They called me Dragon Slayer. The villagers, the men whom I fought beside in the war, they all called me Dragon Slayer. It was a title of respect to some, and disgrace to others.
My mother only called me her whore of a daughter.
The day we returned to the village her greeting was a slap across my face. I didn’t feel it. I was too strong for that. But Connor felt it for me. I could see it in his eyes when he looked at me.
Somewhere in my heart I accepted his silent condolence, appreciated it, but on the outside I acknowledged nothing.
He wanted me to come with him, and when I wouldn’t, he wanted to stay.
I sent him away.
Passions born of fear on a field of battle soon fade, and he would have left eventually anyway. The war was over. There were no more dragons to slay.
It was almost bearable, coming home. It was my duty after all. For a while the work kept me busy and content. Father had died years ago, and in my absence there was no one to keep up with repairs of the tired little hut by the river. I mended the door, patched the roof, did all of the things father would have done. Days when mother bit her tongue, and did not remind me that I should have been born a son, and was not fit to be a daughter. There were days when she was pleasant, almost thankful to have me back.
Then I started to show.
I no longer went to the village to purchase supplies, or trade produce. It was only postponing the inevitable. A growing belly could be hidden, a child could not.
To my surprise, mother was quiet and complacent. She did not rage at me like she had so often before. Our meals were shared in silence, but it was a heavy silence that hung from the rafters and settled in the dark places of the hut. That cold mud and stone hut with its shuttered windows and molding straw roof. I don’t know how I had ever thought of it as a home. I remember warm nights in a soldier’s tent beneath a starry sky that felt more like home.
It was a snowy spring night when my labor started. My strength had been tested in the face of battle, in the realm of men where I was not accepted, in the disapproving looks of those of my village, and in the look of my mother’s face when I returned home. I had thought myself strong until the pains continued to come stronger through what felt like an endless night.
How I wished I had not sent Connor away. How I wished I had gone with him. Perhaps he would have stayed, like he promised. I had never given him the chance. The hut felt lonely and colder than usual.
Mother looked on in disdain. My cries of pain did not move her, nor did she offer comfort.
My exhaustion was complete when the baby finally came down, but no matter how hard I pushed, it would not emerge.
She came to me slowly. The impassive look on her face never wavering. With ungentle hands she worked the baby’s head free, and soon saw it fully born.
The rush of relief was euphoric. I lay back, trying to catch my breath, and wondered if it was a boy or girl. Thoughts of Connor filled my mind again. I had been wrong to not tell him, and I would correct that mistake as soon as I could travel.
“What is it?” My words were breathless, but happy. For the first time in a long time they were happy.
A long silence made me worry. Perhaps the baby was sickly, the cry had been weak.
“It’s a girl. Another like you.” Mother’s voice was cold. There was venom there, like the poison of a long festering wound finally working its way to the top. “When you again venture into the village you will tell them you have been ill.”
She moved away from me, her steps towards the door.
“Mother, what are you doing?”
“You will not disgrace me any further. I will cast the proof of your unworthiness into the river.”
“You will speak not a word of this to anyone! Never will you dare!”
“Don’t open the door, mother! You cannot do this!”
She was almost to the door, that last portal, that last chance. But it wasn’t my last chance. It was hers.
Sunlight flooded the darkness of the hut, poured around the breached door.
“Mother!” My legs felt weak beneath me as I got to my feet, but new purpose washed through me. She stopped in the open door, and I reached for the one strength that had never failed me.
Even as I advanced on her, with my sword raised, she looked as though she didn’t believe I would dare to challenge her.
“I should kill you. I want to kill you.” The hilt felt heavy in my trembling hand as I envisioned the blade striking her head. My stomach seized with revulsion and fury.
She was shaking. The set of her jaw, and the look in her eyes, were pure hate, but there was fear there too.
“Disgrace that you are, it doesn’t surprise me. Kill your mother, then. Prove me right.”
My fist clenched, and so did my chest. “No.” The word rasped from my throat, and the sword fell from my hands. I reached for the crying bundle in her arms. “I’m not as weak as you are, mother. I’m still capable of love.” I pulled the baby close, as the tears ran down my face. Then I looked to the scornful woman before me. “Even for you.”
T. A. Markitan writes in Wyoming.