Of all the indignities Ivaine had been forced to suffer, this was by far the worst. Death would have been better. But death would not have her, not on this night at least. She was much too stubborn for that.
“That’s it, push push push push push!” the midwife cried.
“I am pushing, you stupid cow!”
“You’re doing well, my queen. You’re so close now.”
“Rejoice in your suffering,” her mother had said. “Be glad in your discomfort. For the child you carry will be the salvation of every witch alive.”
Ivaine had done many things that her mother had told her to, and she would do many more. She would even put on a brave face for all the other witches who gazed upon her deformed body with dumb wonderment. But she’d be damned before she would be glad about it.
She had agreed to become her mother’s puppet for the power that being queen seemed to promise, and for the freedom as well.
But even the throne and the crown had their restraints. She could not decree anything world-changing, only minor things—and only if her idiot of a husband did not overrule her.
Therefore, she and her mother would see to it that he never did.
She found Lothar terribly dull. He never spoke much to her, and even if he did, there was nothing he had to say that she found the least bit amusing. Most of the time he wandered around the castle looking lost, like a dog without a home. It was like living with a ghost.
It was all she could do to let him touch her. She found no pleasure in lying with him. Fortunately, after she discovered herself with child there was no longer a need to.
“Oh!” she cried out. The beastly thing inside of her was finding its way out. She howled at the burning between her legs. She was splitting apart.
And then it finally ceased. The ugliest sound she had ever heard pervaded her ears.
The midwife cradled the naked baby close to her and shushed at it until it stopped its hideous crying.
“You are blessed indeed, my queen,” the woman simpered. “Your child is a boy.”
“A WHAT?” Ivaine shrieked.
That lying bitch! Salvation of the witches? Where was the daughter that fate had promised? Or perhaps fate had made a mistake.
“I want the head of the seer Saleri,” Ivaine seethed. “Let no one in the castle rest until I have it.”
But all that she heard in return was Lothar’s voice saying, “Hello, my son, what shall I call you?”
“Dracarus,” Ivaine spat. “That is its name.”
Fate had now dealt her an even greater indignity than the pain of delivering this male child. She could at least take satisfaction in naming it before Lothar could.
The midwife handed the child to its father.
And then Lothar changed. His dull eyes brightened and filled with something unfamiliar. Something a lot like joy. A blissful smile spread across his lips. He was no longer the ghost she had come to know; he was more alive than she had ever seen him.
“Dracarus…” he sighed and gazed upon the newborn’s face as though nothing else existed in the world. It was then that Ivaine decided not to smother the babe in its sleep as she had been planning. The answer was so clear. She could use this child to control Lothar even further, in ways that she never could before. Perhaps it was fate after all.
When the second unpleasant part of the delivery had ended, the midwife took the child from Lothar and put it in Ivaine’s arms so it could feed. She looked down on the parasite that had made her body its host for the past three seasons as it sucked greedily at her breast.
Yes, this child could be of great use to her. But there was something else, something unsettling about the boy with eyes so much like hers. The child was dangerous. She could just tell.