Chapter 84 - Ballgarod
The journey to Ballgarod proved just as harrowing as they expected. Rowan could see why this place had never fallen and never would. To traverse it on foot and in single file was treacherous but for an army, it would be inaccessible. This would be a well defensible, final retreat for as long as your provisions held.
They faced sheer rock faces, steep paths that hugged the cliffs over terrifying precipices, rickety rope bridges over chasms that dropped down to boulder-strewn depths, hidden hideouts with trap doors, secret levers, and passageways riddled with traps. Without Marcus and Alena’s as her guides, Rowan knew she wouldn’t have made it on her own.
They reached their destination long before dawn on the tenth day, and both women collapsed into tired sleep. Marcus set a stiff pace through necessity, and that exhausted them. He let them sleep until sunset before he reluctantly woke them.
From the first moment he started their training, he showed them a different Marcus. This was the man the elders feared and respected. He granted no quarter and accepted no excuses. He treated them as if they were his soldiers and not his family.
Marcus taught them through trial, error, and repetition as he explained, demonstrated, and engaged them in mock combat. Marcus' relentless attack forced Rowan to admit defeat when she couldn’t rise from a fall, out of sheer exhaustion.
Alena was stronger, better trained, and she held out for a while longer, but finally, she shook her head, and Marcus frowned.
They knew what he thought, but they couldn’t take anymore. Alena collapsed beside Rowan with her sides heaving, and her eyes aglow.
“Alena?” Rowan gasped with her eyes downcast and her ears the slightest bit pink.
“Yes?” Alena asked, intrigued by Rowan’s unexpected shyness.
“Can all this falling and all of those punches hurt us? I don’t want to...” Her face turned bright red, and Alena chuckled as she realized Rowan worried about the babies.
“Don’t worry; our bodies are not as fragile as that of humans,” Alena explained as she sobered.
“Our metabolisms may be faster than that of humans, and you’d think a baby would grow quickly, but we’re slow breeders,” Alena found it odd to have to explain such basic biology to another vampire, but Rowan couldn’t know these things.
“Nature seems to take its time making predators like us. You were born seven months after your mother conceived, but she was human,” Alena informed Rowan.
“You’re all vampire now. Nature wrapped up that baby in a cocoon of protective membranes until it's perfectly formed and the human/vampire strains flawlessly bonded. Until about five months from now, you’d have to be almost dead for harm to occur to your baby,” Alena assured Rowan, and Rowan visibly relaxed.
“After that, it grows faster, like a normal pregnancy for seven more months before birth, and we don’t give birth with ease. Our bodies try to heal, and the baby wants out,” Alena explained almost under her breath, and Rowan frowned with something akin to horror in her eyes.
“Now, you tell me?” Rowan pretended to moan, but there was no regret in her eyes. ” That’s Almost thirteen months,” Rowan realized, looking scared.
“At least it gives us time,” Alena reminded, and Rowan nodded in agreement.
Rowan slid down until she could lay flat on her back. She shook inside, and yet she felt exhilarated, not just by what was within her, but about what she learned.
“You’re hungry,” Alena realized with absolute conviction, and Rowan groaned. She had denied her raging thirst to train and learn, but now she was paying for it. She was too weak to get up and see to herself without allowing her body to recover.
“I’ll be fine in a minute,” Rowan hedged, and Alena sighed.
“I’ll get it for you, but you have to learn to look better after yourself. You’re as weak as a newborn, and we can never afford vulnerability. Not anymore,” Alena admonished and then flitted away. Rowan closed her eyes; the truth was sometimes just a little painful.
Her hands found their way to her stomach in a protective gesture. She could already feel the slow flutter of a tiny heart. The sensation caused a warmth inside of her that brought a secretive little smile to her face.
Alena returned just in time to see this, and it brought a gentle smile to her own face. When they met, Alena would never have thought Rowan would make a good parent, but she knew better now. Rowan would be everything a good parent should be, not despite her upbringing, but because of it.
She knows what she needed and longed for as a child, which would make her strive to give her child all of that.
Alena felt loathe to interrupt the moment, but Rowan needed to feed. She flitted outside and walked toward the training room at human speed to give Rowan a moment.
When she entered the room, their eyes met, but something in Rowan had altered forever. Rowan wasn’t just aware of her pregnancy; she’d become a mother with the instincts of a mother. This was no longer just about Rowan or them, but about the baby.
Rowan’s mindset had changed from the singular me to the plural us, which included both Alena and Marcus. Alena knew this because it happened to her. Babies had a way of doing that to a person; changing your view, and priorities.