The tears came easily enough, if Taetha pinched the girl, which was fortunate because the babe hadn't cried once since she'd been born. It was almost as though she understood what she was and harboured each droplet of water for fear someone would use it against her. Seven turns of the sun and still the infant hadn't cried. Seven turns, and still she wouldn't suckle.
What kept the babe alive, Taetha would never know, but the brown magics could be good and the power, when it was harnessed as it was in this child, was strong. No doubt the babe psyched from the very air what water she needed to sustain her, but even that couldn't keep the tiny heart beating for much longer. She needed to eat.
Taetha looked down at the narrow vial she'd lain against the infant's cheek and pinched the earlobe once more. The babe's squall leaked a few more precious tears into the glass. They were indeed precious, and precious little, barely covering the bottom, but perhaps, if The Deities were kind, it would be enough.
She plugged the vial with a knob of cork and poured beeswax around the neck to seal it, rolling it in her palm to cool. There was so little of the fluid, she couldn't take the chance of evaporation, or spilling, or worse, any psyching from it if the girl grew thirsty. She grunted in satisfaction and wrapped the tube, now cooled and hardened of its seal, into a thick hide, tied that with hare intestines dried and oiled to perfect suppleness, and then laid it in a basket lined with moss. This she covered with yet another hide and tied that with yet more hare thongs before settling the entire package near the door.
He would be coming soon.
Taetha had let the fire pit purposely die down and she glanced at it to be sure the coals were tamped. The iron poker lay where she left it beside the pit, seemingly forgotten to the casual eye, but well within easy reach should she need it.
Why she would be afraid of a child--a boy--she couldn't say, but these last months she'd learned not all was as it seemed. The brown magic could grow black if left too long unused and mouldering. She'd not dared use of it what she owned since she'd been taken, indeed, none of them had dared: her brother, her sister. Alhanna: their mother. But she couldn't think about them, not now. She had enough to concern her with the boy's visit.
With magics becoming a liability, and black magic rising from brown, she worried the boy had been left too long with the darkness--or worse--counselled in darkness and had been spoiled before his life had ripened. The klans had warred too long to know if one witch or more had gone to seed, the reason for their fighting long forgotten. She only knew this babe needed her, and she no longer cared for the old war. Truth be told, the old war mattered little now that the Conqueror had come, mattered little in light of the need to band together against this common enemy. Perhaps this child would help heal the rift among the klans and bring them together finally; this self-proclaimed conqueror making them forget the old hatreds.
The infant whimpered and Taetha eased her from the basket where she lay and pulled her close against her chest, letting the scent of new flesh envelope her and make her feel again the lingering magics of her home and its tribe. It seemed she couldn't leave it all behind, after all. Well, she could ignore the old war, but she could not ignore the heritage.
"Shall I sing to you of Etlantium, Little One," she said to the fuzz of hair. "Or should your nohma tell you once again of your mother?"
She hummed, letting the babe nestle into her neck. How warm the girl was. How tiny to fit into such close places as a matron's neck, an arm's crook, a heart that had seized up over the last days into a tiny knot of flesh.
So small, but so, so powerful. Would this boy guess the power he was being bonded to? Would his mother?
She was still humming when the fire pit leapt to flame. Taetha eyed the poker and edged closer to it, turning even as she did so to the visitor she knew was standing in the door.
He was small but already had a few markings in the old language on his ribs. The first one, the largest, was easy to decipher even from her distance as it was still inflamed at its edges: that of fire.
"You are Yenic," she said.
The boy's eyes glowed yellow, sparking in reflection of the flame.
"You are Taetha?" His voice was querulous but strong. He would be a force, this one. Taetha tried to believe the wriggling in her belly was from nervous excitement, not anxiety. The two could so often be mistaken, being as close as they were.
She drew to her full height and nodded at the basket.
"I am Taetha," she confirmed. "Blood witch to the newborn temptress." She gave him a direct look. "You were not followed." She could have phrased it as a question, but chose instead the command. Let him feel nervous.
He shook his head, unaffected, but peered over his shoulder into the garden. "I thought I was, but he proved to be only a poor drunkard pissing in the wrong spot."
Taetha said nothing. She knew the man was dead. She'd have to bury him later. This boy was indeed a child, but already his tattaus carried the weight of his mother's power. He would have been instructed to take no chances. She eyed the boy again and was relieved--even emboldened--when she saw a look of regret on his features.
"How many seasons have you, Yenic?"
"Seven is young to be an Arm."
He toed the dirt. "It's young to be bonded."
"You'd rather the first but not the last?"
A grin pulled at the corner of his mouth. "I'd rather it was neither."
"I understand." He was so young, yet something in his eyes made him seem far older than seven seasons. She couldn't concern herself with his woes. She had a babe to think of. She glanced toward the door.
"The basket is there." Taetha pulled the infant closer, putting her palm over the tiny head of black fuzz. "Take care travelling it."
Yenic took the few short steps to where the wicker sat, bundled in hides she'd tanned and beaten with her own hand. He pulled fiercely at the thongs.
"No," she said, taking an alarmed step; she couldn't have him breaking the vial just to satisfy himself she'd given what she'd offered. "It's there. I promise you. Safe and sound."
He glanced up sharply, curious. "Oh, I know it is," he said matter-of-factly, and bent again to the hide. He pulled the vial loose, scraped at the wax and yanked the cork with his teeth. Peering at the liquid, he made a face, then spat the cork to the earthen floor where it spun twice before stopping.
"I'm not to take chances," he said as though he were repeating solemn words that he'd practiced, then upended the vial into his gaping mouth. He swallowed. He grimaced. Sighed. With an odd quirk to his lips, he looked up at Taetha. He looked far younger in the moment than the seven he was.
"It's done, isn't it?" he asked.
She felt for a tell tale quickening in her chest, the echo of one fluttering against her own, and when she knew it was there, she closed her eyes in relief.
She didn't have to look to know he was gone, but she opened her eyes anyway. The door stood open and empty. The fire pit died again to its blackness.
The babe in her arms began to suckle at her neck noisily.
"It's done, Alaysha," she said to the room. "It's done, and I pray to The Deities I've done the right thing."