Some time ago…
He was looking at her again. The handsome Orc was seated off to the side of the altar, theoretically observing the rites being performed by the King Crow. Theoretically, because he’d spent more time staring at her than learning the Ceremony of Sacrifice. She wondered what his name was, and wished she were allowed to give him hers.
He pulled her along the abandoned corridor, and she giggled when he refused once again to tell her where they were going. “Just tell me!” she cajoled, laughter nearly obscuring her words. He shook his head and grinned mischievously, placing a thick finger against his dark green lips. “You’ll have to wait, Sister,” he said in a hushed tone, “but not for long, since we’re here.” He opened the door to a long-unused room. It was large, and the stones echoed their footsteps as he pulled her toward a raised dais of some kind. On it sat a huge, tarnished bowl full of dust. It almost looked as though it had grown out of the stone. He boosted her up into it and leaped agilely over the side to join her. She protested that they shouldn’t disturb such an obviously important place, but he hushed her with his lips, and his hands, and the feel of his skin on hers.
He turned away, but not before she caught the anguish in his eyes. “Say something,” she sobbed. “Tell me that it’s all going to be fine.” Spinning around, he yelled, “I can’t! It isn’t going to be fine! You have to leave now, and we can’t be together, all because I was too stupid to think of the consequences. I’m next in line to be King, and I should know better and this… maybe someday this could work, but it just can’t right now.” Tears streamed down her cheeks as she begged him to reconsider, but he had already made up his mind. Later, when she was riding out of the Temple in the back of a hay cart in borrowed clothing, feeling naked without her veils, she thought she saw him standing in the tower window of “their” room. But then a cloud shifted over the face of the moon, and he was gone.
She clutched her new habit to her stomach in a bundle as she nervously followed the Novicemistress to her cell. The greying Fey woman seemed kind, if brisk, and seemed not to have noticed the slight bulge in her midsection. For being about three-quarters of the way through this cursed pregnancy, she was hardly showing, which was a blessing that she could only thank the Crow- the Light… she could only thank the Light for this blessing. After the Novicemistress had closed her cell door behind her, she slowly dressed in the heavy winter fabric. At least grey wasn’t such a bad color. She had just smoothed the wimple down over her sable hair, glad to have the familiar weight of a head covering again, when she was startled by a knock on her door. She was even more surprised when it opened immediately after, and a tall, severe-looking blonde elf barged in. A beautiful smile, one that was slightly intimidating for the sheer number of teeth that it displayed, transformed the face of the other young woman from severe to mischievous. “I’m Vera!” she announced, busily inspecting the contents of the cell. “We’re neighbors, and I know that we’re going to be best friends. I can sense these things, you know,” she said conspiratorially, “I’m very intuitive. Everyone says so. What’s your name?”
She looked up (and up; by the Feather, this Vera was too tall to be allowed!) and swallowed the lump that rose in her throat at such an exuberantly friendly greeting.
She screamed as another pain wracked her body. Vera rushed to the door of the room they shared in the pilgrims’ shelter in response to the concerned pilgrim-master’s knocking. “Oh, no, just cramps! She had some meat before we left and I told her it was off, but she never listens!” caroled the blonde Elf. “No, no, sir, you’re very kind, but she’ll be fine. We’ll catch up to you in a few days, or go back to the Abbey. It’s good that we’re only a week away from home. Fare you well! Safe journey!” With a sigh of relief, Vera dropped the merry act and rushed to Celeste’s side. The midwife looked up and grinned as she gabbled something in her native tongue, and Celeste wondered sourly what the idiot woman had to smile about at a time like this. “You just had to go into labor in the only village around that doesn’t have a midwife we can actually speak to,” Vera complained sarcastically, but she gripped Celeste’s hand to provide an anchor through the next contraction. Celeste welcomed her friend’s staunch support, but knew that as soon as the babe was out she would lose her only ally.
Less than an hour later, the midwife hurried out of the room, her face ashen as she flicked prayer beads over her freshly-washed hands. Celeste lay back, exhausted, as Vera paced the room with the swaddled baby in her arms. Surprisingly, her personal warrior hadn’t abandoned her when the child proved to be an Orc, even though there was no reason Celeste could think of that would explain how this child existed. Still, there was nothing to be done. A child like this could never be accepted, and both it and she would be executed if anyone but Vera discovered what she’d done. “I know it’s hard, Vera,” she said weakly, “but I’ll do it. Give it to me, and I’ll take it away, and be back by evening. No one will know. It’s for the best, and it’s kinder for it to die now than to-“
“No!” shrieked Vera, startling the frail newborn into mewling cries of protest. “We’ll not expose this baby. This is your baby, Cece, and we can’t just… give up like that! I know that we can come up with some story to cover it. No one but me even knows that you were pregnant. It will work, you’ll see.” Softening her tone, she came and sat down next to the bed, placing the green-skinned infant in the crook of Celeste’s arm. Against her better judgment, the dark-haired Elf let the baby curl its tiny hand around her finger, and she couldn’t help but smile. Vera leaned over and put her arm around Celeste’s shoulders. “I love you, Cece,” she said softly, “I love you because you’re my best friend, and because of who you are, and as more than a friend. I think you feel the same way about me. We can raise this baby together. We can say that we’re adopting, but we’ll know the truth. We can have a real family together.” Suddenly shy, the normally confident blonde looked down at the infant. “That is… if you want.”
Celeste could hardly believe what Vera was saying. She’d thought, maybe, and hoped, but… this was much better than she’d dared to dream. She turned and kissed her friend softly on the lips. “Vera, I love you, too, and I would love nothing more than to raise this child with you. I had thought… if there was any way that it was a boy, and I could keep him, I might call him after his father… Arkhebael. But that’s too uncommon, and I can’t let anyone know, so what about Archibald?” Vera, tears of joy gathering in her eyes, looked at the boy and said, “Archibald. I like it. We could call him Arkh, for short, to still be after his father.” Suddenly, she giggled, and continued, “and Greene. We could call him Archibald Greene, for the color of his skin!” She dissolved into laughter, and Celeste had to join her. When she caught her breath, she said, “Now, Vera, we’ll have to come up with a much better story than that for his name!”
He felt it when his first child entered the world, and he couldn’t resist scrying the boy. He saw her with a different Elf, a blonde one, and they seemed very happy together. They’d love his son and raise him, as he would never get the chance to. He tried the boy’s name out a few times, and had to smile. It was a good name.
“Archibald Greene. My son, Arkh.”
He canceled the scry and turned back to the pressing business that he’d interrupted to have his surreptitious peek at the baby. The Cambion girl’s eyes widened and she gasped in either pleasure or pain as he cut, ever so gently, into her wrists. The bowl was getting low, and her blood was strong. Rosornos blood always was, and this one was most eager to learn the rites. Perhaps someday she’d make a bride for him or his new Brother King.