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       Chernevog, p.34

           C. J. Cherryh
 

  She wanted him to know about the child. She wanted him to know, while they rode through the dark, that she would not come home, she would only go with them as far as the boat.

  He said, “That's nonsense. That's nonsense, 'Veshka.”

  “You don't understand, Pyetr.”

  He put his hands over hers, about his middle. He said, ”Chernevog said I'm much too young to understand. But we got along.”

  One hand clenched and unclenched. He had made her mad. She did not forgive Chernevog. Forgiving, she wanted him to know, did not come easily to her. She would wish him to forget Chernevog and everything about him—except that scared her, disarming him scared her—in the case there was some wish still in him.

  He said, “Well; you'd better not stay on the boat, then, had on me, to be sure I behave.”

  That upset her, too. She wanted him to know something very complicated, about wanting things of him and not knowing she was wanting them: she was upset about that, she swore she would never do it again, she wanted him to know that. She had done badly with a husband and she had no idea how she was going to manage a child. “I don't know,” she said, “I don't even know what the child might be—”

  ‘‘A baby, I imagine.”

  She thought that was stupidly short-sighted. He was doing it deliberately, refusing to see troubles coming. They were fighting again. She cried. She said, “Stop, I want to get off”—angry, afraid of herself and him.

  He said, “I was safe with Chernevog. I doubt you'll do me any harm.”

  “You don't know what I can do!” she cried.

  But Sasha said, calmly, riding beside them, “He's much wiser than you think, 'Veshka.”

  And Pyetr said, “That's all right. I made a bargain with her. She has to pay it, isn't that the way magic works?”

  “I didn't make any bargain,” she said.

  “I got off the horse, didn't I? —Where is your heart?”

  She did not answer him. He grew anxious then, wondering if she did in feet have it, or what might have happened, last night.

  She said, “I have it.”

  “So, well?” he asked. “You owe it. You have to pay.”

  They reached Chernevog's camp, where books lay water-stained and scattered by a dead fire, with their canvas and their baggage. They settled down then to let the horses rest—but there was little of that for them. There was magic going on, Pyetr felt it—felt the anxiety in the air, as if there might be another argument going on; and perhaps he had gotten used to it. He sat with his arms around his knees and waited, not making himself evident.

  But finally Eveshka got up and walked off into the dark and stood there. And very slowly he became aware of something furtive and angry next to his heart.

  She said to him, wizard-wise and scared, so very scared it made his heart beat fester, You may not like me, Pyetr. But I'll take it back again if that's the case. I'll find some other place to put it.

  He got up and walked over to her, stopped at a little distance, feeling her upset.” “Veshka,” he began, wanting to reassure her.

  She said, aloud, “My father ran from Malenkova's house. My mother stayed to fight her for her place. It was brave and it was stupid. She beat Malenkova and lost to the wolves. She had to have magic—and it used her.”

  “Chernevog said as much—about using magic.”

  “Pyetr, I can't put it down now. If there's a child—I'll have no choice.”

  He understood that. “We don't want the house to burn.”

  “Don't-”

  ‘‘—joke? I prefer to.”

  For a moment her heart hurt him, the panic was so acute.

  “Shush,” he said. “Calm down. Calm down. Let me tell you about Chernevog—”

  “I don't want to hear about him!”

  “I think you should,” he said. “I truly think you should.”

  She stood staring at him, in the firelit dark. Her lip trembled. Tears glistened in her eyes.

  “Will you do that for me?” he asked. ' “Will you listen?”

  Winter came. Snows lay deep. Babi turned up in the newly built stable, keeping very much to the horses' company, perhaps that he had taken to his proper job—perhaps that he had renounced wizards and their doings. But he was back, and safe, and seemed content. Occasionally, even last evening, one saw leshys walking. Firewood appeared, miraculously, outside the bathhouse, which nothing haunted, nowadays.

  But the baking, this morning, went undone. There were kettles of water, there was a great shifting and moaning of the house-timbers, there were two men trying not to panic, because Eveshka was very close to that herself—they had seen kittens come into the world, and Sasha had seen a calf born once, he said, at which Eveshka burst into tears.

  She was scared, terribly scared, Pyetr knew that, having her heart against his own. He did everything he could, he did far better than he thought he could—who had always, always gotten queasy at blood, and flinched at other people's pain. She did not want Sasha there, she had terrible imaginings of what the baby might look like, of birthing something horrid, and deadly—most of all she wanted no one wishing at her.

  She cried, I don't know what I am, the god only knows what the baby is! I should never have gone through with this—

  He reminded her what Sasha said: “You never truly left this world. A rusalka isn't dead. A rusalka hasn't died. That's her trouble, isn't it? You have every right to be alive.”

  She gave a great breath then. And maybe she wanted the baby born. It happened very quickly. He did all the things Sasha had told him, and held his daughter in his hands.

  ‘‘Look at her!” he said. ‘‘Look at her!”

  Eveshka said, worried, he felt it plain as plain, “Give her to me. Give her to me, Pyetr.”

  Afraid, still. He felt her wishes protecting him. He felt them asking questions a baby had no way to answer.

  She wanted him to leave, please, now, let her take care of things.

  That stung. But he knew why she felt that way. He felt her fear, inside. He ducked out the door, where Sasha hovered.

  “She's all right,” he said—but Sasha knew, Sasha knew anything he wanted to, the god help him. Sasha shoved a cup of tea and vodka into his hands, said, “Sit down.”

  “She's scared,” he said, wishing with all his heart he could do something, “she's so damned scared... But if it wasn't right, the House-thing would do something, wouldn't he? He'd let us know.”

  “He'd know,” Sasha assured him.

  But something strange happened then. He felt 'Veshka's startlement, that made his heart jump, and he shoved the door open. Something black was lying on the covers of the bed.

  The ball of fur lifted his head from his paws, looked up at him with round, solemn eyes, and got up and snuggled next to the baby in Eveshka's arms.

  Babi was back. Babi approved of this arrival in the house.

  Assuredly Babi did.

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  C.J. Cherryh was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but has spent most of her life in Oklahoma. She now lives in Oklahoma City. She has a BA in Latin, an MA in Classics, plus additional language courses; she also qualified in field archeology, but never practiced. She was a professional translator in French, and has taught Latin, Greek, and Ancient History.

  Her first novel, Gate of Ivrel, was published in 1976, and she quickly became a leading writer of both fantasy and science fiction. She received two Hugo Awards, one for her short story, Cassandra, and the second for her novel, Downbelow Station. Her novel Rusalka was published by Del Rey in 1989.

  In her own words:

  “I write full time; I travel; I try things out. I've outrun a dog pack in the hills of Thebes and seen Columbia lift on her first flight. I've fallen down a cave, nearly drowned, broken an arm; been kicked by horses, fended off an amorous merchant in a tent bazaar, slept on deck in the Adriatic, and driven Piccadilly Circus at rush hour. I've waded in two oceans and four of the seven seas, and I want to visit the A
mazon, the Serengeti, and see the volcano in Antarctica. I can read history in a potsherd, observe time in a stream-bank, and function in a gadget ancient or modern—none of which has ever cured me of losing my car keys or putting things together before I read the instructions.”

 


 

  C. J. Cherryh, Chernevog

 


 

 
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