That Was Then, This Is Now

That Was Then, This Is Now
by Wendy Darling (Wiebke)

Story Notes

4th out of 5 segments in the Rescued Lives series (Deliverance, Obstacle Course, Ripening Fruit, That Was Then, This is Now, Generation Gap).

Characters
All original characters (main characters Dera, Fafa, other hara and harlings), with concepts, vocabulary, etc., borrowed from Storm Constantine.

Spoilers
Obviously the previous stories, Deliverance, Obstacle Course, and Ripening Fruit. 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

I closed the door and heaved a sigh of relief. My workroom was empty and it seemed I would be afforded at least a couple of hours time to get back to work.

My orders were falling behind and the cabinets and counters were slipping into a state of disarray. Managing my business was providing more difficult than I had imagined.

It wasn’t simply the volume of business or the fact that Ilafa was on vacation. No, the problem I faced was one of timing.

First, my little Adelna was in the middle of his Feybraiha. Just as with Ilafa and all my sons, I’d been spending hours taking care of him, offering whatever comforts his tormented body desired — medicinal teas, salves, baths, massages. That afternoon had been particularly hard on him and I’d spent an hour simply forcing him to stop scratching at himself and then another hour getting him undressed and settling him into a bath. By the time I was through, not only was he almost asleep, but so was I.

I hadn’t been able to rest, however, because afterward, when I went by Dera’s workroom, I caught him listing on his chair, half-asleep. Our pearl was only two weeks along, but already I could see that his energy was being drained. I personally had no such troubles during my hostings but as with his first time, Dera seemed to be having difficulty coping with the particular demands of the pearl.

Telling him to give up work, I had carried him outside to a hammock under the trees and told him to have a nap. We’d shared breath for just a moment and I’d given him what must have been the last of my remaining strength, for afterward, as I rose to go, I was feeling even more exhausted. I had almost gone for a nap but I had my business to tend to.

I took a seat on my stool and pulled over my in box to see what orders had arrived. There were two orders for medicines that could be prepared that day and I laid these aside. It was then that I saw it.

A letter, apparently dropped off by our housekeeper while I was attending my wards.

A beige envelope with my name on it, and not just my name, but my full name, the name I never used.

Not anymore.

Fafara Dishtana Radanash.

With trembling hands, I picked up the letter. My name… in familiar handwriting. It was– Oh, no, it couldn’t be! But it was–

I slid a long nail under the seal and opened it with almost scientific caution. Inside, a folded piece of paper. I took it between my fingers and pulled it out.

I opened it and turned the words to face me. As soon as I saw the endearment, let alone the first line, I knew my plans of working that afternoon were through.

Fafarandash,

It is I, Tishrana. I’m sure you never thought you would hear from me again. You thought me dead. I was not.

Please, do not be angry with me. Do not be hurt that I am only now telling you. My absence has surely been a matter of supreme difficulty for you.

I am presently in our old hometown, Ferenga. I came here as soon as I was able and once again beheld our beautiful sons. I regret that I was not able to be a parent to them.

Immediately I asked for you. I was told you had moved away years ago and begun a new life with a new partner. I will be spending a week here in Ferenga and then I will arrive in Delia with your son Ilafa and our grandson — to think we have a grandson! — Ilam.

All will be explained to you. Do not believe that I wanted to be parted. I did not! I pray you will be willing to hear my story.

With the love you always knew,
Tishrana

Never in my life, except perhaps at the moment of what I had thought was Tishrana’s death, had I been so shocked. My brain processed the words but for a few moments they were mere symbols, devoid of meaning. I stared at the paper, waiting for my emotions to kick back in. What did I feel? What did it mean?

Suddenly I felt it. The power and pain of memory rolled over me like a giant ocean wave, and I felt myself pulled under.

There I stood, at the edge of the canyon that seemed to have no bottom. Overheard a heavy rain fell and the ground beneath my feet was washing away — just like the ground that had once been beneath Tishrana’s feet. That ground was gone, gone down the cliffside, and the canyon had grown wider.

Tishrana was dead, swallowed by the forces of the wild earth, so enormous and so lacking in compassion. He had been walking in front of me on our way back to our camp when suddenly I saw him fall, fall so quickly and so far I did not see where he landed. I heard him scream and I felt his soul cry out to me. Then there was silence. He was gone.

I stared at the letter, life rushing back, my heart beating, my lungs breathing. He was alive. He was coming to see me. What on earth was I going to do?

Chapter 2

I have long prided myself on being the strong one. Dera, I know, has always relied on me. When I lost our pearl, he felt that I was the stronger of us, that he was too weak to handle it.

But now, faced with this shattering bit of news, my strength evaporated until there was nothing left and I was left shivering, shuddering and finally, sobbing. I don’t know how long it was that I sat in my workroom simply weeping. I had to put the letter on the counter to protect it from my tears. I had to climb off my stool and sit on the floor.

How could it be? How was he alive? Could he really be coming back to me? What was that going to do to me? What was that going to do to my family? It was too much, too much, and for every question that pounded in my head, I heaved another sob.

Gradually I exhausted my grief. By that time I lay on the floor thinking quieter thoughts. I realized my face had swollen and my work orders were still behind. Time had passed and–

I heard someone whimpering. Adelna. Grabbing the letter, I ran down the hall into the bathroom. He was half-sitting in the bath, tears streaming down his face.

“Where were you?” he cried. He was shaking as he flung his arms around me. “I woke up and I was alone. I called for you to come but you didn’t hear me. Why didn’t you hear me? Dede–”

“Is asleep,” I heard myself say, patting down my child’s wet hair. He was nearly an adult but Feybraiha had thrown his emotions completely out of balance.

I tried to come up with an explanation. “He was tired and I was– I was…” I didn’t know what to tell him. Surely he was not ready for the truth, not at that moment. Besides, I had to tell Dera first. “I was very deep in concentration,” I lied.

He pulled back and stared at me, disbelieving.

“I was in another place,” I explained, delivering a statement which was more truthful. “I did not hear you. If I had, I would have come at once.”

He pressed his face into my hair again and squeezed me tight. “I’m sorry I’m so upset, it’s just that– that–”

“I know, Ada, I know…” I soothed. I gathered him in my arms and walked down the hall towards his bedroom.

As I turned the corner, I saw Dera coming in from outside. He eyed me with curiosity.

“Oh, Fafa, I’m sorry you’ve had to trouble yourself,” he apologized. “I should have been there to help you, I–”

“It’s all right,” I said. “Please just tell Kardaram to prepare dinner out in the garden. Dinner for two,” I emphasized.

Dera gave me a long look and I could see he was trying to read me. My reddened eyes no doubt gave much away. “All right,” he said warily. He could sense something was not right. His eyes went to the letter I clutched in my hand.

“I’ll see you there,” he said, moving away towards the kitchen.

I took my bundle into his bedroom, where I dried him, dressed him, and put him into his bed. “Sleep, Ada,” I told him, trying to be gentle despite my impatience. “I must talk to your father. If you grow hungry, please see Kardaram. I will return later on tonight.”

Adelna nodded and turned onto his side, pushing himself towards a sleep that was unlikely to come easily.

I left the room, pushing myself towards a conversation that was going to be even harder going.

Chapter 3

As I crossed the garden to the spot where Kardaram had set up dinner, I was terrified. What was I going to say? How would Dera react? I hadn’t had any time to examine my emotions, let alone formulate a way to communicate them with the one who was closest to me.

Dera was sitting at the table looking slightly nervous. Again his eyes went to the letter in my hand, which I set in the center of the table as I sat down. Kardaram had already had something ready, and so almost immediately our meal was served. Dera’s eyes went to the piece of paper, which I had folded, and then up to my face.

“What is it, Fafa?” he asked. Such a simple question, but the answer was beyond me.

“After dinner,” I said. “First we must eat.”

We ate our food without relish, without speaking. I had difficulty facing him and kept glancing around the garden. Every time my eyes would return to my partner, his eyes were either on the letter or on me. He ate quickly.

Slowly and deliberately, he picked up the letter.

“May I?” he asked.

I didn’t answer him, but simply watched as he unfolded the sheet of paper and began to read. As soon as he got through the first line, he froze and stared at me.

“No,” he said, barely making a sound.

I nodded slowly. “Yes.”

Hand over his mouth, he kept reading. I saw him rereading several lines and very slightly, nodding. Once he had finished, he kept his focus away from me. He must have been thinking and the thoughts must have been unpleasant. He made a face and his hand went to his stomach.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” he said, and then, without warning, he leaned over to the side as his body choked up every bit of Kardaram’s carefully prepared dinner.

I was aghast. What had I done? I should have realized that the shock would be too great, that I needed to have a gentle way of letting him know the news, but no, I’d let him read the letter for himself with no preamble, no explanation, no warning. And now he had gone pale and was sliding out of his chair in a near faint.

I scooped him up and rushed him into our bedroom.

“Oh, Dera, Dera,” I sobbed, “I didn’t mean to tell you like that, I didn’t mean to have you–” My words were choked with tears. I hadn’t cried that much in a very long time, not since the miscarriage — and pray that this was not another one.

I lay Dera on the bed and ran to get him a glass of water. I dried my tears with a towel and came back to bed. Dera had slipped under the covers and was huddled into a ball.

I sat on the bed beside him and tilting his head, pressed the glass of water to his lips. “I’m sorry, Dera. I– I just got it. It came this afternoon.”

I ran my hand over his stomach. “I hope you’re alright. I shouldn’t have shocked you like that but it’s just that I don’t know what to think, I don’t know what to feel. I can’t believe he’s alive…”

Words ran out. I lay down and stared at the ceiling. “It’s like a dream but at the same time, it’s a nightmare. What could have happened to him? Where has he been? Is he angry with me?”

When there was only silence, I had to ask, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, just let me rest a bit and think about this.”

The room was silent again for a minute or two.

Finally I felt Dera stir beside me. “He’s not angry with you,” he said quietly, his voice seeming to come from a far away place.

I turned my head. “He’s not?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “He’s not. He loves you and I think he’s writing because he wants to make thing right, wants to–”

“Dera!” I interrupted. “How can you be saying this? A few minutes ago, you were so upset you were sick! Aren’t you still? I mean, I thought — we all thought — he was gone, and now he’s back! What if he wants–”

“He won’t,” Dera said, sounding suprisingly calm. “I was sick before, it’s true, but it was just the shock — that and this pearl, which as you know, affects me rather more than I’d like. Anyway, you’ve told me all about him, don’t forget. He loves you but in a Wraeththu way, not a possessive way. He’s not going to–”

This time I interrupted him. “But that’s not what I’m saying! I’m saying what if he expects things from me? Am I supposed to be the same? What about the family you and I have made? How is he going to feel about that? And am I supposed to take him in, to be with him?”

The interrogatives piled up. I wasn’t even talking to Dera anymore, I was babbling. Dera sensed this and slipped out from under the covers. Standing up, he touched me on the cheek. “Go to sleep.”

It was the perfect advice — not because of how I felt afterwards, because as I’ll relate shortly, I awoke in quite a state — but for the simple fact that as soon as I had permission, my questions ceased. My thoughts stopped dead. My emotions froze. And I felt asleep. Call it a reflex, call it proof of Dera’s power of me, but I dropped off to sleep almost immediately.

And then I dreamed.

Chapter 4

I was back in Ferenga. I was riding on a horse and in my hand I had the lead for another horse, a horse with no rider.

This had happened. Twenty years before, I had lost my beloved. I came back to town and the townfolk ran up to me. My children asked me, “Where’s Tishrana?” I could not answer. I was barely awake. I had ridden for days practically without stopping. I had not eaten. When the horses stopped outside my house, they had to help me off. I fell into their arms.

In the dream I lived these moments again only there were changes. I could not speak, but in my mind there was a thought pounding desperately through my mind, clamoring to get out. I wanted to tell them about Tishrana. “Go back and rescue him!” I wanted to scream. “He’s still alive!”

At the time, at the real time, when it actually happened, I had not known. I had searched for a body, but it was impossible. He was gone done the canyon, and there was no getting him back. Here in the dream, however, I struggled to save him. Oh, if only I could speak. No one would help me, no one cared. They tried to soothe me but I only struggled. Oh, please, if they would only save him!

My children were crying as they performed a ceremony of mourning. I sat in a chair, still too shocked to speak and still unable to voice my plea, the one thing in the world that mattered. Tishrana was alive! We didn’t need to grieve. My children didn’t need to think him dead. The five children I had hosted, to whom he was a father. The two he had hosted himself. All grieving and it was not necessary, it simply was not necessary!

That went for everything that had happened. Once I had come out my shock, I had tried to put my life in order. I had taken care of the children, watched over as the last two children went through their Feybraiha. I settled things with Tishrana’s relatives. And then, at last, when it was all done, I left. I had decided I wanted a new start. I went to Delia.

In the dream, I was leaving Ferenga on my horse, another horse at my side. This time the horse had a rider. It was Dera. “Why are you here?” I asked him. “Where is Tishrana?” He stared at me. “Tishrana is dead,” he said. “No!” I screamed, dropping the lead and galloping away. I had to escape, had to find somewhere where the questions would stop, where I could have things as they were supposed to be.

I awoke to find Dera shaking me by the shoulders. “Wake up! Wake up!”

He smiled and reached over to a steaming cup of tea, which he offered. I straightened up so I could drink it. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled. “I was having a bad dream.”

“I know,” he said, tipping the tea to my mouth so I could drink it. “It was about Tishrana.”

How did he know? “I heard you say his name,” he answered me, knowing my thoughts. “It’s alright, Fafa, to be vulnerable. You work so hard to be strong, but it’s alright. I’ll take care of you.”

I took in the tea and noted that it was infused with a special blend that would let me sleep for an hour to two — with dreams that remained in the light, avoiding the darkness.

“You don’t have to do anything,” he said. “Everything will be taken care of. I will see to Adelna. He’s my son, too. You must sleep and stop worrying. I will return later tonight. Just remember: For all this fear you feel, you love him.”

Taking the cup away, he pressed his lips to mine. “I love you, too” he said.

After he left, I slept. An hour or two later, I awoke to find Dera beneath the covers, naked, wrapped around me like a vine. When I stirred, he pulled me closer and began to nuzzle my neck. I did not struggle. I knew what he wanted and, feeling better, I knew what I wanted as well.

He pulled back the blankets for better access and quickly my clothes were gone. I felt his fingers slide through my hair, felt his palms as they smoothed over my cheekbones, across my chest, and then down to my loins. I was soume, both in body and mind, and what perfection it was to feel his body slipping over and then into mine.

I lay passive, accepting all the pleasure he had to give, letting it permeate through every cell and obliterate the bad, the doubts, the fears. This was nothing but good. He blossomed inside of me and I was in a pleasurable haze, his mouth to mine, my hands digging into his shoulders as I clung to him, my grip tighter with every thrust until finally I screamed, he screamed, and the world seemed to come crashing down. We had been one, but now we were separate, tangled on the bed, sweaty and sated.

Chapter 5

In the morning, finding Dera curled in my arms, I found it strange how little had changed. The news of the previous day seemed distant, an event in last week’s paper. Not that I wasn’t still shocked, but it was as if all my feelings had been sealed up somewhere where I couldn’t get at them — and they couldn’t get at me. I knew Tishrana would be arriving in two or three days and that on that day, my emotions would return.

Until then, life went on.

There were a few changes instigated by Dera. He insisted on becoming more responsible for Adelna. I had been working too hard, he told me, and besides, I shouldn’t allow him to fall into the role of of a weakling. Later on in the hosting, he would truly need my support, he said, but at two weeks he should be healthy and strong, able to handle his share of responsibility. He had taken excellent care of Ilafa during his Feybraiha, after all.

I had a talk with Adelna. I’d never really discussed Tishrana much, not with my son. We had been together so long before his time I never felt it was necessary. I although thought perhaps it would be difficult for him to imagine me being with someone other than Dera, even though he had, on many an occasion, met my other children and even grandchildren. I was glad that he was not too apprehensive about meeting him.

Dera had known about Tishrana from the beginning. I had told him the tale shortly after we two had met. It was one of the things that drew us closer. Like Dera, I too had known the pain of loss through random circumstance, the pain when one’s mate is gone forever. The two of us had learned to overcome our grief. It was only now that I learned that mine had been misplaced. Now my love was coming back from the dead.

I tried to imagine what sort of story he would tell me. Had he been taken prisoner? Had he made a life for himself at the bottom of that canyon? All I knew was that I thought him dead. I briefly imagined something fantastic — perhaps he’d been reincarnated or given a new body like the Tigron Pellaz. After all, unlike the Tigron Calanthe, I had never actually seen his body. I had imagined he was dead and at the time it seemed likely. What on earth had happened to him?

I half-feared that once he arrived, the har would be someone I did not recognize, that it would all be a misunderstanding or a horribly cruel joke. However, when the afternoon came and I heard the sound of horses at the garden gate and looked up to see the tall, red-headed rider, I knew it was no impostor. It was he.

Ilafa and Ilam were with him, but I barely saw them, even as they embraced me. No, my eyes were only for Tishrana. Without a word, Ilafa took Adelna away into the house; with a silent thought, I told him to ask Dera to come outside.

It was only when they had gone that Tishrana dismounted and tied up his horse. He was very tall with hair that flowed incredibly, past his waist, so that it seemed a living creature. His cheeks were pale as ever, his eyes the same fierce blue. Of course he had not aged, not in body, but immediately I knew that inside he had felt, just as I had, the passage of the years.

He moved towards me slowly, a pack slung over one shoulder, eyes roaming my body with such strength it almost felt like a touch. It was then that it all became too much. This was the moment that was impossible but possible. I flung myself at him, without an ounce of shame, without hesitation, with sobs of joy and pain.

My first words to him could have been better chosen, but as I wept into his hair, as we embraced each other like two figures drowning in the sea, I could not help but voice my thought.

“All those years,” I choked, “I thought you were dead!”

“No, Fafa, no,” he soothed. His voice was sad. “I was not dead.”

His hands slipped to my shoulders and as he pulled out of embrace. I saw him glance over his shoulder. “Your partner,” he said.

I saw Dera coming down the steps, all dressed in green and looking very feminine. Looking back to Tishrana, I saw a resemblance that had somehow never occurred to me. Tishrana was taller and Dera’s nose was much finer, but they both had beautiful auburn hair, smooth fair skin, and feminine looks that draped over the steel of their strong, har bodies.

I reached out my hand as Dera approached. “Dera,” I introduced, “this is Tishrana.”

Dera inclined his head in acknowledgement. “I have heard much about you.”

“I can imagine,” Tishrana replied.

By silent accord we all took seats around a small table. I sat in the chair nearest Tishrana, with Dera sitting off to the side as if he knew of my desire — how could he not? — to be as close as possible to him whom I had lost.

Tishrana continued. “But if you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you what really happened to me.”

Dera and I both leaned towards him.

“For twenty years, I was dead.”

Chapter 6

“You are not dead!” I retorted. I didn’t understand where he was going with this game, but I didn’t like it.

Tishrana nodded. “True, true,” he said. “But I what I just said is, ‘I was dead.'”

What did it all mean? “I thought you were dead…” I murmured, looking into his shining and very alive green eyes.

“I was dead,” he assured me, “but not in the way you mean.”

I gave him a desperate look. Meanwhile Dera leaned forward and spoke. “In what way then, do you mean?”

He answered us both. “I mean that I died. I fell down that canyon and I was never the same.”

Again, I was worried by the same suspicion I’d had when I’d first received the letter. “It… wasn’t like it was with the Tigron Pellaz, was it? You didn’t get a new body through some magic or–”

“Oh, nothing like that,” Tishrana interrupted. “It was much less a physical death as as… death of the spirit.” His voice came to a dead stop as he stepped up to the revelation. “I lost my memory, Fafara.”

He waited for a few moments for the impact of his words to sink in. “I was injured in other ways, of course,” he said, resuming his story. “I fell quite a way’s down that canyon. There were many, many broken bones.”

I felt a lump in my throat. “If I’d only found you, I could have healed you.”

Tishrana nodded. “I know, Fafarandash, I know.” It struck me again, that name he had for me. He was the only one who had ever used it. “However, at the time, I didn’t know — I just didn’t know, didn’t remember. I was alone and all I knew was pain. Pain and blood and pain and blood and hunger.”

“But someone found you,” Dera softly suggested.

“Yes, some local hara,” he said.

“Did they heal you?” I had to ask.

Tishrana’s eyes flicked away from mine and then back. “My body was healed — not as quickly as you could have, but well enough.”

Suddenly he bent over in his chair and flipped his hair down away from his neck. He fingered an enormous scar that extended up over the back of his head. “Not all wounds were healed, however. The real problem came from this and some other blows to the head — the way it affected my mind.”

“You didn’t know who you were,” I said.

“I didn’t know anything,” Tishrana corrected me. “I had the powers of Ulani but I didn’t remember caste training or what I might have once done with those powers. How had I been incepted? What was my tribe? How had I been injured? Did I have a family? Children? I didn’t know.”

I had to break eye contact as he said this, because underneath his every word I heard the silent admission: “I did not remember you.”

I am a healer. I understand what injury can do to the mind. I am dispassionate — or I would have been, only this time it was my heart at stake. I had not been missed. It was not his fault. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t good enough. Still, after all those years, after the grieving I had done, after the upheaval in my life, the nightmares I had suffered, and the love I still felt in my heart for this creature, to know that he had not experienced feelings in kind? It made me want to weep.

Of course now he remembered me and just as before, he knew my thoughts. “My old life was gone and no, I did not remember you. But I did dream, Fafarandash, I did dream.” I finally looked up and he smiled at me, wistfully, tentative. “I had dreams about a black-haired har with gleaming green eyes.”

The impact of these words was like the full force of a waterfall crashing down from above.

“The dreams only started to come starting about five years ago, at least as far as remembering them. Still, for months and months, I never knew who you were, that it was you. I couldn’t connect a name or place.

“Finally, however, the dreams bloomed, grew stronger, and it was like my memories were slowly seeping back into my conscious mind. Then one day I woke up from a dream and I knew your name. I knew my name as well. That was three months ago and here I am — and that is no dream.”

Chapter 7

There was more, of course. Tishrana spoke of the harrowing journey he’d undertaken to find me and his final arrival in Ferenga, where he’d been disappointed, if not surprised, to find that I had gone. He had seen our harlings grown — with children of their own — and, with sadness, realized the many milestones he had missed over the years. It was from our sons that he learned of my whereabouts and the fact that I had committed myself to another.

Of his own doings during his separation, he did not relate much. Through some trick of fate, he had managed to fall into the same profession he had practiced in his previous life, working as a traveling bookseller and publisher. He had moved from city to city, never settling down for more than a year or two. He did not mention taking a partner.

It was because of this that I found myself feeling nervous. Of the two of us, it seemed that he had drawn the shorter of the two straws. I had grieved and faced raising our family on my own, but once that was over with, I had started a new life and even a new family. Dera was sitting right there with us. What would Tishrana think of my new relationship?

We were supposed to be above men, but I could still feel that fear, the fear that he would be jealous or angry or betrayed. He had not said a word to that effect, but the possibility flickered like a specter in the corners of my mind.

He was just coming to the end of his tale — my nervous tension just coming to a climax — when the sound of an angry voice flew out of the house. Adelna, obviously in the throes of a terrible argument with his brother.

Dera shot out of his seat. “Feybraiha can produce some very foul tempers,” he announced abruptly. “Excuse me, but parenthood calls.” I noticed his hand on his stomach as he walked away.

When I glanced back to Tishrana I saw his eyes had gone to the same place. “He is hosting your pearl?”

“Yes,” I answered, feeling awkward as the tension threatened to overcome me.

“And the young one I was told is enduring the Feybraiha?” he continued, prodding me into territory I wanted to avoid. “You are his hostling?”

I nodded. What was he trying to find out? Was he making a tally of my betrayals? I wished I could wave my hand, stop time from moving forward. I didn’t like where the conversation was going.

“And the last son, Ilafa?”

I was more comfortable with this question. “He is Dera’s child,” I answered. “His father was killed.”

Tishrana nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “So he told me. Now–”

I couldn’t stand it. I broke in. “About Dera–” I began, stammering. “I hope… I hope that you don’t think–”

Tishrana’s eyes were on me as I tried to voice my fears, but I was so frightened I couldn’t read them. I couldn’t continue speaking.

With catlike grace, he slipped out of his chair and into my lap. His armed wrapped around me and he buried his face in my hair, his own mane draping around my shoulders. “Oh, Fafa, hush,” he whispered. “I can see you’re frightened.”

I shivered. To have him so near to me, alive, speaking to me so intimately, brought back a flood of memories.

He began stroking my hair. “You’re frightened that I am angry with you, that I am offended with your choices.” He pulled away and took my face in his hands. “I am not.” And then, taking a deep, slow breath, he dipped his lips to mine. For the first time in twenty years, we shared our souls.

The tide of memories rose and I found myself lost in the essence of him, the taste of him, the feel of him, and above all the love of him. It was a love I had not felt fully in years; it had had no outlet. When you love someone who is gone, the love goes out but it finds no connection. Now I felt the love passing into him through our breath and what’s more, I felt his love returning to me.

The spirit moved me and my arms twined around his back and deliberately I rose from my seat, lifting him with me and then shifting down to the ground. I wanted to lie with him at full length, to press myself against him, to know that he was real, to feel every emotion which we had been denied.

His lips left my mouth and began to roam — to my ears, to my cheeks, under my chin, and then down my neck. A shock of desire rushed to my loins as I realized I wanted him just as badly as he seemed to want me.

For moment, I hesitated. How could I jump into this so quickly, so rashly, right in the middle of my own yard? But then I felt it, a feeling inside of me. Not quite a voice, but something like a command: Do it!

Whether the order came from within myself or from someone else, I could not discern, but neither could I refuse. All at once, we assaulted one another, tearing at one another’s clothing, all the while rolling away from the table and into the high grass, behind the bushes, where some part of our minds knew we would not be seen.

Thinking of it now, I can see how far gone I was, how wholly unconscious I was in my passion. I had been so full of fear and then in three simple words — “I am not” — I had been put at ease. From there, I had been ignited by an old flame. Our aruna was fast and furious, both of us so impatient to get close, wrestling for position, until finally I was soume and he entered into me to flower. Our cries filled the air as we soared to a climax I had never thought I would obtain again, not with him. From the ashes had arisen a blazing fire.

Chapter 8

Our cries. For all the passion we had shared, I felt myself suddenly slammed down to earth. What if Dera had heard? What if anyone had heard? My heart landed with a thud.

I was slick with sweat as I maneuvered out from under Tishrana and struggled back into my clothes. I certainly had lost myself in the moment.

“I must get back,” I said. My anxiety was returning. First I had been anxious about revealing my new life and now I was anxious about revealing my old life. The juxtaposition was one I did not know how to reconcile. Was it possible for these two lives to exist on the same plane?

“I understand,” Tishrana assured me, lying on his side as he watched me button up my shirt. “As I said, I am not angry with you. I understand.” He reached out and put his hand on my thigh. “Go to them.”

I was still anxious — what was I going to say to my family once I got inside? — but simply to know that one side of the equation was settled gave me hope.

“You will be here when I return?” I asked.

He smiled and laughed. “Yes, Fafa, how could I leave now?”

I stood and ran my hands through my hair, putting it in order. “Yes, especially when you’re still naked.” Where was this sense of humor coming from? Probably my nerves.

Inside, I approached Adelna’s room. The door was closed. Slowly I turned the handle and peaked inside. The curtains had been drawn and the room was lit with scented candles. I smelled the herbal brew I had prepared for my harling that morning. I saw his shape swathed in blankets, his auburn hair tousled but still as he slept, calmed into dreams, hopefully happy ones.

I closed the door and stepped back into the hall. I passed by Ilafa’s old room and, the door open, I saw him with Ilam, looking out the window, talking quietly.

I passed on to the end of the hall, where the master bedroom door stood closed.

I took a deep shaky breath. Here I was, trying to plant my foot solidly on the other shore, to bind my lives together. I prayed Dera had not heard the sounds from the garden.

I opened the door. Again, the curtains had been drawn and the only light was from candles, white and pure. On the bed, Dera lay comfortably on his side, one hand resting on his hip. He certainly did not look angry.

“Come here,” he entreated, using his silent voice. I came over and sat on the end of the bed. Did he know what I had done?

“I know,” he said, again speaking mind to mind. “I heard you.” When I immediately tensed, his hand sought out mine. “Don’t worry, Fafa.”

I was baffled. Why was no one making any sense? I kept thinking there would be jealousy but so far none had appeared.

“You heard?” I asked, stupidly. I truly couldn’t understand the lack of anger.

He nodded and rolled onto his back. “Not only that, but I made you do it,” he said softly, staring up at the ceiling.

“You.. you WHAT?” This was not happening!

“You hesitated,” he explained, “and I was connected enough to you to sense it. I made you go on.”

His silent command: Do it! Maybe it was getting to be time for a caste-raising ceremony.

“I enjoyed hearing it,” he continued. “It makes me happy to know you and Tishrana have come together and reconciled and that the love has been rekindled.”

Dera tugged on my wrist and pulled on me until I slipped onto the bed beside him. He told me more. “He is very important to you, Fafa. I can understand this. I don’t expect your feelings to have died, especially now that you know that he did not.”

He took me in his arms and the love I felt pouring from him was simply too incredible. How could this possibly be happening? What would be more improbable?

I received the answer to the last question almost immediately. “In fact,” Dera continued, “I was thinking about it and I think what might be really nice, what you would really enjoy, is to have both of us at the same time.”

That certainly jolted me. I pulled myself up to study his face and again, uttered the single interrogative. “WHAT?”

His look was playful. “Shocked, are we?”

“‘Shocked’ isn’t quite the word,” I managed. “Maybe ‘confused’ would be more appropriate.”

Once again his hands reached out and pulled me down beside him. “Don’t be confused,” he said. “I love you.” He nuzzled my neck. “I would like to be with you. I would like us all to be together. It would be good for us… to get to know one another. Good healing.”

I had thought I’d known my love but I suppose there are always lurking secrets. Dera’s open mindedness was certainly one of them. Perhaps it was because he is pure-born that the suggestion had come so easily to him and that he had spoken of it so freely. I was Wraeththu, but still harboring the doubts of mankind. It was time to own up and be a true har.

“Then let us be together tonight,” I said, squeezing my love tight and then pressing my lips into his neck.

Chapter 9

When we came out of the house a few minutes later, Tishrana was in my garden, squatting down, fingering various herbs. As we approached, he looked up.

“I remember these,” he said, gesturing. “You and your garden.” He stood up and smiled at me warmly. “I couldn’t remember before, but now I can.”

We ambled over to the special outdoor room we liked to use for private talks. Two years before, this was where Dera and I had confronted Ilafa with the news of his coming Feybraiha. As we took seats around the table, all three of us seemed relaxed, ready for slightly less heady conversation.

Tishrana started us off. “So, Dera, how is the young one?”

Dera blinked and for a moment there was a strange look. “The young one?” he asked tentatively. “Do you mean… Adelna?”

“Oh, sorry, yes, that’s what I meant,” Tishrana apologized. He glanced down to Dera’s stomach. “I… I forgot you have another on the way.”

Dera beamed. “I do. If it hadn’t been on my mind so much, I probably would have known what you were talking about. I do find that hosting leaves me a trifle scatter-brained at times.”

“Speaking of which,” I prompted, “how is Adelna?”

“Not too well, actually,” Dera sighed.

“Oh, really?” Tishrana asked. A memory flashed through my mind, our trepidation as we dealt with the coming of age of our first child. We hadn’t known what to expect.

Dera nodded and looked at me plaintively. “To be perfectly honest, he’s miserable — and not just in a regular, run-of-the-mill sort of way. It’s worse. He got in a fight with his brother and now he’s angry, or at least he was until I drugged him and put him in bed.”

“A fight with Ilafa?” I asked. “Since when do they fight?”

“Since the Feybraiha,” Tishrana answered. “All the emotions grow to be so much stronger and the mind is possessed by–”

“No, Tishrana, this is something different,” Dera interrupted, taking the reins of the conversation once more. “While we were out front, Ilafa took Adelna to his bedroom and was trying to soothe him by talking with him. I guess he started to talk about the night of the Feybraiha and, specifically, about Arafa and more… details I think.”

I was greatly surprised. “Details? What kind of details?”

Dera shrugged. “Oh, details — intimate details. I can only imagine.”

I couldn’t. “Surely not… details. I mean, doesn’t he realize it should be more of a surprise, given that it’s the same person?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that in the course of this talk, Adelna dear got so worked up or should I say fed up hearing about Arafa that he decided he doesn’t want it to be him.”

I was aghast. “He is refusing Arafa?” I asked. It was difficult to believe. Arafa had been the natural choice for Ilafa and he’d worked out so well for us that as soon as Adelna’s time had come, we had chosen him again.

“Yes,” Dera answered, sounding irritated. “That’s what the fight was about and that’s what I had to deal with.”

“But you seemed so calm when I found you in our room!” God, and not only had he been calm, he had pushed for Tishrana and I to get closer and he’d also managed to entertain thoughts of all of us getting closer.

“Ah,” Dera chuckled. “Now that was because I had come up with a solution to the problem.”

Dera, it should be here noted, has a certain devilish look he gets in his eyes when he thinks he’s outsmarted me or done something especially clever. This devil was certainly present in his expression at that moment, as he gestured over to Tishrana with his eyes. And kept doing it. And doing it.

Tishrana. “You think Tishrana can talk some sense into him?” I burst out. Of all the crazy ideas!

Once again, Dera was chuckling, apparently at my expense. “No, that’s not what I meant,” he said. “I meant that if Adelna is going to be difficult and not accept Arafa, perhaps instead he could go with–”

“Me,” Tishrana interjected.

Chapter 10

Hara are not men. Emerging from the shell of humanity, Wraeththu forged their own ways, their own brand of morality. I’d gone through the change myself, going from boy to har, learning the mysteries of our race. So many old mores and prejudices had been left behind, old concepts that had become unnatural to me. Still, there were times when I was conscious that if I were a man, my life would be very different.

That moment, when Tishrana offered to take Adelna for his Feybraiha, was one such moment. As soon as the subject was broached, I felt a voice inside me say, “Men would never allow this.” Luckily there was also the stronger voice, the Wraeththu voice, which said, “This is the right thing.” I loved Tishrana and always had. If Adelna was going to say no to Arafa, then perhaps he would say yes to someone else, if given the option.

I agreed to the proposal immediately. Of course we discussed it. Tishrana and Adelna would need to meet; nothing would be finalized without mutual consent. During dinner there would be an informal introduction and we would have time to observe Adelna’s reactions. Afterward, that night or the next day, we could have a more formal meeting.

For his part Tishrana was confident he would be quite happy with Adelna, as any child of mine was “sure to be beautiful.” When I told him that Adelna took after his father in looks, Tishrana winked at Dera and said, “Oh, well, I’m sure that makes him doubly beautiful.” He always did had a flair for compliments.

Dinner that night was an awkward affair, at least at first. For the first ten minutes, Adelna was sulky and difficult. When we asked him what he wanted on his plate, he acted as if he hadn’t heard. Finally we loaded up his plate for him. When he didn’t eat, I called to Kardaram and whispered in his ear for him to bring a soothing drink, something spiked, to calm the young one down.

In the meantime Tishrana and Dera sat on either side of me, sparkling like jewels, dressed in green, their auburn hair shining, both of them evidently very happy to be with me. I must say that few things compare with having two lovers loving you at the same time and not hating one another. I’m sure I was glowing myself. Conversation was light and together with Ilafa and Ilam, we shared stories of family, travels, gossip from far-away Immannion.

We were all twittering away like a flock of noisy birds when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a pair of green eyes staring over to my other side. Adelna had come to his senses and was looking Tishrana over; there was no mistaking it. He bit his lip, gripped his fork hard, and feasted his eyes.

I could imagine what he was feeling. I’d never gone through Feybraiha myself, but I certainly knew lust, that feeling I felt as I lay after my Althaia awaiting the loss of my Wraeththu virginity. When he who was mine came before me, I had wanted him so badly it had hurt me, made me burn. I had torn his clothing and bit at him, I’d wanted him so much. Adelna hadn’t been told Tishrana was bound for him, but his body obviously wished it.

No one else had noticed the direction my eyes had taken, and so without a word, I slipped over to my son and took his hand. “Let’s go talk,” I whispered. With one more wistful glance at Tishrana, he followed me out of the room.

I took him into my office and motioned to the long couch along the wall. This was where I usually examined or had long talks with my patients. It was comfortable, if a bit worn. Adelna settled into it and sat looking up at me, that wistful longing expression still written across his face.

“So, Ada,” I began. “I see your mood has changed.”

“My mood?” he asked, all innocence.

“Yes, Ada. Dera told me about your… change of mind. Earlier?”

Immediately his expression darkened, his glance darting away into the corner. “Yes.”

“Well, don’t worry about that.”

His neck snapped back forward. “What?!”

I stepped over to the couch and crouched down. “I said don’t worry about that. You don’t have to… You don’t have to be with Arafa.”

It was difficult to read his expression. “I… don’t?”

I shook my head. “Not if you don’t want to.” I patted his knees. “And not if you have someone different in mind.”

“Someone different?” he chuckled. “I… I can’t believe you.”

“Believe it, Ada. If you like him… and I can see you do… then he is yours. He has already agreed.”

Sometimes even Wraeththu have a hard time believing how much room there is for love in our culture. Even pure-borns like my son.

“You’d let… you’d let him? You’d let me…” He wouldn’t say the words, wouldn’t say what was going to be allowed, but I got the message. “I mean, he’s… he’s the father of your… other children.”

I nodded. “True,” I said, “but that’s not material. What is material is that you like the way he looks and, hopefully, the way he treats you.” Again I patted his knee. “He’s very good, you know.”

Adelna blushed. “Oh, by Aghama, I can’t believe you’re telling me this.”

“I hosted five pearls for him, Ada. He really was something special.”

Chapter 11

I brought Adelna back into the dining room. Dera and Tishrana glanced at the two of us and, I’m sure, easily gleaned the nature of the talk in which we’d engaged. Adelna sat down and finished his dinner. For the most part, he kept his eyes focused on the food, but from time to time, his eyes darted over to steal glances at Tishrana.

After dinner there was a formal meeting, which occurred in the typical fashion. Adelna was embarrassed and afraid to appear too interested, although he quite obviously was. Tishrana did his best to be attractive and non-threatening, making jokes about how long it had been since he’d had the pleasure of taking part in the rites of Feybraiha. At the end, we had agreed on a date. Adelna was sent to take a bath and afterward Ilafa saw to it that he went to bed.

Finally it was quiet, and the three of us were sitting around the table. I remember looking from Dera to Tishrana and back again and thinking that quite possibly, I was the luckiest har on the planet. I think it was I who smiled first. Next it was Dera, who knew of certain plans. At last Tishrana followed along.

“This is a very cozy, happy group, isn’t it?” he chuckled.

I nodded slow and without a word, rose from my chair. Dera did the same. “Follow me,” I said, gesturing towards the door. Dera rose and followed behind. Tishrana must have hesitated a moment, but then he was following us down the hall and into the bedroom.

None of us even had to speak. We knew what was to be. Tishrana didn’t need it explained. It was the natural course of events and he, like all of us, enjoyed it as such.

Dera sat on the edge of the bed and watched as I approached Tishrana and began to strip off his clothing, piece by piece. Lean and strong his body was, with firm calves I couldn’t resist smoothing over with my hands as I slipped off his loose trousers. Just as earlier that day, I felt a zing through my tissues as my body relived the sensations of being in contact with that particular body — that skin, those eyes, that mind.

He came up behind me and kissed my neck, pressing his loins into my back. Gently he pushed me forward towards the bed so that I stood before Dera, who reached out and with practiced grace, removed my shirt, my skirts, my bangled bracelets, my sandals.

Tishrana and I were naked and soon, so was Dera, who we laid down in the center of the bed. It seemed that Tishrana and I were meant to be joined through Dera’s body. I would take his mouth, Tishrana would trail kisses all around his body, and then we would switch.

Dera was moaning, gasping, crying out, and the two of us pressed around him on both sides, flesh against flesh. His body was soume, wanting so very much to receive from us both, but given his condition, it was not possible, and so Tishrana and I simply worked at being soume ourselves until Dera became dominant, the lion wielding his strength and issuing a mighty roar.

I felt Tishrana shudder in my arms as Dera took him to the climax, and Tishrana felt my own shudder as Dera did the same for me. By Aghama, it was pure heaven, and again, I think I may have been the luckiest har on the planet.

Chapter 12

By the time of Adelna’s Feybraiha, everyone except the harling came to know Tishrana quite well. Although we did take our meals together as a family, we tried to keep contact between the two of them to a minimum. This, we knew, would heighten the level of anticipation and bring Adelna to the point where he was desperate to know Tishrana in every possible sense.

He and I spent long hours talking. Reconstructing two decades took time for both of us. I caught him up with the lives of our children while he passed along information on the various tribes he had encountered in his travels. I was pleased to learn that during those years on his own he had undergone some caste training and was now at my level, Algomalid. When had known him before he had been a Pyrilist and although I’d never told him so, I’d always wanted him to be more.

Dera’s attitude never wavered. He would let me be with with Tishrana in any fashion I desired, refusing to feel threatened by any sort of intimacy in which we might engage. I think the fact that we all slept in the same bed kept him feeling reassured. He knew I would not leave him, that there was room enough in my heart for both my loves.

As preparations for the Feybraiha progressed, Tishrana helped the two of around the house, taking care of details which not receiving adequate attention. I had patients and potions that needed attending, while Dera had a large number of jewelry orders and was trying to finish them before the celebration and more to the point, before the birth of our pearl.

Two days before the celebration, Adelna approached me and asked if we could talk. His discomforts had all gone by that time and he had taken on a new, more adult beauty. He looked very much like Dera and because of the auburn hair, vaguely like Tishrana as well.

We went out to the garden, finding a spot blocked off by bushes, out of sight of the house. He was still feeling awkward with his body and I could tell he was nervous. There was no doubt in my how the conversation would proceed.

“So tell me, Ada,” I began gently, “what is it that you wanted to talk about?”

Predictably, he cast his eyes down in embarrassment. “You know,” he mumbled.

“Hmmm?” I prompted. He was blushing. To me it was somewhat amusing given what Wraeththu are. Why should he be so embarrassed by his nature? Still, I knew that for him, the feelings were real, and so I led the conversation where it needed to go. “Your Feybraiha?”

He nodded. “Yes, actually.” He would say no more.

I had to take control. “Well, so it’s in two days. Everything’s already arranged, as you know. We’ve discussed the decorations — this room will be redone, just as we redid Ilafa’s — and the guest list and the ceremonies and the food. Now whatever could you be worrying yourself about?”

Finally he looked up at me. “Oh, Fafa… you know!”

This time I wouldn’t take the bait. I was going to make him voice it out. He’d stalled enough.

“I… I worry about the night, what will happen.” His eyes darted out the window, where there was nothing in particular to look at. “I wonder if it will make sense to me, if nature will instruct me.”

I laughed, very softly. I was not mocking him. “Oh, I’m sure it will, Ada.”

“I hope so,” he said quickly.

“It’ll be wonderful,” I assured him. “Don’t worry about anything. You will be in Tishrana’s care.”

“Tishrana’s care,” he murmured. “And to start with… I just have to lie there?”

“Lie there? Well, it’s a bit more than that, Ada. It’s not purely mechanical. You’ll see. It’s magic.”

I knew he really wouldn’t understand what I meant until afterward. He thought about my words, though, and perhaps they were assuring him. “But will I feel differently afterwards?”

I nodded. “Oh, yes, very differently. Of course, I’m not pure-born like your father, so I didn’t go through it the way you’re going through it, but still, I’m sure it will change the way you see things. Feel things actually.”

At last it was enough. He had the assurance he needed. All he had needed was a sounding board and a voice telling him that he had nothing to worry about, that the mysteries would be revealed. He embraced me and we headed back to the house.

I’d told him it would be wonderful and apparently, it was. The celebration was beautiful and as always, I found myself wishing I could have gone through a similar rite.

As a human, I’d gone through inception, the Althaia, and carried out the act that sealed me as har, but that had not been something so beautiful. Not then, back when I was so desperate, when I had been taken and been turned Wraeththu almost by force. They hadn’t quite rushed, but it was not as gentle a transformation as it might have been. I had been so filled with fear, so uncertain.

For pure-borns it is so very different. They have always been har. Even if they have no used their newly ripened bodies, they are comfortable enough with their bodies and familiar enough with the concepts that their experience is something they can savor, enjoy.

We transformed Adelna’s room and had a party that lasted all day. I hired musicians and we had a great dinner with wine and sweet liquors. Arafa arrived, already knowing of the change in plans, and he had just as much fun as anyone — except perhaps Adelna, who was blooming, bursting with happiness and loveliness.

That night Dera took him to the bedroom. Tishrana and I stood in the hall, waiting.

“I must thank you,” I said, holding his hands, which he raised to my lips. I kissed them. “Thank you for doing this. And thank you for coming back to me.”

The bedroom door opened and Dera slipped out, beckoning Tishrana. He planted a kiss on my cheek before turned to go.

“He is prepared,” Dera said.

Tishrana left us then. We returned to the party and a few hours later, went to bed. The house was too noisy for us to have heard anything. The next morning Adelna found me working in the garden.

“You were right,” he said.

I waited for him.

“I do feel different.”

He smiled.

Chapter 13

Everything seemed fine, everyone blissfully happy and relaxed. My family and Dera’s family were of course visiting and for two days, we broke out of the usual routine and spent our time talking, singing, going out on walks. It was a holiday. Everyone, including Dera’s family, adored Tishrana and taking their lead from our own behavior, there was no awkwardness.

Finally the relatives left and I was ready to go back to the way things had been before the Feybraiha. It was after lunch and I had been tying up some loose ends in the pharmacy. I decided to go change my shirt. Entering the bedroom, I discovered Tishrana sitting on the bed by a travel bag, looking uncertain.

“Tish?” His back was turned to me. He moved to face me but only glanced at me for a moment before going back to the bag, which was open beside a pile of clothes and personal items. He was packing.

“Tish, what do you think you’re doing?” I asked, coming up closer.

He picked up a shirt and shoved it awkwardly into the bag.

I reached out and grabbed his shoulders. “You’re not going,” I told him.

He stiffened. “I’m not?” His voice was uncertain. Surely he didn’t think–

“No, you’re not,” I said, my grip firm. “We need you here.”

His chin dropped into his chest. “What for?” he asked. “The Feybraiha is over. I have to find a new purpose, my own life now.” He fumbled with another shirt and stuffed it into the pack.

The thought he might leave hadn’t even occurred to me. “What?!” In a moment I had swept him up and carried him bodily onto the bed. “You’re going?”

He was looking at me almost ashamed. “Yes,” he said. “I thought you would want that.”

I straddled him and grabbed him by the shoulders again. “Why?”

“So you could go back to your life.”

“You are my life.”

“But–”

“But what?” I said, shaking him.

“But Dera and the family–”

“Are fine. And you are my family, YOU are part of it. You will stay.”

The words we were speaking sounded so strange to me. At this point, after he had been with us four weeks, I couldn’t imagine why he had thought he was not wanted. Dera and I had taken him into our bed, entrusted him with our child, and taken him into the our hearts.

Later he explained to me that it was human fear, something lingering within him that told him he was expected to leave. Wraeththu are not like that. We are not supposed to be possessive. Still, it is a refinement.

I took him into my arms. “You will stay.” I kissed his hair. “Think on it. We need you.”

He closed his eyes and nodded. “The pearl will be born in a month,” he said. “I suppose I should stay at least that long.

“I suppose.”

He knew I meant more than that.

As it turned out, having Tishrana in the house for the birth proved more fortunate than I had anticipated.

Wraeththu are strong, with bodies that dispense with pain and sickness much more easily than humans, and although Dera had this strength, it seemed that hosting was not something his body entirely agreed with. The three of us shared a bed — and each other — several times in the week after the Feybraiha, but after that, the fifth week of term, Dera told us he no longer felt comfortable, even as ouana.

As a healer I was concerned and examined him. Everything seemed fine, but he complained of pain. I gave him benefit of my medical knowledge, serving him teas and sitting with him to meditate away any discomfort until his body felt in tune.

It did him good and there were times when he would be able to go about his work and tend to the family and home just as always, but now and again, more often as the days passed, I would see the pain in his face. “Twinges,” he called them, dismissing them. I told him I had never had any real pain but he simply told me I was stronger, made differently. He had experienced the same pain with Ilafa. Evidently he and I were simply not built the same way.

Chapter 14

During the last week, his confidence faded. As with the first time he had been in such a state, he was exhausted and withdrew into the bedroom, blinds drawn, at regular intervals. Around others he seemed withdrawn, tensing as if he was warding off harm.

“Fafa, I’m nervous,” he told me one night when we were alone. (Tishrana did leave us alone; we were not always in a trio.) He was in pain, he told me, and it was almost a constant pain. I took care of him with medicines but the next night, he reported that things had not changed. He instructed me not to bother with any more cures; we would see an end to the pain soon enough.

Tishrana were in bed together when the time came. Dera had been in the living room reading, last we knew. There was a struggle with the doorknob and he staggered in, doubled over in pain.

“Help me!” he shouted. A moment later he had fallen to the floor and was curled in a ball crying.

This was extreme behavior. Wraeththu births are more often than not, easy affairs. However, Dera’s body did not seem as well adjusted as Tishrana’s or mine and so when he came to us in that state, we took it in stride, lifting him onto the bed.

I tried to straighten him out, but for all I tried, he kept curling into a ball. His hands clutched his middle, clawing desperately as if he wanted to rip the pearl out into the world that very moment.

“Come now, Dera,” I soothed. “You mustn’t ball up like that, you need to straighten out and make it easier. Here, let me–”

My words were cut off by a smack to my face.

“Help me!” he shouted again. Clearly he was delirious with pain.

I gave up trying to adjust his position and instead took hold of the brush Tishrana had taken from the table. I began to brush Dera’s hair. It would be soothing, or so I thought.

Beneath my touch, he seethed. He seemed almost angry, growling and filled with bodily tension.

“What is it?” I asked him. “What is happening?”

He was gasping. “It hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts…” the words poured out, over and over, his voice a mantra not of peace, but of desperation. “By Aghama, it hurts!” he had shouted again.

This went on for a considerable length of time, perhaps an hour. Tishrana and I did everything we could. Nothing seemed to help. Dera trembled and cried. He would not, could not, relax. He did not seem to want to be touched. He lost his ability to communicate in anything but moans and short syllables.

At the end of that hour, he made his longest statement — to the effect that he wanted it to be over, that he wanted to pearl gone, that it was going to kill him soon, that soon he would want to die, the pain was so unbearable.

There was something in the way the words were spoken that let Tishrana and I know that they were not mere rhetoric. The pain really was killing him.

“Was it this severe for him last time?” Tishrana asked me, mind to mind.

I nodded. “He did have some difficulty, yes,” I admitted.

Dera had his hand in his mouth and was biting down hard.

“This appears to be more than a mere ‘difficulty,’ Fafa.”

I didn’t want to hear this. “He’s simply not as fit for hosting as we were,” I argued.

“No, Fafa, this is more than that! Can’t you see?”

I looked down into the face of the one I loved. Why was I not able to help him when this was, after all, my job? I concentrated my powers and in the bond that ran between us, I felt his pain. Horrible. It was my pearl that was the source of such agony. Why was this birth so difficult?

Tishrana went on. “Can you see the way he keeps grabbing his stomach?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said dully. “But that’s normal.”

“No, Fafa,” he gestured. Dera was moaning. “He isn’t holding the womb, he is holding just above it.”

Sure enough, he was right. Dera was clutching a very specific spot — the location of the old knife wound.

I looked at Tishrana. He knew. It wasn’t just the pearl, it was something else. Something was wrong. Something inside him was coming undone or was tangled in with the pearl or… Who knew?

I am a very strong person and a healer. I had brought myself through a miscarriage. Still, I was on the verge of panic.

Tishrana saved me.

For all our years of separation, he and I were still in tune. I knew he realized what needed to be done. We split up so one of us was on either side. We joined hands. There were magic words and we called in energy. Dera was made peaceful and then, we asked for him to be healed. I was glad Tishrana was Algomalid, because it made our magic all the stronger, and together we fought against the pain and healed the wounded flesh. Finally the pain had banished, like a demon, away into the night.

Dera was in a trance as the delivery continued. Once the pain was gone, everything went quickly. I realized that his first birth had had similar problems; I simply hadn’t known of the complications. His insides had been tearing. Now the process proceeded as it should, and within twenty minutes, our pearl had come into the world, whole and healthy.

There was a knock on the door. Ilafa, hearing the sounds inside, had come by with water and towels. I handed him the pearl, his half-brother, which he washed and handed back. It seemed Dera was nearly asleep as we set it beside him and brought up the covers.

Tishrana and I sat watching him, overjoyed that we had saved him and delivered him of not only a pearl, but pain.

Dera opened his eyes. “Tishrana,” he whispered, beckoning with his finger. “Don’t ever leave us.”

He never did, he never has, and he never will.

Epilogue

Note: Chapter 14 of That Was Then, This Is Now from Dera’s POV.

The pain was throbbing just under my ribcage like a second heart. I clenched my jaw and forced myself to concentrate on the book I was reading. Ironically, it was a new almanac, put out by a press in Immanion, dedicated to cataloging all things Wraeththu. By sheer will, coupled with the boredom the late days of hosting can bring, I had reached the section covering physiology. Wraeththu bodies were so much more efficient than human bodies, the text explained. They didn’t visibly age; enjoyed a longer lifespan; were able to withstand poisons, injuries and disease deadly to humans; and in comparison, the process of procreation entailed so much less pain and discomfort.

I slammed the book shut — enough reading for me! My hosting had certainly not been the model of Wraeththu perfection. Three weeks earlier I’d had to give up aruna, the discomfort had grown so great. After years of having Fafa stress the value of such sharing during hosting, it had been a disappointment for me to have to withdraw, but there hadn’t been much choice. By this time, with the birth set to commence any day, I was no longer dealing with mere discomfort, but an interminable pain deep inside.

Fafa, whose life revolved around healing, had tried diagnosing the problem but hadn’t found anything specific to explain what I was feeling. He’d prescribed medicines and carried out several mystical spells on me, but without knowing what the specific problem was, he was unable to help me. The week earlier he’d given me something that had stopped the pain for a few hours, but the effects hadn’t lasted. I’d told him not to bother with offering any more cures. I would be strong and endure the pain, I told him, resolute. I was probably just too slender, I conjectured; the pearl was filling my body to bursting.

As I shifted onto my side, dropping the book onto the floor, I felt my abdominal muscles spasm. I tensed with anticipation. Was the time finally at hand? I froze for a minute or two, tuning into my body, but there was no further sign, only the throbbing pain I’d suffered for that past week, the twinges that had grown almost unbearably persistent.

Lying there waiting, I felt impatient and slightly annoyed. I had wanted another child and yes, I had asked for it — “I have an idea — make more!” I’d said — and I’d managed to deal with it reasonably well for the first few weeks. This had been despite the arrival of Tishrana, Fafa’s former chesna, who since then had moved in with us. Still, with no aruna and too uncomfortable to do any work and just feeling tired and bored, I wished for my hosting to be done with.

I closed my eyes. Fafara certainly wasn’t suffering any lack of aruna; at that very moment, I knew, he was in the bedroom with Tishrana. I didn’t mind at all and neither was I jealous. I knew there was enough of Fafa for both of us and furthermore, all aruna thoughts had gone from my mind, largely due to the pain and my preoccupation with the immediate future.

I turned my mind to other matters, domestic plans. We would be needing another bedroom or two, I told myself, envisioning the way I wanted the addition to be constructed and how it would be decorated. I had already put together a wonderfully cosy spot for the new harling and I considered what else I might be buying him. Then I thougth of my youngest child, Adelna. He would be continuing with his caste training, of course, but I was interested in expanding the market for his artwork. Or perhaps I could take him to an artistic tribe like the Ferike for training. I was always trying to do what was best for him.

Such were my thoughts when at last the blade cut through my gut. Given what I’d been experiencing those last few days, I’d speculated the the pains of birth would be considerably worse than those I experienced with my first, my precious Ilafa. I had vastly underestimated the degree of difference.

The first seizure lasted for a full minute. With every second I felt a terrible tightening, all my muscles contracting, constricting. At the same time, I felt something else, a hideous twisting feeling, as if part of me, somewhere inside, was being wrenched or torn.

With the instincts of an animal, I let myself drop off the sofa and crawled towards the bedroom. Help. I needed help. I could barely move. I fell down to the floor several times, seizures of pain slamming through me in waves. The entire episode replays in my mind in slow motion; I see the shiny brass knobs on the doors in the hall, how each one seemed to be staring at me wickedly, taunting me, as I dragged myself to the door at the end, the only one that mattered. Finally I clasped the doorknob I wanted and, flinging the door open, fell onto the floor again, begging for help.

They put me on the bed as I felt my insides being torn to shreds. I wasn’t even really seeing either of them; I didn’t care about them, couldn’t tell them what was happening. They were just help. Help for me. I felt like I was dying.

It was another sort of reality. I remember thinking there wasn’t time, that time needed to either speed up — let the birth be done with — or it needed to slow down and let me have time to address things. At present speed, time was lacking. There wasn’t time to communicate, concentrate, or think about things. There was only time for my body to make it happen, for them to help me make it happen, to make the pain come to an end and give me my body back.

I grunted and squawked and cried, batting away the helpful hands of those I loved. I struck Fafa in the face, he’s since told me; I don’t remember it, but I believe it. As I said, I didn’t care of them and had little patience. It seemed they understood only but dimly what I was going through. Why couldn’t they do something? To me it was like they were ghosts at the edge of my vision, watching but unable to help, as I battled flesh and blood demons and lived a nightmare of twisting muscles and sobbing tears.

The siege raged on and on, so long that for all I had wanted to alter time, finally it seemed to have lost all meaning. It was an hour I battled, they’ve told me since. I don’t know. I just know that I had stopped making noises, stopped struggling so hard. I was so tired and then suddenly, I was feeling something different.

A hot liquid seeped out from my body, between my legs. I knew it was blood. The pain was awful and I clutched the center of my being, that terrible pain, wanting to rip it out, rip it out with the pearl and be done with it. Why wouldn’t it come?

It was of course Fafa and Tishrana who finally realized. The birth itself wasn’t the root of my agony. The real problem was an old wound, the spot in my gut where I’d been attacked in the desert. At the time I’d nearly died, left bleeding and carrying a pearl, all alone in the hot desert. It had been Fafa and his apprentice Arafa who had saved me and seen me safely birth the pearl three weeks later. Now Fafa saved me again.

Together with Tishrana, he cast a healing spell, working against the precise spot where I was tearing, where apparently tissues had not healed as much as we had thought. Incantations filled the air and there might have been a magic glow, although I was so delirious it might have been an image in my fevered mind.

I felt a cooling balm spread over my skin, stripped naked, and then there was a wondrous tingling cloud of power which sank through all my tissues and down into the hurt. For a moment, right at that spot in my body, I felt ice, cold and numbing, but then I felt a great warmth, a rush of energy, and I knew I was healed.

I lay back with only one purpose. My muscles contracted smoothly and strongly, sending the pearl on its way to life. I stared into the eyes of the father and what I would later call the stepfather. The pain had gone. I wondered if this was the way it was supposed to be, if this was how it should have been with Ilafa and how it could be in the future. If it was, I thought, it wasn’t so bad at all. Maybe I would have more pearls.

A feeling of utter euphoria took over in those minutes, as my muscles worked and worked, Fafara and Tishrana encouraging me, wiping down my brow, holding my hands, looking down between my legs to check me. Finally I felt the tension I knew signalled the end. I felt stretched to my utmost and I squeezed their hands with all my might as I did what nature wanted me to do. It was pain but it was worthwhile, a pain with a purpose, and it was the last pain. After that, I would be well.

The pearl emerged bit by bit and finally slipped out into their waiting hands. No more suffering. No more twinges. Just my own body and a pearl, my partners with me. We would always be together.

The End

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