“Alright, I’ll go and fetch ye some sweets and teas and the midwife,” Freyja said as she threw her shawl about her shoulders. The men (and Mel) had left at dawn towards Borthwick. An uneasiness had settled into my stomach since their departure. Freyja kept assuring me they’d be alright, though I could see the worry in her eyes. I sat propped up in bed, swathed in blankets and surrounded by pillows. The pain had yet to cease, and Vala’s words echoed in my mind: “It can mean many different things. But some would say that Jon and the child will never meet. One or the other will perish, for the gods canna give us both our greatest desires at the same time.”
It seemed the closer we came to finding Jon, the closer I came to losing our child. I felt helpless, continually falling to a fate I never intended for myself. I tried to remain optimistic, though in my heart I prepared for the worst. Freyja left, the door closing softly. Bear whined at the edge of the bed. I patted the feather mattress, letting him jump up so he could warm my feet.
I glanced at the small table near the bed, the candelabra shiny and new. The flame flickered with unknown gusts of air. Outside was rather sunny, though the wind howled past the old tavern. A small leather pouch sat next to the candles. I reached for it, the weight heavier than expected. Turning it upside down, glittering silver tumbled out. I reached for Jon’s crest, something we’d been able to rescue during the storm. I rubbed a thumb over the symbol of his clan, our clan; a crow chasing a wolf who chased a bear, all forming a circle. In the middle was a strange flower known to their lands. I’d never seen it bloom. Bane and Mel’s crests were there, too. Hidden, should they be captured by anyone from Borthwick. They’d be treated with a swifter, cleaner death.
Bane had told me that their clan chose to hang its prisoners. If they were unlucky enough to be from Macdara or allied clans, or Mount Tier, they’d be hung within an inch of their life, and then eviscerated. This was not only for the spectators’ entertainment, and the prisoners’ torture, but so their souls would not be able to enter their afterlife.
“Aye, when we die, we go to the halls of a great kingdom, where our forefathers await us. Though if we die a dishonorable death, our souls will forever walk this earth.”
Apparently, the leaders of Borthwick knew the traditions of Macdara, and made it a point to kill them in a dishonorable way. My stomach squirmed, my heartbeat rapid. I reached for Vala’s tincture that calmed my nerves, taking the plug out and drinking the contents. I needed sleep.
I awoke some hours later, hearing a strange but gentle voice. I tried in vain to pry open my tired eyes. My throat was parched, my skin sweaty from the stuffy room. I felt movement, could hear someone shuffling around. My eyes opened a sliver, though the effects of the potion made everything fuzzy. A hooded figure was rummaging about the room, from what I could tell. I attempted to lift my arm, though only my fingers twitched pathetically. Bear had not moved, though I felt the swish of his tail. He was happy.
I made some noise at the back of my throat, causing the figure to turn to me. She placed a hand on my face, shushing me. I saw the brilliant red glint of hair, the sapphire blue eyes. It was as though I’d left this body and instead inhabited another.
“Shh, rest now, you’ll need your strength.” She said. I nodded to myself, settling back into the pillows before the oblivion engulfed me once more.
“Hmm…” the midwife said, pressing on my lower stomach. Freyja sat in the corner, chewing her lip, clearly more anxious than I. The old woman continued to press, moving her hands expertly from one side to the other. The cramping continued.
“Well?” Freyja asked again. The woman seemed perplexed. The hope within me began to diminish. The woman shook her head.
“It feels…well, wrong.” She said. I stared at the ceiling, a wave of numbness overcoming me.
“What do ye mean?” Freyja growled, moving closer.
“Well, with a trained hand, ye can usually feel a small lump, here—” she pointed for Freyja to see. “But I feel the lump to the left, too far.”
“So?” Freyja asked bitterly, more of a mother than I’d ever be.
“’Tis no a true pregnancy, it seems, if the babe hasna’ attached properly. Sometimes they attach too early, too high, and they don’t last long.” The woman’s voice was sympathetic. She grasped my hand, her own warm and supple.
“’Tis a good sign, though, it means you’ll likely conceive quickly the next time, deary.” She patted my hand.
“So that’s it?” Freyja bit back.
“There’s always hope,” the woman shrugged, standing to leave. I nodded to her, too emotional to trust my voice. She left.
“I don’t believe her! I’ll fetch another midwife,” Freyja began to storm out.
“Freyja,” I said calmly. She rushed to my side.
“I’m alright.” I smiled, though I knew it convinced no one. “I just want some time to myself, if that’s alright?” I asked. Tears pooled in her eyes, but she nodded, taking her leave.
I stared at the ceiling, smiling as tears ran down my face and into my hair. I wished for my mother, for my grandmother. I wished for Jon. To have become pregnant and lose the child, all without him knowing, was surely killing me most of all. I grieved, giving up what was never really mine to begin with. I rubbed a hand over my belly, thinking of all the things that could have been. I knew in my heart that it would be a girl, despite what Mel thought. It seemed appropriate for me to name her, to keep that small secret to myself until the day I died. I hoped Bane was right about their afterlife, that we’d see those that had gone before us. I now would anxiously await the day where I’d meet my precious Gloria, the day we’d be reunited as mother and daughter. I grieved for Jon, for his uncertain future, for him never having the chance to know the breathtaking moment of finding out he was to be a father. I felt selfish, being able to experience it all; the highs, the utter lows.
How would I ever tell him? How would I ever be able to face him, knowing I’d lost something that would be so precious to him? Was it somehow my fault? Could I blame the gods? Piece by piece, I said goodbye to my child, and to her father as well. Grief consumed me. I sat up, staring down at the bed sheet stained bright red. Bear whined beside me, a melancholy sound. I gripped his fur, anchoring myself to something as my life fell apart. After all I’d experienced since my fall, this was the worst. I’d take a dagger to the heart every hour of every day, if it meant never having to experience this torture again.
A commotion sounded outside my door. It flew open, revealing a breathless Meleryn.
“Jon’s alive,” she breathed.