Rhessi’s breath came in short huffs as she trudged her way up the mountain trail. This altitude was nothing short of brutal. She needed to stop and rest every so often, and that wasn’t anything she had to worry about when she was ten years younger.
“Essi?” the sleepy voice emerged from the fur cocoon on her back. Rhessi reached around and made certain the improvised cloth carrier was holding up snug. The child was nestled in tight, piggy back style, with swaths of cloth cuddling her close to Rhessi’s back. All seemed well.
“Ohhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmm” Rhessi’s voice rumbled deep in her chest as she walked. The vibration and the rhythm helped to soothe the calf even in the cold night air. It took some time, as all things do, before Rhessi was sure she was asleep.
The trek back from the funeral to the forward camp could have been undertaken all together. Everyone who wasn’t on watch had come to Thunder Totem, after all, in a single group. But where it felt completely natural to need each other’s fellowship and support before the ceremony, everyone also seemed to instinctively need time alone afterwards, to do whatever private ritual needed doing.
As she splashed across a rivulet that coursed across her path, Rhessi considered what she would say to Khorris.
“Well, dear, he didn’t seem much like he wanted to be a father, so I…”
That wouldn’t do,
“He didn’t want her! What else could I have done?”
But that would be a lie.
Rhessi took a deep breath as she pushed herself over a slide of rocks and skirted a muddy sinkhole. She would simply tell the truth as she knew how to do it.
She had a little life to look after. A teeny sack of sleeping skin and bone that she’d only had a day or two to try and feed up. A sweet little girl who curled up, knobby knees and all, into Rhessi when they slept in the forward camp. One who screamed with racking sobs at night. Every night.
“What do I promise you, little squirrel? What do I promise you…” Rhessi and Taun'le picked their way through the tall reeds and a slid down a rocky slope in the path.
“I promise to do my best to make your body and mind well again.”
Leap over a stream and a long, dusty path ahead.
“I promise to help you become who you are meant to be.”
Uphill now, and some brambles to push aside.
“I promise to never give up on you, even when my hope fades.”
Almost there. Warm fire and food ahead for both of them.
“I promise to mother you as well as I am able.”
They crested the rise and saw the camp ahead. Well, Rhessi did. Tuan’le was fast asleep with a smile on her face.