Mahn blinked rapidly, and his mouth gaped. “What did you say?” he asked.
“I… I… uh… I…”
“Don’t know what to say?” Tolkuva supplied.
“Yeah…” Mahn still gaped. “How do you know?”
“There are ways. But those with the seeing gifts are keen on these revelations.”
“A few weeks ago, as I was going back to the west—not long after we decided to not see each other again because of what happened that night. But it would seem this happened.”
Mahn still stood. He closed his mouth and rubbed the back of his neck.
“Sit down,” Tolkuva suggested. “It might keep you from falling over.”
“I came back here to tell you.”
“I know… I just…” Mahn sat down on the sofa next to Tolkuva. “It’s a little much to take in, that’s all.”
“I get it,” she said. “You weren’t expecting this. But neither was I when I found out.”
“Give me a moment…”
The two sat on the sofa for the better part of ten minutes. Mahn looked up and down at the ceiling and rubbed his neck. He tried speaking a few times but never got more than a grunt out before returning to staring at the floor again. He licked his lips and started nodding as he stared at the floor. He turned to Tolkuva and stared her in the eyes.
“This changes everything…”
“I know,” she said. “What we do, the dynamics we have with the order, our relationships to our families, and our relationship to one another.”
Mahn nodded again. “I know… I just…”
“So many questions…”
“I know…” They broke eye contact for a while before Tolkuva turned to him again and smiled. “We’ll be parents to a girl.”
“A girl…” Mahn trailed off and sat up. “How do you know?”
“A perk of seeing gifts,” she said. “Achara knew she was going to have boys before they came.”
“Incredible… Anything else you can tell me?”
“Not really, other than that. I do not know if she will look like you, me, or perhaps a throwback to your parents or mine. We get to find out together.”
“Still taking it all in?”
“Yes…” He turned and gazed out the windows in the room to the bright blue sky beyond. “It’s going to take a while.”
“You don’t have to have it all figured out right now. But whatever we do, we do it together from now on.”
Mahn closed his eyes and sighed. “I just…”
“You know, after that night all those years ago, on the eve of the battle against the Inquisitors…”
“I guess I got used to that resolution, even though it seemed so raw.”
“That we wouldn’t be together?”
“Yeah…” He paused. “But now, as fate would have it, things didn’t turn out that way. My Dad said I should live life with rejection rather than with regret, and I am glad I did. I don’t regret what I said that night, even now. I could have handled it better.”
Tolkuva reached out and took his hand. “Mahn, this isn’t that. You know deep down, what we share is deeper than what most people will experience in a lifetime. The way we fused together in that room that day you took out the Inquisitor at Pohdurohn is something I don’t comprehend. But knowing you that way made it impossible for me to ever have anyone other than you. I don’t approach this lightly.”
“I understand…” Mahn swallowed hard. “I guess it was the sense of obligation to the order….”
“I don’t know what it will look like. Camon had wisdom about him when he advised against attachments, but there has always been the attachment with you. I don’t know how Camon did it.”
“Maybe he didn’t?” Mahn said.
“He was so stoic and never talked about it much. Do you think there might have been something beyond the platonic relationship with Thirak?”
“I don’t know, but does it matter?”
Tolkuva sat back on the couch and stared at some of the art on the walls for a moment. She then reached to her side, removed her sword, and laid it on the table. Mahn did the same, and they both stared at the blades for a long time.
“Have you thought of a name yet?” Mahn asked.
“I have. But I wanted to see if you had any ideas.”
“Nothing comes to mind… What was yours?”
“Tanan… I like that.”
They both stared at the swords for a moment. “You know, I wondered about the other four blades that we gained. I was thinking of taking on an apprentice at some point.”
“Do you think you were ready for that?”
“I thought I was,” he said. “But… I mean… This changes so much.”
“I’ve considered hanging the sword up altogether,” Tolkuva said.
“You can’t. You made a commitment to the order.”
“But do you not think that a commitment to our child is more important than that?”
“Are they mutually exclusive?”
“I don’t know, Mahn, but the life we have lived for the last ten years — vagabonds wandering the world, going from problem to problem. That life is not conducive to raising a family.”
“I get that, but does that mean it’s the only way to be committed to the cause?”
“Mahn, it’s that way for a reason,” she said. “It’s always been that way.”
“But if we give it up, then….”
“Yes, I know, the end of the Paladins. It’s not like I haven’t thought about that, too.”
“Then the imperative would be to pass it on sooner rather than later.”
“Yeah, I thought about that too, but it would be impossible to raise up anyone in time before the baby comes. It took Camon the better part of five years, and quite honestly, I don’t think he was done.”
“He did enough, I think.”
“Hard to say.”
“Nine months, though, isn’t enough.”
“Maybe there’s a way that doesn’t require gallanting across the Empire?”
“We just don’t know. But if that doesn’t present itself, we may just have to accept it for what it is.”
“I know…” Mahn stood up and paced the room a bit. “What do we tell our parents?”
“That’s easy for me,” Tolkuva said. “My father died in the war, but my mom is still alive back at the camp. Your parents are the more complicated set.”
“Mom has been more forgiving of Dad since the part he played in Poytaxt and the help he provided during the war.”
Tolkuva smiled. “You mean she doesn’t want to kill him anymore?”
“It’s better than that, and you know it!” Mahn smirked.
She winked. “Yeah, I know. She calls him by his name now without using swear words or spitting.”
“Even Dad acknowledges his mistakes.”
“Yeah. But it complicates things for us, too.”
Tolkuva sighed, then folded her hands in her lap. “Because I want to raise our girl in the ways of my people.”
Mahn nodded. “I thought you might say that, but I guess I wasn’t expecting it so soon.”
“I’ve had a lot more time to think about these things than you.”
“Yeah… I just. I mean, here, we have access to the best of everything.”
“I think that’s a matter of perspective,” Tolkuva countered. “But we don’t have to decide right now.”
“We can’t wait forever, either. But you’re right. It changes everything. Where we live, what we do, how we live… these are all questions that we don’t have answered right now.”
“All in due time,” she said.
“Yeah… I guess we can start by telling Dad.”
“He’d be the next logical person, considering he’s here.”
“How do you plan to tell your parents?” Mahn asked.
“I was hoping to return there before I get too pregnant to travel.”
“A journey to the west might take too long. And winter is upon us.”
“Yes, I know. Perhaps a carriage is the way to go.”
“Hadn’t thought of that,” Mahn said
“Like I said… I’ve had a lot more time to think of it.”
Mahn extended his hand to Tolkuva, who took it and stood. “Let’s go tell…”
The two walked out of the room back into the cool hallway beyond. Mahn led Tolkuva through the sprawling estate to the opposite wing they had been on through corridors of fine furnishings, paintings, statues, tapestries, and other décor that made the home seem more like a museum. The two of them came to the end of a long hallway and opened a door, and entered an ample living space.
“Who’s there?” a voice called from the next room.
“Just Tolkuva and I,” Mahn answered.
“Just Tolkuva and…” Rune appeared from the next room, sporting some loose-fitting wool clothes with gray hair coming in at his temples. He noticed the two young people with sly smiles on their faces. “What are you two up to?”
“I guess it’s hard to hide it…” Mahn said.
“Were you trying?” Rune asked.
“Not really,” Tolkuva said. She nudged Mahn.
Mahn smiled but hesitated. “How would you feel about being a grandpa?”
Rune’s face wrinkled. “Huh?”
“I said, how would you feel about being a grandpa?”
“Wait. What?” Rune pointed back and forth to both young people standing before him. “You two?
Rune’s eyes got wide. “No…”
“It’s true,” Tolkuva said.
“But I thought…”
“Things change,” Mahn said.
“I’ll say!” Rune said. “That aside, this is a moment to celebrate!” He went to the cupboard near a table at the back of the room and removed a jar and some crystal glasses. He brought them over, set the glasses on a table, and poured the wine. They each took a glass. Rune raised his glass and offered a toast. “To the life of your child and my grandchild. And to your happiness!” The three raised their glasses and drank the wine. “We’ll have to prepare many things for you for when the baby comes. We will have everything ready.”
“About that…” Mahn said.
“What?” Rune asked.
“We haven’t decided where we will live yet or anything.”
“You wouldn’t consider raising your child out there on the plains?”
“That’s where I was raised,” Tolkuva said.
“But what?” she said. “Is there something wrong with it?”
Tolkuva smiled at him. “Made you squirm!”
“You turkey!” Rune said. He bopped Tolkuva on the head.
“Careful now!” Mahn said. “No harm to her. She’s carrying my daughter and your granddaughter.”
“A girl then…”
Mahat came in through the doors that Tolkuva and Mahn had left open. “I heard laughter coming from down the hall.”
Rune threw up his hands. “Say congratulations to these proud parents!”
“Yes! They will have a daughter in a few months!”
“Well!” Mahat said. “That’s the most exciting news I have heard in a long time. I knew the lady was here for an unexpected visit, but I did not know it was for that. In all seriousness, congratulations to you both. The rest of the staff and I are here at your service! If there is anything we can do to help you, you need only ask!”
“Thank you, Mahat,” Mahn said.
Rune got another glass and poured wine for Mahat, who joined them in their celebration. News of the upcoming birth spread through the manor, and soon the room filled with the house staff. Some brought up cakes and other sweets, and they all partook, laughing and celebrating the couple and their exciting news. Tolkuva answered questions but watched. The reception warmed her, and she glowed. Mahn stood by her as they each congratulated the boy. She reached for the sword at her waist out of habit, but it was not there. She remembered she had left it in her quarters. Instead, she touched her belly as she looked on, thinking about what would become of them and the Paladin order.