Season 4, Episode 12 – Part 1
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
White. White was all I saw, heard, felt. My skin was numb with it; it crackled and popped in my ears, tickled my nostrils, coated my tongue with the blandest of flavors. Then, in the midst of it all, there was a perfectly empty spot. It looked like a newborn babe, it smelled like birth, it felt warm.
I lifted my baby to my breast with hands I could not see, felt her latch and begin to suck. Sensation returned to my nipple like the pole star piercing through on a cloudy night. Awareness of tiny fingers and toes touching and shifting slowly spread over my breast, arm, and belly.
I cuddled my daughter close and kissed her tiny head, matted as it was with dark hair, waxy white vernix, and blood. Her features were shaped like mine, but she had her father’s eyes. Her skin was bright pink, but would soon find its natural shade, most likely somewhere between her father’s skin tone and mine, and a large blue birth spot decorated her lower back. As I gazed at her, everything else slowly grew clearer. Like morning fog retreats from the sun, the glowing pale haziness burnt off in the presence of my suckling babe.
The farmhouse reappeared, and I found myself lying on the floor, naked save for the baby on my chest. Then, in a cacophony of pops and snaps, every earthen vessel in the farmhouse burst. I watched, bemused, as shards of pottery skidded across the floor and a spill of grain formed a pool by the hearth. A coil of rope hung from the rafters split and unspooled, the end sliding through the scattered groats and into the banked fire, where the frayed edge instantly caught.
Broken pottery and burning rope. I hadn’t faced the High King himself to die in a mundane fire, but as I tried to rise, bone-deep exhaustion and sudden light-headedness nailed me to the floor.
“Kaye!” I called, and was surprised to hear how hoarse my voice was.
“Got it,” came the reply from over my shoulder. I looked and saw Kaye, who had been slouched against the wall, reach out and begin the slow work of pulling himself along the floor with his hands. By the time he reached the hearth, the flames had spread down the rope almost to the spilled grain.
Kaye used the wall to wedge himself back into a sitting position, then seized the rope and beat it out against the floor. Sparks flew into the air. He was snuffing out the last few embers when I felt a series of mild contractions and delivered my placenta.
“Yelen, you’re bleeding,” Kaye said, his voice filled with growing alarm.
“It’s just the afterbirth,” I mumbled.
“No, not that. The blood’s still flowing.”
Unbidden, the memory of a few shattered moments unfolded in my mind’s eye.
The strange fire emanating from my newborn daughter ripped into the unbearably bright knot of fate held by the High King. The deathly wyrding ruptured, flooding the world with its vacuous white glow. That tsunami of unfocussed power bore the High King away, and I hoped the vengeful spirit had drowned in it. However, even as that tide of numbness carried the ghost away, it had lashed out at me. I’d felt sudden, sharp pain rake my insides, but then it was gone and I had thought nothing more of it.
“Damn him,” I whispered.
“Hang in there,” Kaye said. “I think Ma Niall has tinctures of yarrow and heartpod.”
I nodded approval at his selection of herbs. “I taught you well.”
Kaye smiled thinly and brought me a blanket before going in search of medicine. “Don’t worry about stains,” he said, “right now you need to keep warm.”
He was right, so I covered myself and continued to nurse my baby girl until he crawled back to my side, pulling himself hand over hand. He had a skein of yarn over one shoulder, and his hands were full, further slowing his progress. In his left, he bore the knife Ma Niall used to slice tubers, while his right clutched a small glass bottle.
“I couldn’t find the yarrow, but this is heartpod,” he said. “We’re lucky it’s intact. Some of the bottles were shattered by flying.”
I opened my mouth as he removed the cork stopper and carefully poured a quarter of its contents onto my tongue. I swallowed quickly, but the bitter flavor and the burn of the alcohol lingered.
“Ready to cut the cord?” Kaye asked.
“Yes,” I said, and lifted the blanket.
Kaye took the yarn and tied it tight around the umbilical cord, a finger’s-breadth from our daughter’s skin. As he cut the thread and eyeballed the cord above the knot, I thought about all the potatoes and brassies that had been chopped with that knife.
“The blade should be cleaned first,” I said.
“I thought of that,” Kaye said, and poured a little of the heartpod infusion onto a corner of his shirt before rubbing both sides of the blade with it. Hardly ideal, but it would do.
Kaye then cut the cord with one swift, smooth stroke.
“Well done,” I said.
“I guess those animal husbandry books did me some good,” he replied with a laugh. Then he reached down and cut off a piece of my placenta.
“Eat this,” he said. “It will help staunch the bleeding.”
I looked at the bloody chunk with revulsion. “I didn’t teach you that.”
“No,” he said, “but Ma Niall places great faith in placenta. I’ve been badgering her about what to do if you went into labor while she was away. There isn’t another Sister here to heal you, Yelen. Surely this is better than trying to use the Power on yourself again?”
I sighed and took the chunk from him.
For a while, I slipped into and back out of sleep, waking with a jolt every time the baby moved. Kaye pulled down additional blankets to keep us warm and kept watch until he was confident I wasn’t going to bleed to death. I was half asleep when he slid in next to me, his skin bare against my own.
I remember pulling him close, and sighing as his arm draped gently over me and the baby. He tapped her little hand with a fingertip, and she grabbed it, squeezing tight and not letting go.
“Hello, little one,” he said, his voice soft, “you have quite a grip.”
“She’s your daughter, Kaye,” I said softly, “she’s going to be tenacious.”
“We did it,” he said. “You did it.” He paused. “What shall we call her?”
I found myself chuckling. “You won’t believe it, but I hadn’t given it a thought.”
“Can we name her after my mother?” Kaye asked. “Even if they don’t execute her, I don’t think we’ll get to see her again.”
“Theobel?” I said the name aloud, just to hear it, and it conjured complex feelings. Theobel had welcomed me to Thrycae, been a voice of sanity at court, and an ally in seeing to Kaye’s well-being. She had also ignored me, imprisoned me, and sought to end my relationship with her son. Now that I would never see her again, how did I feel about her? Could I name my child after her?
“Yes,” I said. “Theobel is a good name.”
“Do you want to pick a second name for her?” Kaye asked. “I don’t remember what your mother’s name was.”
“My mother’s name is Mehmet, and we are not naming our daughter after her.”
“Your mother is alive?” Kaye asked. “You never spoke of her, so I assumed her loss was still painful to you.”
“Speaking of her is painful to me,” I said. “Especially right now. Our daughter’s name is Theobel. That will do.” I took a deep breath. “Sorry, Kaye, I will tell you about Mehmet sometime, but not now.”
“In your own time,” Kaye said. “We should have at least a little time together before…” he trailed off.
“Yes,” I replied hazily, already falling back asleep. It took me a moment to realize what he meant. Kaye lacked the Sight. He didn’t know… “Wait, Kaye, I need to explain something. The prophecy that one of us would die… Well, little Theobel, she lit it on fire and it exploded.”
© 2014 Copyright Tof Eklund
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