12th week of pregnancy
Grinda pressed her lips around the nuk and took a slow, deep breath, letting the chokra turn her lungs hot, fill her veins, thrum along with the pounding of her heart. Ignoring the tickle in her throat, she focused on holding it in. She would not cough. Mock laughed when she did.
‘Even a child knows how to smoke chokra without sputtering,’ he would smirk.
A long exhale and she leant back against him, his chest warm and hard. A cloud of it wafted above them. Late afternoon, the light from the setting sun cut through it in scarlet streams. Mock’s big hand grasped hers, encompassing it around the nuk.
‘How old were you when you first smoked?’ she asked.
‘Not sure. But I was very small.’
Leaning over her shoulder, he raised the nuk to his lips, his hand still around hers. She felt the big muscles in his chest expand, then relax. Grinda smiled as she watched perfect rings of it float into the branches above. Purple, pink and yellow, the surrounding woods seemed to pulse and shimmer as the drug took effect. It was the beginnings of the grisa, as Mock’s people called a shamri’s connection with the Mother.
‘Mmmm,’ his deep voice rumbled in his throat as he relaxed back again, releasing her hand and the nuk.
Grinda half closed her eyes, enjoying the slow rise and fall of his chest, the feel of his warm breaths against her ear. Somewhere in the branches a bird chirped. She could hear the swish of Winter’s tail, the rasp and rip of the grass as he grazed, even the slow, deep thud of his heartbeat. Then there was the whistle of air in his big lungs. Ants crawled. Worms buried themselves. Somewhere, a squirrel worried at a nut, the scrape of its sharp teeth grating along her spine.
The woods had come alive. The chokra never disappointed.
Grinda smiled as Mock kissed her on the ear.
‘Feel good?’ he said.
Reaching under her tunic, he stroked at a nipple. His other hand followed, and he cupped her breasts. She laughed, then laughed some more. Resting her head on his shoulder, she arched her neck so he could kiss her throat. Little wet kisses that made her giggle and shiver. She took another puff from the nuk, exhaled. And that giggling quickly turned to snorting as he reached beneath her skirts.
She looked up at him as he looked down at her. His eyes glittered. Then he leant in for a kiss. A light brush of his lips against hers, a swift sweep of his tongue, and she stopped him.
Pulling back, she pressed a finger to his lips. ‘You can’t have me that easy.’ Seized by a sudden rush of excitement, she slipped from his grasp and stumbled to her feet. She grinned at him. ‘Catch me if you can.’
Laughing, she half-staggered, half-ran through the woods, using the trees for balance as the ground rocked and rolled beneath her feet. She puffed at the nuk again. Her body felt numb. Her head buzzed. She heard the sound of Mock crashing through the trees behind her. By the sound of it, he was struggling as much as she was.
The colours of the chokra swirled and seethed around her. And that deep thudding seemed to reverberate through her bones. There was the snap of a cracking branch and she squealed as a long, thick arm encircled her waist. Dropping the nuk, she struggled against him, trying to slip from his grip as he tugged at her tunic.
‘You can’t get away from me,’ he growled into her neck.
She snorted. ‘Mock!’
There was a cool rush of air as he yanked her tunic off. He scrabbled at her breasts as he kissed along her shoulder, his beard tickling her skin. He was panting, heart thudding against her back. Light, hungry growls rumbled through his throat.
‘Mock,’ she gasped as he dragged his hands down her hips before gripping her between the legs. Next, he turned to her skirts and Grinda managed to slip away.
On the run again. She was puffing now, tripping over everything. The world seemed to list towards her left so that’s where she ran. Towards the setting sun, the reds and golds blazing like a raging fire through the branches.
Finally, her foot hooked around something, and with a grunt, she fell face-first into the leaves. Her body felt so heavy, the spinning world pressing her into the earth so she could hardly move.
The staggering thuds of Mock’s approach. The crunch and crackle of crushed leaves.
‘Grinda, you all right?’
With a heavy thud, he sagged beside her. Grinda didn’t protest as he gathered her into his arms.
Her nipple was soft and salty in Mock’s mouth. He swirled his tongue and she laughed and laughed to the point tears were coming out of her eyes. She was so drugged. Laying himself on top of her, he sucked at the nape of her neck, the spot which she loved so much. Her laughter turned to squealing, which rang through the empty woods. It made his heart beat wildly. Filled his body with heat. How he loved to hear her laugh.
Sitting up, he straddled her. He shook back his hair, then lay his hands against her hips, so broad they covered her completely. Slowly, he dragged them upwards, up along the slight swelling of her pregnant belly, her belly button, ribs, until he cupped her breasts, her nipples sticky with his saliva.
She groaned, then laughed some more, her blue eyes shining, her cheeks wet with tears as she grinned up at him. She had such white teeth between perfect, pink lips. He went to kiss them when he stopped and turned his head. The light of the sunset blazed against his face. He paused. The hills ahead parted like a valley and he could see straight to the horizon. The sun had partway sunk, splashing the sky, the hills, the grass, in halos of reds and golds and pinks. It reminded him so vividly of the world beyond the ether that he couldn’t look away.
‘Mock?’ Only then did he notice she had fallen silent. Grinda’s little hand encircled his wrist. She smoothed it up his forearm. ‘What’s wrong?’
He looked down at her, then back at the horizon and all its startling colours, then back at her again. Pulling away, he took her hand and helped her to her feet.
For a moment she looked worried. Then he gently took her chin, turning her face towards the sunset. ‘Look at that.’
Her eyes widened. She gasped. ‘Oh, Mock. It’s just like—’
She glanced up at him.
He gently pulled her away from the trees and they sat together. Hand in hand, they watched. Beside him, Grinda sat quietly, smiling, a tear trickling down her cheek. Releasing her hand, he curled an arm around her waist and she leant her head against his shoulder, hand resting on his thigh.
Soon the golds, yellows and pinks were swallowed by a wave of scarlet that engulfed the plains and fields and half the sky. Beautiful. Conquering. Squinting, Mock raised a hand against the glare.
‘It feels like an eternity ago,’ she said. ‘Do you think we’ll ever see it again? The world of the Mother I mean?’
‘You will, I think. As for me—unlikely.’ He felt a rush of disappointment. He might have almost died there in the embrace of the Mother but he hadn’t forgotten the marvel. Hadn’t forgotten the feel of something so powerful, so magical. The shamri were so fortunate. Grinda was so fortunate.
His eyes lowered to the slight swelling of her belly. Overwhelmed by a strange yearning, he touched it. Grinda blinked up at him, then laid her hand over his. ‘She might not be mine by blood, Grinda. But she is my daughter, from now until I die.’ He raised his eyes to hers. ‘I’ll love her, protect her, teach her everything I know. And she’ll come to love me, so much that’ll she’ll never know the difference. This, I promise you.’
She brushed away more tears, squeezed his hand. ‘You don’t need to promise me anything. I know.’
She raised her face, he lowered his, and they kissed, long and gentle, as the scarlet dimmed to purple, as the moon drifted, as stars spilled across the sky.
In the darkness. In the light. Now and forever.
Mock wouldn’t let them down.