This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.
Burdens Of The Dead – Snippet 36
One bodyguard moved to the window, obliquely. The other came closer to the desk, hand on his sword. “Cavalry,” said the window-peerer with some satisfaction. “The Ilkhan’s troops, by the looks of it.”
Technically, Trebizond was an independent state. But they paid tribute to the Ilkhan. It looked like the illusion of independence might be being suspended. Right now that seemed like a good idea, if it got rid of the Baitini.
But it was still not a good idea to go to his window to look, because a watcher could, all to easily, take that opportunity to shoot him. Was a prisoner less free because the guards were changed?
At least the prisoner might get more reliable meals. Privileges perhaps. And would not have to fear the guards would be suborned.
Since her worshipper had left the city that now stood at the tear the Earth-Shaker had made in her gates, Hekate had walked there with her dogs more often than just at full moon. More than merely walking, she paid attention to the city around her, to the people, to their doings, even though they seemed at times incomprehensible. She was a goddess, she had no limitations except those she chose to impose on herself. Eventually, she would comprehend.
She also began to roam across the fringes of the lands of her people, the parts that had survived the deluge, the ones that still might contain some of the bloodlines of those that had sought shelter there. The world had changed a great deal, but some things not at all. Robbers and murderers still watched the crossroads. She’d been aware of Antimo’s libation, and watched and given him guidance. She had welcomed the fact that his action had caused another to copy him, and had graciously allowed the second man to share in her protection. Already…she felt just a little stronger.
And then one night, to her surprise, found she had another human pouring a stoup of wine out at the cross-roads, asking for her guidance. She heard his desperate question clearly, as she turned her feet towards him. In the way of a goddess, she was beside him before he had completed it.
“Do I go on to my mother or back to Eleni?”
She recognized him. It was the young farmer who had been on his way to market on the same road as Antimo, the one she had extended her hand to because he had copied Antimo. Thrace had once been hers, and although he spoke Greek, well, worship was worship. And this was clearly worship; he understood what he was doing.
“Eleni is your wife?” she asked, from out of the shadows.
He started. “I didn’t see you there, Kyria. Yes, my wife. Our baby is near. I…I just wondered whether to go home or go on to my mother. Either way, I will make one of them unhappy, and this is not a time to make either unhappy.”
“Go this way,” she said, pointing. She walked with him a little way too, with her dogs. He too could see her. That was interesting. He had deliberately invoked her. That was even more interesting.
She inspected his thoughts, gravely. His mind was troubled not so much with the path to choose, but with one of her other aspects, that of birthing. So much so that he confided in a total stranger, chance met, or so he thought, at a crossroads. “Eleni and my mother…they don’t see eye-to-eye. And she lost her own mother when she was young. So I can’t turn to her mother. But we’re far out. Old Zathos farmed the land next to us, but he died last year and his boys have yet to come back from the sea. Before her time comes I must get her closer to the midwife in Thasaski. If she would stay with my mother…”
He was troubled by a problem that he could see no answer to. “But she will not. There is only my cousin. And how do I know when to take her to Thasaski? If she stays in the house of my cousin, there will be no space for me. And the animals on the farm?” He spoke of the small concerns of peasant farmer. Who would milk the goats? See to the hens?”
Hekate had not been the goddess of warriors and great kings. She’d been the confidant of just these sorts of people. Small farmers, hunters, herdsmen. She’d been the goddess of their concerns; no one had ever called on her for victory in war, but rather, for victory over a threatened harvest. It was something of a shock to find the same kinds of people were still here, even if the gate had failed and flooded the lowlands that had been the center of her worship. Yet here they still were, though the people of the city seemed opaque to her, and so much else had changed.
She bent her mind to his problems. The peasant’s wife’s time was not supposedly that near, but Hekate had her ways of seeing, and…
It was a good thing he had invoked her.
She went with him to the cottage. It was a humble little place with the mountain behind it, and the stream close by for water, laughing across the rocks. Nature had put a hard sill of rock there, so a little rich pocket of good earth was retained, while most of the mountainside was stony and not productive. It was a beautiful spot, if lonely. They ran the last part of the journey to the cottage, because they could hear in the distance that his wife was calling, desperately.
They arrived to find a very young woman on the verge of tears. Her waters had broken, and having been too proud and in too much conflict with her mother-in-law to ask for help before, now she wanted, with a terrible desperation, to go to the village, to the midwife. She was too inexperienced to know it was far too late for such a journey. But she was also afraid, too afraid to want to know or to care just what her husband had been doing on the mountainside with a tall woman with two red-eared dogs.
Hekate looked at her with her wise, old eyes. Read the signs as others might a book, for this too had been a part of her purview, in the days before the gate broke and the waters came. “It is too late for the village. The babe is on his way.” She gestured imperiously towards the hut. “Come.”
The wife looked at her with relief and disbelief. “You…you are midwife? Spiro brought home a midwife? He is…”
A pain silenced her and she gasped instead of speaking.
Hekate had been an actual midwife too, as well as the goddess of childbirth, and it as just as well that she was here and had experience to draw on, and her magics too. The baby was coming early. It was a first child, and it was not going to be an easy birth. In fact, without She who opens, it would have also been a last birth, with mother and babe going to Aidoneus’s shadowy land.
But that would not happen today. All because a young farmer had poured a libation.
“Be calm,” she said. “Now come inside.”
The woman grasped her belly in both hands and stooped to enter the house, obedient, and glad to be so.
Hekate pointed at the peasant. “Go and bring me yarrow, and the root of the valerian plant. Be off with you.” She needed neither herb, but she wanted to examine the mother properly, and the spells she needed were not aided by male presence.
It was apparent that both of them needed to be told what to do. “I…I am not very good with herbs,” he said, wringing his hands. “Eleni does that kind of thing.”
Hekate shook her head. What was the world coming to? “You must learn better in the future. Who will gather herbs for healing if your Eleni is herself ill? But do not fear.”
She called one of the dogs. “Here, Ravener. Take him and show him,” Hekate said to the dog. She turned back to the farmer. “He will point with his nose. You will gather the whole plant, root and all, that he points to, I will separate what I need. Now go.” She turned back to the dog. “And bring me some Lad’s Love too. There are fleas.”
So he went, following the dog, and left Hekate to her delicate task.
* * *
When he came back she set him to boiling water to make an infusion of the yarrow, and to chopping up the Lad’s Love and scattering it on the floor. He needed to be kept busy and out of the way. It was always thus with young fathers; older ones, seasoned ones, might actually be useful, but young ones? Good only for fretting if you did not keep them busy.
Hekate worked her magic loosening cartilage, and easing muscle, dilating, and helping the young woman to breathe and to push. Still, this was going to be hard. Hekate knew she was going to be here well into the night.
In the midnight hour the child was born. And with that first cry Hekate bound herself again to the mortals she had left behind.
It hurt of course, bringing back memories of her own children, prisoner of her faithless lover. But that was hardly this grateful peasant girl’s fault, as she stared lovingly at the babe being put to her breast.
So, there it was. She had a people again. And two — maybe three — worshippers. There might be more. She had taken up her ancient responsibilities. And though it hurt…perhaps it was a hurt like birthing, that would bring something good into the world.
But there were practical things to deal with now. Hekate had already taken steps to deal with the bleeding and possible infection, and the baby’s first attempts at suckling would help. Once the placenta was out, the babe was warm and asleep, and the exhausted young mother close to joining her in sleep, Hekate’s work was done.
She called the husband, who was pacing outside, watched by the dogs. “Now, your question is answered; now you can go back to where we met, and choose the other path, and go to your mother. Tell her she has a grandson. He is well and strong and has fine lungs. Tell her to come at once, and that your wife called for her. I think that will do much to reconcile the two of them. Your mother needs grandchildren, and your wife needs help.”
He bowed respectfully. “Yes Kyria.” He paused a moment. “Kyria…who are you?”
“I am Hekate, She of the Cross-roads and Gateways. Childbirth, the Hunt, and the Darkness were mine once.” She swept the night’s darkness around her and left by the third way, as the astonished young farmer scrambled for a drop of wine to pour when he reached that crossroads again.
The dogs seemed happier, somehow.