Birth in Flowers
The pain lingered in Ara’s heart, brightening and flaring as she breathed deeply through clenched teeth, nostrils flaring slightly as her lungs sucked in air, attempting to compensate for her fury. Her hands clenched by her side, the knuckles a frail, fragile white that threatened to break apart at the slightest damage, the slightest jarring.
Something inside her snapped, and as quickly as it had come, the consuming rage that had nearly driven all reason from the young woman’s mind fizzled out, left her with only the heart wrenching, bone-crushing ache that now dampened her once bright, flowered gaze with a dark heaviness that had not been there before; a sorrow that had not been present in her carefree years as a girl, spent frolicking among the meadows and fields, worrying only about the vibrant colors of the petals adorning the smiling faces of the springy plants.
Ara stood before her husband, her raven dark hair dulled to a dim crow’s wing in the soft glow of candlelight, a mere shadow of its former glory, her swollen belly protruded gently from her simple red dress, its clinging softness accenting the curves her body held even in a state of gestation, accented by a shapely golden ribbon that traced the garment’s edges, curving down to reveal the silky smooth skin of her bare chest.
Caerwyn, the man whom she had fallen head over heels in love with, the blessed man who had managed to sweep the highly demanded maiden off of those slender feet, stood with his intelligent, once adoring pine green gaze trained on the floor, the dark sandy blonde hair that accented such beautiful orbs falling about his cheeks, failing to hid the searing red blush that trembled across his skin, his bare chest carrying several scars from his stay in the king’s armies, souvenirs of a war he had never believed in, the belt hanging loosely unbuckled about his waist, barely managing to hold his baggy trousers in place.
His lover, a young village woman with hair as fair as the wheat they grew, had already gone, fleeing like a mad doe upon glimpsing his wife’s murderous face. The hands, large and rough, calloused from years of hard work, were locked behind his back, the cords of muscle in his arms tight beneath the layer of tanned skin, burnt to this dark shade from years of working in the fields, struggling to provide for his small family, which consisted of only he and his beloved wife, now six months along with child, what the young couple had hoped would be the first of many.
Now all that it was gone; it didn’t seem as there would be any love left in their marriage at all. It pained him to see her so hurt, shamed him so that he could not meet her accusing gaze, a look that had once made him giddy with pleasure when she looked at him with even the smallest smile, even the tiniest glint of that special magic she seemed to have about her glimmering in the depths of those chestnut colored orbs she called eyes.
The rough hewn hickory trim standing tall behind the once slender figure held her weight with ease as Ara leaned against it, a sigh of broken defeat whispering softly from the depths of those soft lips, shining with a deep, blood red, accented by the gloss the expectant mother had dabbed on the lumps of fatty tissue. Her voice, when she spoke, was frail and weak, rasping in broken whispers, as if unable to meet the demands of the laws of space and time, unable to muster the strength to put any power at all behind the words. It was only one, a single question made of a single set of letters, uttered from a hopeless mouth, falling upon deaf ears.
Caerwyn found he could not answer, for he did not have one. He didn’t know why, hadn’t thought about anything other than his burning needs, unable to be satisfied by a woman so far along with child she could barely bend over to pick up something she had dropped. He opened his mouth, glancing up at her, paling in the face of her sorrow, her anger, her hurt, and closed it, dropping his eyes to the dirt floor residing beneath his feet once again, merely shaking his head.
He heard Ara sigh once again, heard the silken rustle of her lovely skirts as she turned and fled the house, lily white hands covering the moon shaped face as she wept in a vain attempt to stifle the sounds of a bitter betrayal.
Months passed, a chilly silence engulfing the once joyful home, smothering the keen gales of laughter that had filtered past the wooden walls, seeped into the stone of the great boulders standing guard in the front yard, the only cheerful spot within a mile of that house was the flower garden the expectant mother tended each and every day, no matter her condition mentally or emotionally. She found that ripping weeds from the tangled roots soothed her soul, allowing her to vent the immense anger and rage that still swirled in her heart, that plagued her dreams each and every night.
Mere days away from giving birth, Ara felt worry and apprehension beginning to mingle with the anger, wondering if she would survive this excruciating experience. The young woman had heard terrible stories, tales of still borns, tales of mothers dying promptly after delivery, horrid retellings of breach births that claimed both mother and child. She prayed fervently that she and her little one would make it through, and proceed to live happy, healthy lives full of joy, love, and laughter once again.
Caerwyn had tried to apologize to her several times over the past four months, but the woman had ignored him, staring coldly over her shoulder with a frown upon the expressive tissues of the milky face, her deep red lips plastered together in a piercing scowl, forcing her husband’s head and eyes to the floor, sending him skittering from the room like a frightened school girl who trembled at the prospect of one day marrying a fine gentleman to carry on her family legacy.
With a heavy groan wrought by the struggle and effort it took to raise herself to a standing position with at least a seven pound baby residing within her body, freeloading as it devoured all the nutrients she could give, Ara climbed slowly to her feet, leaning heavily upon a fence post her once faithful, loyal man had erected around her flower beds, hefting the heavy basket of herbs she had yet to dry and store. The wood was as rough and coarse as his skin, its heart as black and decayed as his own now must surely be. How could he ever have betrayed her for that village brat?
The elegant dark eyebrows, thick and lush, drew down in renewed anger, fresh waves of agony skimming through her heart, rolling through the twisting tissues, vanishing as her dancing chestnut eyes lighted upon a single flower, the pride and joy of her labors, its fragile fleshes covered in the gleaming gold that bled through with blood red streaks, rosy pink freckles bespeckeling the entire surface, carefully skidding around those streaks, not daring to cross over into the stronger color’s domain. The leaves were of a minty brilliance, shining in the golden rays of the afternoon sun as if it knew its time on this earth was limited, and merely wished for someone to see its supple stalk and broad, fuzzy appendages before they shriveled in the withering time and died, never to be seen or heard from again.
A shrill kick pounded against her ribs, sending her gasping to her knees, a small cry issuing forth from her lips, jerking her abruptly from her musings and observatoins, the mouth parted in a tiny ‘o’ of surprise and shock, fear hammering into her heart as the labor pains began, tremoring through her body with silken whispers, promises of the ease with which she would bare this child, of the sheer pain and agony she would feel as it traveled through her body and out into the vast emptiness of time and space.
Despite her determined resolve, Ara found she had no choice, she called for her husband, her voice thick and trembling with a terror she hadn’t known she could ever experience anchoring itself in her heart, her womb cramping as it contracted, preparing to propel the babe from within its warm confines and into the harsh realities of the real world.
The birth was a hard one, the babe took its time in coming as it tore its mother to shreds, greeting her in cold silence as she screamed in agony, her hair plastered to her face and forehead in streams of sweat that ran down her back and clung to her plain, dove gray gown in soaking puddles, her chest heaving as she cried, her voice hoarse from the hours spent in similar activity. Caerwyn held her hand, covering its pale surface with his own tan one, a worried look upon his mien, dark eyes anxious as he watched his wife, as he prayed for both their safety and survival.
He saw a midwife shake her head as his spouse screeched yet again, jack knifing upwards, her back coming clean of the thick, fluffy pillows wrought of the fairest and lightest feathers to be had that rested up against the oak headboard, her womb heaving with one last, tremendous, life draining push, her voice cracking from the strain of upholding such shrill notes, her fingers digging into her husband’s thick flesh, the nails cutting deeply without her knowledge. The smell of blood was thick in the air, its coppery, salty odor staining the nostrils with the acrid scent, slicing the sensitive organs it greeted with little to no hesitation, the purple hue of twilight splashing through the windows, splaying across the floor in dancing colors, alternating shades of midnight blue and vibrant orange twisting about within the depths of the plum shades.
“What is wrong?” He demanded sharply as Ara sank back among the pillows, her chest heaving, lungs gasping as they sucked air. The great man could feel her tremble within his grip, could feel the violent shaking that wracked her otherwise healthy frame, the shivers that plagued her and would not seem to leave.
The midwives did not answer as the cord was cut, a clean knife making quick work of the thick cord of flesh, severing the tiny babe from its mother, an infant who opened his tiny mouth in a shrill, demanding shriek of anger and indignity at being rent from the warm, quiet place of his mother’s womb.
Ara, ignoring her husbands concerns, reached out with weak arms that tremored like leaves in the wind with the very effort of raising them, her normally vibrant eyes dull and hollow, only a tiny spark of life left in them.
“Let me see him,” she bid, her voice a broken whisper, “Now, please, before I go.”
“Go?” Caerwyn questioned, turning back to her with a baffled, horror struck expression. “Go where? You can’t possibly mean to leave? You’re in no condition to go anywhere, not after birthing our son!”
His hands gripped her own, one traveling to her face to turn it to him, so that she might see the heart break in his eyes and change her mind, hoping beyond hope that she would chose to stay with him, to raise their son together, the rounded fingers gently stroking the wringing wet tissues of her face, taking solace in the smile she gave him, however weak it appeared to be. He did not realize the true meaning of what was happening then, though all would be made clear just moments later.
“She won’t be gettin’ along i’ th’ sense you’re a’thinkin’ of, sonny,” the midwife informed him as she carried the wailing child to the ones responsible for his lineage, now swadled tightly with an old blanket, its dull brown color smarting the eyes with its appalling chagrin.
The older woman handed the fast expiring new mother the babe she had labored so long to bring forth into the world, smiling sadly as the younger woman cooed at the screeching bundle, who had apparently decided he was positively, thoroughly dissatisfied with the place in which he now found himelf, waving his meaty little arms about, kicking as hard as he could against the chafing blankets that rubbed his delicate skin.
“Well, hullo there, little one,” Ara whispered, a thin smile creasing her lips as her weakness continued to grow, she knew it would not be long now, she could feel her blood leaving her body, could feel the dizzying lightheadedness wrapping behind her eyes, watching as the world and her child’s face swam with tears, a mixture of both complete and utter happiness and crushing heart break.
She could feel her husband’s anxious eyes on her, and realized that she had forgiven him, though the woman was not sure when this had happened. I s’pose it was when I realized I was dying...and that I would be unable to help him rear our son, that I would never be able to watch him grow into manhood, and become the finest young upstart in the country, a rival to even the king himself in both honor and looks. She thought privately to herself, handing the babe back to the midwife, not wishing to drop her precious bundle, the strength leaving, failing at long last.
Ara sank back into the pillows, dimly hearing her husband’s frantic voice and a curt, tart reply, as if the speaker dreaded breaking such news, and had prayed that the asker would get his answer himself; she heard her husband’s denial, felt his gentle hands clasping her own, tracing her shoulders, her cheeks, her face. Drawing in as large a breath as she could, Ara whispered, “I’m so sorry, dear one. I’ve shut you out these past four months-”
“No, love, it was my doing,” Caerwyn countered, clinging to her hand, lifting her head gently as he sat upon the bed beside her, careful not to jar her throbbing figure, though Ara admitted to herself that the aches were already fading. She was moving along faster, then. She had to get on with it, if she wanted to say her piece before all was through, the woman lifted a finger that shook like a rabbit stricken with the greatest of fear, pressing it softly to his lips, silencing him before he could continue with a shake of her head, the world a smarting splattering of colors.
“No, dear one, I am as much to blame. I held it against you after you tried to make amends, please...if it’s not to much... forgive me.”
“Of course,” was the quick reply, accompanied by a light squeeze from the grip he held upon her limbs. “Anything for you, my beautiful Ara, my lady of the sun, of the moon and stars. My lady whom the flowers themselves pale in comparison.”
Ara’s hearing dimmed as her vision had, her muscles relaxed slowly, one by one, growing cold and limp as she gave a last, barely discerniable nod, the raven’s wing hair billowing out about the face in a halo, unhampered by the clinging sweat that littered the rest of her body, hindering the clutching garments. How could she have ever considered his heart black and cold? How could she ever have hated him? She saw now her mistakes, and knew them for what they were. She could only pray and be content with his expressed forgiveness, for it was all she had time for, and all she could dream of.
Ara’s thin, barely audible voice whispered her last request, something so ordain any mother could have uttered it, “Take care of our son...take care…”
“No! Ara, wait, please wait! Hold on!” Caerwyn begged, gathering his wife up within his arms, feeling his heart breaking in his chest, a knife cleaving it in two, rending one half from the other, grief shearing through his being as cleanly as had the arrow of Cupid that had brought he and his spouse together those few years ago. He suddenly realized they were too few years ago, he hadn’t had nearly enough time, hadn’t shown her nearly enough love, hadn’t been as faithful and loyal as he should have, but it was too much to lose her, he simply couldn’t stand the thought.
“I...can not,” she murmured as her eyes slid shut, those once vivacious chestnut orbs glazing over as if in sleep. “It… is… time.”
“I can not bare to lose you!” Caerwyn cried, tears, so undignified for a man, no matter his station, streaming down his face, clouding his pine colored eyes, matting pieces of his sandy stubbling of a beard. “I can not go on without you!”
To his surprise, Ara’s deep red lips, the color of her blood staining the sheets just below them, curved upward in one last smile, her hand squeezing his one last time, as if in reassurance, to give him the strength and support he would so desperately need in the coming days. It was a draining effort, he could tell, one that cost her the last drops of strength, pulling any and all that was left from her broken, torn body.
“You can… and you will… farewell, dear heart. May we meet… again.”
The life passed from her eyes, though he could not see those lively dancing orbs, Caerwyn knew that it was so, for he felt the life force leave his pale wife’s body, felt it grow limp and cold in his grip, felt her spirit pour forth from the open lips, her head drifting back to rest against the pillows. Overcome with the mingling guilt and grief, Caerwyn lowered his face to Ara’s, kissing her lips softly one last time, hands tangling in the inky black strands of hair as he smoothed it back from her pale, sweat streaked face, voice cracking, chin tremoring and trembling with unshed sobs, his throat closing as a lump formed within its confines.
“Wait for me, love,” he whispered as he sat back, wiping dry his eyes on a handkerchief handed to him by one of the midwives. “Wait for me, so we may enter the gardens of Eden together, and be with one another until the end of times,” the words fell quietly from his lips, for her and her alone, dying away almost as quickly as they were uttered, nearly drowned by the shrieking wails of the child, hischild, who lay in the next room. Standing slowly, Caerwyn rose and turned to tend to his babe.
Outside, a gentle breeze blew past, smelling of lilacs and lavender, chestnuts and fire, the stubborn, normally independent scents mixing together, lingering about the house and garden, ruffling the leaves of the plants and bushes, rattling even the brittle appendages of the trees. A golden flower smeared with red, littered with rosy freckles, finally blossomed within the dying vestiges of the twilight lighting, winking merrily as a mirthful laugh tinkled across the air, vanishing in the last vestiges of purple shaded light.