Haran Dessinay grasped his wife’s hand as if the force of his grip could anchor her to life. They were alone in the vast room. The fire blazed in the hearth. The curtains, thick and heavy, and drawn close against the dangers of the night made the room seem stiflingly hot. Haran could hear no sound except the soft hiss of Amalie’s breath. She seemed to have slipped into unconsciousness. The healer had said the babe was already dead. He had been waiting, as custom demanded, for the news of the birth of his seventh child to be brought to him but from the moment he had seen the healer’s face he knew there was no good news. Protocol and custom be damned he had insisted on seeing Amalie.
The thought of losing the one thing that brought joy to his life started the tears rolling down his cheeks. It mattered not that the Elected Defender of the Realm of Unity and Light wept like a small child beside his dying wife. There was no-one there to observe. He had sent them all away, another breach of custom and protocol but he was beyond caring. If the most skilled healer in the Realm could do nothing then he would have no company in his vigil beside Amalie’s bed.
Whatever qualities earlier Dessinays might have possessed that led them to a position of pre-eminence in the Realm, Haran, like his father and grandfather, was a conventional and unimaginative man. From a small child he had been raised to be unquestioningly obedient to the Precepts of Light as set out by the Temple and the Guardians and that governed every aspect of life. Only in his intense love for his wife did he deviate from the rules. In public he was careful to conceal the strength of his feelings and show only the calm and measured affection prescribed as correct between husband and wife but now, faced with her death, some force rose within him that he could not suppress. He could not just accept the will of the Light. The responses in the book of conduct, the calm acceptance that everything was preordained seemed hollow as he looked at Amalie’s waxen countenance. He had not wanted another child; she’d had difficulty with the twins four years ago. Guardian Deatras had reproved him for his lack of trust and faith and reminded him of the duty of a husband and wife to procreate. The First Family should set an example for all. The Light cherished and loved those who followed it with their whole hearts. All would be well if the Light willed it. Well obviously the damn Light did not will it. A sudden rage seized him and he rose and strode to the window. He flung the curtains back and stared out into the night sky then without conscious thought reached out and opened the window, thrusting it wide.
“I’m told there’s no hope. So is that right? How can that be right? Damn me to the dark but if there’s anything out there that can help I’ll take it. I, Haran Dessinay, will sell my soul for my wife’s life. Do you hear me Darkness?”
No-one in the Realm now risked the dangers of the night to look at the stars. His eyes fell on the constellation that had once been familiar to all and known as the Hunter. It rode high in the sky and the blood red of the mage star that marked its shoulder seemed to glow brighter and more intensely as Haran stared at it. He did not know the old name for it but he felt as though the light from it was shining directly into the room. A cold breeze stirred his hair and he shivered. A faint sound from the bed brought him back to himself. Overcome with horror at his recklessness in opening the window and risking the night terrors he slammed it shut again and closed the curtains. He hastened back to the bedside. Amalie’s eyes fluttered open. She smiled, but her voice was a thread of sound.
“I’m here my darling” he returned the smile and smoothed the tendrils of hair away from her forehead, “do you want a drink?”
He picked up the glass with the tincture that took away pain and induced drowsiness. Amalie shook her head.
“Haran, the baby” he felt infinite pain and searched for something to say but found no words. He nodded mutely and gripped her hand again. “Haran” Amalie’s voice held a note of what, wonder, hope? “The baby I’m sure it’s moving.”
She gave a gasp as a strong contraction seized her. His yell brought a rush of people.
“Get the healer” he shouted frantically sending several of the servants running but by the time the man arrived Haran Dessinay, against all convention, had delivered his own son.