tagSci-Fi & FantasyDemon Child Ch. 13

Demon Child Ch. 13

byXantu©

Chapter 13: Forebodings

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At the words that Tollarra was sick, Aylanna felt a lurching sense of fear and threw herself off Xin'sha and rushed to the little tent they had shared these last two moons. The older woman was huddled in her blankets, her face pale and her hair soaked with sweat. Kwal'kek spoke from behind her, "I have no idea what afflicts her. She is sick, morning, noon and night. She cannot keep down even broth or water."

Aylanna crawled into the little tent, peering into Tollarra's eyes in the dim light. "Sister, what is the matter?"

Tollarra swallowed, and spoke, her voice puzzled and frightened. "I don't feel sick, until I eat or stand up and move around. But I can't keep anything down." With those words she gurgled and gagged and rolled over, suddenly retching up a small mouthful of liquid into a basin. Her eyes were apologetic, "Like that."

Aylanna frowned, touching her friends forehead and found it cool and damp. "How long?"

Kwal'kek spoke up, "Two days."

Aylanna frowned and looked at Tollarra, "Any flux of the bowels? Pain in your stomach?"

"No, none of that."

"And your woman's blood, how long since you bled last?"

Tollarra looked thoughtful and shrugged, "You were there. You know as well as me."

Aylanna frowned; she had had a blood time while on the road back from the demon city, more than ten days ago. She pulled the blankets off Tollarra and began to undress her. Pressing her hands against the older ha'akh's belly, she let her awareness sink in and was rewarded by a flickering spark of life. Her eyes lit up, "Sister, you carry a warrior in your belly."

Kwal'kek made a loud exasperated sound and withdrew from the mouth of tent, exclaiming that he had known all along.

Tollarra was staring at her speechless, "A... a baby? How?"

Aylanna laughed, "Sister, I think perhaps in the regular way. You have been filled with warrior offerings nightly for weeks."

Tollarra looked dubious, "I thought I was too old."

Aylanna looked serious for a moment. "Sister, you are old for a first child. It rests uneasy in your womb. Only time will tell if this pregnancy comes to term." Gripping Tollarra's hand, "Now come out of this tent, breathe some fresh air. I suspect a great deal of your illness stemmed from fear. I will get you some tea that will settle your stomach and thicken your blood."

As she brewed the tea, Aylanna spoke privately with Kwal'kek. "Her illness does not bode well for the baby. She is past child bearing age and has never carried to term before. She may lose this one as well." She looked at Tollarra sitting dazed, looking down at her belly like she could not quite believe what was happening. "And if she miscarries, it would be dangerous for her as well."

Kwal'kek looked at her speculatively, "How is it you know this?"

Aylanna looked vaguely smug, "Kharthmah, the witch doctor who fostered me as a child, he had a thriving practice with dealing with difficult pregnancies and births. He was renowned for his ability to cast out an unwanted child, to cure infertility, or to predict the future of the unborn. He taught me the herbs to prevent morning sickness, miscarriage, and pregnancy."

The old warrior looked at Aylanna, "And yet you do not conceive." His eyes were sharp questioning, "How is that?"

Somehow Jhardron's words for her to keep her secrets rose up in her memory and she spoke evasively. "There is little room in a demon's womb for a Bak warrior's child. Perhaps our blood is not meant to mix." Aylanna turned and pressed a cup of tea into Tollarra's hand. "Sip this slowly. It will settle your stomach and after that we will get you some soup. You must eat."

Kwal'kek kept staring at her, and then shrugged. "A ha'akh that is barren is not a bad thing. Many ha'akh die in child birth, and then there is the baby to foster out."

Tollarra made a small distressed sound, "Foster?"

Kwal'kek looked suddenly uncomfortable and made a loud harrumphing sound, muttering something about checking on the first year warriors and marched off.

Again Tollarra spoke, her voice panicked, "Sister, what did he mean, foster?"

Aylanna hushed her gently, "Drink the tea, sister, we will find out about this later. You mustn't distress yourself. It is widely known that calm and happy babies are born of mothers of the same temperament, so show me a smile."

Tollarra looked at her, her eyes frightened but her lips curving tentatively up. "I've always prayed for a child, a daughter of my own."

Gently Aylanna stroked her friend's hair back from her face, "It is too early to tell if this will be a son or a daughter but you must focus on staying healthy and happy for this baby, promise me?"

Dutifully Tollarra nodded and drank down a swallow of tea. Her face wrinkled in distaste at the bitter unfamiliar flavor but she took another swallow, her eyes large and wondering.

Aylanna set off to find Kwal'kek. He was standing to one side, watching as Jhu'kresh dumped out bag after bag of gold coins, chains, jewelry and other gleaming trinkets out onto a large sheet of cloth. The smell of rotting corpses was strong in the air. Aylanna wrinkled her nose and sidled over to the upwind side. Pulling at his arm she spoke clearly, "Please explain to this ha'akh, the fate of a baby such as hers."

Kwal'kek frowned, "Offspring born of a ha'akh serving a regiment are generally fostered to families of the warriors. They grow up with the children of the warrior's families and once they are old enough, they are apprenticed to learn a craft. If their mother is not Bak then they are not truly Bak so they cannot hold any true status as citizens. They cannot own property or serve as warriors. But many have risen to respected stations as craftsmen, artists and even teachers. It is not a bad life."

"But she cannot keep the child?"

"A warrior regiment cannot be overrun with children."

Aylanna frowned at this statement. She understood the logic, and yet the idea of forcing Tollarra to give up this child was beyond imagining. She spoke thoughtfully, "For now, please do not speak of this with her. She is not well and this worry may make her worse. For the time being, she must rest and calm her mind. And she must refrain from sharing pleasures until she is much better. I will take her share of the chores and other duties until she is better." Kwal'kek nodded absent mindedly, his eyes on the growing pile of gold.

The rank leather bags were buried and bucket after bucket of clean water was poured over the hoard, but the smell of death still lingered about the pile of treasure. Kwal'kek seemed unconcerned as he sat down and began to sort and count the vast number of coins and other trinkets. Aylanna avoided the place, the smell bringing back visions of the rotting corpses of the people who had been interred with their stolen gold. But she could see that nearly all the other warriors found frequent excuses to walk past and pause, their eyes lingering on the pile of wealth. Aylanna heard a couple of them speculating how much their share would be. She paused and looked thoughtful, fingering her purse in her pocket. Did that mean she would have a share as well? She made a distasteful face, remembering the stink, wondering if she would want to have such a thing near her, in her pocket or in her bedroll. She cleared her throat and spat in the Bak way, a ritual manner of casting out an evil thought or premonition.

Tollarra was drowsing in the sun, her hand protectively cradled around her already round belly. Her face looked lined and tired. Aylanna felt a chill of worry about her friend, pregnancy was always dangerous, and her friend was no longer young.

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That evening Jhardron approached Aylanna, "Kwal'kek tells me that the other ha'akh is sick. That she is carrying a child and is not well."

Aylanna nodded, "She is not young. She told me she was pregnant only once before and that she lost that baby before it was born. Her sickness does not bode well for this child. But she must rest; a miscarriage can be as dangerous as a birth." She looked determined, "I will assume all her duties until she is well enough to work again."

Jhardron smiled gently and shook his head. "You are a good friend to your sister, ha'akh. Do not worry about her duties. What needs to get done will get done. A warrior regiment does not always have a ha'akh and can manage just fine with just one." He spoke soberly, "The life of a ha'akh is not easy. The constant travel and work can be too much. Many die. Do what you can for your friend but do not make yourself sick with worry."

Aylanna heard the warning in his voice. She knew he was warning her to not hold out too much hope, to not base her happiness upon this goal. Refusing to accept defeat, she pressed her lips together, "She will be just fine if she can just rest."

Jhardron's smile disappeared, "She will need to ride in the wagon. We leave in the morning. We have tarried too long in the northern plains. We must make haste back to the lands of the Bak."

Aylanna flinched at the thought of the wagons, lurching, bouncing, exhausting. Her lips turned down and her shoulders sagged. "As my Khan commands."

Late that night, Kwal'kek finished his inventory of the gold and had counted out a generous pile of coins for each warrior, the amount determined by rank and number of year's service. He distributed it carefully noting down in a book, with a pen and ink, a bunch of lines and dots that caught Aylanna's attention. "What is that?"

"Writing."

Aylanna had seen some writing; signs and proclamations posted in the village, but had never been able to read them. She had never met anyone who could read or write. And these marks looked nothing like the Ramaldi writing. "You can write?"

Kwal'kek looked up in surprise, "Yes, I am quartermaster. I must keep tally of the valuables gathered on campaign. The treasury of the Aga Khan is very exacting in keeping tally of the Khan's share of all the profits of the campaign." He carefully wiped the nib of the pen and capped the bottle of ink. He carefully reached into a bag and pulled out a handful of gold coins, and carefully counted eight out and then another eight. "And this was a very profitable campaign. These are yours and the other ha'akh's share." His eyes sparkled, "I will be able to retire a rich man, if I do not lose it all at the horse races this winter."

Aylanna eyed the gold coins and sniffed at them dubiously, "Is it very much?"

Kwal'kek laughed, "Little demon, you hold enough in your hand to buy your freedom three times over."

Aylanna's eyes flashed up to his face. "Buy my freedom? What do you mean? I thought that the only way a ha'akh could leave service was to die."

Kwal'kek looked suddenly serious, "Well that is generally true. But it is not uncommon for a ha'akh to pay off the right bureaucrat in the city and suddenly find herself with a change in status. Many a wealthy courtesan was once a lowly ha'akh. And not a few have managed to become close to very powerful men, very powerful..."

But Aylanna was not listening anymore. She was turning the gold coins over in her hand, looking toward Tollarra sitting in front of their little tent, forcing herself to eat bite after bite of rich broth. She crouched down before Tollarra and placed all sixteen coins in her hand. "Sister, this is your share of the Ramaldi treasure. Kwal'kek says we are rich now. It will go far to help make a fine home for you and your child." Tollarra looked at the gold gleaming in her palm and looked confused. But before she could voice her questions Aylanna hushed her, "Do not worry about that. Everything will be fine. I have seen it."

When the wagons pulled out in the morning Tollarra was carefully situated in a soft nest of blankets. She protested to Aylanna that she was feeling much better, much stronger. That she had not vomited once since she had started drinking the tea. "Sister, I even feel hungry again. You do not need to fuss over me so."

Aylanna had smiled and deliberately forced her voice to be more cheerful. "Yes, you are doing fine. But you are just regaining your strength. You might as well be comfortable up here."

Tollarra had slept nearly all the day, waking only to drink the cold tea that Aylanna held to her lips. She had blinked sleepily, "I don't know why I am so tired."

Aylanna had gently smiled and stroked her hair. "It is normal to feel tired when you first conceive. Just sleep, you will be fine in a few days."

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True to Aylanna's prediction Tollarra did improve, regaining her strength and her appetite. Her normal happy talkative mood returned. And at the older ha'akhs repeated insistence, after another week, Aylanna cautiously approved her for resumption of her duties. Tollarra had smiled happily, "Oh good, I was about to become a virgin again."

Aylanna had laughed but cautioned her to be careful, calm, and gentle with her body. "And if you have any pain or bleeding at all, come to me at once."

Tollarra had hugged her and told her she was a worse worrier than her sister-in-law. "There is no reason that a pregnant woman cannot continue to lie with her husband and I am sure it will be all right for me to lie with the warriors." Tollarra's eyes sparkled with good humor, naming one warrior with a notoriously large jhambar, "I will tell Jothan to be careful where he pokes that thing."

Aylanna had frowned but could find no reason for her worries. Things went well for almost two weeks, belying many of her anxieties. The regiment traveled as quickly as the wagons could travel. The warriors stayed close to the wagons, guarding a king's ransom in gold. Jhardron seemed to be distant, distracted by some distant worry. Tollarra's pregnancy seemed to be progressing normally. Once again the rhythm of the travel and the routine seemed to lull Aylanna into trance. Her blood time came and went once more.

When Jhardron approached her again, she almost blinked and wondered why. It was not evening, it was still early in the afternoon, but sensing the warmth in his heart, she had smiled and reached out and touched him reveling at the heat in his blood. Her voice was low, "This ha'akh is eager to learn what her Khan has to teach her tonight."

Jhardron's voice was low and amused, "I am far from an accomplished lover, my little demon. I am being groomed for other uses." He lifted her up onto the back of his grey stallion, "But come with me, I have a place I want to show you." And he mounted behind her this time.

Aylanna made a small surprised sound to find herself seated in front of him but as his arms came around her, she sighed and leaned back against him. He kicked the stallion into a canter and slipped an arm around her waist, pulling her tight against him. His hand roamed across her body as they flew across the grass, stroking her breasts, her belly and slipping lower to tease at her folds. Aylanna closed her eyes and let the sensations of flying and pleasure merge until she felt one with both the horse and the man behind her.

The sound of hooves splashing in water pulled her eyes open again, watching from under heavy lids as Jhardron guided the stallion up a narrow valley that had a small stream flowing down the center. Her breath caught in her throat and she made a soft, joyful, "Oh," when the little canyon opened up into a little hidden oasis of green and falling water. She said, "Oh," once again as she drank in the scene of a small pond, its surface endlessly dimpled with the droplets dripping down from a red rock cliff reaching up from the far side of the dark deep water. The very stone seemed to weep continually from the myriad fissures and trembling ferns. She tried to twist to look in Jhardron's face, her voice awestruck, "Oh, it is so beautiful."

Jhardron pulled the stallion to a halt and slipped off, and then pulled Aylanna down into his arms. "Do you know how to swim, little demon?"

"No."

"Well, it is time to learn." He began to pull off her layers of clothing. "I would not be surprised if the water was very cold." He eyed her nude body boldly as he undressed, "We might have to find some way to warm each other up afterward." He lifted her in his arms and walked out into the water. Aylanna gasped and squealed as the icy water came up around her. Jhardron did not stop until he was almost neck deep in the water, the ha'akh floating almost weightless in his arms. Her little white arms were locked around his neck, her pale eyes wide with apprehension and trust.

Gently he pulled her arms off his neck, "If your spirit is light, if you do not let fear weigh you down, the water will let you float. Relax, trust the water." He stared deep into her eyes, "Little demon, trust me; I will not let you drown."

Aylanna let herself sink into his eyes, and slowly let her body soften. She could sense the truth in his words; almost feel the way the water made her weightless. Slowly she released her grip on his neck and smiled tremulously. She could feel his hand on the small of her back helping to keep her body up on the surface of water, the lightest of touches that kept her balanced and safe. Only her face and the sweet tips of her breasts showed above the water, the rest of her a white ghost hanging, floating just below the surface.

His voice was barely a whisper, "Yes, see the water will hold you up. Keep your back arched and if you move your hands, thus, " He made a rhythmic undulating movement with his hand above her face, "like the wing of a bird in flight, it will aid in keeping your body up." And as she began to move her hands vigorously, splashing and struggling, he laughed and let her sink below the surface. But then, when she began to thrash violently, he clasped her to his chest, holding her tight as she clutched at him in a spasm of fear. "Little warrior, you forgot to relax and trust the water. You let fear drag you down. Come, let's try again." Aylanna coughed and bit her lip but allowed him to pull her arms off his neck once again.

This time as she gently paddled with her hands he nodded, "Yes, see? It is a matter of cooperating with the water. You fly; your hands are your wings." Gently, almost imperceptibly he pulled his supporting hand away from under her. "See? If you know this, if you can do this, float, you cannot drown." He grinned, "At least you cannot drown in still water. Floating in flowing water is not so simple."

He looked down at her, his eyes drinking in the image of her white skin contrasting with the dark water, her strange demon hair spreading out around her head in the water like a corona of fire. Her delicate pink nipples shrunken to tiny hard knots by the cold water, stood up above the water so close to his lips. She was shivering now, her body shaking, covered with infinite tiny bumps, her breasts quivering, making ripples in the water. Her face creased with concentration as she focused on keeping her face above the water.

He put his hand under her back once more, lifting her up and leaned down taking one of her nipples between his lips. At his touch she had stilled, her face smoothing, trusting but as he touched her with his lips she convulsed in the water. Her voice was wondering, "Your mouth, it feels so hot."

When he pulled away, his voice was low, "Are you cold?"

She giggled softly and whispered, "Freezing."

He lifted her in his arms holding her close, turning and walking from the water, "Come and let me warm you."

The sun was low in the sky, the shadows from the surrounding trees long, but he found a small circle of sun and lay down his bedroll there. He pulled her to sit close, his hands once again roaming on her skin. Aylanna could not help but run her hands over his dark skin. Now, in the daylight, she began to indulge her curiosity, examining him closely, pushing him down and leaning over him, looking at his chest with its ridges of ritual scarring, his neck, his ears and hair, even his eyes, nose, and lips. Jhardron seemed to be patient with her exploration. "What are you looking for, pretty demon?"

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