"I wish I was a seahorse."
Since the physician had suggested that she might want to refrain from flying for a few months, Taya had been prone to the odd non sequitur, but despite experience Cristof could never resist taking the bait.
"And why might that be?"
"The female seahorse just lays some eggs - some kind of egg packet thing, anyway - and then the male seahorse is the one who has to carry them about for months."
She prodded her growing belly disconsolately.
"And when did you become an expert on exotic marine life?" asked Cristof, with a hint of mirth.
"Jinian told me about them when I was complaining," admitted Taya. "It really would be a lot more convenient. After all, half your job is to not move around very much…"
"I would like to remind you whose idea this whole enterprise was. I believe someone was very keen on the whole idea."
"I believe someone else wasn't too keen on the alternatives."
"I am quite relieved to finally have you not constantly risking both your life and the life you're carrying in the air, yes."
Taya rolled her eyes. Surely they weren't going to have that argument again?
"Maybe you should find me something interesting to look into before I go crazy sorting the mail."
"I thought we were going to have a refreshing period of boredom as a little contrast?" Cristof picked up a piece of paper from his desk and looked at it irritably. "You could always straighten out my order book…"
"Oh, would you look at the time," Taya feigned. "It's a long walk to the eyrie and the mail isn't going to sort itself!"
The eyrie did not, in fact, have Taya on mail sorting duty after all. They had a considerable rebuilding effort to be helping out with, complicated by constant rescue work from the inevitable accidents when one is attempting to reconstruct and shore up an entire mountain top of unstable rubble and occasional surprises from buried ondinium suddenly becoming liberated.
So her day was partially spent poring over maps and advising on optimum flight routes and loading of icari for transport across the more treacherous areas which were still cut off from the ground, and partially spent recounting her adventures once again as 'training' (but primarily morale boosting) for other restless icari grounded by their injuries.
At least she wasn't bored, although her envy wasn't helped by Cassi casually dropping by in her armature, looking slightly soot stained and weary but full of news about daring rescues and gratitude for vital supply drops.
"I did not think this through," complained Taya, rolling up yet another map that had been marked up to the point of illegibility.
"You did need a rest, after all you went through outside there." Cassi locked her wings and stretched out sore arms as she looked over Taya's workspace.
"Sure, carrying a bowling ball that kicks around in my torso is definitely restful."
"A change is as good as a rest?"
"Said only by people who can't afford to rest and are desperately trying to kid themselves."
"Well, you should be used to carrying valuable cargo by now."
"I guess at least this one's well padded. And not particularly flammable. Talking of - I haven't been banned from spicy food yet, and Jinian has promised me more hilarious restaurant criticism this evening…"
"I've got a prior appointment with a nice hot shower to get some of these aches out," replied Cassi regretfully. "Maybe you'll still be at it once the mountain has finished making everything a constant emergency?"
In the end it was just her and Jinian for dinner; while she'd offered to make the arrangements for a private room and less exciting food, Cristof still wasn't greatly enticed by the notion of Cabisi cuisine, and appreciated the time to tinker. Especially the time to hide away and tinker on the secret project he wouldn't let Taya in to see.
The next day, it was Pyke who dropped by on his rest break to regale her with tales of the forbidden skies, although to his credit he realised fairly swiftly that this was a sore topic, and asked after Cristof's latest endeavours instead.
"He won't let me in to see what he's working on at the moment," Taya complained. "I'd understand if it was some kind of Council secret, but he keeps saying it will spoil the surprise. You'd think he'd know I'm not keen on surprises…"
"So," said Pyke, "you know… there's a lot of falling debris still coming off the wreckage where it gets loose from the ondinium that bore it up into the sky… all over Primus. If some of that happened to fall, you know, quite near to his workshop, someone would have to inspect the area for damage…"
Normally, Taya would try to talk Pyke out of this kind of plan, but the prospect of weeks and weeks sat in the map room wondering what was going on was taking its toll.
"I guess," she reluctantly agreed, "but if you see anything actually secret, I'll deny all knowledge of this conversation, yes?"
It was several days later when Pyke arrived back at her workplace to make his report.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I couldn't get a good look at what it was, but I did see one thing you should know about - your sister was there! She hurried out the back door when she spotted me, so obviously she wasn't meant to let on that she was visiting."
It was a long way down to Tertius without wings, and all the way she was sure that Cristof would have kittens if he knew what she was doing - between the memory of their Tertius mugging, and the polluted air, never mind that she was going behind his back to find out what he was up to.
Katerin was pleased to see her - although censorious for exactly the same reasons that Cristof would have been - and let her hold her latest niece while she was provided with tea.
"Oh, yes, I did visit Cristof the other day," her sister admitted. "He did say that your family was his family, and it's nice to be able to have a peek around in Primus, you know?"
"Mm-hmm," replied Taya skeptically. "And it was clearly just a friendly social visit, and nothing to do with his secret project?"
Katerin laughed. "There's no fooling you, is there? Yes, I'm helping him with his project. Yes, it's for you. Will you take my word for it that you're going to like it, and not make me ruin the surprise?"
Tomas had already called Gregor to convey her back up to Primus by the time she had finished tea and catching up on family gossip, despite her protestations that being jounced around in a carriage was clearly not good for the baby and that she needed the exercise.
It only took several days of casually mentioning the project and her sister at every opportunity to realise once again that dropping hints was entirely lost on her husband, and if she really wanted to know what he was up to, she'd have to sneak into his workshop herself.
Unfortunately Cristof was rather more aware of security requirements than many of the dangerous enemies that she had previously outwitted. Instead of keeping a physical key which could easily be stolen by someone close to him, his private workshop had a clockwork device which responded to a memorised set of actions - and of course he would always shield his movements with his other hand while operating it.
There was nothing as insecure as windows in the section she was attempting to spy on, either - and if she couldn't safely fly, adventures such as 'attempting to climb up through the coal chute' were definitely not on the list.
Eventually she figured there was only one thing for it - she'd have to tailgate him in. Arranging for a day off work without his knowledge, she enlisted the servants to temporarily move a full coat rail into close proximity of the workshop door to provide herself with a hiding place.
She had not really counted on his immediate reaction to someone rushing him from behind, being a dazing blow to the head and a pin against the nearest wall.
"No!" he exclaimed, springing back with similar alacrity to his attack. "Oh no, Taya, say that I didn't hurt you? Say something!"
"Uhh," Taya managed, cradling her somewhat rattled skull. "I thought there wasn't anything sensitive in here," she got out, weakly, attempting to make light of it.
"Come on," he urged, "we've got to get you out to a physician at once. I.. I don't know whether to be more sorry or more angry."
"It's not your fault," Taya reassured him, wincing. "It was a stupid idea and I should have known better." She took her hands from her head and ran them down her sides. "I don't think anything's seriously wrong, I'm just going to have the worst headache."
"Why were you following me?" Cristof asked, confused and upset. "You know I have to be careful, even here…"
"I just wanted to see what your secret project was," Taya admitted. "I've really had enough surprises, for at least the next year."
"Oh, Taya," and the ghost of a smile crept back in, "you really will like it. But I suppose I should stop trying to hide it, if these are the lengths you'll go to - I suppose Pyke's 'damage inspection' was another attempt?"
Taya nodded, then regretted doing that immediately.
"We are absolutely going straight from here to the physician," Cristof insisted, suddenly serious again. "But for now, come in and take a look."
It was distinctly unclear what the ungainly device on the table was for, at a glance. It had quite a bit of tubing, some attachments for liquid vessels, a long box with attachments to prop it up on a chair, some kind of pumping setup…
"I was thinking," he explained, "about how we could get you back to work as soon as possible after you've given birth, and one of the things your sister mentioned was how awkward it was to be attached to the baby constantly because they needed to feed, and how there were ways of expressing milk and then storing it in the ice house but they were uncomfortable and didn't work very well. So I thought I could make some improvements."
Taya was speechless, and not only because she was still slightly stunned from the reverse ambush.
"I hope you like it?" prompted Cristof.
"I can't believe you thought of this," she stuttered. "I think that might be… very sweet of you."