Saturday, October 27, 2012

Chapter Ten: Unborn

My dreams of escaping the Sisterhood must wait. 
For now, I play the nursemaid. 
Despite both of our best efforts, my mother’s illness prevails. 
I immerse myself in my mother’s books and I pour my soul into a cauldron to make a potion for her pain, another for her fatigue, one to help her eat and one to help her keep down her meals.
And of course there is her sleeping potion, which she now favors above all others.
Some days she will sleep the day away.
Other days are better. 
She has not been to the market in ages and I dare not go because I worry about leaving her side. Because of this, I have resigned to stay with the witches until she gets better or...
I rather not think of “or.”
Instead I focus on her life’s work, now passed down to me, in an effort to heal her.
I fear that the potions only treat the symptoms and I don’t know if I will find the cure in her book.
When I am not with my mother, I remain faithfully at Keiry’s side.
Yesterday, I saw the outline her child’s foot pressed against her belly. It was the most incredible thing I have ever seen.
For her, I brew potions for her nausea, for her nerves, for her mood swings, and for her comfort.
It is my hope that I will make myself so busy that I will not have the time to focus on my broken heart. It does help.
At night, I sleep deeply and wake without memory of my dreams.
Keiry will make a wonderful mother.
Every day she sings and speaks lovingly to the child in her womb.
“She’s moving!” Keiry calls for me whenever she can feel the new life stirring within her.

She allows me to press my hand or rest my head against her rippling middle.
In the midst of my joy for her, I try to forget my own pain.
But there is one who will never let me forget. Even though she lives at the castle, Ivaine makes frequent appearances around camp. Her stomach has swollen at the same rate that Keiry’s has, and my heart rages with jealousy whenever I see her.
Months ago, Ivaine strutted about with the air of a monarch.
These days she waddles in obvious discomfort.
Galaea encourages the witches to touch Ivaine’s belly to say blessings over her baby and to receive blessings from it.
I avoid the two for obvious reasons, preferring to stay where I am needed. At least now I am making myself useful and there is nothing that the Witch Queen can say to rebut that.
After the mating ceremony, it was only a matter of time to see who conceived.
Besides Keiry and Ivaine, one other woman grew round with child.
That woman is Sabryn, Keiry’s older sister.
Now the whole camp watches the three of them, anxiously waiting to see who will give birth first. Which will bring the new Witch Queen into the world?
A few of the witches shed tears when they bled after months of not bleeding.
Others wept for the blood they never missed.
I wept for myself, but only when I was alone. I did not want Ivaine or any other witch to see just how deeply she wounded me.
I am not the only one hiding how I truly feel. My ever strong mother refuses to admit that she is ill. “It’s nothing,” she says when she has a fainting spell or when the pain grows so intense she can only crumple over and cry out. “I’m tired,” she says. “It happens when you get older. I am not as young as I once was.”
But she is growing worse, and I know it.
I think perhaps she does not want to scare me, so I pretend that I am not afraid.
I often consider sharing my feelings with Keiry. She would understand, I think.
She never knew her mother. Sabryn raised her from birth.
I open my mouth to speak, but then I think better of the idea.
Keiry has enough on her mind, and the last thing she or her baby need is added stress.
Sabryn has always been more of a mother to Keiry than a sister, but have not spend much of their time together as they have gotten older.
Sabryn mostly associates with the elders and the witches in Galaea’s inner circle—
—while Keiry mostly associates with me.
But being pregnant at the same time has brought them closer, Keiry tells me.
It will be the first child for both of them and they excitedly whisper to one another about names and their hopes and dreams for their babies. It is a feeling that I envy them for.
I wonder if I will ever know what it feels like to hold life within me...
...and then to hold that new life in my arms after.
Or will I become like my mother, so bitter against men that I cannot bear to have one touch me ever again? At least she had one daughter.
Will I have none?
From across the dining hall, Ivaine makes her entrance and witches promptly move out of her path.
I would not have thought it possible before, but Ivaine has become meaner with pregnancy. A contrast to Sabryn and Keiry’s glowing demeanors, Ivaine just seems miserable every time she comes around.
And secretly, I cannot help but revel in her misery and hope that her life brings her nothing but.
Ivaine huffs her way to our table. Normally, I would tell her to leave us, but the crown on her head gives me pause. My legs become numb and my insides churn at her presence. What is she doing here?

“Good morrow, my queen,” Sabryn greets her pleasantly.
“Oh? Tell me, what makes this morrow better than any other damned morrow?” Ivaine spits.

Misery loves company, I suppose.
“What brings her majesty here on this particular morrow?” I ask through my teeth.
“My mother wants me to congregate with my lowly subjects every now and then,” Ivaine answers after she takes a seat.
“Magrid has become a pain in my arse with her continuous whining and begging to touch my royal stomach with her calloused farm hand, so I have decided to sit with my fellow expecting mothers...”
She narrows her eyes at me, “And their ugly, barren companion.”
Barren? Where did she get that idea?
She sees my surprise and moves in for her kill. “Honestly Corynne, don’t tell me you have never thought of it before. Your Lothar only had to fuck me once to put me in my delicate condition. How many times did he lie with you?”

I can tell from the smile spread across her face that she is feeling better already.
I bite down on my lip, breathe deeply, and fold my hands to constrain myself from reaching across the table and strangling her.

I will not lower myself to inform her that Lothar and I never tried to have a baby, except for once. It would have given us away. He always pulled out of me before he released. Thinking of it now makes my heart begin to scream with an anguish I have not felt so strongly in months. Damn her.
“Excuse me,” Sabryn says quietly and slowly rises to her feet. She bows to Ivaine before making her way across the room. Removing herself from the tension perhaps, but then, pregnant women often have full bladders.
“My Goddess, she’s fat,” Ivaine says after Sabryn has walked away.
“Why do you think?” Keiry answers. “You’re in the very same condition she’s in, one could say the same thing about you.”
“Oh, no.” Ivaine laughs. “That heifer is fatter than the both of us. She must be using her condition as an excuse to stuff her greedy face.”
A shrill yowl akin to a cornered wild cat rises from Keiry. “Don’t you know how to be anything but hateful, you wicked, wicked banshee?”
“Is that any way to speak to your queen?” Ivaine asks coolly. “I could have your head chopped off for that. Really, I could.”
Keiry is silent then, but the look on her face says everything.
Togther, she and I stand and turn our backs on the queen of Lyvenia, and then we walk away from her.
In my heart, I weep for our kingdom, on top of everything else.

At last, the wait is over. Sabryn is the first to go into labor.
The elders stay with her in her hovel, doing whatever it is they do to help the baby along. Giving birth has always been a great mystery to me. I have asked Keiry to describe it to me when her time comes, and she promised she will.

There is one part of it that is no mystery, however. It must hurt like nothing else in this world.
Keiry and I gather outside the hovel with many other witches, anxiously waiting to see the new Witch Queen. Unless the child is a boy, of course. But we are not permitted to think of such an outcome, let alone speak of it, when a witch is giving birth. We can hear Sabryn screaming inside. She has been in there since the dawn of yesterday and it is nearing a new dawn today.
I think that Keiry is the most anxious of all. I hold her hand and I can feel her trembling.
Finally, the screaming stops, but there is no crying. There is no speaking. Nothing at all.
The witches exchange confused glances and Keiry’s trembling becomes greater.

We wait. There is nothing to do but to wait, and the waiting feels like ages.
And then Pertessa walks out the door of the hovel. Her face is grave and she hesitates to speak. All of the witches gathered outside hold their breaths at once.
“What was it?” Keiry breaks the silence. “A girl or boy?”
“There were two,” Pertessa says. “One girl, one boy.”
“There you have it then,” A witch named Alawni says. “We have one Witch Queen and one spare.”
“No,” Pertessa answers. “No, they did not survive.”
Keiry’s face is white and her eyes widen in horror when Pertessa says, “None of them did.”
At the funeral, Keiry is beside herself and there is nothing I can think of to say that will comfort her.
I thought that I have lost, but never like that. Lothar may now share a bed with my most hated rival, but at least he is still breathing air and his heart still beats. No one that I have ever been close to has died.
Sabryn and her daughter are buried in the witches’ graveyard beyond our camp.
The son was cast off into the forest, as is the custom for boys.

The Witch Queen speaks her eulogy and we learn that the boy’s umbilical cord wrapped around the girl’s neck, which triggered labor. The children were stuck and could not escape Sabryn’s womb. Sabryn’s heart gave out trying to deliver them. The girl died as a result of strangulation and the boy smothered.
We sing a slow dirge for Sabryn’s memory and for the daughter we never got to know. We sing to bid them farewell and good journey into the next life.
Then each woman throws a flower down on the grave with a word to honor the deceased.
Keiry stays at her sister’s grave long after the other witches have left.
At nightfall, I bring her some bread from dinner. She looks at it and shakes her head sadly. 
I sit the plate down and join her beside the freshly dug grave.
“I am so scared,” she sobs. “My mother died having me, and now Sabryn is dead from childbirth. What if I’m next?”
I put my arms around her and kiss her tear-streaked face. “You’re not going to die,” I say. “Not while I’m around.”
“But you can’t promise that. No one can.”
Her eyes widen and she holds her middle. “Oh. Oh, no.”
“What’s happening?” I ask, alarmed.
"The baby," she says. "I... I think she's coming."


  1. Oh no! Poor Sabryn and twins! We just met her too :(

    Please tell me that Keiry has better luck. Please please please let her and the baby both get through it all right, and let Corynne's mother makes some degree of recovery too... :S

    That said, I definitely commend you for not making things easy for your characters ;) Still--nerve-wracking for us readers.

  2. Sorry about that. But you know what they say, you always torture the characters you love the most. At least, I do. But don't worry about Keiry, she'll be alright ;)