Taun no longer hid his small pouchy gills under a neckband. There had been a time when he frequently lost patients to less talented, but more racially acceptable healers. However, the little Nerien healer had benefited over the years from the patronage of the King of Rowanhart and the humans had warmed toward him. The other seafolk, tritons and Neriens alike, still looked askance at Taun's interracial parentage, despite going to him for treatment. He had gotten his brown skin, black hair and blunt face from his Kwaklahmyn sire; his small stature, green eyes and the gills in his neck from his Nerien mother.
People greeted him as he passed, walking west along Dock Street toward Beach Road with his two satchels of medical tools and medicines hanging from his shoulders. Each morning, Taun made his rounds, leaving his twin foster-sons with his mate, Skree. On the days that Skree could not watch them, Taun would drop the boys off with Florry Bergstrom at the palace.
Taun and Skree kept the fact that the boys were the King's nephews a closely guarded secret. However, in a place as filled with gossip as Rowan City, keeping such things under wraps often proved close to impossible. The patient he was going to check on first was a very good example of the difficulty of maintaining secrets in Rowan City.
Everyone in town knew her story. The gossips in the taverns spoke of little else. She had opened her legs to Miccan, headmaster of the Azure Circle Mage School, because he said he loved her, and thereby brought dishonor upon her esteemed grandfather, the shaman Broken Branch, when she became pregnant and the mage refused to marry her. All the mid-wives in Rowan City had pressed her with tansy to lose the child, but Bluewings had refused them all and kept her lover's baby.
He turned north on Beach Road and saw the palisade fence around the Kwaklahmyn trading settlement come into view. Taun could see the upper part of the huge totem poles that stood before the houses. He rounded the east side and came around to the front gate, passing the frames where the Kwaklahmyn dried their fishing nets. The boats had already put out to secure the day's catch and the beach was empty.
Bells attached to the gate rang loudly as he lifted the catch and stepped into the yard of the settlement. Children ran about playing and Taun smiled at them as he passed. He loved children. Their innocence and joy touched his heart. Most adults seemed to have forgotten how to be that simple and happy.
All but one of the huge homes were traditional three-story Kwaklahmyn long houses, the carved wooden jaws of strange beasts jutting out above the doorframes. The only Vorgeni style home belonged to the shaman Broken Branch who ruled the little settlement. Yet even that had interesting Kwaklahmyn additions, such as the tremendous crow's beak jutting out above the door.
Branch sat upon a spruce round in front of his house, his pipe clenched in his teeth, a small knife in his hand as he whittled on a piece of cedar. He wore soft, deerskin breeches, a loose-sleeved black shirt and soft boots. His lower lip hung away from his teeth, weighted down by a heavy labret. He had broad, high cheekbones, a strong cleft chin, full lips, and large, black, long-lashed eyes. He wore his black hair in two braids. His skin was a shade more brown and less bronze than the Sharani.
He nodded at Taun. "She's inside."
Taun nodded thanks and went into the house. "Bluewings?"
"I'm in the kitchen."
He detected an edge in her voice that suggested she had been crying again, and when he stepped into the kitchen, Bluewings' reddened eyes proved him right.
She sat at the table staring at the wall. Her hugely swollen belly distorted her slender frame. "I'll be fine, Taun. You didn't need to check on me again."
Taun sighed and sat down beside her. "Thinking about Miccan?"
"Arguing with Grandfather over Miccan again. He's very angry about this." She touched her belly with a trace of sadness. "Miccan says the child isn't his. That I'm a slut."
A fresh wave of weeping took Bluewings.
Taun patted her arm. "I confirmed the genetics. It's Miccan's child."
"I know. I was a … a virgin when he … persuaded me into his bed. He said he loved me."
"Miccan doesn't love anyone but Miccan. He's got Birdie pregnant also. There are six others that I’m certain of. And that's not counting the ones I dispensed tansy to."
"I know. He just always seemed so honorable."
"Well, he is in some ways. Skree says Miccan thinks with his cock more often than not."
Bluewings dried her eyes. "Skree's right."
"When it comes to the Azure Circle School and magecraft, Miccan is the soul of honor. Women? Well, that's another story, obviously. Now, give me your wrist so I can Read you."
Bluewings extended her arm.
Taun grasped her wrist and Read her. A smile spread across his face. "You're very healthy. And the child … well, I believe you have another six weeks or so. Have you thought of a name?"
Bluewings shook her head. "We don't pick out names, Taun. Once he's born, Grandfather will look into his soul and know his name."