I grimace as my belly tightens again. It is becoming really painful these days and I have pretty much given up doing much of anything except writing Malenn. The girls and my friends gather daily in my sitting room to try to distract me for as much of the day as they can spare. At the moment, however, the girls have gone to bed and everyone seems to be engaged elsewhere so I lever myself out of the chaise and waddle every so slowly down the ballroom. I haven’t been down here since the attack and, foolishly, rather expect it to still look as it does in my memory. It doesn’t, of course. The mess is long since cleaned up. Or, rather, the mess outside the piano. No one has bothered – or, more likely, maybe they just didn’t feel comfortable in doing it – to pick the wood out of the strings.
The lid is a mass of jagged edges but I note that the support for the high stick is still in place and carefully prop it up. I don’t know what is with me tonight but I spend nearly two hours picking every bit and splinter of wood I can out of the strings and hammers, pausing here and there as my belly contracts again. The pinboard looks whole, the sounding board intact, once I’ve removed as much debris from the inside as possible. I pull the bench out and slowly open the key lid. I start to reach for the keys several times before finally resolving to just go one at a time to hear the problems. I am surprised that the lower octaves appear to have remained (relatively) in tune, even the middle section appears mostly alright. The upper register has snapped several strings but I guess something can be said for Steinway quality that, even there, at least half the notes still sound, albeit discordantly.
I settle for noodling about in the dark notes at the bottom, Lakoshan folk songs vying with an oddly deep version of Beethoven’s 9th, my grandmother’s hymn writ in ultra bass and my high school fight song seeming to be sung by linebackers.
Eventually, I can’t resist the urge to sweep the scraps of wood that cover the floor into a tidier pile and there Mara finds me, fireplace broomlet in hand. She stares for a minute, then inquires about the tightening.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I say, “maybe every half hour or so?”
She takes the broomlet away and delivers me to Ellena who explains that I am, apparently, in labor. Go figure. This isn’t at all what labor felt like with James but maybe things are different with different children?
As the next tightening, well, I guess it’s a contraction really, passes, Mara returns and I am deposited onto my now towel-lined bed by a couple of (very) sturdy footmen. And, then, we wait. And wait. We time the contractions. Hey, look at that, I was right – every 30 minutes on the dot. But they don’t speed up. Ok, this is boring.
“Can I go back to the piano now?” I plead after a couple of hours.
No dice. Ellena breaks out the cards.
At midnight, a healer arrives, Mara crashes in the sitting room, and Ellena heads back to her own apartment.
Dum, dum, dum. Ow. Dum, dum, dum. Ow. Fortunately, with a half hour between contractions, I do manage to fall asleep and, luckily, the contractions aren’t strong enough to wake me.
What does wake me, however, is a very strident, accented voice demanding to see me. In fact, there’s a series of strident voices outside my door in all sorts of pitches. Mara appears from The Bathroom. There’s a look to her face that I haven’t seen before and, at this moment, I am very glad I am not one of her children.
“By your leave, Lady,” she murmurs, not waiting for any such thing before flinging the door open. “What on the Goddess’s green Earth is going on out here!!” She’d’ve made a great drill sergeant. The cacaphony stops almost instantaneously. “YOU!” She points, I can’t see to whom, “You will tell me, and tell me now, exactly why the Lady is being disturbed at this hour in her condition.”
I glance at the clock. It’s about 5 a.m. No wonder I’m tired. Ow.
The stammering voice of one of my personal guard emerges as a pitiful squeak. I debate the wisdom of asking him to speak up so I can hear. Mara’s demeanor convinces me otherwise.
“She can wait,” Mara orders, “until a more reasonable calling hour. Then she may request an audience as anyone else does. And that is that!” She slams the door. No small feat considering its weight. She is still steaming as she turns around.
“Um,” I almost don’t dare speak, “what was all that about?”
Her expression changes immediately. “Nothing you need worry about, Lady. How are you feeling?”
She raises an eyebrow.
She makes me stay awake long enough to measure the time between contracts – ooh, look at that, we’re down to 27 minutes – and then orders me back to sleep. I’m not about to argue with her in this mood so I sleep.
(Sep 23 Y4)
The day really adds little to my wealth of knowledge except this: ‘Quister wives are demanding. So much so that I actually begin to feel ever so slightly sorry for the Kiester.
Her impatience rouses me again at 8 (still at 27 minutes, btw) and Mara actually allows me to get out of bed and dress to receive her. Granted, how regal can one feel (despite the circlet and the sword) when one is 10 feet wide but, still, better that than my semi-sheer robe.
Her name, it seems, is Sofia. She’s gorgeous. She’s tough. And she’s in a wicked bad mood.
I quietly send the footman to retrieve ‘Rico from his breakfast and to ask the Guard to bring the Kiester up from Prunella’s as she goes on and on about our lack of hospitality – how dare we imprison her son in some fetid cell and chain her husband. I let her ramble for a while until (finally!) ‘Rico arrives, Chip Petrus (go figure) right behind him.
“Mama?!” He gasps. She turns and cascade of ‘Quister emerges – at first, she clutches him to her and the words croon then, gradually, she turns into my mother. He straightens rapidly, pulling his clothes to rights and blushing. His plea is bitten off as she … well, ok, I have no idea what she said but he’s clearly embarrassed. Ow.
“26 minutes,” Mara murmurs, seeing my face, and makes a note on her chart.
The interruption, though slight, catches Queen Sofia’s ear and she turns to lambaste Mara. I prop myself to a stand.
“Chip, why don’t you and ‘Rico go to class?” I forestall the incipient tirade. ‘Rico looks strikingly relieved. “I know Master Ricard is planning a spelling tournament in French that you won’t want to miss. I believe the prize is an afternoon off lessons.”
“Mama? Please may I go?” ‘Rico asks in desperation. She nods once but then kneels to hug him tightly.
“Be good,” she says, surprisingly gently. He flees with Chip before she can change her mind.
“As you can see, Madam, your son is housed as any member of this household and, indeed, other than being constantly attended, accorded all the privileges any of his age would receive here.” I know my voice sounds stiff but the bitch woke me up at 5 and then again at 8 and I’m in labor, for pete’s sake. “As to your husband, he has been apprenticed to a seamstress in the local community and should be here directly. He is guarded, yes, but not chained and, indeed, paid – which is more than I can say for our citizens he was attempting to take as slaves!”
Mara frowns as I ask the footmen to bring breakfast to the sitting room but I refuse to see the Kiester in my bedroom so she’s going to have to deal with it.
The reunion is terse though, apparently, heartfelt and I manage to tolerate his presence (and hers) and still eat. By the end of the meal, however, Mara has had enough and I am not fool enough to cross her.
“Madam,” I say, gallumphing to my feet, “I believe your husband’s work day has already begun and I’m sure Mrs. Whipscott is relying on his presence.”
Ol’ Sofia starts another tirade but, amazingly, the Kiester cuts her off. “You will come with me, Sofia, and see what I have created. Then you will return here. When I have finished for the day, I will come to visit you and you will tell me how you come to be here.” He glances at me and I nod slowly.
I am surprised when she acquiesces far more gracefully that I would have expected. Off he goes with the guardsmen, off she goes with a footman and a guardswoman. The door hasn’t even latched yet as Mara starts undressing me and I’m back in bed before you can say whatever long flippin’ word you want to. I swear, I’m as much a prisoner as they are!
Ok, this certainly isn’t like my first labor. Of course, I’m not starved and nearly dead with bronchitis and pneumonia either. I suppose that could make a difference. But this is BORING.
4 p.m. 24 minutes. Oooh, we’ve advanced a whole 6 minutes since we started counting. If I were still living in DC, I’d be at work with an OB telling me to call at 5 minutes between.
8 p.m. 23 minutes.
12 p.m. 23 minutes.
(Sep 24 Y4)
Lots more dum, dum, dum, ow. Both the healer and Mara look a bit concerned that the contractions aren’t progressing more quickly. The healer comes at me with an enormous crochet hook. My knees lock together.
“If we can break your bag of waters, lady, labor should speed,” the healer says reassuringly. Uh, yeah, like there’s anything reassuring about a giant crochet hook being shoved up your ying yang. I mean, hello, the baby’s up there!!
At noon, they give up. At 7 p.m., they don’t. This sucks.
“Labor usually does,” Mara says, turning away to ask the footman to have a chambermaid come clean up the resulting mess, “but it leads to babies. And babies are the Goddess’s assurance that life will go on.”
“I seem to have heard that somewhere before,” I grumble.
Labor does speed up but, for some reason, I’m not mentally ready for it to. Mara comments to the healer than I’m fighting it, even as I grimace through another contraction.
15 minutes now. Faster and they’re getting harder too.
I need to hold on, just a little while longer. Just a little longer.
12 a.m. 10 minutes.
3 a.m. 5 minutes.
This hurts but still I can’t help trying to hold onto this baby.
“The baby needs to come out, Vivi,” Ellena says gently, “It’s not like last time, I promise. This baby will live. Didn’t the Goddess promise you?”
“She promises a lot of things,” I gasp, before letting my breath out in a whoosh.
“You need to let the baby be born,” she repeats.
6 a.m. 3 minutes.
At 6:36, as the sun is just starting to creep into the sky, there’s another commotion outside the door. Mara answers it with a glower but falls back in shock as Malenn stumbles into the room. He’s barely on his feet, his face gray and covered with a sheen of sweat, but is next to me in no time. Thank God, thank God, thank God. My body relaxes.
“Didn’t I promise?” He whispers, gripping my hand tightly as Ellena cedes her place. In the background, I hear the healer request backup and healing green. And as he sits, weariness and hope competing in his beloved face, I begin to push in earnest.
I overhear Ellena tell Mara that must have been what I was waiting for. Maybe so. All I really know is that I’m ready now.
15 minutes later, with a screech on my part and a prayer on Malenn’s, I deliver our daughter.
“It’s a girl!” Mara declares above the baby’s affronted crying. There are tears in Malenn’s eyes as he strains to see the wailing child being cleaned and bundled on the far side of the room.
The delivery of the placenta is almost a non-event though Malenn is surprised – and a bit grossed out- I think. But the bed is cleared of the towels, they wipe me clean, and hand me my daughter to feed. My baby. This precious, precious child. She is as beautiful and as perfect as her brother was. As the healers strip Malenn and waste no time tucking him up in bed next to us, Ellena guides me in nursing this wonder.
“What names do you give your child?” Mara asks us. We look at each other. Honestly, we hadn’t discussed it. Oops. She tells the footman quietly just to announce that a girlchild is born to the Lord and Lady and all are well.
Malenn’s face is pale on the edges and he winces as he shifts in bed. The healer is to him in no time asking questions, cleaning, green-gooing and re-bandaging the wound. I would worry that Malenn let all this be done with no griping except that his attention is almost wholly occupied by the miracle in my arms and his gaze is wholly occupied by the view.
“I confess, dear heart,” he whispers, “I am quite jealous of our daughter. Months I have been away from you and I come back to find another at your breast…” He smiles – a soft and cozy featherbed of a smile.
Soon enough for that. Rest now, all of you.
So we do.