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The Crier

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She sat in the doorway. There were no windows in the low stone hut and if she wanted to hear the approaching hoof beats of the crier she had to sit in the doorway. It was daytime and the sun hurt her eyes. It hurt her skin. She shrank back from the light and kept her toes pulled into the shadows. She shaded the baby with a drape of soft cotton. The criers were all men on horseback and they were men because the vicious sun didn't hurt them.

She kept the baby naked at her breast. He had been born at night, a fortuitous birth. She had birthed the child in a birthing cave made sweet with drums and scented with the sweat of joyous women. A village of women had danced at her birth. She's sipped palm wine made by her grandmothers and eaten cakes made of dates and honey. Her grandmothers had held her and she had swayed into the contractions. She had danced into ecstasy. On this tide of ecstasy the baby was born, pushed out on a gush of life-giving waters onto a bed made of sweet leaves. How strong his cry had been, strong enough to be heard at the tower itself.

There had been no men waiting. In tradition men would wait outside the cave and live by bonfire at night and in tents by day, a village of waiting birth-men. They would wait for the cry to sound and the women would present the baby to the men and the men would have their license to cheer and dance and fight and eat and get drunk. They would tell stories about how fine a woman the little baby would become, or how fine a man, the lineage would be called up and all the ancestors made into a story about the baby's future: your ancestor was a great warrior. Your ancestor made armor for the great tower. Your ancestor married a farmer from the lake and birthed ten hardy children. Your ancestor was shrewd with money and gemstones. Your ancestor was handsome. Your ancestor was a fine Orc.

Her son had no father to tell stories by firelight.

She waited for the crier.