After four days at sea, we reach the southern continent of Lekra. Our first stop is Se Vreda, the capital of Halize, a desert State. This is the first hot desert we’ve been in without the assistance of the transporter. I hope you don’t mind the heat—though it’s currently winter here—because we’ll be spending more time in the desert later on in our journey.
The first difference you notice in the south is the buildings are made of wood instead of stone, and they’re on raised, wooden platforms. Rather than being rectangular in shape, they’re hexagonal. North Bursna’s homes have small windows due to the harsh windows, but here where it’s warmer, the windows are bigger and almost always open to let cool air inside.
Our next stop is Se Sav, a large town in another rift valley, though instead of being full of grassland, this one is a monsoonal rainforest. Next is Se Prasa, a town in the subtropical forest on the northern end of the continent.
Then we travel south into the savannah. That’s where the really big cities are. First we stay in Se Uladil, the massive capital of Triv. It’s an important trading center because Lake Kai Triv marks the boundary of three different states, and it’s the home of the portal to Nakivi. The majority of Bursna’s interplanetary trade centers on that portal.
While staying in Se Uladil, I tell you the story of two of her inhabitants.
* * * * *
Elle and her friend Piedra were sitting on the platform surrounding her house. Both were resting their tired feet. They were far enough along in their pregnancies they were starting to feel it in their backs and feet. Elle was due in two weeks, Piedra in three. They found it amusing that they would both be having their first child next month.
Elle’s husband brought them iced tea before disappearing back inside the house. Their hometown of Se Uladil was so close to the equator they didn’t have seasons. It was either hot and dry or hot and wet. This was the hot and dry season. They sat fanning themselves, sipping their cold drinks, and discussing their upcoming births.
“I hope they’re girls,” Elle said. “It would be so nice to have a girl first and not have to worry about having three or four kids to get one.”
“I wouldn’t mind having that many children,” Piedra said. “I’ve always wanted a big family.”
“But how do you know you won’t change your mind once you have a baby?”
Piedra shrugged. “I don’t. But I am a teacher. I spend enough time around kids to know.”
Elle knew she was right. Being a teacher did give her a slight advantage. Elle was a painter, so she didn’t spend much time around people unless she was doing portraits. She rarely got requests for children’s portraits because they didn’t sit still long enough to be painted.
“I bet we’ll both have boys,” Piedra said. “Most women have a boy their first time.”
“The statistics aren’t exactly in our favor.” Elle didn’t have anything against boys. She just didn’t want to raise a large number of children before she had a girl. There was so much pressure on women to have a girl since there were so few females in their world. She didn’t feel like she had the ability to stop until she had a girl. “Please be a girl,” she told her belly.
“If you have a boy in there, you just insulted him,” Piedra said.
Elle rubbed her stomach. “I’m sorry.” She turned to her friend. “I’m just so nervous about having this baby. Damian desperately wants a girl, and I don’t want to disappoint him.”
“If Damian’s upset with you over a baby boy, your matchmaker did a poor job.” Piedra had used the same matchmaker, utilizing her services not once, but twice.
“Do you think you’ll be able to tell which of your husbands is the father once your child is older?” Elle asked her.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Piedra said, “but it probably matters to them. If I had to guess based on timing, I’d say Zakre’s the father. He and Jerym look different enough. We’ll probably be able to tell unless the baby is a spitting image of me.”
Elle took in her friend’s lithe frame, dark skin, thick black hair, and bright brown eyes. Any child would be lucky to look like Piedra, boy or girl.
A tall, olive-skinned man with a well-muscled body approached them. Zakre was a blacksmith, and he was on his way home from the workshop. He bowed to Elle before turning to his wife and saying, “My Piedra.” He held out his hand for her, and she took it.
“Bye, Elle,” she said. “I’ll see you later.”
Elle waved her friend goodbye and went inside to see her husband. Damian was reading a book on parenting. Most people in Lekra didn’t read for pleasure, but Damian was a professor at one of the local universities, so he was one of the exceptions.
Elle sat beside him, and he immediately set down the book to give her his full attention. He placed his hand on her belly. “How’s our little girl today?” he asked.
“You know it’s probably a boy,” Elle answered.
“I know, but one can hope.”
“Is it going to break your heart if it’s a boy?”
“No. If we lived on Mataris it might. Every day I’m thankful we live here. I can’t imagine what parents in the north go through.”
“Those kezdins are barbaric,” Elle said. “Men fight to the death over women like there’s nothing in life outside of marriage and parenthood. How do they know they’re compatible with one another? A matchmaker is a far more effective way to ensure a couple’s suitability.”
Damian shrugs. “I can’t say I understand why they court the way they do, but I’m happy our child, whether a boy or a girl, won’t have to find a partner that way.”
“Are you thinking of courtship already? Our baby isn’t even born yet.”
“I’m only thinking about courtship in the context of how lucky our baby is to be born here in the south. And she’ll be a girl.”
That night, as Elle lay trying to sleep, she kept rubbing a hand over her stomach. “Please be a girl,” she whispered over and over again. She couldn’t bear to see Damian’s disappointment if she had a boy.
* * * * *
Two weeks later, Elle went into labor. Damian and their moms sat with her in her bedroom, keeping her company while she endured the pain that accompanied having a baby. At last, her time had come, and she birthed a healthy newborn. The first thing she and Damian wanted to know was the child’s sex.
Elle’s mom was currently holding the infant, who was wrapped in a yellow blanket—yellow symbolized happiness. She checked and looked at Elle. “Congratulations,” she said. “It’s a boy.”
Elle saw disappointment flash across Damian’s face, but he took his son from her mom and cradled him in his arms. “Let’s call him Eli,” he said, “after his mom.”
The next day, Elle and Damian had their friends and family over for a feast. The guests brought gifts for the new parents and their little Eli. Even though he was a boy, they welcomed him into the family. Piedra gave Elle her sympathies. “Better luck next time,” she said, patting her swollen belly. “At least our boys can be friends.”
* * * * *
Piedra didn’t go into labor the following week like she had expected. Her baby came a week late, but there was nothing wrong with the child. Elle, Damian, and Eli attended the feast Piedra, Zakre, and Jerym held for their newborn.
Damian had wanted to give them a copy of the parenting book he was reading, but Elle wouldn’t let him. Instead, they gave them a painting of a rajem, a canine-like animal that lived in the savannah, to hang in their nursery. Of course, it was one of Elle’s originals.
Elle approached her friend, struggling through the crowd and careful not to wake Eli, who was held against her chest by a cloth wrapping. “So?” she asked Piedra. “Do you have a boy for Eli to play with?”
Piedra shook her head. “We have a girl.” She placed a hand on Elle’s arm. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m happy at least one of us has a girl. She and Eli can still be friends.”
“Or more than friends,” Piedra said with a sly smile. Their children were newborns and already Piedra was playing matchmaker for them.
“Why don’t you leave that to the matchmakers?”
“They won’t see a matchmaker for at least twenty-five years. We can help them along in the meantime.”
Elle placed a hand on the back of Eli’s head. What would motherhood have in store for her over the next twenty-five years? How many babies would she carry before she had a girl? Only time would tell.