The Heir of Life
Pere found the child on the rocks south of Cave Holding. The babe had been wrapped in a white linen cloth, whether by ritual or spasmodic kindness or both. Did the Cave Held bury their dead in linen? But the creature in the bundle was male, and very young, and had gray eyes and a mop of curly black hair and was very much alive. Nothing appeared wrong with him, no sickness or infirmity or even a birthmark that Perera could see. The traveler knelt down and gathered up the child.
The baby giggled and tugged a long lock of Pere's brown hair. The traveler still sensed nothing wrong with him- on the contrary, he seemed peculiarly all right. Cave Holding wasn't starving; they had no reason to cast out their children.
"He can't have been out more than a day," the traveler murmured. "He's very young, and hasn't been nursed…yet he's very healthy looking, don't you think? Very..."
Gladang snorted and nibbled more of the grass growing around the rocks. His gray coat was pearl colored in the morning light, with a stripe of black down the horse's muzzle. He seemed be trying to inspect this stripe, giving himself a cross-eyed appearance. Perera knew that was the horse's look when the animal was not-quite-thinking.
"He needs a name."
Gladang had no suggestions. The child still had his fingers entwined in Pere's hair, now he gave it a hard jerk.
"Stop that," the traveler said. Pere gestured Gladang closer. The horse left his grazing reluctantly but held still as Perera swung onto his back, babe still cradled in one arm.
The baby cooed. Pere smiled. It had been a long time since the traveler had named anything.
Unimpressed, Gladang shifted as he tried to reach a fern leaf without Perera noticing. The traveler pulled good-naturedly on the reigns.
"Come on," Pere said.
They headed south.
That night, Perera approached the problem of how to feed Renner. There are many ways to provide nourishment for even small children, but in the first days of their lives babies need milk, human if possible. There were no human women nearby, and Gladang couldn't be confused for a mare by even the dullest eyes, so the traveler left Renner bundled in a cloak on the floor of the cave they sheltered in and thought. Specifically, Perera thought of being someone else. Someone a good deal more helpful to a hungry child.
Renner had only just closed his large gray eyes when he opened them to find someone strange leaning over him. She had wood-brown hair and creamy dark skin, like Perera, but her stomach was large and flat, her hips were wide, and her breasts were heavy. She picked up the baby with one hand and untied the clasp of her blouse with the other.
As she suckled Renner, the woman began to hum and, later, to sing. The child ended his first day of life in the grip of a lullaby sung in her deep, soothing voice.
When he was asleep, the woman returned to her original form. Perera spent the rest of the night sensing Renner's past. Why he was so healthy. Why he was abandoned. And there was something about his eyes, something half-known...
The storyteller learned far more than expected.