“I checked ‘er. ‘Er ‘earing’s perfect, she’s alert, an’ Ah couldn’t find anythin’ wrong wit’ ‘er body ‘r ‘er brain.”
Redcloak swallowed hard and held out his arms, letting the other cleric shift before carefully giving him the little blanketed bundle. “She’s a ‘ealthy baby. Congratulations.”
The goblin held her close, moving his arms carefully to support her head, eye wide and fixed on the round green face.
Durkon, for the first time, actually smiled at the goblin. For a moment, alignment and species didn’t matter. This was a father holding his newborn for the first time, regardless of what had happened or what was going to happen. The dwarf could understand.
“I’ll leave ye t’ get t’ know ‘er.” Reality reasserted itself and Durkon was reminded that this was probably the only time Redcloak would have with his daughter. The goblin would have to leave before Xykon noticed he was gone.
Durkon held his tongue and left.
Redcloak blinked and slowly sat down at the armchair beside the window and cradle before his wobbly legs made him fall. His little girl, his Tiasal, yawned widely, showing off the little buds of growing tusks.
By the Dark One.
By the Dark One.
He was a father.
This little girl in his arms was his.
Redcloak rubbed the wetness from his eyes quickly, tentatively touching the baby’s cheek. It was soft as cream. She was so delicate—he could do irreparable damage, or even kill her, just by holding her the wrong way.
How could she possibly survive all that life was going to force her to suffer? How could he protect her from all the things elves, humans, and even goblins would do to her if he was out working on the Plan? How would she survive if Xykon ever found out that she was alive? How would she grow up if her parents were both off working on their own goals? He and Vaarsuvius wouldn’t survive this together. They would be lucky if even one of them did. She would only have one of them, at best, and neither he nor Vaarsuvius were equipped to be single parents.
By the Dark One, how could he leave Vaarsuvius to take care of this little girl alone? How could he face the possibility of trying to take care of her without Vaarsuvius? Oh, who was he kidding—if Vaarsuvius, Dark One forbid, died and he was the one who survived, he wouldn’t be able to be within a hundred miles of his daughter as long as Xykon lived. And he couldn’t discount the possibility that Xykon would still find a way to keep him on strings. And even if Xykon died—for good, this time—how on Earth could he properly handle all of the politics that came with his goal to rise goblin status in this world, plus being a spiritual leader, plus being a father? How could he even deal with being a father, period?! He had no experience, he didn’t know how to raise a kid, and Vaarsuvius was the only one he knew who even had children, and her knowledge was seriously lacking!
As if sensing her father’s distress, the baby started to shift uncomfortably, pursing her lips and widening her eyes. By the Dark One, what would he do if she cried?
She let out a soft whimper, followed by a quiet sob. Redcloak instinctively shifted so that she was in a more comfortable position and tenderly cooed in Goblin, brushing his lips against her forehead and rocking her gently back and forth. “Don’t worry, Tia. Don’t worry. Daddy’s okay. You’re okay. I promise.”
A soft, tiny hand caressed his cheek, and the whimpers receded. The smallest brush of breath tickled his ear, and the bundle in his arms shifted. By the Dark One. This little girl already had him wrapped around her teeny fingers. If she only asked him to drop all of his grand schemes and abandon his divinely inspired quest just to sit in that chair and rock her for the rest of his life, he would do so gladly.
But he couldn’t do that. If he did, then his little Tiasal would have to face what he, his brothers, and his little sister faced. She would have to face what every other goblin faced, but without the support goblins gave each other. By the Dark One, what if someone murdered her because of her skin? Stuck a katana through her when she couldn’t defend herself, just like Little Sister?
A shudder rippled through him. No. No, that could never happen to his daughter. Not to the little green-skinned, violet-eyed baby in his arms. He had to make sure that the Dark One had the power to protect her, that Gobbotopia was stable enough to offer her safety. How else could he make sure she was protected even when he wasn’t around?
The baby shifted again, scowling as if she could see where his thoughts were going, and she made a disapproving sound in her throat and starting to let little sobs out of her mouth. Redcloak rocked her, kissing her nose and blowing it affectionately until she sneezed, distracted from her attempt to start crying, and little bubbly giggles made their way from her belly.
Redcloak smiled and nuzzled their noses together, provoking another bout of giggles. “You’re such a beautiful girl. Just like your mother.” He kissed her forehead. “You’ll be a beautiful woman, too. But you’re probably going to be a bundle of trouble!” He kissed her nose again, making her giggle. “If you’re any daughter of Vaarsuvius’s, then you certainly will be.”
Her eyes were dancing. Redcloak tightened his grip a little and pressed his finger to her lips, murmuring an ancient goblin blessing, giving all of himself he could think to.
Even if he couldn’t stay, he would protect her in every way he could.
He drew his hand away and nuzzled his daughter’s head, savoring the feel of her skin against his, but with thought, his mood quickly deteriorated again.
She was part goblin. There was no denying that. His blood guaranteed that she would be hurt. He had hurt his daughter just by being his father. How would he take care of her? He wanted to be there when she said her first words, took her first steps, decided on a class, fell in love, got married…
But he wouldn’t get that. The same way he had been foolish to wish for a life with Vaarsuvius, he was foolish to wish for a life with his daughter.
She was his, but he would never be able to keep her.
Light as a ghost, someone sat on the arm of the chair, a delicate pale hand running against his face, brushing the tears he hadn’t noticed away. The baby in his arms shifted, big eyes bright and focused on the new arrival. Her mother.
She shouldn’t be there, but Redcloak wasn’t surprised that she was.
“You should be resting, Vaarsuvius. You just gave birth a few hours ago.”
Vaarsuvius leaned against the goblin, kissing his cheek, peering down at the baby, curiosity and fear and tenderness all mixed up in a face still pale and strained from a mere couple hours ago. Redcloak could understand.
“You know me better than that. I will not allow something as small as a potentially fatal birthing process take away unnecessarily from the time I have with my newborn and her father.”
The elf reached forward, lightly touching the baby’s nose. Tiasal wiggled it, then squirmed until her hands were free, grabbing the tip of her mother’s finger tightly, gazing at it as though it were the most fascinating object in the world.
Redcloak swallowed hard, blinking fast again. He hadn’t cried since the last time he had seen his little brother, and before that, he hadn’t cried since his family had been massacred. And here he was, crying over the newborn he would never be able to see grow and the woman he would never be able to spend his life with.
It was pretty pathetic, in its own sad way.
“I love you, Vaarsuvius. Do you realize that?”
Vaarsuvius looked up at him, making eye contact. They understood each other. Redcloak could see Vaarsuvius’s fear of what would happen just as clearly as she could see his. The child nestled protectively in the goblin’s arms was their new priority, and they didn’t know if they could keep her safe.
“Of course I realize that. You inform me often enough.” Vaarsuvius kissed him softly before looking back down at the baby, gently prying the pale finger from her only to have it grabbed again. “I hope you know that I love you as well.”
Redcloak kept his eye on Tiasal, and she shifted a little so she was looking at him, wondering at the big green goblin holding her, and wondering why he seemed so sad.
“If I didn’t know that one of us was going to die before all this is over, I would have asked you to be my wife.”
Vaarsuvius leaned against him, lightly tapping their daughter’s nose again. “Even knowing that it is most likely that one of us will die or be incarcerated by the end of this, I would say yes.”
Redcloak blinked in surprise, then looked up and shifted the baby in his arms, grasping one of the elf’s delicate hands. “Really?”
Vaarsuvius nodded. “I do not say what I do not mean.”
“In sickness and in health?”
“After Girard’s Dungeon, I believe that we have been together through the worst sickness.”
That got a smile out of him. “In joy and sorrow?”
“Girard’s Dungeon, my love. I think that it would be a little redundant for us to assure each other that we can stay together through the worst.”
He cocked his head, his smile growing. “For better or for worse?”
“Again, that would be rather redundant.” Vaarsuvius lightly tickled Tiasal’s neck, provoking little giggles, and the elf looked up to smile at Redcloak. “But yes. If you wish for reassurance that I shall stand by you regardless of how this war resolves itself, then you have it, my love.”
His thumb gently ran along her hand. “Until death?”
Vaarsuvius flicked her gaze up, focusing on her lover’s golden eye. He didn’t understand what that meant for an elf. He didn’t know how rare it was for any elven couple to last until death, especially when the couple got together at the age Vaarsuvius and Redcloak were.
But she knew that she would be happy to be with him for the rest of her unfathomably long life.
Redcloak leaned down, pressing his lips to her hand gently. “Then, by my authority as a cleric of the Dark One, I declare us husband and wife.”
The elf put her arm around his neck and kissed the goblin lovingly, smiling.
Tiasal seemed to decide that she had let her parents have their moment long enough and started to whimper uncomfortably.
“I believe that she is in need of sustenance.”
Redcloak scooted so Vaarsuvius could sit next to him properly in the armchair and carefully gave her the baby, cooing softly in Goblin. The elf cradled the baby, slightly less confident in her movements, and tentatively opened up her robe. “I have not done this before.”
“Here, I’ll help. My master taught me about taking care of new mothers when I was learning how to be a cleric.”
He stood up and allowed Vaarsuvius to get more comfortable, readjusting his wife’s hold on the baby and coaxing Tiasal, easing both Vaarsuvius and Tiasal into being comfortable nursing. Vaarsuvius instinctively glanced around to make sure that no one was watching, still self-conscious about anyone seeing her unclothed. The only ones in the dark waiting room were herself, her daughter, and her husband. She didn’t mind any of them seeing her.
“You’re beautiful, V.” Redcloak kissed her softly, sitting on the arm of the chair and watching his lover (no, his wife) nursing their daughter, a feeling of inexplicable peace and happiness of the likes he hadn’t felt since before the attack on his village settling in his heart. God, he loved these two. His little brother had been right.
For the briefest moment, he really was ready to never go back to Xykon. He could have a life with his wife and daughter. He wanted it. He wanted to be able to have this feeling forever.
His holy symbol let out a pulse of cold and he glanced up at the window, watching as the blush of dawn streaked the sky.
The comfortable silence turned tense.
“You are going to leave now, I suppose?”
Redcloak looked down at Vaarsuvius and Tiasal again, the elf carefully expressionless and focusing on the nursing baby.
“…” Redcloak looked down at his holy symbol, and with a shaking hand, he grasped it tightly and put it under his armor, letting it rest against his bare chest, forcing him along with its ice-cold touch. “I have to. Xykon will notice that I’m gone soon, and I can’t risk him finding out about Tiasal or about the fact I still see you.”
“So what will we do, Redcloak? What do you have planned? Tiasal needs us.”
The little girl looked up at him curiously, still contentedly feeding from her mother. He was ready to crumble. All it took was that little girl to turn her big violet eyes and he was ready to let go.
A ripple of cold divine magic ran out from his holy symbol, shocking him back to his senses.
“I’m going to make sure that she doesn’t suffer because she’s a goblin.”
Vaarsuvius’s pursed lips were the only sign of her feelings.
“I don’t want to leave like this, Vaarsuvius.” Redcloak averted his gaze from his wife and child, trying to scrape together the last of his willpower. “I love you. I love Tiasal. I want to be able to have this more than anything, but my responsibility to my people and to my god lie elsewhere.”
Vaarsuvius’s eyes narrowed. “Your people? Your god? This is about vengeance, Red. It always has been. It has been about vengeance with the Dark One and it’s about vengeance with you.”
Redcloak visibly flinched, his throat constricting. “…What did you say to me?”
“You and your god stopped caring about the well-being of anyone a long time ago. You only care about retribution and coming out on top.”
The goblin was frozen in place. “…What did you say?”
The elf looked up, irises glowing furiously and eyes looking a little wetter than usual. “You heard me, Red. Do not pretend you did not.”
“I… I heard you.” Redcloak looked away, swallowing hard. “…” The holy symbol felt like it was crushing his chest. “You have your right to your own view of me and the Dark One, Vaarsuvius. But please. I don’t want to leave like this.”
“You are the one who is forcing us to part!” Vaarsuvius snapped, a wrathful red coming to pale cheeks. Tiasal jerked away from her mother’s breast, sensing the tense atmosphere and whimpering softly. “You are the instigator! You can abandon this wild plot to control the gods and attempt to raise goblin status in a much more practical way—by building yourselves up instead of tearing others down—while still being with me and your daughter. But your desire for revenge is more important to you than either of us.”
“That’s not true, Vaarsuvius. You and Tiasal—”
“I was a fool to think that we were more important than that!” Vaarsuvius didn’t seem to notice that the child was getting uncomfortable, instead readjusting her position so she could support the baby’s head effectively and glare at Redcloak at the same time. “I would have thought that, even if you were unable to put me ahead of anything in your mind because of my species, that Tiasal would be of a little more importance.”
“Because of your species—Vaarsuvius, I got over that a long time ago!”
Tiasal squirmed and buried her face in her mother’s chest, trying to get away from the fighting. Even the newborn knew that something was happening.
“You are just as bigoted as when I first met you, Red,” Vaarsuvius said coldly. “But if you wish you abandon your child, very well. At least you reminded me of where I stand in your priorities. Who knows how deluded I could have gotten, my husband.”
Redcloak looked away, keeping his lips pursed and trying to stop the hurt from flashing across his face. Was that really what Vaarsuvius thought of him? She was just angry and saying things she didn’t mean like all angry people did… right?
“I love you. I love you more than any other woman I’ve ever met, elven, human, or goblin. And I love Tiasal more than I can say.” He swallowed hard. “But I need to go to Xykon. The Plan must continue. I don’t think I can even get out of this if I tried—I’ve put too much in, and Xykon and the Dark One wouldn’t let me just leave.”
He looked back at Vaarsuvius, leaning down and kissing her softly. “And we may not be able to be together like this again after I’m gone. I don’t want the last thing I said to you to be something angry.”
“Then do not leave us.”
Redcloak pulled away and swallowed hard. “I have to.”
“You do not.”
He looked down at his daughter, actively fighting to keep his resolve. The Plan had to continue. For his family’s sake, for his daughter’s sake, for his little brother and his family’s sake, he had to do this. It all couldn’t be worth nothing.
Redcloak took Vaarsuvius’s hand tightly, trying to hold eye contact with her. “I promise, if this plays out in my favor, then I’ll give you resurrection. Whether you accept it or not is up to you. We’ll be able to be together and raise Tiasal. If this plays out in your favor, I’ll accept a resurrection if you or anyone else chooses to offer it, and I’ll find some way to deal with whatever the rest of the world wants to punish me with. I’ll be able to be with you and our daughter. If, by some stroke of luck, we both survive, then I promise I’ll stay by you, no matter what.” A half-smile crossed his lips. “And if we both die, we can be together in the afterlife. Somehow.”
Vaarsuvius was still glaring.
“I love you. Please don’t let me go like this.”
Violet eyes narrowed. “So you truly are leaving?”
He swallowed again, concentrating on the icy holy symbol against his skin. “Yes.”
The sun was ready to rise.
He nodded, then slowly knelt beside his family, peering down at the baby in his wife’s arms. “I promise to come back for you and your mother. Just hang in there for me, okay, Tiasal?”
She stuck out her lower lip unhappily but didn’t squirm when he kissed her nose.
“I love you.”
He stood and brushed himself off, hoping against hope that Vaarsuvius would say something, anything, that would keep them from separating on this note.
Instead, she just stood and quietly put Tiasal in the cradle besides the armchair, closing up her robe firmly.
Redcloak turned away and walked towards the door, praying that Vaarsuvius would say something.
He pushed the door back.
His heart sank.
He looked back only to see Vaarsuvius right behind him, arms crossed and eyes burning with the same fire he had fallen in love with.
“I am glad we are married now. No matter what happens.”
Thin arms wrapped around his neck and soft lips pressed against his own. “I love you. Farewell.”
Redcloak gratefully hugged her close, returning the kiss before brushing his lips against her ear, provoking a shudder. “I promise that we’ll be back together soon, Vaarsuvius.”
With one last kiss and a longing look towards the bundle in the cradle, he was gone.
When Durkon came into the room an hour later searching for Vaarsuvius, he found her in the armchair staring out the window with the newborn cradled in thin arms. Her eyes were red and puffy.
He left and didn’t come back for another hour.