by Wendy Darling (Wiebke)
This idea popped into my head as I considered possible plots involving humans and hara interacting, then my fascination with birth, and then another long-standing fascination, which becomes evident as you go along — I’ll let it be surprise up front, however.
All original characters with concepts, vocabulary, etc., borrowed from Storm Constantine.
No spoilers for any specific book in the Wraeththu trilogy, but it is imagined that this entire storyline takes place sometime around the time period of Fulfilments, as Wraeththu are still ignorant of Kamagrians and there are incepted hara around.
My name is Rev. Within a few days I may be dead or maybe disfigured. They tell me not to worry but I know it’s true, I’m facing a risk. They don’t know for sure what will happen. No one does. I don’t know myself. All I know is that while I am alive, I would at least like to have my story told, especially the story of my beginning. The beginning is probably going to be very closely tied in with my end. Uli and Sara say that’s too fatalistic of me, but they have agreed to help me anyway, by writing out their stories about that day. At the end of their stories I will write my own and then pray. I hope to escape my fate, but I know I really can’t. It is a choice I have made.
Chapter 1: Uli
Rev thinks inception will kill him but I am not so sure. He does not believe me. Instead, he presses this notebook into my hands and says I should write out his “beginning” before he faces the ending. I was a pessimistic child myself, but unlike Rev, I had reasons. When I was his age, the world had gone to hell. Rev has had many advantages I did not. Yet he fears for his life. True, it is not guaranteed that he will survive, given the risks in his case, but having more faith would help him. It is the power of faith, the power of intention, that might help him survive beyond any obstacles he might face from nature.
At any rate, I will do as he has asked. I will return to the beginning, the day of Rev’s birth.
I was working with a new foal on my estemble when I heard the familiar sound of the bell’s on Arzan’s bridle. Arzan was Jana’s pretty quiet mare. Nowadays Jana is a woman but in those days she was still a girl, only ten or eleven, I believe. I looked over to the stable entrance and saw her still mounted. I didn’t even have time to say hello. “The baby is almost here but Sara is having trouble, she wants you to come!” she squealed. Wincing at the hitch-pitched tone, I bellowed back for her to wait while I quickly finished up with the foal and gathered my gear.
Five minutes later we met up outside the stable. Jana was tense, clearly exhausted. “When did the labor start?” I asked as we began to head out. As we rode along, I got a briefing, though we were going at enough speed we had to raise our voices to talk. Jana told me the labor had been going on for two days so far, but really it had only been very bad since sunrise. It was now late afternoon. Jana had stayed up with Sara all night, along with Agatha, the midwife, who was doing her very best. The only one who had slept was Martin, Rev’s father, but now he was awake and very, very worried. Martin had also asked for me. A har could help her now, when she was so tired, wanting to give up but needing to keep it up. She needed strength, she needed healing, and they all knew I could give it, Jana said. I had done it before, for Martin’s birth. Now Martin was fifteen and shortly would be incepted. Such is the way of Gimrah.
When reached the house, tying the horses up in front, and hurried up to the side door, which I knew next to Sara’s bedroom. Although I hadn’t seen attended human births since Martin’s — Jana was adopted, rescued from Megalithica — I recognized at once that Jana was right and the end was coming soon. Sara’s voice gave it all away. She was keening by that point, high-pitched moans punctuated by curses. “I can’t do this,” she said. “I can’t… I can’t… Eeeeeeeeeeeee!”
I stepped through the door and she didn’t even notice. Agatha was sitting in a chair at the end of the bed, positioned between Sara’s legs, spread wide and shaking. The old midwife had her arms outstretched and Sara was clutching them. “Don’t be a fool, you can do this, Sara. If you trained Arlek out of being wild, you can do this. If you lived as a woman this long, you can do this. Come on now, it’s almost here.” I had never met Agatha until the week before, when I’d been invited to meet her. They had sent for her many months before and finally she had arrived, bringing with her a treasure trove of knowledge. In wild parts like these, there are few who have any knowledge of human births.
Faced with the spectacle of a human woman birthing in that time-honored method, I had the same gut reaction I’d had with Martin, only even strong this time — and mixed in with something new. With Martin, I’d thought of it as something amazing, a unique quality of human women — the ability to give birth. I had truly marveled at it. In the years since then, however, things had changed. Now I had a new perspective. Now birth was something we Wraeththu could experience for ourselves. I had borne two pearls of my own and my chesna Cleon had birthed another. Looking at Sara, I knew something of what she felt. Yes, pearls are somewhat smaller than babies and there are no messy body parts or tangled cords to worry about, but the Wraeththu body is not always very accommodating. I have been at that precipice, feeling the thing inside you and with all your being wanting it out.
In any case, I did not stand and stare, but came over to the side of the bed. Behind Sara, Martin was kneeling, looking frightened and ill as he braced her shoulders. I gave him a slow smile and sent him calming energy, hoping he would pick up on it. Then I turned to Sara, just as she turned to me. “Give me strength,” she said. Her face was red and sweating, her eyes bloodshot. “I know you can do it, please help me,” she begged. She turned away and closed her eyes, inviting me to begin. No more screams. She trusted me.
It did not take all that long. For twenty minutes I worked with her, feeding her strength, messages of calm, and offering her visualizations, stroking her arms along with her belly. Having birthed pearls myself was helping me. Agatha was helping me as well. Sharp old woman. Worth her weight in gold. Together we coached Sara along as she did all the work and finally, there was the top of the head, black hair like Martin’s. I told the boy to go around to meet his baby. All the blood and fluids were bothering him, but soon he’d been facing the unpleasantness of inception and he’d have to get used to it. Was this so different than helping the foals be born?
After only a few pushes, Rev shot out with a gush of fluid. Agatha caught him in a cloth turned receiving blanket, and after quickly rubbing his red face, immediately wrapped him and brought him to Sara’s chest. Sara couldn’t believe he was hers, just as I couldn’t believe my pearls were mine either. She stared at the little face. “You look like your father,” she cooed. Martin was shying away but Agatha made him come and see. His eyes were filled with wonder. “Wow,” he said. “Looks like I’m a father.” At that Rev let out a lusty, ear-splitting cry. Sara was crying too, but with happiness.
Chapter 2: Sara
Rev gave me this notebook to write in and I just now read through what Uli wrote. He seems to have caught the highlights fairly well, so I’ll just pick up where he left off.
The labor had been drawn out, although fairly straightforward. There were no complications and happily I held my little baby in my arms. I got Martin to smile and touch the baby’s cheek, although of course he was still nervous. What else would you really expect from a fifteen-year-old father? Uli meanwhile was still there at my side, gentle and wise, filling me with strength and calm, even just with his smile. I’d known him for so long by then, since I was a teenager, and with my own parents gone, sometime I felt like he was both mother and father.
Only a minute later the placenta came out and it hurt a little bit but it wasn’t too bad. I let Jana cut the cord, since she’d been such a help to me those last few months, helping me when I was too big and tired to do everything on my own. I put Rev up to my breast and he latched on right away — no problem there. Uli said something about how if hara breastfed their harlings, they’d get bitemarks. I laughed over that, remembering how his harlings had eaten meat even as tiny babies, long long before they could walk. This little one I had was so helpless. Maybe someday he would have little ones too… but would they be pearls or babies?
Agatha, finished the basic cleanup, thought of it the same time I did. What was the baby, a girl or a boy? I’d been so intent on having the baby in my arms and he’d been so cute, I’d forgotten to look or ask or anything else. “Come on, you have to let go for a bit,” I told him gently, pulling him off my breast. Uli had helped me to move back on the bed, and now that I wanted to lay the baby down to look, he helped me sit up, pushing pillows up behind me.
All wrapped up in the blanket, I laid him on my lap. “So, what are you, little one? Whatever it is, you’ve not a worry in the world — look at this family you’ve got!” Martin, Jana, Agatha and Uli were all there as I took away the blanket to have a look. “It’s a boy!” Martin cried, to general agreement. A boy! We’d had no way of knowing what it would be and I’d spent many months weighing things over. Having a girl would mean at least another generation of human women, and that was a blessing, but having a boy would be fine as well. In Gimrah the boys grow up to be incepted, which as far as I’m concerned, is a good thing. I heard my own voice then: “It’s a boy!”
Amidst all this, Uli wiping away the remaining stickiness from the small body, Martin counting the fingers and toes, I almost missed it when Jana spoke up. “Um, are you sure that’s a boy?” she asked. She’d gotten still and quiet, and I’d thought absently that she was probably disappointed she wouldn’t have a sort of sister. So I missed it the first time, really wasn’t listening, but then she said it again and gently poked me. “I mean… what’s that?”
She was right next to me and whispering into my ear she said, “I don’t want to be wrong, but it doesn’t look all like a boy to me.” I looked down to see what she might mean. There was a tiny little penis of course, like any little boy I suppose. Not that I have seen hundreds of naked baby boys, but it did look like a penis. Below the scrotum was a little bit swollen, but that was just like Martin’s was when he was born. Still, there was something else, a bit of redness. I took the cloth from where Uli had put it down on the bed and patted it a little bit. There was a hole at the bottom there and then, looking down more, I saw there was another bigger hole… or something.
That was how I discovered that my little boy wasn’t exactly a little boy. I’d been hoping for one or the other, a girl or boy. I’d tried to decide which would be better but I couldn’t. I guess my body felt the same way, making my baby, because Rev, as it turned out, isn’t really either. Right there on the bed, that moment, I wasn’t happy with that. I thought I’d done something wrong. Martin was even worse, once we really looked and saw. Was it his fault, because he wanted so badly to be har? Agatha didn’t even know what to say and Jana was just really confused. “Is it a har? Is it a har?”
Although later he told me he was shocked, Uli, of all of us, took it the calmest. He took Rev into his arms and had a look at him. “Silly baby, you’re not supposed to be har, you’re supposed to be human still,” he said gently. I was almost angry then, but with Uli smiling and the baby too, I didn’t say anything. Finally handed him back to me and said, “Well, he’s not har, I can tell that. Not that I thought he was to begin with.”
“Why do you say that?” Jana asked. “He’s both, isn’t he?”
“Or she!” Martin interrupted.
“Or she,” Jana agreed.
Uli was looking at me as he explained it. Little Rev was some sort of hermaphrodite, although a human one. It would take some tests to see exactly what was going on, but the baby certainly wasn’t entirely male or female. There was one testicle Uli could feel, but there was also something like a vagina. Agatha spoke up then, asking if there would be a uterus or ovaries. There might be, Uli said. He wasn’t a human physician, but he’d seen books about this. It would be some time before we’d know all the details. My little one was very special.
Looking at my baby then, I felt so confused. One the one hand, it was such a shock to me and, I admit, a disappointment. Ever since I was a girl, growing up with Wraeththu on the rise, I’d wondered if I’d ever have a baby. When my friend Karen, ten years older than me, had Martin, I had been so jealous. Women in Gimrah can have it all — we don’t have to fit any particular role and we are free. I had so many advantages in my life. I had managed to gain my own farm. I had a few human friends and a lot of hara friends too. Peace wasn’t something I took for granted either. Still, something had made me want a baby. It would make me more human, I think I thought. Holding my firstborn, however, I realized even in my supposedly most human act, I’d created something that wasn’t quite human.
Then there was the other hand — remember that? Well, on the other hand, he was my baby and whatever was going on between his legs, he belonged to me and Martin. He needed us and like most babies, he had this special power to make you do things, chiefly to love him. Right away, I found it hard to resist him, even with my misgivings. Who said babies are defenseless? After a bit more breastfeeding, I handed him to Martin. “Hold him, Martin — remember, it’s not the end of the world.”
It was then we settled on a name. Pregnant, I’d come up with lots of names, but even though some of them were not male or female, things had turned out so differently than I’d expected, I decided I wanted something entirely different. I thought about “Surprise” but it was too cruel. It was Agatha that first suggested it. “Revelation,” she said. “That describe him, doesn’t it?” We agreed at once.
Later Agatha remember Revelation is a book in the old Bible — about the end of the world. So it turned out I’d been wrong in what I’d said to Martin — in one way, the baby was the end of the world.
Of course that baby now thinks he’s about to meet his end, but that’s a different story. Let me give him back his notepad so he can finish the tale.
Chapter 3: Rev
So now you see how I was born and how, from the first moment almost, they were all worried about me. By the time I got older, they had hidden it all away, acting more or less like I was normal, but eventually the worry came out again. Let me write a little bit about how that happened.
I was born on my mother’s farm, where she lived with Jana and my father Martin. A few others worked there, mostly hara, coming in from homes nearby but not on the actual property. We were pretty isolated, on our own, and I think I was quite a handful for my mother, who often gave me to Jana. Things got a little harder when I was a few months old, as my father went away to be incepted. He actually lived elsewhere until I was almost two years old, as he had to be trained and also wanted to be around other hara, even if he was coming back.
After he returned I got to be a lot more socialized. Martin decided that rather than living all alone on all that land, we should expand on the house and build houses around it so all the workers could live closer in and have more of a community. I think he was just a bit lonely and tired of always riding off to see his friends, but anyway it turned out very nice. Since my earliest memories come from after all that was built, I don’t remember the lonely part, only the part with lots of others. We still had our little family, but we also had a lot of group things, like big dinners and a riding festival, sharing chores.
Of course, having all these hara around, it wasn’t surprising I didn’t really understand about humans and hara. It’s not that I thought they were the same, but I just didn’t really understand the difference quite. For example, I knew my mother and Jana were “women” but on the other hand, Arsen looked a lot like Jana and had a harling who looked about the same as me. Also I really didn’t see “men” to compare hara with, so it wasn’t like the difference stood out.
Meanwhile all along, I just assumed I was like everybody else. It’s strange to me now when I think about, because there were always signs I wasn’t the same — that I was human and that I was not a boy, though I sort of thought I was. The real problem with everything was the fact that nobody every really told me it, just assumed I knew — which I didn’t really.
For example, everybody has always used the word “shar” around me. My mother, instead of saying “he,” “she,” “his,” or “her” would say “shar” and from that, everybody else did the same thing. She was very insistent about this, stopping anyone who said “he,” although I didn’t know why. I remember as I got older it occurred to me that they only ever used that word talking about me. At the time, I asked Martin about it. He told me they used it because I was “special” and needed a special word. When I asked him why I was “special” he only told me I would find out someday, probably on my own. Later I wished I had tried harder to find out.
There were other signs but I didn’t really see them until very, even though they were pretty clear. It sounds ridiculous now I always wondered, for example, why and how the other harlings (I thought I was one!) could pee standing up, while for me that didn’t really work well. When other harlings my same age started to grow faster, I thought I was only staying small because my father was small. When it was noticed that I called myself a “harling,” they tried to tell me I wasn’t, only I wouldn’t believe it so I just stopped saying it out loud.
Eventually things like this started to pile up on me. Everybody was nice and I really loved my family and the people on the farm, but still, I started to feel things weren’t quite right. I was doing all the normal things, chores around the house, being taught to read, playing games, but I started to get this lurking feeling that I wasn’t normal — or was it “special”? It wasn’t a really strong bad feeling, just something I felt from time to time. Then I’d think of something else and forget it for a while.
It was Feybraiah that really clued me in. There were a bunch of harlings I had known since I was little and one by one, they suddenly all were bigger than me and then eventually were going through Feybraiah. It was explained to me what was happening, that they were turning into full-grown hara. They told me that happens at around seven or eight years old. So I watched a few harlings and then I thought, “OK, it’s my turn soon.” I was between seven and eight. Honestly I really thought it was going to happen. Everybody just assumed I knew. Even Martin, who really should have known to tell me, assumed I knew I was human, although nobody ever said it. I was a “shar.”
Time went on and I didn’t have any Feybraiah. I was so obviously a child, unlike my friends who were now hara. Even harlings that were younger than me were bigger. I started marking up a calendar, thinking more and more that I was really late. By the time I was nine I was worrying about this constantly and after one Feybraiah celebration too many, I got very upset and went to my mother about it. When I told her, she could not believe I didn’t know!
I was so confused when she told me and then when she brought in Martin, it got worse. Together they told me about all the things I was supposed to understand, like humans and hara and inception. Being told I wasn’t a harling was quite enough, but then I got the other news, about men and women. Martin, finally trying to be clear with me, explained about inception and how it had changed him. He even told me the whole story of Thiede. I listened to him and even though it as a few years ago, I remember saying “But I think… I think I’m like that now! I’m like Thiede!”
This was when they finally decided it was too much for them and summoned Uli. He is the healer for the tirtha and somebody who had always come for the Feybraiah celebrations, who came to dinner, who was a good, good friend to my parents. Once Uli arrived, my parents had me talk and explain some of my questions and feelings to him. The next thing I knew, he was telling me take off my clothes. I didn’t do it at first because I wanted to know why. He looked at my parents and said simply that it was about time they had a look at me, rather than leaving things a mystery.
Since I wasn’t a baby anymore and dressed myself, nobody had seen me without clothes for quite a while. I wasn’t exactly ashamed but it as still weird. They had me lie on the carpet and then Uli very gently started to look at me. Obviously I don’t have to say what he was looking at. After having me shift around a bit, he told me he was going to have to touch me. This was something where he was going to be a doctor. He lifted things up, moved things over, and did a lot of prodding. He even did some prodding where he had me breathe out and he pressed his hands on top of me, so he could feel my insides.
After that he and my father told me to wait a bit and went off to talk in the next room. I was feeling so confused by then. My mother told me to sit up and hugged me, telling me it was going to be all right. She didn’t sound very sure though. Finally the hara came back and said there was one more thing they wanted to do: an internal exam. As soon as they explained it, I knew I didn’t want them to do it. My mother was also opposed and started to argue, saying it would be too uncomfortable and they didn’t have the right tools on hand, that I was too young. I tended to agree with my mother since I just wanted the whole thing to be over.
Well, they ended it but of course that wasn’t the end. Instead it was the beginning of them telling me the truth. I think they really had meant to tell me but nobody could decide when or how or what to say, so nobody had said anything. That left me pretty confused, so they had to undo a lot of what I’d been thinking. They explained to me about human adolescence and how it differs from Feybraiah. They also told me they didn’t know what would happen to me. And they didn’t know if…
I am getting to the end of this now and I really still don’t want to write it out BUT I will do it and say that they don’t know if I can be incepted. Six months ago they finally did the internal exam on me. Beside my “boy” parts (which are a sort of small, plus with one missing testicle), I have something like a vagina, although there doesn’t seem to be anything at the end of it. Uli does think I may have ovaries, though; he thinks he can feel them when he does an external exam. A girl would be killed by inception.
But what am I? Should I stay this way? Should I just stay a boy? What should I do? Those questions went round and round, among my family and in my own head. Finally they asked me what I wanted. It was to be my choice. I had to think about it hard, but given all the options, choosing inception was almost easy. I mean, I used to think I was har. I don’t think I want to be the only “boy” either. I’d like to do what my father did. When I told him that, he told me he was really worried, but then Uli said not to be, so I don’t know who’s right.
What are my options though? For staying just as I am, they are really not sure what would happen to me. Several hara and my mother have told me I might develop problems from not having the right hormones. She also said that based on what Uli learned in the exam, “sex” (human aruna, though my father says it’s not at all the same) might be difficult thing for me… and who exactly could I have it with anyway? “Sex” isn’t everything but when you’re surrounded by hara, to whom it’s obviously important, you want to be able to be part of it. As for being a woman, I guess partially I am but I can’t have children and right now don’t look it, so it’s not really a choice. I think that I could be more woman as a har than I am now!
Now that I right that all out, I feel better. Yes, there’s a risk, a lot higher than usual, that the inception could kill me. It’s unknown that nobody knows — and Uli has asked all around, not just in the tirtha but around Gimrah. They don’t know. But I hope it works. And if it doesn’t, I’ve at least written out my story.
It worked! I’m officially Wraeththu! I was never so scared or so sick in my life as before and during it and the althaia nearly did kill me, but when all the muck was cleared off me in the bath and I was awake again, no fever, I knew I had survived. I looked down at instead of being an imperfect mix up, I was a perfect mix up! Uli came and looked me over and said that despite some serious worries, turns out I’m just like any other har now. He sent his son Naral to me for my first aruna and he agreed — I’m perfectly OK. They all say I was OK before too, something really special, but to me, this is better.