Give . . . Grieve
David E. Hughes
Betha struggled against a wave of pain, trying to concentrate on the Elders' words: give a life, grieve a death, then your power shall come.
When her moon blood had ceased and the mound in her belly rose, Betha had consoled herself with the Elders' wisdom. She'd looked up to them since she was old enough to firewalk. Kind as they were, the Elders had been clear: no short path led to their place. As much as Betha wished she could transform herself from weak to strong, victim to victor, she'd have to wait. Give a life, grieve a death was the familiar refrain.
Betha gritted her teeth through another surge of pain.
"You're almost there," murmured the midwife.
In her kindly way, the midwife had warned her that it would hurt, but Betha could not have imagined pain so intense. Of course, she had to pay a price for the joy she would get in return; the Elders had taught her of the balance of things: pain for joy, sweat for pride, blood for freedom. If only the child was a joy she could share. No man waited outside the tent for her, no man had built a crib, no man had showered her with his love. She had a Taskovy raider to thank for this pain-and for this first step toward power.
One more explosion of pain, this one different. Something gave, released. Gratitude, thought Betha. The Elders had said she should forget the violation and be grateful to the Taskovy for the gift of life he had left behind. But she could not change her feelings. She would see the man's face, his cruel smile and scarred forehead. She would remember his breath that smelled of meat and the heat of him as he ripped into her. No, Betha did not have the wisdom of the Elders. She felt no gratitude toward him, only hate.
The pain subsided, receding into a dull ache. "Show me my baby," said Betha. She realized months ago that her nightmares about the baby being born with a scarred forehead and a huge, erect penis had been foolish. She could love-did love-this baby. She wanted to hold him, give him her breast to suckle. The midwife brought her a wrapped bundle, grief painted across her kind face. Betha held the baby, who didn't move, didn't breathe.
"No!" shouted Betha. "It can't be."
Power rushed through her. Magic crackled in her fingers, burned in her belly. Ah, the power was strong, delicious. Give a life, grieve a death. The Elders had been right. Betha had come into her power. And perhaps the Elders had been right about feeling gratitude, too. She would thank the Taskovy for his gift when he lay dead at her feet.