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A Father's Love [Solo, Complete]

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
Post DAI Timeline
((15 Drakonis, 9:10))

“She can’t be dead,” the burly warrior said again, his rough features twisted into an expression that was half puzzled, half pleading. “She can’t be.”

Kaia watched him sympathetically – but cautiously. The disbelief was going to wear off soon, giving way to grief and anger. She’d known Valdon since his birth, but he’d left their farming community for the life of a mercenary more than five years ago, and everything about him, from the sword at his side to the scar on his right cheek, spoke of a familiarity with violence. “I’m sorry, Valdon,” she said softly, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. “We did all that we could, but the bleeding just wouldn’t stop.”

He shook her hand off the way a horse shudders away from a fly, coming to his feet with his fists clenched. “But she can’t be!” he shouted. Kaia drew back warily, but the fight left him as quickly as it had come; his massive shoulders sagged and his head dropped. “I just finished officer’s training,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper. “I’m a lieutenant now, with a lieutenant’s pay, private quarters and everything. She was going to come back to headquarters with me, have the baby there – the Blackstones even have a healer there.” Anguished eyes turned to her. “I was going to take care of her.”

“I know, Valdon, but the baby came early, and such a hard delivery, there was nothing we could do – nor you, if you’d been here.” That hadn’t come out right. She didn’t want the young man to think that she blamed him for not being there when his wife gave birth. Although there were those in the village that had plenty to say about him running off with a mercenary company and leaving his young wife to manage their tiny farm, Kaia wasn’t one of them. She knew that the sacks of coin that Valdon had brought with him each time he came home on leave represented almost all his pay, and that pay – together with their little garden, the chickens and the milking goats – had allowed Merienne to live more comfortably than most. Valdon, however, appeared to have heard only one word that she had said.

“Baby,” he said softly, then spun to face her, his expression both urgent and hesitant, afraid to ask and yet needing to know. “The baby – did it – I mean – was it –”

Kaia smiled. “The baby’s fine, Valdon. Come and meet your daughter.”

The baby lay in the wooden cradle left over from Kaia’s own children, her green eyes wide and just beginning to focus on the world around her. Valdon seemed almost afraid when the midwife lifted the infant from the cradle and held her out to him, but once he had settled her awkwardly in the crook of one muscular arm, he forgot his apprehension and stared down at the tiny creature in wonder. Merienne’s eyes stared back at him in a tiny, fair-skinned face topped with a thick mop of black hair.

“She favors Merienne strongly,” Kaia said, echoing his unspoken thoughts. “She’s a good child. Hardly ever cries, but she watches everything that goes on around her.”

Valdon nodded absently, lost in thought as a tiny hand curled around the finger that he placed within it. “Thank you for taking care of her, Kaia,” he said finally, looking up at the midwife with eyes bright with unshed tears.

“You don’t need to thank me,” Kaia said warmly. “I delivered you and Merienne both, all those years ago. I could do no less than care for your child. Just bad luck that we’d no women in the village able to wet nurse right now, but she’s done well enough on goat’s milk, and old Nan is producing more than enough to feed her. There is a young couple,” she began cautiously, “who have expressed an interest in caring for her. You remember Klellan and Dian? Dian has miscarried four times now, and they’ve almost given up having one of their own. She’d be well cared for by them, and loved.”

Valdon jerked his head up to look at her in surprise, then shook his head so violently that the baby uttered a startled cry of protest. The big warrior immediately turned his attention to soothing his daughter, but when he again lifted his gaze to meet Kaia’s, his face was set in resolve.

“I appreciate their offer, Kaia, but I’ll be taking her back with me.”

Kaia stared at him in shock. “Valdon – you can’t – a mercenary camp is no place for an infant! And you’ve no idea how to care for a baby!”

“Her place is with me,” Valdon replied with quiet firmness, “just as my place is with her. I’ve two more weeks before my leave time is up; you can show me how to care for her. If you would do that for me, I would sign the farm over to you and Lans.”

“The farm?” Kaia shook her head. “Valdon, I couldn’t accept that. It’s small, but it would still fetch a good price for you. I can’t take so much for doing so little.”

“You kept my daughter alive, Kaia,” Valdon said fiercely. “She’s all I have left of Meri, and you kept her alive for me. You waited for me to return and didn’t just give her away. The company pays more than enough for both of us to live on. I don’t need the farm, but Meri told me last time I was here how badly Lans’ joints were hurting him. You take the farm and sell it; it won’t make you rich, but it’ll take some of the burden off you both. I’ve no one else to leave it to, not after Meri and I both lost our families in the war.”

His face was earnest, and in that moment he resembled again the young boy she had known. She nodded slowly. “All right,” she said. “I’ll teach you what you need to know. You’ll need to take Nan with you when you go, but send her back once you find a wet nurse. Infants do better on her milk than any other goat I’ve had.”

Valdon smiled. “Agreed, and thank you, Kaia.” He looked down at his daughter again and frowned. “Does she – did Meri give her a name before she –”

“That she did,” the midwife assured him. “She named her Vandilenne. She said that the two of you had talked of the name Vandon for a boy, after your father, but you hadn’t talked of any girls’ names.”

“Vandilenne,” Valdon said thoughtfully, gently touching a soft cheek. “I’ll call her Vandi for short.”

“Vandi it is, then,” Kaia agreed, noting that the infant had turned her head to nuzzle her father’s fingers. “Come on, then Valdon; it’s time for your first lesson."