Over The Hills And A Great Way Off

Title: Over The Hills And A Great Way Off
Author: Camile_Sinensis
Author’s email: teapot@doramail.com
Website: http://red-shellac.livejournal.com/
Characters: Starring Caeru, Cal, Pellaz, and a noisy and intrusive Original Character. Supporting roles by Tharmifex, Ashmael, Velaxis and other members of the Hegemony, plus An Innkeeper of Kyme and Various Other Hara Of That Town.
Spoilers: The story takes place just after the end of “Shades”, so the gentle reader is assumed to have a working knowledge of all the shit that has gone down up until then.

Over The Hills And A Great Way Off

“I lost somebody once, I know how it is…” – Caeru Meveny, “The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit”

Chapter 1

“I assure you, Tiahaar, the package is on board. I myself saw to its loading, and I have been keeping a close eye on it throughout the journey. A very close eye indeed! It will be found any minute now, I’m sure. There is absolutely no need to worry.”

The Captain forced a weak smile, which was obviously intended to reassure Ashmael, but which had precisely the opposite effect. A long and interesting career in both the Gelaming army and as a member of the Hegemony had led Ashmael to the conviction that any announcement regarding the lack of need for worry was an indication that worry was almost certainly exactly what was called for.

Ashmael gave a dissatisfied grunt, which the Captain took as permission to leave, and he hurried back to his ship, the Despina, which was currently moored at the harbour edge, tight ropes wrapped around stanchions holding her firm against the stone sides, while her white sails were neatly furled and stowed in the masts above. Her crew were currently swarming over and beneath the decks, like so many busy ants, searching for the missing cargo. The Captain shouted some choice insults at them as he approached, with the presumed intention of motivating them to increase their efforts, although Ashmael found himself wondering exactly how casting aspersions upon the dimensions of a har’s male aspect would spur him on to greater things.

The Captain and his crew were, of course, not Gelaming. No Gelaming would resort to such base and unproductive methods. If the Despina and her crew were Gelaming, their best efforts would be assured by their own desire to elevate their personal spirituality and work for the common good of the city of Immanion and the entire Gelaming tribe. It was a wonder, Ashmael occasionally thought, that any of these object examples of selfless virtue ever stooped to anything so coarse as actually being paid.

He realised that there was nothing for it but to wait until the ship’s crew located what he had come for. The ship was a good-sized vessel, but not so large that searching it would take forever. He sighed heavily and sat down upon a capstan, pushing his hair out of his eyes and squinting at the ship, as if staring at it would speed up the process.

It was a beautiful morning, although beautiful mornings were entirely commonplace in Immanion, so this one did not announce itself as being in any way outstanding, rather it stood modestly in line with all its predecessors and contributed to the general air of loveliness in and around the city in a manner that was somehow self-effacing yet inviting of open-mouthed admiration. It was a very Gelaming morning.

The only unusual thing about the morning was its short-lived duration. It had not been morning for any great length of time and the air still carried the coolness bequeathed to it by the recently-departed night, although that would change as the sun rose higher over the hills surrounding the city to the landward side. The city itself had not yet fully awoken from its slumber; shops and stalls and businesses still awaited their proprietors and customers; sleepy hara were still rising from their beds, or not, depending upon temperament and an unusual peace lay over the harbour, normally a busy, bustling area during the daytime, full of comings and goings and noise and activity.
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Desert’s Fierce Kiss

Desert’s Fierce Kiss
by Thevina
(thevina33@gmail.com)

Rating: Adult
Pairing: Cobweb/Lianvis
Summary: Potentially set canonically at some point not quite a decade post-Bewitchments, Lianvis visits Forever (in search of Ulaume) and spends some memorable time with Cobweb.
Author’s Notes: Written for Gingerspark (former Niennaainur), who requested this pairing.

“So. How long before the scorpions arrive?” Cobweb asked, picking up a cup of tea with steady hands.

Ithiel raised a tawny eyebrow. “A few days yet. Our scouts intercepted them on the very southern borders. Their leader is with them.”

Cobweb shuddered, gooseflesh washing along his forearms despite being covered by layers of silk. “Him,” he muttered, looking into the cup all at once to see if there were messages to be read, but the leaves were silent. “Why did he come?”

“He didn’t say much to the patrol.” Ithiel gave Cobweb a sympathetic look. “Lianvis, much like you, is a force unto himself. We are allies, as you know.”

“We’re overrun,” Cobweb snapped. “I’ll be courteous. I always am, even when— after all that… Gelaming,” he finally concluded with a venomous hiss.

“I believe he’s coming because he’s looking for someone. A har that used to be close to him but vanished a few years ago. He hadn’t been told about Terzian’s death, so now he wishes to give his condolences in person on top of his true purpose.”

Cobweb fixed his old friend with a brittle stare. “I can’t imagine that desert sorcerer could miss anything going on in his tribe, much less an actual har.”

Ithiel took a deep breath and let it out again, his gaze flitting around until it alighted on a bottle of sheh. “I’m only telling you what’s been told to me.” With an agile hand he poured himself a drink and helped himself to two green olives from a plate sitting between them.

“Thank you for that,” Cobweb said gloomily. “At least Swift and Azriel aren’t here.”
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Reap the Wild Wind

Reap the Wild Wind
by Thevina

Story Notes

Author email: thevina33@gmail.com

Spoilers: None exactly; set pre-Enchantments, in the early, early years of Wraeththu

Canon Character: Cobweb (all others original characters)

Summary: Níl gach uile fhánaí caillte— Not all who wander are lost. (J.R.R. Tolkien) Kelp, a newly-incepted har and his companion, Blackspur, journey from an outer island of Alba Sulh to find others of their kind. Adult. Adventures, aruna, and an occasional warning for violence.

Author’s Notes: The title is from a song by Ultravox.

Reap the Wild Wind

Again and again, as powerful as the churning waves that hurl themselves against the frigid strand. Again and once again, an infinite dozen poundings of arunic tides that his lover had learned so deftly to navigate, the near-sole adventurer to chart a course in his grasping waters. The visions were blissfully vague, mere phantoms held at bay as they shared breath, filling Kelp to bursting with pewter dawn and thorns. Blackspur gripped his hands as he thrust deeply into Kelp; Kelp writhed, clenching his muscles to draw Blackspur in as deeply as possible. Kelp had liked boys before; he’d been out to the monument and fucked other men back when he was human, but now, this…

Blackspur was voracious, feeding on Kelp’s neck as though he were starving. He kissed and sucked at the skin before sharing breath again: he shared a torrent of thoughts and feelings, desire and lust and solidarity pouring into Kelp like water from a broken levee. Kelp throbbed; he could taste his completion, tingling at the base of his feet and roiling upward until it was a heavy, molten ache.

Blackspur, he begged via mind-touch, another new ability Kelp had discovered since shedding his human skin.

Then it happened — the flare snapping deep within Kelp’s body from Blackspur’s ouana-lim, tonguing the coal that insistently burned. Kelp cried out as jolts of pleasure wracked his body, spreading out in waves from deep within himself to his fingertips that tingled in his sated afterglow. Blackspur shouted, his stocattoed adulations punctuating the cold air, echoing in the room of their small cottage. He was buried in Kelp’s body, Kelp’s ankles locked together over the small of Blackspur’s narrow waist. Kelp let out a deep breath he’d not known he’d been holding, easing his legs apart and sliding them down the bed.

Blackspur seemed troubled, so Kelp rubbed his back and send him reassuring thoughts via mind-touch.

What’s the matter? he asked, smoothing away the tendrils plastered to his lover’s skin, his freckles gleaming despite the dim light.

Blackspur shrugged, then drew up his legs, hugging himself in a foetal position, his forehead pressed to his knees. “What are we?” he asked mournfully. “We’re so alone. D’you think we should try to go to the mainland? I’m sure there are boats,” he went on, raising his head and running slender fingers through his auburn hair. Olive eyes gazed at Kelp, begging him for reassurance.

“We’re Wraeththu now,” Kelp murmured  against Blackspur’s clammy skin, trying to pull him close. “And yes, we should row across and get off this island. Maybe we can find a boat with a motor and petrol; everyone left so quickly, or died, so I bet if we make a methodical search, we’ll find a motorboat. There are bound to be other hara over the waters.”

There had only ever been a few thousand people, out in what had been the outer islands of Scotland. Most humans had fled, or died from a plague, and then two Wraeththu had appeared, terrifying and compelling. Kelp and Blackspur had been incepted through tears and paralyzing walls of fear. The pain had been less than Kelp’s vivid imagination had promised, and then there was aruna, sealing his bond to Wraeththu-dom in a manner he could never before have contemplated. But they seemed to be alone, and Kelp knew that they needed to find others of their kind.

“Let’s go south,” Blackspur suggested, spooning next to him like a snake on a warmed rock. “We should find guns, too. We’ll be considered freaks, until we’re with our own kind. We may need to defend ourselves.”

Kelp took a deep breath, running his fingers along the angular planes of Blackspur’s back. “You’re right,” he said, massaging at the knots he found under his skin. “But I’ve never used a gun before.”

“Hopefully we won’t need them.”

“I wouldn’t count on that.”

With a last embrace, Kelp moved away from his lover. They reclothed themselves and began to pack their bags; they were canvas, army-issue looking things that Kelp had found; they would do the trick.

“Just the necessities,” he said, though it was a given. Both he and Blackspur knew they weren’t infallible; the world could reach out at any moment and snag them, hence the guns they needed to procure. Quietly they got their meagre belongings together and began walking to the southern part of the island, a tenacious drizzle and stormy clouds their relentless company, step after step.

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Obligations

Obligations
by Wendy Darling (Wiebke)

Story Notes

Set a few months after the conclusion of Bewitchments of Love and Hate, this 18-chapter story stars, among others, Swift, and explores themes of Wraeththu family, committment and rites of passage. Also, there’s one heck of an althaia scene.

Characters
Swift, Seel, Ashmael, two main original characters, other original characters.

Spoilers
Containers spoilers for Bewitchments of Love and Hate, Book 2 in the Wraeththu trilogy.

Chapter 1

The forest was dense and shrouded in darkness. Somewhere high above, over the tree tops, the sun shone brightly. Swift squinted into the shadows ahead, looking for a path. Only by following Ashmael, on horseback ahead, could he be sure of his next step.

He glanced over to Seel, mounted on the horse beside him. Before he could even form a question, Seel nodded. “Yes, I’m sure. He knows where we’re going.”

Swift returned his attentions to following the invisible path. An hour earlier he and Seel had been speaking to Ashmael as part of a visit to Fogta, a former Varr outpost, when Ashmael had received an urgent summons via mind message. Two of his soldiers, on a mission to explore the surrounding land, had encountered a situation with which they needed guidance and, just in case, backup support.

In the heart of the forest, with no paths leading to it, the soldiers had stumbled across a small stone cottage. At first they had assumed the home was unoccupied, but as they came around to the front, they saw that curtains hung in the windows. The berry bushes to the left and right of the front door were trimmed and a narrow path ran around to the back.

Curious to learn who might be living in such isolation, the soldiers stepped up to the door to knock. Just as one soldier had his hand poised, both of them were blasted back, stumbling, into the yard by an impressive blast of defensive energy.

“Stay clear, Varr pigs!” a voice screamed from within.

The soldiers were dumbfounded. Inside the house was someone who had enough power to create shields but was afraid of the Varrs — who no longer held any power! Obviously they were dealing with an unusual situation. Hence they had summoned Ashmael.

Personally Swift wasn’t terribly interested in what they might find inside the cottage — until he saw it, a lone stone cottage stood in a small field. He remembered the old human children’s tale of the little boy and girl who had ventured into the forest. Was this the witch’s house? It was quite ordinary, yet at the same time, there hung about it an aura of mystery, something that tempted the imagination into conjuring all manner of strange and secret affairs taking place within its walls.

Following Ashmael’s lead, Swift and Seel rode their horses to the rear yard. As they passed close to the side of the house, Seel, slightly ahead, Swift felt a wave of menace crashed across him. He shivered and avoided turning his head. Who or what were they going to be facing?

The Gelaming soldiers rose from where they’d been seated in the shade of a giant oak. Brushing themselves off, they sauntered over towards the horses.

“Has there been any change?” Ashmael asked, dismounting and taking a stance, hands on hips, facing the back of the house.

“No change, Lord Ashmael,” the taller of the two hara reported. “However, we have received several additional jolts and admonitions to leave.”

“It’s most disconcerting,” the second har added. “Whoever is inside is very angry.”

“Angry?” Seel questioned, by now off his horse, standing beside Ashmael. “It can hardly be a Gelaming then. In fact, I wonder if it is not a human.”

“Seel, you fool yourself — when will you ever learn?” Swift stepped two paces towards the house before stopping and turning. “Gelaming have emotions — anger included — especially when provoked!”

“Ah, Swift, forever keeper of the Varr flame!” Ashmael chided.

“Don’t say that!” Swift shot back hotly. It had only been a few months since he had adopted the customs of the Gelaming, shedding his Varr skin, and yet the name of his tribe was forever being hung over his head. He returned his gaze to the house. “What now?”

“Now we go in,” Ashmael said simply, starting to walk across the field. “Ilga, Troniel, wait here with our horses.”

“But what about the blasts?” Swift asked, feeling apprehensive after what he’d felt a few minutes earlier but following along nonetheless. True, the blasts were only strong Wraeththu thought magic, but unlike the others, Swift hadn’t had years to grow completely accustomed to such phenomena. As a child, practically the only magic he had witnessed had been Cobweb’s. No matter the education he had received during his caste training in Imbrilim, he still felt somewhat intimidated by such forces.

Ashmael laughed. “What about them? Do you really think they can keep us out? We three are powerful and unless the angry one inside is Nari-Nuri, our magic will be able to overcome his.”

Swift gave Seel a searching look but received only a nod in response. He would have to trust in their judgement.

As they once again passed by the house, Swift her Seel softly gasp.

“Do you feel it?” he asked, taking Seel’s hand and squeezing it.

“Yes,” Seel said. “It’s not anger now. It’s fear.”

The three of them crowded around the small wooden front door.

As soon as Ashmael reached for the handle, they were hit with a violent, invisible force. It wanted to fling them backwards, away into the yard. They resisted and returned with their own power, pushing back the shield until Ashmael had the door handle in his hand. He turned it. The door was locked.

“Out of the way, you two!” Ashmael urged sharply. Here was the military commander taking charge. Seel and Swift stepped to the side as Ashmael delivered a swift, ferocious kick to the door.

“We’re sorry you’re not up for guests at the moment,” Ashmael shouted as delivered another blow, “but we really need to meet our new neighbor!” The door cracked in half.

A moment later, Ashmael had thrust himself half-way through the door and was apparently struggling with the strong arms and legs of the defender. Finally Ashmael beat the figure back.

Moving in with Swift, Seel took the remainder of the door and ripped it away.

There, inside the tiny cottage, stood a har with a look on his face that was absolutely heartrending: defeat. He was tall with wide-set eyes, a soft gray blue, and thick, dreadlocked brown hair.

“You broke through my shields,” he said simply, bewildered as he stared down at where Ashmael held him fast by the arm.

“You are strong,” Ashmael said, “but not that strong. We three are all Ulani, Gelaming.”

“Gelaming?!” the mystery figure gasped.

“Yes,” Seel confirmed. “What did you think we were — Varrs?”

The har nodded nervously and then slowly, tentatively smiled. “This is it then,” he announced, his voice full of wonder, the fear vanishing.

Ashmael released his grip and the har took his hand and ran it across the side of his head, pushing aside the strands of hair that were escaping from the top. “I… I have been waiting so long, years and years,” he explained in a soft voice. “I knew you would be the ones to free me and I even wanted to meet you, but I had to hide. Now I can finally come out.”

He bowed his head slightly for the sake of courtesy. “I am Tarra,” he said simply, extending a hand.

All three Gelaming took the hand and clasped it firmly. Tarra was shaking but obviously greatly relieved that he was — apparently — not about to meet his death.

“So,” Ashmael began. “What made you take to this life of solitude? Were you simply trying to escape the Varrs?”

Tarra nodded uncertainly. Ashmael continued. “I can understand that. The Varrs are gone now, by the way, and we are here only to talk with you, help you, not to harm you. Still, while wresting with you I had a strongest sense that you were protecting something within this house, not only yourself but–”

“Dad?” a voice called suddenly, cutting off Ashmael’s line of questioning. All eyes turned to a curtained off area in the corner of the main room. “Can I come out now — since they’re not Varrs?”

Tarra’s face had frozen and he stared at the three Gelaming before lowering his gaze to the floor. “Yes, Ranat,” he said quietly. “Come out to meet our visitors.”

After a moment the curtains parted and there emerged a young, blond-haired figure who looked almost exactly like Tarra in the face. Swift knew immediately that Ranat was human.

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Contentment

Contentment
by Wendy Darling (Wiebke)

Notes

About half-way through writing Breeding Discontent, I got an idea for a sub-plot that could development regarding Lisia and Cobweb and although it was somewhat explored within the story itself, that was just the beginning. This is the story of what happened after.

Alternate Universe Note
This story was written when Breeding Discontent existed as an online fan fiction novel, essentially a draft. It was also written prior to the publication of Wraiths of Will and Pleasure and any new Wraeththu novels. Because of this, it’s become an “alternate universe” fic that’s not entirely consistent, and in fact contradicts, what is now “canon.”

Characters
Cobweb, Lisia (original character from BD), Swift, Seel, harlings at Forever, harling and hara at Harling Gardens, former breeding facility staff.

Spoilers
Containers spoilers for Bewitchments of Love and Hate (Book 2) and Fulfilments of Fate and Desire (Book 3) in the Wraeththu trilogy.

Sequels & Tie-Ins
After this story, I couldn’t resist doing another sequel, so there’s also Perennials to read! There’s also Not Far From the Tree, which focuses on Pansea and Ivy.

Chapter 1

Morro, the night shift housekeeper, opened the door and immediately Cobweb stepped inside and set the stack of packages down on the entryway table.

For most of the afternoon he’d been out shopping in the Galhea markets. Much of what he’d been looking for he’d found easily, but two or three items had required more vigorous hunting and he’d worried he’d be returning to Forever too late. Not only did he want to have a bit of time to rest before dinner, but given present circumstances, being away from the house for any length of time made him nervous.

Fortunately he’d managed to find the items in question — except for the pearl buttons, which would have to wait — and make it back well before sunset. And since no servants had come running to him upon arrival, he knew that nothing had happened and everything was in order.

“Lisia is still upstairs,” Morro reported. “Would you like me to help you with these packages?”

Cobweb eyed the unwieldy pile of bags and boxes, which he’d brought from town on his horse, filling the saddlebags and straps. “Yes, I’d appreciate some help getting them up the stairs. As for bringing them in the room, I’ll do that myself.”

“Very well,” Morro replied agreeably. They each scooped up an armful and headed up the stairs. Cobweb felt the comforting presence of Forever around him. Although the house was quiet and empty, Swift and family being out of town, lately it had been the scene of so many pleasant days that contentment hung in the air like an invisible vapor.

At the top of the stairs Cobweb thanked Morro and accepted the rest of the delivery, balancing the pile against his body. He crept down the hallway toward the bedroom and poking his head inside, caught a glimpse of Lisia unawares — exactly what he’d been hoping for.

Nestled in the window seat, Lisia was leaning his head against the glass, gazing out into the backyard, his face relaxed, his eyes dreamy. His hands rested in his lap amidst the blanket he’d been knitting for the past week. Lovely soft gray wool, it was something Lisia hoped to finish in time for the harling on the way.

Slipping through the door, Cobweb quietly set the pile of packages down on the bed. Lisia immediately looked over, smiling brightly. “Ah, you’re back!” His hands went back to his knitting, picking up the needles and taking up the yarn.

“Yes, and I found everything you wanted,” Cobweb responded. “All the different types of yarn and thread, the fabric, the hats and socks and the needles. The only thing I couldn’t find was the buttons, but I can find those later, I’m sure.”

“That’s fine,” Lisia said in a voice that showed he was feeling rather dreamy and languid. Cobweb sauntered over and began to rub his lover’s shoulders.

“Thank you, dear.” Still working the wool, Lisia pressed himself against the ministering hands like a cat wanting to be scratched. “Mmmm, that feels good.”

Cobweb stepped back and looked Lisia in the face, which was happy and still serene although, as expected, a bit tired.

“How are you feeling today?” he asked, picking up the completed section of the blanket and admiring Lisia’s work. Like all his other pieces, it was of intricate design, produced as it was by someone who’d spent years honing his craft.

“Oh, fine. I was just knitting and then… I started daydreaming.” Lisia smiled and, dispensing with the needles, reached out to catch Cobweb’s hand. “About our son.”

Cobweb tugged on the hand and Lisia allowed himself to be pulled into a standing position, dropping the blanket onto the cushion. “Really? What exactly were you thinking?” Cobweb asked.

“Just… well, I was wondering what he’ll look like,” Lisia explained as he walked over to the bed and sat down. “You know, just what color eyes, his hair, who he will take after.” He straightened out his blouse, which revealed the thickness of his waist. Phlaar had estimated the birth would come in the next two to three days.

“Maybe dark hair with a blond streak, huh, Stripe?” Cobweb joked. He leaned over to kiss Lisia on the cheek. Stripe had once been Lisia’s teasing nickname among his peers at the breeding facility; now it was an endearment he’d grown fond of, at least when Cobweb used it.

Lisia kicked off his shoes and moved to lie down. Looking up at the ceiling, he returned to his thoughts of daydreaming. “I just don’t know, Cobweb. It’s all so strange. I mean, I’ve never thought of these things before — what the harling will look like.”

Cobweb picked up on his meaning at once. “Because you were never allowed to see them?”

Lisia nodded, his head against the pillow. “Not even the pearls. I used to think about them a lot, especially the first few, but eventually I had to give up imagining. I knew I wouldn’t ever get to see them.” His bittersweet tone was unmistakable and for a moment his thoughts drifted back to those darker times. Then a smile washed back onto his face and he patted his abdomen. “This is so very different.”

“Well, that’s the idea, isn’t it?” Cobweb asked, settling into the space at the end of the bed by Lisia’s feet. “Starting our own little family.”

Lisia reached out and took Cobweb’s hand. Cobweb was strongly aware of his happiness, feeling it through their bond, but any stranger could have seen it. “It’s wonderful,” Lisia sighed contentedly. “I never thought I could have a family. It’s just like I always dreamed, back when I would dream. I’m living in a house, soon I’ll have my own child who I can actually see and care for as my own, and most marvelous of all, I’m consort to–”

“You’re not my consort, Lisia!” Cobweb interrupted, gently taking hold of Lisia’s feet. “You’re my lover.” He squeezed the arch on one foot, then the other. “Equal, remember?”

Pushing back against the pillows, Lisia sat up. “I remember. You know what I mean, though.”

“Yes, Lis.” Cobweb stood. “Now let’s see about going downstairs for dinner. Yarrow should have it ready by now, as it’s nearly dark.”

“Mmmmm, another of his wonderful soups?” Lisia asked, slipping off the bed and stepping into his shoes. “I loved that soup last night. Soup’s really the best thing for me to eat, you know — easiest for me to digest.”

Cobweb took his lover’s hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze. “Yes, Doctor, you’ve mentioned it a time or two.”

Lisia laughed softly as they walked around the bed towards the door. “Am I that bad? Repeating myself?”

“No, no, it’s just funny. I’m sure you know what you’re talking about,” Cobweb assured. When it came to hosting, there were few hara more expert than Lisia, who had birthed 24 in only six years.

As they passed through the doorway, Lisia paused and put his hand on the door frame.

“What is it?” Cobweb asked, reading the discomfort flickering across the hostling’s face.

Lisia dropped his hand and shrugged. “Oh, nothing, just my back. It’s just a little backache.” He moved down the hallway.

“Swift had that,” Cobweb pointed out. “Remember? I thought it was because the pearl was so large.”

They descended the staircase together, Lisia slightly ahead. “Oh, it’s possible, I suppose, although it’s not always just the size of the pearl. It’s a combination of things. I always found hosting in winter caused it; sitting around so much, catching chill.”

“Hmmmm, that makes sense… but you haven’t been ‘sitting around’ very much, at least up until a few days ago.” Cobweb argued. Before his son and son-in-law had left on a visit to Immanion, Lisia had been up and about playing with their two-year-old harling on a regular basis.

“I suppose it’s all relative,” Lisia reflected. “The first few years I hosted, we never had to work much at all except for helping out with other hostlings’ births, so usually it wasn’t too uncomfortable. Later on when things got desperate I had to do a lot more work. Then I’d get backaches from working in the fields, digging ditches.”

Lisia’s eyes had grown dark as he recalled the painful memories. He had nearly miscarried his last pearl from being forced into strenuous labor half-way through his term.

“Anyway, back to my point, I think this backache comes from sitting all day knitting. That and perhaps the chill by that window.” He sat down at the table. “If it weren’t so cold and growing dark, I’d suggest we go walking.” He paused for a moment, obviously considering the possibilities. “Maybe we could do some dancing tonight,” he suggested.

Cobweb had to laugh. “Dancing? Lisia, you truly are unique. But we can dance if you like.”

“Thanks.” It turned out he was thanking both Cobweb and the servant who set down the bowl of soup before him. “After dinner?”

“After dinner.” Cobweb nodded and gave the servant a few instructions. “And I’ll give you a nice hot bath and then a healing back rub,” he promised.

“Good,” Lisia pronounced, “because I want to get rid of this ache before morning. The birth will be tomorrow.”

Cobweb stopped eating. “Phlaar said two to three days.”

Lisia helped himself to another spoonful of soup before replying. “Well, I know better than Phlaar. It will be tomorrow.” He noted Cobweb’s skeptical expression and added, “I have a feeling.”

Cobweb smiled, conceding Lisia’s intuition was probably worth trusting. “Ah, a feeling. And what else, pray tell, do you have feelings about?”

“Oh, I’m also sure Phlaar won’t make it in time,” he said, his hand unconsciously rubbing his abdomen. “It will probably be very quick.”

“I can imagine, given your experience. I suppose it will be like Seel’s,” Cobweb guessed. “His was only 15 minutes.”

Lisia snorted and shook his head. “15 minutes? No, I mean faster. Probably. Maybe five minutes. My last few almost fell out — be ready.” His look went serious. “And please, until then, don’t leave me alone.”

“I won’t,” Cobweb vowed. “I promise.”

“Good, because I want you to be there. For our son.” He extended his hand across the table, taking Cobweb’s hand. “And for me.”

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