11th week of Grinda’s pregnancy
Grinda huddled under the pelt, bunched up close to Mock. It had been cloudy and windy all day and the night was no different. The bushes surrounding them bent and rustled, flattening against the blasting wind. There were few trees, and their branches creaked and groaned like old women. She shivered. They had taken refuge behind a ridge in the hopes of cutting out much of the icy air. It had partly worked.
She winced at a drop of rain, then at another. She looked up. Dark, heavy clouds blackened the sky. It was so dark she could hardly see her own hand. She shivered as the spitting rain turned to a shower. She felt Mock stir beside her.
‘Biala?’ he said. ‘You asleep?’
‘We should move.’
He slipped his hand into hers and they stood together. The pelt fell away and she began to shiver violently. The rain was blasting along with the wind now, a stinging of water that had already wet through her tunic and turned her skirts damp. As usual, Mock seemed unaffected. Barely a shadow beside her but warm against her side. He picked up the pelt, then pulled her closer to the ridge. The ground was hard and uncomfortable, rocks poking sharply into her backside as she sat, but at least it was dry. Wind whistled through the gaps in the rock.
‘Stay here. I’ll be right back.’ Mock disappeared into the darkness.
She heard Winter nickering, a small curse quickly lost to the wind as Mock struggled with something. Grinda watched anxiously, hands fisted in her lap, huddled beneath the pelt. By the time he returned with Winter and the rest of their belongings, the wind was howling.
‘You all right, biala?’ Mock said as he sat beside her.
Cupping her hands in his, he blew against them, then dragged her into his arms.
He pulled back. ‘You’re soaked.’
Quickly, he yanked off her tunic. Her skirts followed soon after. She sat naked in his lap, his warm arms around her as he rubbed her up and down, blew at her hands. His hair was soaked, sticking wetly to both their shoulders. More water dripped from his beard.
He kissed her on the cheek, on the back of her neck, then adjusted the pelt around them. Wet on the outside but warm within. Soon, her shivering stopped.
And then it was nice. She had never felt so comfortable with the wind howling around her, the rain and the cold, as she sat so warm and safe in Mock’s arms. His powerful heart thudded against her and even now she could feel his cock harden, pressing against her arse. She chuckled.
‘What’s so funny?’ he said, a smile in his voice.
He parted the hair from her neck and kissed her there again, his wet beard brushing against her shoulder, then shifted awkwardly beneath her. Grinda might be comfortable but Mock had to endure rocks in his backside.
‘You’re never going to sleep like this,’ Grinda said guiltily.
He yawned. ‘I’ll sleep tomorrow.’
Winter stomped his hoof and nickered. The wind howled. The rain hammered. Nestling into the curve of Mock’s body, Grinda closed her eyes.
Despite his discomfort, Mock did manage to fall asleep, though he dreamt that a hundred tiny pixies armed with scythes were jabbing at his arse.
He shifted with a grunt. At least Grinda was comfortable, lying warm and limp in his lap, her head heavy against his shoulder. She was breathing deeply, her fingers twitching against his chest, breaths hot against his nipple.
Winter gave a snort, stomped, then whickered. Mock opened his eyes. He blinked, bleary-eyed. The rain was still pounding, the wind howling and it was so dark he was almost blind. But there was something different. He squinted. Something was moving, to and fro like a tide, and it was all around them. His eyes widened.
‘Grinda.’ He shook her.
She stirred. ‘Wha’?’
‘We have to go—now.’
He began climbing to his feet and she quickly pulled out of his lap in a panic. ‘What’s wrong? What’s the matter?’
‘Can you swim?’
She looked up at him, a mere shadow in the darkness, then looked around her. She sucked in a breath.
He grabbed her arm and squeezed. ‘Can you swim?’
They moved quickly as they loaded Winter with their supplies, yet by the time they were ready the water was already lapping at their toes.
‘How did this happen?’ Grinda shouted above the wind as they waded into the water. She gasped at the cold, gave a little shriek, her hand squeezing Mock’s. Behind them, Winter wasn’t happy either, snorting and whinging as Mock pulled him along by the reins.
‘My fault.’ He should have known. It was dark when they had arrived and he was tired and careless, and he hadn’t taken proper notice of the surrounding landscape. Looking back now, he could see it. All those surrounding hills and ridges, the rocky ground—a shallow ravine. A boy’s error.
The water lapped at Mock’s waist. It was almost at the level of Grinda’s breasts. Releasing her hand, he grabbed onto her upper arm for a firmer grip as the water churned and seethed around them. The muscles in his thighs hardened as he strained against its pull. One misstep and they would be sent careening down the river.
It was difficult. His body was numb and the water was creeping up quickly. Almost to his chest now, to Grinda’s neck. His heart was pounding. There was a rushing in his ears. We aren’t going to make it. We aren’t going to make it. We are going to make it! He could see it.
The opposite bank—just ahead.
The rushing in his ears turned to a roar. He looked towards the sound. Not in his ears—a real roar, so much louder than the howling wind. Surging, smashing, seething—a wall of dark water hurtled towards them. Grinda screamed. Mock only had time to seize onto her before it smashed into them with a force that knocked the air out of his lungs.
Submerged. Eerily quiet. The gurgle and whoosh of tossing water as they tumbled and rolled and cartwheeled. Blackness. Blindness. Completely at the Mother’s mercy. Mock locked his arms and legs around Grinda, so tightly he thought he must strangle the air out of her. But he dared not loosen his grip.
Don’t let go.
Something hard smashed into him and pain exploded in his shoulder. For a moment he blacked out, long enough for Grinda to slip from his grasp.
He scrabbled for her, locked his hand onto something smooth and slippery, but a surge of water yanked her from his clutches again.
Lungs screaming. Heart pounding. Shoulder in agony. He thrashed towards what he thought might be the surface only to find more water. Up was down, left was right. There seemed no end to the Mother’s fury.
More tumbling. Something grazed against his back. Something wacked against his thigh. His lungs clenched down, a breath away from filling with water. Another roll, a sudden thrust upwards, and his head broke through the surface. Air! A roar of noise. Cold rain whipped against his face as he gulped and spluttered and gasped. Then submerged again. Silence, except for the gurgle of water. A second thrust up. More gasping breaths. His knees grazed against something, caught, and Mock lurched face-forward into shallow water.
Water swirled and lapped around him as he crawled along the bank. Only once completely away from the surging river did he collapse, chest heaving, sweet mouthfuls of air filling that agony in his chest. Rolling onto his back, he blinked up into the rain.
Then, ‘Grinda!’ He sat up, staggered to his feet. He looked around but it was still too dark to see much at all. ‘GRIIINDAAA!’ He bent over, gasping, clutching at his chest, at his shoulder.
He paused at a sound, somehow held his breath. He straightened. There it was again—a faint moan. How he heard it against the blasting rain, he couldn’t know. ‘Grinda! Answer me!’
A feeble cry: ‘Mock.’
Relief swept over him. She was close.
He rushed over, limping and stumbling, his shoulder aching, his legs like water. Still blind. Still dark. ‘Grinda!’
Then he saw her, a dark figure stretched out on the ground. Three lurching steps, and he dropped to his knees beside her.
‘Grinda.’ He gently gripped her face. She moaned as he lifted her head. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘My head.’ She touched his hand, her face, then just above her ear. He touched it too. Sticky.
‘Come on.’ Sliding his arms under her, he heaved her into his arms. Groaning, she clutched at her head.
Dizzy and weak, his shoulder a ball of agony, he staggered, but managed to carry her a safe distance away from the raging waters. By the time he laid her down amid a copse of trees, the rain had lessened to a sprinkle, the wind to a sharp, cold breeze. He could still hear the roar of the water as it surged and smashed and hissed through the ravine, a distant echo.
No shelter. No clothes. No dry kindling to make a fire. Wet skin against an icy breeze. Grinda shook violently in his arms, teeth chattering. Even Mock felt goose bumps erupt on his skin. With nothing else to do he held her close, rubbing her up and down, breathing his warm breath against her face. Praying to the Mother for her protection, that Grinda’s head wound wasn’t worse than he thought.
Praying she would survive the night.
Sunlight. Warm against her skin. So bright, it made Grinda’s eyes ache, made her head throb. She rolled over with a hiss, grabbing at her head. Her heart thundered. All that water. Tossing and tumbling, helpless in its grip. Thinking she was going to die. Imagining her lungs filling with water. Never seeing Mock again.
A big warm hand touched her shoulder. ‘Finally awake, biala.’
She turned, saw Mock sitting beside her, then sprang into his arms, holding him tight, burying her face into his chest so she could breathe him in.
‘You’re all right,’ she murmured.
He rested his chin on her head. ‘In one piece. How are you feeling?’
She touched her head. No longer sticky, her hair dry, like the rest of her. Then she recalled hearing his gentle voice as she lay halfway between wake and sleep earlier that morning, when the world was grey and she was still wet, cold and dazed. His gentle touches as he explored her wound, washed the blood out of her hair, washed the mud from her body.
He smoothed the hair back from her ear, touched her wound lightly. ‘It isn’t so bad. Just a little knock.’
She winced. ‘A little knock that hammers like the smithy. But what about you?’ She touched his shoulder. It looked terrible: black and red and all swollen up. He was caked in mud from foot to throat. His eyes were red-rimmed, shadows beneath, cheeks drawn. Had he slept at all? ‘Oh, Mock.’
She ran her fingers through his hair. Flecks of mud crumbled away. Somehow his beard had survived intact, looking almost fluffy. She smiled, then jerked straight, suddenly realising. ‘Where’s Winter?’ Pulling out of his lap, she staggered to her feet.
‘You shouldn’t get up, biala.’ He wrapped an arm around her waist to steady her as the world lurched. Dark spots clouded her eyes. Taking her face, Mock looked into her eyes. ‘Take deep breaths.’
Grabbing his arms, she focused. Her vision cleared. The world righted.
Hand in hand, they wandered back to their old camp, both naked. Mock must have lost his kinta in the water. She curled a hand around his backside.
When they broke through the trees, Grinda gasped. The water was gone, leaving a river of mud and debris behind. Even the ridge they had been sleeping up against hadn’t escaped the flood, it too submerged in mud and branches and a whole host of soggy things.
Then she saw him. She gave a cry.
‘That bloody beast,’ Mock smiled.
Winter was quietly grazing along the opposite back where the mud hadn’t reached, where the grass was green and long. Swishing his tail, caked in dried mud up to his belly, looking perfectly content, as though nothing had happened.
Laughing, Grinda shook her head. He was like a rock or a heavy log, lazy and useless but completely unflappable. Their supplies were gone but she could see what might have been the sleeve of her tunic and the gleam of a blade in amongst the debris. It was going to be a long morning retrieving it all.
‘Where did you want to start?’ Mock asked, already sounding tired at the thought.
‘I said where, not when.’
Smiling, she pulled his arms around her, then gently cupped his balls. ‘Right here.’