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Chapter 8 – An Ancient Lament
The next morning, new and irrational hope filled Elana. Nothing in her situation had changed, yet her heart was lighter. She stopped looking for methods of suicide. She turned again in friendship to Roswyn and the other women. Hope had kindled within her like a new-struck spark, and not even the daily rapes could extinguish it completely. Jealously she tended it, guarding the tiny flame against the day when she’d have enough fuel to build it into a roaring fire.
Each night her dreams were visited again by the half-orc girl. She saw her at many ages, in many guises. By morning the dreams were vague and clouded, but always the sense of reassurance and hope was strong, and the image of those eyes.
It was with a sense of inevitability that two weeks later Elana felt the familiar nausea of morning sickness. Again she was examined and declared to be pregnant. Elana greeted the news that her breeding time was over with tears and joy. She knew, with a conviction that defied all logical argument, that she would never have to face that horror again.
Weeks passed, then months. The time drew near for Roswyn to give birth. Elana could see that, much as she tried to conceal it, the burden of this pregnancy weighed heavily on her. Elana knew that so many pregnancies, one right after another, without the natural break nursing a child provided, was wearing on a woman’s body. Roswyn seemed pale, and gaunt except for the roundness of her belly.
Roswyn’s labor began when her water suddenly broke one morning. The orcs quickly dragged her away, and Elana was left alone to worry. Her worry increased each of the three days she was gone. Then finally Roswyn was thrown back into the cell, exhausted, weak, and feverish. Elana sat by her pallet, holding her hand and bathing her forehead with cool water, but there was little she could do as Roswyn’s body battled with the fever. Elana thought surely she would die, but the will to live, amazingly, was still strong inside her. She fought to keep taking one breath after another, until at last the fever broke. After that, her recovery was sure, although agonizingly slow.
Elana’s own body ripened. Surprisingly, this time she felt no revulsion at all. The fact this child had been begotten upon her by an orc seemed somehow inconsequential, and she felt free to marvel at the miracle of developing life. She refused to consider that this child, too, would be taken away. Somehow she knew that was not its fate.
Late one night, a new dream gripped Elana. The orc-girl’s eyes blazed as she roughly shook Elana’s shoulders. “Wake up, Mother, wake up! It’s time!” Suddenly she was grabbed from behind by orc-hands, seized and carried away, struggling and crying out, “Mama, help me, please, Mama!” Orcs threw a sack over Elana’s head and dragged her off. She gasped for breath and fought against the smothering folds. Her thrashing woke her. Still feeling smothered, she panted desperately, but couldn’t seem to get enough air. She sat up on her pallet, then glimpsed a faint ray of moonlight coming from the ventilation shaft.
She went over to the opening, and with great effort hoisted herself up. She crept up the slanted shaft, barely able to squeeze her growing bulk though. Another week and she’d be too big. She reached the metal grate and lay, her faced pressed up against it, finally able to breathe the cool damp night air.
She looked out. The rocks and scrub were illuminated by silvery light, and by twisting her head around to an uncomfortable angle, she was able to glimpse a tiny patch of sky, where the full moon shone serene and peaceful, high above the cares of the world. Elana thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. The sadness of her life, of a world where living creatures could do such things to others, where everything must fade in the end to despair and death, overwhelmed her, and she wept. Then, moved by a strange impulse, she lifted her voice in song, an ancient lament of her people:
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Elana’s voice broke in a sob, and the echoes of the last notes died away into silence. Then the silence was broken by a voice calling out.
“Who’s there? Speak! Where are you?”
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