~ Chapter VI ~
How long they had spent that night talking, he didn’t know. When he finally stumbled off to find his bed, it was with a deep reluctance, despite his exhaustion. Even knowing he would return the next day, to be with her again, it was the hardest thing in the world to say goodnight and walk away from her door.
He knew he was useless in council the next day but, fortunately, there seemed to be little that concerned him, or the Gaz. He did his best, however, and was blissfully unaware of the smiles that followed him. His visit to the wizard had not gone unnoticed.
Grägok’s steps seemed to fly as he made his way to her again, at the end of the session. As before, the strange link trembled as he neared her, and he felt her joy as he knocked on her door. She had been waiting for him.
Once again, time moved strangely, and they spoke of whatever came to mind. Their work. The weather. The hopes and dreams they held for their people. When words ran out, it didn’t matter. Just being together was enough. With that realisation came the knowledge that he didn’t want to go again that night.
And so he stayed. He fell asleep there at last, watching her as she sat at her table, writing some list or other. She was leaning forward, her slight form perched on a stool with her toes curled around the rungs. He carried the image of her into his dreams.
M’jou looked up from her page at an odd sound, and turned. She smiled, feeling a rush of warmth, for the warrior had begun to snore, his chin touching his breast as he slept. She set aside her pen and slipped from her stool.
She meant to ease him to a more comfortable position, but Grägok roused as she touched him, and she sighed. He smiled at her, and her heart ached with her love of him.
“It’s been a long day,” he told her, apologetically.
“It will be longer if you don’t get some sleep,” she told him. “Why don’t you go to bed?”
The warrior looked at her for a moment, then nodded. “I have work to do tomorrow,” he said, a note of reluctance in his voice. “May I come by again, after the session?”
She opened her mouth to tell him how stupid a question that was, then stopped. He didn’t want to go, that was obvious. She didn’t want him to go, either. Why were they being fools? She looked into his eyes as he waited for her answer.
“After the session, and every day, and always,” she said softly. She reached out to trace his flaring eye-ridges gently with her fingertips. “Starting now. The bed is through there.” She indicated the other room with a tilt of her head. “You’d best go use it, before you get a crick in your neck from sleeping here. I’ll join you when I’m done. There’s only one bed, so we’ll be sharing.” She smiled, seeing the joy rising in his face, and felt her own heart leap with the same wondrous emotion. “It’s a troll-bed, though, so there’s lots of room.”
He rose slowly, and reached out to catch her hand. He held it, and bowed over it, as if she were some great high-caste lady demanding obeisance.
“I’ll see you in the morning, then,” he replied. They were simple words, but so much lay behind them, and she smiled again, then drew him close, brushing her cheek against his.
“Goodnight,” she whispered, and released him again. She watched as he made his way to the bedroom, then turned back to her unfinished work.
He transferred his few belongings over from the barracks the next day.
Home finally took on a meaning to the warrior, as he found the place he had been seeking. She made the difference. She had been what was missing. With her, he was whole. He felt the resonance within him now always, the flow of the love that they shared, the sense of her own joy in his presence.
And yet, beneath it, he felt also a lurking sorrow. A sorrow she tried to hide from him, and from herself.
M’jou bent to her work with a will, using it to distract herself. She was organising the Jin, seeing that those who knew magicks that others did not shared that knowledge, so that all gained thereby. She began a coding of all that was known, by all of them, and began to work out the rules that would govern their caste, and what they would one day teach.
It was every bit as difficult as the work he did in council, and he was glad that she had chosen another of the Jin, the young wizard Sergug, to take her place there. Sergug seemed well able to take care of that duty, and the two spent many hours in discussions.
The work kept her occupied, kept her from dwelling on the source of her pain.
Or it mostly did.
Grägok looked up at her, as she set her pen down, and rubbed her face, before going to look down into the tub of water. He sighed as she crouched down beside it, to inspect the eggs carefully. He should have had them taken to the pyre, not prolonged her pain this way. Every evening, she…
“Grägok!” He looked up, and the urgent note in her voice drew him quickly to her side. “Look! There are changes!” She pointed with a trembling finger.
Two of the eggs had quickened. Perhaps it was the light that had made it difficult to tell, or perhaps the initial changes were more subtle in the eggs made by these new bodies, but the two had progressed to the point where tiny shapes were visible in their hearts.
He held his breath as she knelt down to examine the others more closely. But their hearts held only the single dark speck that they had always had. They held no promise of life.
She sat back slowly, joy and sorrow both warring in her face.
Two lived! But… only two lived.
She rose slowly, and turned to him, and wordlessly, he found an earthenware bowl, and extended it to her. She took it from him, and with shaking hands lifted the three lifeless eggs from the water. She covered the bowl with her mantle, and clutched it to her.
“I will return,” she said softly.
“No.” He lifted it from her hands, and put his arm around her. “We will go together.”
The bluff-top was where their feet led them. It was the place where the dead had been borne, and sent to the side of Marr. A cleared space, down to the bedrock of the bluff, was all that marked the place. Perhaps someday a memorial would be raised here. But for now, it was an empty place, high above the sounds of the city below.
The white-hot flame M’jou summoned with a word licked the bowl, vaporising what it held instantly. Not even ash was left behind to show that something had been there.
The two stood in silence for a time, sharing the weight of a loss that they could not explain. All of their lives, the mating frenzy had left egg-masses scattered through the swamp. They were unguarded. Untended. The tads that sprang from them were left to their own devices until they grew legs. Then, and only then, were they taken into Guk, and raised as children.
Neither of them had ever taken notice of the fruits of mating. And yet… this time it was different. Each tiny seed held a promise, a hope for something greater.
“We are so fragile,” she said at last, moving to the edge of the cliff, and looking down at the city. “We know so little of ourselves.” She made a gesture at the bustle below. “There is something new in us. It is… as if we were sleeping, and are now awake. We see differently, woken from dreaming.” She looked up at him. “I don’t know what our future will hold; what the time of mating will bring; but I will tell you this. Every child will matter. Every one. We will not be as we were.”
He shook his head. “What we are is what we are. I don’t care to dwell on things that I can’t change. Best to use that energy to change the things we can.” He joined her in looking down on people below. “And making sure the children that will come have a place of safety and freedom is one of those things.” He reached out, and caught her hand. “Come. Let’s get back down below.” He drew her back, and led her off down the path, leaving behind the bowl and the troubling thoughts it brought him.
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