Chapter 49: Epilogue
"Loosen your grip, Son. The horse's head moves when the rest of his body is in motion. Compensate for that."
"Yes, Mama." The young boy, Samuel, said a little worriedly as he obeyed. "Alright, Pete. Forward."
Alessia watched from just outside the riding circle as her eldest son rode his horse alone for the first time. Jasa would have been a better choice to learn on, but the mare wasn't available to ride. She was currently in the barn heavy with pregnancy. Due any day now, Alessia thought it best for Samuel to learn on the horse he'd received for his birthday. Pete, as Samuel had named him, was a fairly gentle beast. Much like his mother, Jasa. The horse was patient with his rider, suffering the beginner's common mistakes with grace and ease. So far. The horse was already showing signs of irritation, so Alessia decided she might cut short the lesson for the day.
Beside Alessia, Sofie and two of the other children stood on the bottom rail watching their bother handle his horse. Hroar cheered in encouragement as he watched. The boy was… energetic. Rambunctious. He'd claimed his parents named him after a roaring lion, though he'd never actually seen one. He never spoke of his birth parents beyond that small fact. The second child was Runa Fair-Shield. She was the second youngest of the children, nearly as tall as Sofie, and just as sweet. The young girl cried the day Alessia and Serana came to get her from Honorhall, along with all the other children. Four from the orphanage, then two from other places across Skyrim. Six adoptions in all, with still one more on the way.
The other three additions to the family were up at the house with Serana, no doubt elbow deep in dirt and other garden work. Alesan, the son of a Redguard sailor who died shortly after the two docked at Dawnstar, took to the gardening like a fish to water. When Serana asked one of the children for help in the garden, the boy was always the first to volunteer. He said it was a calming task that gave him time to think. What a boy his age needed to think that long or that hard about neither Serana nor Alessia could figure out.
Blaise was the son of two Imperial Soldiers serving in Solitude. The boy's parents had both been killed in the vampire attack on Solitude and had been working in Katla's Farm stables ever sense. Alessia and Serana had been on a business trip to Solitude when they came across the boy in the stables. He'd been absolutely taken in by Jasa and swore up and down that he'd take good care of her. After Alessia talked with the boy about his past and his current situation, she went immediately to the proprietor. Geimund was loath to part with the boy, he did good work with the horses, but Blaise was eager to be gone from the place. He claimed that while Katla, Geimund's wife, was never actually cruel to him, a case could be made for negligence. That settled things in Alessia's mind. And Serana's. They asked Blaise if he wanted to come live with them, and that was that.
The last, and youngest, of the boys was Francois Beaufort. The boy was… a bit of a loner. He spoke very little, and often only to the children who shared space with him in Honorhall. What little information "Grelod the Kind" kept on the children in the orphanage, she'd kept next to nothing on Francois. He was marked as an Imperial, but his name was most certainly from High Rock, the Breton homeland. Alessia guessed it was because he was the son of an Imperial and a Breton, but it was only a guess.
The boy claimed that his parents dropped him off at the orphanage only a year past and swore they would return to claim him. It was heartbreaking because either Grelod had not taken their names, or they hadn't given them. Alessia feared that that meant they'd never intended to return for their son. The boy was all for being adopted, at the very least to get out of Honorhall, but was only alright with the idea until his parents returned to claim him. Both Alessia and Serana didn't think it likely, but both agreed they needed to try and locate the parents. Alessia sent missives to both the Imperial City and to Daggerfall for inquiry. So far… nothing. But they promised Francois they would search and continue to do so until they found something. That had brought the young boy out of his shell a bit more. He stuck close to his orphan-mates and generally seemed to enjoy working in the garden with Serana.
The last was an infant they had yet to meet. The child had been born in Bruma, the small Nordic village in the Jerall Mountains just south of the Skyrim border in Cyrodiil. Honorhall had received a letter shortly before the birth informing them that the mother did not want to keep the child, but wanted the child to grow up in her native land instead of the seat of the Empire. Sadly, the woman died in childbirth and the father was unknown. The new keeper of Honorhall, Constance Michel, contacted Alessia and Serana about the newborn girl. They'd immediately accepted. Currently, the child was in the care of the steward of Bruma and was to be taken to Honorhall when the pass in the mountains cleared of snow. That was… nearly a month ago. That meant the child was already on her way to Riverwood. Once they received word, Alessia planned on riding to Riverwood herself to retrieve the child. Which should be any day now.
In the ring, Samuel led Pete in small circles, his posture good. Alessia smiled at the boy. Of all the children that had flooded into her and Serana's life, he was probably the most natural born leader. A few weeks ago, a sabre attacked and killed a few of their cattle. Samuel had helped Alessia and Sofie track and bring down the beast. Sofie was deadly with a bow, practicing every day for years. An accomplished hunter, just as Aela had predicted. Samuel was following in a similar direction. He bonded well with Alessia, often referring to himself as her "Soldier". She'd muss his hair, call him "Little Soldier", and tell him to go play. "Play" for Samuel was always some sort of training.
Footsteps behind them said someone, many someones actually, were joining them at the ring. Lots of little boots followed by a much longer gait Alessia knew all too well. The trees had grown large along the path to the house, covering it in shade. A gentle breeze told Alessia that Serana was coming down with the children proceeding her at a quicker pace. The change from vampire to half-breed had altered her mate's scent slightly, but not greatly. It lacked much of the cold, dry scent of vampire, favoring more an odor of a… well, woman.
In Serana's case, she smelt often of dirt and growing things. Earthy and sweet. Currently, her mate smelt of water and soap. She'd most likely just finished washing up for the day, but had focused mostly on her hands, neck, and face. There was still the lingering hint of sweat on her body, the origin of the flowery scent. Alessia tried not to thrum too loudly. She loved that scent. Especially when it was mixed with her own.
Serana appeared just as Alessia's nose informed her she would. There were still small amounts of dirt on her boots, apron, and the bottom of her dress. The wide brimmed hat on her head was a gift from Alessia. Serana often wore it, or something like it, during long periods in the sun. Mostly while she was in the garden. Sunlight wasn't much of a bother anymore, but too much wasn't good for her. Her hands, face and neck were clean, but there was a small wet patch at her back and around her collar. She'd been working hard today. The children raced before Serana, eager to see their brother riding his new horse. Serana's eyes remained on Alessia's, and they shared a small smile. There was a bit of gray starting to show in her mate's hair. Not a lot, but a strand or two stood out starkly against the darker strands. It suited her somehow, the passing of the years making her all the more beautiful to the wolf.
"Afternoon, Love." Serana gave Alessia a quick kiss. Alessia made it a bit longer, wrapping one arm around her mate's waist and pulling her close. Serana chuckled, a bit muffled by Alessia's lips, but didn't object. Most of the surrounding children protested with an "ick" or "yuck", but a few giggled. Loudest among them was Sofie, who was far more used to her mothers' often public acts of affection. When finally Alessia let her mate go, Serana looked to the pen, "How's our boy doing?"
Alessia eyes reluctantly left her mate and settled on Samuel and Pete. "Better. Still has a few bad habits he needs to break, but that will come with practice. Pete has been very patient with him."
"No surprise. He was Jasa's after all." Serana smiled. "How is the old girl, by the way?"
"Fat and ready to pop, but comfortable. She gets all the apples she wants, and Blaise here dotes on her night and day." Alessia leaned over a bit and ruffled the boy's hair. "Don't you, Pup?"
"Awe, Mama!" The boy took a swipe at her hand playfully, then worked to put the mop of hair back into place. He'd been fixated on keeping his hair and clothes neat and tidy of late. Probably because of that new family that came to stay at Solstice since the new Fighting Academy started. The two parents had a young daughter about Blaise's age who loved horses just as much as he did. Rose, she thought her name was. Alessia decided to poke at her son a bit more. A tease, but also an attempt to gain information. "How is Rose liking it here?"
Horrified, the boy's blush said it all. The rest of the children giggled as he stammered, "Who?"
Alessia chuckled and mussed his hair again, much to his displeasure. Runa answered for her brother in a giggle, "He brought her a flower yesterday."
"Runa, shut it." Blaise growled, more embarrassed than angry.
Serana elbowed Alessia in the ribs lightly, then gave her a reproachful look. Alessia chuckled, satisfied with her fun, then nodded her approval to the boy. "That's a good start, Son. Be a gentlemen, though. I don't want her father to punch your face in one day because he caught you with his daughter. Be respectful and treat her well, and it will do wonders for her parents."
A bit shy to ask, especially in front of his siblings, Blaise looked up at Alessia with a serious look on his face. "How did you do it? Win Mother, I mean?"
"Well… technically, her father did punch me in the face…" Alessia started. "And your Grandam has repeatedly called me a-"
Serana gave Alessia another jab in the ribs, effectively cutting off her words. Sofie took the opportunity to say, "They were all over each other. Lucia told me so."
More giggling. Both Alessia and Serana glared at their daughter, who'd turned her attention back to the riding ring as if she'd said nothing at all. Serana shook her head after a moment, obviously trying to hide the blush on her cheeks. Seeing that still caught Alessia by surprise sometimes. It was one of those little everyday things that made her fall in love with her mate all over again.
"Your Mama didn't win me, Hon. I still think I somehow won her." Serana said to the boy, still waiting for an answer to his question. "But, to answer your question… Your Mama was… good."
"Good…" The boy repeated, not really seeming to understand.
"Caring. Despite the fact that I was, for all intents and purposes, something 'evil', she saw me. Treated me with respect and courtesy. Kindness without any expectations of kindness in return."
"Plus… you're jaw droppingly beautiful, Love." Alessia said with a wolfish grin and a wink to the gathered children. More giggling.
Serana rewarded her with an equally wolfish grin, eying Alessia's dirty work clothes up and down with a playful purr. "Right back at you, Dear."
Alessia turned back to Blaise. "I could tell almost right away something was different about her. There was something… special that my senses picked right up on. She was not like any other vampire I'd ever met. As time passed… We got to know each other and… I just knew. She was it for me. It was very hard, deciding to love someone always is, but we stayed together no matter what. Despite all the trials and obstacles, I love my wife. And that made all the struggling worthwhile."
Blaise nodded after a minute of thought, then asked Serana, "When did you know you were in love?"
Serana smiled and chuckled, "Well… I knew it was love right after your Mama roasted a few vampires in order to protect me."
Alessia could see the wheels in the boy's head turning. She caught on and immediately shut down the line of thought, "But let's not get ahead of ourselves, Son. No need to rescue the damsel when she isn't in distress, alright?"
A bit crestfallen, Blaise nodded. Serana pat his head lovingly, careful not to muss his hair. "Just be your sweet self, Honey. Rose isn't going anywhere any time soon."
"Jaw droppingly beautiful, huh?" Serana chuckled later on that night after all the children were asleep in their beds. She kissed her way slowly up Alessia's belly, nipping gently as she went. Her wolf was still trembling uncontrollably beneath her lips, chest heaving. Heart pounding. Their bonding scent was heavy in the air, laced with very, very satisfied werewolf. The taste of her mate on Serana's tongue was almost as intoxicating as the blood she'd taken earlier. "Even with the gray coming in?"
Alessia rolled, settling over Serana with a smoldering smile. "Especially with the gray."
In the years since she'd lost her immortality, her feedings had slowed dramatically. More often than not, Serana took only very small sips of blood during their lovemaking. At first, it had been difficult since she still feared doing Alessia harm. Her wolf had been patient with her, and eventually they'd worked through her anxiety. Now when they laid together, there was no fear. No reservations. No holding back. Just pure bliss. Serana moaned her pleasure as her mate took her again. Though she was only half-vampire now, she still felt Alessia's touch just as strongly as before. Perhaps more so. All that strength and power in the body between her legs, being so, so gentle that it almost hurt.
Serana's fingers curled in her mate's hair as she rocked her hips desperately. It was hard not to cry out, but she managed. Barely. Lightning shot up her spine when she climaxed, her back arching in a harsh bow. Alessia paused for only a moment before driving her again. She came harder the second time. When Serana came back to herself, her mate was trailing lazy kisses up from her belly button, stopping at her beasts.
Panting, Serana asked, "Hungry tonight, are we?"
In answer, Alessia clamped down on Serana's breast with her teeth. Not hard, but enough to make Serana gasp. Chuckling, Alessia let go. "Starving."
There was a bit more panting and gasping on Serana's part. Finally, she got out, "You do have to be up early, Alessia. The… oh! Training… starts… for the… mmm… And Lucia… comes… comes!"
She didn't finish. Alessia thrummed at the sound she made instead. "I have more important things to do tonight than sleep."
As tired as they would both be in the morning, Serana didn't object.
Serana yawned heavily, and took a long gulp of the coffee Alessia had made for her. Breakfast was served, and the table was its usual madhouse. They'd hired a cook once the family and grown to near double digits, but Alessia always insisted on at least serving Serana herself. Her wolf leaned over her chair to refill the mug with the steaming brew, placing a lingering kiss on her neck. More than one, and perhaps a little love bite that made Serana want to burst into flames.
With a little raspy whisper, Alessia thrummed. "Enjoy yourself a little too much last night, Love?"
"Mmm-hmm." Serana purred from behind her mug. "My wife out performed herself yet again. Looks like I've got to step up my game."
Wolf thrummed, "Might said wife provide a suggestion?"
Alessia did so in a whisper, and Serana nearly choked on her coffee. Thankfully the kids were too busy arguing on whether or not Jasa was going to have a colt or filly, and what they were going to name the foal. Serana composed herself, glad that the hot coffee could explain away the blush on her cheeks. "I see."
Chuckling Alessia turned down the flirting, sat beside her wife at the huge table, then began trying to sort out what the children were naming the new foal. All the while she piled food onto her plate from the giant sized platters set out on the table. Serana shook her head with a slight smile. Even after all these years, nearly seven sense they'd first set eyes on each other, and very little had changed. Underneath the table, she let her knee rest lightly against her mate's. Alessia responded with only the relaxing of her own knee against Serana's.
"We are not calling him Glimmer. It's going to be a boy! And besides, he's going to have a black coat, like Jasa."
"Nuh-uh. The daddy was solid white." Said one of the girls. Serana couldn't see who over all the racket, but she guessed Runa. Sofie would have called the new foal 'Slayer' or something. "She is going to be named Glimmer. You got to name the last baby she had."
"That's because he was my horse." Samuel said, defensive. "When you're old enough, Mama will give you one of your own and then you can name it."
"Well, I want a girl horse." Runa said, getting a nod in agreement from Sofie at her side.
"Of course you do." Alesan smirked, which earned him a glare from both his sisters.
"Wait? If the mom has a black coat, and the dad has a white coat, doesn't that mean the foal will have a gray coat?" Another boy asked, Hroar perhaps.
Blaise groaned. "That's not exactly how that works. I mean it could turn out gray, but it's more likely to be black or white."
"I like the name Glimmer if it's a girl." Francois added hesitantly. "Though if it's a boy… I donno. I'd have to see the coat first."
"Alright, Francois, what would you name it if it's a white colt?" Samuel encouraged as he often did to get his much shier younger brother to open up. "Or a black colt? Or a gray?"
"Don't forget about if it's a girl, Sam!" Runa giggled.
As the children argued back and forth, most forgetting their breakfast, Serana watched Alessia sit back and gaze out over the chaos with a satisfied smile on her face. Peaceful despite the mayhem. Serana stared at her for a moment, then asked, "You're thinking about adopting more, aren't you?"
Alessia smirked. "Is it that obvious?"
"You forget, Love, I know you." Serana chuckled. "We have seven, plus one on the way. We have room now that Lucia is married and gone. I hope she's feeling better than the last time we saw her. That baby of hers is really starting to weigh her down."
"Yeah, you and I… grandmothers." Alessia said. "I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the idea."
"And you still want to adopt more?" Serana smiled. "The more we take in, the more we have to eventually let leave the nest."
Serana watched her mate waffle. "We have the room and the means for more. I'm sure there's plenty of children out there looking for a home. But… we do have quite the handful here, don't we?"
"Hmm, there's that big heart again." Serana smiled warmly. "We'll talk about it more once Eisra gets a little older."
Eisra was the name they'd decided on for the infant on her way from Cyrodiil. After a hell of a lot of digging, Serana found that Eisra was the name of Alessia's mother. She'd insisted that the new addition to the family be named after her grandmother. Serana stood and leaned to her mate, kissing her deeply. She tasted of coffee, eggs, bacon, and the sweet honey she'd put on her toast. She tasted good. Like home.
"Ack!" Sofie groaned. "There they go again!"
The children all groaned along with their sister, one or two giggling, but Serana didn't care at all. She simply raised her mug up to block their view and kept right on going. What finally did stop them was a loud bang at the front door. Lydia, the stalwart housecarl turned Captain of the Guard, came inside with a large smile on her otherwise stony face.
"My Thane, your eldest is-"
"Lucia!" All the children shrieked as their eldest sister came waddling into the room. Though the horde remembered to be careful with the heavily pregnant woman, they all scrambled to be the first one to get to her.
For her part, Lucia's grin rivaled the sun in it's brightness. She'd grown to full womanhood these past years. Far be it from the young girl Serana had met all that time ago. Tall and fair, she was beautiful beyond imagination. Behind her, Frothar stood holding a few dozen neatly wrapped boxes in his arms. He himself had grown into a fine man. Much like his father.
"Alright! Easy everyone!" Lucia laughed, trying to hug all her siblings at once. "My, look at you Sofie! Such a heartbreaker! Sam, you've grown tall. Hroar, what is that on your shirt, Little Brother? Runa, my sweet girl! Look at you! I love your bows! Alesan, keeping out of trouble? Blaise… My goodness! Talk about heartbreaker! And… where is Francois?"
"Right here, Lucia." The youngest boy was standing off to the side while the others mauled his biggest sister.
"There you are, cutie!" Lucia reached over to him and pulled him into a big hug. The young boy gave a genuine smile of pure joy that only his eldest sister could bring out of him. Finally done greeting everyone, she motioned to Frothar. "I got presents."
The children stopped mauling her and instead tackled into her husband. The poor man yelped, but quickly dispensed with the goods to save himself. "Alright, alright everyone. Calm down."
Giggling, Lucia turned her attention to Alessia and Serana. "Mama."
"Hello, my Little One." Alessia gently pulled her daughter into a big hug, kissing the top of her head. Serana didn't mention the few tears falling down her mate's cheek. "We've missed you so much."
"That we have." Serana said, ignoring her own tears and getting a hug of her own. "How are you feeling, Sweetheart?"
"Fat." Lucia said instantly, earning a bark of laughter from her mothers. "But ready. I want this baby out as soon as possible."
"You didn't ride here, I hope." Alessia said, giving Frothar a cold glare and a growl.
Seeing the look on her Mama's face, Lucia answered quickly. "No. I rode in the wagon with some of Jarl Balgruuf's guards. He sent a whole contingent with us."
"Here, sit down." Alessia offered the bench and carefully guided their pregnant daughter to it. "Are you hungry? Thirsty? We have those pastries you and your Mother like."
"Mama, I'm fine." Lucia smiled. "No need to hover."
"I know, I know." Alessia knelt to be at eye level with her daughter. "But you know me. Overprotective is my middle name."
"Isn't that the truth." Serana said curtly, but with love.
Chuckling, Lucia placed a light kiss on her Mama's brow. "Thank you."
Looking a little confused, Alessia just looked at the woman. "For?"
"Everything. All that I have, I owe to you. You and Mother." Now Lucia was crying. "So, thank you. For all of it."
Without a word, Serana snatched one of the children's unused napkins and handed it to the weeping pair. She herself was a bit teary eyed, but they needed it more.
Laughing, Lucia wiped her face. "Look at me. I've been a hormonal mess of late, bursting into tears at the strangest things."
Both Alessia and Serana chuckled right along with her.
The letter arrived three days later in the afternoon. Eisra was in Riverwood, in the care of the kind old couple who ran the Riverwood Trader; Camilla and her husband Faendal, long time friends of Alessia's. The timing couldn't have been better. Lucia and Frothar were due back at Whiterun the very next day. So, Alessia decided to join them along the way, and part at the crossing that lead to either Riverwood or Whiterun. Serana insisted that she come, though Alessia already planned for that and then some. Lydia, along with a dozen of their household guards,would escort them. On the morning they were to leave, Samuel and Sofie begged to come along.
"We promise we'll keep up, Mama. Please." Samuel pleaded, then turned to Serana. "Mother, tell her. We won't be a burden."
Serana looked to her mate, who was stern faced and cold. But not entirely. Serana could see the slight curve of her lip as Alessia tried hiding the grin. Serana played along. "Well, you will both need to make up the chores you will be leaving to your siblings. And promise to clean out the horse stalls when we get back, as your Mama and I have asked you to do already. Twice."
Both children winced, but nodded solemnly. Alessia sighed. "I don't know, Love. I mean, neither one of them are ready to go. I mean, their horses aren't even-"
"We're ready!" Both Samuel and Sofie insisted.
"I don't see your sword, Samuel." Alessia scowled. "Or your bow, Sofie."
Both children glanced at each other, smiling. "We can bring them?"
Serana shook her head, holding in her mirth. "The house guards will be there, but we still want you armed just in case."
"We can go get them. Right now." Sofie said eagerly.
Again, Alessia sighed. She almost broke out laughing. "Go on then. Be ready in fifteen minutes and we'll meet you up at the house."
The two shrieked in delight, tackling both Alessia and Serana in hugs. Shouting, "Thank you! Thank you Mother!"
Once they were gone, Alessia frowned. "Thank you, 'Mother'? I'm the one who said they could go…"
Chuckling Serana kissed her mate's cheek, then mounted her horse. She would have summoned Arvak, but the undead horse seemed to unsettle the other horses. All except Jasa for some reason. So, a flesh and blood mount would have to do.
"Just goes to show…" Serana grinned wickedly as she kicked her horse. "I'm the favorite!"
The trip was a pleasant one. Alessia rode one of their newer horses; a stallion accurately named Red. He was a beautiful specimen of his kind. Strong and brave. Once it became clear that Jasa was with foal again and couldn't be ridden, she'd gone to her second choice. Alessia had taken to the male after he'd charged a few wild dogs in order to protect his downed rider. Red had been injured in that attack, and the owner was just going to have the animal slaughtered. Alessia bought him, took the time to get him back on his feet, then trained him herself. He was old enough now that she was considering breeding him with Jasa once her foal heat kicked in, as opposed to using Snow; the current sire to Jasa's foal. Snow was a good old boy, but it was good to be diverse.
Alessia rode next to the wagon, chatting happily with Lucia along the way. Serana was by her side, riding Snow with Frothar on his own horse beside her. Samuel and Sofie were riding about the nearby field on their own horses, playing a game of tag. It was good riding practice for them both, though Sofie was by far the better rider. Her painted mare, Lilly, was a fair bit smaller than Samuel's Pete, but that mare could run circles around the stallion. After a good while playing tag, they rested for a bit, riding alongside the wagon for a time. Samuel held back to chat with Lydia. The boy idolized the ex housecarl almost as much as he did Alessia. Once rested enough, the siblings rode off again. This time was a game of horseback sword fighting. With sticks, thankfully.
"So, have you picked out a name for the baby yet?" Alessia asked.
Frothar answered. "If it is a boy, then we are naming him after my father. Balgruuf the Second."
"And if it's a girl," Lucia continued, "Alessia."
Alessia's head whipped around at that, surprised. Without really thinking, she said, "Little One, you should be naming your daughter after your real mother."
She'd meant Lucia's real mother. Her birth mother. Still, Lucia just smiled. "Mama, I am naming her after my real mother. That will always to be you."
"I know what you meant, Mama. I love and will remember my birth parents until the day I die, but they did not raise me. You did. You and Mother." Lucia smirked, that defiant little girl who'd once brandished itching powder against a neighborhood bully. "And besides, it's my baby. I'll name it whatever I wish to."
"Ahem." Frothar coughed, much to his wife's chagrin.
She corrected. "Our baby. Sorry, Love."
The man laughed. "Oh, who am I kidding? She chose both names, Harbinger. Anything I suggested was either too frilly or too masculine."
Chuckling, Serana asked, "How many names did she settle on before picking those?"
As Frothar went to open his mouth, a slipper slammed into the side of his face. One previously located on Lucia's foot. "If you answer that question, I swear by Dibella's flaming knickers you will be sleeping on the floor tonight."
The man muttered under his breath, "Like I do most nights anyway?"
The other slipper smacked into his forehead. "Ow!"
"Quit while you're ahead, Son." Alessia suggested, readying for some other article of clothing being used as a projectile. "There's no arguing with a woman when she's like that."
"Oh, really?" Serana asked, quite loudly. "Need I remind you of how she learned that phrase? 'Dibella's flaming knickers' sounds awfully familiar."
"Uh-oh…" Frothar muttered, glancing at Alessia. The two kicked their horses into a gallop to get away from their wives who were suddenly raucous with laughter.
Parting was was difficult. The three hugged goodbye repeatedly, stopped and talked for a bit longer, then hugged and said farewell again. Promises to visit soon so that Lucia could see the new baby. Other promises of future visits to see the grandchild. On and on they went. Eventually, Frothar had to order his men to be on their way. In which case, Lucia was carried away on the wagon. It hurt to watch her go, but they would see her again when the baby was born. And many times after that. Alessia knew her eldest would be alright. Frothar was young, but a good man. Serana stood by Alessia's side, holding her hand until the wagon disappeared out of sight. Even did so for a few minutes longer.
Finally, Serana kissed her wife's cheek and led her away. "Come on, Love. We still need to reach Riverwood by nightfall."
They did, and had everyone settled in the inn before Alessia, Serana, Samuel, and Sofie went to see Camilla and Faendal. It was late, after closing, by the time they arrived. Camilla didn't seem bothered in the least. The older woman smiled, eyes bright as the day they'd met. "Come in. Come in, Alessia. My goodness. It's been an age."
"Hello, Camilla. How's Faendal?" Alessia hugged the woman, genuinely pleased to see her. "And your brother, of course?"
"Oh, he's getting around. Still busy at the mill. Lucan is still out in Cyrodiil on that dig. You remember the one from a few years back? He says he's going to bring us a real treasure this time. Put the Riverwood Trader on the map."
Alessia chuckled. "The Riverwood Trader already is on the map, Camilla. You're brother just can't read it anymore."
Both Samuel and Sofie giggled, which drew the woman's attention. "My, my. Who do we have here? Such a strapping young lad. You stay away from my Carrol now, you hear me? I'm sure she'd fall right in love with such a handsome young man. And, oh my goodness! Such a beautiful lady you have here, Alessia. Such a treasure to be sure. My Peter would just love you, my Dear."
The two children introduced themselves politely, and suffered having their cheeks squeezed. It was funny to watch, but Alessia came to their rescue. She took her mate's hand and pulled her forward. "Camilla, you've met my wife, Serana."
"Oh, yes. Lovely to see you again, my Dear. How have you been lately? Busy, I'll bet. Busy, busy, busy with all those little ones running around that school of yours. Alessia, my Peter has been begging me to attend. I'm sure he'll try harder to get there once he sees your beauty of a daughter here. How many children do you have now, Alessia?"
"Serana and I have nine, Camilla."
"Nine! My goodness! No wonder you two are so busy all the time."
Alessia added patiently. "Nine, including the baby. Might we see her?"
"Oh, dear! Listen to me! Jabbering on when you've come all this way to see your new lass. Please, have a seat and I'll be down with her in a moment." True to her word, Camilla carefully descended the stairs a few minutes later. Samuel took the small pack, Eisra's things no doubt. The woman handed the tightly wrapped bundle to Alessia. "The little lass has eaten, but will probably get hungry here in an hour or so. Sleeps like an angel. Hardly a peep when you lay her down for the night."
The bundle was heavier that Alessia imagined such a small thing to be. A solid weight that wriggled slightly as she settled it into the crook of her arm. Somehow… Alessia was more frightened in that instant than at any time she could readily remember. She'd held babies before, often enough that she wasn't uncomfortable with them, but the little soul in her arms made her tremble with fear. Facing down Alduin was suddenly a simple stroll in the park.
Eisra was still very young. Two months maybe. The exact birthday and the name of her mother was written in a letter in the little girl's things. Along with the documents, there was a letter from her birth mother. Something to give her when she was older. What little hair there was on the child's head was dark, black as a raven's wing. As the little girl opened her sleepy eyes and looked up at Alessia, she smiled. Blue and… green eyes. One eye blue as winter skies, and the other green as emeralds. Alessia blinked down at the girl for a moment in stunned surprise, then bent so Serana could see.
Her mate's eyes widened. "How is that possible?"
"Took me by surprise as well. I've only seen such a thing one other time in my life, though then it was a mix of brown and green." Camilla chuckled. "With that hair… I could almost believe the Gods had created the girl with her new mothers in mind. Don't you think?"
True. Eisra's hair and eyes were strikingly similar to both Alessia and Serana. One blue. One green. A small piece of them both in the child. As if she'd been born of them both.
Alessia smiled down at her mate. "Meet our new daughter, Love."
Serana just about started crying, letting the little girl grab and hold her finger."We're going to have trouble with this one."
With a wide grin, Serana reached for Samuel and Sofie. "Come see."
The four gazed on the child for a while before thanking Camilla and taking their leave. They would return home to Solstice in the morning. Tonight however, they remained in the inn. Luckily the place had enough room for their guards to stay. Lydia offered to bunk with Samuel and Sofie so that Alessia and Serana could have their own room with the baby. It was time for them to get used to having an infant wake them in the middle of the night. Eisra did not disappoint. Both were up at each small noise she made, only twice did she actually need something. Neither one of them had ever changed a diaper before. Needless to say, it was an experience for both.
On the road the next day, Alessia and Serana were dead on their feet. They took turns riding in the wagon with the baby. They'd taken the opportunity to do some trading while in Riverwood, so much of the trade goods needed a wagon. They reached Solstice by near on midnight. Though it was late, all the children were up and waiting to greet them when they entered. Each eager to meet their new sister. The baby was awake, big blue and green eyes focusing on everything new. Once they'd all gotten their look, their keeper, the indomitable Barid Buxom shooed them all off to bed. The woman was in charge of the children's education, and also looked after them while Alessia and Serana were away.
"Mistress', you both look exhausted. Would you like me to take the babe tonight? Allow you both to get some much needed rest?" Mrs. Buxom asked.
Alessia shook her head, mirroring Serana. "No thank you, Mrs. B. We're going to have to get used to this eventually."
"As you wish, Mistress." The woman bowed. "I've already set up the cradle in your chambers, as you asked. I wish you good night. And good luck."
After the woman had gone, Serana looked to her mate. "Well… that seems ominous."
"We've taken down monsters of all shapes and sizes. How bad can one little baby be?" Alessia soon regretted those words. Regretted how easily she'd spoken them. When Eisra woke them for the… sixth? Seventh… time that night, Alessia stopped her mate from getting out of bed. "It's my turn. I got it, Love."
She couldn't tell what was wrong with the babe. The moment Eisra saw her, the crying stopped and she was just as happy as could be. Amazing really.
Defective? Wolf suggested.
No, she's not broken. She's a baby. Babies cry. That's what they do.
Cry lot… Wolf yawned. Take bed.
Take whelp Wolf bed. Sleep in Wolf bed.
I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to do that with an infant.
Take whelp Wolf bed. Now. Blue Eyes need sleep. Mate need sleep. Defective whelp need sleep.
Alessia sighed. Despite what little she knew of babies, she gathered as many of the infant's blankets as possible and made a sort of… nest in the center of their bed. It would keep either of the females from accidentally rolling onto the infant, hopefully. Instantly, Eisra fell to sleep. Like magic. Suddenly not hearing the baby's wailing, Serana rolled over and looked.
"Are you sure you want to start that already?" Serana asked around a yawn.
Alessia yawned too, then climbed into bed. "Wolf's idea."
"She's going to crawl into our bed in the middle of the night when she gets older." Her mate cracked one eye, grinning at Alessia. "You really want to start that?"
"She'll learn the same way Lucia did. After all…" Alessia rolled and kissed her mate one last time before settling in for sleep. "That, Love, is what locks are for."
Thank you all for sticking with me this long. I hope you have enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Keep on the lookout for the collection of short stories based on Kun Neh Oblaan. Happy reading!