PART ONE: THE OUTCASTS
When Dav stuck his head out the door one balmy autumn morning, he knew that the approaching storm, the one to break the heat wave, was going to be violent. The breeze had begun to kick up and roiling black clouds were gathering on the western horizon. Dav remembered weather like this from his years on the plains. It presaged now what it had then: devastation.
There was nothing Dav or anyone else in Haven could do to prevent the damage that was sure to come. Crops, especially those growing at this time of year, were fragile, and downpours could wash them away. Fortunately, the houses of Haven were built sturdily enough to withstand any gale. Roofs might leak, or even collapse, but the stone walls would stand firm against the elements, regardless of how fierce they might become.
Lora's situation in the valley was less certain. Her garden was not well protected and lesser storms during the final weeks of summer had dealt a severe blow to her harvest. The replacement crops she had planted in the wake of those rains were just now starting to thrive. They, along with everything else she was growing, would be washed away before nightfall. Additionally, her house was so poorly constructed that a sustained wind would tear it apart.
Were Lora and her nearly full-term child to perish during the storm, it would solve many of Dav's problems, foremost of which was the matter of raising a half-breed son or daughter. But, however appealing the notion, he discovered, much to his surprise, that he could not permit it to happen. Over the past twelve months, he had spent a great deal of time with Lora, and, even as he despised himself for not being able to stay away, he had begun to develop a sense of responsibility for her. He came to realize that, no matter how mature she seemed in some circumstances, she was a child in others.
So, before the first scent of rain was in the air, he instructed his children to stay inside and ventured out himself. For the first time since the day he had raped Lora, he went to the valley without the cover of dusk. Several passerby on the streets of Haven noted his course with curiosity, but Dav's bleak expression silenced any questions they might have.
By the time he reached Lora's hut, the wind had become brisk and the approaching thunderheads had devoured nearly half the sky. Lightning flickered above the mountains to the west, but the storms were too distant for thunder to be heard. Not for long, however...
Lora was outside already, gazing skyward, an expression of concern on her face. She knew how fragile her little world was and that it faced destruction this day.
"It is going to be bad," she said as Dav joined her. Her hands rested on the small of her back, as if trying to support the burden she carried. Because of her small frame, the pregnancy had caused her belly to become abnormally distended, at least in comparison with a human female. Lora appeared riper to Dav than Sya had, and she had been carrying twins.
"It'll rip your little nest apart," he predicted.
"Perhaps something shall be spared. If not, your son or daughter will come into this world hungry."
"There are always ways to find food. I have some stores saved up. Reg is an especially adept thief."
Lora gave him a surprised look. "I have been providing you..." she began.
Dav shook his head. "Not nearly enough since the rains ruined half your crop. And do you think I could have recovered any of the weight I'd lost on the leaves and roots you give us?"
She shrugged. It hadn't occurred to her that his rapid decline in weight had been reversed, but now that he mentioned it, she noticed that he looked better than he had in months. She supposed that meant he had reached some sort of inner peace, or at least found a point of equilibrium.
"You're coming with me," Dav.
For a moment, Lora was too stunned to reply.
"Let's go," he urged. "The storm will arrive soon and I want to be inside when it gets here."
"I can not," said Lora, finding her voice. "Especially not like this. I am an outcast. They will not welcome me in Heltala."
"What they think is irrelevant. You'll be there as my guest."
"It is not only that. The distance is too great. In my condition, a walk to the edge of my gardens is difficult."
"Then I'll carry you. But let's get going. Now." So saying, Dav gently lifted Lora off the ground, turning her into a horizontal position and supporting her with one arm under her back and the other behind her knees.
She didn't struggle and made no further effort to argue since it was clear that Dav had made up his mind. For the first time in their tumultuous relationship, she felt something akin to amazement - amazement that he would do this for her and their child, both of whom he had professed to despise. This was not an action conceived from loathing, but from a desire to protect.
The canopy of lightning-streaked dark clouds and accompanying booming thunder had chased most of the inhabitants of Haven inside, so there were few to stare in open disbelief as Dav strode down the main thoroughfare of the town carrying Lora, her tiny arms wrapped around his neck. The wind whipped at them and the crashing thunder caused the ground beneath their feet to shudder, but the first drops of rain had not yet begun to fall by the time they reached the door to Dav's home.
The children were delighted to see Lora, but she was uneasy in the unfamiliar environment, especially once Dav had secured the door. She flinched at every explosion of thunder, as if it posed a danger to her health and that of her unborn baby.
"From now on, you'll live here," said Dav. It was not a decision he had arrived at lightly, but the weight of his responsibility lay strongly upon him, and there was a primal part of him that wanted Lora near - not for noble reasons, either.
"No," replied the elf cautiously, recognizing the sacrifice implicit in the offer. "I shall return to my own home. I will not burden you with my presence. My child you must take, but not me with it."
"After this storm, you won't have a house to go back to," said Dav. As if to emphasize his point, a violent crash of thunder rocked the house, heralding the arrival of a flurry of hail. It clattered noisily against the outer walls.
"I will rebuild it."
"In your condition?"
"Consider that I might not wish to stay here. That I might wish to return to a place where I am comfortable and secure, and where prying eyes do not seek me out."
"If you won't do it for yourself, do it for your child," said Dav.
Lora replied to this appeal with a confused look.
"I need you around as it grows. There are those in Haven who want to take it away from me so it can be raised in the elf way. I believe they may resort to violence if I don't willingly give up the child."
"They will not use violence," said Lora.
"Can you be sure of that?"
"Yes, but you are right about one thing. They would wish to raise the child in their way. And that is not something I want. I was cast out for a rejection of their beliefs and I do not want my son or daughter to be subjected to their influence. They have approached you about this?"
Dav nodded. "Your father did. He said you would approve and it wasn't your decision anyway."
"He lied. I would never approve, and he is aware of my feelings in the matter. I was given an opportunity to recant my heresies before I was cast out, but I turned my back on them all and left on my own."
"I will not raise a half-elf child alone," said Dav.
The look Lora gave him was stricken, as if he had betrayed her. In a strained voice, she said, "I can not stop you giving your baby to them. Not for fifteen months. By then it will be too late. Do as you must." The last word was spoken with venom.
"It doesn't have to be that way. I've given you a choice," said Dav.
"Stay here and help me raise the child so I won't have to give it up."
Lora stared at him. Was he serious? How could he expect her to live with him, after what he had done to her? Though she had found some measure of forgiveness for his actions for the sake of the child she carried, she hadn't forgotten, nor would she ever. A life with him was not something she wanted; he could not be trusted. Most of the time, she found it difficult to be in his presence. He had violated her, and now he asked her to lower her guard by coming to live in his house. The suggestion was unreasonable.
Yet there were those rare moments when she felt closer to him than she had felt to any other. Perhaps that was a product of the ties that bound them - she didn't know. Whatever the cause, everything between them was not befouled. And there were those times in his arms, in a moment of ecstasy, when she could pretend that he was an elf prince who had come to carry her away.
"Then if I must choose, I will stay." And with those eight words, her future was sealed.
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