Chapter 11 Part 1 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Vennaday, the 25th day of Winter's Beginning, 992 KY
"The Queen is in labor?" said Anda.
The spoon in Temmin's hand stopped midway to his mouth and he snuck a glance around the dining hall. His last petitioner had taken longer than expected, and by the time he entered the room most of the diners had already finished; near-empty tables and padded benches surrounded them. Satisfied no one might hear their conversation, he answered, "Yes, I got the message just after lunch with the Holy Ones. How'd you know?"
"Allis made a cryptic remark to me in private. Never worry, nothing indiscreet." Anda pushed back her rose-colored sleeve to avoid dragging it in her soup as she reached for the bread basket; Temmin put down his spoon and hurried to hand it to her. "Thank you. I'm glad I was delayed in my dinner, too. I rarely get to see you any more. Are you still having trouble sleeping?"
"I'm hoping the next Supplicant snores."
Anda stuck her tongue out at him and buttered a roll. "It took me some time to get used to my new room, I confess. When d'you think you'll hear about your mother?"
"It's her fourth child, so I'm told it shouldn't take too long." He took another spoonful of soup, mindful he didn't slurp. His manners in the last two years had improved; he almost never dribbled soup down his front in his haste to fill his stomach now. Jenks would be proud.
"Isn't it rather early for the baby?" said Anda. "It's not quite six spokes since Neya's Day--that went by quickly. Well, I suppose it's not too early. I hope so, anyway. Aren't you worried, though? Shouldn't you be there?"
Temmin shrugged. "I don't know what I could do if I were, apart from pacing up and down with my father." He finished the soup and pushed it aside to attack the chicken and rice before him. "They'll send for me once the baby is born, and then I'll go see my new little sister."
"How do you know it's going to be a sister?"
"Educated guess," Temmin grinned.
"Have they picked a name?"
Temmin swallowed his mouthful of chicken. "Anneya. She's a Neya's Day babe, after all!"
Ansella paced her bedchamber, her gait heavy and waddling. Midwives supported her on both sides; when a contraction swelled she stopped and held onto them. Her voice rose high, verging on a shriek. "Low, Your Majesty, low. Oooooo…" encouraged the midwives. Ansella brought her voice down as they urged; somehow the lower pitch brought the pain down, too. She rested for a moment, letting the women hold her up as she regained her breath, and then resumed the slow walking up and down.
She grew tired. "Why is it taking so long?" she moaned.
"It's not so very long, my dear, though it feels long," soothed the lead midwife. "You'll be able to greet her soon, just think of that!"
"I can't!" wept Ansella. "I can't do this any more!"
The midwives exchanged a knowing smile over her head. "Come dear," said the lead, "let's sit you down in the birthing chair for a rest."
Not long after, Ansella needed to push…and push. She pushed far longer than she had for any of her other children--even Sedra, the first. Once her body understood what to do, Ellika and Temmin came easily, but not this little one. She was stubborn, or reluctant--or stuck. It was as if Ansella lost every precious inch when she stopped to rest; an invisible hand pushed the baby back. She was so tired.
The Sister midwives murmured encouragement, no Your Majesty or ma'am, just sweetheart and dear and little mama; they rubbed her back and supported her as she squatted on the birthing chair. Someone--Donnis?--mopped the sweat from her face with a cool rag. She would have cried from the tiny pleasure, but she was already crying, gasping and moaning as she fought the invisible hand. A black foreboding came over her. I can't, I'm going to die before I get her out, I'm going to die and take her with me, no, she can't die, take me, Lady Harla! Ansella gathered her strength to push again. Anneya, move, come out, please Amma, let her come out!
By the time the head was crowning she had no further thoughts, reduced to grunting like the animal every birthing mother becomes. A great ring of fire, and she screamed as Anneya's head crowned. "It's out, sweetheart, her head is out!" Donnis cried. The pain retreated, but Ansella remained deep in herself. "One more push and out come the shoulders, dear," said the midwife rubbing her lower back. "Come, one more push!" Ansella pushed.
Anneya slipped from her in a rushing slither. She did not cry.
The midwives quickly set the birthing chair into a recline and lowered Ansella onto it. "Here, here, see, she's here!" one of them murmured in her ear.
The baby lay on Ansella's belly, the cord still attached to them both. Neither moved. The cord pulsed slower and slower as the baby's body began to work on its own, until it stopped. They were no longer one, but two.
Ansella's eyes rolled back in her head, away from the midwives calling her name and muttering to one another about the silent baby. The choice came to her in the dark, in that place of no conscious thought: One life. Two beings.
Her decision was instinctive, instant and irrevocable. The midwives' voices calling to her made urgent fiery arrows in the dark, the baby's sudden cry a beautiful, throbbing cloud of gold; the colors and the sounds drained as Ansella began slipping away. Even the dark retreated. She hung in a void.
The void spoke in a thousand voices as one, dry, whispering and soothing. It is time, daughter.
Anguish and fear flooded her. "Time? It can't be time!"
There was life enough for one. You gave it to your baby.
"But my other children--what will happen to Seddy, Elly, Temmin? Harsin, my mother? The baby! What will happen to my baby!"
Leave her to the Gods, leave them all to the Gods--your time to worry is ended. They will be all right without you. Come with Me.
"I'm frightened!" No sooner had she said it than the anguish retreated. Peace, acceptance, love took its place in an overwhelming gush. Her brother Patrin's voice was among the thousand, her father's voice too, and she knew the thousand voices spoke the truth.
I am with you. I have been with you since your birth. I am with all things, always--stars, rocks, flowers, ants, humans--all things--and I love you.
Ansella's own voice sang among the thousand now, and the void seemed to form for a brief flash into a black-skinned Woman, compassion shining from Her ruby eyes. "Blessed Harla, You're beautiful!" was Ansella's last thought as she dissolved into Death's welcoming arms.