Birthmarked Page 17

"It's a frank breech," Sephie said. "She's not too far along with the timing of these contractions. I think-- " she paused, still concentrating. Gaia watched her feel the woman's stomach, gently smoothing her hands around, with a confident little prod here and there. "Yes," Sephie said. "Let's turn it."

Gaia's eyes widened in surprise. "Can we?"

Sephie was already climbing onto the bed beside Dora. "Do you have any vodka?" she asked Tom. "And a hot water bottle? We need to slow this down."

Gaia was more shocked then ever. If Sephie was wrong, if she delayed this birth in some way, it could only be more dangerous for the baby. Yet, already Sephie was talking calmly to the patient, explaining that she intended to try to manipulate the baby upward in her uterus, turn it sideways, and then, gradually, turn it again so its head was downward. Gaia put her hands where Sephie told her to, gently and firmly identifying the little elbows and knees within the woman's distended belly. She had never done this before, never dreamed of doing it. She imagined the protest of the baby within, and feared the umbilical cord might wrap around the infant's chin or knees. But Sephie worked steadily, keeping Dora calm, letting her rest between contractions, and when, later, the baby girl was born smoothly, head first, Gaia was awed at Sephie's skill.

"She's beautiful!" Tom said, clutching Dora's hands. "She's a miracle!"

Sephie wrapped the child in a soft white blanket, passing her to Dora to hold, and Gaia had a flashing memory of the first baby she'd delivered alone. She, too, had passed a baby to its mother, but she had known she would take it away again within minutes. This child was home to stay, with loving parents and the promise of wealth and privilege. Why did it make Gaia ache with sadness, when she should feel triumphant?

Sephie was quietly cleaning up her belongings. Gaia looked through the black bag for a teapot, for an inkbottle and needle, without success.

"Don't you do any freckles?" Gaia asked.

Sephie looked up. "What do you mean?" She turned her head toward the baby. "I didn't see any. They may show up later."

It felt so strange not to honor Arthur and Odin like she ah ways had with her mother, but of course, Sephie wouldn't be familiar with her mother's pattern. "What about the tea?" Gaia asked.

Sephie's eyebrows lifted in curiosity. "What tea?" she asked, and waited for Gaia to explain.

As the silence stretched, Gaia finally realized that Sephie had no idea what she was talking about, and then guilt kicked in. She had promised her father never to tell anyone about the freckles, but now it had slipped out. Gaia spun toward the window, her mind reeling with a new possibility: the tattooed freckles were not only a secret way to honor her advanced brothers. Her mother signed those babies. With four carefully arranged pinpricks, she tattooed her own all-but-invisible mark on every baby she delivered. The tea itself was merely a distraction, a comforting, soothing ritual to honor the mother and midwife together. The soporific trace of motherwort in the mother's tea would leave no lasting mark. But that tattoo would last forever.

"What are you talking about?" Sephie said, crossing to the window.

"I meant the motherwort." Gaia tried to smile naturally at her, but she knew she was terrible at lying. "We give mother wort in some tea to the mother, and wash a little bit on the baby to prevent freckles. Don't you do that in here?"

Sephie eyed her closely one last time, and then turned back to her bag. "I don't know what you were told about mother-wort, but it has no effect whatsoever on freckles." She reached for Gaia's arm, and Gaia was surprised by the cool strength in the woman's hand on her skin. "They're superstitious barbarians outside the wall, no offense intended."

Gaia straightened, but Sephie was already releasing her.

"We're leaving now," Sephie said to Tom and Dora.

The couple were profuse in their thanks, but Sephie, looking tired, waved dismissively and reached for her hat. "May you have many more children to serve the Enclave," she said.

"Let me give you something," Tom insisted, following them downstairs.

"No. They'd only confiscate it anyway," Sephie said. She put on her hat and signaled Gaia to do the same.

"Please, Persephone. There must be something I can do. Dora and I, we're so grateful. I'm sure I'm no one to question the Enclave, but-- "

Gaia turned at the door and saw Sephie put her hand on Tom's arm. "No," she said seriously. "It's my privilege, coming here. I'm honored to be part of your lives at this moment. Enjoy your child and your beautiful wife. You owe us nothing."

Gaia felt Tom's eyes flick to hers, and by his sudden, sharp gaze, she had the feeling this was the first time he'd looked at her closely, despite all they'd gone through together. When his gaze settled on her scar, she could feel both his curiosity and his pity.

He cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable, and then his lips curved in a deliberate smile. "At least let me give something to your assistant," Tom said. "I'm sorry. What's your name?"

His effort at graciousness didn't fool her. When she didn't answer him, Sephie gave her a sharp look.

"She's Gaia Stone," Sephie said. "The girl from outside."

He nodded, as if several pieces had just clicked together in his mind. "The one from a couple weeks ago? With the convict's baby?"

"Yes," Sephie said.

Tom ducked slightly to put his hand inside a drawer in a small desk beside him. "It's nothing much," he said. "But please, take it." He extended his hand toward Gaia and she looked down to see the gleam of a small gilded mirror, the hinged type that ladies used when adjusting their makeup. She felt herself go pale, staring at it. What could she possibly want with a mirror? Was he mocking her?

Sephie took the mirror for her and thrust it firmly into Gaia's stiff fingers.

"Thank you," Sephie said. "You're very generous."

Gaia could not trust herself to raise her eyes, not without revealing the fury and shame she felt at being treated like a freak. Again. She fumbled for the door handle, muttering a good-bye. She pulled the door open. The four guards who lounged nearby in the shade looked over. She would have dropped the mirror and crushed it underfoot right there except Sephie grasped her arm sharply. "Behave yourself," she whispered savagely. She thrust her black bag into Gala's hands and took the little mirror.

The men came forward as Sephie said good-bye to Tom. Gaia's mind was spinning with all she had seen and discovered this morning: Sephie could turn a breech baby; the ankle freckles were a signature; Gaia was famous for saving the convict's baby; her service was of no more value than a glass trinket. She pulled the hat low on her forehead, feeling the faint scratchiness of the straw and wishing she still had long hair to hide her face.

Sephie fell into step beside her, and her pace was unhurried. The guards retreated slightly behind them, and Sephie linked her arm lightly around Gaia's waist.

"You re not bad as an assistant," Sephie said.

Gaia shrugged.

"But you've got something to learn about manners," Sephie said. "You embarrassed me back there."

"I embarrassed you!" Gaia said. She glanced back at the guards and brought her voice down. "He insulted me. What could I possibly want with a mirror? A chance to see my hideous face up close?"

Sephie looked at her strangely. "It was a token. He couldn't give you anything more significant. You're a prisoner. It probably belonged to his wife, Gaia. It was a gesture of respect and gratitude."

Gaia could not immediately accept what she was saying. She took her arm out of Sephie's so she could walk without the pretense of being her friend.

Sephie sighed. "Fine. But you might give people a chance. Not everyone is treating you like some hideous monster."

They reached the wide street that led up to the Square of the Bastion, and Gaia could hear the noise of the market as they approached. Now that they were getting closer to the prison, she didn't want to go inside, and she didn't want to waste the chance to look around her by being in a bad mood. She looked around at the passing people, the shop windows, and the pigeons that pecked in the gutters. Despite herself, she watched for the familiar form of Capt. Grey, and then she was annoyed with her disappointment at not finding him. She smelled bating bread, and turned to look for the source. Stupid, she chastised herself. She should have been looking for Derek's friend's bakery all this time.

She scanned the street actively, looking for brown loaves of bread, or a hanging sign with the familiar etching of sheaves of wheat, but there were none, and the scent vanished. They reached the Square of the Bastion again and the bustling activity of the market.

Barrels stood filled with cabbages and potatoes, and a stall was hung with dainty blue and white dresses for toddlers. Gaia could see delicate smocking on the front of one. My

father would love this, she thought with a pang. He'd relish the whole market, and especially the sartorial handiwork. She owed it as a tribute to him to live as fully as she could, even as a prisoner.

She saw apples, and even, on one carefully displayed plate, six oranges. A seventh had been sliced in wedges. She had never eaten one, but she'd seen them in a picture book. Now the bright color called to her like a magnet, drawing her in.

They passed so close that Gaia could smell the sliced wedges, and her hunger became so keen that saliva flowed around her teeth.

"Are they really oranges?" Gaia murmured to Sephie.

Sephie turned briefly in the direction Gaia was looking.

"They're outrageously expensive," Sephie said. "Usually the owners of the orange trees eat them all themselves, or give them as gifts to the Protectorate family. But once in a while there are a few for sale. You getting your appetite back?"


"Good. I was beginning to worry."

The guards, now that they were so close to the prison, sup rounded Gaia and Sephie again, but not before Gaia saw a red-clad girl step up to the orange seller.

The girl took out a purse of coins, and as the guards nudged Gaia along, Gaia kept gating back over her shoulder, watching the exchange. When the girl reached for one of the oranges, her hood fell back slightly and sunlight gleamed off her blond hair: Rita. She was the girl who had tried to advise Gaia during the execution, the one who had warned her to keep quiet.

Gaia stumbled against a cobblestone, and Rita looked up. For one instant, her dark eyes met Gaia's gaze, and her mouth rounded in a silent O.

"Careful there," Sephie said.

One of the guards steadied Gaia from behind and hustled her toward the arch. Gaia lost sight of Rita, but as she replayed the moment in her head, she thought she recognized a glimmer of pity in the other girl's eyes. Or had it been sympathy? Perhaps Sephie was right. Perhaps Gaia, in her quickness to assume people were mocking her, failed to interpret how people really looked at her.

Gaia lowered her head as the shadow of the arch fell upon her. She handed back her hat and was escorted deeper into the prison. Soon she and Sephie were back in Q cell, but even when the heavy wooden door was shoved loudly closed behind them, Gaia knew she was no longer lost to the despair that had gripped her at the news of her father's murder.

She had rediscovered what it was like to be alive and hungry.

She had realized that the freckles were more than just a tribute to her brothers.

She was going to survive this internment and find a way out.

Chapter 12 A Pigeon Visits

THAT NIGHT, GAIA ate her first full meal in weeks. The image of the oranges haunted her, and the memory of the sweet scent was like a mist of pure color before her nose. She craved one of those oranges so badly it was like an illness. And this made her laugh.

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