An introductory scene from "Ironwood: In Fall" (the sequel to Ironwood)
|Lady Adelin of Northspire tugged the blankets closer against the morning chill, but it was no use. Her shoulder hurt, her arm was already tingling from lack of circulation, and her bladder ached mercilessly. She sat slowly, using both her right hand and her tingling left, taking a deep breath against the discomfort. That made it worse. In addition to the rest, Adelin’s feet ached, her back ached, and the queasiness in her stomach gave way to the drum roll of the life inside her. She shoved herself to the cold floor, trying vainly to get the slippers on to her feet without bending over. This was the point in her pregnancy where most women would give anything to have it finally end. Not Adelin: the day was coming too soon, already. The false contractions had begun.
“Up already?” Joranthan asked, and placed his hand comfortingly upon her back. “You should rest in. You’re not sleeping enough for one, let alone two.”
“I can’t sleep,” Adelin complained, sinking back against the bed, and her husband’s warm hands. “There’s too much to do. I finally picked a nurse, though. You’ll like her; it’s Jeyne, the Holder’s daughter.”
Jeyne was a lovely girl, but young, roughly the age of Adelin’s younger daughter. She had been with the family almost a year and a half, and had been planning to wean her own young one soon, so the timing was perfect. She had enjoyed the life of a Holder’s daughter until she angered her parents by finding herself in a family way, and by refusing to name the father. Despite her single indiscretion, she had been clever, responsible, and as pleasant as a pre-pregnancy dawn. What’s more, she had learned the hard way her lesson about boys, and seemed to be an excellent mother. The girl would be perfect to help raise Adelin’s son, and she would get on well with Joranthan too. That would be important in the years to come.
“I’m sure she’ll do fine,” her husband replied. “She’s a hard worker. In that, she’s far too much like yourself. You’re doing too much already! You know the physician would rather you stay in bed. You’ve been faint for weeks, and that’s not like you. Take a rest: tomorrow’s work will wait until tomorrow, and nothing is more important to me than your health. If that doesn’t concern you, then at least consider our new son or daughter.”
The Lady Adelin laughed gently, placing a hand on his muscular shoulder, and running it slowly down his side. “I love you dearly, husband. You will have to trust me in this, though. The nursery is almost done, but I doubt I will be doing any paperwork once he is born. I’d like to have as much in order as possible, and fall is already beginning.”
“I know,” Joranthon replied sourly. “I have to ride out today to visit Holder Loren. He’s protesting about the tax assessment, and the Empress’s assessor has commanded I attend to him before he leaves tomorrow morning. The message came last night.”
Another contraction came, and Adelin’s stomach lurched in sympathy, but that wasn’t what suddenly brought her eyes wide. Today was the day, the day her son would be born. Only now did she realize, for all the foresight God had given her, that she still wasn’t ready. “Please, Joranthan, don’t go. I’m too close: it’s going to happen today.”
She knew how he would respond, but she couldn’t resist letting the words out. Adelin had dreamed this day, sleeping and waking, more times than she could count, enough that they all blended together, and it always went exactly the same way.
“Has it just started?” her husband asked.
“Yes, just now,” Adelin sighed. “I know! Before, it always took days, but every pregnancy is different, and it’s going to be today.”
Her husband stood, and began to pull on his pants. “Of all the days for the Empress’s stupid assessor to show off his importance,” he groaned. “But if I don’t show, there will be consequences. You know that. On the other hand, if I ride now, I’ll be home before the sun falls. That’s the best I can do. I wouldn’t leave you for a moment, if I had the choice.”
“I love you,” Adelin said, hands clenched before her sore and swollen breasts. “Don’t go.”
“You’re breaking my heart, dear one,” Lord Northspire replied. “I love you too, more than flowers love the rain, but I have to go, and I will see you tonight.”
“Goodbye, my heart,” she replied, voice soft.
“Goodbye, my dear. All will be well. Just wait for me here, and I will be as fast as I can.” Her husband pulled her close for a kiss, and then he left her.
That was how the Lady Adelin Northspire found herself, a few short hours later, wracked by pain, bleeding profusely, her heart racing as it never had before. The midwife was pale as a sheet, and the physician was cold and grim, his knuckles white. Laranna held her hand tightly, as if willing strength into her body. Jaselle switched between looking helplessly on, and fetching anything she could think of that might be of use. No one dared tell her that there was enough water, or blankets, or bowls, or pillows. Joranthan still hadn’t returned.
“Push again, my Lady,” the midwife urged. “You’re losing blood, and we need to get the baby our fast, if he’s going to live. Then we can take care of you. One more time, dear. Push!”
Adelin pushed, and screamed as something new tore within her. But she also felt something move. When she opened her eyes, the midwife lifted something before her. It was a squirming mess; it was a wonderful, beautiful, baby boy, screaming at the cold and the quiet. She touched him, briefly, and smiled. The pain didn’t truly leave, but the fear and the urgency did. She felt light, and free. It was exactly like she remembered.
She turned her head to her firstborn, Laranna, who leaned forward to embrace her. “Mother, It’s a boy. I have a little brother.”
Laranna had never watched childbirth before, but Adelin saw her eyes darken, and saw the urgency in the physician’s motions as he leaned forward to try to stop the bleeding. The midwife rushed to change her blankets. Now that Adelin no longer exerted herself, it began to grow cold: the blood, her blankets, and ever her sweat. It was so cold.
Laranna raised a hand to her mouth, her expression beginning to crumble as she realized what was happening. She had been such a clever child: so serious, so inquisitive, and overflowing with life. Adelin’s heart was full of pride and love for the child she had been, and the woman she had become. Jaselle, sweet Jaselle, held her baby brother, his cord already cut. She was so good, so pure, and she was growing so strong. She called now for Jeyne: that would be the wet nurse. It was getting hard to think.
“Mom,” Laranna called out softly, her grip fierce on her mother’s hand, “please, don’t leave me.”
“I’m sorry,” Lady Northpire replied. “I love you both. Call him Joran, after his father.”
“Mother!” Laranna pleaded, “No! Don’t go!”
The pain in Adelin’s body begin to fade, along with every other sensation except a feeling of freedom. It was as if she floated above her own body, in a room suddenly full of light, and a circle of light and dark floated near the corner of the room, like a tunnel in the air. There was an invisible motion, like the wind, moving towards the circle. Only Laranna’s unrelenting grip kept her from flowing toward it.
Somehow, the body’s lips moved with her words, “I am with you.” For a long moment, she held Laranna’s hand, and then the strange wind tore her away, into the circle of light and dark. She was gone away into a place without form or sound, except for a small piece that Laranna refused to let go.