Simple Remedies

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AN: I just wanted to repeat the warning that this chapter deals with childbirth and fear of stillbirth, in case it is a trigger issue. 

~TIEN LYN~

That day and the next Yu followed Tien Lyn with an apologetic, but unwavering persistence. She needn't have worried about giving their secret away to Ho: outwardly, there was no sign of magic, no lightning bolts or faery chants. If anything, he grew more withdrawn than usual. But the child inside her moved so often and with such vigour that she went from laughing every time he kicked to groaning.

"Look at me! I dare complain!" she dropped her spoon at dinner, and shook her head in disbelief.

"It is a good sign," Ho said soothingly.

Tien Lyn nodded, and could not help but glance Yu's way across the table.

Oh, what a lousy conspirator I'd have made! Good thing I did not marry a prince.

The healer dipped his head even lower, but she noticed the change in him anyway. It was not just the pallor of his complexion. The unsuppressable pulse of life, like a green shoot pushing its way between paving stones that used to emanate from him, was gone now.

It's my fault, she realized. "You look unwell, Yu. Perhaps... perhaps you need a bit of fresh air? We can walk to the village market in the afternoon, or you could climb that hill you keep looking at out of the window?"

Ho chuckled: "Ah, simple remedies..."

She squeezed her eyes shut, wondering if what she asked for was blasphemous. Simple remedies indeed.

Ho turned to the healer: "Go to the village market, but avoid the backroads, my friend. The Emperor was stripping the garrisons in the North since the spring break-up to fight Zha Yao's men in Shantong. Zha Yao's men are careful to make friends with the people, but Wo Jia's axillaries are another matter. The Emperor means to burn the lesson into our memory, so he lets the barbarians do what they would."

Tien Lyn stared at her husband wide-eyed: "But the fighting is far away from here--- or... is it?"

Ho took her hand: "I didn't mean to worry you, darling. But the war is coming to us. The Imperial Fleet came down from the Northern reaches and is reprovisioning in Sutao. Admiral Jung Hwa has the control of the coast all the way to the Southern Luitong, so I expect they will strike in-land to inspire loyalty in the governors and mayors. We are only a few miles away from Crane's Landing on the Tumultuous River. I've engaged more guards, but as soon as the baby and you are strong enough to travel, we will leave for Zha Yao's camps."

"You... you will stay here till the baby comes?" Yu finally spoke up.

Ho nodded. "I won't risk my wife's travelling this close---"

Yu got up and leaned against the wall. "I must... I need... I do need open air. I will return when Mistress Tien Lyn's time is due."

"That's a very long walk," Ho looked surprised. Then aghast. "Wait. Surely, you do not mean to-" then he rubbed his forehead. "Of course you do. Have you eased childbirth before?"

Yu blinked. "Pain is pain."

Ho glanced at Tien Lyn's with a private half-smile, inviting her to share his amusement over a man who'd shared in childbirth and did not think anything of it. But Tien Lyn could not bring herself to smile back. She fought a strong impulse to cling to Yu's clothes, to grab his hands and beg him not to leave her alone with their secret and her worries. As much as she craved comfort, she did not tell her husband either.

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