The Night of Many Births
The Night of a Thousand Births
Lord Maximillion stood in the clearning shivering as the damp cold air pierced his clothing and sent a chill to his bones. The witch before him consulted the entrails on the ground between them and finally stood up. In a voice that sounded as though it had been used only rarely she croaked out, “Your crops and women are barren because of a curse upon your lands. Gaea has been offended and you will be fruitless until she is made restitution.”
Lord Maximillion cared little for the gods and their ways but realized he needed to bow to their servants occasionally, “Fine, how much will it cost?” He figured he would have to pay some temple somewhere or sacrifice some animal or something that was what they usually wanted.
He almost leaped out of his skin when the old crone started to screech and cackle for her laughing was the most disconcerting thing he had ever heard in his life and he had heard many disconcerting things. “No, no,” she said, “It will not be that easy. You see you are also being favored by Lord Malakon and as such he has needs that you must address as well.”
Ah, Lord Maximillion thought, the price would be higher since apparently two “gods” were involved here. “Fine, but do not press your luck, crone. I will do what I must to keep my people from dying but I will not blindly throw away my wealth.”
The crone giggled, “I said nothing of your weath, great lord, that is not what you will be giving. Here is what you must do…”
Ruk did not trust the witch but his shaman said he must speak with her or the spirits would haunt him so he went to speak with her, “Witch! I am Ruk! I demand that you help our tribe. If you do not I will slay you and eat your heart. If you help me I will instead grant you on favor.”
Ruk was surprised when the young maiden walked out of the cavern, he had expected to see an old woman. This didn’t look like a witch. They were supposed to be old and ugly. He called out, “Girl, go get your mistress. I want to speak to the witch. If you do not I will slay you and eat your heart.”
She smiled and added, “…and if I help you, you will instead grant me a favor. I heard you the first time, Ruk of the Broken Spear. Answer my riddle and I will not slay you. A woman has 7 children, half of them are boys. How can this be possible?”
Ruk thought for a second and then smiled, “They are all boys!”
The witch continued, “Very will, Ruk, I will aid you and your tribe and then you will do me a favor. What is it that you want?”
Ruk seemed unable to speak but finally found the words, “Our women are cursed. They are not bearing young. You must make them bear young. We must have warriors.”
The witch brought out a small rat and split open its underside. As it bled to death, she pulled out its entrails and let them fall to the earth. She then studied the pattern and standing up spoke to the orc chieftan, “This is what you must do. On the next blue moon you must take all of your men, all of them, and approach the village of Red Rock. Be sure to approach from the south and be quiet about it. You are to sneak into the village but do not assault it. Once you are there, you are to have your way with the females there. But, you must not kill any of them. There shall be no deaths! This is a fertility offering to Gaea. You must appease her for your own women to become open to your seed. If you find an adult male there you may kill him, but you may not kill any male child. You will find that all the children will remain asleep whle you are there. If you find a male who is not asleep, he is not a child and you may slay him. This is the will of Gaea. You must obey or your tribe will be doubly cursed.”
Ruk was enraged. He crashed through the forest and finally arrived at the place where he had met the witch before. Axe in hand, he called out through the bloodlust his was currently in, “Witch! Where are you? I will gut you when I find you!”
He continued to crash through the forest. Smashing the underbrush with his axe. The crone watch idly from a distance waiting for the rage to burn down to a simmer before revealing herself. Finally, Ruk had exhausted himself in a futile effort to find the witch and he slumped against a tree.
The old crone stepped out from behind a distant tree and asked, “Brave warrior, I heard your yells. Who is it you seek in this wild place?”
Ruk raised his axe was about to run the old crone through but a shred of rationality remained and he answered, “I’m looking for the witch that lives in this wood. She tricked me and I am going to kill her slowly. You had best tell me what you know of her or you will perhaps share her fate.”
The old crone raised her hands, “Spare me, brave warrior. I know of the young woman of whom you speak. She was her not more than half a day ago. Tell me, brave warrior, what is your name?”
“I am called, Ruk, Chief of the Broken Spear tribe.”
“Ruk, Chief of the Broken Spear tribe, I am Belazenda. I have been out this day collecting herbs to sell in the town of Red Rock, perhaps you have hear of this town?” Ruk nodded. “Do you know that they were attacked by a tribe of orcs last night?” Ruk nodded again.”Do you know in what manner they were attacked?” Again Ruk nodded. “I ask you to spare me Ruk. I am an old woman hardly worthy of your time. But I can give you a bit of truth.”
“Do I have your word as chieftan?”
“Yes, yes, just tell me where I can find the witch so that I can kill her!”
“Ah, that is not the truth that I can reveal to you. But I think that you may find the truth that I tell you helpful nonetheless.”
“Very well. Speak I will listen. I will not kill you. You have my word.”
“Ruk, did you believe the witch when she told you to go to the human village and did you do as she asked?”
Ruk grunted and nodded.
“In the past has the witch given you true advice?”
Again Ruk nodded.
“So, you have no reason to doubt that the promise she made to you is still valid even though you feel that she may have tricked you, isn’t that so?”
Ruk realized that he had to agree with Belazenda and said as much.
“Did you ask the witch what you would have to pay to have your women become heavy with children?”
Ruk started to go into his rage again, “No, but this is not right! This is not the way of things! She tricked me.”
“Ruk, did you do any differently do the human village?”
Ruk started, “No, of course not. It is our way. We take what we want.”
“No, Ruk, she did not trick you. The gods tricked you. They tricked both you and the humans. The witch was just making sure that you were not slaughtered in your sleep. What were you told to do if you found any human males in the village when you got there?”
“Slay them!” said Ruk proudly.
“And did you find any?”
“No,” he said glumly.
“Because they were all at your camp. Had your menfolk stayed at home, they would have been sleeping and the humans would have been given the same command by the gods themselves to slay you in your sleep. You would all be dead. Oh, maybe some one or two might escape, but they would have slaughtered you like old women unable to defend themselves.”
Ruk bristled at the insult, “We are not unable to defend ourselves!”
“You would have been sleeping and they were blessed by the gods, just as you were. You would have been defenseless. You should be thanking the witch for sending you away from your womenfolk and you should be thanking her for granting you the boon you asked for. Their wombs will open from that night and continue to stay open to you and your men so long as you treat the children that are born as your own for they are your own just as much as the children born to the humans will be treated as their own. Should you kill any of these firstborn, the curse that was upon your women will be returned and your tribe will die out.”
Ruk recognized the words of prophesy that Belazenda was speaking, “You are the witch! I should kill you now.”
“No, Ruk, I am not the witch you spoke to earlier. I am her sister. Further you gave your word that you would not slay me here and now and if you break your word I will return to haunt you. Besides which, you have no cause to kill me as I have shown you. In truth, you have only thanks for what my sister and I have done for you. Now stop complaining like a nag and return to your men and tell them what they must do and how they must treat their children. For I say again, they must protect the children, they are the blessed of Gaea. She has a task for them which is not for you to question. Raise them as you would any normal child but realize that she will be watching and one day she will take them for her purposes. For this she will continue to bless your tribe with healthy families and good harvests.”
After Ruk had left Belazenda and her sister met and they compared notes on their respective meetings. Belazenda asked, “Did your meeting with Lord Maximillion go as well as mine with Ruk?”
Her sister replied, “About as well it sounds. They are stubborn men, but I think they will do what needs to be done. I don’t think he will let any of the children be killed, but I don’t expect that he’ll make their lives very easy.”
Eighteen years later many of the men who participated in the raids on that fateful night are dead. Most lost their lives in the battles 10 years ago during the Red Hand of Doom campaign on one side or the other. Some few who survived that fateful time have since lost their lives in other ways and some few survive. Both communities would be dead–ghost towns–now even if they had had normal births after the decimation of the war of the Red Hand.
But the witch had been true to her word. Both the humans and the orcs were blessed with fertility as a result of their actions that night. Now both communities had a thriving population of young, mostly men though there were a small handful of strong women who were conceived that night. All the children concieved that night seemed to share an almost supernatural blessed healthiness. Most of them were stronger and faster than the previous generations and even healthier than their brothers and sisters that came after them; more, they rarely got sick and when they did they recovered more quickly. Some thought it was a blessing from the gods. Some though realized it was more.
The three witches gathered around their divining tools and cauldron.
“The scales of war have tipped too far and it is now unavoidable. There will be much death.”
“But Mother has planted a great crop and the harvest will be a great reaping.”
“We need only ensure that there will be a good planting for the next season.”
The witches spoke words of power over the ritual materials they had gathered and chanted and sang for many hours. When they were finished they were both drained and energized.
The youngest one spoke first, “The time is near. The children are primed.”
The next witch measured some final ingredients into the cauldron and answered, “She shakes her wings. Their tasks are well timed.”
The crone spoke last, “What will be will be. The end is sublimed.”