Jan-nell raced toward the boulders on the cliff above the dyemaker’s encampment where her sister-kin supported a young girl between them, guiding her carefully down the treacherous rocks toward their fire. The girl’s bright yellow dress bulged around her belly, straining the fabric.
“She is about to bear a babe?” Jan-nell asked, placing her hand on the girl’s roundness. “Is this your first?” Raising her face to look at the young mother, Jan-nell gasped. She stared at her sister-kin Chandro, who had wrapped her arm around the girl, held her right hand, and watched the ground and the girl’s bare feet, as they moved.
There was the same oval-shaped face, the same light brown eyes, the same copper curls. But the young mother was only perhaps sixteen summers and kept her curls long, falling far down her back, not in the curly cap Chandro wore. The girl could have been her little sister.
Though appearing strong in the leather vest and wide-legged short breeches of the sisterhood, Chandro the trackfinder appeared stunned and frightened. She whispered assurances to the girl as they came farther into the light of the fire.
The girl cried out as Jan-nell felt her belly tighten underneath her hand. She made Chandro and master hunter Bekar stop while she placed her hands on each side of the bulge and looked deep into the girl’s eyes. “Take a deep breath, filling the belly. Like this.” She showed her. “Now let it out slowly for as long as you can. Concentrate only on releasing the breath.” Usually, one long breath was enough to breathe through an episode. But because the girl was so frightened, Jan-nell had her breathe again to calm her and make sure she had learned the practice.
“You did well.” Jan-nell smiled. “There is a place for you to rest over here. We will make you tea and some broth… How are you called?”
The girl stammered out, “Wila.”
Jan-nell tried out the new name. “Wila.” Then she smiled again. “We will take good care of you and your babe.” She pointed to a sheltered spot where a coarse blanket stretched between two boulders and was held in place by large rocks. Jan-nell’s son, Bearin, and the beastmaster, Shadu, had made the shelter for her to rest during the heat of the day. When she had spread her own blanket and laid her head upon her travel pack earlier, she had no idea it would become a birthing chamber.
Night had fallen quickly on the plateau where the travelers made their camp. The fire gave out a welcome glow, and one of the burning branches would provide a torch if Jan-nell needed one to guide her when the birthing occurred.
Chandro and Bekar helped Wila sit on the blanket under the canopy while Jan-nell moved her travel pack out of the away. She would need the healing wares within it as the night progressed. She turned to the trackfinder. “Could we use your pack for a pillow for Wila?”
Chandro nodded as if in disturbed thought before she moved to fetch her pack.
“Bekar, make the girl comfortable,” Jan-nell said then took two steps toward the trackfinder. She hooked her arm around Chandro’s elbow, whispering as she walked with her away from the girl. “How fare you?” Jan-nell searched her face, which still was a mix of emotions, but fear and horror were the most pronounced. Chandro had seen something.
Jan-nell guided her sister-kin toward the dark-skinned sword dancer Farik who frowned as he listened to his sword brother Mali’s report of what had happened in the dyemakers’ camp. Mali was still dressed only in the black silk loin cloth he donned to climb the rocks without hindrance when he and Chandro had gone after Bekar.
Farik turned at the women’s approach. He stepped to meet Chandro, immediately drawing her into his arms.
“I think she is in shock,” Jan-nell said. “Get her off her feet and hold her close. Heal her with the Ashay, the spirit within. If she starts to shake like she is cold, cover her with a blanket even in this heat and give her some tea.”
She turned to Mali, her foster-father. He looked weary in the fire’s glow and much older than she. “Take Chandro’s pack to the girl. It will be her pillow.”
“I will fetch it,” he said, frowning at the young mother who still sat on the blanket beside Bekar who had not moved. “But the girl will not let me near her.”
Jan-nell nodded. “I thought as much. That was why the women supported her, and you did not help.” Her forehead wrinkled in worry over Bekar who just sat with a hand on the young girl’s arm but did not even look at her. “I will take it to the girl and make her comfortable.” Returning her attention to Mali, she asked. “Are you well?”
He nodded grimly. “But what I have seen will haunt me all my days.”