Niqi glanced up at Anas, her eyes warm. “I like them. They are really nice.” She had very much enjoyed the visitors, and new clients, that had come to the shop today. To such a degree that she felt compelled to sketch them, and give away the sketch as a thank you for making the morning so pleasant.
“They are,” he agreed. “Maybe we’ll run into them again soon?” He returned to his workstation and sat down.
Niqi rose from the small sofa and walked towards the counter to clean up her sketchbooks. “I do hope so. Maybe even just around the city, since they are staying for a..while…oof..” she murmured, pressing a hand to her round belly. “Someone is really wanting to stretch today.”
Oressia peered over at Ren’dorei. “Are you all right, Miss Niqi?”
Anas stood and moved to her side at once, concerned. “Perhaps you should take the rest of today off, little one.”
Niqi gasped lightly, grasping his hand. “Anas…I think…” she managed before a puddle began to form around her feet.
Anas’s eyes widened. “Call Ælithil,” he said at once, lifting her off her feet. “Oressia, do you know how to help her?”
“I can’t…he’s… at the Council…” Niqi said, breathing slowly.
Oressia waggled her hand. “I’ve seen it done, but never done this myself. Can you get her up to the bed upstairs?” She shut the shop door and turned the sign to closed.
“You need to unless he’s okay with missing the birth of his child.” Anas carried her up the stairs.
Dergaux glanced up as they entered, his illusion flickering into existence within seconds. “What is this?” His brow furrowed at the sight of Niqi in Anas’s arms. “Is she okay?”
“No,” Niqi said softly, calming some. “He doesn’t have his stone with him. I…had one of my moments and broke it…” She breathed in slowly and let it out just as slow.
“Someone else from your House then.” Anas shivered. “Your… Patriarch?” He placed her gently on the bed and brushed her hair out of her face. “She’s going into labour,” he said to Dergaux. “Will you stay with her? I’m going to the cathedral to find a healer.”
“Please…Anas, don’t go…” she pleaded. She reached out for his hand. “Lady Tindomiel and the Patriarch…are…well, they are somewhere in the Shadowlands. Much of the family is searching for them.”
“Is there really no one in your family who can help?” He sighed, taking her hand. “Then it’s all the more reason for me to run and get someone who knows how to assist you with your birth.”
“We were supposed to meet with Sutrakarre and Alsabe this evening over dinner. Æl contacted them to set up how to call when needed. We were supposed to have another month,” she explained. “I don’t know how…how to reach them. Æl usually…” she sighed, her tendrils twisting up tightly.
Oressia placed a hand on Anas’s shoulder. “Why don’t I go? I can run much faster anyway.”
“I don’t know anything about helping a woman give birth,” said Anas. “You know a little, so you need to stay with her. I’ll get someone.”
Dergaux set his tools down and moved closer, watching.
“For now, there’s nothing to be done. We just wait,” Oressia explained. “But if you wish to go, go now. I think she’s going to need you here.”
Niqi closed her eyes and rubbed her belly. “I wasn’t expecting to meet you today, my baby. Be gentle with me, okay?”
Anas nodded. He kissed Niqi’s brow and stood. “I’ll be back in a bit,” he said. Turning around, he hurried down the stairs.
“Come back soon. Please,” she murmured.
Oressia patted her shoulder. “Try and sleep a little if you can. You will need your strength. Do you have any other clothes here?”
Niqi sat up a little. “Over in the cabinet there. I keep a set here just in case.”
“How can I help?” Dergaux asked.
“Do you have some water up here,” Oressia asked. “She should sip some.”
“I don’t. Not here.” He pressed a rune on the crystal, allowing a fel portal to flicker into existence. “I’ll be back shortly. Is there anything else she needs?”
“We will need towels and a basin to wash up in,” she replied, eyeing the portal. “Thank you.”
He nodded and stepped through the portal.
Niqi laid back, trying to relax. Oressia walked to the cabinet and drew out the bag. “We will be needing these later. For now, let’s get your skirt off,” she said gently.
Dergaux returned through the portal with a jug of water and a glass. He set them on the nightstand before disappearing back into the swirling fel.
Niqi unlaced her skirt and pushed it off. “I’m sorry…it’s…a little gross.”
Oressia laughed aloud. “Miss Niqi, I have been a maid for a long time. This is hardly the worst I have seen.” She gathered the soiled garment up and tossed it into the corner. She returned to the bed and pulled the blankets over Niqi. “Rest.”
Dergaux reappeared with a Sin’dorei man whose red hair was streaked with grey. They were carrying a basin between them filled with towels. The newcomer helped him set the basin down before glancing at Niqi silently.
Niqi looked up. “Aris? What are you…oh…gods…” she whimpered, curling in a little.
Oressia rubbed Niqi’s back gently.
Aris’s golden eyes glowed softly as he regarded her awhile longer. Turning to Dergaux he shook his head. “Figures. The Greythorn’s family would be abse-”
Dergaux pressed his finger against Aris’s lips. “She needs our help now, my Sunrise. Get some water from downstairs and fill up the basin. Hurry, we’ll have to leave before Anas returns with the healer.”
Aris pursed his lips but nodded. He descended the stairs, vanishing from sight. Dergaux took the towels out and began to arrange them neatly on the nightstand.
Oressia’s eyes widened. “He looks like…”
“Mehe,” Niqi whispered.
Dergaux finished his task. He tidied his tools away, clearing the space near the bed. “Aris and I will make ourselves scarce so that you’ll have enough space to look after her,” he said. “Is there anything else you’ll need?”
“Not right now, Sir. I thank you.” She poured Niqi a glass of water. “Sip. Just a little at a time.”
Niqi did as instructed and laid back. “Thank you, Dergaux. I’m sorry for disturbing you.”
“Don’t be,” said the Shal’dorei man.
Footsteps heralded Aris’s return. He had a huge bucket in his arms. Stopping by the basin, he carefully poured the water into it.
Oressia inclined her head to him. “My thanks.”
Niqi offered the Sin’dorei a smile. “You are very kind, Aris. Thank you,” she said softly.
Aris set the bucket down and gave both women a curt nod.
Oressia nodded in return. “If there is anything you ever need, do not hesitate to ask. I will be happy to return the help.”
The sound of the shop door creaking open made Dergaux look up. “That’s our cue to go,” he said, taking Aris’s hand. “Be strong, Niqi. Your brother and Oressia will look after you.”
“Thank you,” Niqi murmured once more. “Both of you.”
Dergaux inclined his head before tugging Aris through the portal. It closed behind them, the glowing rune turning dull once more. Footsteps drifted up the steps, Anas’s concerned voice saying words too indistinct to understand.
Niqi gasped aloud, her body curling in again. “Oh gods…”
Oressia sat beside her and rubbed her back. “Deep breath, Miss Niqi. In and out…” she soothed.
“… Do this?” Anas asked as he ascended the stairs.
“I have some experience,” a woman’s voice responded in a lilting accent.
Niqi closed her eyes, her tears stinging them a bit. She took a breath, then another, as the contraction slowed.
Oressia’s sharp ears picked up the voices. “I think Anas is back, Miss Niqi.”
Anas appeared in the doorway. “This way,” he said, stepping to Niqi’s side.
A woman followed in his wake. She was a dwarf, with eyes like bright coals set in her dark face. The tips of her black hair seemed to glow red, like embers of a flame. Not just any dwarf then, but a Dark Iron dwarf.
Niqi leaned back onto the pillows with Oressia’s help. She breathed heavily, nodding. “Thank you,” she whispered. She opened her eyes and peered up at Anas. “You came back…oh…I’m sorry. Do…do I know you,” she asked the woman.
Anas knelt by Niqi’s side, taking her hand. “This is Breyllo. She’s a shaman and a healer. She’ll help you.”
Breyllo nodded with a smile. “How are you feeling?” she asked, moving to the basin to wash her hands.
Niqi squeezed his hand tightly. “It’s very nice to meet you. My name is Niqi. And I’m all right right now, but the contractions…” she said softly. Her tendrils twisted up into her hair.
Oressia picked up a cloth and wet it, wrapping it behind Niqi’s neck.
Breyllo moved to the foot of the bed and folded the blanket back. “I’ll need another towel here,”she said, carefully parting Niqi’s legs.
Oressia nodded and moved to gather one. “Thank you,” Niqi whispered to Anas. She leaned her forehead against the back of his hand.
Breyllo peered between Niqi’s legs. “Hurry with the cloth,” she called. “Looks like this baby’s coming fast.”
Oressia hurried over, holding the towel out to her.
Niqi’s grip on Anas’s hand tightened down hard. She cried out, tears leaking from her eyes. Her stomach tightened, as the contraction hit her in full.
The Kaldorei man grimaced at the pain. He kissed Niqi’s cheek. “I’m here, little one.”
“Breathe, Miss. It’s ok,” Oressia said gently. She took a small cloth and gently patted the sweat from Niqi’s brow.
The ren’dorei’s tendrils curled out and wrapped around Anas’s wrist. “I can’t do this…” she whispered as the contraction relaxed.
“You can,” Anas said. “And you must. Your baby wants to see the world, little one. They will need you so much.”
“Does it feel like you need to push yet, Miss? Because if it does, it won’t be long. You can hold your baby very soon,” Oressia offered gently.
“You don’t have to actually do it, do you,” Niqi snapped at the woman.
Anas squeezed Niqi’s hand gently.
Breyllo nodded. “You’ll want to push when you feel it. Don’t force it otherwise, you’ll only tire yourself out.”
Oressia held the cup out for Niqi to sip. “You really can do it, Miss Niqi. And after it’s done, you will be so proud of yourself. This will all be a foggy memory.”
Niqi sipped and sighed. “I’m sorry, Oressia. I didn’t mean to…”
Oressia waved it off. “I’ve heard much worse come from mothers during this. Not to worry.”
Niqi’s face contorted as another one arrived. “The baby…trying to…” She bore down, screaming as the burning sensation started. The top of the baby’s head pushed outward, blue hair streaking it.
“That’s it, I can see the head!” Breyllo braced herself against Niqi. “When the next one comes, push!”
Niqi gasped for air, tears streaming down from the corners of her eyes. “I can’t…I can’t…” she whispered.
The bell on the door downstairs jingled. Thumping footsteps could be heard below. “Is everyone all right in here,” came the muffled call.
“We’re closed!” Anas called back. “There’s an emergency here!”
“You must,” Breyllo said. “Now push!”
“I’ll go down,” Oressia said gently. “Yelling There’s an emergency may draw him up here.” She rose and hurried down the steps. Her voice could be heard, muffled, followed by that of a man. The door closed shortly after.
Niqi whimpered and took a deep breath. As the next contraction started, she pushed as hard as she could, half crying, half growling through it. Her efforts succeeded in clearing the baby’s head fully. She fell back onto the pillows, panting.
“That’s it,” Breyllo encouraged. “Not very far to go now.”
“Wait…there’s more,” Niqi yelped incredulously. Her tendrils slipped from Anas’s wrist and flopped down onto the bed.
Oressia climbed the stairs and rejoined them. “A passing guard mistook Miss Niqi’s cry for someone in need of help.” She explained.
“A bit more,” Breyllo said. “The head is out. We just need to get the shoulders out as well.”
Anas nodded distractedly at Oressia. “Okay. Come and help Niqi.”
“Slow breaths, Miss Niqi. Long slow breaths. If you push through the whole next contraction, your baby will be out. You are so close now,” Oressia encouraged. She handed a damp cloth over to Anas before settling beside the ren’dorei.
Niqi closed her eyes and took a couple of ragged, slow breaths. Looking over, she realized she was squeezing Anas’s hand so firmly his fingers were darkening. “Anas…I’m sorry,” she gasped, releasing his hand.
“It’s okay. I’m here for you, little one.” He wiped the sweat from her forehead.
“Here, try this,” Oressia suggested. She lifted Niqi up a bit and climbed in behind her. Placing her arms on either side of the woman, she held her hands up. “Grab my hands and pull back as you push down. Pull as hard as you need. You won’t hurt me.”
Niqi took the Gilnean’s hands carefully. She managed one more breath before gasping in pain. Bearing down, she yanked Oressia’s hands backwards only to find the woman was pushing against the motion to provide her resistance. “You can do it, Miss Niqi. Keep going,” Oressia said kindly. She glanced at Anas to spur him to chime in as well.
“You’re almost there, little one.” Anas squeezed her shoulder gently. “Just a bit more.”
“Out!” Niqi growled. She pushed from her very soul and the baby’s shoulders freed themselves. The rest quickly followed, slipping out into the hands of the dwarven healer. “Oh Light…is it done?”
“The hard part is, Miss. The rest is easy and your body can do it mostly on its own,” Oressia reassured her.
Breyllo wrapped the baby up in towels. “It’s a girl,” she said, smiling.
“A girl,” Niqi asked, her curiosity starting to overtake the pain for dominance. She looked down at the dwarf. “Is she all right? Does she look ok?”
“She looks beautiful,” said Breyllo.
Oressia gathered the baby from Breyllo. She raised her up to Niqi’s chest. The tiny baby wriggled and thrashed around, crying loudly.
“Oh, oh, it’s ok. You’re safe. I’m here,” Niqi whispered.
Anas chuckled. “She’s got a good pair of lungs,” he said.
“She does at that. Let’s help her eat, Miss.” Oressia loosened Niqi’s blouse. “Just put her face near your nipple. She’ll figure out the rest.”
Niqi pushed the blouse aside and moved the baby in place. It didn’t take long for the newborn to latch on and start eating. “Oh…” she whispered.
“What is it?” Anas peered at Niqi worriedly. “Does it hurt?”
Niqi shook her head. “It’s strange…and wonderful,” she answered, tears rolling down from the corners of her eyes. She gasped slightly as a contraction hit her. “Wait…I thought I was done…”
Breyllo shook her head. “Just a little more to go,” she said.
Niqi sat partway up, clinging her daughter to her chest as the placenta slipped free. Falling back, she panted, fresh droplets of sweat sparkling on her forehead.
“There. You’re all done now.”Breyllo cleaned the blood up.
“Thank you,” Niqi whispered tiredly.
Oressia pulled the damp cloth from behind Niqi’s neck and quickly wiped Niqi’s brow. “I can clean up the mess, Miss Breyllo. As long as Miss Niqi is all right, that’s all that matters.”
“She’s fine now.” Breyllo placed the bloody cloths in the basin. “It was a quick delivery. She just needs to rest.”
“Oressia, will you…please get my coin purse,” Niqi murmured. The young woman nodded and rose to head downstairs.
Breyllo nodded at Anas and Niqi. “Be sure she stays hydrated. I’ll take my leave now.”
Oressia headed down the stairs quickly to gather payment.
“Thank you for your help,” Niqi said, inclining her head. She started to sit up and rise to say farewell appropriately.
“Just stay put,” Breyllo said, chuckling. “Since you just had a whole person pushed out of you, we can forgo the decorum.”
“Thank you for helping,” Anas said. He rose to his feet and bowed. “Truly.”
Niqi shook her head. “That’s not…proper,” she mumbled, getting herself to a seated position.
Oressia returned, coin purse in hand. “What do you normally charge for your services, Miss?”
“Three gold will do.” She shook her head at Niqi. “Don’t let her get up,” she said to Anas. “She’s lost quite a bit of fluids.”
“Did you hear that, little one?” Anas placed a hand on Niqi’s shoulder, gently pushing her back onto the bed.
The Gilnean fished out the coins and held them out to Breyllo.
Niqi relaxed back onto the pillows. “All right.”
Breyllo accepted them with a nod. “Thank you kindly. I’ll be going now.”
“I’ll show you out,” Oressia offered, gesturing to the stairs.
Breyllo nodded again and headed to the stairs.
Anas sighed. “I’ll help clean up,” he said.
“Anas? What’s wrong, my brother?” Niqi reached for his hand.
Oressia followed behind the shaman, smiling.
“I’m okay.” He squeezed her hand gently. “Just focus on your baby for now.” He picked up a clean damp cloth and began to carefully wipe the baby clean.
“Thank you. For getting help,” Niqi offered gently.
“You’re welcome.” He sighed. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help though.”
“Anas…” Niqi placed a hand over his, stopping his cleaning for a moment. “You took care of me. You made sure I had what I needed. That’s the most important part.”
He offered her a smile. “I should be doing more for you, little one.” He blinked suddenly. “Yes. I need to contact your family. Tell me, is there anyone at all I can get word to?”
“Would you ask Oressia to go see if the Council session is done? They are meeting near the embassy building. If they are, if she could find Æl, that would be so nice,” Niqi said gently. “I’ve no way to call anyone.” She trailed off and blinked. “I…think she just peed on me…”
Anas blinked. “Oh.” He wiped her chest. “I… should I take the baby off?””
Niqi nodded. “Would you like to hold her a moment?”
Oressia stepped back into the room. Over her arm she bore thick pieces of wool and others of soft linen. “I hope you don’t mind me cutting some of your supply, but you didn’t seem to have any diapers in the bag.”
Anas chuckled weakly. “We weren’t expecting her to arrive so suddenly.” He placed his hands around the baby’s midriff and lifted her carefully off of Niqi. “Uh… how do I hold her?” he asked, peering uncertainly at the infant.
Oressia moved to him. “May I,” she asked, reaching for his arm.
He turned, holding the baby out to her.
Oressia took her. “Like so,” she said, demonstrating how to create a cradled position on her arm. “So you are supporting her head and neck well. It also leaves your other hand free.” She nodded to him, indicating he should try.
He nodded, carefully holding the baby the way she had indicated.
“Very good,” Oressia complimented. “Let’s get mom cleaned up and then we can bathe a little lady, hmm?”
Niqi nodded, smiling over at Anas. “You realize that’s your niece, right?”
“My… niece?” Anas peered at the tiny face, seeming more than a little lost.
“She’s going to adore her uncles,” she murmured. “You are going to mean so much to her.”
“I… yes, of course.” He glanced at Niqi nervously. “How will we get you cleaned up, little one? Or the baby, for that matter.”
“I’ll change out the water and I can clean up Miss Niqi with sponges and then we can wash the baby in that as well.” Oressia pushed the water basin to the window. Checking to be certain no one was below, she tipped it up, sending the water cascading down to the pave stones.
Anas peered at Niqi. “How are you feeling?”
“Very sore,” she admitted. She offered him a sweet smile. “Why don’t you send Mehe a message? You look like you might need your mate right now.” Her eyes drifted closed a little.
Oressia set the basin back beside the bed and picked up a bucket. “I’ll be right back.”
“Right.” Anas sat beside Niqi and fumbled around in his pocket for the transference stone. “I should… write him a note…”
“Breathe, big brother,” she said gently. She reached out for her daughter. “Let me take her.”
Anas held the infant out to her gratefully.
Niqi took her and snuggled her in close. She studied each little finger and toe, smiling happily.
Oressia returned with a pail of steaming water. She dumped it into the basin and left again, bucket in hand.
“What are you thinking of calling her?” Anas asked. Some of his trepidation seemed to ebb slightly as he watched Niqi with the baby.
Niqi smiled tenderly. “I’ll have to make sure Æl likes it, but…Alassë is my choice.” She drew the baby’s fingers to her lips, kissing them gently. “Because that’s what you are, my little one.”
Anas smiled. “Joy. A fitting name.” He took a deep breath, then another before looking around for a scrap of paper. “I’ll write Mehe a note.”
“Anas…over on Dergaux’s workstation. He keeps a sheaf of paper for notes,” she reminded him gently.
Oressia came back in with another bucketful and dumped it into the basin. “Shall we clean up you up properly, Miss?”
Niqi nodded her permission.
Oressia smiled tenderly. “We’ll cut the cord in just a bit. There’s no hurry. I need to find something to bind it first.” She pulled the blanket away and started very gently cleaning Niqi’s legs. Once she had gotten a majority of it, she placed a clean towel beneath her and finished up. Lifting the larger of the pieces of cloth she had brought up, she worked to create a heavy undergarment from it and wrapped it about the Ren’dorei.
Anas stepped over to Dergaux’s workstation and scribbled a note. He placed it on the stone and watched as it vanished.
Oressia stood and moved to Niqi’s bag. Drawing out a skirt, she shook it to rid it of some of the wrinkles. Opening the side lacing, she started to work it up towards Niqi’s waist.
Niqi stroked the baby’s hair. “I thought it would be white,” she whispered.
“It’s a very pretty shade of blue,” he said, turning to look at her and the baby.
Niqi smiled. “It’s like mine…”
Oressia turned to Anas. “Do you have a good sharp knife around? And some heavy thread?”
“Yes, in the back,” he said.
The woman nodded and hurried down the stairs to the back room.
“Anas? Big brother, will you sit?” Niqi asked gently.
“Oh. Yes.” Anas sat beside her.
Niqi peered over at him. “How can I help,” she asked him, her voice soft. Genuine concern creased her brow.
Anas shook his head jerkily. “I’ll be okay.” He took a deep breath before exhaling slowly before letting out a short, nervous laugh. “I’ve been in actual battles to heal people, but I’ve never been like this. I’m not sure why.”
“Is it because you didn’t know how to delivery a baby? Or because…” she asked gently. “Because it was sudden…and me.”
Oressia ascended again with a knife in one hand, a spool of heavy thread in the other. She moved to the bed and set the knife down a moment. Unspooling a bit of thread, she cut it and began tying a tight knot around the baby’s cord.
“I think it was a bit of both,” Anas admitted. He watched Oressia working. “That… doesn’t hurt the baby?”
“It probably does a little. But we can’t leave it all attached. We have to cut the cord. She’ll have a cute little belly button once it dries and falls away,” Oressia explained. She tied a second piece of thread a couple finger widths fifth along the cord, then lifted the knife and carefully cut it. She set the whole mess aside and cleaned her hands. “There we are. Now we can give this pretty girl a bath.”
Niqi smiled at the woman. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” Oressia replied before lifting the baby. She removed the towel and carefully lowered the pale purple form into the basin of water.
The door to the shop below opened followed by footsteps. “Are you upstairs?” Mehe’s voice called from the staircase.
“We’re here, my love,” Anas responded, relief evident in his voice.
“Go on,” Niqi whispered to him. “Go to him.”
Anas stood and ran to Mehe as he reached the top step. He scooped the Ren’dorei up into his arms and hugged him tightly.
Mehe blinked before gently rubbing Anas’s back. “It’s okay, dear one. I’m here,” he murmured soothingly. His tendrils reached out, curling around the Kaldorei man’s arms.
The tiny baby peered up at Oressia as she was lowered into the water. She grunted a little, yawning wide. The Gilnean gently cleaned the newborn, scrubbing out her hair and washing everything undesirable away. She hummed softly as she worked, smiling as Niqi sat up a little to watch.
“Where’s the baby?” Mehe asked gently.
“Oressia’s bathing her,” Anas murmured. The nervousness in his demeanour ebbed slowly as Mehe continued to rub his back.
The Ren’dorei man peered over Anas’s shoulder, trying to glimpse the newborn. “Is she okay? Is Niqi okay?”
Oressia finished and moved the baby over to a soft towel, which she laid across Niqi’s lap. “Here, dry her off a bit. Just dab the water off gently. Don’t rub, her skin isn’t used to it,” she instructed. She stepped aside and started folding the other piece of cloth into a makeshift diaper.
Niqi very cautiously dried the infant off. “There. Is that better?” She stroked the baby’s cheek with the side of her finger.
“They’re both fine,” Anas nuzzled into Mehe’s hair before lowering him to the floor.
Mehe smiled as he glimpsed the baby. “She looks adorable.” Taking Anas’s hand, he led the Kaldorei man back to the bedside. “How are you, little bird?” he asked gently, peering at Niqi’s face.
“Mehe,” she murmured. “I’m happy. And so tired,” she said with a chuckle. She reached out for his hand.
Oressia slipped the cloth beneath the baby and then wrapped it around, securing it with a pin.
“Oressia, can you go to the field near the embassy? See if the Council meeting is over? Æl is there,” Niqi asked softly. She yawned, quickly stifling it in her arm.
The woman curtsied quickly and stepped out of the room.
Mehe took her hand, squeezing it gently. He peered at the baby, smiling. “And who do we have here?” he murmured.
“Well, if Æl agrees to the name, this is Alassë,” Niqi said gently. “She’s your niece.” The Ren’dorei woman looked up at Anas. “Both of you.”
“Hello there, little Alassë.” Mehe chuckled. “She has your eyes.”
Niqi blushed a little, her tendrils curling slightly. “You think so?”
Mehe nodded. “May I hold her?”
Niqi nodded, smiling. “You know how?”
“Can you show me?” he asked.
Niqi lifted her daughter into her arm, cradling her carefully in the crook of her elbow. “Keep her head and neck safe. That’s the most important thing,” she said gently. She moved her arms over for Mehe to take over.
Mehe accepted the baby carefully. “Hello there, little one,” he murmured, smiling down at the infant.
The baby looked up at him and yawned.
He laughed. “She’s sleepy. Go to sleep then, little Alassë.”
Niqi nodded. “A lot happening so far for her today.” She reached a hand out to Anas. “Are you all right, big brother?”
Anas nodded. “I think so.” He took her hand and sat beside her on the bed.
“How can I help,”. She asked gently. She squeezed his hand and smiled sweetly at him.
He smiled. “Seeing you safe is a real relief,” he said, kissing the top of her head.
“Anas, I was never in danger. I just had a baby,” she chuckled.
“Right.” He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.
“And you helped me through,” she said gratefully.
“It was the least I could do.” He smiled at her.
The baby’s eyes closed, her little body relaxing in Mehe’s arms.
“It really meant so much to me, that you were here,” she murmured. Niqi reached for her cup, wincing a little.
Anas picked it up and handed it to her. “I didn’t really do much.”
She sipped her water, shaking her head. “Better than a room full of strangers. Having someone who really cares about me, loves me, right here? It made it much better for me,” she said gently.
Anas smiled. “Then I’m glad,” he said softly.
Mehe moved closer. “She’s asleep,” he whispered.
Niqi reached out for her, taking her back into her arms. She wrapped the towel around her snuggly. “I think she knows she’s safe with you,” she whispered.
Mehe smiled. “I’m glad then.”
“She wouldn’t be here, if not for the two of you. You helped me stay safe when my family couldn’t. She’s going to know she can trust you both. With anything,” Niqi said gently. She curled her legs upward a little. “Can you help me sit up a bit?”
Anas moved in, carefully sitting Niqi up. He set the pillows behind her. “Is that better?”
She smiled. “Yes. Thank you.” Reaching down, she pushed the blanket into the hollow she’d created in her legs and nestled the sleeping baby into it.
Mehe placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m glad you’re both okay.”
Niqi sighed contentedly before starting to giggle. “I don’t have any clothes for her here,” she commented.
“She arrived without much warning,” Mehe said, chuckling.
“I’ll make her something,” Anas promised. “A little dress?”
“As many as you want,” Niqi laughed. “She will be the best dressed newborn in the city.”
Anas smiled. “I’ll do my best.”
Mehe sat beside Niqi. “Where are the rest of your family?”
Niqi sighed, her smile vanishing. “Forosuul and Tindomiel went to help with whatever was going on in the Shadowlands. They’ve disappeared. Æl’s parents went to search for them and rarely return. Borænin and Sellynna were called to help, as were Frankie and Lædra. And Æl has been tasked with sitting in the Council meetings in Forosuul’s place. Gil and Silannah live in Stormsong Valley with their son, and sometimes come to the Fortress…” she murmured. “Things are such a mess, I don’t even know which end is up lately. Æl had a dinner set up for tonight to plan for what to do when the baby came… She decided not to let us do that, it seems.”
Mehe squeezed her hand sympathetically. “I’m sorry. But at least Anas was here to keep you company.” He smiled at the Kaldorei man, who blushed.
“I really didn’t do anything,” Anas mumbled.
“I couldn’t have done it without him,” she repeated. “Though, truth be told, I think I scared my big brother today.”
Mehe chuckled. “I’m glad he was here with you,” he murmured, smiling gently at Anas. His tendril reached out to brush gently against the Kaldorei man’s cheek.
Niqi smiled, watching them both. Her eyes started to slide closed when the door to the shop opened downstairs. Soft voices could be heard approaching the stairs.
Anas glanced up, his ears twitching. “I should go see,” he murmured, rising.
“All right,” Niqi replied, giving his hand a squeeze before releasing it.
Anas descended the stairs. “I’m sorry, we’re closed,” he said.
Oressia chuckled. “I already flipped the sign. I brought Miss Niqi’s husband.”
Ælithil stood there, staring expectantly at the tailor. “If you don’t mind?”
“Oh!” Anas beckoned. “Come on. She’s upstairs.”
Niqi squeezed Mehe’s hand. “I feel terrible for having this happen here. Anas was…Mehe, I really scared him I think.”
The pale Kaldorei nodded and moved quickly to the steps. “Is she all right? The baby?”
“They’re both fine. Your daughter is beautiful.” Anas stepped along behind him.
“A girl…” Æl whispered.
Anas nodded. “Go on. Niqi’s waiting for you.”
Mehe glanced up as Æl ascended the stairs. He squeezed Niqi’s hand gently before standing up and moving back.
“Æl. She’s here,” Niqi said, her eyes dancing with joy.
Æl moved to the bed and sat down beside Niqi. He reached a trembling hand towards their daughter, his breath catching. “She’s so small,” he whispered. He laced his fingers with his wife’s. “Look what you did…”
“Small and beautiful,” Mehe murmured.
The night elf looked up at Mehe and nodded. “Thank you. For looking after her…them…this,” he stammered. “I’d like to take them both home now.”
Anas nodded. “Will you need help?” he asked.
“No. Thank you.” He nuzzled Niqi a moment. “Can you hold her, Tiny?” He retrieved a carved stone from his bag.
Niqi very gingerly lifted the baby into her arms. “Thank you, everyone. For all your help. I’ll be back soon,” she promised.
“Take care, little one.” Anas smiled at her as he stepped to Mehe’s side. The Ren’dorei man nodded encouragingly at her.
“I love you both,” she murmured. Leaning down, she kissed the baby tenderly.
Æl swept the blanket away and lifted his family into his arms. He traced the rune in the center of the stone with his thumb and it began to glow. Moments later, the trio vanished from sight.
“Well. I suppose it’s time for me to clean up then,” Oressia said with a heart chuckle.
Anas let out the breath he had not realized he was holding. “Yes. I suppose it is.”
“I’ll help,” Mehe offered. He moved to the bed and began to tug the sheets off.
“Oh no, you don’t have to do that. That’s what you pay me for. Why don’t you help Anas relax a little?” She nodded towards the taller man. “Don’t think he knew which end was up today,” she whispered to Mehe.
Mehe chuckled. “Okay then. Come on, dear one. I’ll make you a cup of tea.” He took Anas’s hand and led him back downstairs.
Oressia began stripping the bed and tossing everything into one large pile, humming as she worked.