‘It’s a girl!’
There was no joy in the midwife’s tone as she cried out the gender of the baby she had just delivered. It was a simple exclamation, partly out of habit, and partly for the sake of the maids, guards, and Court messenger hovering by the door. She didn’t care for the silence that followed her words, or the looks of disappointment and concern as the room of strangers looked at the tiny, messy thing she had just cut out of its mother. She had work to do, clearing the airway of the babe with a quick precision learned from many years of practice and making sure her charge was breathing with a sharp slap across the backside that caused the little thing to begin wailing healthily.
Satisfied that all was well with the child for the time being, she wrapped a blanket about the wriggling girl and moved to hand her to the nearest person. A huge soldier, who caught the baby almost automatically because he had little other choice, then looked in complete horror at the tiny thing as though he had been given a dragon instead.
‘I’m going to lose the mother if I don’t work quickly,’ the midwife snapped at him, not oblivious to the fact that the room had quickly emptied and only two of the maids were left, their heads hung in something akin to shame.
‘A girl?’ whispered one, not quite quietly enough. ‘He’s not going to be happy…’
‘They can always try again,’ reasoned the second, and for a split second the hapless soldier cradling the tiny newborn and the midwife shared a knowing look. There would be no second child for this woman. The damage was too severe, if she even survived.
Unsure if it would be a kindness or not, the midwife went back to the business of saving the new mother’s life. She was pale, despite her Tsumetese heritage, and sweat slicked her dark hair to her brow. She was no longer conscious, a mercy the midwife was glad for after all the tiny woman had been through the past day.
Politics mattered not to her. She was here to do a job, and that was to care for babe and mother both. If she could save the poor woman then she had to try, no matter what would follow. The girl would need her mother.
She worked diligently and with little concern for anything but the grievous wound the mother had taken to bring her child into the world. When she was almost done stitching and cauterising, however, she noticed the guard was still holding the squalling babe, doing his best to rock and shush her. She was surprised he hadn’t passed her to one of the women, as most Ffionite men would have done under such circumstances. Instead he had put down his spear and had taken up an armchair to one side of the room as he tried to comfort the child, and the midwife felt sorry that she hadn’t thought to tell him the little one would need feeding.
With a skilled hand, the midwife milked the still unconscious mother until she had enough to fill a small glass bottle. Fixing a rubber teat to the bottle, she handed it to the guardsman. He took it without so much as looking up from the crying bundle, and as though he had been doing it all of his life, encouraged the teat into the baby’s mouth.
She fought it for only a moment, then sighed near silently before taking her fill. The soldier chuckled, cradling the baby in his huge arms with a gentleness that seemed out of place with his scarred face and calloused hands, and leaned back in the armchair.
‘Well, little lassie,’ he murmured. ‘You’ve a storm in you, and no mistake.’