“I served . . . Well, I guess it would be more accurate to say that I ‘serviced’ Zarek’s men for about a year when I became pregnant. Whenever that happened to one of the girls, the authorities sent them away for the last few months. Most returned later, and they all told the same story. If the child was a boy, he was taken away. We believed Zarek made arrangements for them to be raised as future soldiers. The girls—” She choked back a sob. “The girls they . . . killed.”
“In front of their own mothers’ eyes. Immediately upon birth, if the child is a girl, the attending midwife calls for a guard. When he arrives, he bludgeons the child to death.” Nina, sobbing, dropped her head into her hands.
Mara sat beside her and held her in her arms, rocking her gently and rubbing her shoulder softly. “I’m so, so sorry.”
After some minutes, the young woman’s crying subsided.
“So that’s why you escaped. Right? So they wouldn’t harm your child?”
“Not right away.”
“But you lost your child on your journey to Oosa.”
“No. I lost my third child on my journey.”
Mara filled Nina’s glass and handed it to her, urging her to drink. “Tell me of your first child. Was it a boy or a girl?”
“Oh,” Nina cried, “I had a beautiful boy! A boy I’d recognize to this day if I saw him, and I hope one day that I will. It doesn’t matter that his father was a beast. He’s my flesh and blood.”
“How would you recognize him?”
“By his birthmark.”
Nina smiled and closed her eyes for a moment, bringing back the memory. “He had a birthmark on his left temple. Right here,” she said as she pointed to the place on her face. “It was only about this big,” she made a circle with her thumb and pointer finger, “except that it wasn’t exactly round. I’d recognize my boy by that sign in a heartbeat. Anytime. Anywhere.”
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