The wiry, gray-haired woman dropped a platter of breakfast on our table. A rasher of bacon, three poached eggs, a loaf of bread and some dried apples. Thaniel insisted on a mug of ale, much to Meleryn’s distaste. Without Jon, money was scarce. The idea of trading small, circular pieces of metal for food, shelter, and clothing, was absurd to me. My grandfather was wealthy because of jewels and gems and his status in the mountain; clan Macdara only traded work and goods. Both ways seemed better than little coins that could be easily stolen or lost.
A wave of now-familiar nausea overcame me. I tried to fight it, barely succeeding. The poached eggs stared at me, making my mouth water in anticipation of vomiting. My palms began to sweat.
“Excuse me,” I mumbled as I fled the tavern part of the Inn. I made it outside in time to hurl in the gutter. The sickness passed soon after my retching, the coolness of the day feeling delicious on my skin. I wiped my hand across my sweaty face, wondering when this part of pregnancy ended. I placed a hand over my belly, now able to notice the small, hard lump in my lower abdomen. Meleryn may still have been skeptical, but I was positive. All I needed was that little confirmation from the midwife.
I leaned against the building, musing about what this new information would mean for me. For Jon. Would he have been happy? Scared? Children was never something we’d discussed. I felt lost without him, though I knew for certain I was thrilled. In an instant my life had changed. Things that once worried me no longer did; only Jon and the fragile life of our unborn child mattered now. I smiled up at the clouds.
Distant memories of my mother’s pregnancies drifted back to me. In between Benji and Anna, she’d lost a child. It was an instinctual fear of all mothers to be; to protect what we held most dear. Although my mother and I were never close, I missed her at this time in my life. I missed my father and my siblings. They’d rejoice at the news of a child, for they were rare in the mountain.
I stood straight and dusted off my green and brown plaid skirts, flattening my bodice and taming my wild hair in an attempt to appear more mature. Sounds of a scuffle came to my ears from the ajar tavern door. I pushed the heavy wood open, my eyes falling upon a grisly sight. Thaniel held Meleryn from behind, pinning her arms to her sides. She thrashed and kicked and growled like an angry beast, while Thaniel struggled. His dirty blond hair came loose from his tether, and he was straining to hold her tight, though he was laughing in between her outbursts. The men that had awoken early for fresh breakfast (or who had not bothered stumbling up the stairs to bed from the night before) were standing from their seats, slowly drawing daggers and swords.
I followed Mel’s deathly glare, my eyes landing on a familiar woman whose eyes were rimmed in black.
“Ye canna kill the only midwife in town,” Thaniel chuckled, clearly finding amusement in a tense and ironic situation.
Vala smirked from across the table, her strange eyes as piercing as I’d remembered them. I was silently grateful for her poisoning Thran, though.
“That bitch killed my brother, my blood.” Mel seethed, contorting against her restraints. Thaniel seemed all too pleased at watching her gnash her teeth at the woman she wanted to kill.
“Ahh, how unfortunate. Bit of a bloody bastard, I’ve heard. Well, at least he used to be.” Thaniel said. Mel ground her teeth together. I pinched the bridge of my nose, still dumbfounded at our luck. Vala bit the inside of her cheek before smiling. I gripped Bear’s scruff, anxious.
“So will you help us—me?” I asked. My voice sounded desperate. She considered for a moment more, glancing around our rented room. The sun streamed in through the closed window, making me hot and annoyed.
“I’ll help ye, and none else.” she gave a pointed look at my two companions. I turned to them, nodding.
“Go, I’ll fetch you when we are done.”
“If ye try and kill her too, no one will be able to stop me.”
Thaniel rolled his eyes, pulling her up. I was touched by her protectiveness over me, even if it was only for Jon’s sake. “I should hire ye on as a crew mate. You cause public disruptions that would rival even some of my men.”
The door closed heavily, leaving us alone in the stuffy room. I turned to her, wringing my hands. She smirked.
“So yer with child, eh girl?”
“I-I, well I think so.” I muttered nervously. She reached for my hand across the round table. I obliged.
“Not Thran’s,” she smiled wickedly. I gulped.
“No. He never…got that far, thanks to you.” I said.
“Thank the gods, girl, not me.” her eyes pierced my soul. Her grip tightened. “I saw into yer future with Thran. Yer child would have conquered the world, would have killed us all.”
My heart hammered, wondering if there was any stock to her superstitions.
“So that’s why you poisoned him?” I said. Her light red hair fell forward across her shoulder.
“One of many reasons.” she turned my hand over to peer at my palm. I wasn’t sure this was standard midwife practice, but she was the closest thing Thaniel could find in a pinch.
“Jon is missing from ye,” she commented. I nodded slowly.
“Lost at sea. We are to set out searching for him.”
Her light brows furrowed together in confusion.
“I canna see him, or feel him.”
My heart stuttered. “What?” I breathed. Vala had been uncannily accurate on my future before, as befuddling as her tales had been.
“I canna see yer child, either.”
For the second time in a span of mere moments, my heart felt crushed.
“So…so I’m not with child?” I asked quietly. The warm fire and sun beating down made sweat pool on my lower back and nape of my neck. The sounds of the tavern below travelled to us, distant and muffled.
“Oh, ye are,” my spirits rose. “But, I canna see Jon and the babe at the same time.” she turned my hand over for closer inspection.
“What does that mean?” I said, angered. She shrugged.
“It can mean many different things. But some would say that Jon and the child will never meet. One or the other will perish, for the gods canna give us both our greatest desires at the same time.” her face fell a bit in some sort of sympathy. I withdrew my hand as if burned, placing it protectively over my stomach.
“Where is Jon?” the question tumbled forth unsolicited. She smirked and sat back, draping her arm over the wooden curve behind her head.
“I still see him, barely, faintly. He clings to the memory of ye, to keep him alive. He’ll not last this season, if ye do not find him.”
I hated her riddles.
“Where can we find him?” I said, pleading.
“That the gods will no tell me, and if ye find him, yer babe will no likely survive.”
“I don’t believe that.” I growled defiantly. The gods would be damned if they took my child and my husband.