Kodran had the infant in his arms when Riva entered the shop again, and the little one was fussing absently. She smiled gently and reached out for the tiny child and he settled down instantly. She leaned him against her shoulder, letting his little head nestle against her neck and just held him close for a moment.
Kodran blinked. “Riva-girl, if your face glows half that bright tomorrow, your Knight will be unable to resist you.”
She smiled at him. “I love children, babies especially.” And it had been a very long time since she had been able to hold one so close and not have to give the little one back to his mother. She frowned, then, in thought. “Do you have many problems with abandoned infants?”
He shrugged. “I’ve been able to find homes for most of the ones we find still alive, but every so often there’s one we don’t get to in time. I do not understand how humans can throw their offspring away like so much trash.” Dwarves, with their lifespans, did not breed as quickly as humans did. Of course neither did the dryads, but they kept to themselves.
“I don’t understand it, either, Kodran. I don’t understand it, either.” She paused. “Will you be able to find a home for this dearling?”
He nodded. “Yes, but not for several days. You can be his mother until then.”
She smiled. “Thank you.”
— — —
Bastion returned to the Palace, his face betraying distraction and his mind clearly elsewhere. One of the pages had to tug on his hand three times before he turned to look at him. “Hmm?”
“Captain, the King wants to see you in the library.”
Bastion nodded to the boy, remembering for a moment that he was almost a streetling himself, adopted by a childless noble family as an infant. “I’ll be right there.”
The boy ran off and Bastion watched him for a moment, lost in the memory of golden eyes smiling at him.
The King looked up from some papers as Bastion entered the library with a bow. “I had feared you were lost.”
Bastion sighed. “Forgive me, my King.”
“She will be alright. You do not need to worry about your Princess so. There is nothing we can do at the moment, in any event.”
Sudden memory made Bastion groan. He had actually forgotten about the letter. Was it only just this morning? “Oh, God, my Princess…” He leaned against a table, hands flat against the surface.
The King blinked in surprise. “Captain, what happened to you?” There was a chance, a thread of a possibility, and his heart raced at the thought.
Bastion shook his head. “A streetling girl, I saved her life while I was seeing my response to my Princess on its way. Her eyes, I just can’t seem to get the look of them out of my mind. She had… she had gold eyes.”
King Ainmire stopped breathing for a moment and Bastion looked up at him in surprise. He resumed his breath and struggled to sound normal. “Gold eyes? That sounds distinctive enough to me.” There could not possibly be two girls in all the world with those eyes.
“Majesty? Is there a problem?”
“No, Captain, not at all.” He actually smiled, his heart feeling lighter than it had in years. In spite of the reports he was receiving. “How are your contacts with the streetlings these days, in any event?”
Bastion frowned. “I am to go to Kodran’s tomorrow. I promised the girl that I would look at a friend of hers. He – he was attacked by a group of our squires and he is not healing.”
The King paled. “The same ones?”
“Four of them. I highly doubt that we have two such groups of squires at the moment.”
For a moment extreme anger crossed the King’s face. “If I thought it would do any good, I would take them into the salle myself and beat them senseless.”
Bastion shook his head. “I will do what I can, but they are very stubborn. They are very much like my brother is.”
King Ainmire sighed, then. “And this is at the worst possible time, too. Captain, I have been receiving some worrisome reports. Someone is training the streetlings.”
Bastion raised his head suddenly to meet his King’s eyes. “I noticed that some of the streetling trainees were more adept than usual.”
“If it is simply a matter of self-defense, then that is one thing. But those nobles who have noticed have fears; of revolution, of anarchy. Of course, they are the ones who treat the lower classes the worst, but still, they are powerful and if they feel threatened, they will attack rather than wait to be attacked.”
Bastion sighed and hung his head for a moment. Then he lifted it and straightened. “I will ask Kodran, tomorrow. If anything is happening with the streetlings, he will know. But whether he will tell me…” he paused, shaking his head slightly, “I do not know.”
The King sighed as well. “It should be enough to ask. Just warn him. Warn him that noblemen are becoming worried.”
— — —
Bastion was late getting to the tavern to see his old friends that night. Dougal and Corrin ribbed him for a while about being late, but it didn’t take long to see that he was seriously distracted.
“What is going on, Bastion?” Corrin finally asked him. “You haven’t done more than nod and grunt since you got here.”
Bastion sighed. “Where do you want me to start? I found your golden-eyed streetling today.”
Dougal blinked. “She’s real?”
Corrin grinned. “I told you. I told you. She’s nobleborn. She has to be.”
Bastion shook his head. “If she is, then she could be in trouble. Things are happening with the streetlings. And nobles are noticing. It has the potential to be a very difficult and explosive situation.”
“Do you need our help?” Dougal offered. “We’re with you.”
Bastion shook his head again. “Not at the moment. I’m going to Kodran’s tomorrow. If she is nobleborn and she is the one doing this, then I agree with her in principle. I just want to make sure that she knows the dangers.” He didn’t tell his friends that he didn’t think Riva to be nobleborn, but he was certain that she would have the background and the skills necessary anyway. And she might not know the political situation of Castellan well enough to gauge the dangers. She was almost certainly a Traveler.
— — —
Riva kept the baby with her even when she went into the undercity for the training session that day. He stayed in a basket nearby, playing with his blanket and looking with interest at Annie, who had left her vigil with Alban in curiosity about this tiny person her momma was carrying around.
Alban was getting worse.
He slept most of the time, but it wasn’t a restful sleep. The bruises weren’t fading properly, and the broken bones had been set, but they weren’t healing. Riva could almost feel some sort of magic about him, but she wasn’t certain. Her brother hadn’t given her much of any training in the magics that were native to this world, and she wasn’t even certain what they had in the way of healing. Only that it hadn’t been enough to save her mother.
She knew weapons. But then, she’d had extensive training in them even before she had been locked in the cavern with nothing to do but dance and sing and practice. She still wasn’t able to do some of what she’d once done, but she needed her Traveler magics to lift her back to those levels. She knew magic from a dozen different worlds, but her ability with them was still linked to those same Traveler magics that were sealed away from her.
All she could do was sit and watch him and sing, or go into the undercity and train the streetlings so that what happened to Alban wouldn’t happen to any of them. She held the baby close and prayed that this tiny child would find a home where he would be loved and taught to defend himself against anyone.
And then the child would open his eyes and look into her face and try to smile and tears would fill her eyes for the children she lost over her endless centuries and the children she wanted so desperately to have. She could almost see them some days, almost hear them laughing beyond her senses. Her arms ached to wrap themselves around a child she could call her own.
She wanted to hear a tiny voice calling her “Mommy”. It had been so very, very long.
It helped that the streetlings called her “Mother”. It helped that the smallest of them came running to her when they were frightened or hurt. It helped that even the bigger ones were careful around her.
It was interesting, though, how many of them did double-takes when they saw her for the first time with the baby in her arms. She prayed that Kodran’s gambit would work, that in an instant Captain Bastion would see her as a woman, not a child. She would be patient, in any event. She had to be. The dreams told her that he would love her, and as much as she wanted her dreams, she wasn’t certain that she was ready for that. Not when she had unfinished business elsewhere.