A Mediaeval Fantasy
Today, I am posting another extract from my novel.
“She prods the bundle with her finger. To her astonishment it moves.
With beating heart, Tessera pulls aside some folds of cloth and finds herself looking into the face of an infant of no more than a few months old. Its cheeks are blue with cold, its lips dry and encrusted with salt, but there is no doubt it is alive.
Tessera is seventeen. She has recently given birth to a child herself but it died before drawing breath. Now she wants to pick up this other. She wants to suckle it and warm it against her own body. She finds she cannot. The infant is fastened somehow to what she realises is a fully grown woman.
Her cry brings Kolba running.
“Are they alive?”
“It’s a girl,” Tessera says. “She is alive but weak. The mother, I do not know.”
Kolba kneels beside the bodies and touches the woman’s neck.
“Her heart beats slowly,” she says after a moment. “But she is badly hurt. Hold the baby while I cut her free.”
She takes her knife and severs the strap of the leather sling that binds the infant’s body to the mother’s chest and neck. Then she steps back. Tessera sweeps the infant into her arms. She has removed her shawl, worn against the cool of the evening, and she winds it round the tiny bundle before pulling down the front of her dress and coaxing the baby to feed at her still swollen breast.
The act of cutting the sling has loosened the strange woman’s robe and as Kolba tries to move her it falls away. Underneath, she wears a belt unlike any that Tessera has ever seen. It is such, the girl thinks, as a prince might wear. It is composed of two layers of leather. The one that lies next to the body and fastens round it is thick and strong. From it, on the woman’s left side, hangs a scabbard designed to hold a sword. The sword is in its sheath. It too is of royal design, Tessera thinks. The hilt is a coiled metal serpent, the pommel a large ruby grasped in the snake’s jaws.
The outer leather is lighter and more flexible and is stitched to the inner on the right side to form two pouches or purses. One of these is open and Tessera sees that it is filled with coins, just like the one lying in the sand.
The slight movement of the body causes two more to spill out. The girl gasps in amazement. She picks up the gold pieces and weighs them in her hand.
“I have never seen such wealth, Mother” she says. “Our family will be rich.”
“We are honest people, Tessera,” Kolba says. “You know it is not ours to take.” She takes the coins from her daughter’s hand and replaces all three in their leather pouch. “As long as this woman lives, the gold belongs to her. Should she die, it will go to the child, and we must keep it safe for her. The sword too, though it is strange that a mother should carry such a weapon.
“Run back to the camp and send your father to me. I will need fresh water, a pony and a larger cart.” Kolba parts the shawl and for a few moments watches the infant. Its eyes are closed as it sucks vigorously at the foster breast. Already the blue tinge is fading from its face.
“The baby is hungry, Mother,” Tessera says. “Is that not a good sign?”
“The gods are indeed smiling on us today,” says Kolba. “Take good care of this tiny miracle, Daughter. I will watch over the mother so that, if she lives, they can be reunited.”