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The mother-tender, Trelon, told quiet tales of births, until Birka wanted to clap her hands over her ears and dive under her furs. It sounded terrifying and alien, and the young ranger wanted nothing more than to be done with it all already. Her belly was a terrible burden now - too big to fit into her warm clothing, and too filled with motion to give her a good night's sleep. Her stomach could never decide if she was starving or stuffed, and the burn in her chest when she ate and lay down caused as many interruptions to her sleep as the wretched urge to pee. The baby had dropped into her pelvis, causing aching pain when she stood and walked, and the waddle she was forced to take was unsatisfying to a woman used to taking long, free steps. Author's Notes
"At least I'm not as hopeless as you at domestic things," she told Fala, trying not to sound too sour. Fala smelled like snow-unicorns and melting snow. Birka smelled like sweat and stale smoke, and hated it. She held up the block she was knitting to distract herself - a stretchy, form-fitting dress pattern on fine needles.
"I'd have run Othermad into the forest by now," Fala agreed. "It's lucky that you're the one..." she trailed off, looking awkward. Even though Birka's state was unmistakable now, and inevitably nearing its end, the mother-tenders were still the only ones who spoke openly about pregnancy and birth, and they only did so quietly and privately with mothers-to-be.
"Ooomph," Birka agreed, and she grimaced and rubbed at her side. The early contractions were free from pain - nothing more than tightening at the top of her belly - but these later ones were starting to hurt. Trelon had told her these might go on for days before she was in actual labor, but her time was coming soon, and she knew she was under tight scrutiny. She glanced across the dim-lit room and was grateful to see that Trelon was distracted by another woman. She didn't need the pestering questions about timing and pain levels that exhibiting discomfort always got her. "I'll be glad when this is over," she said frankly. "I miss being out on the trails. Did Anler ever figure out what was springing his traps?"
Fala took the change of topic gratefully, and they talked about the trapline and the spring-time state of the herds. Pregnancy of snow-unicorns was more easily spoken of, and if Fala glanced at Birka's lack of waist while she shared their breeding hopes, it was a simple look.
Fala's hand on her arm made Birka realize that the pain of this contraction had made her lose track of the conversation entirely. "It's coming," she said, and she couldn't quite keep the fear from her voice.
Fala rarely looked so at a loss, and Birka took pity on her as the wave of pain retreated and she could breath properly again. "You shouldn't stay," she told her age-mate. "Trelon says this can even take days to finish, and I know you wanted to be on the trail again by morning."
Fala made a token protest, but Birka waved her off. "Go get a soft fur to wrap our new little ranger up in. You'd only be in the mother-tender's way."
Fala finally retreated, and Birka could get down to the business of having a baby.
Inspired by Lorna's weekly 30-minute writing prompts!