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Sorrowful Supplicant (Rik, Abbie, Ellwythorn) [Backstory]

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"Yes." The breeze flutters again, warm and impossibly gentle. "You have sowed and the Mother has planted. The child grows strong with my blessing. If you and the Mother change your minds--," her tone does not like this possibility but accepts it as an option, "--a high priest may cut down the growth before it comes to fruition. Otherwise, in due time... Yes. You will have a child, my child."
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He is overcome with joy and love.

"Oh goddess, thank you! You show your generosity and wisdom in all thing once again, it is astounding. To allow such a blessing I didn't even know how much I wanted ..."
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The breeze catches him up as though he were a tiny child, lavishing him in joyful kisses as a mother would hold her son on his birthing day when he expresses delight with his yearly presents. "I am pleased you are pleased, my child," the wind whispers in his ear, her warmth almost overpowering. "Yes. I am much pleased."

Yet this does not last forever. Setting him gently back down, the wind stills. "Child. This Mother you have planted walks a treacherous path. Enemies on all sides threaten to swallow her and her lineage, for her blood was tied to the welfare of this city long before she was born. She requires a protector and I would grant her one. The fate of this city, and the fate of this child, is of great importance to me."

Then She hesitates, a pregnant pause which troubles him. "I will not order you or any other of my children to protect this Mother, for I cannot see clearly what lies ahead. I am opposed by other gods, our wills out of joint as concerns this Mother and her bloodline. But I know this much. You will make a choice, not just once but over and over again: will you protect this Mother and your child, or will you turn away and let them go on their own? Both these paths are within the bounds of my service, both honor me with your devotion."

She sighs then, her voice thick and sorrowful. "Both paths will hurt you, my child. You will be called upon to sacrifice things dear to your heart. Not because I am displeased with you--never because I do not love you--but because even a mother such as I cannot protect her children against the evils of this world."
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"I am Father, I protect your children. I will do no less for my own. You have blessed me with more skills than the ability to plant seeds. I am not afraid. I do not doubt or discount your words. The choice you present is no choice at all for one who serves you as I do. I would sacrifice myself again and again to keep her and my child safe. "
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She is quiet for a long moment, weighing his words and the infinite strands of possible futures which web through and around them both; for just a moment he can see them, a rainbow of threads in every shape and texture and color, spinning out like an eternal spiderweb with no end.

"My Paladin." The words are a boom of pride that would deafen him if his physical body were in this place. Hurricane winds catch him up, drawing him high into the sky and stripping him bare of the ceremonial clothes his mind had instinctively wrapped himself in whilst in the presence of his goddess. Naked and bare as a baby, he is held by impossibly strong arms and rendered helpless as Her whispers wash over him.

...green for growth...
...a shield to protect...
...children, our children...
...his children...
...the mother...


What happens next is not pain, but it sears him with a pleasure so close to pain that the difference is imperceptible. On his broad chest, just over his heart, a shield the size of a halfling woman's hand blossoms--a deep emerald green against his already-green skin. "My blessing," the goddess whispers in his ear. "So you will not forget."

Winds whirl faster around him now. "Protect this child and this mother however your heart is moved, my Paladin. If you would give your name, give it freely. If you would give your love, give that too. Husband, Father, Lover, Friend, Shield-Brother: your oath to me bars none of these relationships. You are my child and nothing will ever change that."

The love pouring into him is so strong it threatens to rip away his consciousness. "Remember," She whispers. "I can only give the powers of a conduit to a mortal body once. If my conduit dies, a new one takes his place. But this--," ethereal fingers brush the shield over his heart, "--will never leave you, not even in death. My Paladin, I am much pleased." These words are the last he hears before he loses himself, the bliss of her affection too much for his spirit to bear.

When he wakes, Ellwythorn still sleeps in his arms. His body is whole and strong, a warm tingle through his body filling him with strength and vigour. He feels, impossibly, as though he's just been born anew. Over his heart, the shield--his new birthmark--bears proud witness that this was no dream.

---
[OOC: There is a mechanical benefit to this shield--he's just gained a special paladin ability--but unfortunately I'm at the hospital away from my notes so the details will have to wait. He doesn't know what it does yet, just that it does something. Reaction to you, then a fade to black.]
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Suffused with overwhelming joy, he wants nothing more than to share this with the mother and child in his arms. Her back is snuggled up against his warm soft belly and he smiles at her sleeping form. The urge is irresistable, he softly kisses the top of her head. Pausing, then lower, nestled in amongst the curls, chuckling to himself as his right tusk gets tangled slightly. Careful not to wake her yet, the touch of his lips moves down her back. Slow, soft exploring. Wanting to know every inch of this precious gift he has been given. A path across each shoulder and following the curves of her shoulder blades below. Her spine, the curve of her waist that leads to the arch above her rump. Bolder now at the memory of all they have done, he lightly presses his teeth into the soft curve of her flared hip. She stirs a bit at this and he softens the hard line of his teeth, replacing it with his warm tongue. He is sitting up now, leaning over her. She stirs again at the cool air on her back. Without concern if she wakes now he guides her forward onto her belly. His lips and tongue claiming each spot. Erasing any touch before his. She can feel the occassional brush of his arrousal against the back of her knee, her calf, the pad of her foot as his affections work down the back of each of her legs. Finishing at last at the smallest toe of her right foot, he smiles, she can somehow feel it through the stretch of his lips against that tiny spot.

He pauses, knowing she is at least somewhat aware. The change in her breathing any easy marker. Each of his large hands slide up the outside of her legs from ankle to thigh to hip. Over the curve of hips and curve of waist and up along her sides and ribcage. Knowing without hesitation what he wants, his hands guide her arms up in a continuation of that smooth motion until they meet above her head just short of the head board. His body has followed, sliding up hers. His length nestled between her cheeks.

"Good morning mother"
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She can't help but giggle softly, pleased by the feeling of him above her, surrounding her, shielding her. Holding her. Stretching beneath him like a luxuriant cat, she arches back into his body, deliberately pressing herself against his hard length to tease him.

"Good morning, Father," she responds with a smile, her voice husky from sleep and happy desire after his long and lavishing kisses. "Is it too much to hope my love might be willing to lay with me again?"
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He growls softly just behind her ear. It might have been a purr if it hadn't been fueled by so much desire.

"If that is your wish, then nothing in this life will stop me."

His arms slide beneath her chest, holding her so tight to him she can feel the pounding of his heart. She smiles as she notice that it beats in time with the throbbing she can feel lower on his body. Her smile turns to a gasp as his knee pushes her own legs apart.

"My wish is to feel every inch of you before this day is out. Perhaps we can expand our experiences a bit?"

He allows himself to press gently against her to clarify his request but no more. He pauses, his senses tuned for even the slightest pulling away.
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She only melts more fully into him, her smile blissful. "Yes," she whispers, the happiness in her voice undeniable. "Yes, please. Touch every part of me, kiss every part of me, make me yours." Squirming, she twists her neck in an attempt to see him--or at least to allow him to see her face and the warm eager smile there. "I want you and only you and all of you, Father."

---(fade to black)---
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[OOC: Now's a good time to tell Rik what magical abilities he got from all this roleplay and from the goodwill of his Goddess.

Lay On Hands (Mothers and Children): In addition to Rik's usual Lay On Hands ability, he has a second "Lay On Hands" ability which is not limited to a dice pool. This ability will allow him to heal to full HP anyone Rik perceives as a "mother" or a "child". The ability will work no matter how many times he's used it, and is not dependent on a rest period.

This means he can heal Ellwythorn because he views her as a "mother", even though she hasn't birthed yet. He could heal one of his adult "children" even through they are an adult, since Rik still perceives them as his 'children'. He couldn't yet use this ability on an adult party member who has no children of their own and to whom Rik has not established a paternal bond, on account of their only recently meeting. On the other hand, if the party member were a woman and Rik knew she had a child or was pregnant, then yes. The ability does not work on people whom Rik perceives as "fathers", sorry; take that up with Yondalla next time you see her.

The ability otherwise functions like his usual "Lay On Hands" in the sense that it's one target at a time, touch-based, and takes an action to perform. He can heal any disease that can be healed by the usual Lay On Hands ability (in other words, he can't heal the mysterious plague affecting the city). The Lay On Hands action is a burst of quick divine healing that "heals" everything indiscriminately; he can't choose to heal the neck wound but leave the kidney stab, and he doesn't get a full-body "diagnostic" like the clerical Cure Wounds variants can provide. He's not a doctor, in other words, he's carrying hit points that the goddess allows him to give out like bags of candy.

The ability will heal targets who have been lethally wounded or magically struck dead, but in those cases the window of healing is very small and Rik shouldn't dilly-dally. I'm not giving an exact time-limit because that's asking for trouble, but consider it short.

Protection (Mothers and Children): Rik does not have the "Protection" fighting style because he doesn't use a shield. However, his usual fighting style now includes a Protection variant built for him. When a creature you can see attacks a Mother or Child that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to take the hit instead, at a disadvantage to the Attack roll.

Simply put, Rik can put himself between any (seen, anticipated) attack which targets a nearby person he perceives as a Mother or Child, and take a reduced hit for them. The attack roll will be as a disadvantage--this represents the use of his Greatsword to parry the blow as best he can (since he has no shield)--but he can still take damage depending on the blow type and force.

Rik must perceive the person he is protecting as a mother or child to be able to perform this reaction; again, this won't work for most of the party members unless/until Rik comes to perceive them in one of these roles.

Other Benefits / Details: When using both these powers (Lay on Hands action and Protection reaction), Rik will feel the shield birthmark over his heart pulse with warm light and he will be reminded of the infinite and all-encompassing love he feels in the presence of Yondalla. If his birthmark is uncovered, others in the area can see the divine pulsing light in his birthmark as well, but this light does not mechanically provide light to the area by which to see.

I think that's about it! Enjoy your new god-blessing.]
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(Meanwhile)

Freed is sent off after food and told to "take her time" while Reverence guides Abbie to her own personal chambers in a nearby but separate wing from the "guest" rooms. Pouring a cup of fine tea for the cleric, Reverence eases into a comfortable chair and gestures for Abbie to do the same if she pleases.

"Were we ever that young?" she teases affably.


---
Abbie sinks easily back into the chair with a snort. "They tell me I was. I think it's lies."

She sips her tea with evident enjoyment and gives Reverence a wry smile. "So tell me. How much of this is out of the goodness of your heart and Sehanine's views on freedom, how much is because you smell a new convert, and how much is because it tickles you to have those uppity bitches from Yondalla's temple owe you a favor?"


---
Reverence chuckles again, a thick throaty baritone that spreads like a rich wine through the veins. "Oh no. This one is on me, deliciously uppity though your paladin boy may be."

Leaning back in her seat, she reaches up to tap her head just to left of her pearlescent tiefling eyes. "Who do you think is displaced first when an orc family moves up from the slums to take over the Northside markets? I'll give you a hint: it's not humans."


---
She tilts her head in acknowledgment of this. "Revenge, then? Or prevention?" Smiling, she sips her tea and adds, "Or a combination of the two, with a side of being miraculously able to produce the heir - a grateful heir - when and if dear old dad's council seat becomes vacant?"


---
Her smile is warm and wide and canny. "Please don't get me wrong, dear. I do like this child you've brought me. I think she'll be a pleasure to care for, whether she converts or not, and Sehanine has a soft spot for girls fleeing powerful men. I even like her adorable paladin boy who seems determined to put his feet up on all my best furniture and pee on my rugs in a show of dominance. I will take excellent care of her, and I wasn't kidding about playing matchmaker. I am an excellent matchmaker. But."

She sips at her tea, her smile turning dark. "Eighteen temples and how many tiefling clerics in the high ranks? Two hundred council members and how many are tiefling politicians? When Betreygis Redfang is brought down, a tiefling will be there to take his place at Olidammara's altar if I have anything to say in the matter. When Immeral Xiloscient retires, well." Her white eyes glint. "If I could put a tiefling in that girl's belly, I'd have her knocked up tonight. But as your boy has already planted that flag, I'll settle for nine months of bosom friendship with Freed, who for all her faults would make a very useful politician's aide."

Shaking her head, she grins into her tea. "An ancestral elven seat! Do you know how valuable those hereditary positions are? If it must go to an orc, let it go to one who hates and fears those bloody Redfangs."


---
Abbie chuckles and shakes her head. "I wish you success," she says simply. "The way tieflings are treated in this city is shameful, and there's few enough people doing anything about it. As for the girl, there are worse ways to win someone's political loyalty than by showing them genuine kindness in their hour of need."

Leaning back, she adds, "But we are grateful. And I'll try to keep my paladin from peeing on your rugs, metaphorically or - may all the gods forbid - literally." She sighs. "He needs to do a stint in the army, that's what he needs. He's too pure and idealistic for this world, and if he doesn't learn at least a little bit of pragmatism it's going to be the death of him." She gives Reverence a long, wry look. "When another cleric comes to back you up as you frantically try to keep a young man with more courage than sense alive, it's amazing how little the ideological differences in your faith seem to matter."


---
She chuckles and leans back, amused. "Indeed. And what a puzzle he is! So quick to go to bed with a strange girl, so quick to accept that he has impregnated her! Proud, even!" Her eyes dance at Abbie, daring her to fabricate. "Truly do they say Yondalla is goddess of fertility, I see."


---
She shakes her head, bemused. "I've never seen him develop feelings for anyone before," she says. "Wasn't sure I ever would, to be honest. I wish I knew whether it would last past the child's birth." She sighs. "If nothing else, it would help me decide whether or not I should encourage you in your matchmaking," she adds, a hint of teasing creeping into her voice. "For all that Yondalla favors family and settling down, I don't think the girl - who, heads up, might not turn out to be a girl; last we spoke she wasn't entirely sure on that score - necessarily ought to do so with the first man who's nice to her after escaping her abusive husband. On the other hand, if it turns out she is the one-in-a-million person who can capture my poor paladin's heart, I'd feel like a rat if I sabotaged that."


---
"They're both orcs, darling," Reverence says with a teasing drawl. "What more could you want for common ground?"

She sobers then--at least, she stops actively grinning, though her eyes still swirl in dancing patterns--and looks thoughtful. "Not a girl, you say? How interesting."


---
She nods soberly. "When she first visited she mentioned being drawn to that aspect of Lirr, but when I asked she said she wasn't 'allowed' to want or ask for anything like that. It wasn't the time to push. And now, well." She shrugs. "There hasn't been a chance to really sit down and talk to her. One of the priests of Obad-Hai - old army buddy of mine - grew up a girl; I thought I might ask him to stop by and chat with her if your folk wouldn't mind?"


---
"Of course, yes. He is welcome here," she agrees immediately, but looks preoccupied with her thoughts.

"This child's life has been one of constant, ever-vigilant control," she muses to her tea. "If she is not a girl, and if they wished to keep her miserable and small rather than embrace her true nature, they would have needed to bar her from Olidammara to keep her from catching his eye. I did wonder why they gave her to Betreygis specifically, when he has other brothers who would be better suited to her. But if they knew she would avoid her husband's patron..." She shakes her head, looking deeply thoughtful.


---
"To keep her from catching his eye?" An eyebrow goes up. "Interesting. I assume you're already grooming the tiefling you want to succeed Betreygis? Do they know they're being groomed?"


---
Reverence laughs easily. "Of course. Betreygis' successor is a sweet boy whose flaws run to gambling rather than wife-beating. Why do you ask, dear?"


---
She frowns slightly. "Gambling is a weakness, and a sign of weakness. I don't say this because I think it's 'immoral' - it's a kind of surrender, to turn one's fate over to blind chance. A vice that indicates one has no control over their own life, and no plan to regain such."

She sighs. "Still better than the opposite, I suppose; a lack of control only hurts oneself, while an excess of control leads one to hurt others. Still. Your sweet boy, can he be trusted? If we bring him in to talk to her, can we be sure he won't sell her out to pay off a debt?"


---
"He would not," Reverence says, unshakable certainty in her voice. "And if it soothes your fears, he is not in debt. He loses at the tables, yes, but I taught him years ago never to gamble what he couldn't afford to freely spend."


---
"Wise," she agrees. "And a discipline not all gamblers can stick to. I'm glad he can." She glances away, looking thoughtful. "Were you just making comfort-noises, in the room? When you told her Olidammara was blessing her the only way he knows? Or do you suspect something?"


---
Reverence gives her an odd sidelong glance, her expression unreadable. "Hard to say, of course, what a god wishes or who he blesses," she admits lightly.

"But isn't is interesting that a girl whose entire life taught her to be cowed, controlled, and dominated just one day found the courage to up and leave? And in such a manner that ended up with her in a lead-lined scry-safe luxury room in the heart of the temple of the goddess of secrets? Have you touched that child and felt the wild strength rolling inside her? I would say Obad-Hai was in her heart, but considering the circumstances I wonder if another rebel god might be at work here."


---
"Perhaps we were just very, very persuasive." She frowns. "If he has taken an interest, the implications are... interesting. Helping the child escape would seem to be in direct opposition to the interests of his own cleric. We've all heard bard's tales of gods revoking their blessing when their follower displeases them, but I can't think of any real-life examples. But perhaps the god of chaos... would not be displeased if his temple leadership changed?"

Shaking her head, she turns back to Reverence. "Wild speculation at this point, of course. But if your friend does come to visit, do you suppose you might let me know what he thinks of her?"


---
Reverence sips at her tea, looking amused. "Olidammara is not entirely selfish," she points out. "Perhaps he can be as motivated by pity as Yondalla. Then too, the girl--or boy, if it comes to pass--is important in her own right. A council member with a fondness for Olidammara and a kinship with his gender is worth more than one who hates and fears him because her priestly husband terrorized her."

Then she grins. "But yes, I'm happy to pass along his first impressions. I look forward to seeing how your sweet paladin reacts when my darling nephew tries to seduce the girl. He is incorrigible and wooing comes as easily to him as breathing."


---
"Hah!" Barking laughter, she grins. "I change my request. I would pay good money to watch that."


---
Reverence grins. "He cannot possibly have an objection, your sweet paladin, as my nephew is far from evil--and since the paladin is so insistently not in love with the child, room must be made for someone else, no?" Her white eyes dance with her teasing tone.

Standing, she sets her cup down and smiles. "And now I suppose we should be getting back to our own duties. Thank you again, Sister, for the treasure you have brought me. You are always welcome here."


---(fade to black)---
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(Later)

Life in the Sehanine temple settles into a routine. Rik leaves in the morning to attend to his duties for Yondalla, and to practice his swordsmanship in the temple gardens. Reverence and Freed stay with Ellwythorn, talking with her about politics and her family. Ellwythorn doesn't like this part much, but the women are gentle and she accepts that this is necessary. The Redfangs aren't going away, no matter how much she might wish.

In the afternoons she is free to rest or receive visitors. Rik returns in the evenings to dine and sleep with her, determined to protect her and the growing child in her womb in the nights to come. In his company she is content, even happy, for the first time in her life and--while perhaps a bit lonely and craving the sunlight--has few complaints.


---
Abbie doesn't visit as often as Rik. For one, she doesn't want to draw attention to the Sehanine temple. Children see more than Rik imagined, and so do people on the street, and so she has already received visitors inquiring about Ellwythorn: her mother, weeping and pleading for information; her father, polite and gravely concerned and hinting at his gratitude for any help; her husband, possessed of enough self-preservation to refrain from openly threatening the leader of another of the Blessed Eighteen's temples, but the threat lay, blatant and unspoken, behind his questions anyway.

In all cases Abbie has been polite, sympathetic, and entirely unhelpful. Yes, the girl was here; Father Rik led her directly to Abbie. Yes, she was distraught, no, she wouldn't say why. She asked to stay the night and Abbie put her up in one of the rooms reserved for pilgrims; in the morning she advised the girl to return to her husband or at least to her parents, as a representative of the goddess of family should. She can confirm the girl left; no, she doesn't know where she went after that. Requests to search the premises are granted, albeit with a certain amount of frustration. Witnesses, if desired, can be interviewed who will confirm that the girl left and got into a cab; if they really push, someone may describe a driver who no longer exists, heading in a direction that does not lead to the Sehanine temple.

Father Rik, who could not lie his way out of a paper bag, is kept well away from anyone asking questions.

Still, a little over a tenday after Ellwythorn arrived at the temple, Abbie manages to slip away one afternoon to visit. "I come bearing honeycakes," she announces as she enters the sumptuous suite, and offers the plate of treats. "How have you been?"


---
"Abbie!" The girl draws her into a warm hug before taking the tray to sit cross legged on the bed. She pats the coverlet in invitation for Abbie to do the same. "Mmmmm, these look so good! Thank you. How's, um." She hesitates, flailing for the right words. "How's the outside?"


---
"Still there," she reports with a smile, sitting easily. "Your people did come sniffing around the temple, as predicted, but I think they've accepted it's a dead end. How's life in here?"


---
She hesitates at the question, her expression bashful. "I'm safe and happy. For I think the first time ever? Everyone is so nice. Freed is my friend, and Rik..." She blushes happily. "He makes me very happy. He makes things feel good. And he's so sure I'm pregnant. I'm going to have the baby I've always wanted, and it's going to be his. It's like a miracle."

Her eyes drop shyly to her hands and she smiles. "So it probably sounds pretty ungrateful to say I'm a little lonely? I miss the sky sometimes. Reverence says she has some thoughts on that, though."


---
Abbie smiles. "Oh, child. Of course it's lonely. We don't want you to have to stay here forever, we just have to wait for the search to die down before we start looking at anything more permanent." She gives her an assessing look. "But you and Rik are getting on well still?"


---
She melts a little, her eyes soft and happy. "He eats dinner with me?" she explains shyly. "He tells me about Yondalla, and about his training, and about his children. He has so many! He tells me their names and what they're like and how they're all so beautiful. And I tell him about my painting and what I'm working on and about the sea. And he listens! Like, he really cares. He doesn't get mad when I know things. He seems... proud of me."

Her eyes drop away, bashful again, but her smile doesn't falter. "After dinner, he helps me bathe and then we... go to bed. And, oh, Abbie! It feels so good and he makes me feel warm and loose and relaxed all over. And he... He..."

She struggles for a moment, trying to explain. "He calls me 'Mother', but he tells me mothers don't have to be women. And it's... I don't know how to explain it. When we lay together, I'm his but he doesn't call me his 'woman' like Trey does. Rik doesn't make me say it over and over. I don't... I don't even think he minds? And it's." She shivers, smiling. "It's so good? To be wanted even though I'm not a woman?"


---
Her gaze softens. "Oh, I'm so glad. And they have painting supplies for you? I didn't even think to ask about that, but I'm glad."

She leans in then. "And... I was going to ask you about that," she says gently. "I know you mentioned that was one reason you were drawn to Lirr. Now that you're here, have you had a chance to think more about that? Not being a woman, I mean?"


---
Her blush deepens, her hands fretting in her lap. "I... I know it's silly. Especially while I'm pregnant. Boys don't have wombs or breastfeed. And boys don't... The way I like Rik's... The things we do, boys are different. I know. But sometimes I just feel so much like... not a girl."


---
Abbie shakes her head, chuckling softly. "Child, no. Who told you boys can't have wombs, or do any of those things? It's rare, certainly, but it's hardly unheard of. If you don't feel like a girl then you may well not be, baby or no baby."


---
Ellwythorn's eyes widen hungrily and she looks over her shoulder at a nearby vanity mirror. "It's... not just... There's also... My hair?"

She gathers the long mane that curls gently down to the small of her back. "It's curlier when it's short, did you know that? Because then the weight isn't pulling the curls out. I... I always thought... Well, I'm not really the most handsome woman in the city, obviously!, but sometimes I look at my reflection and think I'd make a pretty boy. And then I think how maybe I'd like to be a pretty boy. If it was allowed."

Blushing deeply, she looks back at Abbie. "Do... you think Rik would like me with short hair?"


---
She smiles. "The way to find out the answer to that question is to ask him," she points out. "I suspect he'd like you with any hair or no hair." Leaning in, she adds, "But. Do keep in mind: one, whatever he prefers, it's your hair, not his. If you cut it and he doesn't like it, he can just learn to cope. Two, you are absolutely allowed to be a pretty boy, whether your hair is long or short. And three, if you cut your hair and the very next day decide it was a bad idea and you hate it? It will grow. It's not permanent." Reaching out, she touches the red curls gently. "Personally I think you're lovely as you are, but my opinion doesn't matter any more than his does. Your opinion is what counts."


---
She blushes warmly, pleased by Abbie's kind words. "Did... Did I tell you what Freed says about names?" she asks shyly.


---
Abbie grins. "No, why? Is she recommending a new one? I could understand wanting that, if so." She doesn't elaborate on why.


---
Ellwythorn hesitates with a shy smile. "Do you know what my name means in elvish? It means, uh, 'dark elf woman'." She sighs, hands fretting in her lap. "I've never liked it much. I mean, I'm not really an elf. I'm not really a woman. And I'm... It felt like Fath- like Immeral was trying to shape me into something I wasn't."

She looks down at her lap. "Freed explained that tieflings pick their own names, and that they use human words, not elvish or orcish. She says their names reflect their individuality, or something personal they've been through, or a virtue they aspire to hold. They give themselves those names so they'll never forget." Her cheeks pink now, rosy and bashful.

"She's... she's been trying different names for me, new ones when she visits. Things that don't mean anything in elvish, but mean things to humans. Freed says I may not look tough but that I need to let people respect me. That even a delicate rose has thorns and I must cut anyone who tries to pick me. That even if I can't win, I have to make them bleed."

She laughs softly. "I said I'd try."


---
She can't help but grin. "I'm sure she brings fantastic names. Shall I call you something new as well? Then she tilts her head. "And is it 'she' still? Or would you prefer something else?"


---
Ellwythorn blushes again and seems unsure. "Is... Is it weird that I like it so much when Freed calls me 'he' but I feel all melty inside when Rik uses 'she'? Shouldn't I be one or the other? But Freed means I'm strong. And Rik means I'm soft and warm and good and he'll protect me."

Laughing softly, she swipes at an errant tear. "Which is stupid, I know, because all the women I know are strong, and Rik protects boys as much as girls. But I can't reason with my head."


---
Abbie scoots closer to wrap an arm around Ellwythorn's waist. "It's unusual," she allows. "But I don't see why you couldn't be 'he' sometimes and 'she' or 'they' other times. Or 'he' to some people and 'she' to other people. Or 'they.' Or whatever else you like, really. If it makes you happy, that's what's most important. Other people can figure it out." She isn't tall enough to kiss her cheek, but she does lean her head briefly on a shoulder. "And no. Reason very rarely has much to do with what makes us feel right and safe and loved. It's okay to be a little silly when it comes to those things."


---
Ellwythorn smiles and leans in to her, tears welling in her eyes. "It's been so strange, learning to call him 'Father'," she whispers with a smile. "My entire life, Father was fear and pain. Whippings when I disobeyed him. Scowls at the dinner table when I used the wrong fork. Never once has my father approved of me. I see that now, even if I couldn't say it to you that first day."

She sighs then, the sound blissfully happy. "But Rik. Father Rik. He is the purest love I've ever imagined. Kind and good and protective. He holds me in his arms while I sleep and nothing can get at me. He's everything that word should be, I think."


---
She snorts. "You should try calling him 'Father' when you're old enough that he could be your son," she notes, but her tone is kind. "I'm glad. I'm glad he makes you happy. No one deserves fear and pain and constant disapproval, especially not from their own family. I'm glad he can give you the kind of love you deserve."

She hesitates. "Have... have the two of you talked about... after? When the child is born?"


---
Ellwythorn gives her a confused look. "After?"


---
She hesitates. "You... know that Father Rik has fathered other children?" she reminds gently. "He loves them all, of course, and cares for them as much as the mother will allow, but he doesn't... he doesn't stay with them. At least he never has." She pauses. "Then again, he's never stayed with the mother this long either. I didn't know if you'd discussed the future."


---
Ellwythorn drops their gaze to their lap, hesitant and unsure. "Not... really. But I will ask. I would like to know, too. I just assumed that since he's with me now, that... the baby wouldn't change anything."


---(fade to black)---
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(Later)

Ellwythorn is not idle during her free time in her rooms at Sehanine's temple. She paints sea-scapes of breathtaking beauty, and sketches self-portraits which never look quite right: her sketches experiment with her hair, reposition her tusks, or add tentative charcoal strokes of facial hair before swiping it all away.

An idea has been planted in her mind, but it struggles to bloom.

A month after the conception, Rik arrives in the evenings as he usually does to something of a shock: a sheepish-faced Ellwythorn waits for him with her long hair sheared away. She now wears her copper curls in a messy boyish style, the curls smaller and tighter now that the weight has been cut away. She waits shyly to see what Rik will say when he sees her.
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'Mother!' Rik calls as he pushes open the door. The door bangs against the wall and all that she can see is his broad shoulders and back as he seems to be dragging something in behind him.

"It has taken some time but it is finally finished!"

Still lugging something that thumps against the ground with each dragging step, he call out over his shoulder without turning around, "close your eyes Mother, I have a surprise for you."

He trusts her to do so and goes through the loud process of setting up an awkwardly large piece of wooden furniture in the middle of the living chamber. He fusses at it unnecessarily, poking at stuffing and rearranging the placement of a small object within the barred chamber. Nodding to himself he finally turns mouth open to speak...

He pauses. His head tilts. He glances back at the object, frowning slightly. His brow furrows and his eyes scan the rooms.

"Keep them closed Mother!", he confusingly calls from the far side of the next room. Her head turns, but does not noticeably peak. A few more odd sounds and she hears his feet plant confidently between her and the mysterious surprise.

He gazes down at her, the mother of his child. The tightened curls add a wistfully boyish note to her countenance. Her face is tilted up toward where she expects his face to roughly be. He allows himself a few moments to take in this curious new look, wondering what prompted this, but unable to contain himself anymore.

He leans down and lightly kisses the tip of her nose. He steps back, sweeping his arm wide, "ok.. open!"
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Shyly, she opens her eyes, looking up at him and studying his face. "What is it? What did you bring?"

She doesn't look around him though, not yet. "I... I cut my hair today," she spills in quick confession. "How was your day?"
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"I see that, always a thorn in my side, changing things at the last minute just to be difficult I know." He smirks and guides her gently over to the large wooden crib. It is a bit unorthodox and probably much larger than really necessary, but what really draws the eye are the carvings over the sides. Yondalla sailing the open ocean blessing dolphins and schools of fish alike. Another scene with the goddess in a boat barely big enough for two drifting down a river surrounded by frolicking wildlife. He pulls her to stand in front of him, leaning down so his big orcish head is resting on her shoulder. His hands slide around her hips and cradle her belly.

He smiles with utter contentment. Oh so 'subtly' he shuffles them both forward to peer into the bed of the crib. Laying there are two roughly made dolls. One is dark green with a big stuffed sword and the other is a lighter green streaked with various paint colors and holding a paintbrush. The second is topped with curly copper threads that have been quite recently cut short.

"You look beautiful my Thorn."
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She gasps, leaning back into his comforting embrace as she studies the crib, the beautiful scenes, and the two perfect dolls. "Rik! Where did you get all this? Oh, it's so beautiful!" She runs soft fingers over everything, marveling at the details. The doll is her favorite, though; she cradles it like a baby, touching her copper hair and the little paint streaks. "Oh, Rik," she whispers, happy tears filling her eyes.

Turning to face him, she embraces him. "Thank you. Oh, thank you. And I'm sorry I- But I love her hair so much! Even if it does make me a thorn," she adds with a laugh.
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His smile is delighted with a hint of bashfulness that is unusual to see on him.

"I know a carpenter who had 6 more children after Yondalla blessed her with the first. And a woodcarver whose sister's wife received an adorable baby boy. The mattress from a very happy grandfather, but the dolls... I made myself, for our child to always have us close. "
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The tears in her eyes flow freely now, but they are joyful. Holding him tightly, she kisses him again and again, his cheeks, his lips, his neck, his chest. "I've never imagined anything like this for myself, for my baby," she whispers, laughing through her tears. "Oh, Rik. You've made me so happy."

Gently, she sets the doll down with the other, and pulls him to the bed to sit and cuddle with her. For a long while she just watches the cradle with happy eyes and holds her hand over his hand on her stomach. "It's growing," she whispers happily. "Reverence comes to check every day. She says we couldn't be healthier. That Yondalla is taking care of us. She says our baby will love me no matter what my name is or how long my hair is. She says what you say: that not all mothers are girls. Abbie says so too."

Closing her eyes, she leans against him with a smile. "Sometimes I have these pretty dreams about Yondalla, too. Telling me I'm important and good. Telling me you'll protect me. I… I don't think they're real, but I like them. I do. They make me feel like I can be with you forever."

Looking up at Rik, she hesitates. "Do… Do you think you'll still care about me after the baby is born? Will… I still be your Thorn when I'm not pregnant anymore?"
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"As long as Yondalla believes you need my protection I will find a way to be there. I care about all of the mothers in my life and I would treat you no less. The child you carry...our child.. if you want me to be a part of his life I would do so gladly as with all who have given me that opportunity.

As far as being my Thorn?" He smiles gently, "it is possible...I may have exaggerated a bit on how thorny you can be, but I think with a bit of effort you might surprise yourself. "
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Thorn giggles softly but turns to take his hand and study his face with a gentle smile. "Rik? You know this baby isn't going to be like the other ones, right?" Her smile is soft. "Like, it's not just being there for the birth; you can be there for their first word, for their first bedtime story, for their first solid food."

Blushing, she holds his hand tightly. "And you don't have to! But I'm... It's an option. To be their father all the time, and not just when they visit the temple." Leaning in, she kisses him with slow warmth. "And... I could be your Thorn all the time, too."
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He considers her words seriously for a long while.

"I am a paladin of Yondalla... Beyond my more unique calling, I do have many duties at the temple. These nights with you have been a blessing, but also part of my duty. If you did not need my protection then my duty would be at the temple... You also will have duties, political ones that go beyond what I am really familiar with, but I do know they will be important. You will be important. When you are no longer hiding away with me. When you can be the amazing person you are for all to see... you may not want to be tied to a simple paladin of Yondalla. ... As you well know politcal marriages can be made as well. I have nothing to offer there...

I would be grateful to be in both of your lives as much as you see fit Mother Thorn, but I could not be so selfish as to take you away from the rest of Brilight"
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Thorn's hands tremble as she holds his, her fingers so tiny around his. "Rik, I..." She takes a long, deep breath and blinks several times. "I don't want to take you away from your duty. I don't want to trap you or cage you. I understand now that when you... when we made this baby, you weren't... expecting anything more with me." She swallows and blinks again, trying not to cry.

"But I... will never stop wanting you near me?" she explains, smiling sorrowfully up at him. "If you wanted to be with me in addition to your... duty to protect me, I would like that? And I'm not... I don't really want a political marriage after the last one. I'd rather have a paladin who loves me and protects me and doesn't beat me than a politician who sees me as a playing token on his game board."

She takes another deep breath, her gaze sliding away from his. "And I... I keep thinking it would be nice if our baby could know you as its father. A father it sees every day, I mean. Not just when I take it to the temple for visits. But I don't know if that's something you're allowed. I don't know if it's something you even want. Abbie says you... might not want me anymore once the baby comes."
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"I am not concerned about you trapping or caging me, but there is a whole city, let alone world out there that you have never seen. I am grateful that Yondalla has blessed us to be joined like this, but it has been barely a full cycle of the moon. I will not run away as soon as the child is born. This is new for both of us though and I think we should take time to learn how we might fit in these new roles. "
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It isn't the answer she wants to hear, but she understands. Tucking her feet up under her, she leans against him on the bed and studies the beautiful crib with quiet eyes until the candles burn low.


---(fade to black)---
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