Author’s Note: I started out with one ending, then thought of another, and then changed the first a wee bit. I am going to leave both endings open-ended to be able to go back and add more stories to the series; there are also some “dangling hooks” I’d like to address throughout what’s already published.
I will do the first ending first and the alternate ending second. The alternate ending is longer… the whole story within a story within a story. I gave into the secret urge in the second to try to connect to Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar, but the reference is vague enough I don’t have to pursue it ever.
The blue-eyed warrior clan matriarch laid out a blanket. The moon elm tree provided excellent shade for a courtyard picnic at the Temple of Peace. The town was abandoned for harvest. Her brown-eyed outlander warrior stretched on the blanket staring at clouds. The two blue-eyed daughters danced in the moon clover while the green-eyed girl sat soundlessly rubbing an eight-moon-cycle burgeoning belly.
The matriarch rested her back at the warrior’s knees. She began, “You know, she’s been here so long, we ought to keep her.”
“You kidding? I’m too old for wailing and moon rise feedings. Since your spirit-healer can’t touch her memories, we don’t know the father’s identity,” he replied.
“She has no home, she doesn’t talk, and thanks to the Temple of Peace scholars, a rock has better connection skills.”
“But how will we feed two extra mouths if I retire?”
“You’ve handled your caravan duties well, and with War God blessings you’re not in a DeadLife Nightmare border area”
A sharp cry disturbed the afternoon’s peace. The green-eyed child clutched her belly and entered labor.
“Girls, help her to the blanket, back against the tree with knees up. Get water.”
The warrior yelped, “Not on my good caravan blanket!”
The matriarch replied, “Replace the blanket later, love.”
The water arrived in buckets on the daughters’ arms. “All of you, get back.”
“Young one, stop. Focus on my voice. I will help you. This will hurt, but if you heed my words, it will work better.”
Green eyes widened. Soundlessly her behavior and position were adjusted .
“Inhale… exhale… inhale… exhale…”
Just as the moon was rising, the matriarch could tell by belly pulsations pushing time arrived.
“Okay, every time I say push, scrunch your belly up like you’ve eaten moon hay and can’t get it out of your bowels.”
“Push… push… push… okay, just wait. It’s going to be one hard push, but I need to rinse my sword so I can cut the connection cord. After that, while I rinse the baby, push for a count of five so that the womb connection lining comes out.”
The matriarch rinsed her sword and laid it by the child’s feet. “Okay, little girl, push.”
The baby arrived in the matriarch’s hands. She used her sword in the appropriate blessing stroke sequence for cord cutting. As she rinsed the baby’s body, a loud, lusty life wail broke through the night.
The matriarch grabbed her cloak and wrapped the baby, laying him in his young mother’s arms. “Now, loosen your top. See if he will latch or if you need a suckling nurse’s help.”
For the first time in many moon cycles, green eyes widened with joy as the infant feverishly sucked and slurped. “He’s… mine. It’s… my baby.” She caressed his cheek as he continued drinking first milk.
Shock descended on the whole family at her first words. The unseen realms shadow following the girl vanished as she claimed the gift of life offered by the War God after such a horrific act of destruction and life stealing.
The outlander warrior wept, “Guess we get moon rise feedings after all.”