Season 4, Episode 12 – Part 2
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
“Hush, lumpkin, she’s sleeping,” said Ma Niall
“What happened here?” asked Carrig. “Everything’s a mess.”
“Same thing as happened at the Hannigan farmstead, I recon,” replied Ma Niall. “All the crockery smashed.”
“T’aint natural,” he replied softly, though without malice.
“A’course. It’s magic,” said Lily simply. “The question isn’t what happened, it’s why.”
“I’ll tell you,” said Kaye, “but I don’t know if you’ll believe it.”
I yawned and blinked, allowing the haze of sleep to dissipate further. I lay in bed, covered to the waist in layers of blankets, and naked from there up, with my baby sleeping between my breasts.
My baby! I found myself smiling as I gazed at her head. She was the most wondrous, surprising thing I had ever seen. All the terror and wonder that had accompanied her birth paled next to the simple fact that I had made and successfully delivered a new person.
Little Theobel didn’t look so small when I thought about the fact that she’d come out of me. Behold the temple of the Goddess, from which emerges the entire world. Well, my temple is more than a little sore right now.
My musing was dispelled when I looked up to see Kaye, Lily, and Ma Niall staring down at me. Carrig stood a little ways off, his eyes averted. Lily was flushed and looked worried, but her mother’s expression was calm and approving, and Kaye was just grinning like a mooncalf.
“Well, she’s awake now,” said Ma Niall. “How are you, sweet ducks?”
“Worn out,” I said.
“Then all’s as it should be,” she said. “The only thing that worries me is this bruise.” She pointed at little Theobel’s birth spot.
I laughed. “That’s just blue-bottom, a birth spot,” I said. “Nearly all babies have them.”
“Hmph!” Ma Niall replied. “Not around here, they don’t.”
“Have you ever attended the birth of a woman from the south before?” I asked. “Maragoya, Pa’an, Rilke?”
“No,” she said, then peered at baby Theobel’s bare backside. She poked the birth spot with a finger. “But Marina’s babies were all born with small spots of about this color, and she’s part Qazar. Spots didn’t fade ‘til the children were about four years of age. Strangest thing.”
“Those were birth spots as well,” I said.
“Huh,” she said, “learn something every day. Well, we should get you cleaned up. Let me know when you’re ready for a bath.”
“A hot bath would be wonderful,” I said.
“You’ll get a warm bath, duckling. Just enough to take the chill off, or it’ll be too hot for baby.”
“Of course,” I sighed.
That evening, I let Kaye tell the whole story over boiled brassies, hearth bread, and some goat cheese Ma Niall brought back with her. Partway through Carrig got up and started pacing, and Ma Niall stared at Kaye with patient skepticism, but Lily was leaning forward in rapt attention, gazing occasionally at me with mixed concern and admiration.
I found it all much less interesting than little Theobel. All washed up, her skin looked even pinker than before, and her face was all wrinkly. I’d seen newborns before, and thought them funny looking, more like aged crones than the new lives they were.
This was different, somehow. My baby was just as scrunched up as any other I’d seen, but she was undeniably beautiful, perfect, incredible. That wasn’t all I saw. My third eye was clear again, and sharper than it had ever been, and I could see the threads of the wyrding reaching for her and burning to nothing before they touched her precious skin.
Kaye was trying to explain how our doom had been undone, and doing a fairly good job of it for someone without the sight.
“All I could see was this painfully bright light amidst the smoke and darkness,” he said. “Then something happened that was like being bucked off a horse and trampled underneath its hooves. Yelen told me that was Theobel, that our baby destroyed the curse and saved us both.”
“It’s more than that,” I said. “I’m sure of it now. The wyrding cannot touch her. Our daughter shall live her life unbound by fate, subject only to the consequences of her own actions.”
Kaye beamed, then a slight frown rippled across his full lips. “If it wasn’t for the wyrding, Yelen, we wouldn’t be together.”
“Perhaps, Kaye,” I said, “then again, perhaps not. Do you love me any less now that our destiny of love and death is gone?”
“Of course not,” he replied, “I will always love you.”
“And I you, Kaye, more than ever,” I said. “All little Theobel has done is given us back what our lives should have been, the opportunity to live and love. We don’t need destiny for that.”
Lily and her mother cleaned up the remains of dinner, dismissing my offer to help. Kaye wanted to hold Theobel, and I let him, a little reluctantly. Carrig was still pacing, and Ma Niall was looking over her herbs, trying to salvage what she could, when Lily sat down next to me.
“Yelen,” she whispered, “what d’ya know about the dannae?”
“Dannae?” I asked. “I’m not familiar with the term.”
“Nature spirits, the forest folk… Ma said some folk used to worship them, before the High King came.”
“Well, there are stories like that everywhere. I heard tales about dryads growing up.”
“Dryads,” Lily pronounced the name slowly, as if she were tasting it. “Are they plant-women?”
“Tree spirits, for the most part.”
“Are dryads good folk?” Lily paused. “I mean, are they trustworthy?”
“Well, in the stories, they’re sometimes called daughters of the Goddess. They play tricks sometimes, but they’re not malicious.”
“So a dryad wouldn’t steal my face and go walking around in my body, then?”
I’d never talked to Lily about her experience with the strange mirror in the wyrding.
“No, Lily,” I replied, trying to figure out what the right thing to say was. “That thing was not a dryad. There are stories about dryads keeping human lovers for years in their leafy bowers, but none about them stealing people’s lives.”
To my surprise, Lily blushed deep red. “You can handle nettles safely with leather gloves,” she said, changing the topic abruptly.
“Yes,” I replied, bemused and curious.
“Ma,” Lily raised her voice from a whisper to a shout, “where do you keep the gloves, the really heavy ones?”
“Hmm? On the shelf by the back door, Lumpkin. Why do you—”
“Thanks, Ma!” Lily cut her off with a smile and a peck on the cheek, then dashed out, grabbing the gloves as she went.
We all watched her go.
“I love that girl with all my heart, I do,” said Ma Niall, “but sometimes I think she’s half-daft.”
“No dafter than you,” Carrig put in, “and a stone’s throw smarter than I’ll ever be.”
“Clever people do strange things, Lilika,” I said.
Ma Niall sighed. “She’ll tell us in her own time, whatever it is.”
I had a suspicion, but I didn’t dare say for fear of ruining Lily’s well-deserved happiness. After all, if the High King has been not merely dead, but a raging ghost, who could say what else from the old stories might be more real than any of us had believed. Dryads, naiads, satyrs, centaurs…the world suddenly seemed much larger and stranger than it had when I first came to Thrycae, and far more hopeful than it had ever been during my tenure here.
Little Theobel began to fuss in Kaye’s arms. She was hungry again. Ma Niall brought her to me, and helped Kaye get into bed with me. She then herded Carrig into their bedroom and shut the door. We lay there, Kaye and Theobel and I, and there, with my baby nursing at my breast and my lover at my side, I felt at peace.
In its declining days, winter had a final surprise in store for us. One day, Ma Niall was called to a nearby farm to see to the health of two travelers who had walked this far from Talhome. That was odd in itself, but there was greater cause for concern: they were asking if anyone in the area had seen a dark-skinned woman traveling with a man who’d been stricken with Gorgon’s Curse.
Before she left, Ma Niall said that it was probably a coincidence, and that if it wasn’t, she’d set the strangers on their way, but we were all tense. That tension rose into alarm when Carrig saw three figures approaching the farmhouse. We readied ourselves for a fight, as best as we were able, Lily clutching a piece of kindling for use as a club, Carrig clearing a path so he could charge the first person to come through the farmhouse door, and Kaye fuming at his inability to stand, let alone fight or flee.
I kissed little Theobel’s head and handed her to Kaye. He relaxed immediately and cooed at her as he cradled her gently in his arms. I prepared to curse anyone who dared threaten my family with cramps and constipation.
Then we saw them. Before we could make out their features, their posture gave them away. There was Lilika, and following behind her were a man and a woman. He was tall, with a ramrod-straight spine and a slight limp. The woman was wrapped up like a peasant woman, but walked with precision and regal dignity.
“Mother?” gasped Kaye, but I was already headed for the door.
I met them as they came up the dirt path, snowy slush squelching under their feet. They were covered in dust, head to toe, and where that dust met slush, it had turned to sticky mud. Their clothes were torn, their eyes were red and their faces lined with exhaustion, but I saw Geoff crack a smile at my approach, and the now-deposed Queen Theobel purse her lips before she spoke.
“Where is my granddaughter?” she asked, and then her voice cracked and she began to cry.
“Inside,” I said. “Kaye has her. Come on, she’s waiting to meet you.”
© 2014 Copyright Tof Eklund
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