There was a chain around her neck. When had that happened?
Someone recognized her. General Menchuro's wife. Doesn't matter, she's church property for nine months. Laughter. Someone thought it was funny.
A man walked down a little path and unlocked the tree end of the chain. A priest, damn him. What were his gods doing running around loose? She threatened him with her husband's wrath. Then cursed, and then resorted to bribery.
"Walk or I'll chain you with the god again."
"My husband will geld you for this."
He looked her up and down. "Why would he want you? He'll have a new young wife before you've done your duty to the church."
"My husband loves me."
He laughed, and chained her to a tree out of reach of the horrors there.
She clung desperately to that thought through the next days. Drew loved her.
She was chained with a lot of other women. _Twenty-one of us._ Given the general ungainliness of the gods, they'd had quite a spree. The other women were concubines and prostitutes, possessions of men, before they became possessions of the church.
There were a couple of compulsive talkers, who told all about their multiple rapes by guards and gods. One girl had apparently been passed around a trio of little gods still chained to the trailer, and they had used their own virgin experience to break the magical chains on themselves. _Then_ they had escaped into the woods, tossing the girl to more gods as they left.
The God of Storms, a twin, two dwarves . . . three priests . . .
As the wagon left camp, headed for the temple in Paree, she caught a glimpse of her husband. Staring at her. She ducked her head in shame.
It was a three month long trip.
Rough on the women. They weren't mistreated. Were well fed. They were required to get out and walk for an hour every day. But they were still chained to a wagon, in ragged torn clothing.
Juabe was sunburned by the second day, and a canvas was purchased to shade them. The women were shifted around to minimize the amount of time each spent on the sunny side.
Tras had finally stopped crying. "They don't even want to know our names. We're nothing to them."
Juabe nodded. As a Princess Segundus she'd always known she could be called to Serve the Gods at any time. At thirty, and apparently barren, she'd never been called. She could only hope that she would remain barren, and that this horror would be over quickly. But the weeks rolled by. Eating, sleeping, washing and trying to wash her clothing, what was left of it. Walking for an hour. In public, as the towns increased along the Road. Practically undressed.
The two women who had menstrual periods were simply removed from the wagon and left at the side of the road with the clothes on their backs. Such as it was. Juabe looked back once, at the frightened women staring at the local men closing in on them and shuddered.
Her period didn't come. Abuse, shock . . . pregnancy?
It didn't happen the next month, nor the next as they finally rolled into Paree.
She had only been this far south once, when her father had brought her to be examined by the Priests, and engaged to the man they had chosen for her.
She had believed in the power of the gods, then. Drew was marvelous.
The temple was a huge complex on a the hill at the center of the city. Their wagon passed around to an obscure gate on one side of the temple's outer defensive wall.
Now she believed in the power of the Church. The gate closed behind them.
Finally a bath. Thank . . . nothing. Just soak as long as was permitted.
Then an exam by a physician. They congratulated her on her pregnancy. And asked about which gods she had allowed to rape her.
She kept her temper, and discretion, and admitted to both the God of Storms and the Twin. She gave her full name and status as Princes Segundus, and demanded that this be counted as her owed Service to the Gods.
It was good enough to get her a tiny private cubicle, rather than a mat along the wall of the women's common room.
Most of the women there were obviously pregnant.
Magda, a hugely swollen one nodded. "The priests try to have one baby born a day. But in the end, they have about half that in actual live births. They raise most of the babies here, and train them for the battle."
Juabe sniffed. "All they are is power sources for the priests."
Tras shook her head. "Not the big gods. I saw the God of Death - he killed everyone who came even slightly close to him, and the way people were running around, they didn't even realize the danger until they were too close."
Magda shuddered. "I can imagine how awful that must have been. They drug us, so we sleep through it all. I don't know _what_ fathered this child." she looked down at her belly.
"Probably a giant?" Tras shivered. "A dwarf got me. At least I'll have a small baby. Unless it was the guards, or the priest that had me later."
The women regulated themselves, the old Princess Segunduses who were nominally in charge left them to their own devices for most of the day. Their jobs were to assign rooms, maintain peace and monitor the women's pregnancies.
One of their group had started cramping their second day there. She'd been hustled to a doctor, and never seen again.
"Turned out." Magda said. "Released at the gate, and how she'll get home, and whether she'll be welcome there . . . no one cares. It will be the same for us, after our babies are born, if they don't have a touch of the divine, or die. And if the baby is divine, it just means it will be put off two years for nursing the baby."
Juabe shivered. "How many of the babies are touched? How can they tell?"
"By looks, mainly. About half. And most of them have something bad wrong and die quick. Some are declared Prince and Princess Primus or Segundus, some rite they do with the normal looking babies. But most are just normal and evicted penniless with their mothers. The Princes and Princesses get kicked out with their mothers, and have pretty high status, if their mothers manage to raise them. Coming from so far away, you didn't receive the daily prayers for the first six weeks of pregnancy that we had to go through. That's supposed to be an ill omen."
Juabe grimaced. "It's hard to think of anything more ill-omened than our current situation. My husband. I'm thirty years old, most likely he'll have found a younger woman by the time I'm thrown out. He may take me in out of a sense of duty. At least for a while." Drew.
Tras turned her face to the wall, breathing slowly and deeply. "I was a concubine. Like my mother. My father's wife sold me when I was old enough. No one will want me after this."
"Did you have a husband, Magda?"
"Me? No. My father owed taxes, and paid with my services." She grimaced. "He said he'd take me back. And I was starting to learn to read, until Leesa went into labor."
"Read?" Juabe perked up. "Is there something to read? It would make the time go so much faster."
"The Princesses will bring books from the library, if you ask." Magda looked at her hopefully. "Will you show me how? I know the letters, and some of the words."
"Of course. Can you read, Tras? Do you want to learn?"
She wound up with a dozen students, and not much time to read on her own, but it made the time pass.
They weren't allowed paper or pen, but she composed, and Magda memorized a brief message for her husband. And directions. First to her Father-in-laws house here, and then to her . . . to Drew's house a thousand miles to the north west.
If Magda's father accepted her, she promised to write it down and mail it. If her father had turned away from her, she would have to try to get Juabe's father-in-law to help her either write it and mail it, or send Magda to Drew herself. It sounded a pretty bleak future.
Magda assured her, doubled over in pain, that she would remember. Juabe and Tras supported her to the door and passed her to the physicians.
They worried all night, and in the morning received the news. Still born twins. Magda had already been released.
That was the only news they would receive, and they returned to their routine. Teaching and reading, eating, sleeping, an hour of walking in the garden every day.
Several more of their ill fated riot victims miscarried and disappeared. Women came and went, and the months passed. It was a chilly day, the first storm of winter when the first contraction hit Juabe. She was walking in the garden, pacing the outer perimeter under the over hanging balcony and she kept walking. She might was well enjoy the cold whipping wind and icy rain for a few minutes more. Another contraction hit before her hour was up, and she walked in to talk to the Princess Segunduses.
They took her silently to the physicians, who treated her like a slab of meat, talking over her head about the likelihood of needing to remove the baby surgically. She stifled all complaints and acted like she was feeling no pain. They put her to walking and she worked to stay out of their way as another woman was brought in. Poor little Bridgett, who'd been raped by multiple little gods and when she escaped, by multiple guards. She was frightened, and crying, and even more frightened by the physicians. But she gave birth to an albino boy, and half an hour later to a tiny boy. The physicians preened as if the birth of twin little gods was their own accomplishment, and Bridgett was whisked away to the family quarters as Juabe caught their attention barely in time to deliver on their preferred table.
The physicians shrugged and lost interest quickly. "Normal. Pfaw." They handed her the wailing baby boy while they tied and cut the cord. Left her alone to deal with the afterbirth, hustled her out of the room as another woman was ushered in. All of us will be delivering soon. She snatched her clothes in passing, trying to dress as she was escorted though several more doors and suddenly found herself before a small altar. An irritated looking priest hustled in. "I don't know why you can't let the women stay for a few hours, let me get a good night's sleep . . . " He raised his voice. "Put the child on the alter."
She gulped and did so. Poor baby, not even a blanket to wrap him in. She finished pulling on her baggy shift. Stained and dirty, it was all she had. She raised her chin regally and refused to be intimidated.
The priest eyed her. "You are a Princess Segundus?"
"Humph." But the man shook himself awake and started making gestures over the altar.
The baby peed on the priest, getting only a resigned mutter. The priest laid his hands on the baby's chest. He frowned. "Humph. God of Storms. Prince Primus. Haven't had one of those for awhile."
Juabe swallowed. What have I just done?
"Damn it. More paperwork. Sit over there, and get that baby something . . . " He turned and stuck his head through the door he'd entered. "You! Go fetch a diaper and blanket for a Prince Primus before he poops in my sanctuary."
Half an hour later she was outside. Blinking in the sunlight. At the street.
Now all she had to do was find her father-in-law's home . . .
"Juabe." Drew. It was Drew, getting out of a coach across the street. Putting his arms around her.
She managed to not cry until the servants in her Father-in-law's home had finished bathing and dressing her and left her alone with Drew.
"Your Magda came here. I was here, trying to get news of you from the Temple. I was in a terror that you might have been dumped along the road somewhere. She seemed a sensible sort so I hired her. She and I have been trading off sitting outside that door for the last five months. My father's grooms think I'm insane. So does my father, for that matter. And she's back there waiting and hoping for someone named Tras."
She could only cling to him, a rock she'd nearly forgotten, hadn't dared hope for.
"I've sort of endowed a service, for the women shoved through that door. Half of them had less clothing than you did. And yours was the first baby with a blanket I've seen. The weather, I suppose. No?"
She swallowed. "He's a Prince Primus. The priest that declared him got the diaper and blanket. I had some papers . . . "
"Primus. Little gods. Well, that'll settle my father a bit. He thinks I should have just forgotten you." His arms tightened around her. "As soon as your Tras shows up, we'll go home."
"I love you."
"And I love you. I always knew they could call you into service. This brutal . . . I don't care. You are an indispensable part of my life."
They snuggled for a bit, Drew obviously aware she was in no shape for anything else, and broke off only at the approaching wail of a baby. The Prince Primus was hungry.
Drew hovered while she clumsily tried to nurse him.
"What did you name him?"
She blinked at him in surprise. "I didn't even think of a name. I didn't expect . . . well, I suppose I just wasn't looking past delivery."
"He's a cute little guy. Lot's of hair. How about something from your side of the family?"
"Warric, like my mother's father?"
"Yes, very good." Drew turned as the door thumped open.
"Did you see this!" Her father-in-law waved papers at Drew. "A _Prince Primus_ Primus, boy! This will be your doorway into the government and erase that disgraceful episode up north."
Juabe inhaled sharply. How bad had it been? Lord Menchuro walked out, still talking. Drew came back a few minutes later.
"I _think _ I persuaded him that little Warric couldn't push my career until he was at least twelve and presented at court."
"That mess up North – how bad was it?"
"The Emperor sacked all the officers who survived. Little gods, I don't know what happened. At least it was soldiers, not gods who rampaged through Tarrington. So half the town's maidens didn't get sent to the temple." He cupped a gentle hand around her chin. "So the good news is, you are spared being dragged along on those long campaigns."
She winced. "But you did so love the life. I'm sorry, love."
"Oh, bah. We'll go back to Breesdon, and I can go off and chase border bandits when I feel the martial ardor rising. Your Magda is going to stay here. I've bought her a horrible old hotel, and she's helping all the women who leave the Temple. I don't know if your Tras will want to help her, or stay with you. If she wants to stay here, we'll hire one of the others to be your maid and Warric's nanny, eh?"
She swallowed another lump and nodded.
He pulled her close and breathed into her hair. "Don't look so woebegone. You are alive, and I want to run through the streets shouting the good news to the rooftops."
Magda brought Tras the next day. Weak and nearly naked, an equally naked baby boy in her arms.
"I was the last of our group to deliver." She shivered as Juabe hustled around with clothing and diapers. "I could hear the physicians talking. Less than ten percent of us were touched, and we actually had fewer miscarries and still births than usual. They were calling us all 'the normal group.' Like it was an insult. This priest waved his hand over Trace while he was yawning and kicked us out." She wound down with a quivery sob, and let herself be put to bed.
She was delighted to be hired, actually _paid_, to be Juabe's maid and Warric's nanny. Drew wrote to her owner, who sent back a release. Lord Gressum wanted nothing to do with her now.
They waited for six weeks before leaving, Drew fussing over her, and cuddling her close at night. She panicked the first time he tried more, then had to woo him back as she regained her nerve. She lay awake a long time just listening to him breathe. Why had she ever doubted him?
He caught her crying, the day before they left, and held her gently. "Can you talk to me about it? I can see you're unhappy, and . . . I can see that you don't love the baby."
"I never wanted a baby. I wanted _your_ baby. Someone else's won't do. Even without the rape and church and, and . . . that baby looks like _him_."
"Oh love, it's not your fault. You are obviously not barren. I've failed you, that way. My relationship with my own father was marvelous, as a child. I've disappointed him several times as an adult. Not producing a grandson for him being only one of a series of disappointments. I always wanted a son. I wanted to be that shining figure my father was. I wanted a son to be proud of, as my father was so proud of me. But apparently I can't. So my wife, a Princess Segundus, producing a Prince Primus is as close to pleasing him that I can come, these days." He held her and rocked her. "It's as close to pleasing myself as I can come. Warric is _not_ the god that abused you, he's just a little baby. Try, please, for me, to remember that. I want to be his father, and I want all of us to love each other. I can't close you out of that circle."
"I love you, Drew. I'll try."
"All that really matters is that you survived. Be as good a mother as you can, and if you want we can hire any number of nannies and send the boy away to boarding school when he's seven. For now come to dinner and shine."
She dressed with care, applied her makeup carefully, and walked down to shine.