“I thought it would be a boy,” the Dag said softly, dazedly.
“Well,” Toast said, matter of fact, setting the baby into the Dag’s outstretched arms. “It’s not an ‘it’ anymore, now is it?”
“No,” the Dag said in a whisper, pulling the baby close to her, clumsily trying to mimic what she’d seen the Milking Mothers do, back when they’d still been Milking Mothers. “No, she isn’t.” The baby took the breast, despite the fact that her mother had no idea what she was doing, and the Dag leaned her head back onto the pillow in relief.
“There, now, there,” Cheedo said, perched on the edge of the bed. “See, you’ve done just what you’re meant to.” She stroked the Dag’s hair away from her face. The Dag thought about saying that her hair was disgusting, tangled and damp with sweat, but Cheedo’s steady hand felt too nice. She’d tell her in a moment.
Every part of the Dag’s body ached. Her muscles trembled as if she’d run for miles, twitching seemingly at random. She was covered in sweat and some blood and some worse things, and poor Capable and Toast were having to run wet cloths over her to clean her up, which was humiliating. She shouldn’t be happy.
But Cheedo was still stroking her hair, and had put cool wet rags on her forehead and neck, and her baby was warm and alive, a soft weight on her chest, and the Dag was happy.
The oldest of the Wise Mothers, who had chosen to be Wise Mothers when they no longer had to be Milking Mothers, called herself Sonia, and she took on herself the task of helping the Dag through the first few bewildering weeks of motherhood.
“She’s latching right, and sucking well,” Sonia said, watching the baby nurse. “That’s the most important thing right now. You feeding her every two hours? Remember that you can’t just wait til she cries.”
The Dag nodded meekly, in awe of Sonia’s knowledge. Sonia had a brisk, businesslike way of talking about babies, which was strange to the Dag, who still wasn’t entirely convinced that the birth of her daughter hadn’t been magic, but was also reassuring. If this all wasn’t a sacred mystery, if it was something that could be learned, then the Dag could learn it, too.
“And you put her on her stomach for a minute or so, every day?” Sonia continued. “It’ll help her get strong.”
“Yeah,” the Dag answered, “and I lie on my stomach with her so she knows we’re together.” The Dag liked that part, the moment to rest, lying flat on her stomach and gazing into her baby’s eyes as she painstakingly lifted her big head and wiggled her fat little limbs. It was peaceful.
Sonia smiled broadly at her. “You’re doing well. You’re both doing well.” The Dag felt her heart leap with pride. “You can trust yourself, little mother. You know your baby girl. You’ll be alright.” The Dag was ridiculously grateful for being told that. She dropped her head shyly, smiling at her baby and sliding one of her fingers into one tiny flailing fist. Her baby held the finger tight.
“By the way,” Sonia asked, “what are you going to name her?”
“Um,” the Dag stuttered, her heart skipping a beat, “I, um, I’m not sure yet.”
Sonia’s face didn’t reflect any judgment. She just shrugged and said, “You should decide soon.” But the Dag still felt afraid.
The Dag didn’t exactly trust Corpus Colossus. He was Joe’s son, Joe’s eldest, after all. But he had spent years figuring out how to care for himself and his brothers, which made him an expert on the myriad ways the children of Joe could break down, and with the Organic Mechanic lost with Joe’s war party on the Fury Road, he was also one of the closest things they had to a doctor.
So the Dag set her little girl on the table in his workroom and watched as he swung his chair over and started his inspection. The little girl seemed more confused than anything as he gently pushed up her eyelids to look at her eyeballs, tilted his head to listen to the way she breathed, opened her mouth to look inside. He unwrapped her swaddling cloths and felt along each limb, straightening it and then bending it; he slipped his hand under her back to feel how it curved; he felt at her rib cage.
“She’s perfect,” Corpus Colossus said finally, swinging his chair away again. “Not a flaw on her.”
“I know she’s perfect,” the Dag snapped, gathering the little girl to her chest, rewrapping her and stroking the little peach fuzz on her head.
Corpus Colossus only shrugged, seemingly unoffended. “Just telling you what I see, is all. You did good, you got strong genes.”
“So Joe would have been pleased with her?” the Dag asked, a little bitterly.
“Nah, Dad would have exposed her,” Corpus Colossus answered. His voice was almost casual, but he wouldn’t look at the Dag, just bent his head and fiddled with some of the tools on his workbench. “Just left her out in the desert. The day she was born.”
“What?” the Dag cried, holding the little girl tighter to her chest. “But you said she was perfect! He kept the imperfect ones.” She said this pointedly, glaring at him, and immediately felt guilty. It was a low blow. “I… I’m sorry,” she said quietly.
Corpus Colossus shrugged. “The imperfect sons,” he said, choosing to address neither the insult nor the apology. “He always kept the sons. He didn’t want girls, not of his own.”
“You don’t want to know,” he cut her off. He glanced up, saw some expression on her face that made him look away again. “It’s better now than it was.”
She was surprised to hear him say that. She wondered if he felt like he had to, like paying homage to a new lord. He had agreed to be a part of their society, had even helped demonstrate the workings of all the machinery and fix any broken parts, but he was still Joe’s son. “Don’t you miss your dad?” she asked, or maybe challenged.
Corpus Colossus froze, and she wished she hadn’t said it, as she often did when she said something mean because she was confused and being confused made her scared.
“I guess,” he said finally. “He was my dad. And there’s not many out in the wastes that would’ve kept a child who couldn’t walk on his own, so he had that going for him. But I’m not stupid, I know he was a monster, just like I know what would’ve happened to me if I’d put a toe out of line. I guess if I miss anyone it’s Rictus.”
The Dag, with a shudder, remembered the way Rictus had tried to drag her out of the Rig, the helplessness she’d felt watching him tear out the engine and trap Nux too far away for them to help. “Really?” she asked.
“Well, yeah. He was dumb as a brick, a child in a behemoth’s body, and he could be a mean bastard, especially to people weaker than him, which after a while was everybody. But we were brothers, and that meant something to him, and to me. He used to come up to my workshop and sit with me, watch what I was doing, even though he couldn’t keep straight how everything went together. I must have tried to explain things half a hundred times. I always thought, well, hoped, that after Dad had his perfect, unflawed son he’d leave the rest of us alone. I was going to…” He stopped, looking away.
“Going to what?” she asked.
She thought he looked embarrassed. “It’s stupid, but I was going to try to teach them to read. If we ever got left alone. Once he had me, and I could do all the record-keeping he wanted, Dad never cared if the others could read. I thought it would be nice, something I could do for them. Of course, then all our brothers died young, so it was just me and Rictus. And I suppose it doesn’t matter much anymore.”
She thought of him alone in his workshop, keeping the engines running while they all forged new lives below. He was Joe’s son, but the baby squirming impatiently in her arms, her little girl that she was holding and caring for and loving, she was Joe’s, too. It didn’t have to mean anything.
“Hey, we’re trying to teach the War Pups some things,” she said. “And anyone else who wants to learn, like the Wise Mothers. How to read and other stuff. Do you want to help?”
He seemed too surprised to speak for a long moment, then said, “I… Yes, I would like that.”
“You might end up teaching your sister to read,” the Dag said.
Corpus Colossus wheezed a laugh. “Maybe so. By the by, what’s her name? I never asked.”
“Um…” The Dag’s heart skipped a beat. “I haven’t quite decided yet.”
They had decided not to call it the Citadel anymore. It had been Capable’s idea. She said that a Citadel was a place of war, and they had been looking for the Green Place because it was a place of peace and growing things. So they called it the Green Place, and everyone followed their lead.
The Dag liked the name because she liked the green things best of all. She had grown up with dust and sand, brown and gray and yellow, and hadn’t seen green until she’d been dragged kicking and screaming to the Citadel. But her daughter, her little girl, would grow up with green all around her, hers to enjoy.
The Dag had found places to plant nearly all of the seeds that the Keeper of the Seeds had left her, and she liked to visit them often and check their progress, but her favorite was the shoot that thad sprouted in the skull of some small scurrying thing. Even in that tiny bit of soil, it had been hardy and green, and since she’d planted it, it had grown into a broad, bright-leaved bush.
She had brought her little girl up to the gardens to see it, and they lay next to it now, the Dag on her stomach and the little girl on her back, enjoying the smell of water and life. The little girl made sweet, soft, happy sounds, and the Dag closed her eyes in bliss and hoped that, one day, her daughter would love this plant as much as she did. Maybe one day she’d tell the little girl about the Keeper of the Seeds, about that sliver of hope for the future out there on the Fury Road.
She heard footsteps coming toward her, bare feet on the soil, and she cracked her eyes open to see the outline of Cheedo against the sun. She rolled over and stuck her tongue out at her, feeling a spike of sourceless exhilaration.
“Hi, sweetheart,” Cheedo said, settling herself down on the ground next to the Dag. Cheedo liked using silly words like that for them, sweetheart and honey and dear, words she’d heard in the stories that Miss Giddy told them. But she used those words for the Dag most of all, which made the Dag feel warm and slow and restless and excited all at the same time. “How’s the littlest one today?”
“She’s lovely,” the Dag said, stretching languidly to brush her hand against her baby’s head and secretly hoping that Cheedo would stroke the Dag’s hair like she sometimes did. “We’re having a good time, aren’t we, little girl?” The little girl raised her head and gave a pleased squeal.
Cheedo reached out and brushed her hand against the Dag’s hair and the Dag smiled, trying not to look too smug about it. She opened her eyes again and looked at Cheedo, who was steadily looking back, not bothering to hide her gaze. She quirked a smile at the Dag, and the Dag blushed without really knowing why.
Cheedo was different now, since they’d come back to the Green Place. That steady gaze would have been so alien on her face before, when she was skittish and shy until she exploded into indignation and then lapsed back into fear. The Dag had always liked Cheedo, had felt protective of her. But somewhere out on the Fury Road, Cheedo had found her courage, and she refused to give it back now, and now the Dag’s feelings about her had shifted and changed into something complicated and confusing. She liked that steady, unafraid regard.
“You know,” Cheedo said, and if she was hesitant to say it the Dag couldn’t tell, “you can’t call her little girl forever.”
The Dag felt her heart pick up, and she pushed her head harder into Cheedo’s hand to try to recapture that feeling of contentment and relaxation. “What… What do you mean?”
“Well,” Cheedo said, kindly but firmly, running a thumb along the Dag’s cheekbone, “you’ll have to name her. She needs a name.”
“I…” The Dag closed her eyes again. “I know. I’m just… thinking it over. Trying to decide. I’ll do it soon.”
With Miss Giddy gone, one of the things that the Wives had discovered was that they all remembered different parts of the old History Woman’s repertoire of stories. They each had different things that had caught their attention, so the recreation of the stories took a joint effort, each of them chiming in and adding until they reached the end, usually laughing and happy. It was one of the Wives’ favorite things to do together.
It would probably surprise the other inhabitants of the Green Place that what Toast always remembered were the most dramatic, the most tragic, the most rend-your-clothing-and-tear-your-hair-and-weep-to-the-heavens moments. They’d started one of their old favorites that night, and now that it had reached the climax, it was Toast who took over.
“And she said, ‘Great king, husband, you sit here rejoicing, but when I answer your question, you will never rejoice again. Listen to what I have done, for I have killed the sons I bore to you. You have eaten their hearts, you have drunk their blood.’”
The Dag shifted uncomfortably as she listened. This had been one of her favorite stories; she liked them grim and bloody, full of twists and turns and betrayals. She had been enjoying it until this part, but she was starting to feel a scratching under her skin, a heart pounding, a desire to check on the little girl even though her daughter had been put to bed and was fast asleep.
Toast continued, “‘Never again will you call them to you, never again sit them upon your knee, string their tiny bows for them or lift them to the saddles of their horses. They will answer you no more, and your house is bereft. To avenge my brothers, I have killed my own sons.’” Toast’s voice rose the way Miss Giddy’s used to, a powerful wail. “‘They are gone, they are gone, they are gone.’”
The Dag stood and tried to sneak out the vault door without them noticing, but of course they did.
“Are you okay, love?” Cheedo asked her.
The Dag flushed. “Of course, I just thought I’d get a breath of fresh air.” Toast looked guilty, so the Dag hurried to say, “I’m fine, really, you don’t have to wait up for me to finish the story,” and slunk out of the vault.
The farther she got from the room, the farther from the story that she had once liked but thought she wouldn’t want to hear anymore, the calmer she felt, and the more she thought she was being ridiculous. She rolled her eyes to herself as she walked through the hallways of the Green Place, quiet now that it was night and most everyone was asleep, but she still didn’t feel up to going back to the vault just yet.
She climbed the winding staircases and ramps to the door that led to the balcony room, where Joe had once given his speeches to the masses. It had been repurposed as a watchtower, and Furiosa had instituted a rotation of observation duty for the inhabitants of the Green Place. The Dag hoped that whoever was on duty at that moment didn’t mind her sharing their space and staring moodily out into the desert.
It turned out that the person on duty was Furiosa herself. She looked around sharply at the sound of the door, reflexes still war-trained, and relaxed when she saw who it was.
“What’re you doing here?” Furiosa asked as the Dag stopped at her side, leaning against the railing.
“I got spooked by a story,” the Dag muttered irritably. “A story I’ve heard a million times before. I don’t know what’s changed that I can’t listen to it now.” That was a ridiculous statement; of course she knew what had changed. It was the same thing, the same wiggling, squalling, brightly smiling little thing that had changed everything.
Furiosa had taken off her mechanical arm, the Dag saw, and hung it on the railing. As the silence spun out between them, the Dag was tempted to touch it, to pick at the fabric bits just to have something to do with her hands, but thought that was probably disrespectful. Furiosa’s arm seemed almost sacred by this point, a piece of the woman who had freed them.
Furiosa didn’t turn to look at her, and they stood in slightly awkward silence together until the Dag shivered. For as hot as it was during the day, as soon as night fell, the temperature in the desert plummeted.
Furiosa snorted and shook her head. “You’re too skinny,” she said, a little fondly, the Dag thought. Or maybe hoped.
“When I was pregnant, Toast said I looked like a melon tied to a stick,” the Dag offered, and smiled when Furiosa burst into laughter.
“Come here, if you’re staying,” Furiosa said, and slung her arm over the Dag’s shoulders, pulling her in to her side. The Dag was on the side with her half-arm, and she could feel the stump against her shoulder. It was oddly comforting, a sign that it could be no one other than Furiosa who was holding on to her.
The Dag huddled against Furiosa and stared out at the sands. It didn’t seem so furious now, at night, with the moon touching its light against the grains of the ground.
“You know,” Furiosa said contemplatively, “sometimes I miss riding the rig down that road. I don’t miss anything else about the Citadel, but being alone in the rig was a good feeling.”
“You could build yourself a new rig,” the Dag said. “We could save up parts, and everything. And you could teach us all how to drive a truck that big. Even my little girl.”
Furiosa didn’t laugh again, but she did pull the Dag a little closer. “How is your daughter?” she asked.
“Good,” the Dag said. “Getting nice and chubby, just like she’s supposed to, she looks like a little wiggly ball.” She smiled to herself, fondly. “You should come see her again.”
“Yeah,” Furiosa said. “I’ve had a lot to do, but I’ll come tomorrow.” Secretly, the Dag thought that Furiosa was a little uncomfortable around the little girl, a little unsure of how to treat something so breakable, but she’d been that way around the Wives, at first, thinking they were fragile and small. She’d gotten used to them, she’d get used to the little girl, too.
“You’d better,” the Dag said. “The little girl needs to get used to all her Aunties.”
“Do you…” Furiosa hesitated. “Do you still call her the little girl? I just thought… I thought you had a name in mind for her.”
The Dag tensed and bit her lip. “Yeah, no, I’ve got some ideas. I’m still thinking about it, I mean, I don’t want to get it wrong, do I?”
The Dag and Cheedo both loved staying put in the Green Place, finding things to do and new little spots to explore. Toast and Capable, on the other hand, wanted more open space, and felt like they had to get out into the desert at least once every few days, taking one of the lance cars and driving together in search of salvage. They always came back seeming relaxed, refreshed. It was just the way things were.
The problem with this was that they had lived together long enough, had twined their lives together so completely, that they all got their monthly blood at the same time. Toast got restless, snappish, determined to get away from people. Cheedo got miserably hot, skin prickling and stomach roiling with nausea. And Capable was the victim of unbearable pain, curling up in her bed and clutching her stomach and moaning behind clenched teeth.
The Dag was the lucky one, stickiness and sweatiness and a sort of vague but unobtrusive full-body discomfort being her only symptoms. So when Toast was determined to go out and Capable was completely unable to go with her, the Dag volunteered so that Toast wouldn’t have to go alone or go with someone who didn’t understand her.
“I have six bottles that I’ve pumped,” the Dag told Cheedo, fretting as she looked into the cold box at the bottles. “That should be plenty. We won’t be gone too long. Sometimes she fusses with bottles, but it helps if you hold her to your chest when you give it to her. She likes the closeness.”
“I know, I know,” Cheedo said, making an effort to sound indulgent rather than irritated even as she had to mop the sweat from her forehead with her sleeve. “I’ve done this before, remember.”
“You have,” the Dag said, and gave her a hug. “Thank you.”
Toast was quiet behind the wheel as they drove out of the front gates of the Green Place, and for a while the Dag felt as if she was intruding into a realm that she had no business in. But as the Green Place faded into a thin spire behind them and the sand stretched out golden in all directions, Toast relaxed and flashed a quick smile at the Dag. “Thanks for coming with me,” she said. “I appreciate it.”
The Dag smiled back and tried to enjoy the heat and the sunlight.
Toast navigated the wasteland with assurance. The Dag had no idea what she was looking for and only really realized that she was looking for something when either Toast gave a hiss of disappointment or a wreck they could gut came into view. It must be some experience or knowledge or sixth sense that Toast and Capable had perfected on their many excursions.
After two hours, the Dag found herself looking forward to the wrecks. There was something powerful about being able to look at a broken car or motorcycle and find the pieces that might be useful, to strip them out and fill the back of their own car and feel a bit like conquering heroes. Both the Dag and Toast ignored the occasional bodies or skeletons lying under or around the wrecks.
After about five hours, their car was only three-quarters full of useful scrap, but they were both exhausted. “Are we going to go back?” the Dag asked. She’d been trying not to imply that she was ready to head back, because Toast needed this adventure and she didn’t want to pressure her, but she just couldn’t keep her mouth shut any more.
Toast smiled and shrugged. “Yeah, it’s about time. Let’s take a rest and then head back. Sorry I kept you out so long. Thanks again.”
“No problem,” the Dag answered, looking with no small amount of pride at the heap of metal and machinery in the back of the car. “It wasn’t so bad.”
After carefully scanning the horizon, making sure there wasn’t anyone in sight, Toast pulled the car into the shade of a rock formation and they laid down on their backs where the sand was cool. Toast tilted one of their canteens of water to her mouth, then handed it to the Dag. She drank gratefully.
“Do not become addicted to water,” Toast said in a self-important voice, and she and the Dag collapsed in laughter.
“You will resent its absence,” the Dag managed to choke out through her giggles. There were times that they couldn’t talk about Joe, that any mention of him made them tense and sick to their stomachs, but there were other times when he just seemed so ridiculous that they had to mock him. The Dag liked being able to mock him. She took another swig of water and passed the canteen back, then lay back and laced her fingers with Toast’s.
They lay in silence like that for a while, the only sound the swish of the breeze over the loose sand, the whoosh as it curved through the rocks, and the Dag thought that she could maybe understand why Toast and Capable liked it out here. She still preferred the comforting bustle and growing things of the Green Place, but there was a certain kind of energy in the wide open that she thought was also pretty nice.
Finally, Toast squeezed her hand a little tighter and said, “I should probably get you back to your little baby.”
“Yeah,” the Dag said, smiling at the mention of her daughter. “Don’t want the little girl to forget all about me.”
“You know…” Toast trailed off, then started again. “You’re still calling her little girl. I guess I just thought… I just feel like I have an idea what you want to name her, so… Well, she needs a name, and you’ve got to be the one to give it to her.”
The Dag’s mouth had gone dry, despite the water she’d just been drinking. “Yeah, I… I know. I’m just still thinking about it, I’ll decide soon.”
The Dag and Capable were lying on their sides on the floor, facing each other, with the little girl on her back between them, throwing her tiny feet up into the air and then grabbing them with her hands, pulling them toward her face and letting them go again. The Dag found this whole process endlessly fascinating. She sometimes wondered if the others were as enthralled by the little girl as she was, or if they spent so much time watching her just to humor the Dag. It didn’t matter, really; the Dag enjoyed watching her little girl, and she enjoyed having the company of the other Wives, so she was happy.
“Oh, look, look,” Capable said in a hushed, delighted voice, “she’s going to bite them again.” Sure enough, the little girl managed to pull her toes into her toothless mouth, gumming them with a triumphant smile.
“Oh, yes, we all see how good at that you are,” the Dag said to her daughter, tickling the baby’s side and making her giggle.
“How much do you love her?” Capable asked playfully, gently pushing the Dag’s shoulder.
The Dag thought about giving a silly, joking answer, but instead she just shook her head and said, “So much. So much, I wasn’t expecting it.”
“Yeah,” Capable said, looking away and ducking her head toward the little girl. “I can see why. I think it took me about five minutes to love her.”
“Maybe one day there’ll be one of yours running around,” the Dag said cheerfully.
“No, no, no,” Capable said, grinning. “Don’t get me wrong, she’s lovely, and I’m happy to be one of her Many Mothers, but I don’t want to carry one.”
“I didn’t really want to either, if I’m honest,” the Dag answered. “But I’m happy with the result. Even if… well.” The Dag didn’t really know how to finish that sentence.
Capable nodded slowly. “Yes. Even if that.” They were quiet for a long time, watching the little girl kick and fling her arms out to either side, exploring the limits of her reach. “I didn’t know Nux,” Capable said suddenly, after a while.
The Dag blinked, trying to figure out what she meant. “It was only a couple of days.”
“No, I mean…” Capable looked away. “I didn’t know him. The way I knew Joe.”
“Oh,” the Dag said.
“I thought maybe I would, someday. When we were safe. If we had had more time…” Capable looked down and wouldn’t meet the Dag’s eyes.
“I’m sorry,” the Dag said, her voice fallen almost to a whisper.
“I’m afraid…” Capable stopped, swallowed hard. Her voice wavered. “Sometimes I think that was my only chance. I didn’t have any experience when I came here. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’ll live my whole life and I’ll never know anyone but Joe.”
The Dag had known one person before she’d been brought here, a boy she’d met in the desert and never asked his name, something frantic and needy and done too soon before they parted without any more words. She had followed her instincts when Joe’s raiders had asked if she was a virgin; she’d said yes, and it was probably the only reason she was still alive.
The Dag thought for a long time about what she wanted to say. This, she knew, she wanted to be careful with. This, she knew, she wanted to get right. In the meantime, she rested her hand on Capable’s shoulder, gently running her thumb back and forth.
“I think,” she said, “I think… Well, there’s no way to know what’s coming. There’s no way to know the people you’ll meet, the things you’ll feel. But even if you never know anyone else, even then… Well, you’ll have helped kill the man who hurt you, and you’ll never have been forced again. And that’s… that’s good. You’re the person you need the most, you’re the person you can’t live without, and, Capable, I think you’re a good person to be.”
It was a jumbled mess, the Dag reflected, but Capable smiled at her and curled around the little girl between them so she could put her forehead against the Dag’s. “Thank you, sister,” she said softly.
The little girl reached up to grab at their arms, crossed above her where they held each other. The Dag blew a stream of air at the top of her head, which made her squeal and made the Dag laugh. “We see you, little girl,” she murmured happily.
Capable sighed, slightly. The Dag looked at her again, questioningly, and Capable looked a little guilty.
“What is it?”
“It’s just… I’m not sure why you haven’t named her yet.”
“Oh,” the Dag said, her heart picking up speed.
“I mean, it’s your choice, of course. I just thought… We all thought we knew what you’d want to name her.”
“Yeah, of course,” the Dag said numbly. “I know, it’ll be soon, I swear.”
The Green Place was in an absolute uproar the day a single black car with a single driver pulled its way into the shadow of the rocks and stopped dead, waiting for a response. The Dag was sitting in the gardens when she heard the clamor and the alarm raised by the watchtower. She jumped up and hurried down to the ramparts, forgetting to grab her shoes she was in such a hurry.
In the gardens, she was close enough to the watchtower that she made it there only a little later than Furiosa, who was taking taking the eyepiece of the telescope from the Wise Mother and the reformed War Boy who had been on watch. Furiosa stared through the telescope, unmoving, for what seemed like a very long time.
“What is it?” the Dag asked. “Who is it?”
Furiosa leaned away from the telescope, took a step back. Her face was blank. “It’s him,” she said, sounding bewildered. A small smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. “It’s him,” she said again, her voice tight with excitement. Abruptly, she leaned over the railing of the watchtower and called down to the War Boys standing at the drawbridge controls. “Set it down!” she shouted to them. “Let him up!”
By the time they’d all reached the gates, they’d accumulated a following of most of the people in the Green Place. Furiosa led the way, striding even more determinedly than normal. The Dag and her fellow Wives followed behind her, running around each other and grabbing each other’s hands and occasionally jumping up and down excitedly.
The drawbridge ground back into place, and the driver stepped out and shifted a bit awkwardly, hunching his shoulders forward under his one-armed leather coat. “Well,” he said finally, “I’m glad you’re all still alive.”
“Max,” Furiosa said with a nod, standing very straight and trying to sound calm. Cheedo leaned against the Dag’s shoulder and made a small amused noise. The Dag wrinkled her nose at her in response. “What are you doing here? Not that you’re not welcome,” she added hurriedly.
Max shrugged. “Needed supplies,” he muttered in his low, rough voice. “Thought I’d see how this place was doing.” He leaned against the car and looked over Furiosa’s shoulder at the people following her, most of them healthy, all of them well-fed, and not a trace of white or black paint among them. He smiled slightly, then went stone-faced again as if he’d caught himself. “Looks like it’s going well.”
“It is,” Furiosa said, glancing behind her with pride. “You can stay as long as you want… as long as you need to.”
“I’ve got things to trade,” Max said.
“Good, that’s… good.”
The Dag looked over at Toast and saw her roll her eyes. The Dag was of the same mind, and tugging on Cheedo’s hand, pulled her along as she ran up and punched Max in the arm, Capable and Toast close behind them.
“Slanger!” the Dag said, with exaggerated accusation. “Why’d you run off? We’ve missed your sour face around here.”
“Not one for green places,” Max grumbled. “Not one for staying still.” But he couldn’t hide the eagerness, the attentiveness, in his eyes as he looked around.
The other inhabitants of the Green Place got back to their regular tasks and pursuits, although with a lot of gossiping about the mysterious stranger who’d helped Furiosa bring down Joe. But the Dag and her fellow wives and Furiosa led Max all around the Green Place, showing him everything, showing off.
Or, to be perfectly accurate, the Wives happily described everything they’d been doing while Max half listened and half tried to be subtle about the glances he was shooting at Furiosa standing next to him. In all fairness to Max, Furiosa wasn’t terribly subtle about her own glances.
Although Max did perk up and look interested when they showed him the garden. The Dag would have been furious if he hadn’t. “The old lady with the seeds,” Max started.
“They’re all planted here,” the Dag said, puffing up with pride.
“Dag’s been taking care of them,” Cheedo said. “She’s amazing at it.” The Dag blushed and felt light and floaty.
When they got to the watchtower, Max leaned against the heavy stone railing, wearing a look that on a gentler face might have been called wonder. Furiosa stood next to him, just a hair closer than could be played off as an accident. Together they looked out over the wide expanse of the desert.
“We can see everything from up here,” Toast was saying happily, “and we have books for logging everything we see. It’s actually kind of a nice job…”
Capable put a hand on Toast’s shoulder, and Toast trailed off. The Dag jerked her head toward Max and Furiosa significantly, and Cheedo raised her eyebrows exaggeratedly. The four of them slipped out of the watchtower quietly, without another word, and managed to make it almost all the way back to their vault before they burst out laughing.
They no longer kept the bath in the center of the vault filled, since they were sharing water more widely now and bathing was rationed, but they still liked sitting in it to talk, so they piled pillows and blankets into it when it was empty and sprawled across them, giggling at the thought of what Furiosa and Max could possibly be talking about.
“Do you think he’ll stay this time?” Cheedo asked, from where her head was in the Dag’s lap.
“Absolutely not,” Toast said, rolling her eyes.
Capable laughed. “He’ll go back into the desert and then end up ‘needing supplies’ again six months from now. And then five months after that. And then four months after that.”
“Anyone want to take bets on how many times he’s going to do this whole song and dance routine before he just gives up and stays?” Toast asked.
“It’ll have to be, mmm,” the Dag held her chin and looked at the ceiling, miming deep thought, “at least seven more times, I think.”
Cheedo shook her head. “That’s just silly.”
Max stayed the night and left the next morning, trying to slip out quietly, just like he’d done the first time. This time, the Wives didn’t let him.
The Dag ended up being last into the vehicle bay in front of the gate, because she was determined that Max was going to meet and immediately love her little girl, which required getting the baby up and fed and changed and wrapped. She was worried that her sisters wouldn’t have been able to stall Max for long enough, but he’d apparently waited for her.
Max was standing in front of his car with Cheedo, Capable, and Toast standing around him, and Furiosa off to one side, smiling a little but with her tall frame and powerful shoulders slumped. She looked like she’d gotten the wind knocked out of her as she watched Max preparing to go again.
The Dag thought that maybe, later on when Max had gone, she should offer some words of reassurance. After all, whatever itch Max had found in his soul out there in the desert, it wouldn’t be scratched by a single visit to check up on them.
When he caught sight of the little girl in the Dag’s arms, Max’s face went through a series of complicated expressions before settling on a small, amazed smile.
That’s right, the Dag thought triumphantly. You’re not any more immune to her than the rest of us are.
“You weren’t going to leave without meeting her,” the Dag said. “One of the Wise Mothers was watching her for me yesterday, so I didn’t get a chance to show her to you.” She held the little girl toward him.
His arms came up, but he didn’t take her. Instead, he hesitated, then carefully took one of her tiny hands in his. The baby regarded him solemnly. Max couldn’t quite hide a short, sharp inhale and a slight widening of his eyes when the baby grabbed hold of his finger. “You made this?” Max said. “I’m impressed.”
“Oh, shut up,” the Dag said, grinning despite herself.
“What do you call her?”
“Um…” The Dag’s smile faded. “Well, I… I haven’t really decided yet.”
Max gave her a completely unimpressed look. “That so.” She didn’t say anything. He stepped back and shrugged. “You know what you’re going to name her.”
Before she could respond, he glanced toward Furiosa again, nodded, and ducked into the driver’s seat of his car. The Dag and the other Wives stepped back as Furiosa signaled the crew manning the drawbridge to send it down.
The Dag watched Max alight on the desert floor and drive off, and thought about names, and felt afraid.
The Dag was sitting on her cot, sorting through a bowl full of seeds to find the ones she thought were the best for planting next season, when Cheedo walked in, gave her a look that was nervous but also determined, put her hands on her hips, and said, “Dag, could you come sit with us in the pool? We want to talk to you about something.”
The Dag blinked at her in surprise for a few seconds, her heart starting to sink into her stomach.
“It’s nothing bad,” Cheedo said, a bit of her old fearfulness showing in the way she was wringing her hands. “I promise.”
“Oh, ah, okay,” the Dag said. She set the bowl aside, peeked into the crib to make sure that her little girl was still sleeping soundly, and followed Cheedo into the main room of the vault. Toast and Capable had already set up a little blanket nest in the bottom of the empty pool and were obviously waiting for them. The Dag felt even worse about whatever this was.
The Dag and Cheedo settled themselves across from them, and Cheedo took the Dag’s hands in hers.
“We wanted to talk to you about the little girl’s name,” Cheedo said carefully. The Dag felt like she went stiff all over.
“It’s not…” the Dag started, but she didn’t really have any follow-up.
Cheedo glanced at Toast and Capable, then turned back to the Dag. Apparently she’d been elected spokesperson for this. “Dag, we aren’t trying to criticize you. We just want to know why you haven’t named her yet. We just want to see what’s on your mind.”
“I… I don’t know,” the Dag said helplessly.
“We thought… We thought maybe there was a name you had in mind?” Cheedo asked, hesitation turning the statement into a question.
The Dag, without really realizing that was what she was about to do, burst into tears.
“Oh!” Cheedo exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air and wringing them in alarm. “No, sweetheart, we didn’t mean to upset you, we just wanted to talk!”
“We didn’t mean it like that, what happened?” Toast said, moving to sit next to her. Cheedo cuddled in on her other side, pulling the Dag’s head onto her shoulder, and Capable sprawled herself across her legs.
With the three of them close to her, holding on to her, the Dag was able to calm her sobs enough to get words out. “Angharad. It’s Angharad. That’s what I wanted to name her, but, and I, I can’t think of any other name that would work. I want her to be named Angharad.”
“Of course you do,” Cheedo said, kissing the top of the Dag’s head.
“That’s what we thought you’d want,” Capable said, sounding unsure. “So what’s wrong?”
“I didn’t…” The Dag stopped and swallowed against a fresh flood of tears. “I didn’t want you to feel like I was trying to take her from you. Or, or, or say that she was only mine. Or…” This was the worst thing, the Dag thought. “Or lay some kind of claim on her. Like she belongs to me. She doesn’t belong to anyone.”
“Oh, honey,” Cheedo said, tightening her grip.
“You couldn’t take her from us,” Capable said. “We would never feel that way. Even if we didn’t love your little girl.”
“Which, to be clear, we do,” Toast said. “So, so much.”
Cheedo’s gentle hand tilted the Dag’s face up to meet her eyes. “Look, Dag,” she said, “it’s not ownership. It’s honor. We’d all love to see your little girl carry her name. She would have been, too.”
The Dag could do nothing but nod, so tearfully happy and relieved that she buried her face in Cheedo’s hair as her shoulders shook and her sisters held her and she eventually started to laugh as well as cry at how afraid she’d been for nothing.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you, thank you, I love you.”
And then, after a little while, her little girl, her daughter, her Angharad, woke up and started to cry. The Dag extricated herself from the pile of Wives and made her way back to her room. She picked up her daughter and held her to her chest and, four months after she’d held her for the first time, called her by name.
When the Dag had first met Angharad, she had hated her. Hated and feared. The Dag had understood that her life now depended on how well she could please an unpredictable monster, and had seen the other Wives as threats.
And Angharad, after all, had been the favorite. She had been the one who had been pregnant before, and even though she had miscarried, it was proof that she was able to serve her purpose, that she might one day be pregnant again. She had been the one everyone called “Splendid.” And she had been so beautiful, even with her scars. Her scars somehow just made her seem more perfect. The Dag had been suspicious of her, angry at her, slinking around trying to avoid talking to any of the other Wives, especially Angharad.
The Dag sometimes thought that hatred and fear toward someone who understood her suffering, someone who could have comforted her and taken comfort from her, was the cruelest thing Joe had done to her.
The Dag must have been thoroughly unpleasant company in those early days. But Angharad had never given up, had approached her carefully, over and over again, and slowly but surely worn down her walls and found a way to reach her. Angharad had brought the Wives together and kept them together, patiently (and occasionally sternly) forging them into a family to be loyal to. The Dag had finally allowed herself to dream, again, that she could have something more than simple survival.
Angharad was gone, which wasn’t right. But the Dag and Cheedo and Toast and Capable and Furiosa and Max and everyone else were free, and that was right. The Dag wasn’t sure what to think or how to feel about it, sometimes.
“Little Angharad,” the Dag whispered, and reached across the gap between the bed and the crib to slide her fingers through the slats and touch her daughter’s tiny hand. Little Angharad didn’t stir, but her eyelids fluttered against her perfect face. Against the Dag’s back, Cheedo shifted slightly in her sleep.
Earlier that night, Cheedo had told the Dag how nervous she’d been, asking her about Angharad’s name. She’d been worried the Dag would be angry at her. Cheedo had said, shyly, that the Dag mattered to her, in a special way.
The Dag had been inspired by the courage it must have taken to say that, so she’d conquered her own fear and asked if Cheedo wanted to sleep next to her.
And Cheedo had said yes. Now the Dag lay with her back against Cheedo’s chest, and Cheedo’s arms around her, and Cheedo’s breath against her hair and the back of her neck. And she could look at her little girl and watch her sleep. It was perfect.
“You’re safe in the Green Place,” the Dag told the sleeping Angharad. “And you have many mothers to look after you. And you are just as splendid as your Auntie. She would have loved you. Just like I love you.”
The Dag snuggled back against Cheedo, closed her eyes, and fell back to sleep smiling.