Tides of Blood and Music|
|A warsailor widow finds it hard to go on. (1600 words) |
|Neteilyu dreamed of blood on waves, and singing, and woke up clutching her swollen belly. A shot of sunlight filtered in the gap between curtains she never opened anymore, and highlighted the silvery layer of dust she had allowed to collect over the furniture and few sea trinkets that had survived her purge of Megruu's things. |
Amulrii would be appalled by the state of the bedroom, if she saw it. The low ceiling, perfect for Neteilyu with her normal Duurludirj stature, kept the giant woman from poking this far into the house. Neteilyu sighed and turned away from the shaft of sunshine, regretting that sleep was gone. She was too uncomfortable to find that escape again; her bladder whined, and her back ached. She rolled carefully to her side, and swung short legs out of her bed. Their bed. Megruu's bed before they had been married.
She loved the baby within her, for being the last piece of Megruu that would ever walk the world, and at the same time, hated it for keeping her here.
“You'll feel better when the baby comes,” Amulrii told her cheerfully, as she always did, when she arrived after Neteilyu had relieved herself.
The outer room was big enough for the tall woman to stand upright, if barely, and was bare and perfectly clean. The curtains were drawn, and the space was forcibly cheerful. Neteilyu sat, obediently, and ate the food before her.
“You just need something to take care of,” Amulrii explained, as she had a hundred times. “It will be soon now, I think. No more than a tenday.”
Once, having nothing to do would have driven Neteilyu to distraction; having no job would have sent her searching to the Empire library for references, and a dozen sketchbooks would have been filled with mathematical proofs and ship ideas. Now, her drafting table lay untouched, except for Amulrii's dusting.
Neteilyu did as the giant woman directed – eating, stretching and taking a slow, careful walk around the neighborhood. When Amulrii gave her a book to read – a silly novel she might have finished in an hour, before - she couldn't focus on the pages, and eventually put it aside to stare at nothing and wait in despair for the time to sleep again.
Amulrii sang as she worked around the house, busying herself with nothing-things. She had taken a class from a traveling Music Guild professor who swore to the power of music to change moods, and she had bought a book of music, specially certified by the Empire, to be uplifting and promote happiness.
It was all mainland music, to Neteilyu's ears, and did nothing to lift her dark mood or improve her outlook. She confessed as much, when Amulrii asked.
“Perhaps it helps your little wa- little one,” the giant woman said optimistically in reply, and some days she would play the melodies with a set of island flutes. Neteilyu didn't care enough to ask her to stop. Her dreams became twined with the music.
The baby came, as babies finally do, and Neteilyu looked into his dark eyes and waited to be released from the sorrow that consumed her. It didn't look much like Megruu, but no one was surprised when she named it after him. Amulrii sang through the hard birth, until her voice grew rough, but there was no happiness for Neteilyu at the end of it, only reminder of how much the first Megruu had wanted the second. Our own little warsailor, he had said of it. Neteilyu nursed the squalling thing, and thought that neither of them was more than a snack for a sea monster.
She made the mistake of saying it out loud, and Amulrii started sleeping on a cot in her house. Perhaps the warsailor widow-keeper thought Neteilyu would walk them both off the end of a pier, but she didn't have the energy to go so far. It was easier simply to do as she was told, and go through the mechanical motions of caring for the new baby, sleeping whenever it let her.
She still dreamed of bloody tides together with Amulrii's endless music, and woke up wishing that she would never wake at all.
People brought her gifts to try to cheer her – people she had worked with at the mathematics school, other designers and builders with the shipyard, friends of Megruu, fellow warsailors, and some she didn't know, who told stories of Megruu saving them. One of them brought her bony ridges from an immature Soldierfish – a wholy inappropriate gift! - but they caught her eye, and when Amulrii went to throw them away after the mainlander left, Neteilyu stopped her.
“Leave them,” Neteilyu said, and Amulrii was so startled she stopped singing. Little Megruu was asleep, and Neteilyu had been planning to follow, but something woke in her instead, staring at the monster parts.
Amulrii crept around silently while Neteilyu found a piece of driftwood on the back porch that had been intended for a chair repair, and set the ridges on top of it. It didn't look like a soldierfish at all; some of the branches looked like splayed limbs, and a knobby spot could have been a goofy face. Neteilyu dug into a chest and found a few whole shells that worked for eyes. The thing looked... foolish. Harmless and ridiculous. She spent the best part of an hour finding the best method to attach the ridges, and offered to Amulrii, “Resin might work better. Or maybe bake them into soft clay?” It was the first conversation she had started of her own volition in a month, perhaps. It felt rusty, and she was glad when Megruu started crying for food, because she didn't know what else to say.
The next day, Amulrii brought back a lump of clay, a pot of resin, a coil of wire and a rattling bag of trapjaw claws with her market goods, and her singing had fresh energy when she politely ignored Neteilyu to do the cooking.
Next, Neteilyu built a big, lopsided thing that was almost a smartarm, with trapjaw claws at the end of it's driftwood arms, a big silly glass ball for its one showing eye, and scraps of an old, bright shirt for extra tentacles. It was as big as the kitchen table, and lacked any grace or balance, but Neteilyu found herself smiling vindictively at it, and marveled at how strange her mouth felt in that shape.
Amulrii didn't complain when the kitchen table became a work surface, and became deft at stepping over the creatures in progress. She laughed, even at the rudest ones that Neteilyu made: the little deathfin composed of bits of clay that looked like turds, and the dreamskate made of sail stretched over wire that was examining its own exaggerated genitalia with surprise. When they laughed, little Megruu laughed, too, and the sound complimented Amulrii's singing.
Before the sculptures could become a hazard in the house, they were adopted. A visiting warsailor wanted the smartarm “...to scare away the housewife mainlanders,” he said. “I'll pay you for your trouble.”
“The claws cost an Imperial,” Amulrii said, when Neteilyu was at a loss.
He paid her twenty, and seemed happy with the deal.
A warsailor wife who had always been friendly bought the lewd dreamskate. “My husband will love it,” the woman said with a twinkle of humor.
Neteilyu blinked, and smiled, and wondered when it became alright to speak of husbands around her again. She took the thirty Imperials in surprise. A warsailor took the droppings deathfin, paying 15 Imperials for it, moments before another offered 20. Neteilyu made a second one for the unhappy loser, and he was so pleased with it, he gave her five Imperials over their agreed price.
“I could make a living at this,” she observed to Amulrii.
“Do you want to?” the giant asked seriously.
Neteilyu thought about going back to her job in the shipyards, designing boats, and stared at her drafting table, re-purposed for storing craft supplies. The idea of it made her chest tight, and she could feel the gray depression that was never far away.
“The Warsailor Guild will pay for me to stay with you as long as you need,” Amulrii assured her, reading the despair in her face. “You don't have to work if you don't want to.”
Neteilyu thought about making monsters for money, and her mood lifted. She... didn't mind the idea. It was frivolous, and fun, and she thought that it gave other warsailors some amount of joy; she remembered another warsailor widow who took a soldierfish eating its own tail, grinning in unexpected delight at the image. Neteilyu liked the idea of causing that kind of delight in someone else, even if she felt incapable of finding it in herself.
“I'd probably have to make them a little tamer, for the tourists,” she said thoughtfully, stroking a ragged deathfin tooth. It was a big as her forearm, she wondered if she could make a fish figure out of it somehow.
Her dreams that night were of music, but the tides were strangely free of blood.
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