Billy and Kevin Yuma rode into the village tired, starving, and half-frozen. They had been lost for weeks, looking for Napa Valley without so much as a compass between them.
Phil had told them he was staying and Jeremy and Archer were too intimidated by the oldest youth to leave with them. The brothers had left without anything but their what was in their saddlebags and their horses. Phil had refused to let them take any of the food.
They rode wearily into the middle of the village, ready to weep in relief. A tall woman walked up to them, asking who they were. They mumbled their names and asked to see Cierra. Just then a woman cried out in pain in the building next to them. Male eyes widened but the riders were too tired to jump.
The tall blonde winced. “I don’t think she’ll be taking visitors for a while.” Robbie saw confused looks on the boys’ faces. “She’s having her baby,” she explained. “Maybe I can help?”
Before the young men could answer she urged them off their horses. She motioned one of the local kids to her. The boy ran up to her eagerly. She handed him the saddlebags. “Take these to the guest quarters, please.” She called another pair to her. “Can the two of you take care of the horses? Thanks guys.”
Robbie invited the boys in for a meal and to warm up. They followed her without argument, too tired and cold to care. She sat them down at a table near the fireplace while she fetched bowls of soup and large slices of bread. The later disappeared fast but their hands were shaking so badly they couldn’t use the spoons. Finally the oldest brother picked up his bowl and sipped it.
Robbie’s spouse saw their arrival and made sure tubs were available for the young men. By the looks of them they were half-frozen and filthy. They would sleep better clean. Once Tracy was satisfied the tubs were free she headed for the hospital. If Cierra’s delivery wasn’t too complicated then one of the physicians would probably want to examine the newcomers.
Tracy opened the door to the community building and joined her spouse at the table. Robbie gave her a small hug, knowing what Tracy had probably already done. The women were more than able to pass information without speaking. Tracy’s nod said she kept care of things before arriving. Robbie’s lack of introductions meant that the boys hadn’t’ spoken yet.
The taller of the youths glanced up from his bowl as the women sat close to one another but said nothing, his face unexpressive.
The door opened once more but the blonde knew who it was. She could see that silly yarn ball that was on top of Jenny’s knit hat in the shadow. The teens finished their meal and Robbie leaned forward. “So, what’s the story? I’m Robbie by the way. This is my partner, Tracy. And the woman who just came in is Jenny. She’s one of the council members so she needs to ask you some questions too.”
The smaller blonde pulled off her mittens and nodded to the brothers.
Billy, the eldest, spoke up. “I’m Billy Yuma and this is my kid brother, Kevin. We’re from the Bay Otter Clan.” He paused and glanced at the women before continuing. “Some of us left. I guess we were bored and wanted out.” He shrugged and shoved his hands into his coat pockets.
“Found out its no picnic on your own in the wilderness, I bet,” Jenny commented.
“Yeah. We found that out quick enough but none of us wanted to go back to living in a fishing village. We decided to dig for gold so we’d have some money and then have the Shaman take us back to the Old World.”
Robbie grunted. “Find any?”
Billy shook his head slowly, the disappointment clear. “No. Not enough to bother with.” His thoughts went back to their experiences for the last few months.
Jenny brought them back to the here and now. “Where are the others?”
“Back up in the mountains,” the younger brother answered. “We didn’t want to hang around there anymore and headed here.”
Robbie knew there was something they weren’t revealing. She probed more. “What made you decide to hang it up?”
The boys shrugged and Robbie saw them get uncomfortable. They must have done something they didn’t want to confess to. She decided to force their hand. “The Sky Dancer Clan is out that way. Maybe I should have a rider go out there and speak with them.”
Billy looked at Robbie’s determined face and knew they hadn’t fooled her at all.
“We were getting pretty hungry and couldn’t find any gold. We found their camp and asked for some food and a place to sleep. They let us stay for a while then asked us to leave.” He peeked into the women’s faces to gauge their reactions so far. “We looked around, you know, trying to find out where they dug for gold. We found a spot but we didn’t have anything to live off of.”
Robbie saw that Billy was reluctant to confess but saw the guilt anyway. “You broke into their camp and stole food.” She didn’t ask but stated it.
The boys nodded. “A couple of times. One night I was sneaking down to their camp and a bullet came whizzing by me. I had enough. Me and Kevin headed here the next day.”
“And the other ones?”
“Phil, Archer, and Jeremy. They didn’t want to leave. I have no idea where they are now.” She saw the truth in his eyes and that they pretty much had the whole story. Cierra would deal with them later. She nodded and offered to show them to the guest quarters in the long house across the stream.
Jenny watched the teen boys that were led away then spoke to Tracy. “Let’s have a couple of people ride out to the Sky Dancer Clan’s winter grounds.”
“How about Carey and McDaniels? Both of them are good riders and could eat up the distance fast.” The two women often paired up as hunting partners and were good friends.
“Sounds good. See if they are willing to go but not to leave until early tomorrow. The sun will be setting in a few hours anyway.”
“Will do.” Tracy headed for the women’s barracks to find the pair.
JP grimaced in pain each time Cierra strained to push the baby out. Her spouse had a death grip on her hand and the tall woman was unable ease it away.
“That’s it Cierra, just a little more,” Pat said calmly. For a first pregnancy the mother to be was having an easy time of it. “A few more pushes and it’ll be over.”
The shaman let out a growl as the push pain ended and fell back against the birthing chair. “Why do doctors always say that?” Cierra glared at Pat. “It’s not over for at least fifteen years, doctor. Then there’s the grandkids.”
Pat chuckled while waiting for the next push pain to begin. She watched JP from the corner of her eye as the tall woman tried to withdraw her hand. Cierra used her other hand to grab her lover’s wrist and then glared at her.
“If I gotta be here then so do you, daddy.”
Sandra piped in, “Never argue with a woman in labor, Foley.”
“I’m not trying to argue, I just want to save my hand from being mangled.”
Cierra was immediately contrite. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.” She released JP’s hand with a kiss to the knuckles.
“It’s okay, love, the circulation will return someday,” she teased.
Cierra hissed as another pain wracked her body and JP was grateful her hand had been freed. She placed one arm around Cierra’s shoulders and whispered endearments and comforting words into her ear.
Pat asked Carla to bring the birthing blanket and instrument table closer. It wouldn’t be long now. “Keep pushing, Cierra, the head is almost out.”
Cierra’s face was bright red from the strain and JP mentally willed her wife to take a breath before she passed out. “I noticed Kota disappeared before the baby was born. He was probably afraid you’d make him come in here.”
Cierra puffed out a quick laugh then sucked in another deep breath to push.
“The shoulders are almost out, just a little more. JP, if you want to catch this tyke you had better get over here.”
JP dropped a kiss on her lover’s head then rushed into position. Carla quickly dropped a couple of rubber gloves onto her hands.
Pat moved JP’s hands into position and began giving her instructions. “Just hold the head gently and ease her out slowly. Don’t be surprised if the baby seems to be trying to get back inside. They tend to yo-yo a little.” Pat watched JP carefully and decided she’d make a good baby doctor, the survivalist had the hands for it.
Pat grabbed the soft birthing blanket and held it under JP’s hands. “Just a little more…got her!”
JP was surprised how quickly the baby slipped out once she hit the halfway mark. The infant was messy but JP didn’t care, she had their little girl in her hands. Carla reached for the infant and promised to give her back once Kiona was cleaned up. JP grinned and returned to Cierra’s side.
“We did it!” she whispered excitedly. She watched as Pat went through the needed procedures that followed childbirth, holding her spouse’s hand once more.
“Positively a girl?” the shaman asked.
“Yup, too bad she’s bald though,” she teased.
“No hair?” Cierra asked in disappointment.
“Nada. But nobody will notice since she’s wearing an eye patch and has a hook instead of a hand.”
Carla brought the baby over just as Cierra was giving JP a smack on the arm. The shaman held out her arms as the bundled baby held out to her.
“She does too have hair! You fibber. See, she has a tuft right here,” she said, fingering a small length of hair gently.
“Okay, so she isn’t completely bald, but I guess we’ll have to keep her anyway.”
“If you don’t want her, I’ll take her. She’s a cutie,” Carla teased.
“Nope, sorry. No exchanges or refunds allowed. At least she’ll have lots of friends to play with when she grows up. The girls outnumber the boys so far.”
“Two boys, five girls,” Carla said even though they all knew it. “Are you going to send word to Kota about the baby?”
“No, he said to just leave him a letter at the Rendezvous,” JP told her. She turned to remind Cierra about something when she saw her lover yawn. She could barely keep her eyes open.
“Why don’t we put you into bed and let you nap? I’ll watch the baby until we go home.”
“Sounds good. I’m really tired.”
JP watched Cierra’s eyes droop. The shaman wasn’t even aware of being put to bed.
The snug home was softly aglow when they returned. Someone had stoked the fire and lit several candles. Baby gifts were neatly piled on a table against the wall and someone had even fed Elu. The dog greeted them happily and sniffed at the baby.
JP noticed a covered tray on their nightstand and found a warmed dinner tray. The cooks had prepared items that would be good either warm or room temperature but the food was still warm. They ate a little while watching the baby sleep. Cierra had gotten a lesson on breast-feeding and allowed to return home. She was still tired so JP suggested she go ahead and sleep.
“It’s not quite dark out,” Cierra protested, trying to fight off sleeping just yet.
“So? You had a long day. Get some sleep. I can take care of Kiona for now. If she gets hungry I’ll wake you. Besides, I think if I don’t take her for a stroll and show her off people will show up early tomorrow.”
Cierra chuckled. She knew JP was correct. Every time a baby was born the parents were deluged with visitors. “Okay, go show her off but come back soon. I want to cuddle with my own personal hot-water bottle.”
JP grinned at the old joke and gave Cierra a kiss goodnight. She knew her spouse would be asleep even before she finished putting on her jacket.
JP bundled the baby inside a blanket and walked the hundred feet to the Community building. Quite a few people were still having dinner and spotted her. People rushed over to see the baby, pleased at an early viewing. No one expected to see the newest arrival until the next day.
As what was now a custom, the baby was passed around while she slept, cooing over the child for a while and passing her along. JP spotted Pam and Eva with their child and joined them at their table.
“I see you finally got your baby back. I thought they were gonna keep her cuz she’s so cute,” JP teased.
“I was wondering myself for a while but she made her way back to us,” Pam grinned. She and Eva had delivered little Mel three days ago. “Did Cierra crash?”
“Yep, out like a light. At least until the baby gets hungry. I figure we won’t get a lot of sleep for a while.”
Eva shifted the baby to the other shoulder like a pro. “Me and Pam each get a job at night. She does the feeding and I do the cleanup.”
“Sounds fair. We have the cradle Brenda gave us next to the bed. At least we won’t have to go far.”
“Yeah, no baby monitors here. Oh, we have a couple of new arrivals, brothers from the B.O.C. Jenny and Robbie will probably fill you in,” Eva told her.
JP spotted Jenny and excused herself. She got a brief history on the boys and agreed that sending Carey and Maggie McDaniels was a good idea. She also suggested sending some lightweight supplies along in case the boys did too much stealing. If they needed more they could send a wagon later.
Just thinking about her friends leaving at sunrise made her sleepy. JP tracked down her child and managed to convince them to give her back. She bid everyone a good night and headed home.
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