Turning Point Sample

In the Faerie Glade

Chapter One

The drop from Low Station to the park world lodge, instead of being a single jump, was a carefully timed series of flickers which would last almost half a minute. To the visitors on the drop stage, which had rails but not visible glass, it seemed like an actual descent from the elegant functionality of the station to the carefully modulated rusticity of the lodge. Those who wanted to watch the world below, as they descended to it, stood at the rails. Those who were uncomfortable, with anything other than the familiar field of stars around them, stood in the middle.

The stage seemed to slow as it neared the lodge, giving everyone a spectacular view of the world which they would not see again until they departed that evening, or the next day, or the next week, or after however long they chose to stay. They could not see the lodge directly beneath them until just before they passed into the lodge itself. 

The walls which now surrounded them were real wood, light in color and finely grained but, unlike all the wood on ship and city, without any finish. The doors and rails at the front slid aside after a two second pause. Those who were familiar with the lodge left the stage first, knowing where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. Vilinel, who had never been here, and Alizan, who had not visited since he was a child, were the last to leave. Vilinel — as she almost always did, now that her pregnancy was near term — took Alizan’s arm when they went out into the lounge. The drop-stage doors slid shut behind them, almost silently.

They paused a moment to let Vilinel look around. It was a larger enclosed place than anywhere on a ship, or even in the city, though some of the parks were larger. It was a comfortable place, furnished with natural wood and leather and heavy fabric and even some polished stone. There was no metal, even framing the opposite wall, which was visibly glass, not like on the drop stage. The windows went from waist high to the ceiling, three floors above the lobby, and were as wide as the lobby itself, nearly six hundred feet from side to side. There was a deep, roofed veranda outside, and beyond it was the park. It was mostly lawn near the lodge, with a few large, widely spaced trees near by, more trees farther away, and beyond that there was the woods.

There were three balconies above the lounge, on the sides and back but not across the glass wall. There were people in the lounge, a few newcomers like themselves, who seemed almost as lost, and almost as overwhelmed by what they could see of the park, but most of the visitors had been here for a while, or had been here before. There was enough room at tables, chairs, sofas, and benches for three or four times as many. 

“Are you all right?” Alizan asked. Vilinel was clinging tightly to his arm with one hand, the other was pressed up against her belly.

“Yes,” she said breathlessly, “I mean — yes, I’m fine, I just can’t take it all in at once. And the people, they seem so excited. I mean, in a quiet kind of way — or reserved — or intense? I guess I feel the same way.”

“Being here does good things to you.” He looked around, feeling the same as the other people did. “It was being here that brought me out of the weakness early. People don’t come here as often as they should. Are you glad you came?”

She looked around again, then back at him, then suddenly realized, “I am. I think I’m going to like it here.”

“Not everybody does.”

Most of the people in the lounge were Khestari visitors, like themselves, but there were some, wearing casual uniforms of blue and gray. They were one of the other peoples of the Cluster. “Are they Mroghan?” Vilinel asked.

“They are. They don’t serve anywhere else. They have their own residences not far away.”

The Mroghan were smaller than everybody else, by a foot or more. They walked on four legs set close together, and had four arms, one pair above the other. Their faces, short and dog-like, were covered with muted blue scales, as were their hands. They showed a carnivore’s teeth when they spoke, or sometimes when they smiled, as Mroghan do, at one of the visitors. 

One of them, seeing them standing there as if they didn’t know what to do next, came to them and smiled up at them courteously.  “My name is S’thaek’kosh,” he said to Vilinel. “Are you doing well?”

“I am, thank you.” 

He dipped his head. “Please let us know if there is anything we can do for you.” He looked at Alizan.

“I’m very well, thank you.” 

“Very good. I’ll be glad to help you with whatever you need. Your room is ready, may I take you to it?” He turned half way to the side, inviting them to walk beside him.

They crossed the lounge to the left, to a wide, open hallway half way to the windows. They entered the hallway and rode the floor past numbered doors on either side, some sixty feet apart. “Is this your first time?” S’thaek’kosh asked.

“It is,” Vilinel said, “but Alizan has told me a lot about it.”

“I was here when I was eleven,” Alizan said.

“I hope you will be comfortable here,” S’thaek’kosh said to Vilinel. “We have never had someone here so close to her term.”

“I had been planning to deliver in our ship’s garden. I spent a lot of time trying to make it as natural as possible. But Alizan thought I might like this better. I think I do.”

They stopped in front of door 14. “We don’t have a birth center here, or at Low Station,” S’thaek’kosh said.

“We’ve made arrangements with the lodge administration,” Alizan said. “They have assured us that they will be able to take care of us if we decide to stay.”

S’thaek’kosh dipped his head. “I’m glad to hear that. I hope you will enjoy yourselves until your time comes.”

“I am sure we will,” Vilinel said. “I really don’t know why I haven’t come here before.”

“This will be a very different experience for you. The park is rather larger than a ship’s garden.” He smiled at the understatement, gestured to the door, and it slid open. They went into a simply furnished vestibule. “Please let us know if you need anything at all.”

“We will, thank you.”

S’thaek’kosh went away, and the door slid shut.

The main room was suitable for sitting and living and entertaining, with windows at the far side which showed the forest beyond the lodge at the back of the building. A large archway on the left led to a comfortable dining room, with a kitchen at the back. Double doors on the right opened into a very large bedroom, with a bathroom at the back. There was much more space here than there was on a small personal ship, though not as much as on Alizan’s ship.

“Are you going to be all right?” Alizan asked.

“Yes,” she said, almost with a sigh. “I just wasn’t expecting this place to be so big.”

“Wait till we go outside.”

Their luggage, which had been sent on ahead, was standing by the bed. Nothing had been put away, doing for yourself was part of the park experience. They didn’t have much, and they soon found where everything went.

They had bought new clothes suitable for the outdoors. Vilinel undressed and paused, aware that Alizan was watching her. His expression, mild as it was, showed appreciation for what he was seeing, a touch of anxiety, and even a little passion. She smiled back, a bit provocatively. She was a little anxious too. “What shall we do first?” she asked, then chose what she wanted to wear.

“We can stay in the lounge,” he undressed, “and just meet some people.”

“We could,” she said, watching him now, liking what she saw. “I don’t think we know anybody here.”

“Or we can go out onto the veranda,” he said, “and see what it looks like outside, what it feels like —” he took a deep breath, then chose his clothes.

“What do you remember about that?” Vilinel asked him.

He sat on the bed to put on his new, sturdy shoes. “The smell, the feel of the air, the feel of the sunlight, and how different the whole world is at night.” He stood, went to her, put his arms around her, kissed her, and said, “Let’s go outside. There’ll be somebody to introduce us to the outdoors and tell us what we need to know. Then we can do whatever we feel like. We’ll come back for dinner.” They hung their city clothes in the cleaner, went back to the lounge, and out the open glass doors. 


The Veranda was sixty or seventy feet deep, and as wide as the lounge, almost three hundred feet in each direction. There were rustic benches with rustic but comfortable cushions near the rails, facing out over the huge lawn. There were serving tables under the windows, on which were glass-domed platters with unfamiliar snacks. There were beverage dispensers, which could have been antiques, for hot and cold drinks. There was tableware and napkins and small plates and glasses and cups, none of them looking out of place here, as they would on a ship and in the city. 

Small tables with chairs were between the service tables and the benches at the railings. There were larger tables with more chairs in some places, and larger chairs and benches in groupings, and smaller service tables between groupings. There was enough seating for several hundred people without crowding. There were only twenty-some visitors out here now, and maybe another twenty or thirty people out on the lawn — walking, sitting in slung-back chairs, or at small round tables, or just sitting on the grass. 

One of the Mroghan staff saw them and came to them. “Welcome to the park,” she said. 

“Thank you,” they both said.

“I am Brid’kreks. This is your first time here.”

“My second,” Alizan said, “but that was a long time ago.”

“Then welcome back. I don’t think things have changed much, but,” she turned to Vilinel, “there are a few things you should know. If you want to swim, we have a pool. The rivers and lakes are for the wildlife, though there are places where you can fish. You are perfectly safe if you can see the lodge, but the farther you go into the woods or forest, the more likely you are to see animals, so,” she handed each of them a small, black disk on a chain. The disks had rounded edges and a raised button on one side. “You should wear these whether you are outdoors or in the lodge.”

“I remember these,” Alizan said. He took his and slipped the chain over his neck. Vilinel put hers on too.

“They will keep animals at a distance,” Brid’kreks said, “but don’t try to get too close to them, and don’t do anything they might think is aggressive. They are not tame, and you should not try to pet them. Tap the button to communicate with the lodge in case you need anything. And please, don’t leave trash anywhere. There are shelters and picnic areas with refuse bins, otherwise carry everything with you. Okay?”

“Okay,” they both said.

“Good,” Brid’kreks said. “We have our open-sided tour busses, if you want to go to some of the places that are farther than a comfortable walk from the lodge, but otherwise you’re pretty much on your own. Don’t hesitate to use the disk if you want to ask questions. Okay?”

“Okay,” Vilinel said. “This is going to be exciting.”

“Good,” Brid’kreks said. She smiled politely, nodded once, and left.

Vilinel took Alizan’s arm, and they went down to the lawn. He was as excited as she was, in some ways more so, his feelings sharpened by an intense nostalgia. Vilinel squeezed his arm against her and looked around, trying to take in everything — the grass, the widely-spaced trees, the smells, the sounds, the distances, the sunlight, the vastness. This was nothing like the garden on their ship, where they had been planning to stay for her birthing. The sky… she stopped walking and just looked up at it, looked at the clouds, blinked at the sun. A thrill ran down her back, from the base of her skull to the end of her spine. She had been concerned that maybe all this openness would be frightening. She had heard of some people who had come to the park but wouldn’t go back again. But it wasn’t frightening. It was wonderful. This was what she wanted for her birthing. Nothing in a center, or even on their ship, could compare with what it was like here. “Now I understand,” she said, in a voice so low that even she could barely hear it. 

“I wish more people came here,” Alizan said. “Until you’ve been here, you really don’t know what it’s all about.”

“Even those who won’t come back?”

“Even them. They just see it in a different way. They know now that it’s not for them, no matter what anybody says.”

There were only a few of the slung-back chairs between the solitary trees, but there were also some low cushions, which would be taken in at night, or in inclement weather. The woods was nearer the end of the lodge to their left, to the east, where several little gazebos were set out on the lawn. There were three larger shelters nearer the woods there, with tables and benches for groups. They went to the gazebos, smiling and nodding at the people who’s eyes they caught, and sometimes saying a casual hello. 

The gazebo had four two-person benches without backs, so that you could sit facing the railing or a central table. “There aren’t many people here,” Vilinel said.

“I don’t know why there are so few. This must be just a momentary pause in visits. Some people prefer the hot summer, some the snowy winter, but spring and fall usually have a lot of people. People who go to other worlds are almost always indoors, so if they want to experience the change of seasons, they have to come here. Maybe we should just take advantage of how quiet it is.”

“I wish I had traveled more.”

“I visited the Ab Thnak once, and the Divoi three times, but that was on business. I spent very little time outside.” 

They left the gazebo and went around the lodge to the back. The woods became forest, which was nearer here, a five minute walk away. It was really forest, with large trees, and skinny trees struggling up toward the light, and dense undergrowth right at the edge. 

The forest receded as they went toward the west end of the lodge and became woods again. There were playing fields here which couldn’t be seen from the veranda, farther back among the trees. There were more people here, indulging in the same sports they could play on ship or city, and other sports which neither Alizan nor Vilinel recognized, some of which required a lot more space. Playing here would be different, with the air and sky and temperature and smells and breezes. The weather today was perfect for outdoor activities. 

“Maybe this is where everybody is,” Vilinel said.

They came back around to the front of the lodge, and found a pair of slung-back chairs, half way to the woods, which they brought together, facing away from the veranda. There were a few staff among the guests to take care of their needs. Alizan signaled to one who was passing by, and when she came over, asked what there was to drink. She told them, and they made their choices. Another Mroghan brought them and a small table, just a few minutes later, set the table between the chairs, and put the drinks on it. 

Every now and then people would come by to say hello, to ask how they were enjoying the park, about what they did at home, and other light small talk. Occasionally someone would ask Vilinel when she was due. She told them that it would be in two weeks, give or take a day. Twice someone suggested that she shouldn’t have come here so late in her pregnancy. 

“I want to deliver here,” she told them. “We’ve made arrangements with the park, and when we find a good place, where I won’t impose on other visitors, they will have whatever we need nearby.”

“It took some doing,” Alizan said, “but we got it all worked out two months ago. We’ll be talking with the lodge office again tomorrow, just to make sure.”

People were not always reassured, but the more times Alizan and Vilinel talked about it, the more sure they were that they were doing the right thing. The brief time they had spent outdoors so far was totally convincing.

There were the smells of growing things in her garden, but it was different here. There were more scents, they were stronger, and they were somehow relaxing and invigorating at the same time. There was the air, which moved, and was warmer than at home, but comfortable. There was sunlight, not just starlight surrounding the dome over her garden on their ship, or artificial light from the dome when they wanted it. It was bright, and very warm, and it felt good. 


The shadows of people on the lawn changed as the sun seemed to slide down the sky. The air cooled, and people started walking toward the lodge, singly or in pairs or small groups, talking with each other. It was wonderful, but it was getting to be time for dinner, so Alizan and Vilinel went in.

The dining room was large, the table-sets were widely spaced, and there was enough seating for far more people than were there now. A waiter greeted them when they came, found them a table where they could watch the rest of the room, and explained the menu to them. They could have foods like those which they might make at home, or which were served in public places in the city. They could have meats, vegetables, and fruits which were grown on the park world, in different places with different soils and climate, which would give them subtly different flavors. Or they could have wild meats which were hunted in extensive preserves far away, and wild fruits which were collected in season. They could even try things which were imported from other worlds. They asked about the differences, and were given small samples. It was all good.

There were a lot of people in the lounge afterward, a few of whom they had seen in the city, but none of whom they knew by name. There was easy conversation, even with strangers. Some people moved from one grouping to another, and others preferred to just sit and watch and listen. Day cycles on the city, the ships, and the stations were standardized and synchronized for convenience, but here they were determined by the world’s rotation, and every day was just a little bit different. Some people would stay up late. Alizan and Vilinel did not.

They lay together in the not-quite darkness, tired but in a good way, still excited and ready for more outdoors the next day. He put his hand on her belly, feeling her skin and tiny movements within. “How are you?” he asked her.

“I’m feeling good. I think all that walking was good for me. I’ll be a bit stiff tomorrow.”

“Me too. It’s more interesting walking here than at home.”

“This place is wonderful. I’m glad we came.”

“Me, too. Oh, he kicked.”

“He’s getting more active. He’s almost ready to come.”

“You think he’s going to be okay?”

She put her hand on his. “I’ve not had any signs or symptoms. Not everybody does.”

“But still …”

“I think he’s going to be fine. I feel well, and I feel stronger since we came here. What shall we do tomorrow?”

“Let’s decide that in the morning.” He put his arm around her, and moved up against her so that he could hold her until she went to sleep. And then he went to sleep. 



Chapter Two

They had a wonderful breakfast the next morning. The eggs had been taken from a nest just a few minutes ago. There was a kind of bacon which had more lean than fat. The toast had more flavor than they were used to, because it had been made with wheat grown on the park world, and so was rather different from that which was grown on the two farm worlds. There was an interesting kind of jelly with a little zip to it, coffee with real whole cream that had not been processed, and a grilled seedy vegetable which was basically sweet but with a hint of savory to it. None of these foods could be gotten elsewhere, they were part of the park experience.

They went to the park offices and spoke with the Khestari administrator who was there on a one year tour, to make sure that everything had been arranged for Vilinel’s delivery. He assured them that it had, and was quite excited about it, should they actually decide to deliver here. 

They went to the lounge. Alizan caught the eye of one of the staff waiting there, who came to them at once, looked up at them and said, “Good morning. I’m Tith’esh’eond. How can I help you?”

“There is a lake not far from here,” Alizan said.

“There is, just a few minutes away by bus. Would you like to go?”

“I think we’d rather walk,” Vilinel said, “if it’s not too far.”

“Just a mile and a half. Come with me and I’ll show you how to get there.” He stepped aside, inviting them to walk beside him to the entrance, and out to the veranda.

It was a beautiful morning, still cool but promising to get warmer. There was a breeze, bringing scents of the surrounding forest. A few small cumulus clouds were overhead, occasionally casting shadows as they came between the sun and the ground. “Is the weather always like this?” Vilinel asked.

“Most days at this season,” Tith’esh’eond said. “It can be quite different at different times of the year.”

“Alizan told me about that. I’d like to come back some time when there’s snow.”

“There won’t be much of it here, but there are mountains where we have a small lodge. Some people go directly there.”

“I think it was early in the warm season,” Alizan said, “when I was here before. That was many years ago. We went to the lake and caught fish.” 

“You can catch more if you want to. Everything you’ll need is at the shelter.” He pointed generally to the south east. “There is a roadway, where the trees are more widely spaced for the busses. You should get there in about a half an hour. If you get lost, just use your disks.” He smiled once, nodded, and went to attend to someone else.

There was a small group of older people near the roadway, which was clear but grassy. One of the men turned to them and asked, “Are you going to the lake?” 

“We are,” Alizan said. “I’ve been there before, but this is Vilinel’s first time.”

“We come to the park every few years,” the woman with him said. “May we walk with you?” 

“I would like that,” Vilinel said. 

The older couple said their goodbyes to the rest of the group, who went back toward the lodge, then went with Alizan and Vilinel to the grassy roadway.

They introduced themselves. The man was Polinas and the woman was Quaring. They told each other something about who they were, and what they did, and what they thought about the park. This was the first year that Polinas and Quaring had come without their adult son, who’s work and social commitments had kept him in the city. They were rather proud of him.

 Vilinel had become used to people commenting on her pregnancy. The population of the city had been declining for some generations now, so pregnancy was important, and everyone was interested, though not everybody talked about it. 

Quaring, as they walked and talked, kept glancing at Vilinel with something like mild disapproval, and at last she said, “Should you be here this close to term?”

“I’ve got two weeks yet. I was going to deliver on our ship — I’ve been working a lot on our garden to make it just right — but Alizan suggested that we come here in case there was some place I’d like better.”

“Isn’t that rather risky?” Polinas asked. “A birth center is so much safer.”

“The park administration is going to do what they can for us,” Alizan said. “If Vilinel finds a place she likes, they’ll set up a privacy, and have the necessary people and equipment on hand but out of sight. Someone will be with her during the delivery.”

“It won’t be sterile,” Quaring said. “You shouldn’t be taking chances with a new life. We lost two on the third day before we had our son.”

“I’m so sorry,” Vilinel said. “I take it he is doing well.”

“Oh, yes, he is now. He was weak, as so many are, but he came out of it when he was thirteen, and so he isn’t as small as many others are.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Alizan said. “I came out of my weakness when I was eleven.”

“I would never have guessed that,” Polinas said.

“We’ve done all the tests,” Vilinel said, “and there are no symptoms at all, so I don’t think we are putting our child at risk.”

They continued talking about that for a while. Alizan and Vilinel did their best to be casually reassuring, and Polinas and Quaring did their best to not let their disapproval show. But by the time they got to within sight of the lake — which was indeed beautiful — it was clear that there could be no friendship with such different points of view. The older couple took their leave and went to join some others.


There was a rustic shelter where the grassy roadway came out of the woods. A meadow-like lawn sloped down to the lake, which was almost half a mile long, and a little over a quarter mile to the far side. A good-sized stream fed it at the left, and drained it at the right. There were bridges over both streams, so rustic as to be almost natural. 

Several people were sitting on the grass, or standing at the edge of the water, where three small boats were tied to very short wooden piers. People had taken two more boats out, and were rowing slowly around the lake, one going each way. People on the far side were fishing from the shore, and from a small gazebo at the end of a longer pier. There were tables with benches on that side, and free-standing places to cook, and a deep, three-sided shelter farther back under the trees. A few more people were walking in the surrounding woods.

Alizan went a little way toward the lake, then stopped and just looked around. He was thrilled.

“Do you want to fish?” Vilinel asked.

“I do.” He glanced at her, she took his arm again, they went to the bridge on the right, crossed to the other side, and went along the edge of the water, looking at the fish that were just off shore. There was a couple and a small girl, a couple dozen yards from the bridge, who were fishing with poles.

“Good morning,” Vilinel and Alizan said almost together.  

“Good morning,” the man said, smiling.

“Have you caught anything?” Alizan asked.

“A few,” the woman said.

“They’re in the cage,” the little girl said. She pointed to a stake with a cord tied to it coming from the water.

“If you want to fish,” the man said, “you’ll find whatever you need in that shelter.”

They thanked him and went there. 

There were poles and nets and bait of several kinds, and light wire cages for their catches. They chose what they wanted, including a folding stool for Vilinel, and went back to the lake, a courteous distance from the family. They fished for a while, caught a few, and the family caught a few more. 

“What do we do with them now,” Vilinel called to them.

“If you have enough,” the man said, “you can have a late breakfast.” He pulled his cage from the water. There were quite a few fish in it. “You can take what you don’t want to the kitchen at the lodge. Would you like to join us?” 

“I would like that,” Vilinel said. 

Alizan pulled his cage from the water, and they went with the family to one of the tables. The free-standing cooker was a rectangular box with a grill on top. It would need fuel to make a fire.

They put the cages down on the grass and introduced themselves. The father was Generet, the mother was Warleon, and their daughter was Zenetay. She was nine but she looked to be about seven because of the weakness. 

“Have you ever cooked out before?” Generet asked. They had not. “Let’s put our poles away and get what we need.” They left the cages, but took everything else with them to the shelter. 

There were places where they could leave their poles and tackle, packages of what looked like burned wood — “Charcoal,” Warleon said — and there were sets of tools with which to clean their fish. They also got some absorbent but moisture-proof cloth to hold the waste, and another cloth to put on the table.

It was Zenetay, kneeling on the table bench, who showed them how to clean the fish. She handled the sharp knife as if she knew what she was doing. Warleon laid out the fire, and used a starter included in the fuel package to set it going. Generet got a cooler from under the table where he had left it earlier, and took out  drinks for everybody. Zenetay finished cleaning the fish, which they seasoned and cooked on the grill. Alizan had seen an open fire when he had been here as a child, but it was completely new to Vilinel. 

Zenetay talked with them as she set the table and her parents tended the fish. The weakness had not affected her intelligence. She was enjoying all this, but she said that she found the infinite sky rather scary. Her parents treated her just like another person. Alizan and Vilinel were quite impressed with this, compared with what they had seen in some other families. 

They sat to eat when the fish was done — it was wonderful prepared that way. They had some raw vegetables and crisp crackers from the cooler. They continued to get to know each other, and quite enjoyed each other’s company. Vilinel felt comfortable enough with the family to tell them about the older couple’s concerns and disapproval.

“We were concerned about that too,” Generet said, “when Warleon was carrying Zenetay. We went to the strictest birth center in the city, but it didn’t make any difference. Zenetay was born with the weakness, but she was strong enough to live through her third day, and though she’s a little smaller than normal for a child her age, she’s doing very well, and we hope that she’ll be at full strength by the time she’s twelve. She is not at all self-conscious about her size.” Zenetay smiled at Alizar and Vilinel when he said this.

They cleaned up after themselves when they finished, and continued talking as they walked around the lake to the bridge at the inlet and crossed over. They got to the shelter by the roadway and found that the bus would be coming soon. They and some others took it back to the lodge. Warleon and Generet suggested that they might meet again for dinner, then took their leave so that they could go to their room.

“That was really nice,” Vilinel said. “I’m so glad we met them.”

“If we keep on getting along,” Alizan said, “we should find out how to get in touch with them back home.”

“I would like that. Right now, I’d like to get a couple chairs, and something to drink, and just watch people for a while.” She looked around until she met the eye of one of the staff, who smiled and came to her. 



Chapter Three

Coming to the park world had been a good thing to do, in and of itself. Now Alizan and Vilinel wanted to take the time to find a place where their child could be born. It had to be somewhere that felt right and good to Vilinel. They also had to consider the logistics of setting up a private place which wouldn’t interfere with other visitors, but was also accessible to whatever support they might need.

They had given themselves two weeks. Birth dates were accurate to within a day either way, so even while they were looking for a birth place, they could take some time to just be tourists, and visit some of the other places that brought people here. If they found nothing suitable within the next ten days, that would give them time to go back to their ship, with three to five days to spare. The return to the city would take less than an hour altogether, and their ship’s physician would be ready for them when they got there. Their ship’s crew were making sure that Vilinel’s garden would be all set for her when she came back, with a child or to give birth. 


After breakfast the next day — fluffy bread-cakes with butter, sweet fruit syrup, and sausages — Alizan, Vilinel, and several other people took the two-hour trip by bus to some hills, visible from the lodge, which were in the west. The bus rode well above the grassy roadway, with the side walls down so that everybody could not only see, but hear and smell the world around them. The route took them through interesting parts of the woods, which became forest, the nature of which changed as they got higher into the hills. It was a beautiful day.

The hilltop was relatively flat, and the trees were widely spaced, and from there they could see the lodge to the east, and beyond it the glint of the lake. Further to the west there were mountains, which were especially popular when it snowed. The forest to the north was different from that in the south, darker and denser. 

It was time for lunch. Everybody sat on the grass, or on some cushions which had been provided, comfortably talking with each other. Some people liked Vilinel’s ideas about birth, though they thought she was a bit daring. Others were rather disapproving, as Polinas and Quaring had been. And a few people had no feelings either way. But it wouldn’t be here. Though there was plenty of room for a birthing, there would always be other people, and park services wouldn’t set up a privacy just for Vilinel.


The next day they went with Warleon, Generet, Zenetay, and nine other people to a cave complex south of the hills. Vilinel had no intention of birthing there. The trip, as before, was easy, so that they could see what the forest, and some of the unusual places in it were like. 

They arrived at an educational station, where they would have lunch later. The entrance to the cave was a little way beyond that. From there they went into a long, dimly lit chamber which echoed. Then there was a large room, just as dimly lit, full of stalactites and stalagmites and other limestone decorations, and beyond it there was a small, underground lake, with nearly transparent blind fish. They went past a narrow passage which they could not enter, but which was lit by a succession of lights leading off into an unknown distance. A very dark chamber was closed off transparently, because it was a refuge for bats. They went along a ledge, with a protective rail, overlooking a deep chasm, the bottom of which was too dark to see. There was a twisty cavern with lacy-pointy multi-colored limestone formations. They went up steps, cut into the side of another echoing cavern, to a broad twisty passage, illuminated only by daylight from the end. They had lunch at the station, and the bus took them to the lodge by a longer route, with some exciting forest scenery. They got back about an hour before dinner.


They took another bus ride, this one faster and driving just above the trees, so that they could see how the woods became a thinner forest. Eventually they came to the edge of a beautiful prairie, or maybe it was a meadow. There were a few small, solitary trees of a different kind; a variety of knee-high grasses; bushes with  interesting foliage; and wild flowers of all sizes and colors and shapes. They heard small animals moving through the grasses, and saw grazing animals not too far away. There were high soaring birds, long-legged birds walking through the grass, smaller birds flying from bush to tree, and insects, some metallic, some with large colorful wings, jumping, flying, standing on grass and leaves, visiting the flowers. Vilinel thought that maybe they could have a place along the side some distance away, and then it started to rain. They had lunch in a shelter, and went more quickly back to the lodge.


There was a place called Falls Canyon, which was actually an old, steep-sided valley, cut by a small river, which was forested down both sides. The falls, which could be seen from both the rim of the valley and the bottom, dropped over three hundred feet to the river in three stages. There was a complex rapids about a mile down stream from there. It was all very interesting and beautiful, but no place for a birth, especially since there were large animals, which were curious about people, though they kept their distance.


They joined a group which went into the forest north of the lodge. It was, as they had seen from the hills, darker and denser and much more wild. The huge trees were of a different kind, which had shaded out most of the undergrowth. There were places where one of the great trees had fallen some time ago, and where the undergrowth was quite thick. These were refuges for the larger animals, mostly herbivorous, that would come out at night. Smaller animals found refuge elsewhere. They didn’t see or hear any animals, or even birds. In the far north of this forest was where some carefully conserved game was taken for serving in the dining room. 

The people with them were excited about Vilinel’s pregnancy, and thought her idea of birthing outdoors was thrilling, even if they wouldn’t do it themselves. Several jokingly asked Vilinel whether she would like to deliver here. She responded, with good humor, that it wasn’t exactly the kind of environment she was looking for. 


Alizan and Vilinel, with Generet, Warleon, Zenetay, and several other people, took a bus through the forest south of the lodge, where there was no roadway. Every trip to what was known as the Faerie Wood went a different way. Some people liked to spend a part of the day on a scenic tour through true wilderness. This trip was less scenic and took only two hours.

The Faerie Wood was not a clearing — there were lots of trees and bushes and other ground plants — but it had been completely deforested some time ago, and had grown back into a very pretty, semi-open place, almost a giant glade, almost a mile across in both directions. The bus left them at a gazebo near the edge, then parked back in the forest, where it couldn’t be seen until it came back to the gazebo in the middle of the afternoon, or when everybody was ready to return to the lodge. 

Some people set out their food, snacks, and drinks on the tables under and near the gazebo for a later lunch. Alizan, Vilinel, and some others took their lunches and drinks with them. Everybody was free to wander anywhere they chose, among the small, widely spaced trees, the interesting shrubbery which would look good in any ship’s garden, the sunny areas with wild flowers growing through the tall grasses, all with the sounds of birds, small animals, and insects. 

They couldn’t get lost. The verge between the full-grown trees of the forest and the smaller, younger growth of the Faerie Wood was well defined. It was all perfectly natural, but this was the only place of its kind. It would, in time, become forest just like everywhere else. It could not be preserved without spoiling it. 

Alizan and Vilinel found it almost magical, as it must have been for many others for it to have gotten its name. They walked around, farther and farther, every place a little different from every other, until they were out of sight of the gazebo, sharing a thought without speaking, absorbed in the marvelous nature of this place. They found a cozy spot between two interesting trees where they had their light lunch. They didn’t have to talk about the Faerie Wood as a possible birth site, it was so clear to both of them that this was where they wanted their child to be born. Somewhere out of the way of other people. 

They wandered around some more, talking with the people they chanced to meet, until it was time to get ready to go back to the lodge. Everybody came to the gazebo, and while they were waiting for the bus, packed up what they had brought with them. Vilinel told Generet and Warleon that they were going to stay a while longer, explore some more, and would call for a ride later. Someone questioned whether she was strong enough. She assured them that she was just fine. Alizan told the bus driver, when she came, what they were going to do, and everybody else went back to the lodge.

“There are lots of nice places,” Alizan said, “but there will be people coming here. Maybe on the far side, a little way into the verge, where we could still see the Wood. A privacy there wouldn’t be in anybody’s way.”

“Nobody went that far this morning,” Vilinel said. “Let’s go see.” They threw what was left of their picnic into a trash bin, but took their water bottles and a packet of sweet-savory biscuits with them.

They hadn’t been to the far side either. The Faerie Wood became more magical the farther they went. The verge, when they got to it, was not deep but fairly dense. They walked along it until they came to a place, just over a mile from the gazebo, where there was what might have been a pathway through the forest, but really wasn’t. 

In some ways, it was more magical here than in the Faerie Wood. They went down a gentle slope, and after about fifteen minutes they came to an even more beautiful, sunny glade, a hundred feet or so across. They went to the middle of it, and stood, turning in place, feeling ever more like this was the place which they had been looking for, this was the whole reason for them coming to park world.

“I want to do it here,” Vilinel said, her voice just above a whisper. “It’s beautiful. There’s lots of room. There’s a lot of sky, but it’s not exposed. It’s perfect.”

“And we’re far enough from the Wood,” Alizan said, “that there won’t be a problem with other visitors when we make it private.”

“Let’s go back and tell them that we’ve found what we want.”

“I’ll call for a ride.” He touched the disk. “They should get to the gazebo by the time we do.”

The tour office responded to his signal, and said they would send a car. It might be a little quicker, since it could maneuver more easily through the trees.

They took one last look around. “Anywhere here would be fine,” Vilinel said. She took his arm and they started to go back but, before they got to the not-quite pathway, she let him go, looked around again, went to a more grassy place a few steps away and, as she sat down, she said, “I need to sit down.”



Chapter Four

Alizan went to her and sat on his heels. “Are you all right?”

Her breathing was slow and deep. “Yes, I’m fine, I really am, but … I think it’s time.”

“You’re early.”

“I am. But Vaereon is coming.”

“All right.” He stood, turned away, and called the lodge offices. “We’re going to need some help here. Vilinel is early, but I think she’s starting labor.”

“All right, just a moment.” A pause. “You’re rather far from the Wood. There’s no way to get to where you are.”

“We walked here from there. It wasn’t quite a pathway.”

“Okay, but I mean, we can’t get a car to you. You’ll have to come back to the Wood. The car we just sent will pick you up there.”

“Okay. We’re on our way.” But when he turned to Vilinel, she was lying on her back, trying to kick off her pants.

“Help me,” she said. Her pants were tangled up around her feet. He knelt by her and got them loose. They were wet. “I’m not walking anywhere,” she said. “I can’t. The baby —” she tensed, then, “He’s coming.” She raised her knees a little, and held them apart.

He looked at her. He couldn’t tell anything. He looked at her pants in his hand. He straightened them out, folded them into a small pillow, with  the wet part on the bottom. He went on his knees to her head, showed it to her, she smiled during a gasp, then he lifted her head with one hand, just enough so that he could put the pad under it with the other. Then he sat back on his heels. “They can’t get a car to us here,” he told her.

“I heard. They’ll have to walk —” she clenched, “like we did.”

“I’ll call them.” He touched the disk. “We can’t get back to the Wood.” They knew who he was. “She’s started her labor. She can’t walk. She can’t stand up.”

“All right, we’ll get back to you in a minute.”

He sat down beside her and took her hand. She squeezed it and held on.

“It hurts,” she said. “It’s strange, I knew I would feel it, but I didn’t know —” she gasped and clenched — “that it would hurt.”

“They give you something at the center.”

“I thought I would have nurses to help. I would have had everything set up. The doctor was sure about the date, within a day.”

“He told us, but nobody told Vaereon.” 

“Maybe he just wasn’t paying attention,” she said to him, and laughed.

“What can I do for you?”

“Nothing right now. Just be here.”

The disk clicked. “Low Station has your location,” the person at the office said. “We can’t get there by air-car because of all the trees. We’re sending out a medical van. They’ll get as close to you as they can, it should take  about half an hour. They’ll park at the edge near you and come the rest of the way on foot. How is she doing?”

Vilinel touched her own disk, gasped, then said, “I’m doing fine. I guess. The baby is coming. He may be born before you get here.”

“The team will be ready to do whatever is needed. They’ll let you know when they get to your side of the clearing.”

They let go of their disks. “Are you thirsty?” Alizan asked her.

“Yes, please.”

Her bottle was lying beside her. He opened it and held her shoulders up so that she could drink from it. “Are you hungry?” he asked as he let her back down.

“Not at all.” Her breathing was deeper now. She clenched again.

“Do you mind if I eat something?”

“Go ahead.”

He got himself one of the sweet-savory biscuits and sat beside her again.

“Smells good,” she said. He offered her a nibble. That was all she wanted.

She groaned, softly at first, then louder, and ended with a grunt as she squeezed his hand hard. She took a breath, then asked him, “Can you see anything?”

He let go of her hand and moved down past her knees. “You’re getting larger,” he said. “I can’t see anything without a flashlight.”

Her short laugh was almost a bark.

“I have to pee,” she said.

“Go ahead. I’ll move you when you’re done.”

She did. He pulled her gently away. “My turn,” he said. “I won’t go far.” He was back in less than a minute, sat beside her, and offered her another drink, which she accepted.

“It hurts,” she said, “but it’s strange. It’s kind of far away. There’s something good about it. It hurts, but I don’t mind.”

“Maybe it’s because you know that something very good will come from it.”

“Yes, there’s that, but there’s something else. It’s okay.”

He went down past her knees and looked at her. “I can see the top of his head.”

“Does he have hair?”

“He does, but I can’t tell the color. It’s wet. It’s not black or blond.”

“Is there a lot of hair?”

“There’s plenty enough. I can’t see his scalp.”

“How are we going to wash him?”

“We’ll have to wait until the van gets here. Until the team gets here. He’s not going to get any messier when he comes.”

She gasped, clenched, and said, “You sound so calm.”

“Wait until you’re both safe. Then I’ll let you see how extremely uncalm I am. A bit more of his head is showing.”

“Yes. I felt that. Come hold my hand.”

She made a little groaning-grunting sound. He wiped her forehead with his sleeve. Then she made another sound. Then another.

“What’s happening?” he asked.

“I’m pushing. Like they said. Every time I do, I feel him move a little bit.” She made the sound again.

“Can you really feel that? That he’s moving?”

“Go and see.”

“You’ll have to let go of my hand first.”

“Oh. Okay.”

He went down past her knees. “I can see more of his head. Almost to his eyes.”

“Stay there!” she said, grunted, and Vaereon’s head showed a little more.

“He has dark eyebrows,” he said.

She clenched, and again, harder.

“He’s coming,” he said. Then, suddenly, he took off his shirt. Vaereon’s head showed a little more. He folded his shirt and put it down where he would come.

Vilinel panted for a moment, then pushed hard, cried out softly, tensely, and Vaereon’s head came clear.

“I’m going to help you now,” he said to Vaereon, and gently took hold of his head. When Vilinel pushed again, and again with a soft, tense cry, he pulled gently until — “Shoulders showing,” he said.

After that it was easy. 

He lay Vaereon down on his shirt, then pulled him and it back so that the afterbirth wouldn’t get on him. He didn’t know what to do with the umbilical cord, so he just tied a half bow in it, slid the loose knot as close as he could to Vaereon’s stomach, then pulled the knot tight.

He pulled the shirt with Vaereon on it further back. Vaereon took a deep breath and cried out. Vilinel’s call was of relief and joy. Alizan pulled one sleeve out from under his shirt, and used it to wipe Vaereon’s face almost clean. Vaereon was crying steadily now, strongly. There was no weakness in him, none at all.

“I want him,” Vilinel said.

“Just a minute.” He looked at the umbilical cord, then bent down and bit it off. He used the sleeve to wipe the blood off his face. Then he picked Vaereon up, half wrapped in the shirt, jerked the placenta back away from Vilinel. He went on his knees to her side and put his son, her son, their son onto her chest. She raised her hands and put them on him.

There were people coming through the woods toward them. He felt a thrill of triumph, that he had delivered his son all by himself. He knelt beside Vilinel, and lifted her shoulders up so that she could see Vaereon better. She turned him a little so that she could see his face. Then she looked up at Alizan, grinned at him, reached up with one hand and pulled him down so that she could kiss him, then let him go, and helped Vaereon find her breast so that he could nurse. His mouth found her nipple, he took it, and he stopped crying.

Alizan sat back, then stood, without taking his eyes off his baby. “Okay,” he said to the birthing crew as they came into the glade. “You can go to work now.”

If you want to read more, you can get it here.