To Ellen's prompt, Tidepool Memories, I wrote this piece. They live in the arctic of a world that includes sea monsters and other dangers. Ivara is featured in a number of other stories over at www.tornworld.net.
Torn World is crowdfunded; this story is my freebie glimpse at the world for this weekend's Muse Fusion.
Ruvardu sat by the ocean, listening to the waves. Her toes rested in a pleasantly warm tidepool. She had a bowl of red beans in her lap, and her fingers worked clumsily at the once-easy task of separating the rich beans from the bitter husks. The stroke that had stolen the cleverness from her fingers had not taken her ability to enjoy the sun and water on her skin. She looked up to see Ivara hang a gutted fish onto the smoking rack and set her knife down to stand and stretch.
For just a moment, Ivara looked stiff, like an old lady, like Ruvardu herself, but then she twirled and did a few dance steps, her long hair sailing around her like a shawl. She looked so young, dancing with Reqem on the big drum, their feet pounding out the rhythms of young lust. Ruvardu danced too, but not on the drum, she was more interested in flirting with Firl and drinking beer. The combination made her giggle, and the firelight shimmered like the ocean, and her toes were wet with spilled beer. “Oh, that was a night!” She opened her eyes, and saw a tiny fish in the tidepool nibbling at her toes. She could barely feel the soft fish lips against her skin. “You and Reqem were so beautiful dancing on the drum.” Her words were blurred, but she knew Ivara would understand.
Ivara danced over and bent to make sure Ruvardu’s shawl was tucked close around her. “You and Firl were beautiful too.”
Ruvardu laughed. “We were silly and drunk. To hear you talk, all new-adults are beautiful. Just like all babies are beautiful.”
“Well, they are.” Ivara smiled, and sank gracefully to the sand, picking up her knife again. She reached for a fish, humming an old tune. A pregnant young woman came by with a basket of new-caught fish and poured them into the basket next to Ivara. “Who was that Itakith woman?”
Ivara didn’t answer; she sat there with one hand on her swollen belly, then reached for Ruvardu’s hand to place it there. Inside, the baby-to-be was moving, and Ruvardu caught her breath. Her own pregnancy wasn’t as far along. So far, all she could feel was a tickle, a sensation in her gut like beer felt on her tongue, tingly and intoxicating.
The woman from Itakith leaned forward, her brown hair falling over her shoulders. “Can I see too?”
Ivara pulled her shirt up, and they all saw the shape of a foot pressing out, to one side of her distended belly button. The woman reached out her hand, hesitantly.
“Of course.” Ivara nodded.
The other woman put her hand on Ivara’s belly and then laughed. “The baby is so—so alive!” She reached back to lift up her own shirt and bare her own brown belly, which was only starting to swell. “Will I see my baby’s foot like that?”
“Probably.” The old mother-tender set a bowl of fresh fruit and greens in front of her charges. “But every baby is different. Some move a lot, while others seem content to sleep all through a pregnancy.” She smiled, her wrinkles moving on her face like grass in the wind. Ruvardu wanted to thank her, but her mind was as stiff as her old fingers.
“I can’t remember their names.” Ruvardu looked down at her belly, finding it old and flat and full of a bowl of red beans. She had forgotten the beans again, and so she reached into the bowl to pick up another, squeezing it to split the hull and free the beans.
“That’s nothing to worry about.” Ivara sounded sad. Ivara so rarely sounded sad, but there were times. There had been so much blood, the day the whalebear surprised her little son, Firuu, on the beach. She had screamed and threw rocks at it, and Ivara snatched up a fishing spear and charged the bear, snarling like a snowcat.
The bear clamped its jaws around the boy’s leg, and Ivara darted in, pushing her spear into the thing’s chest. Teeth still clammped, it roared, loud enough that Ruvardu couldn’t hear her own screams, and swiped at Ivara, who danced away and then back again, over and over. Finally, as Reqem ran up with a heavy hunting spear, Ivara sunk the fishing spear deep into the creature’s eye and it collapsed.
Reqem pried the bear’s jaws off of the boy, but it was too late. He was hanging limp from the monster’s jaw, and not breathing. Where he wasn’t covered in blood—his and the bear’s—his skin was too pale. Reqem laid the boy, blood and all, in Ruvardu’s arms. Tears fell silently from her eyes, her grief too strong for sound.
“Firuu—“ She choked it out, and was shocked, again, to hear how blurred and frail her voice was. She couldn’t even say the name of her firstborn properly any more, and that made her cry even harder.
Suddenly, Ivara was there, holding Ruvardu, humming a different tune now. They had made this tune together, when Ruvardu’s first grandchild was born. Varlii had wanted to travel to Itrelir, to be with the baby’s father for the birth, and Ivara and Ruvardu had accompanied her on the journey. They should have reached Itrelir a month before the birth, but the baby was impatient, and Varlii had gone into labor on the trail.
Ruvardu had been so scared for her daughter. They didn’t have a healer with them—what if something went wrong? But Ivara kept them telling stories and singing tunes until the baby came, such a perfect, tiny girl she was, all red and wrinkled and hungry. They camped by a small lake for a tenday, Ruvardu setting traps and Ivara tending them and gathering firewood. The lake was so beautiful, and so were her daughter and granddaughter. Ivara was right. New-adults and new babies were all beautiful.
Ruvardu tried to sing along with Ivara, but since the stroke, she couldn’t hold a tune. She smiled at Ivara. “You can sing for the baby.”
Ivara patted wetness from her cheeks, nodding. Ruvardu looked up—was it raining? The sky was clear, except for a few Others floating far above, out over the ocean. It must be just the surf. She asked Ivara, “Dance for me?”
Ivara looked sad, though she smiled at Ruvardu. “I will always dance for you.” She tucked the shawl tighter around her age-mate and stood to whirl and leap in the sand at the edge of the waves.