“Come.” Elecia took one look at Vhalla’s sweat-dotted brow and began helping her up the stairs.
“Should I fetch a cleric?” the desk woman called.
“I am a cleric,” Elecia snapped back. “Not a word of this to anyone.”
The curly-haired woman practically carried Vhalla up two flights of stairs to her own room on the third floor. She gingerly helped Vhalla over to one of her chaises, easing her down before shutting the door. Another round of pain jolted through her, and Vhalla was once more doubled over.
“I don’t know.” Vhalla grimaced. “I don’t know, but it hurts.”
“Let me look at you.” The woman pulled Vhalla’s arms away from her abdomen, taking both her hands in hers. Elecia blinked her eyes and began looking from top to bottom with magic sight. “Why are you even awake at this hour? I thought you—”
Elecia’s eyes stopped on her abdomen.
The woman was a flurry of movement and offered no explanation as she dragged Vhalla into the bathroom. She tore at the ties of Vhalla’s cloak, pulling it off. Looking at her reflection, Vhalla could see what Elecia had seen moments early with her magic. Blood glistened darkly on the fabric covering the insides of her legs.
One fate sacrificed for another.
Vhalla gave an uncontrolled cry and collapsed in on herself.
“Vhalla, come, we need to get you cleaned up.” Elecia’s hands were on her trembling arms, hoisting Vhalla back to her feet. There was a clinical force to the other woman’s voice as she shut out every other emotion but the drive to act as a healer.
One of Vhalla’s hands clutched the watch so tightly her whole hand was white, blood pooling by her nails. The other hand covered her mouth, muffling the sobs that racked her body at the realization of what she’d unknowingly done. Another lightning pain jolted through her abdomen, and she was leaning against the counter as Elecia began to draw a bath.
“I can’t believe you both were so stupid. I trusted that you were being careful. That one of you would come to me if you needed Elixir of the Moon. I assumed Jax was getting it for you,” Elecia rambled. She began rummaging through various supplies before returning to Vhalla. The other woman’s hands registered on Vhalla’s bare skin as Vhalla was helped out of her clothes.
“Listen,” Elecia’s voice dramatically softened. “It’s all right. It will be all right. I can help lessen the pain, make it pass faster. This happens to more women than you know. I’ve seen it a lot, and, really, try thinking of this as a kindness from the Mother. The Goddess is looking out for you. The child would have grown up like Aldrik if you’d carried it to term, under speculations of being a bastard.”
Tears streamed off Vhalla’s cheeks, pooling on the floor. The child would’ve grown up like Aldrik, a kindness from the Mother; the words whirled in Vhalla’s head faster than a twister. As impossible as it was, there was a greater force within the world that Vhalla had seen a glimpse of in that curiosity shop. It was beyond comprehension, and it had traded her fate. No, it hadn’t traded her fate. This had been Vhalla’s choice. She wanted to scream or vomit, and the combination gave birth to nothing but silence and clotted blood.
“In the water with you now.”
“I-I can wash myself,” Vhalla fumbled over her words. She didn’t want any more of a witness to her shame. She wanted to be alone, to dunk her head beneath the water and muffle the world.
“No.” The edge had returned to Elecia’s tone. “I am not leaving you alone right now.”
Vhalla tried to help Elecia, but her hands shook too hard to do much of anything. She felt raw. Like she had just been reshaped by the maker Herself.
“What’s this?” Elecia asked, bringing Vhalla back to the present by tapping on her fist.
“It’s . . .” Vhalla didn’t have an explanation other than the impossible truth. “It’s a vessel of my magic.”
“What?” The other woman looked at her as though Vhalla had gone insane. “No, that’s—” The words froze in Elecia’s mouth as she blinked at the token in Vhalla’s palm. “By the Mother, where did you get this?”
By the Mother, indeed . . . Could there be another explanation for what had transpired? “I traded for it.”
“That doesn’t make sense.” Elecia sighed. “Later.”
The other woman allowed Vhalla to keep the token while she finished bathing and drying her. Vhalla tried to help, to a point. But she felt too tired and numb to care.
Pulling her back into the attached bedroom, Elecia put two layers of cloth atop the bedsheets. Vhalla lay down as instructed. Her abdomen and back ached in a manner she had never quite felt before.
“I’m going to get Aldrik.” Elecia started for the door.
“No!” Vhalla sat up instantly, hissing in pain at the sudden movement. She had no explanation for Aldrik yet; she needed more time. She needed some kind of glue to piece together the shattered reality first. “Don’t tell him yet.”
“What?” Elecia stalked over back to the bed. “You mean to tell me he didn’t know?”
Vhalla could only shake her head.
“What did you both think when you stopped having your monthly bleed?”