Back | Next



The Kartik was no longer tortured by Amalite raiders. Their shores were mostly quiet, and occasional problems were easily and swiftly dealt with. In this time those who had sacrificed and fought reaped what they had sown and enjoyed their lives and their loves. They built homes, had children, and told stories of the time of the Great War.

But children grow too quickly and peace never lasts.

* * *

Jabone watched his mothers play, scuffling in the dirt. They moved a little slower than they had when he was a boy, but not much else about them had changed. His birth father tapped him on the shoulder and he jumped.

Arvon laughed at his son and sat down on the rock beside him. "So . . . just what were you thinking that I was able to sneak up on you? Your madra would be so very disappointed."

Jabone smiled at his fadra. "Then we won't tell her."

Arvon ruffed Jabone's long, dark hair making a mess of it. "All right if you'll tell me what you were thinking that put a crease in your brow."

"It was nothing really."

"Then you shouldn't mind telling me."

Jabone sighed. "Jena was supposed to be the mother of my birth, and when she was trying to conceive my father Dustan tried to impregnate her." He stopped there.

"Because they thought I might be the problem," Arvon said, then prompted, "Go on."

"So if things had gone differently Dustan would have been my fadra and Jena would have been my madra. I was thinking how different I would have been if they had been my birth parents instead of you and Tarius. I would be blond like you and light skinned. I wouldn't be the Katabull . . ."

"Are you unhappy with yourself, son?" Arvon was confused. "Or are you just not happy with Tarius and me as birth parents?"

"No, no." Jabone patted his fadre's back. "I am happy with all my parents, all of them. In fact I was just thinking that as different as I would have been in features and in cast that my personality would have been no different at all. I've had four parents to care for me, love me, nurture me, to train me and mold me into the person I am . . . "

He faded out then and Arvon knew what was troubling his son. He shook his head and smiled because as much as it upset his son it really was funny. With all the trouble Arvon had, in his youth and in his life in his homeland, it was hard not to be amused. "Jabone . . . You really must stop worrying about it. It isn't a deficiency nor is it the horrible burden you think it is"

"Fadra, you don't understand. How could you? How can I not worry about it?" he asked in a troubled tone. "My children will grow up like my poor friends Tarius and Ufalla, with only one father and only one mother. I have seen how the different-sexed couples react to one another. There isn't the same companionship between Tarius's parents as there is with you and my father and certainly none of the different couplings I have ever seen share what my mothers do. I mean look at them . . ." He pointed to the two women still wrestling and laughing as they rolled around in the dirt. "They have been together for over twenty years yet they are as much in love as they were on the day they met . . ."

"As are Harris and Elise," Arvon reminded.

"It's not the same, fadre. You know it's not the same. There is a certain equality that is just missing in different couplings," he said, obviously very worried so Arvon squashed his own amusement.

"And you were just thinking that perhaps if you had been Jena and Dustan's birth son instead of mine and Tarius's you might have been queer because they are so much less masculine than us," Arvon said, peeling away the layers. Jabone had in that moment the same look he'd had on his face the morning that they had caught him playing with his madra's sword.

"I'm sorry, Fadra." He looked at his feet ashamed.

Arvon laughed and hugged his son. "My son . . . You are no disappointment to anyone, and you shouldn't be to yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. You are a very normal, healthy man. You will find a young woman who you share equality with, you will fall in love, and your children won't grow up wanting. You worry too much." He smiled then. "You are so like your madra I sometimes wonder if she didn't have you on her own with no one's help. You worry so much. And if you hold onto the idea that love must be like what Tarius and Jena have, then you will never find it. What they have is something no one I have known has and it isn't because they are queer."

"Fadra . . . What was wrong with my mother, why couldn't she have me?"

Arvon wasn't surprised by the boy's question in fact he'd been expecting it for some time now. The question stirred up bad memories in his mind that darkened his features. His change in demeanor wasn't lost on his very intuitive son.

"What's wrong? What happened?"

"You have heard the story of how your madra fooled the whole of the Jethrik, won a war for them, how their king repaid her by shooting her through with an arrow, how Harris saved her, and how Jena came here to be with her?"

"Of course, Fadra, I have heard nothing but stories of the battles and the wars all my life."

"But there are other things, private family things, that are not told in those stories. Deep hurts and things too personal to be shared in stories told around a camp fire. Things that only a few of us even know, and don't wish to repeat. We haven't told you because quite frankly it hurts too much to recall, but I think maybe it's time you heard the whole story. You shouldn't hear it from me though, because it's not my story to tell." Arvon looked at the two scuffling women and frowned. "And you shouldn't ask your madra because Tarius will not tell you. She couldn't. The thought of it hurts her more than any physical wound she has ever been inflicted with. You must ask Jena. Ask your mother; she will tell you."

"I don't want to dredge up unhappy memories for anyone, least of all my gentle mother," he said.

"Then you'll never know because it isn't my place to tell you and I know that Tarius will not. You don't give your mother enough credit. I sometimes think Jena is the strongest person I know. I think you have a right to know. I think maybe you need to know why Tarius is your birth mother and not Jena. Maybe that will explain for you just why they are so close. They have been through hell to be together. That and not the fact that they are queer is what makes them different from other couples, any other couples that you will ever know."

* * *

Jabone watched as his mother walked up from the lake wearing a colorful wrap-around dress and running a comb through her long, blond wet hair. It had been days since he had spoken to his fadra. He really didn't want to approach his mother and ask her to talk of something that had caused her much pain, but his curiosity was getting the better of him, and just as his fadra had told him when Jabone had asked his madra her features had grown dark and she had said it wasn't important and then changed the subject.

He walked up to Jena and she stopped combing her hair and smiled at him then gave him a big hug kissing him on the cheek. "I sometimes forget how big and beautiful you are. You look so much like your madra when we first met. Just bigger." She kissed him again and gave him yet another hug. Of all his parents it was Jena to which he felt the closest, Jena who had cared for him through his infancy, even nursed him with help from a potion, and it was Jena who lavished the most attention on him. He had always felt he could ask anything of her and yet he couldn't bring himself to ask her about this family secret.

She looked at him and smiled. "So . . . Are you going to tell me what has got my baby so worried that he's eating half of what he normally eats?"

"Mother!" Jabone laughed and slapped playfully at her shoulder. "I'm hardly a baby."

"You'll always be my baby," she said. "So . . . what's bothering you?"

"I . . . nothing . . ."
"Don't lie to your mother boy," Jena said in a scolding tone, but she was still smiling. In fact he couldn't remember her ever being the least bit cross with at him. "Tarius told me what you asked, Jabone. I will tell you if you still want to know."

He took her hand and started leading her back towards the lake. She followed, no doubt knowing where he was taking her. There was a spot down by the water where he went to think.

He sat down on the log that overlooked the lake and pulled her down beside him, but he was still silent.

"So?" she asked.

"I asked my fadra . . . he said I should ask you, that Madra wouldn't tell me and he was right. Mother, why is it that you were not my madra?"

"Honey, you know why. I couldn't get pregnant. At first the witch Jazel suggested that it was because of Arvon and so Dustan tried, but . . ." She shrugged. "You know all of that, so I'm guessing that's not what you really want to know."

"Why would Jazel so quickly come to the conclusion that there was something wrong with my fadra?"

* * *

Jena had been sure she knew what was on Jabone's mind, but part of her had been hoping that he really wanted to know something simple. Like when he'd asked where he came from and they explained sex and cross pairing to him and then he'd looked confused and said that he had just wanted to know if he'd been born in the Kartik or the Jethrik.

Jena frowned realizing she wasn't going to get out of this that easily. She steeled herself and answered his question. "Because I had been pregnant before, Jabone."

"By Dustan?"

It was a good question. If a woman lost a child in a cross-breeding partnership, she changed fathers in case the father's blood line was what was wrong.

"No . . . and not by Arvon," Jena said. She took a deep breath and let it out. "I had lost a baby long before we even thought to make you. When I was unable to become pregnant Jazel explained that the loss of that first baby was most probably what had made me barren."

"I don't understand," Jabone said. "How did you get pregnant? Who was the father?"

"It's a very long story, and I'm afraid that there are times in the story when neither myself nor your madra look very good, but you must understand we were both victims of a world you have never known." There was a catch in her voice and her son patted her back.

"You don't have to tell me Mother," he said. "I'm sorry to have opened an old wound."

"Not all the memories are bad ones, Jabone." Jena smiled. "From the moment I saw Tarius I was in love with her."

"Everyone knows that, Mother."

"But there is something only we know, something that doesn't go into the stories we tell. You know that everyone in the Jethrik thought that your madra was a man, how she tricked them all to fight in their army?"

"I have heard the story a million times," he said with a sigh.

"What you don't know, what we've never told you and has gotten lost in the stories is that I also thought she was a man." She laughed at the sudden change in the expression on his face. "Oh, so now I've got your attention. I was completely and totally in love with her and I had no idea, none at all, that she was a woman or the Katabull or that I was queer for that matter. At the time I was young and very naive. She tried to put me off, to spurn my affections; the problem was that she was also hopelessly in love with me. So much so that she risked everything to be with me." She smiled then. "She got injured saving Persius that first time and Robert gave her some powders which knocked her completely out. My father, who very much wanted her for his son in law, also had no idea she was a woman and he had her taken back to our house. Well, I never did behave in the way a proper lady of the Jethrikian court is supposed to behave and I crawled into bed with her. My father caught us in bed together, and was berating me so Tarius offered to marry me right on the spot. Now you have to remember this was the Jethrik where same-sex relationships are barely accepted. I still thought she was a man. Everyone thought she was a man except her sword partner, a man named Tragon." Her voice changed to match her emotions. "Now Tragon wanted me for himself, and not only did he know Tarius was a woman, he also knew that she was the Katabull and he was scared to death of incurring her wrath."

Jabone had grown up hearing Tarius and Dustan weave wonderful tales and he was a good listener. Jena would have laughed at the look of concentration on his face if what she was telling him didn't carry such painful memories in its folds.

"Tarius started teaching me to sword fight, which was at the time forbidden for woman in my country of birth. On the same day she put a sword in my hand she also made love to me for the first time. That was really when all the trouble started because you see I wanted to please Tarius as she had pleased me, but I thought she was a man and she was sure that if she told me the truth that I would reject her. And . . . as much as it pains me to tell you this my son, in all honesty being a stupid and ignorant young woman I probably would have . . ."

"But how . . . You loved her so much! Why would it have mattered?" He didn't understand. He had grown up here, among the Katabull where being straight made him a minority. He had grown up in the Kartik where sexuality was rarely an issue.

"Because as I have told you same-sex couples are barely accepted in my birth country. The love your madra had for me, the love I have for her was foreign, and I would not have understood then. I didn't."

"Where did this baby come from?" Jabone wanted to know.
"I'm getting to it. You know that I am not one of the tale weavers in our family. I told you it was a long story," Jena said with a smile.

"I'm sorry."

"At any rate, we got married your madra and I, and then I really didn't understand why she wouldn't . . . Well you know. A few days later she went to the front as Captain of the Guards with King Persius himself.

"I missed her terribly; every day was torture never knowing if she was alive or dead. A few months later Tragon was injured in battle but your madra had saved him and he'd been sent back to the academy to be nursed back to health. With Tarius gone he tried to poison my mind against her in an attempt to have me for himself. You see in my youth I was a very beautiful woman."

"You still are, Mother," he said.

She kissed his cheek. "You are such a good boy . . . At any rate several times the rouge almost told me that Tarius was a woman, but he was so cowardly and so afraid of her that he didn't dare.

"Finally Tarius returned home." She smiled at the memory. "She was a sight, a wild-looking beast covered in dirt and soot and dried blood and smelling like something dead that had fallen in the latrine and I had never been so glad to see anyone in my life. I started to beg her to give me something that I didn't know she couldn't. Finally feeling that she couldn't please me, and knowing that I desperately wanted a child, she enlisted the aid of the wizard Hellibolt to give a glamour potion to Tragon and fooled me by putting him into my bed . . ." Her anger must have shown in her voice because Jabone interrupted her.

"But, Mother how is that so different than what my fadra and my madra did to make me?"

"Because I didn't get to make the decision, Jabone. I didn't know that I wasn't sleeping with Tarius, and what Tarius didn't know was that I hated Tragon. What I had never told her was that Tragon had tried to force me to have sex with him while your madra was at war. I became pregnant by him and as my child grew inside me so did Tragon's resentment of your madra. One night he rode into the academy drunk and called Tarius from the house, he threatened to reveal her and take what he thought was his. Tarius threatened him right back and made plans to have him transferred to one of the Jethrik garrisons.

"She had been working day and night to try to get me to go to the Kartik with her. She told me it was to get away from the Amalite horde which she predicted would rain down upon our lands because Persius hadn't pursued the Amalites aggressively enough. But while she truly believed that and she turned out to be right, the real reason was because she figured if she could get me to the Kartik that I would accept her for who she was. How many times I have wished I had just gone with her when she wanted to go.

"Tragon hatched a plan to expose Tarius in such a way that it would be impossible for her to retaliate against him. He and Persius and a large guard contingent showed up in the dead of night. They put a spell on Tarius, and while she was unconscious they shackled her. She begged Persius not to reveal her in front of me. She begged him to let her tell me herself, because she knew I'd be traumatized. But he took a knife and cut through her shirt and the cloth that she had bound her chest with. I fainted dead away. Your madra called on the night, broke the shackles, and struck the king.

"Now Harris had no idea that she was Katabull or female, but he never hesitated in his loyalty to her and threw her sword to her and launched into battle beside her, against them. The king used me as bait to call Tarius out and at first I begged for her life, but . . ." her voice broke, and her son put his arms across her shoulder, "by the time we reached the castle I wanted her blood as much as the king and my father.

"I went to see her in her cell. We talked. She apologized to me and told me she loved me, I said hideous things to her, but I no longer wanted her blood. I was very confused."

"You know what they did to your madra and how Harris, Hellibolt and Robert rescued her. What you don't know is that my father made me marry Tragon. Here I was going through this horribly confusing time thinking that I had been betrayed by the only person I'd ever loved and that she was probably dead and trying to figure out just what the hell was going on in my head and they made me marry this man who I hated more than anyone else in the world. I don't know what I would have done if it hadn't been for your fadra. He was the only one I could talk to, the only one who had any idea at all what I was going through. Arvon took care of me through that time."

"Then one night Tragon came home drunk. Now I would not sleep with this man that I hated even if I wasn't still trying to sort out my feelings for Tarius. I had my own room. He knocked down the door. When I wouldn't submit to him, in fact told him that I found his touch repugnant, he beat me. I landed on my stomach with such force that I . . ." Her voice caught in her throat. "He killed my baby Jabone. Your madra had given me a sword I saw it and I grabbed it. I didn't stop to think. I jumped up and I killed him. Now at that time in the Jethrik any woman who struck anyone with a sword was put to death. I got past my stunned father and rode to Arvon and Dustan's house. Your fadra delivered my dead baby himself." She was crying hard now, and her son patted her back. "He buried my son there."

"You don't have to tell me any more," he said.

"Yes I do." Jena forced a smile and sniffled. "Your fathers saved me. They brought me here. I found your madra and all the bad times were forgotten 'til we wanted to have another baby. Now your madra, she was the Queen's Champion, the Kingdom Warlord, and the Great Leader of the Katabull people as well as leader of the pack of the Marching Night. There was never any question of who would be carrying our children, besides I very much wanted to have our children, but . . . because of the violent way my baby had died I wasn't able to get pregnant. I thought that was it, I thought it was our lot in life to be childless. I mean . . . Tarius couldn't be pregnant. It was just ridiculous, I never expected her to do it. But Tarius had always blamed herself for the death of our child. I never blamed her, I knew who was to blame and I'd already killed him.

Tarius knew I wanted a child and she knew I couldn't have you myself so she temporarily handed over her title of Great Leader to Jerrad and her kingdom responsibilities she gave to Harris and Arvon and then your madra, the Great Warlord, put herself in the very vulnerable position of being pregnant so that she could give me the greatest gift of all . . . you."

Jabone was crying now. He knelt in front of her and hugged her. She hugged him back and they both had a good cry.

She patted his back then pushed him gently away. "Come on let's go get some dinner."

They walked hand and hand back to their home.

Dustan was still cooking when they walked into the hut so they hadn't missed anything. Jabone walked up and hugged Dustan who looked over his back at Jena. Jena just smiled and mouthed the words. "I'll tell you later."

Jabone and Jena started to help Dustan with dinner. It was the way of the Katabull. Chores were neither given nor assigned. Whoever was home made the meals; everyone, including the cubs as soon as they were old enough, did their own laundry. Everyone cleaned up their own messes in the hut. And if someone was doing something you just helped unless there were already so many people doing it that you'd be in the way.

Arvon entered walking in a way that said his leg was hurting him and sat down at the table.

"Are you all right?" Dustan asked.

"Do I look all right?" Arvon resisted making a face. "My love I fear you should have married a younger man. This old body is decaying into ruin. I was doing nothing more elaborate than walking, tripped in a hole, and twisted my bad leg."

"It's nothing that a massage won't take care of. Come into our room and I'll work on it. Jena and Jabone will finish dinner."

Arvon nodded and struggled to stand up.

"Fadra . . . where is my madra?" Jabone asked.

"At council. She should be home soon," he said. He looked from his son to Jena and said to her. "You told him?"


"Are you all right?"

Jena smiled. "Yes, I think we're both all right."

Jabone nodded in agreement. When Arvon and Dustan had left Jabone turned to Jena. "He told me that when you had told me I would understand why you and Madra are so in love even after all these years. That I would realize that it has nothing to do with being contrary, but now I wonder how I can ever fall so much in love because I don't have any of the hardships that you've had."

Jena laughed. "You won't until you fall in love. You are just like your madra; you worry all the way up the hill about how you're going to get back down."

Jabone laughed then. "That is what Fadra said, too." He looked at Jena then. "But I am like you, too, Mother and like my fathers."

Jena smiled and kissed his cheek. "Yes you are. You are the best part of us all."

Tarius walked in then, grumbling incoherently, and four men walked in carrying the Katabull throne set it down and left.

"What's wrong?" Jena asked.

"The stupidity of people never ceases to amaze me, that's all," she said, shrugging it off. "Dinner smells good."

"Dustan started it, he had to try and fix Arvon's bad leg," Jena said.

"See Jabone," Tarius said. "You who long for adventure and daydream about war. See how a hundred battles have aged Arvon and me before our time?"

"If you didn't tell such wonderful stories my love he wouldn't be so enamored of war," Jena said with a smile.

Tarius seemed to notice the puffiness of Jena's eyes and frowned. "Is something wrong?"

For answer Jabone ran across the room and embraced Tarius. She held him closely, pulling the man who was half again her size into her lap, and patting his back as he cried on her shoulder. "Oh now baby . . . You aren't still upset because you aren't queer are you?"

"No Madra, I just love you . . . I love you so much."

"As I love you my son. What is all this then?" She looked at Jena for answer, thinking perhaps that some catastrophe had taken place.

"He wanted to know why I couldn't have him and I told him," Jena said.

"Oh," Tarius said, and a dark cloud covered her face. She held her son still tighter.

"I have been wishing to my shame that you weren't my madra. Now that I know the great sacrifice that you made to have me . . ."
"Jabone . . . It's true that I didn't want to be pregnant, and it's true that I did it for Jena, and when I did it, yes I thought it was a great sacrifice . . . at first. But once I felt you inside me growing moving, when I gave birth to you . . . That, my son, of all the fantastic moments and feats of my life, that was truly my finest hour. There was no sacrifice. You are my greatest accomplishment and except for your mother, my greatest love. Don't feel guilty for wishing Jena was your birth mother. Had I not done the horrible things that I did to keep her, you would have been her son, and I would have loved you no less."

"And I could not have loved you any more." Jena walked over and kissed him on the cheek.

Arvon walked back into the room followed closely by Dustan. Dustan walked back over to finish dinner and Arvon sat at his place at the table.

Jabone stood up and walked over to him, hugging him, and Arvon hugged him back. He looked at Tarius across their son's back. "So . . . Are you ever going to decide that he's too big to sit in your lap?"

Tarius smiled back. "I think it's much more likely that he will decide he's too big to sit in my lap."


Back | Next