==>Be the Mother
You always knew that he would be trouble. However, despite everything, you feel it has largely been worth it.
He calls you 'mother', and you are not certain of how you feel about that.
You know how you feel about him, the little grub you plucked out of the crater on the night that your life changed forever. You remember the rare, strange sweetness of being the sole caretaker for this little one, how you felt when he lost his vestigal grublegs, how it felt when he first hugged you and kissed your cheek, how the sound of his name for you fills your blood-pusher with a sort of wild, frantic joy.
You know the fear of allowing him to play with the other children, fear of how he might hurt himself, of how his blood might be spilled, of how you could have saved him just to have him culled later on.
The pride you feel in him is almost savage in it's ferocity now that he's seven sweeps old. He's not precisely tall, but he's stocky and strong and good looking in a solid, square way. He's embarrassed about his nubby horns, but he ought not to be, you think. He would look strange with any larger horns than the world graced him with. And though his manners are sometimes rough, in his blood-pusher there is more pity than any five trolls combined.
You have had to travel to the Capitol City in order to find supplies for the small desert village you live in. Since you are a jade-blooded troll, you are the safest envoy they have. True, you have abandoned your blood caste's traditional profession, but that is not a crime, and still, the markets pay more attention to you as you travel with the money and the lists of supplies.
It is a good job for you, you feel, and good for Signless, too. He should see the world, see how the world functions, for it is not a kind world by any stretch of the imagination.
==>Dolorosa: Keep Hold of Your Charge
The city is large and dangerous, and Signless is so very new to it all. You are glad you have made his clothing to be so all-encompassing and covering because if the strangeness of his bright blood were discovered, he could be culled in an instant. The thought freezes your blood-pusher with fear, though you know that you cannot always be there to shield him.
As much as you may want to, at times. And as much as you have done so in the past. He has grown up with only you for company.
And thus, he is lonely, and you regret that.
He clings to your hand, despite his age. He tips his gaze up to the tall buildings, the small sky skiffs flying overhead, the noise of the marketplace. You can tell he's feeling insecure with the closeness of everything. He would feel more at ease in the desert, and so would you.
He knows to be cautious with highblooded trolls; when a troop of Subjuggulators pass by, he pulls you quickly into an alleyway, and covers you with his cloak, even though he is the one who needs to be careful. He is not quite as tall as you are and perhaps the subterfuge would not work if they'd caught sight of his bright red eyes. The thought gives you a pang like physical pain.
You bring him to the Great Halls of Justice, because he needs to know that justice is cruel, and you bring him to the Frog Temple in the middle of the city, where you stand in the outer sanctuary to where the lower blooded trolls were restricted.
You cannot afford to buy a meal in the City restaurants or lodge in the City's hotels, so when your marketing is done, you journey back in the darkest part of night to the outskirts, where there are smaller villages of rust and copper and yellow blooded trolls who are glad for the funds to give you lodging for the night, to share a meal with you, and to trade news.
Signless is silent over dinner and you worry that perhaps tonight was too difficult for him, that the strangeness of the city affected him in the ways certain things did; to haunt him in his dark dreaming, to cause him to fall silent and to frown with thoughts that he did not have the words to explain. He has always been a strange, silent boy, a fractious grub. He got so angry sometimes, frustrated with the need to understand something, rageful when he could not.
After the meal, Signless picks his head up and looks out the window, where some of the other children are playing, and he gets up and goes outside. You, worrying as usual, want to follow him, and you fight with yourself for a few moments. Finally, Present You decides that Past You needs to begin letting go a little, and you stay seated for a little while, talking politics in hushed tones and making tentative moves, as people will do, towards being a short-term casual family.
You can hear children laughing, and the deeper tones of Signless' rare laughter. It gives you a strange feeling to hear it, a sort of painful joy that you do not understand.
==>Dolorosa: Watch Signless play.
Eventually, you go to the window to see what he is doing.
He is, by far, the largest in the side yard, and the children (some of them barely out of grub-hood, some still having vestigial grublegs) are almost climbing on him, and he is laughing. The smile on his face is wide. It has been a long time since you have seen him smile like that. He runs after them, and catches four or five of them in his strong arms to swing around, the children screaming with delight. They play rough, as troll children play, but Signless never, ever hurts them. He swings them on his cape, lets them dangle from his arms. They pile on him and he wrestles them off, pushing them gently off onto the green grass. He pretends to be a large, malicious barkbeast, pretending to menace them, pretending to growl and bite and maul, though he never touches them with his teeth or claws.
The wrigglers scream with laughter, and when one of them falls and hurts a still-tender grubleg joint, Signless scoops him up and uses the ends of his cape to dry the brown-blooded wriggler's tears, bends to kiss the hurt spot, then makes a raspberry-sound on the little one's abdomen, getting the little one laughing again.
And you recognize the joy and gentleness, and the realization that he learned that all from you is terrifying and sobering and painful, but also brings that wild, particular happiness back into your guts. Your eyes ache with tears.
Signless hangs upside down by his knees in a tree, reaching down to let the little ones swing from his forearms. He's having the most fun you've seen him have in ages upon ages. And he catches sight of you in the window, watching, and he smiles at you. You raise a hand in greeting, smiling softly as well.
The sky is beginning to lighten, and some of the children toddle off to their hives, some called by their lusii with loud clicks, grumbles, growls or roars. A couple of them linger till their lusus comes for them, a small tiger who carries the tiny green-blood home by the scruff of her tunic, and a rather large, oafish bull-creature who lays his brown blooded charge over his back and lopes off, the little wrigger smiling and waving at him. Signless does not want to let the little brown-blooded one go. There is a look on his face that is half-lost and half-relieved.
Signless sits under the tree nearly until dawn-light before coming into the darkened hivestem. And then he sits at the abandoned food-preparation block table and you lay your hand on his shoulder. He is still smiling slightly. You wait for him to speak. You always know when he wants to say something, but prompting will only cause him to curse more.
“I played with them for nearly two hours. They were just pleased that someone paid attention to them. Fuck, I wanted to bring them all home with us, have them around all the time. Take care of them.”
You sit by him and slide his hood from his head, stroke your hand through his hair. “I know. It has been many perigees since I have seen you laugh so.”
He smiles sadly up at you. “They didn't even give a fuck what my blood color was,” he whispered. “I just wish...all of Alternia could be that way...maybe it was meant to be that way and just...changed all one day.” He stared into the empty dregs of the fire. “It needs to change,” he murmured.
A thrill of fear pierces your heart. Mostly because this is treason to speak so, but also because you fear for him far more than you fear for yourself. It's a confusing emotion, one you accept, but do not understand.
“Little wrigglers like that? They shouldn't have to...to worry about being culled for the sake of blood color.” He pressed his mouth into a thin line. “I just...wanted them all.”
You swallow down the fear that presses against your throat. “I know, mine. But you know they could never make the trek across the desert to our home. And their lusii would not let them go.” You put your arms around him and lay your head against his shoulder. “Please,” you whisper, “please do not call attention to yourself, my darling.”
He makes a soft, unhappy sound and pets your hair, turns his face into your neck and nuzzles your hair. “I won't. Not yet.” The last part is said so softly, so very softly, but you hear it anyway.
You suppose that is the best that you can hope for.
You always knew, after all, that he would be trouble.