July 24, 2013 by Lyn
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
“You can’t Keep him forever, Ghita.” Jaelie and Margherita were sitting on the couch in the suite living room, ostensibly working on some sort of baby project – Nilam would never have pegged Jaelie as the sort to knit, but there she was, working with soft fuzzy yarn no thicker than dental floss while Ghita did something fancy with embroidery thread. At their feet, Nilam was doing his best with a crochet hook and a cone of yellow yarn. Good Kept, it appeared, crocheted. They also cooked, baked, and did any number of other things that he would have called girly, and they never called any of these things girly, or asked for something more guy-suitable to do instead.
Lucky for Nilam’s continued state of being a good Kept, his grandmother had taught him to crochet, and what he hadn’t remembered, Jaelie and Sylvanus had helped him figure out.
He focused on the movements of the hook now, and the flow of the yarn. Jaelie had said something, but she hadn’t been talking to him. It was unimportant.
“Not forever.” Ghita patted his head, and Nilam leaned back against her legs. Just for a moment, though. Good Kept did not cling.
“The school year’s over, you know. Generally that’s when you take the collar off.” Jaelie’s conversational tone was getting more pointed. Nilam focused on the yarn. Jab, loop, pull.
“I know. I mean. That’s when ‘Deus did it. And Fafnir and Æowyn aren’t a thing anymore. But…” She stroked Nilam’s hair. “After the baby?”
“After the baby.” Jaelie touched Ghita’s belly. “You should be due any day now?”
Nilam ignored the surge of panic. Jab, loop, pull. At the beginning of the year, Jaelie hadn’t talked over him like this. She’d talked to him like a person. But it made Ghita uncomfortable, and that made Nilam uncomfortable.
So he’d stopped really answering, and looked to his mistress every time Jaelie talked to him (or Sylvanus; Fafnir didn’t bother and Æowyn didn’t seem to bother Margherita (although when Æowyn talked to Nilam sometimes it would bother Fafnir… sometimes it was easier just not to talk to anyone at all)).
Now Jaelie talked the way Fafnir did, about him, whether or not he was around. And everyone, except possibly Jaelie, was happier.
Like now. Jaelie was most definitely not happy, but that wasn’t Nilam’s problem, unless his mistress decided it was. Due any day now, that might be a problem.
“According to Dr. Caitrin, next Friday, as far as we can tell.” Ghita had the stop-asking-questions voice on, and her petting had gone to nervous braiding of Nilam’s hair, which really wasn’t long enough for that. Jaelie, of course, didn’t care.
“Put that off, didn’t you?” Somehow, she made it sound like a joke and an insult at the same time.
“I can’t be like you, just diving right back in. I don’t know how you did it, with Jabez.” She stilled her hand on Nilam’s head before her nails starting really digging in. He appreciated it. There’s been less actual pain, ever since the weird visit with Ciara and Amadeus.
Jabez. The short dragon-boy, Kept by Hera now. That made a few things he’d said make more sense.
Jaelie was making the noise that went along with her shrugging, a sort of eenh sound. “It wasn’t all that hard. But my mess with Amadeus was different from your mess with him.”
“I was a good Kept!” Ow. There was the pain. Nilam focused on his crochet again. Jab, loop, pull.
“You were a good Kept, who couldn’t stand to have her own Kept touch her for, what, a month?
“Not quite a month.” His mistress loosened her hand again. “It wasn’t that bad. We cuddled. Didn’t we, Nilam?”
“We cuddled.” He wasn’t going to go into more detail than that. Not even if he was ordered to, not even if bad Kept didn’t listen to their Keeper. But he didn’t think Margherita would make him say anything more.
“That doesn’t sound ‘not that bad.’” Damnit, and now Jaelie was sticking her nose in again. Why did everyone like making things hard?
“That sounds like he’s not going to say how bad it was.”
“Well, he’s a good Kept. He wouldn’t think cuddling was bad.” Ghita’s hand landed hard on Nilam’s shoulder.
“We’re embroidering, Ghita. Well, you are; I’m knitting. And since I’m not pregnant this year…”
“Well, at least after this one, I’m done.” Her hand moved from Nilam’s shoulder, presumably back to her embroidery. Nilam was still crocheting. He’d never thought he could make a whole blanket, but the more he had to ignore, the faster the blanket went. Ghita had even let him pick out the pattern, and had liked the fourth one he chose.
“Yeah, I hear you there. Two years of no-babies is kind of nice, although it does mean you’ve got two small ones to concentrate on for the rest of your time here. If I’d really been thinking, I would have waited for my last year for the last one.”
That was something Nilam was just not allowed to think about. He swallowed most of a pained noise, and kept on crocheting. Jab. Loop. Pull.
Jaelie must have noticed. She went back to poking at slightly less uncomfortable topics. “So, the babies are due next Friday?”
“We think. It makes sense with the timing.” The timing made it sound so innocuous.
“And then you’ll let Nilam go?” Why, why did she have to keep harping on that.
“I just want someone there when I give birth.” She sounded so small and helpless. That was the worst-and-best. Nilam could help, then. He could be strong, then. But sometimes, afterwards, everything got weird and she got angry and told him things that didn’t make any sense. “I want someone to hold my hand and tell me I’m going to be ok and all of that.”
“Yeah.” And, for once, Jaelie actually sounded sympathetic. “Deus isn’t really great on that one. Neither was Jabez, for that matter, but he manned up. But do you really need him collared for that?”
Stop it, stop it. Jab, loop, pull. Nilam didn’t look up at Jaelie. Or at his Mistress. Most definitely not at his Mistress.
“Why would he stick around, if I didn’t? I couldn’t wait to get away from Deus. And, I mean, Æowyn was gone within ten minutes of Fafnir taking off the collar.”
“The point is to Keep them such that they don’t run away the minute you free them, Ghita.”
“How’d that work with Jabez?”
“Jabez was… different. He begged me to put it back on, actually.”
“The Bond does that.”
“This was a week later. I think that’s long enough for even a horrid case of whiplash to wear off.” Jalie was sounding way too casual now.
“Mm, yeah, probably. Well, Jabez is a weird one. I mean, he seems happy under the collar.”
“Didn’t you tell your Kept all Kept are happy?”
“Well, they are, but I mean, there’s happy and there’s happy.”
“And you think Nilam is a good Kept, but that he wouldn’t look happy if you asked an outside source?”
“Jaelie, come on. We’re knitting, you said. Let’s knit.”
Let’s knit. It sounded like a good idea. But Nilam had a few questions he wanted to ask Jaelie, preferably in private.
Good Kept don’t question. And good Kept were happy. He was a bad Kept, but, then again, he already knew that.
Push, hook, pull. The blanket was turning nicely in interlocking spirals, like something out of an Escher painting, if Escher had worked in sweet pastels. Nilam really liked the blanket. He liked to think about watching his baby, on the blanket. “I’d hold your hand.” Good Kept didn’t interrupt, but he was already, definitely, being a bad Kept today. “I want to see our baby born.”
Neither Ghita or Jaelie had anything to say to that, and he did not turn around to see their faces. Push, hook, pull.
Saturday, July 17, 2004
The baby, it seemed, had had her own ideas about due dates; Saturday morning had found Nilam and Margherita hurrying to the doctor’s office, Nilam doing his best to carry his Mistress and wondering why the hell the school didn’t station wheelchairs on every floor at this time of year.
“Wheelchairs,” he grunted at Luke, when the PE teacher showed up, as if (ha, as if) by magic when they were halfway to the infirmary. That had made Luke look surprised, and then thoughtful, and then, three hours later, when he popped his head into Exam Room Three, to simply say “good idea, kid. On it.”
That was Nilam’s last good-feeling moment for a while. His Mistress, when in labor, swore like a trucker yelling at a longshoreman, blamed everything and anything on Nilam, and punched whoever happened to be close whenever a contraction came. Dr. Caitrin had tried to move Nilam from the exam room at least five times for his own good. He’d refused.
“I want to be here.” It was the sixth time, and he wanted her to understand, this time. Besides, Margherita wasn’t listening, right now; she was trying to break his hand, but that wasn’t all that new. “This is my child, too. Even if this is the last time I get to see it, it’s my kid, too.”
Dr. Caitrin nodded. “I can respect that. I would like to reassure you that you’d have plenty of chances to see your child, but, unfortunately, that is not how our Law works, and, as Margherita is afraid of you…”
“Afraid of me?” The idea baffled him. “I’m her Kept. I’m not always the best Kept, sure, but I try to be, and I’ve never hurt her, ever.”
“Sadly, it doesn’t take much in some cases. In your case, I’m afraid that it’s enough that you’re male.”
“I’m right here.”
“Ah, yes you are, dear. Tempero Tlacatl Margherita…” Nilam lost the rest as Ghita clenched his hand again. “Is that better?”
He couldn’t feel his hand. That ought to worry him.
“It feels a lot better. Unh.” She released Nilam’s hand enough to pat it. He could see the patting, but everything from his elbow down felt numb. “I hope we’re nearly done here.”
“It seems that way. Did you have this much trouble carrying Dáirine?”
Dáirine? That must be her daughter by Amadeus. Nilam clenched his other hand, behind his back where the two women couldn’t see it. He didn’t like thinking about that thug touching his Mistress. He didn’t like… knowing what he knew.
“Don’t you… oh, that’s right.” Ghita made a face. “Nurse Jo was here for most of my delivery.”
“Yes. Eirena was having a very bad time of it. We almost lost the mother and the child. But I don’t recall hearing anything bad about Dáirine’s birth.”
“She came easily. This one must be a boy. He’s giving me plenty of trouble, just like his father.”
Nilam didn’t even react to that, save to clench his fist again. She didn’t have to say it in front of people. He already knew it. He already knew he was bad, and sometimes he wanted to show her just how bad he really was, but that was very much not how good Kept thought (thus proving, again, that he was bad). He took a breath, and another one, and smiled cautiously at Ghita. “Maybe he’ll be tough, like his mother.”
“Flattery will get you… unh… everywhere.”
“Good Kept don’t flatter.” Nilam parroted the reminder back at her. “They’re honest about their Keeper’s strong points.”
“Mmm. Did I say that?”
“Yes. Many times.” He wasn’t feeling particularly kind right now. If he could feel his hand, maybe he would worry about that. Maybe he had an order about worrying; that would certainly make some things make more sense.
“Well, then, being honest about my good points will get you everywhere.”
“Then maybe our son will be tough, like his mother.” He liked to think about their son. It made it sound like they had a future, raising a child. Maybe a future where he got to have an opinion once in a while. She’d let him pick out the blanket pattern.
Good Kept don’t… He shut the voice down ruthlessly. He wasn’t here to be a good Kept, he was here to hold her hand and be a good father to the child he’d fathered. He was here for the baby, not because his Keeper, his Mistress had ordered him there.
That he had orders to the same thing was irrelevant. That nobody else (except possibly Dr. Caitrin) understood the distinction was equally irrelevant. He was here for his baby. He was here for his child, and all else could go fuck off and die.
“Contraction.” Ghita’s voice was tight and high and a little stoned sounding. “Nilam, Nilam, hand.”
“Take his other hand, Margherita, you’ve already damaged this one enough. Here, Nilam.” The doctor muttered a quick Working over him. “That ought to help, give her your left hand.”
“I want his right hand.”
“You can’t always get what you want, dear. But if you try, very hard, you just might find that you can get what you need.”
Nilam blinked. It had to be a side effect of the pain, or the Working, or something, because he was pretty sure the doctor had just quoted the Rolling Stones.
He looked around. “Kairos?” He’d only heard about the basement teacher’s prank (or, at least, that it had been her and a prank; he’d been singing along with everyone else) from Professor Fridmar, but he’d heard about it.
“Not this time, dear. I simply like a bit of nice music when it’s applicable.”
“Yes, dear, grip Nilam’s hand, that’s a good girl. I saw her today at the reception…”
“A glass of wine in her hand.”
“I knew she was gonna meet her connection…”
They had finished You Can’t Always Get What You Want and had moved on to Sympathy for the Devil when Nilam’s daughter was born.
Daughter. Professor Catrin was humming pleased to meet you when she lifted the baby up and muttered a diagnostic Working. “Healthy and hale, and,” she slapped the baby’s bottom and listened to it wail, “perfectly good set of lungs. You have a beautiful baby girl, Margherita and Nilam.”
“A girl?” Ghita reached out for the baby. “Really? I was sure it was a boy.”
“These things do happen.” The doctor wrapped the tiny thing in a blanket and handed it to Ghita. “You spend a few minutes with your daughter, and I’m going to patch Nilam up.”
“You were a little rough with the boy, Margherita. More so than usual.”
“More so than… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Indeed. And, once you have released him, you and I and Dr. Mendosa will be having a long talk before you Keep again. But first, I’d suggest you let him hold his daughter. He was a very patient companion to you today.”
“I want to hold her first. She’s mine. The Law says so.”
“Indeed.” The doctor handed Margherita the baby. Nilam stood back. He didn’t like anything the doctor was saying, once you release him the least. But he had a feeling she was up to something. Everyone, it seemed, was up to something when it came to him, except him. “As is Nilam.”
“That’s true.” Margherita looked down at the tiny thing, then up at Nilam. She had her sweet face on, the one that almost never meant trouble. “He’s mine.” She offered him the baby. Their baby. Their daughter. “Don’t drop her. Don’t hurt her. But you can hold her.”
Nilam’s right arm wasn’t working right, but he manages to use it to hold up the minuscule weight of the baby while he cradled her with her other hand. Her eyes were blue, almost teal, like the ocean, and she was making little gurgling noises. “She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” He spoke without thinking, without caring what he said. She was perfect. She was his.
“More beautiful than her mother?” Even as entranced as he was, Nilam couldn’t miss the sharpness in his Mistress’ voice.
“Beautiful because she’s her mother’s daughter. She has your nose, don’t you think?” He handed her back, not wanting to, but not wanting to get his Mistress upset with him, either. “What are you going to name her?”
“You’re going to name her, silly.” Ghita’s smile held something not altogether nice. “Preferably something that schools can spell, and pronounce. Nothing with extra letters.”
“Now, Margherita, you know it’s in poor taste to attempt to restrict his naming. That is his right, the right that we give the fathers of our children.”
“What?” Nilam hadn’t realized he’d spoken until both women looked at him. “I get to name her?” Another thing that good Kept, he assumed, didn’t ask about.
“There is a ritual.” Dr Caitrin nodded slowly. “I will talk to Professor Fridmar, and he will come talk to you. It should be done soon, if for no other reason than to have something to call the wee child. Within a couple nights, preferably.”
“I don’t see why we have to do the whole ritual thing. And why they have to pick the spelling, too.”
“You do not like Dáirine’s name?
“It’s kind of silly, don’t you think?” Ghita frowned. “I mean, it’s going to be a nightmare on school forms. Worse than ‘Mar-ger-with-an-H-eeta’ was. Fathers don’t think of these things.”
“Amadeus is not very good at such things, no. Although he does appear to have some touch of the sight, at least; he does not, as one student here did, name all of his children after himself. Or, as another is doing, after his favorite film stars.”
Nilam knew that one. “That has to be Porter.”
He kicked himself the moment the words were out. Something about Dr. Caitrin made him forget himself.
His Mistress appeared to be in a forgiving mood, however. She smiled, at him and at the baby. “That sounds like Porter, yeah. She’s pretty, isn’t she, Nilam?”
“Very pretty.” It seemed safest to just agree.”
“And now I am taking Nilam for a bit. Be careful with her, Margherita. She’s delicate.”
“I know that!”
Nilam, cradling his injured arm, wondered if she really did. It was the first time in quite a while that he’d felt the urge to directly contradict her. Survival instincts took over, and he stayed quiet.
From the look on the doctor’s face, though, she’d been having the same thought.
Monday, July 19, 2004
“It does not have to be the cave, of course. Sometimes there is nothing at all, but a man and a book and a thought – and both book and thought are not required.”
Professor Fridmar had taken Nilam outside of the school, to a cave he had never seen before. It was the most nicely-appointed cave he’d ever seen, too; there was a thick fur rug on the floor, a table to one side, and a fireplace with a chimney cleverly hidden above in a rockfall. “It looks like it gets a lot of use.”
“Dah. Most of the students who name their children here – and all the professors and such – we all come here.” Frimar gestured around. “Luke brought the table. Doug brought the furs. Your own father named you sitting here, on this floor, by that fire.” There was no fire in the fireplace, but, then again, it was July. “And so will your sons, if you have sons.”
“But not my daughter.”
“Nyet. Unless she plays the boy with a lesbian. Ioanna did that, named her daughter here. Not the only one, either. Anything is possible, with magic.” The professor elbowed Nilam, inviting him to share the joke. He smiled crookedly and pretended he understood who these people were that his Mentor was talking about.
“So, I bring the baby in here, and… what?”
“Incense will be burning.” The professor pointed to the three burners, set near the edges of the wall. “As your Mentor, I will light the incense. Should be your father, but he is not here.”
Nilam nodded, beginning to feel numb again.
“Incense will not hurt the baby. Caitrin approved.” Fridmar shared another grin, and this one Nilam could smile back at with understanding. That was safe, then, if Dr. Caitrin said so. “You breathe it in, the smoke. And you think.”
“Wait for visions, yes? Wait for a feeling about the baby, what she will be. Will she be strong? Will she be full of lightning? That was fun one, whole night was seeing storms in front of my eyes.” For a moment, the professor was elsewhere. “Tall, small, wild, mild. Preferably no gods. Brings trouble on the child; some say it bring the attention of the one whose name you stole. Eris could tell you about that. Named for strife, her. And she brings it, too.”
“No gods.” Nilam nodded. “But how do I know? How do I take that and make it mean something?”
“Sometimes, a name just comes to you. Sometimes, you will look at child and you will say, ‘You. Your name is Anatoliy. Wear it well, little thing.’ Other times, you will just know, ‘her, she will be mountains and lightning and storms,’ and you will have to look through the books until a name fits.”
“The books?” He looked around again. Table, rug, fire.
“Under here.” Fridmar opened up a rock wall to display a long row of name books. “Do not open them, though, until you need them. It can change your mind, cloud the visions. You do not want to cloud things; you can name your baby the wrong thing, then, and then what do you have?”
“What do you have then?” Nilam was asking half out of duty and half out of curiosity.
“Poor mis-named child. With a name that never fits quite properly, and they are always a little aside themselves. Also.” The professor dropped his voice and leaned forward conspiratorially. “The name is your connection to your children. It is a bond the Mother cannot break. You must make it properly, for it to stick. You must make it properly, and then, when you call, they will come, for battle or for dinner.”
“No pressure at all.” Nilam muttered it, hoping his Mentor wouldn’t hear him.
Of course he did. “No. Only succeed. Listen to your brain, and your heart. You will come up with the right answer.”
“Yes, sir.” He knew this one as well as he knew what Margherita wanted. Good Students succeeded. Good Students paid attention, and learned, and were strong. Luckily, good Kept also did those things, just more quietly. “I’ll do it.”
“I know. You will do well.” The professor’s hand landed on Nilam’s shoulder in a heavy pat-pat. “You will do it right.”
“Girl will be here soon. This time, she brings baby to you, that’s how it is. Say as little as possible. Think about the baby.”
Nilam nodded. He could do that. He’d been having trouble thinking of much else since the little thing had been born, and not just because Margherita had him on diaper duty and late-night feeding duty and everything else. She was his daughter and, although his Mistress had made it very clear that she would be keeping custody, thank you very much, she would always be a little bit his daughter.
“Nilam?” Margherita’s voice came from the cave mouth.
“Go.” The professor shoved him gently out to the entryway. “I will light the incense, and be gone.”
“I’m here.” He stepped out into the waning daylight. Margherita stood there, draped in a white dress he’d never seen on her before.
“I bring you your daughter, Nilam cy’Fridmar. Hold her, keep her safe. Return her to me in the morning with her Name.”
Nilam nodded, and held out his hands for the white-wrapped bundle. The baby’s nose was barely sticking out of all the blankets. “I take my daughter. I will return her to her mother in the morning, safe.”
He looked down at the girl, and the vision struck him. He stepped back into the cave, careful not to stagger or trip, and sat down on the rug. White, shining white, with eyes like sapphires. Her father’s eyes. She was an elf, an elf-knight, a shining, brilliant white knight. She was cold as ice, as sharp as steel, as hard as diamonds. And she would never be tamed.
The book, handled with one hand while he cradled the tiny bundle of possibility, fell open to the right page without prompting. Alva.
“Alva.” He whispered it to her. The book told him what he wanted. Alva, meaning elf. Ailbhe, meaning white, and noble, and bright. “My shining elf. My beautiful shining elf.” He kissed her forehead. “You’ll always be my daughter. I’m afraid that’s going to have to be enough for a while.”
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
“Evie, just… just go away.” Elnued stood awkwardly in the doorway of a room she’d only recently reclaimed. “Please.”
“You’re carrying my child. And, I mean, we had a thing. And now you don’t want to see me?”
“We didn’t have a thing, Evie. You had your collar around my neck, and I’m glad that you’ve taken it off. I’m carrying your child, and when I give birth, you’ll be the third to know.”
“Dr. Caitrin and me.”
“You let Olifur in.” She wasn’t going away. At all. She’d be doing this every day for weeks.
“And that’s my right. Evie, you took the collar off.”
“It’s traditional. I didn’t think you’d stop talking to me.” She was pouting, argh, argh, she was pouting, her lower lip stuck out and her voice quavering.
“I’m talking. I haven’t slammed the door in your face yet.” Sh’d considered it more than once. More than once a day, truth be told.
“You have to come out eventually.” And now the Mistress from Hell voice was coming out. Luna took a step backwards.
“Are you stalking me now?” She tried to sound firm and hard, although it wasn’t easy. She had a lot of practice giving in to Evie and not much being hard against her.
“Stalking? Now you’re just being mean. I just want to talk. I want you to let me in. I want things to be like they were.”
“Evie.” Luna sighed, shifted her weight to support her twins better, and tried again, slowly, patiently. “I don’t Belong to you anymore. Things aren’t going to be like they were.”
“We were girlfriends. And then you left.”
“You tricked me into a collar. And then you took it off.”
“You fell in love with Olifur, didn’t you? I told you not to.”
“You never made it an order.” Finally, because she could see the tirade beginning, no matter what she said, Luna closed the door in Evie’s face.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?