coming, and they bring till and plow, building and renewal to our forgotten land. They have no hate, and so they shed blood for food and protection, its sweet savory scent a forgotten taste to the bile of anger we are forced to endure.
“Child of the Spirits, daughter of the Wind, though your blood tastes of hate (my blood?) your child brings warmth to us, for he has no anger in him yet. If you would heal this land and save our kind, depart from here and take those within the dwelling with you. We know that the Children will come and that the blood of conquest will water my fields once more. The ancient home of the Widow brings them.”
Oh. That seemed clear enough. The animal people were coming, and they were coming here. We could leave, or we could stay and die, watering this spirit’s fields.
Sal wanted to know what the spirits had told me, but I shook my head. The captain would have to make a decision about this, and I didn’t want anyone to hear it before him. Sal didn’t like that much, but he let it go.
We got back to camp, and I wrote up my reports on what I’d found talking with the spirits and looking through my scrying bowl, left them in the captain’s office, got something to eat, and came back here. Suleiman woke up fussy, so it wasn’t time for me to sleep yet. So I figured I’d write while he nursed and put my thoughts down on paper.
Now? I’m exhausted. I’m going to get as much sleep as I can before the next thing happens, whatever it might be.