This is, fundamentally, a fanfic of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid stories- specifically the Aeslin Mice. If you don’t know the Mice, hie theyself over to your favorite book source and get the InCryptid books. Go on, this will wait…
This story, however, doesn’t take place in the established InCryptid world; these are not the same mice, not the Prices…this is, I guess, an alternate universe, where another colony of mice thrives with their own deities.
The High Priest walked serenely through the halls of his upstairs closet village, basking in the hum of activity all around him. Here, a group of Acolytes were learning the Catechism of the Wet Dog and Can of Paint, another group was gleefully digging through a bag of scrap fabrics and sequins- an excursion had been made to the Garbage of the Costume Lady. He gave them a pleased nod, new additions to their robes and regalia were always a reason for joy.
He paused when a cluster of playing children spotted him, and all ran over to oooh and ahh at him. One of them tugged at his robe “Did you really bite the God on his nose??” the little squeaked. Oh, they’d been telling that story in the Nursery, had they? He chuckled and patted the child on the head. “I did, for lo, even as the Gods protect and shelter us, sometimes we are called upon to provide assistance to them. Had I not bit His nose, he would have missed the Hairy Predator With Many Teeth that was trying to sneak up upon Him in His repose.” The littles all gave a fascinated “Oooohhhhh”, and then scampered back to their play when he made shooing motions at them.
All was well in their domain, if a bit quieter than was usual. The God of Axle Grease and Assorted Lubricants and His son, the God Of Unpleasant Pocket Surprises were out in the field doing Great Works. The occasion of their leaving several days earlier (on the Feast of There Will Be Waffles!) had engendered an Argument with the hugely pregnant High Priestess of Unfinished Projects- said Argument resulting in several new Pronouncements including “You Can’t Be Stealthy In The Woods When You Are Waddling And As Big As A Whale” and “Did You Just Call Me A Whale, Don’t You Dare Come Back Here Without A Whale Load Of Chocolate”.
Fortunately for the congregation, Her mood had improved greatly after the Gods had left, even to an unexpected Celebration of Cheese and Cake *and* Cookies, because She had decided she needed to do some baking.
He stopped at that thought, and twitched his whiskers in suspicion. Baking was not, normally, one of the Priestess’ skills, and was usually reserved for special occasions like Birthdays. Even then She was not often the one doing the baking. The suspicion growing deeper, he waved a paw to one of the nearby Acolytes, sending him on an errand, while he made his way downstairs.
He skittered down a pipe into the living room, made his way across the floor into the kitchen and sat upon the counter watching his Priestess at work. There were already several dozen cookies sitting out to cool, and his nose quavered in delight at the scent of oatmeal scotchies. He cleared his small throat. Loudly. Twice.
The Priestess turned (To be fair, he thought, She is rather ungainly now…), one hand pressed against the small of Her back. “One step ahead of you, your holiness” she grinned, pointing to a plate on the counter heaped with smaller cookies, and a saucer of milk next to it.
Giving out a quiet, but enthusiastic “HAIL!”, he came over and took a cookie in each hand. He felt a momentary twinge of guilt at not alerting his acolytes right away, but getting first dibs at a warm cookie was one of the perks of being the High Priest, was it not?
It also gave him an excuse to watch his High Priestess unobtrusively. She would stir batter, pause, stir again…sometimes the pause would come with a soft groan, or both hands in the small of Her back. He was certain it was close to Her time, and She wasn’t aware of it, yet. While he wrestled with the theological implications of bringing it to Her attention (nibbling on a third cookie for insight), he heard a watery sound, followed by a very loud curse from the Priestess.
“GOD DAMMIT! NOW? NOW?!?”
Well, that solved that theological question.
She had moved from the kitchen and was now sitting on the edge of the sofa, jabbing irritatedly at Her cel phone. He finished his cookie, and drank the milk (it wouldn’t do to leave an offering half-finished, after all), and made his way over to Her, and placed one small paw on the hand that was clutching the upholstery.
“Are the Gods on their way home to you?”
“No, dammit. They’re out of cel range. They’ve got the Jeep, and an ambulance would take over an hour to get here…and raise questions. Fuunnnngggghhhhhhhh!” She trailed off as her closing epithet became a groan.
Stroking Her hand with his paw, he waited until the pain had passed. “Do not fear. You are our Priestess, and we will care for You.” Before She could ask what in the world he meant, he patted Her hand, and climbed as fast as he could back up to the colony.
The acolyte he had entrusted with duty earlier waited, with work teams sorted and waiting for assignments. The High Priest beamed with pride.
Joan had a vague sense of intense activity around her. The mice were bustling around and part of her brain really, truly wanted to ask what the hell they were up to…but that part of her brain was shunted into the background in favor of the rest of her brain trying to remember to breathe while her midsection tied itself into a giant knot.
As the contraction eased, she opened her eyes to find that the mice had…rearranged? There were older blankets and pillows on the floor in front of the sofa. There was water boiling on the stove, and two mice were using a pulley system to ladle hot water into a mug. They’d managed to stoke the fire and lay out towels, a bowl, string, and two different knives near the sofa.
Four mice hurried forward carrying a paper cup with a straw. One carefully angled the straw near her lips, and she reflexively took a drink. Ice cold apple juice hydrated her just in time for another contraction to take over her body.
It went on like this for hours. Sips of juice or tea, nibbles of crackers, small voices encouraging, soothing. Small paws carefully pushing cool washcloths across her face and along the back of her neck. There was even a group of mice on the back of the sofa with drums and rattles keeping time with her breathing- it was surprisingly helpful, for being little tiny drums. The mice walked when she walked, rested when she rested, sang to her when she cried out. They were not afraid and somehow, neither was she.
And then she was on the ground, curled over her belly as she strained, pushed, guided a small, slippery body out into the world and lifted it to her chest. She leaned back against the sofa and panted with the sudden lack of effort. Her legs shook involuntarily, and her whole body felt like half-solidified gelatin. But the baby was here. She’d done it. She, and the mice.
The Priestess of Unfinished Projects was resting, Her newborn God wrapped snuggly in her arms. She was in good spirits, even after Her many hours of birthing. Most of the colony was upstairs celebrating with cookies and milk, and a growing pile of offerings decorated the end table.
The High Priest watched the scene from his perch on Her shoulder. Several acolytes were bustling about the room, doing their best to clean up the bloodied towels. Two were preparing more tea. A team of mice were moving the bowl of discarded placenta to someplace out of the way.
He had expressed some concern that the Priestess did not intend to consume any of the placenta, given that it was full of nutrients, and that’s what the colony mothers did… but She’d just raised an eyebrow at him and said “No. Just…ugh…no. I’ll burn it later.” Well, sometimes the divine was inscrutable.
His eye was caught by one of the acolytes pausing in their work. They wrung their paws together, as if agonizing over something…then they squared their shoulders, and scampered up the side of the sofa. He expected them to come ask some urgent (to the acolyte, at least) theological conundrum. Instead, the small mouse crept up the baby blanket, and peered at the little face intently.
Tiny whiskers quivvered. Small beady dark eyes met rounded grey ones. A chubby fist uncurled, and a finger brushed soft brown fur. A tiny paw curled around the fingertip.
“Hail!” the acolyte breathed in awe “Hail the God of Gentlest Greetings!”
The Priestess chuckled as the newly anointed High Priest sat on his God’s blanket, and started reciting important catechisms. “Start ‘em early, huh?”
The elder High Priest nodded with a contented sigh. A new God had chosen a High Priest, there were cookies, and all was right in the universe. Hail.