Maddox had become accustomed to dozing in her rocking chair since she had been pregnant. It had become commonplace and she was comfortable sleeping sitting up. Her head was lolling to the side and she almost didn’t feel it when her stomach spasmed. She shook awake a bit and readjusted herself in the rocker. Usually that was her petite troublion’s way of her telling her it was tired of that position.She shifted again and after five minutes, she had to shift again. Things were starting to hurt that hadn’t hurt before and she was beginning to worry. Her back was getting somewhat tight and she was beginning to feel a difference in her abdomen. Erehwon said she wouldn’t be far and Arnold was in the city…
Perhaps she needed to get up and walk. She tried to rise and her legs buckled, sending her back down into the rocking chair. No, walking would not do it tonight… What was her baby telling her? It barely occurred to her that her baby might be ready to see the world and was trying to tell her. She opened her mouth and called for them both, “Arnold? Erehwon? Is someone out there?”
“Should I find the Magistrate?” Ifurtia called from the top of the stairs.
The pain was beginning to get excruciating. “Get Ereh or get Arnold, Iffy! I don’t care which! Please…”
Erehwon Yoshikawa ran down the stairs, missed the bottom step and landed wrong on one foot. She had to swing a leg wide to keep from falling and found herself clutching the wardrobe across from Maddox’s rocker. “Mihna irmã?”
Arnold soon followed her, bounding down the steps and ramming face first into the wall. He turned back towards his charge, ignoring his throbbing face. Her agony had called him from across the city. Maddox turned to look at her sister and her familiar, cringing as she explained what had happened so far.
“Has your water broken?” asked Erehwon. Arnold added, “Do you even have water to break?”
“I…I don’t know yet. But I am going to assume it hasn’t.” Her back was starting to scream at her and she winced, sliding towards the front of the rocker. “It may be too early for that…” She chuckled, despite what her face looked like. “Perhaps it will be steam?”
“We need to get you to the beds. Whatever’s going on,” Arnold said as he moved to help her, gesturing for Ereh to get the other arm.
“I believe that if this is a false alarm or a prank played by my baby, I will scream.” Maddox was trying to keep a level head by injecting humor. It worked with patients, but right now she was fighting immense pain all over her body and she didn’t know if she’d be coherent for the whole ordeal.
By the time Erehwon and Arnold got her to the bed the sharp pains had grown crippling, Her eyes began to flutter, to her almost in slow motion, and she gasped as another wave hit her. “This little one is anxious, whatever is happening…”
The lights in the room, candles and lamps were dimming. “Shall I try to get comfortable now? It..it hurts to think at the moment…”
“Yes, do that while I go fetch Doctor Sonnerstein…is he…” It dawned on Arnold that Dr. Sonnerstein was in New Babbage. “Are there any doctors in town?”
The wind freshened and started to howl upstairs. Maddox heard the fronds of the Palms in Elephant Square whipping in the wind. Ifurita called down, “Magistrate, Doctor, the Moon. A shadow is falling over it.”
“No, a shadow is eating from the center of the Moon, outwards.”
Maddox was struggling to make sense of what was being said. Her middle was twisting and it felt as though her torso was on fire. The sensations were piling on top of each other and she was not sure how much would be too much for her. Having never had children before, let alone a part demon child this strong… Helio had warned her this would happen. She only hoped her husband felt her… He had been longer between visits preparing something. It was now when she truly wished he were there. To talk to her, to brush her hair off of her now sweaty forehead and to reassure her with lies like every other husband tells their birthing wife. Were her eyes going bad? The room seemed darker than it had moments ago… She hoped she wasn’t losing consciousness already.
As the light died around them in the basement, Arnold could still see enough, his eyes glowing blue-green. But no one could see the look of horror on his face as he came to realize that it was going to come to him to deliver the child. Maddox’s screams of pain didn’t leave him long to dwell as he grabbed a stick for her to bite, he’d learned his lesson with Helio and wasn’t going to risk any kind of medication. She bit down on the stick as hard as she could when it was placed in her mouth. She didn’t want the whole Souk thinking someone was dying in their house… Even though it was made clear to her that there was a sliver of a chance that she could face such a thing. Her teeth bit into the wood and she wound her hands into the covers on the bed and tried not to close her eyes for too long.
Someone was stroking her hair. Had she fallen asleep during the birth? She couldn’t have…or perhaps she had passed out. Was she dead? Was that why everything looked so bright? It felt warm in the room and she was clean and covered up in bed. And where was her child? If this was really the aftermath, her child should be somewhere, crying. Babies cried when they were first born, didn’t they? Or was there something wrong and she just wasn’t awake to receive the news until now? She looked around for someone.
“Shh…,” said her sister, stroking her sweat damp hair. She looked up and saw Erehwon who smiled at her. The magistrate’s eyes had heavy circles under them, and her hair had been pulled into a hasty bun. Ifurita stood behind her, bearing a coffee pot.
She was very tired. She could lift her head some, and all of her limbs had feeling, so nothing was broken. That was good, she’d need all of her faculties as soon as she could move. She tried to croak out someone’s name, but she had the driest mouth and her tongue felt like it was covered in thin fur.
Maddox felt cool water on her lips, Erehwon squeezed a rag over her tongue, “Easy, sister, it’s been a long night for you.”
The tired woman lapped up the water as best she could and tried to speak again. “It was all night? Wh– Where’s the baby?”
Erehwon looked over at Ifurita, Ifurita crossed her arms and said nothing.
Maddox’s eyes flitted to her sister’s face. “Ereh? The baby?”
“May I remind the Magistrate that she is talking to her sister, and dissembling would be unbecoming of her?”
Maddox blinked a few times, willing her eyes to focus. Ifurita had a huge black eye. Ereh’s right arm had been bandaged. Bits of the wardrobe and its contents were on the floor. The bed was considerably closer to the ground.
Erehwon took a cup of coffee handed to her by Ifurita, “The baby, very healthy.”
Ifurita bowed to them both, “And if you will excuse me, I will—”
A crash from upstairs interrupted her, which was followed by a loud resigned sigh from Arnold.
“Just go, Ifurita, I’ll look after Maddie.”
“Erehwon, what was that crash? And what happened in here? To you and the wardrobe… My clothes? I don’t remember anything but the pain, really…”
Erehwon raised her bandaged arm and winced, “This? Well that was me keeping the wardrobe from flying into you. That shiner that Ifurita has, that was, I think when she cut the cord. I have no idea where she got that blade. Maybe from Seiaomei. Nothing else would cut it.”
From upstairs, Ifurita hissed, “By the Thousand Names of the All Merciful, you will let me change that nappy!”
“What part of ‘demon-child’ makes you think it cares about the ‘all merciful’?” Arnold asked sardonically.
“That child will learn to submit to God, or I shall—”
Erehwon coughed into the back of her hand, loudly.
“That child will learn manners. Yes, manners.”
Maddox tried to stretch and thought better of it. She blinked a few more times, her eyes working better than they had. “Ereh, ma soeur… What are they doing up there? It sounds as though they’re fighting each other just to take care of the baby.”
“Your baby, yes. Your child is frightened, and well, part demon. And your child is not taking being born very well. You need to let your child know it’s okay.” Erehwon took a long sip from her coffee mug. “And we’re going to have to find a way to deal with the diapers. The lab practical with fuming nitric acid was less hazardous.”
She chuckled softly. “I would let my child know it is all right if I could move without feeling so tired and sore. But I don’t believe that coffee will help me there.”
“It won’t, and you must rest. Arnold and Ifurita are looking after the child for now. And as long as Ifurita does not decide to bind it to a lead weight and drop it into the Armada Deeps.” Erehwon blanched, “No, really, that’s what Ifurita said.”
“I am charged to look after you and Mondrago, Magistrate.” Boomed Ifurita’s voice from upstairs.
“And I’m charged to look after Maddox, and that includes the baby,” Arnold countered, “So you’ll need two weights.”
“I will rest. I have to know… Did Helio come yet? Has he been here to see the baby? I have to wait for him, if he hasn’t come yet.” The woman’s voice was getting a little stronger, even tinged with fatigue. “It feels odd to have slept so long… Why is it so bright?”
Ereh shook her head. “Not yet. You need some rest. I will wake you if he comes.”
Maddox nodded and let her body relax. “I will need sleep if I’m to take care of my own baby. That is true. I love you, ma soeur, and thank you for everything so far.” She shut her eyes and was soon sleeping peacefully. She turned over in the bed, wincing, and Erehwon stayed near her. Her poor sister needed her husband. When would he come?
Upstairs, there was a noise and Ifurita exclaimed. “Not so loud, Professor. You’ll wake it…Though it might be better, considering we would be able to find it more easily if it would stop taking off the nappy.”
“I understand Ifurita. Is Maddox all right? I need to see her before I go.”
Ifurita nodded and pointed to the stairs. Helio made his way down the stairs as quietly as possible and whispered to the Magistrate. “Erehwon.”
She nodded softly to him. “Professor.”
He gazed on his sleeping wife and smiled, reaching a hand out to caress her hair. “I can’t stay long. I need to go and I must take the child with me… Erehwon, I need you to keep her sane while I am gone. She will not understand at first, but you must make her see that this is for the best. I cannot even visit her dreams while we’re gone. It would be too dangerous, and I need to make sure that our child is trained the way I want it to be trained. Otherwise, our little hellion will be a terror on legs.. Can you do this for me?”
The woman turned to watch her sister sleep and then looked back at Helio. Slowly, she nodded. “I will. I will keep her busy. But you know that she will not take this well.”
“I know. She must understand that this is for the best. I am sure that she will, after some assurance.” He turned to go, getting halfway up the stairs before turning around. “Erehwon? Tell her that I love her.” With that, he disappeared up the stairs.
Erehwon sighed and sat back in the chair. She knew Maddox wouldn’t be happy with this. She knew that things would get interesting from here until the Professor returned. She was ready to take on the responsibility. Maddox was her sister and she would not let her sister fall into her own darkness. She would make sure that Maddox knew that everything would be all right.