Buri couldn't quite forgive Alanna for getting pregnant. Oh of course she knew in the mature, rational part of her mind that it wasn't about her, and that it was always going to happen (even if Alanna was slow to figure that bit out), and that George and Alanna deserved to live happily ever after together with umpteen million children if they wanted them. But she still couldn't help feeling betrayed.
She felt betrayed when Alanna was too ill to attend the morning drills that once had begun their friendship. She felt betrayed when Alanna's growing belly put an end to their afternoon horseback races. But most of all she felt betrayed when the day came that Thayet and Cythera began yet another inane discussion on the care and maintenance of babies, and when Buri looked up expecting Alanna's familiar disgusted eye roll she found only an expression of keen interest. It had been the two of them against the others, women who liked fighting and horses against women who thought of little except milk and dirty diapers, and now Alanna had deserted her for enemy territory. When Alanna actually asked Cythera her opinion on the best swaddling techniques Buri could have sworn she physically felt the blade in her back.
Although she tried to feign happiness for her friend, inside Buri thought of little Thom's birth much like she would a funeral for Alanna. Here lies late nights of drinking and cards, here lies the brawling, the singing of bawdy songs, here lies the adventuring, and the living with reckless wild abandon. Here lies all of the interests Buri and Alanna shared, alive no more.
She put off the obligatory visit to the Swoop for as long as manners allowed, before finally giving in to the inevitable. The fact that Alanna had unexpectedly given birth on the road gave Buri some extra time. Surely they need to get settled at the Swoop before receiving visitors, she said to herself, but it was soon getting to the point where Alanna would start to wonder. Even after everything, the thought of intentionally hurting Alanna made Buri's gut clench, and so she began to prepare for a week's stay at the coast. Thayet offered to travel with her, but Buri refused. Just the idea of having to watch Thayet and Alanna continue to bond over their mutual calling towards motherhood was sickening enough without having to experience it.
When she arrived at the Swoop on a sweltering August mid-morning Alanna was waiting by the stables. Buri felt another twinge of guilt, watching her friend eagerly bounce on her feet and wave at her. Then she noticed the little bundle in a sling around Alanna's chest, and Buri felt her heart harden again.
"Hello!" Alanna grinned at Buri as she dismounted, one arm outstretched. Buri leaned into her awkward hug, careful of the baby.
"How was the ride? Not too hot I hope."
Buri shrugged. "It was fine". Hostlers took her horse from her before she could object, and footmen swarmed about, grabbing her bags and setting off towards the keep.
"I'm jealous. I've been itching for a ride, but right now just the notion of straddling a horse is still enough to make me queasy," Alanna's mouth twitched, inviting Buri to share in the crude joke, but Buri couldn't bring herself to forgive so easily. The bundle at Alanna's chest shifted, reminding Buri of why she had come all this way.
"So that's Thom, huh?"
Alanna's eyes lit up as she gently disentangled the infant from his sling. "Yes! This is my son." Her voice was full of wonder at the last word, as though she were still getting used to the idea. Alanna cradled the baby in her arms in such a way that it would be easy for Buri to reach over to take him, but Buri couldn't bring herself to move.
There was an awkward pause, and then Buri remembered how one was supposed to respond to seeing a new baby. "He's cute," she offered automatically.
"He takes after his Da. Well, I think he does, anyway." Alanna's voice had a distinct note of pride in it, like she had purposely engineered this turn of events.
Buri examined the baby closer. All right, he actually was cute; for all that he still had a bit of a cone-head. His face was scrunched and wrinkled like all newborns, but there was definitely something of George in it, around the chin and the eyes. His pert little nose was all Alanna's though, and Buri suspected his chubby cheeks came from her as well. He yawned suddenly, and Buri had to stifle the urge to reach a finger out to stroke his downy tuft of vibrantly red hair.
She knew there was a whole bevy of questions one was supposed to ask new mothers, things about how the labor went and how well he was sleeping through the night, but Buri couldn't remember what exactly she was supposed to say, and she never really understood why she was supposed to be interested in the answers anyways, so instead she shifted uncomfortably on her feet, silent.
"Right! Well you didn't come all this way to stay in the stables, so why don't I show you to your room?" Alanna was smiling, but the expression on her face was more akin to slightly hurt bewilderment than joy. Buri tried to place a smile on her own face as she nodded in agreement, and without speaking they headed up towards the castle.
The rest of the day passed easier than Buri expected. At least she managed to feign enough enthusiasm that the pinched, worried look that Alanna wore had faded. Buri had always liked the Swoop, and between Myles and Eleni, who were also visiting, and the various villagers and servants she knew, there were plenty of people to act as buffers between Buri and her old friend. It helped that Alanna was easier to deceive than usual, distracted and exhausted as she was by the babe.
Which is why Buri was so surprised to find Alanna stretching in the section of the courtyard used for weapons practice at dawn the next day.
"Oh, thank the gods you're here. I was afraid you were going to take a holiday today. I've been looking forward to finally practicing with someone who won't treat me like glass." Alanna smiled up at Buri. She was wearing loose, full breeches and an oversized men's shirt that Buri suspected belonged to George. Sensing Buri's stare Alanna said dryly, "I'm trying to hide from everyone how fat I still am, but I'm not sure it's very effective".
Buri smiled at this, and walked to the corner to grab them each a staff. She thought that they were finally alone now, but as she drew nearer she noticed the basket settled in the shade by the weapons rack. Thom was tucked inside, fast asleep, his little mouth gently suckling the air. Buri grabbed two staffs and quickly turned her back on him. She walked over to Alanna, handing her one so they could finally get back to their routine.
Alanna moved more slowly than she used to, but she had the same determination as ever. She moved through the various blocks and strikes, her form nearly perfect, even if she began showing signs of the exertion much earlier than she used to. As they settled into an easy rhythm, Buri could almost forget how much everything had changed. Little Thom might not have happened at all. This relaxing chain of thought was rudely interrupted by a horrible piercing cry from the basket in the corner.
Immediately Alanna dropped her stave, and rushed over to scoop up the squalling infant, cooing softly to him. Buri sighed, and followed her.
As she drew near she could begin to make out what Alanna was saying. In a sweet, lovingly sing-song voice Alanna was murmuring "Why are you crying, you little shit? Such an asshole, yes you are! Yes you are!"
For a moment Buri froze, then to her complete surprise she burst out in hysterical laughter.
"What?" Alanna cried, indignant.
Buri struggled to get her words out in between giggles, "Who talks to a baby that way? What is wrong with you?"
"It's not like he knows!" Alanna's face was flushed with embarrassment, but amusement flashed in her violet eyes. "Besides, he is kind of a little asshole. Screaming at me, pawing my breasts, demanding constant attention. I would never let any other man treat me like he does." She looked adoringly down at her son, and her voice went up an octave as she said, "You're my little demon, yes you are. Mama's little monster."
Buri could only shake her head. Maybe she's still salvageable after all, Buri thought, wiping away tears of mirth. Feeling her heart lighten she reached out, offering to hold her adopted nephew for the first time.