There is no need for Keiry to explain childbirth to me now. Terrified of death, she begged me to stay with her for the whole thing, and I promised that I would. It is eerie being in the same room where Sabryn died only days before. I desperately hope that Keiry will not meet the same fate.
Although I am not the one experiencing it first-hand, I can tell by merely observing that labor is more horrible than anything I could ever imagine. The worst kind of torture in the very worst place that will not relent for hours, perhaps even days. Keiry—my sweet, soft-spoken Keiry, is now the strongest woman I know. Would I be willing to go through such shame and agony, with death only a breath away?
Two of the elders, Pertessa and Hexia, assist Keiry. They sit her down in a chair specifically designed for birthing. “The baby is crowning,” Pertessa says. “It is time.”
So Keiry pushes with all of her strength. She struggles to catch her breath in between short, gasping screams. I can’t bear to look. She is dying, I know it. No woman could survive this. How could she?
But at last, a colorless ball of flesh falls from between her legs and into Pertessa’s waiting hands. The air is filled with the sound of a piercing squall and Keiry releases a sob of joy and relief. Pertessa severs the child’s umbilical cord with a knife. When the afterbirth has been delivered, I guide Keiry to her bed so she can rest.
But all is not well. Pertessa and Hexia share the same grave expression. I wonder if something is wrong with the baby.
And then I see the reason, the part of the child that would distinguish him from our kind.
“Male,” Pertessa says the word like an accusation.
“Let me see him,” Keiry says. “Please.”
“Keiry, you know our laws,” Pertessa answers. “It is best that you do not grow attached.”
“You know what you must do,” Hexia interjects. “Take him to the forest and then repent for whatever you have done that would bring this upon you.”
“I will, I promise I will,” Keiry cries. “Just let me hold him for a little while.”
The elders acquiesce and leave the hovel while Keiry nurses her newborn son with tears streaming down her face.
“I can’t do it,” she then says to me. “I just can’t! How do the rest of them do it? I don’t understand…
“How can you hold a life inside of you for so long, only to have to throw it away?”
“I’ll help you,” I tell her. “I’ll think of something.” That’s when a burst of inspiration strikes, and I rush back to my own hovel.
Quickly, I put on my cloak and the gatekey, which I have not looked upon for months. I dare not go to the castle now, but there is one that I can turn to.
The portal takes me to somewhere unfamiliar. It is a lovely estate with ivy covering its outer walls.
I wonder if I opened the portal correctly, but I am sure that I did. There is only one way to find out if I am right.
I step up to the manor’s red door and take a breath before I knock.
The person that I had hoped to see opens the door. “Corynne?” Markius asks, dumbfounded. “What are you doing here?”
“I need a favor. I am sorry to bother you at home like this, but it's very important. Life or death important.”
“There is no bother,” Markius answers with the jovial smile and I know so well on him. “I just was not expecting to see you. Please, come inside.”
He leads me to a spacious sitting room where we rest on a sofa that is almost fitting of the royal castle itself. “I cannot stay for long,” I tell him, “but I need a message sent to Veradel Castle, and then I have something for you to deliver there.
“And time is absolutely of the essence.”
He and I develop a plan and discuss it as the fireplace crackles in the background.
“Well, I suppose that will be that,” Markius says after we have gone through the details. “But there is one thing I am unsure of. Where exactly will I meet you?”
“Just keep walking,” I answer. “We’re sure to run into each other somewhere in the middle.”
“Very well,” he says and walks me outside. “I shall be seeing you. Please, do not hesitate to visit me more often. It does me well to see you again.”
He is quiet a moment, then he turns his head away, as though he is ashamed. “Also, I wanted to apologize for my behavior when we last spoke at the marketplace. I was drunk and it was unacceptable.”
"Think nothing of it," I assure him.
When evening comes, Galaea declares that today is a day for rejoicing for now we know that Ivaine’s baby will be the new Witch Queen. I hardly listen because my mind is focused on other things. When the sermon is over, I meet Keiry in her hovel so that I might walk with her into the forest.
“Is he warm enough?” I ask as we step deeper into the snowy, wooded darkness.
“I think so,” she answers. “Are you sure he will come?”
“He will,” I assure her as I remember something that Markius said to me once, a lifetime ago.
…if I knew that a woman who looked like you was waiting for me in the forest, I wouldn’t keep her waiting.
We walk on further until I finally see the man I have been expecting… and one that I have not.
Markius stops when he sees us, and a hooded man follows his steps. It takes my eyes a moment to adjust, but when they do, I recognize the man’s face.
Keiry gasps when she sees him.
“Lathian! You came?”
This had not been part of the plan. Markius was supposed to send Lathian the message, and then come pick up the boy so he could bring him to his father. Instead, he has brought his father to him.
“I had to come,” Lathian answers. “When this man told me…” He swallows and steps forward.
“Oh Keiry,”he breathes her name. “Is it really true? I have a son?”
The baby lets out a cry and Keiry brings him to her shoulder to calm him.
Then, she lowers the child for Lathian to see. “His name is Lathe,” she says thickly.
“He’s perfect,” Lathian says. “He looks just like you.”
Keiry hands the baby to his father. “He has your eyes.”
Lathian cradles the newborn and looks down on him in awe. Keiry breaks into sobs and waves to her son. “Goodbye, my little one. Please know that I love you…”
And then she cannot contain her tears. I wrap my arm around her to console her, but I cannot even begin to imagine what she’s feeling right now.
“Keiry, I promise to give Lathe the very best that I can give him. I’ll see to it that he has a wonderful life.”
Keiry nods but she is too distraught to reply.
I turn to Markius. “Thank you, my friend.”
He gives me a careless grin and replies, “Anything for you.”