En had rather hoped to be over with this adventure by now. Certainly, the Grand City of Ghil had a need, but En was on his own timetable. Adventuring during the first trimester was generally dismissed as plausible but dangerous. And En hadn't even known he was pregnant when the Admaster of Ghil had sent him and his party on this quest.
Transgender adventuring came with a unique set of risks. And since this adventure would finally pay for a magical swap of his nethers... there was little choice but to soldier on.
His thick padding hid a great deal of sins, but not enough. His friends and fellows were starting to laugh about En's weight. En flinched at every ignorant joke about 'the baby', especially since he didn't know how to feel about having it.
Especially since their quest was taking them deep into Dwarven territory. Literally. The Dwarves had agreed -for a steep fee, of course- to take them through to the depths of Kraghar, where the prize of their quest awaited a worthy hand to lift it.
Dwarves had a reputation, of course. They were heavily misogynistic, tight-fisted, greedy, and obsessed with hoarding treasures. Almost at the same level as the Dragons, only far more discriminatory. Their temporary guide was the usual grim and stoic Dwarf. Hardly saying anything more than the barest of necessities.
Until the fourth day.
They had been resting in a Dwarven way-station. A set of beds and furnishings of a small house, all carved out of the living rock. En overslept, exhausted by the drain on his body and the hectic kicking of his... inhabitant. His friends and teammates said that they tried to rouse him. En couldn't remember that. He just remembered wanting to sleep forever.
The Dwarf was the one who lifted En up and placed him under an air vent, where fresher air flowed over him, and administered a secret Dwarven brew that had nothing at all to do with the heavy, deadly alcohol they all quaffed with no regard to health or safety.
For En, that brew was like being filled with energy. From toes to crown, he was amazed that he didn't glow. And the Dwarf was suddenly open and caring.
"You are sacred to Mahal," said the Dwarf, and refunded a gigantic percentage of his previous fee.
"What's going on?" said Tyrali the Bard.
En sighed. "You're going to hate me," he said. "People I've told... call me a liar at best. The worst have tried to kill me. Some... try to use me. As if that could fix what's wrong."
Senk the Cleric instantly warded the room against violence. "Speak the truth in the light, and be not afraid."
En still tensed. Still kept a hand by his dagger, and the other ready to scoop up his shield. Still savoured the likely last time that his friends would be worried for him. Or count themselves as his friends. "I am a man in all but a small area of my flesh," he said. Years had honed bluntness in this matter. The second part was new. "And because of that small area of flesh... I'm also pregnant."
"Mahal's best making. Impossible for hands," said the Dwarf. "He is guarded and protected by all of my kind, should you want to fight."
A lot came out into that air. Beginning with how male Dwarves were the rare ones, but their long lives meant few children, if any at all. Therefore, those who were -in their words- growing a new person, were protected, valued, and almost revered. Those who had been mothers were instantly wise.
...and seven hundred years ago, a mother and grandmother had told humans the truth of her flesh, and the humans had snubbed her...
Dwarves have long memories. That slight was something their kind counted heavily against the humans, and the humans had been paying a tax for it ever since.
En knew too well how humans treated women. He had endeavoured to quell that wherever he went. And now... now his friends and teammates were... They were warming up to treat him as they treated any other woman. Like a lack-witted, incapable, infirm vessel, made only to fill with their personal stopper.
"Pregnant or not, I am still a man," he said, "and I will kill the first one of you who lays a hand on my arse or calls me 'sweetheart'."
Tyrali exaggeratedly put his hands in his pockets. "Not thinking about it," he lied.
Kurs the Paladin had been praying for Divine Inspiration before he spoke. "En has fought by our side for years, and none of us knew him as any less than a man. I vow to continue my high regard for our fellow, and I will fight any who treat him as less."
"See?" said the Dwarf. "This is why we keep away from you humans. You would call your best makers 'less', for all that they risk their lives to make new people. You should try growing your own, sometime. It is a hard task, and there are no breaks to rest."
En had never thought of it that way. He hadn't thought about it much at all. Then he wondered if anyone had thought about it... besides the women who were forced to deal with it.