Labor of Love: A BookQW Excerpt

I’ve been participating in #bookqw (Book Quote Wednesday) for a while now on Twitter. It’s a fun promotion wherein authors post a snippet from their work containing a key word chosen by author Jenna Barwin. Today’s word, DRY, allows me to highlight one of my favorite chapters from A Wizard’s Sacrifice, which will be released October 6, 2020, and I’ve decided to post the entire chapter here. If you like what you read, I hope you’ll pick up a copy—the eBook is available for preorder now.

Labor of Love

Ragged screams battered Vic’s ears; sweat and blood stabbed her nose. And fear. The air reeked of it, sharp and raw. She tasted its foul dry flavor, and it bled from her lungs into her bones. She’d fought some losing battles, but none like this.

“Shrine’s bitch, this is hard,” Silla panted.

“You’ll make it,” Vic said. It was an order, crisp and cold, delivered in the same tone she used with worn-out troopers shrinking from combat. She hoisted Silla’s arm over her shoulder, ignoring the ache in her own back. Her army comrade slumped against her, exhausted after hours of battle. “You’ll live through this,” Vic promised, a commander’s vow to a beleaguered soldier.

“You’re almost there.” Maynon mopped Silla’s forehead. His fear more than anyone’s tainted the room, and tears raced the sweat trickling through his beard. All those times they’d hunkered in hollows or charged a line of foes, Vic had never seen Maynon scared, but now a prayer bubbled from his lips.

“No Shrine-jumping prayers, Maynon, or I’ll—” A shriek drowned out the rest of Silla’s warning.

“There’s the foot,” the midwife cried. “Husband, get down here.”

Silla squeezed her eyes shut and mewled. Wild-eyed, Maynon stared between her and the midwife crouched beside the birthing chair.

“She’s nearly done with her duty, now get down here and do yours,” the midwife commanded.

“I’ve got her,” Vic said. Maynon hesitated another moment, then knelt beside the midwife, his hands cupped and trembling under the chair. “Sisters in arms, Silla. Just like old times.” Her cheek pressed against the laboring woman’s, Vic tasted the salt of her sweat, smelled the iron of her blood. Elesendar, please see her safely through this, she prayed. She didn’t believe in the Lathan god—or any god—but on the battlefield or the laboring room, it couldn’t hurt to call out to a deity, or fate, or pure dumb luck. Not her too, please no. Silla’s muscles tensed, then rippled downward, a scream pouring out as the midwife tugged the breached baby into Maynon’s hands.

The afterbirth smacked the floor, and Maynon hallooed over the infant’s cries. “It’s a girl!”

Blood splattered and Silla’s head lolled back, her weight sinking into Vic. The midwife cursed and grabbed her legs. “Get her on the bed.”

Maynon lurched up with the screaming baby, the placenta dangling. “Take care of your daughter,” Vic ordered, lifting Silla by the shoulders and hoisting her to the bed. Blood crept through the sheets. At the midwife’s order, Vic fetched towels and water and sutures, held a lantern while the healer sewed. Silla’s skin paled, her breathing eased, then died to a whisper. At the foot of the bed, Maynon sobbed and clutched the bundled infant. Clasping Silla’s hand over her own pounding heart, Vic felt the stuttering echo of her friend’s. Elesendar, please see her safely through this. She imagined traveling through Silla’s veins, down to the place where her life drained out. The midwife whipped sutures through torn flesh, blood weeping over her fingers. Vic’s skin tingled, and in her mind she saw damaged vessels pinching closed. Gasping sharply, the healer glanced up. Silla’s chest rose and fell. With a puzzled frown, the woman finished the stitches and slathered the wound with slotaen, Knownearth’s most prized healing ointment.

“She’ll need regular salving for at least a week to heal and for the pain.” Packing her things, the midwife cast a dubious look round the narrow room with its cold stove and ice-laced windowpanes. “And buy some coal, for Elesendar’s sake.”

Maynon nodded, lips curved downward. Vic tugged Silla’s limp body onto clean sheets. “Thank you, Healer. If you can bring us the slotaen, I’ll cover the cost.”

The woman’s demeanor softened, and she put down her bag to help Vic change the linens. “I am grateful for your service, all of you. War heroes . . . sometimes I wish the guild rules weren’t so strict on payment.”

Vic shrugged. “Everybody’s got to eat.”

* * *

The coal pail banged Vic’s shins on the way up the tenement stairs, rattled as she pushed into the tiny attic room.

“Thank you,” her former second said. Propped against the headboard, Maynon cradled Silla and the baby as they slept.

Vic flashed a smile as she dumped the coal in the stone brazier. “I’ll stay over the next few nights, until she’s better.”

“Vic,” he said aloud. Eyes intent on her face, he kissed Silla’s forehead. “Thank you. You did . . . something.”

Vic lit the tinder, watched it flare blue and yellow while the screams of Relman children echoed in her mind. Her throat constricting, she retreated to the bureau where her friends kept their liquor. Pouring two glasses, she handed Maynon a drink and sat on the bed. “How did you know?”

He took a sip and grimaced. Harlolinde was as hard as the truth when you drank it straight. “Gossip’s all over town. Every trooper, active or discharged, knows it wasn’t sulfa that brought that mountain down.”

Tears spilled, the first she’d shed all day. How many people had died because of the bad bargain that had made her a wizard? How many Sillas would she have to save to pay that butcher’s bill? If she even could save them—she wasn’t sure how she’d stopped the bleeding, if she had. “Imagine if I’d had that power when we were slitting Relman throats.”

“Woulda made my job easier,” he guffawed, then scrubbed a sleeve over his cheeks. “Shrine’s bitch, I can’t stop bawling.”

Wiping a damp chin, Vic huffed a laugh. “I’ll keep your secret if you keep mine.”

“Which secret?” He grinned. “That the Blade’s an outlaw wizard, or that she turned to mush when she held my kid?”

A corner of Vic’s mouth tilted up. “I haven’t held her yet.”

He patted the swaddled infant. “Her mother won’t mind.”

Heart skipping, Vic scooped up the bundle. A visceral longing punched her gut as the baby yawned and mouthed the blankets. Her skin was brown, her head covered with downy black. A few months ago, before she’d destroyed any chance of a future with Ashel, Vic had imagined her children would bear the same traits. Swallowing bitter regret, she handed Maynon his daughter. “There. I’m mush.”

“You could have one of these.”

“Ashel’s gone.”

“You went halfway round the world to bring him home. He’s only the other side of Latha now. Maybe you should go there, make a new home.” A wry grin tugged Maynon’s lips sideways. “Wizardry’s not outlawed in Semeneminieu.”

“Who names their country something no one can pronounce?” she grumbled and sipped the harlolinde, letting it scald away grief.

“Listen, I know you were steeped to the eyeballs in shit since the king took it in the throat, but today you gave life instead of death. Seems to me that’s your path forward, and though I can’t see why you pine for that singing dandy, I’ll grant he might be your best guide through the woods.”

“Shrine, husband, I pine for that singing dandy too,” Silla teased sleepily. “And you two started drinking without me.”

The baby hiccupped into a squall. Maynon helped get her settled and nursing while Vic fetched a cup of watered wine for Silla. “What’re you naming her?” she asked.

The couple exchanged grins. “Victory.”

Like what you read? Find out what happens before and after:

Get a copy of A Wizard’s Forge

Get a copy of A Wizard’s Sacrifice

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