Mock woke slowly, stretching gently against Grinda so he wouldn’t wake her. He opened his eyes a crack. The sun was already beating down on their little deer hide tent and it was warm inside. Grinda was wrapped up in their pelts but it was too hot for Mock and he was lying naked beside her.
It was often like this: late nights, late mornings, peaceful days in each other’s arms. Grinda was on her side, facing him. Her chin tucked to her chest, her golden hair cast over her face, revealing her long neck. Here and elbow, there a knee, poked out through the pelts. He followed her slender neck with his eyes until Mock found the milky white softness of her cleavage peering up at him. Licking his lips, he lifted up her pelts and pressed up against her hot skin. He paused as she stirred, but she didn’t waken.
Gently, he explored. Dragging his finger lightly over the swell of her arse, along her crack, before smoothing his hand along the dip of her waist. Brushing the stray hairs from her shoulder, he kissed her neck before wrapping his big hand around her pointed hip. There, he gazed at her as he felt the gentle rise and full of her breasts against him. Pulling back a little, he lightly pressed his hand up against one of them, her nipple soft and warm against his palm. He wondered whether she realised how much fuller her breasts had become. She hadn’t spoken about it. They looked different too. The little lumps around her nipples were bumpier. The pink darker. He lightly pinched the tip, then slid his hand down to the swelling of her belly. Women were amazing. What they could do. How their bodies changed. As a boy, he remembered watching the women in his village with astonishment. Remembered watching Danna the same way.
He reached lower, to the coarse hairs of her womanhood, brushing his fingers through them, then parted her lower lips. Warm, sticky and wet. From their lovemaking. He eased a finger inside her.
Grinda stirred again and this time she did waken. She chuckled. ‘Mock. You’re naughty.’
Mock bit down on his lip as she grabbed his cock and gently squeezed. ‘You can talk.’
She smiled, her blue eyes gleaming brightly between her heavy eyelids. He pulled his finger out, cuddled in close, then brushed at her cheek.
Grinda kissed him on the lips. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘You feeling all right, biala?’
She snuggled into him, so her lips pressed up against his neck. ‘I feel perfect.’
He stared at the blood on his finger, then slowly pulled away.
Grinda sat up alongside him, the pelts slipping from her shoulders.
‘Don’t be alarmed.’
He pulled away the pelt from across her lap. She sucked in a breath. ‘What’s wrong? What’s happening?’
‘Don’t panic, biala.’ He grabbed her arm but the sight of more blood on his hand only made things worse.
Her eyes widened, then she paled. Her chest rose and fell rapidly as she panted.
He grabbed her shoulders. ‘Breathe, Grinda. It’ll be all right.’
But how could it be? She clutched onto Mock as his face blurred behind a wall of tears. How could this be? Her daughter was special. A shamri. She had connected with the Mother. Big things lay in her future. Grinda knew it.
Mock wrapped his arms around her as she shuddered against him. He rubbed his hand up and down her back but she hardly felt it. Fourteen weeks. She had been keeping close count. She couldn’t believe it. Grinda had seen her daughter down beyond the ether. Her long dark hair, her soft brown skin. Those eyes. She had never forgotten.
She couldn’t die.
The shuddering stopped. The tears slowed. She looked up at Mock, who was watching her sadly. ‘This can’t be right,’ she said. ‘We know she’s going to live. We’ve both seen it.’
She looked into her lap. There wasn’t a great deal of blood, only smears along her thighs. And no clots. She pressed her hand to her belly. And no pain. She remembered other women in her village in the same situation. Bleeding often led to miscarriage but not always. Some even bled the whole way through their pregnancy. She took a breath, letting herself relax.
‘Everything’s going to be all right,’ she said. ‘She’s going to be all right.’
Mock kissed her on the head. ‘I know it.’
She looked around the little tent Mock had made for them. Made of deer hide. Only small enough to crouch in. Warm earthen floor. The last week had turned freezing. And the nights—not even Mock’s body heat had been enough. But the tent was so warm, warmer than even her family hut back at Quay.
The Quarthi were so remarkable. Mock was so remarkable.
Mock pressed his forehead against hers. ‘Wait here.’
‘Where you going?’ she said as he left the tent. He was wearing nothing but his kinta, his long hair draped messily over his shoulders.
Grinda wrapped herself up in their pelts, listening to whatever he was doing outside. Every now and then she would touch herself between the legs and a new tear would trickle down her cheek.
She heard the crackle of a fire. The crunch of footsteps as Mock left to go somewhere. He returned minutes later. She heard him sit. Finally, she couldn’t stand the loneliness. She got dressed, then crawled outside. ‘What are you doing?’
He patted the spot beside him. ‘Come sit, biala.’
She did so, watching as their only pot steamed above the flames. She glanced inside. Nothing but water. ‘Cooking something?’
Smiling, he dipped a finger inside, then pulled the pot off its little stand. ‘Lift up your skirts.’
His dark, gentle eyes waited. She did so, glancing briefly at the red splash on her thighs before quickly turning away. He tried to open her legs. She snapped them shut.
She looked at him, at the tenderness in his face, then looked away again, trying to relax as he spread them. He dipped the cloth in the water. She gasped as he washed her, his touch light and gentle, the water so warm it sent a pleasant shiver up her spine. For a while she couldn’t look at him, listening to his steady breathing, to the squeeze and dribble as he wrung the rag, to the light gurgle of water as he dunked the cloth back into the pot, again and again. It took all she had not to pull away. Even after all their lovemaking, she had never experienced something so intimate. Something so private.
Eventually she turned to him. ‘You don’t need to do that.’
‘I want to.’
‘Aren’t you disgusted?’
He didn’t look at her as he spread her open and cleaned deeper. ‘Disgusted?’
‘Men think women’s problems are disgusting.’
‘Not Quarthi men. Not real men. And certainly not me.’
‘Sometimes my father made me sleep outside with the chickens during my bleeding time. Said I was too dirty. Mama had to too.’
Mock spat on the ground. ‘Faqwa.’ He looked up at her. His eyes were glinting. ‘We Quarthi celebrate a woman’s first blood and every time thereafter. We don’t fear it. We aren’t disgusted by it. Our people cannot survive without a woman’s moontime. Faqwa.’ He spat again. ‘They ruin their women.’
She paused, watching as he went back to his task. ‘And what about miscarriage?’
He didn’t answer. Finishing up, he patted her dry. After taking a moment to clean his hands, he took her chin. Grinda dropped her gaze. Her lips wouldn’t stop trembling. Then he pulled her into his arms. Pressed up against his warm chest, she clung to him.
Mock didn’t say a word as her tears burst free, only held her more tightly.