Deliverance

Deliverance
by Wendy Darling (Wiebke)

Story Notes

1st out of 5 segments in the Rescued Lives series (Deliverance, Obstacle Course, Ripening Fruit, That Was Then, This is Now, Generation Gap.

In this, the opening story in Rescued Lives, we’re introduced to a Dera, har in need of rescue. Dera not only gets rescue, he gets a whole new start on life, and gives a whole new life as well.

Characters
All original characters (main characters Dera, Fafa, Arafa), with concepts, vocabulary, etc., borrowed from Storm Constantine.

Spoilers
No spoilers for any specific book in the Wraeththu trilogy, but it is imagined that this entire storyline takes place after the Ascension. There are still original incepted hara, but Wraeththu civilization has stablized.

Chapter 1

Water.

A hand upon my sweat-drenched forehead, fingers brushing through my tangled hair, rousing me into consciousness, and it was the first thought on my mind.

Water.

I must have murmured the word aloud. My throat and lips were so dry it was a wonder anyone understood me, but someone must have, because a moment later I felt the cold of glass pressed against my mouth.

“How long do you think he’s been out here?” I heard someone ask. The voice was far away. My eyes were closed. I could not see the speaker.

I felt the water trickle over my tongue and I wanted it so desperately. Yet when I tried to swallow I nearly choked. It had been days since anything liquid or solid had passed down my throat.

“Careful!” a voice exhorted. It could have been the same voice or before or it could have been a different one.

“Here, this is a better way!” I heard, and then a long tube was gently pushed back until the water flowed directly down and all I could do was swallow.

I had never nursed from a human mother. I had never been a human. I was a pure-born har. Still, I think I knew then what it must be like for human infants, sucking at sustenance as if their lives depend on it. At that moment, water meant life.

Water.

I swallowed down as much as they gave me.

Meanwhile I felt hands touching me, my faraway body, examining me. There were murmured comments, indistinct as the sound of swallowing filled my ears.

By the time the water stopped flowing, the tube removed, I was able to understand the voice more clearly.

“Look at his face, the way it’s burned,” one said. “He must have been out here in the sun for days.”

“The salt on his cheek,” another said, running a finger under my eye. “He must have been crying.”

“Yes, yes,” the first voice returned. “Of course he was crying. Wouldn’t you have cried?”

I suddenly felt it. Time to face up. I opened my eyes.

Slowly the world came into focus. The hideously blue sky of midday, the scorched red earth. And two hara, crouched down and staring at me worriedly.

“You’re awake!” the light-haired one exclaimed.

I was too weak to answer. I barely managed a nod.

“How do you feel?” asked the other. He had black hair and green eyes. From the way his hand now rested on my neck, I knew he was the one who had touched my tears.

This time I decided to struggle with words. I had to force sounds out of my throat. I pushed the air upwards, towards my lips. “Alive,” I managed, my voice sounding like a cough.

My rescuers smiled. “Yes, you are alive,” the second one responded. He then glanced down at my body. “But this…” he began, looking troubled, “what about this blood?”

I turned my eyes to where he was looking. They had propped me up so I could drink and now I could see the blood oozing through my shirt.

“I wanted to ask you while you were awake,” he explained. “We wanted to know if we were hurting you by moving you.” He began to unfasten my buttons. “Now I’m going to take away your shirt so I can have a look and see what’s the matter.”

The other har came up behind me, the perfect nurse, and worked the shirt off my shoulders, pulling my arms out of the sleeves.

“By Aghama,” muttered the one examining me in front. I saw the slash in my body, about half way down my torso, just at the bottom of my rib cage. It was knife wound, I knew. I knew it was bad. The wound had festered. Little squirming things had attached themselves to my rotting flesh.

When at last I thought about it, connected my body and mind, I realized that it hurt. Really hurt. Hurt as if all the pain in he world had been concentrated into that one spot.

Then there was another thought. a terrifying thought — worse than the thought of dying of thirst, dying of hunger, or the pain of the knife wound. Much worse.

The pearl.

Chapter 2

I didn’t mention it to them. Not at that moment. No, I could not bear it. they would probably find out sooner or later. Better to let them simply take care of me, take me away from this place. I closed my eyes. Time to drift away from the voices and to concentrate on the feelings within myself.

The pearl.

The pain of the knife wound was overpowering, radiating like a burning sun set into my stomach, but still I tried to sift through it and to locate something I knew was beneath it — or was supposed to be. I prayed it was still there.

At last I felt it. A tiny life force deep within my body. With my mind I called out to it, and inside my body I willed myself to overcome the pain and yield, to offer comfort and say to my child, “Worry no longer, for we are safe, we are alive.”

I felt in response a faint movement, a twinge in my side. I believe I must have gasped, because again I heard the voices. A worried hand touched my cheek.

“Are you all right?” one asked. “Are we hurting you?”

The voices grew indistinct as I let myself fade back to sleep, into unconsciousness. I was alive and so was the pearl. For now that would have to be enough.

***

When I next awoke, I was in a different place, out of the desert at last. A cool cloth was spread out on my forehead and I was tucked beneath the downy warmth of a blanket.

Eyes still closed, I focused on my body. The pain had dulled away almost to nothing. Probably I had been given healing medicine, some sort of pain reliever. Maybe I had even been operated on. No matter, not at that moment. All I knew was that I was closer to being alive than I had been in several days.

I thought about my pearl. There was no way for me to know precisely how much time had passed, but assuming the intuitions I gathered from my memories were correct, I was probably about half way through my term.

I felt a movement inside myself. This was my own muscles flexing, no doubt in preparation for the birth. It was a sweet ache, knowing that there would be pain in those days to come, but feeling such thankfulness that it was going to happen, that I was, as I’d managed to tell my rescuers, alive.

I opened my eyes. The blond har, who I’d caught as he looked off to the side, shifted his gaze to meet mine.

“Welcome back,” he said, smiling as he leaned forward in his chair.

With effort I offered a weak smile. “I am Dera,” I heard myself say.

“I am Arafa,” he replied, holding out his hand.

I offered him feeble fingers, which he promptly clasped within his own. “Thank you,” I said. “Thank you for saving my life.”

Arafa gently squeezed my hand and chuckled. “You’re welcome, but I don’t think it was really Fafara and I who saved your life. It was you. Such strength, to have endured all that on your own. What made you so strong?”

I answered him without hesitation. “I am hosting a child.”

Chapter 3

Arafa’s face went white. For a moment he simply stared. Then finally: “A child? Are you sure?”

Was I sure? Was it possible to be unsure?

“I’m sure,” I replied, trying to sound confident despite my weakness.

Arafa’s shock was still apparent. “But we– we–”

“You what?” I asked. I was actually surprised that they hadn’t discovered my condition on their own.

“We examined you, mended your wound, and have kept you here for five days–”

“Five days?” I asked. It was my turn to my shocked. “I was unconscious for that long?”

“Yes, you were,” he answered me. “Your body had been through quite a shock. Fafara and I found you in the desert and rescued you. Aside from a few brief moments of lucidity right at the moment we approached you, you were totally insensible. You were very near death, you understand.”

I nodded.

“Yet all along you were hosting a pearl.” His voice was thoughtful and somewhat full of amazement.

“Yes,” I confirmed. “By now it’s five weeks along.”

Arafa blanched — again. “Five weeks?” I noticed how he swallowed after he spoke, as if he had suddenly grown powerfully upset.

“What is it?” I asked anxiously.

Arafa looked down as he spoke. “We did not notice it. We examined you but we did not notice. I thought Fafara would have been thorough, but perhaps we assumed too much… were so focused on the blood that we ignored what was within you.”

He sighed. “Still, I would think we would have noticed. I wonder if, perish the thought, there was nothing to detect because — oh, please, I hate to be so blunt — perhaps the pearl is dead.”

Even though I was absolutely certain the pearl was in fact alive, I shuddered passed through me. That had been my fear upon awaking in the desert, but since then I had enjoyed the relief of knowing that fear had not been realized.

“No, it’s alive,” I told him. “I can feel it moving inside of me and I know, know with my soul, that it has survived.”

Arafa put his hands to the sides of his face. “A miracle, Dera, truly a miracle.”

For a few moments, perhaps a full minute, both of us were silent. Once again, I felt my child move within me, a tiny flutter.

I was Arafa who finally spoke. “By Aghama, we didn’t know,” he said apologetically.

“It’s all right,” I comforted him. “It’s not as if I could have told you, although I knew it, even back in the desert when you found me. I remembered.”

Arafa thought on this. “And were you afraid?” he asked.

“Afraid of what?” I didn’t know what exactly he meant.

“Afraid of–” he began, then stopped. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “perhaps it is too soon to speak of this, in your weakened state but–”

“No,” I interrupted. “What is it? If it has anything to do with my pearl, I must be told.”

Arafa swallowed nervously and looked away. “There could be complications.”

Complications. Immediately the word filled me with dread. Until then I had harbored no doubts. But now that the thought was out there, I realized what he had meant by his earlier question. Had I been afraid? No. Was I now? Yes.

I asked what he meant by “complications.” He shook his head as if he was unwilling to tell me, but I was insistent.

Finally he admitted that he wasn’t sure if any complications would come into play. On the one hand, my pearl might be perfectly, completely unaffected. On the other hand, the injuries I’d sustained had been serious. The knife wound. The blood loss. The heat exhaustion. The starvation. The fact that I had apparently gone without food or water and lain in the burning desert sun for a day or two.

It was a miracle that I had survived. My pearl might not have been so fortunate.

Chapter 4

I couldn’t help it. I burst out into tears. I didn’t care about myself — my wounds would heal — but if my child had died, I may as well have died myself. What was there to live for?

Arafa immediately reached out and dried my tears. With his free hand, he squeezed my shoulder. “Don’t cry, Dera. Please don’t cry.” He squeezed the other shoulder. “It could be that everything is fine.” He tried to sound optimistic. “We Wraeththu are strong, resilient.”

He kept on speaking these gentle words of comfort until I finally stopped crying.

“I will call Fafara. He is my teacher, a master healer. We will examine you again and try to determine if there are any problems.” He looked at me expectantly. “Will that be all right with you?” he asked.

I smiled. “I would be very grateful.”

***

Before he called Fafara, however, there was dinner. Arafa left me for a few minutes and when he returned, he carried a tray of food and drink.

Despite my days of rest, eating on my own seemed a task beyond my abilities. Arafa fed me as if I were a baby — a human baby.

It was my first solid food in more than a week and however much I wanted it, it was swallowed down only with difficulty.

Arafa watched me in silence, patiently bringing the forkfuls of food to my mouth, tipping a cup of hot herbs to my lips.

“You must be very hungry,” he observed. When I nodded he continued. “I cannot have been good for the child.”

I grimaced and turned my head to the side, avoiding the last forkful that had been delivered my way. Once again, I began to cry.

“Oh, Dera,” he sighed. “Don’t work yourself into such a state. It’s not healthy — for you or the pearl.”

For a brief moment, I was terribly angry. I wasn’t working myself in a state on my own — he was pushing me along with his remarks. Still, when I felt his soft touch against my cheek, I knew he was genuinely concerned for me.

He turned my face back to him and he pushed another forkful into my mouth. As I swallowed it, he stood up. “I will summon Fafara. Time for your examination.”

***

Arafa left the room and was gone for about ten minutes. I could only assume he was explaining the situation to Fafara. While I waited, I tried to compose myself. I called out to the pearl as I had earlier. I delivered a message of reassurance. Everything would be fine. We were alive.

When Arafa returned with the “master healer,” I could see that Fafara was deeply concerned. His green eyes bored into me as I steadily met his gaze. My pearl and I were much better off than he supposed, and I wanted him to know it.

Arafa brought up the lights as Fafara approached my side. “You are strong,” he said to me, hands at his sides, eyes still steady on mine.

Arafa walked over to the other side of the bed. “We will undress you,” he announced.

I nodded slightly and lay passive as they pulled aside the blanket and stripped me of my robes and underclothes. I felt so light, almost weightless, as they shifted me with their gentle hands. I had lost weight, no doubt. “We will survive this,” I told my pearl.

Finally I lay naked. I looked down and saw the mark where the blade had cut me. To my surprise, it had nearly healed. Also gone were the cuts and bruises I know I must have had. My arms were still reddened where I had been burned by the desert sun.

My waist had thickened with the swelling of my child. I was so slender to begin with, however, that it was not something anyone but myself would likely have noticed. No wonder my rescuers had been unaware.

Chapter 5

Fafara was the first to touch me. He placed his hands on my abdomen and began to press against the muscles. “I am Fafara. Arafa tells me you are at five weeks,” he said, still pressing, feeling for the shape of my womb.

I felt a slight twinge and gritted my teeth before replying. “Yes, if memory services, I was at almost a month when I lost consciousness.”

Fafara nodded slowly and closed his eyes in concentration. He began to feel me in a new way, prodding me with the tips of his fingers.

“Is any of this painful?” he asked me.

“No,” I said, feeling another brief twinge. “Just a little uncomfortable.”

“Of course,” he said, finishing up and opening his eyes. He put his hand on my cheek and with his other hand, grasped my wrist and took my pulse. He counted off the heartbeats and nodded.

“You seem fine,” he said finally.

“And the pearl?” I blurted anxiously.

“So far as I can tell,” he answered, “it’s fine as well, although…” He paused and Arafa and I tilted our heads expectantly. I was desperate for a prognosis. “You would know better than I. You are the hostling, after all.”

I smiled, relieved, and rubbed my stomach gratefully. “You mean if I feel it’s all right, then it is?”

Fafara raised an eyebrow. “You feel it’s all right?”

I kept on smiling. “Yes, I do. I mean, it keeps moving. That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Dera,” he said slowly, sounding a little bit uncertain. “That is your name, correct?”

I nodded.

He paused and looked at me appraisingly. I didn’t know what he was looking for.

“Dera, have you ever hosted a pearl?” he asked at last.

For a brief moment, I cringed at the thought of remembering the slightest part of my past, but this question, however, was easy.

“No, this is my first,” I answered.

“Ah,” Fafara said, “then perhaps you do not realize all that you can do, all that you can learn about your pearl and your body.”

He took my hand away from where it rested on my stomach. “Arafa is young, perhaps younger than you. He has never hosted a child. He does not have my experience with hosting and birthing. Let me tell you what you must do.”

He instructed me to close my eyes and relax. I was to focus all my energies within. I had some practice at this and it came to me easily.

When I was prepared, he told me to “clasp the pearl.” At first I had no idea what he meant, but then he explained. The soume-lam were powerful muscles and the pearl was buried within me like the pit inside a fruit. To “clasp the pearl” I need only use these muscles, holding it like a ball in my hand. If anything were wrong, it might be possible to tell through this touch. Even if everything were fine, it would be good practice for the birth.

“Clasp the pearl,” he repeated and somehow I knew just which muscles to move. I felt the shape of my child and again, I felt it move. There was no pain. I was awash with joy.

“By Aghama,” I said softly, opening my eyes. “We have survived.”

Chapter 6

Once he had determined that all was at it should be, Fafara dismissed Arafa, who said a word of blessing and left the room. Fafara remained at my side, looking down at me as the door closed.

“Even wounded, you are beautiful,” he told me.

I was startled by his words. Being “beautiful” was, at that moment, the very least of my concerns. My puzzlement must have been apparent, for Fafara pursed his lips and clucked his tongue.

“Oh, been a long time, has it?” he asked, sidling up to take a seat at the end of the bed.

“Since what?” I asked. “Since someone called me beautiful?”

In fact it had only be a couple of weeks. Before that, someone had told me that every day. Now, however, that someone was gone and–

I banished the thought. I was here, now, and my raven-haired rescuer was speaking to me.

“No, Dera, not that. I meant a long time since you last took aruna.” As he spoke, he reached out and dragged a finger gently down my chest until it rested on my abdomen. My pearl.

“There’s a reason for that,” I told him. “And you’ve just put your finger on it.”

Fafara looked down at his hand. “Is there, Dera? I mean, is there really?” He was challenging me. “You can honestly say you wouldn’t enjoy something?”

I could hardly believe my ears. I was only twenty years old at the time and it was, after all, my first hosting experience, but still, I did not think I was naive to believe it was necessary and proper to abstain from aruna during that time. It was common practice, common knowledge.

Still, as Fafara traced lazy circles around the muscles of my abdomen, I could feel my body responding, quickening with desire. Hara need aruna. That is a given. That they could need it even while hosting had never occurred to me.

I suppose even at that moment I realized he was right, but still, I fought him just a little, if only out of guilt. “I would enjoy it, I think,” I admitted slowly, “but I’m not just looking out for myself. I have–”

“The pearl to think of,” he finished for me. “Yes, I know. Don’t worry on that account. We don’t have to do anything invasive, anything that would disturb or injure your precious soume-lam.”

“We?” I asked him, slipping into my coy mode. “You’re saying you and I…”

“Yes,” he breathed, his face coming up close to mine. “Yes, Dera, that’s what I’m saying. We can do it. I know from experience that is possible. You can be ouana or we can simply touch, pleasure one another with our hands. Share breath. I’d like that. Would you?”

By that time, my body had grown so heated there was no saying no. “Yes, Fafara, I would.”

Since my examination and the realization that my pearl, so far as could be learned, was healthy, I had felt my strength returning, and with that strength I now reached out and pulled that strong, healthy har to me and shared breath until we were both gasping.

“Ready?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

***

That aruna, more than anything else, healed me. Before we became too involved, Fafara explained to me that although it was true that he desired me outright, it was also true that he desired to heal me. Our aruna would constitute a health treatment! Aruna is necessary for health, he told me, even in pearl-hosting hara.

We began slowly and ended passionately. He trailed kisses round my body until I tingled head to toe, and then he moved to touching my ouana-lim, which had flowered with desire. I felt my body come to life like a stream bed gone many seasons without rain, now buried under a roaring torrent.

I felt powerful and, eventually, dominant. I pressed Fafara beneath me and, despite all I had assumed about hostlings and what they should and should not do, at that moment I realized it was impossible that anything we were doing was wrong. It felt so good as I pierced him, as we shared breath, as he raked his fingernails down my back. It was a true miracle of healing.

Our climax was wondrous, energy-giving, and cleansing. I gave up all the best parts of myself. I was alive and I was going to stay alive. It was a time to celebrate, a time for aruna.

***

Afterward Fafara had his hand on my stomach and felt as my pearl bobbed about in inside of me, apparently excited after the recent stimulation.

“It’s doing fine,” my healer told me.

“I know,” I said.

He turned to me and we shared breath.

“I love you,” he suddenly whispered.

“I know,” I answered just as quickly.

I did know.

And at that moment, I knew I loved him.

Chapter 7

Is there such a thing as fate? I didn’t think so. Not until that moment. I looked into Fafara’s eyes and felt a special intelligence, a spirit of knowledge, and the message was clear: He was the one meant for me.

Don’t misunderstand my words. After all, another had been meant for me before him. How do you think I came to be carrying a pearl in the first place? I had been in love before. In a perfect world, that love would have continued on and on. In this world, it had not.

We lay on the bed for perhaps a half an hour. Time meant very little. We shared breath over and over, and with every infusion of his spirit, I felt myself growing stronger.

He put his hands on me and carefully massaged my muscles until at length my body was a molten pool of pleasure and heat.

He lifted me gently out of the bed and carried me to an adjacent room. He bathed me, worked scented soap through my hair, and finally dressed me. At the end of it, I felt almost my old self. I was able to stand before the mirror and, despite my ordeal, find myself agreeing with Fafara’s earlier assessment: I was beautiful.

***

After that day of healing and cleansing, life became real for me once again. I became aware of my surroundings as well as my companions. We were in the town of Delia. Fafara and Arafa were healers. Fafara was a master an Arafa was an apprentice. They had come across my broken body while making a trip back from a neighboring city. Ironically, I had not been far from civilization when I had collapsed.

Over the next two days, I was finally able to relate the story of what had happened to me and my beloved. We came from the north. We had decided to move south, in search of a new life, new knowledge. We had timed our trip thinking we would have found a new home by the time I was halfway through my hosting.

Unfortunately — fatally — we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Crossing over the desert at night, we had been attacked. I don’t know who it was. Marauding humans? Blood-thirsty hara? It was impossible to tell in the dark, not under those circumstances. The attack was an utter aberration, a rarity in these times, but it had taken my partner Ilana. he was killed before my very eyes, his throat severed, his chest slashed open with a knife even as he protected me.

They cut me in my middle as I screamed and hit them with my hands, kicked them with my feet. The pearl was first and foremost on my mind and the cut — there — was too much. Just an inch or two down and they would kill it. Fortunately they stopped just shy of it and with all the blood, it was easy to pretend I had been mortally wounded. I played dead. After a few minutes they ran off into the night.

I passed out on the desert sands. A few hours later, by the light of the moon, I resumed my journey south. I was too weak to do anything but kiss Ilana goodbye and pack a small bag of food and some water. I moved on for a day or so before collapsing. Too much sun, not enough food, and finally no water. By the time Arafa and Fafara found me, I had been baking in the sun for two days.

A few days into my stay, Arafa was sent out into the desert to collect Ilana’s body and the worldly goods left behind in our wagon. I had let the horses go. Fafara conducted a ceremony in the garden, and it was there that we burned my lover’s body on a pyre and laid down his ashes.

I missed Ilana. The loss was great. My heart was filled with love for him. Still, my new love for Fafara grew every day. Every day he bathed me, told me I was beautiful, gave me teas to keep me well, assured me that my pearl would be well. He would adopt my son, he told me, and I would stay with him in Delia.

For the first two weeks, we made love daily. Due to my condition, I was always ouana; either that or we simply touched, used our hands and lips. He was so gentle, so attentive, that I never felt my child was at risk. Still, when there was but one week left, Fafara advised me that we needed to stop. The vital essences and fluids must be conserved, he told me. We could share breath, but aruna would have to wait until after the birth.

***

Gradually, as my term neared its end, I began to feel uncomfortable. By the last week, my waist had grown thick and the twinges of pain came more and more often.

I was constantly tired. Fafara was forever carrying me to the couch or the bed and laying me down to rest.

I found that as I ate, my stomach was filled more quickly than it had before, the space apparently squeezed out by my growing pearl. Finally I lost my appetite altogether. I needed to eat, and so Fafara did his best to make it bearable. He brought me sweet berries and herb tea, crackers and nuts. He fed me as I lay back, feeling exhausted for what seemed like no good reason.

Every day he would take me into the garden. He wanted to teach me about herbs, the special healing medicines that could be made from the plenty of the earth. I would sit on a bench and watch as he watered and trimmed and laid the cut herbs out to dry. When I was not too tired, I would accompany him in his mixing room and watch as he and Arafa prepared their medicines.

It was a new world for me, but I felt as comfortable in it as if I had lived there all my life.

Chapter 8

I was standing in the garden when the time came. A twinge of pain and then another. I was accustomed to that. The muscles of the souma-lam were flexing. Another twinge and then, all of a sudden, there was a different feeling. I was being torn in half.

I practically fell over as I latched on to Fafara’s shoulder’s and groaned in utter agony.

“It is time,” he said, dropping his tools and reaching to support me with his arms.

The pain was unlike anything I had expected. The earlier twinges were nothing compared to this. This felt more akin to the knife wound. By the time we reached the house, I was panting, out of breath, and gritting my teeth.

I weakened quickly. Fafara picked me up and carried me to my bedroom. On the way he called out ot Arafa to make preparations. Clean hot water, dry soft cloth, and herbs were all brought in as I lay on the bed, curled in a ball, not knowing how I was to cope.

As a healer, Fafarar had much experience in delivery. He forced me to pull out of my curl and lay on my back, propped up against the pillows.

My forehead was heavy with sweat as the pain tore through me. Arafa wiped my brow with a cloth as Fafara talked me through it. I needed to relax, he instructed. I was fighting against the pearl and I needed to stop, to open up and let it out into the world, to give it its freedom. Visualize it moving down and down, he said, and it would come to pass.

Despite all of this, the birth was a struggle for me. My breath was ragged and I tore at Fafara in frustration, now and again batting away Arafa’s hands as he tried to wipe away my sweat or give me a soothing touch. For long periods, I wouldn’t feel as if I were making any progress, that the birth would go on forever or that my child would never come. Then I would feel the pearl shift, moving downward, and a fresh wave of pain would rip through my embattled body.

Arafa served me tea as the hours went by. I kept drinking it until finally he offered and I had to refuse. It was time.

I drew my breath in hard and fast. The pearl was on its way. I had already been undressed. The passage of my soume-lam had been opened, pressed aside by the pearl, almost to the mouth, I could feel it, and finally my ouana-lim withdrew. I was soume and ready for birth.

“Breathe out very slowly,” Fafara whispered, “and simply let it come.”

My muscles flexed and I felt the parting, a ring of fire, and for a moment I felt fear, but then I saw the glistening black ball emerging from the folds and I knew the pain was nearly at an end.

“Let it come, let it come,” Fafara repeated, and then finally it came. Gently pushing, I delivered the pearl into his waiting hands. I felt my soume-lam shift back into position, eased of their burden.

Fafara said a blessing and brought the pearl to a side table, where he washed it and examined it for life. Arafa looked on attentively. For the first time since the day I had awoken in Delia, I felt myself tense with worry. Had the pearl been damaged? Every second my rescuers were at the table, my worry grew.

At last Fafara returned, precious delivery in his strong hands. He told me to lay on my side and I did. He placed the pearl on the bed. I curled around it, incubating it with the warmth of my body. A thick blanket was drawn over me and my nakedness.

Fafara leaned over and kissed me before speaking. “The pearl is healthy, Dera. Rest easy.”

I fell asleep. When I awoke, Fafara was sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed. I lifted the blanket and saw my pearl had nearly doubled in size and the skin had toughened as it should.

“You survived,” he announced softly, smiling sweetly.

A week later, while all three of us watched in wonder, the pearl cracked open and out from the shell emerged a mewling but healthy harling. I named him Ilafa, after Ilana and Arafa and Fafara. To me, he would always be my pearl, my precious pearl.

The End 

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