The tablets foretold the shadow that passed over the moon on the day of my daughter’s birth.
The pain was worse than I had feared and better than I had hoped. It was consuming and distant, a fire at my feet and water in my lungs. It was everything, and then my daughter cried for the first time, and the pain was nothing at all.
The tablets foretold the shadow, but they did not tell me how I would reach down between my legs and feel my daughter’s head there. They did not tell me how soft her hair would already be, before she even finished emerging into the world. She had dark hair. Like mine.
I held her to my chest and I whispered into that dark hair, which smelled of musk and blood. “I name you Ducky, daughter of Fisher.” She kept breathing on my chest, her ribs flexing with every breath. Her eyes were shut tight. I ran a fingertip across the soft, narrow curl of her ear.
Naomi came crashing through the tall grasses a moment later.
“Fisher?” she looked frantic. She saw me, lying there on a bed of bent stalks with blood pooling around me. “Fisher, oh my Gods, Fisher where have you—” And then she saw the baby. “Fisher, wh— what is, what is that?” She stammered, ran a hand through her own blonde curls. “What did you— are you— is she—”
“We’re both fine,” I murmured into Ducky’s hair. “We were born tonight, weren’t we, Ducky?”
The shadow passed away from the moon, and my daughter opened her eyes to look blearily up at the sudden light.
It was a Godsmoon that night, as full and lush and round as I felt. The tablets foretold the shadow. They hadn’t said how long it would linger. I had never seen a shadow pass over the moon before. Most of us stayed inside on the nights that the shadow was due — it was an awful thing, a dark thing. It was a silencing of the Gods’ own brightness. When the tablets predicted a shadow over a Godsmoon, it was a warning: let there be no feasts on this night, no celebrations, no dancing. Go to bed early and stay there until daylight.
But on his deathbed, the Prophet had told me about the shadow. He had told me about the first time he had defied the Gods.
“It was just after your mother died,” he’d said. “You had a fever, and the Gods Whispers were relentless, telling me that danger was on the way, and greater loss than I’d ever known.” The Gods Whispers had been right — I remembered that season of torment. My mother and ten others had died of the fever, and then, not a month later, a whole wagon of seed had fallen off a cliffside, taking three children with it. “They wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t quiet, and I was going out of my mind, Ducky, you have to understand.” I had tried to offer him a cup of water, but he waved it away. “I went outside, just to get some air. I’d forgotten that the shadow was coming, and when I walked outside, it was passing over the Godsmoon.”
“You saw it?” I’d gasped.
“I saw it, and as it crossed over the Godsmoon, Ducky… the Gods were quiet.”
I’d been horrified at him. He was telling me that he had voluntarily silenced the voices of the Gods. “How could you?” I’d whispered.
“Oh, Ducky,” he’d said, patting my hand. He closed his eyes, remembering. “After that, I went outside every time the shadow passed over the Godsmoon. You’ll understand.”
“I’ll never understand that,” I’d snapped. “I would never silence the Gods.”
But then, my belly was ripe to bursting and a quarter of my people fled from me to find the Promised Land for themselves, and the Gods Whispers were constant and urgent, insisting that there was always more to do, that my work wasn’t done yet and never would be. And then there were waves of pain, and the Gods Whispers had grown louder with every single one.
And I found that I did understand, after all.
Later, after Ducky and I were both clean and dry and warm, Marc asked me why I did it. “Why didn’t you tell me where you were going?” he asked.
“I didn’t know,” I said. It was mostly a lie. I had slipped out of our bed in the night to relieve myself for the third time — or the fourth, I couldn’t be sure — and the baby came while I was outside. That’s what I told him, and Naomi, and anyone who asked. But the truth is that I had known she was on the way. My waters had broken that morning, and the pain had been building throughout the day.
When I left my tent that night and walked out into the tall grasses of the plain, I knew that I would be coming back with a baby in my arms.
Naomi was furious, of course. She should have been there, and Marc, and Sam, just in case I needed a healer. Just in case the baby needed a healer. But the tall grasses beckoned, and I wanted to watch the shadow pass over the moon.
And maybe I wanted to be alone. Just for a moment. Maybe I wanted to be a woman birthing her first child, and not the voice of the Gods to their fearful, exhausted, thirsty people. Maybe I wanted a moment of silence, a moment to be alone with the pain and the fear and my own animal need to scream.
“I didn’t know that she would come so fast,” I told Marc when he asked why I did it. And that was true — I didn’t know how suddenly she would slide out of me, how hard it would be to catch her before she touched the ground.
But I knew she was coming. How could I not know?
She was mine.