Home > Barbarian's Bride (Ice Planet Barbarians #19)

Barbarian's Bride (Ice Planet Barbarians #19)
Author: Ruby Dixon





Current Day





Some days, being a mom is utterly exhausting.

I rub my throbbing forehead as the girls squabble and argue over bits of scrap leather. "That's my piece," Anna declares, snatching a bit out of Elsa's hand. When her sister picks up another scrap, Anna grabs for it. "That one, too."

"They can't all be yours," Elsa complains. She looks over at me. "Mama—"

Whatever happened to twins getting along like two peas in a pod? The older they get, the more Anna and Elsa bicker. "Share, girls. There's plenty of scraps to go around for everyone."

"But I wanted the ones with the red tones," Anna complains. "Mama, my tunic is going to be all red colors! Hers is pale. It won't look right if she takes all the bright scraps." She tries to snatch another piece out of Elsa's hand, but Elsa holds it out of her reach.

"I want a red heart in the center of my tunic," Elsa declares. "I can do that if I want to!"

"No you can't—"

"Yes, I can—"

"Girls!" I snap. Most days I can handle them fussing at each other, but today, it is getting on my last nerve. "Please. Why don't you put your sewing away for today? We'll look at it again tomorrow."

"But I want a pretty tunic," Elsa whines, and Anna thrusts her lip out, pouting. They're at that age where they can go from cranky to cute in less than a breath, and it's making me crazy.

"Then we'll go and visit the others and see if they have scraps they can give you. Sound good?" I wave a hand at them. "Help Mama up."

Elsa jumps to her feet and grabs one of her father's spears while Anna gets my shoes. I immediately feel guilty, because they really are great girls. They're just bored and being kids, and it's not their fault that I'm short-tempered as the birth of my third one gets closer. I roll onto my knees, huffing and puffing. My belly feels as if it weighs fifty freaking pounds, and my back is killing me. Using Dagesh's spear as a prop, I push myself off the ground and shove my feet into the sandals Anna's retrieved for me. The girls put on their warm fur shawls and Anna hands me mine even as Elsa gets their hand baskets.

They really are good kids, and it makes me weepy. "I'm sorry, girls. I just want you both to know I love you very much."

Anna goes in for a hug while Elsa gives me a sassy look that is far too adult for her seven-year-old body. "Mama, you always apologize and cry lately."

"Do I?" I swipe at my face. "It's the baby."

"If he grows any bigger he's going to bust right out of you!" Anna says helpfully.

Well there's a lovely image I didn't want. I just smooth Anna's pale braids, amused. The twins looked like carbon copies of one another when they were born, but the older they get, the more they look like individuals. Elsa's hair is slightly darker than her sister's, with a hint of curl to the ends, like mine. Anna's is bone straight like her father's in texture, if not color, and her features are slightly finer than Elsa's. She's the quieter one, too, shy and unobtrusive—unless she's around her twin. Then she screeches like a banshee unless she gets her way. It's like Anna has to make sure Elsa knows that Anna is the alpha of the two of them, but only for the two of them. All other times, Elsa's the leader. "How do you know it's a boy?" I ask, smoothing Anna's hair back. "Did your father ask Rokan after all?"

If so, I'm going to have to have a talk with my mate. We agreed that we weren't going to ask Rokan about the sex of the baby, just because it would be a lovely surprise to find out later. We don't even know if it's one or two—though I'm carrying differently than with the girls, so I'm hoping it's just one big fat baby instead of twins again. I don't know if I can handle another set of twins. I would love them dearly, of course, but four children under the age of ten makes me tired just thinking about it. Plus, I remember how hard it was to nurse both of the girls at once.

"Papa hasn't asked Rokan," Elsa says, skipping toward the door hide of our hut. "Anna asked Analay."

Hmm. "Did she now?"

Anna just smiles sweetly up at me, as if she wasn't in a screaming fight with her sister over leather bits two minutes ago. Elsa nods triumphantly. "It's because she's gonna mate him when they get older. Analay says it's true."

Not this again. It distressed me to hear it the first time Analay brought it up, and it distresses me that my girls are repeating it as if it's set in stone. I put a hand on my enormous belly to support it and lean in toward Anna, cupping her chin and making her look up at me. "It doesn't matter what Analay says unless there's resonance, baby girl. You know that, right? You can romance any boy or any girl you want to as long as you're happy."

"But Analay says we're going to resonate," Anna says simply.

"We'll see about that," I huff, straightening. I don't like the thought of anyone deciding anything for my girls in advance. Analay's a sweet boy, but I want them to have choices. If Anna grows up and decides she wants to hook up with Esha or Sessah or wants to travel the mountains alone, I will support whatever she wants to do. She doesn't have to be tied down to anything. She certainly doesn't have to be tied down to resonance at the age of seven. I pat my stomach, making a mental note to talk to the girls' father when he gets back from hunting. "Analay's only a little boy and he might be making stories," I say. "After all, this baby might be another girl. Or two girls."

"It's a boy," Anna says simply. Her face brightens. "Can we go see Analay and his mama this morning? And the new baby?"

I really like Ariana. There's not a mean bone in her body and she adores the children. She's so patient with them as she teaches, too. But I'm in a cranky mood and there's no way I can sit in her hut and socialize and not snap at her for Analay's insistence that Anna's his future mate. "Let's go visit Asha and Hemalo, shall we?"

Both girls groan. "But Shema's such a baby," Elsa complains as she heads out of the hut, leading the way. "She doesn't play right."

"That's because she is a baby," I remind them. "She's full sa-khui, like her mother and father, and she's going to age differently than you guys. Be nice to her." Shema is about three turns of the seasons old, but she's very much a toddler and the girls get impatient with her, though Shema adores them and tries to copy them both. "I bet if you ask Hemalo nicely, he'll have some good scraps."

That excites them, and we leave the hut and head into the heart of our small village. I move slow, because my feet are swollen and my sandals make it difficult to walk. I keep my hands under my heavy belly, doing my best not to waddle (and probably failing). The village is a little quiet this morning. It's cold out, but clear, and that means everyone that can hunt is out checking traps or pulling meat from the nearest caches. I'm more than ready for the brutal season to be gone already. When the weather gets warmer, I can send the girls hunting with their father again, but for now, it's just too cold.

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