“Our final question of the day comes from a Commonwoman who wished to keep her identity anonymous.”
Lauta inhaled. She had already been watching the viewscreen intently, but now her ears turned toward it, and her nostrils flared subconsciously as the entirety of her being focused on the words of Speaker Dauren.
On the screen, Dauren lifted a piece of paper with his hands. He was an almost painfully handsome man, with glossy, cream-colored scales that laid smooth against his body, which faded to white on his chest and around his eyes. Eyes which, in color, matched his orb exactly: both looked as though someone had scrubbed away what was real and replaced it with an image of a clear blue sky.
“The Commonwoman wrote to me in a moment of doubt and fear. She is frightened, as many of us are in recent times, and her faith in our ancestors has wavered. I hope that today she, and others with doubts like hers, can find some strength in my words.”
In the crib next to her, Lauta’s child trilled. She did not wish to look at him, not right now. She kept her face forward, the muscles in her next tensing even further. If she focused on the screen hard enough, maybe she could forget about her child for a time. Maybe.
Speaker Dauren reached out from his orb with two lines of blue, grasping the letter at its top and bottom. He recited it with his face turned to the camera, giving the illusion that he had it memorized. Lauta knew enough to realize that he was likely reading from a prompt off-screen.
It was, without a doubt, her letter.
“‘Dear Speaker,’” Dauren read, “‘I write to you today from a place of suffering. I seek reassurance and comfort. I know that I should seek these things in the words of the Magisters, but in truth, it is my faith which is causing me the most pain.’”
Lauta winced at her own words. Read aloud, they sounded overly dramatic. She had been trying to write artfully and from a place of sincerity, but she had never been a strong writer.
“‘I don’t know where else to turn. I fear admitting my struggles to my friends or family, or even to my local deacon. I’m afraid they will see me as weak, or worse, heretical. The circumstances of my life have shaken the deep faith I once held in the Magisters, and I don’t know what to do to recapture it.’
“‘I lost my first child. I know I am not the only woman who has lost a child. I do not think myself exceptional for that. After that loss, I kept my faith. My child was born beautiful and well-formed, but he was not alive. As has been happening more and more frequently in recent years, he was born without a soul.’
“‘Were it only for that one loss, I think my faith would have remained strong. After that I continued to read from the Words of Wisdom nightly. I attended, and I still attend, regular church services. It was the next blow that has disturbed me so thoroughly.’
“‘I gave birth to a second child, and I cried when I first curled around him to embrace him in my arms. He was alive, and for that I was grateful, but as the minutes passed, I and the doctors realized that something was terribly wrong. His orb never sparked.’
“‘My first child was stillborn, and my second child was born with Taudanon’s Disorder. He has no orb. He is as weak and fragile as an animal, because he is not an Exemplar. The doctors say he will grow to be larger than the average mau, but that is no consolation. In fact, it will be a burden. He, and I, will feel the effects of his shortcomings for his entire life.’
“‘I feel as though the blessings of the Magisters have forsaken me. It was their promise, was it not, that all mau children until the end of time would be born Exemplary? Yet I have been given a dead child, and a child who will never measure up to his peers. Please, I beg of you, help me understand why this has happened to me.’”
Lauta sunk down, pressing her forehead into her hands and curling her nose back toward her chest. A wave of shame rolled over her. She had watched the Speaker’s entire broadcast today, hoping that he would read from and respond to her letter, yet now that she had she felt disgusted with herself for having written it.
She put her hands over her eyes. She couldn’t bear to look at the viewscreen now, nor could she bring herself to look at her sun, whose crib rustled as he shifted around within it. He cooed, and Lauta wished she could close her ears as thoroughly as her eyes.
“Commonwoman, I feel for your pain. Taudanon’s Disorder is not something I would wish on anyone, nor is the pain of having born a child with no life in their body.”
Dauren delivered the lines well, and sincerely, but nevertheless, they sounded hollow and meaningless to Lauta.
“Still, I must point out to you that your blame is misplaced. The results of your pregnancies are not the faults of the Magisters. As the Words proclaim, the Magisters did everything they could to provide for the future generations. They made us stronger, and tougher, and they granted us the orbs. They took away the dangers of spellcraft, knowing that it would only lead us to harm one another.
“They gave us better bodies, but they left only their doctrines to strengthen our minds. Consider, Commonwoman, whether you have been acting in accordance with the doctrines. During your pregnancy, did you consume haufi fruit? Did you massage your stomach with the light from your orb? Did you visit your local church for blessings, and not just your medical doctor?
“Commonwoman, most importantly, did you make use of a Church matchmaker? Matchmakers exist to ensure that husband and wife are compatible both spiritually and genetically. Without one, the health of your children is much less assured. Our ancestors prescribed matchmaking. When we don’t follow their Word, we face consequences.
“Please, Commonwoman, know that the Magisters loved you. The cast the Reworking to give all of their descendents, including you and your children, a better chance. In order to benefit from it, however, we must continue to follow their Words. We must —”
Lauta reached out with a line from orb and shut off the viewscreen. She wanted to yell at Speaker Dauren. She wanted to lash out at him with both her orb and her claws. She was not a violent person, not normally, but right now the urge had come upon her.
He had said nothing helpful. He had done nothing but blame her for the results of her pregnancies. That didn’t reaffirm her faith. It only made her feel sick, and guilty, because she hadn’t done all the things he’d questioned. She had attended church while pregnant, but she hadn’t taken special blessings from the priest. She hadn’t done the intricate orbweaving exercises that the church suggested, because her doctor had told her they were unnecessary and, not to mention, apocryphal. They weren’t even mentioned in the original Words of Wisdom.
Now she felt physically ill at not having done those things — would they really have mattered? Her doctor had told her no, that nothing she could have done would have prevented this. He told her that children around the world were being born still, and that incidents of Taudanon’s Disorder were on the rise. Researchers were scrambling to find out why.
She hadn’t usd the church’s matchmaking services, either. That was written in the Words of Wisdom, but it had fallen out of favor in the last decade. Her local church still offered it — the priests, as part of their education, learned very specific methods that supposedly increased the mau’s genetic and spiritual viability — but most of her generation regarded it as archaic and outdated.
She raised herself up and, hesitantly, looked over at the crib. Her baby was curled within. At his age, his tail seemed laughably large in comparison to his body. The scales of it, flared outward, helped to cover him when he wrapped it around himself, keeping in the warmth.
Even without an orb, he was beautiful. His scales were a sleek slate grey, and his eyes a brilliant orange. He looked up at her, cooing hopefully. She could see the longing for attention on his face. Lauta hadn’t even touched him yet today, except briefly, when they awoke, to feed him.
Not for the first time, she wondered if she had failed him. She hadn’t known how before, but the Speaker’s words had given her an idea. Lauta wished she had used a proper matchmaker. She had married her husband out of love, not because a matchmaker said they would produce good children. Perhaps love was the wrong motivation.
She sat back on her haunches, curled her tail beneath her to steady her, and reached for her child. His hands reached back toward her and he trilled with pleasure. “I’m sorry, little one,” she said. “I’m sorry that I failed you. I’ll try to do better. I’ll try.”