Home > The Core (Demon Cycle #5)(6)

The Core (Demon Cycle #5)(6)
Author: Peter V. Brett

“Of course not,” Leesha said.

“No point laying blame when you’ve a fever to fight, Bruna used to say,” Darsy said. “Everyone’s got perfect vision—”

“—when they’re looking back,” Leesha finished.

“I read the same books you did,” Darsy went on. “There’s notes on how to treat this.”

“Treat it, how?” Elona asked. “Some herb is going to close its slit or make its pecker dry up and fall off?”

“Course not.” Darsy shrugged as she stared at the child. “We just…pick one. A girl that handsome could easily pass for a boy.”

“And a boy that pretty could pass for a girl,” Elona countered. “That don’t treat anything.”

“Ay,” Darsy nodded to the operating table where Amanvah still worked, “but that combined with a few snips and stitches…”

“Wonda,” Leesha said.

“Ay, mistress?” Wonda said.

“If anyone other than me ever tries to perform surgery on this child, you are to shoot them,” Leesha said.

Wonda crossed her arms. “Ay, mistress.”

Darsy held up her hands. “I only…!”

Leesha whisked her fingers. “I know you mean no harm, Darsy, but that practice was barbaric. We will not be pursuing surgical options any further unless the child’s health is in danger. Am I clear?”

“Ay, mistress,” Darsy said. “But folk are going to ask if it’s a boy or girl. What do we tell them?”

Leesha looked to Elona. “Don’t look at me,” her mother said. “I know better than any that we don’t get a say in these things. Creator wills as the Creator will.”

“Well said, wife of Erny,” Amanvah said. She had come last from the operating table, hands still red with birthing blood. She raised them to Leesha. “Now is the time, mistress. There is no casting stronger than the moment of birth.”

Leesha considered. Letting Amanvah cast her alagai hora in the mixed blood and fluid of the birth would open her vision to the futures of Leesha and the child both. Even if she was fully forthcoming—something dama’ting were not known for—there would be too much for her to convey in words. She would always have secrets, secrets that Leesha might desperately need.

But Amanvah’s concern for the child, her half sibling, was written in gold through her aura. She was desperate to throw for the child’s protection.

“There are conditions,” Leesha said. “And they are not negotiable.”

Amanvah bowed. “Anything.”

Leesha raised an eyebrow. “You will speak your prayers in Thesan.”

“Of course,” Amanvah said.

“You will share everything you see with me, and me alone,” Leesha went on.

“Ay, I want to see!” Elona said, but Leesha kept her eyes on Amanvah.

“Yes, mistress,” Amanvah said.

“Forever,” Leesha said. “If I have a question twenty years from now about what you saw, you will reply fully and without hesitation.”

“I swear it by Everam,” Amanvah said.

“You will leave the dice in place until we can make a copy of the throw for me to keep.”

Amanvah paused at this. No outsider was allowed to study the dama’ting alagai hora, lest they attempt to carve their own. Inevera would have Amanvah’s head if she acquiesced to this request.

But after a moment, the priestess nodded. “I have dice of clay we can cement in place.”

“And you will teach me to read them,” Leesha said.

The room fell silent. Even the other women, unschooled in Krasian custom, could sense the audacity of the request.

Amanvah’s eyes narrowed. “Yes.”

“What did you see, when you cast the bones for the child in Angiers?” Leesha asked.

“The first thing my mother ever taught me to look for,” Amanvah said.

Leesha set warded klats around the antique royal heirloom that had been used as an operating table. The wards activated, barring sound from both directions as she and Amanvah bent over the operating table, studying the glowing dice.

Amanvah pointed one of her long, painted nails at a prominent symbol. “Ka.” The Krasian word for “one” or “first.”

She pointed to another. “Dama.” Priest.

A third. “Sharum.” Warrior.

“First…priest…warrior…” Leesha blinked as her breath caught. “Shar’Dama Ka?”

Amanvah nodded.

“Dama means ‘priest,’ ” Leesha said. “Does that mean the child is male?”

Amanvah shook her head. “Not necessarily. ‘First Warrior Cleric’ is a better translation. The words are neutral, that they might call either gender in Hannu Pash.”

“So my child is the Deliverer?” Leesha asked incredulously.

“It isn’t that simple,” Amanvah said. “You must understand this, mistress. The dice tell us our potentials, but most are never reached.” She pointed to another symbol. “Irrajesh.”

“Death,” Leesha said.

Amanvah nodded. “See how the tip of the die points northeast. An early death is the most common of the child’s futures.”

Leesha’s jaw tightened. “Not if I have a say in it.”

“Or I,” Amanvah agreed. “By Everam and my hope of Heaven. There could be no greater crime in all Ala than to harm one who might save us all.

“Ala.” She pointed to another die, angled diagonally toward the face with irrajesh. “Even if we risk she doom the world instead.”

Leesha tried to digest the words, but they were too much. She put them aside. “What will your people do, if they learn the child is without gender?”

Amanvah bent closer, studying not just the large symbols at the center of the dice but dozens of smaller ones around the edges, as well. “The news will tear them apart. It is too dangerous to announce the child’s fate now, but without it, many will take this as a sign of Everam’s displeasure with the Hollow Tribe.”

“Giving them excuse to break the peace Ahmann and I forged,” Leesha said.

“The few who still need excuse, after the son of Jeph cast the Deliverer from a cliff.” Amanvah bent to look closer at the dice.

“See here,” she noted, pointing to a symbol facing into the cluster. “Ting.” Female. She slid her finger along the edge of the die, continuing to show how the line intersected irrajesh. “There is less convergence if you announce the child as female.”

The child was bathed and changed by the time Leesha and Amanvah finished. Elona dozed in a chair with the sleeping baby in her arms. Wonda stood protectively over her, while Darsy paced the room nervously. Tarisa had stripped the bloodied bed and put down fresh linens, now busying herself readying a bath.

“She,” Leesha said loudly, stepping beyond the wards of silence.

Darsy stopped in her tracks. Elona started awake. “Ay, whazzat?”

Leesha squinted into her warded spectacles, searching the auras of the women as they gathered before her. “So far as anyone outside this room is concerned, I just gave birth to a healthy baby girl.”

“Ay, mistress,” Wonda said. “But said yurself, babe needs guards day an’ night. Sooner or later, one’ll catch an eyeful while we change the nappy.” Her aura colored with worry. “Speakin’ of which…”

Leesha laughed. “By order of the countess, you’re relieved of nappy duties, Wonda Cutter. Your talents would be wasted wiping bottoms.”

Wonda blew out a breath. “Thank the Creator.”

“I will personally read the aura of every member of the house staff and guard with access to my daughter.” Leesha looked at Tarisa. “Any who cannot be trusted will need to find employment elsewhere.”

Her maid’s aura flashed with fear, and Leesha sighed. She had known this was coming, but it made things no easier.

“We’ll tell Vika and Jizell as well,” Leesha said. “We’ll all need to watch as she develops in case her condition causes unforeseen health problems.”

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