Many of you, including the hosts of the WEP website Yolanda and Denise, asked me in the comments to the previous WEP challenge to continue Tasya’s story. Below is the next vignette in the series – and the next medallion. In case you missed it, the first installment, Shielding Misha, is here. Not sure I could keep it up for the entire year, but I’ll try.
“Did you also give birth yesterday?” Tasya asked one of the other new mothers. All three of them were nursing their babies – the first nursing of the morning. Her little son sucked greedily, while her fingers caressed his downy hair.
“No. The day before,” the flaxen-haired woman said. “They’ll discharge me today, after the next feeding.” Her big hand traveled all over her baby’s blanket, absently straightening the creases. “You two came in yesterday. I’m Ira. What is your name?”
“Tasya.” Tasya turned to her other roommate. “What is yours?”
“Jailbird.” The woman’s hands held protectively over her nursing baby. Her dark curly hair concealed her face. “We’re both jailbirds.”
“Traitor,” Ira said. “The NKVD are waiting for her.” She nodded at the window. “She shouldn’t have sold our communist Russia to the dratted capitalists.”
“NKVD is waiting for her?” Tasya whispered, appalled.
“I saw them bringing her in yesterday,” Ira said. “Enemy of the people.” She grimaced. Then she kissed her baby, and her grimace transformed into adoration.
The other woman said nothing.
Tasya felt cold. Her son fell off her breast with a contented sigh, and her magic stirred. She had dropped one of her magical medallions, the mother-and-baby medallion, into her purse just before she called a taxi to the hospital, but it had been an impulse. She had thought it fitting for her upcoming labors. She didn’t expect to find someone who needed her magic in this place. Only peace and love should exist in a maternity ward, but neither was forthcoming for the poor woman. She would have to help her. As soon as a nurse carted the babies away, Tasya climbed out of bed.
Ira also threw off her blanket. “I must get dressed. I’m going home soon.”
Perching on the edge of Ira’s bed, Tasya squeezed Ira’s shoulder in false solicitude. “Is your husband meeting you?” She unleashed a bit of her magic, playing with possibilities.
“No. Nobody does.” Ira yawned. “We just moved to the army base in the suburbs. I don’t know anyone yet, and my husband couldn’t get a pass. He is an officer. No matter. I’ll take a bus.”
Before she could rise, Tasya pushed with her magic. “Wonderful,” she said. “Sleep.”
Ira’s eyes glazed over. Her body slumped, and her breathing deepened.
“Get up,” Tasya commanded.
Obediently, Ira got up and stood immobile, waiting for further directions.
Tasya faced the other bed. “I’ll help you escape. I hate NKVD. They shouldn’t have your baby. Can you walk? Do you have a place to go? To hide from them?”
The woman stared at her. “They’re waiting for me at the front. I can’t pass them.”
“Yes, you can. You’ll look like Ira. You will be discharged in her place today, with her documents. She’ll sleep until tomorrow. What is your name?”
“Rachel,” the woman said faintly. “What… how?”
“I have magic,” Tasya said. “You need to swap beds. Move.”
Shakily, Rachel got out of her bed. Tasya conducted Ira to Rachel’s bed and tucked her in. With one of her subjects safely in magical sleep, Tasya turned to Rachel. A few passes of her magic, and Rachel’s dark hair lightened to Ira’s flax. Her kinks uncurled into straight oily strands. Freckles appeared. Her small body even looked as tall as Ira’s. “Good,” Tasya approved her own handiwork. “Your disguise will hold until midnight. Do you have any money?”
Rachel shook her head. “They…” Her alto quivered. “They said they went to my husband’s office to arrest him, but he fled through the back door. I hope he got away. Then they drove to our home and arrested me. My waters broke in their car.”
“Get dressed.” Tasya rummaged in her purse for the medallion and put it over Rachel’s head. She gripped the little pewter Madonna and poured magic into it. “Protect!” she murmured and felt the power settle into the trinket. “Now you wait on Ira’s bed. After the next nursing, a nurse will take you to the office to get discharged.”
Tired from such a big expenditure of magic, she dived into her purse for the treats she had brought: apples and chocolate. She needed to recharge before working more magic. After her hasty repast, she pulled a ten-ruble bill from her purse. Rachel needed money for her upcoming escape.
Making a blanket tent on her bed, Tasya put the ten rubles into the dark cave under the blanket and called the same type of bills to come to her from all over the hospital. Her magic stretched, and an incipient headache started between her eyes. The paper bills rustled cheerfully under the blanket. The pile grew pretty thick before the bills stopped coming. “Must be a pay day or something,” she muttered, collected the bills, and wrapped them in one of the clean rags they were given for their flows.
“You’ll wrap it in with your baby before you go. Keep a few in your pockets,” she instructed. “Should be enough to get you out of Moscow. If you can.”
Pale, her brown eyes huge in her drawn face, Rachel nodded.
When the babies arrived for the next nursing, Tasya switched the name tags between the tiny wrists of Rachel’s and Ira’s girls. Ira nursed her daughter without waking up and dropped back into her enchanted sleep immediately after. When a nurse came for her, Rachel clutched her baby with the wrong name tag and got up from Ira’s bed. She tossed a last desperate glance at Tasya, mouthed, “Thank you,” and shuffled after the nurse.
An hour later, Tasya looked out the window. Rachel came slowly out of the hospital’s front door, her baby in her arms. She passed the bored NKVD guards and disappeared into the street.
Smiling, Tasya settled back in her bed. Her head throbbed, but the next feeding time wouldn’t be for two more hours. She could rest. She felt suffused by peace and love. Her son was beautiful. Rachel should be safe. Tomorrow, when it all started to unravel, Tasya would claim ignorance. Ira might screech her indignation, but nobody would suspect magic, and Rachel would be long gone. Tasya slept.