To read Part 1, click here.
To read Part 2, click here.
I don’t care how many people followed him here. Let them alone. Gregor, are you listening? They both survived!
Here, here. The old man – yes, one of the followers, I don’t care – came from where you’re standing and sat right here, with the child in his arms like any proud father. The way he always kept an elbow up at us, you could tell how protective he was, how much he loved the boy. He wanted after some tome we printed when the press first opened. He practically threw money at me, like we have use for crowns out here. All I’ve got is a rusty press, a malformed heart, and rags I wash for Juniper.
I was trying to explain to him, trying to explain that we did that half on dictation and the Arab who ordered it only ever wanted five copies. At first, at first I thought Juniper was getting up from the rear to support me like she shouldn’t, but the sounds got so awful. A third labor on that same stone cold baby, and everyone in the shack knew from the sound this was the last one. I nearly bled for her in sympathy.
Now the old man had assisted with births back on the mainland, and most in the shack were so feeble from plague they couldn’t help, so I led him in with me. He… and you know, Saul got the same expression you’ve got now. Listen, I love my daughter more than anyone on the island, so why do you all question me so? But when Saul heard a stranger was in the rear, he came in with an axe handle and threatened to scatter the old man’s brains. With my heart, I couldn’t fight Saul, not then. So he picked up his boy and ran from the cabin, and no sooner was he through the threshold, then Juniper started bleeding in earnest. Like she was birthing to a razor. Everyone had to rise and hold her down, even the old man that you and Saul distrusted on principle.
The old man set his son on the floor, and didn’t even have hands on Juniper before it stopped. Like nothing you ever seen, turned to nothing, and I thought our girl was gone to Heaven. And Gregor, she didn’t give birth to a stone. We’ve got a daughter and granddaughter – but keep quiet, because they need rest. I never even thought I’d live to have a daughter, and now… come look at her. And keep quiet.
I know it’s funny, he’s so much bigger than her. Sleeps all the time, the old man says. Begged me to let his boy sleep in the same room as the mother and child. Some mainland paganism, I guess. But there’s no harm in them sharing the basket. He’s like her luck charm. Watching them fools me almost enough that my heart feels normal again. Haven’t wanted to sit all afternoon.
So you let those followers stay, no matter what they’re chanting. There’ll be more in time. For now you tell me – do you remember anything about that Arab who had us press five copies of a book?
No? Well we’ve got to fix that. The old man deserves to know whatever he wants, and he wants to find this Arab, or at least another copy of his book. If his mistress burned one, there ought to be four more out there, oughtn’t there?