The pain came again. She screamed. It felt like a bear had her in a death embrace. Her contractions, this close, made it impossible to catch her breath before the next. John had left her. Off to fetch his sister Miranda.
Shadows danced across the floorboards. Winged forms of blue and green flew outside the window and open doorway. Gokans.
Horza was under attack!
It was that time again: when the farmers brought their woolly inkas down from the hilltops and mountain peaks, and spread them out across the open valley below. Having flown south along the Ghorran Mountains, the Gokans looking for the inkas had found Horza first. For the settlement had been built on the side of the mountain.
She knew the drill; they all did. When you saw the half-man half-dragon mutants, you headed for the tunnels within the mountain. It was dark and cramped down there, but once everyone was in, the men could seal off the entrance and keep them safe.
She staggered towards her bed on unsteady legs, heavy as if filled with lead. She stopped at the head of the bed. Pain clamped her lower back as if some invisible hand clenched the base of her spine and held it tight.
With gritted teeth, she crawled onto her bed. Her belly felt ready to burst. She didn’t know which was worse, the baby’s movements or the pains everywhere else. She turned and rested against the two feather-filled sacks, breathing deep and slow. It eased the pain in her lower back.
Something warmed her inner thighs and pooled the area where she sat.
‘John!’ she called as loud as she could. Where was he? He’d left before the Gokans’ arrival. Had he been eaten? Had his sister? Or worse, taken by them? They did that, not very often, but stories told of them taking younger women. What they did with them no one knew. None had ever returned.
Vibrations rumbled in the mattress. Someone was coming up their ladder. She froze, watching at the doorway. Her hand slid beneath the feather-filled sacks, instinct. Soon she touched the hilt of one of John’s short blades. She had no idea how to use it but feeling it on her fingers eased her tension. A heavy footfall sounded on the platform outside. Her grip tightened.
John’s lean form appeared at the door, his loose fitted shirt unbuttoned to his waist. His bow, long as his leg, was held horizontal in his left hand as he crossed the threshold. Light glistened from its smooth ebony finish. He was OK, of course he was. He may not be the bulkiest of men, but he was quick with his bow. She let out a long drawn out breath. With concern in his eyes he rushed towards her. Was it Miranda?
Although they didn’t see each other very often, she’d become good friends with his sister. Miranda was always too busy playing with steel. Sara made to get off the bed. The movement brought back the invisible hand. She got as far as her knees when Miranda ran around her brother. Her face red, a little more so than John’s, but she arrived at Sara’s side before her brother. Sara sunk back into the sacks. The dampness cooled her bum as she settled. A relief from the scorching heat she felt everywhere else.
Something hard landed on their roof. John, in the middle of the room, stopped. The timbers above her bed bowed and creaked; they were worn and old but held. The hut swayed. Only a Gokan could do that. Miranda, with haunted eyes, took Sara’s hand and held it tight. Heavy footfalls moved away from them. The wooden planks sagged and squealed towards John.
He rushed to the corner beside the window where he kept his other quiver. A leaf-made one he’d got from the City of Magdalor.
He grabbed two arrows, clenched one between his teeth and turned.
He rushed to the centre of the floor and with arrow nocked, he waited. The six-inch arrowhead shook as John strained to keep it held back. Its sharpness was no match for the aging three inch timber above and would pierce with ease. The next drop in the wood fell directly above his head. John let loose his arrow. The bowstring twanged, echoing in their cabin. The arrowhead vanished into the timber. There was a howl of pain.
Blood oozed down the arrow’s shaft, not a lot but enough. A sign they could be hurt, killed too perhaps if enough blood was lost. John made ready the other arrow. Before he let it loose, the one jutting from above was yanked up.
It pattered on the roof to their left. The roof creaked once more and then a pair of wings thumped the air. John rushed to the doorway.
Poised and ready, he looked all around. Satisfied he lowered the bow and came back inside.
Miranda hadn’t had a child of her own, but had helped deliver many. Without hesitation, she ducked to a crouch and put her head close between Sara’s thighs, too close for a girl to be. Sara tensed and wanted to back away. The sacks behind stopped her. She remained still.
A light pain developed in her right pelvis, near to Miranda’s encroaching stare. It worked its way up and round to the side. By the time it reached as far as it could go, another started in her left. Once all of the left of her pelvis had been covered something wrapped around her whole belly. As if a layer of cement had wrapped around her and was thickening and setting, hard. Before it was solid the pain vanished and she was left feeling still and calm like the pains had never been.
‘You’re not far now, Sara, I can see the head. You’re doing fine.’
Fine! She was anything but. She was having John’s baby. There were Gokans outside. She ached all over and she found it hard to breathe.
John’s hand clasped hers. She looked up at him. His gaze on Miranda was full of concern. ‘We have to get her out of here,’ he said with a sharp tone. ‘There’s no telling what’ll happen if we stay.’
‘No,’ Sara said, ‘it’s too late for that. This baby is on its way John, I’m going nowhere.’