Deamante hurried behind
the old man, almost stepping on the healer’s gown where it dragged behind his heels;
he’d follow him anywhere. Today, in his eyes, the old man was just shy of
being a god. He was, after all, the man who would soon oversee his son's
passage from beyond the sacred veil, to this side of the Divine mystery. Never
had a day been so wonderful, so perfect, and so gut-wrenching.
his hands vigorously as instructed, he stretched his arms in front of him
toward a waiting aide. The jittery helper slid a gown onto him then fumbled at
his neck--tying the knee-length cover closed.
took a deep breath and fought to relax, but apprehension filtered through him
from the top of his head to his toes. When he finally willed his feet to move,
his cat-steps were soundless as he approached the bed where she lay. A lump
formed in his throat when he looked into a face that seemed foreign, almost
deformed by the agony. Desperate eyes blinked up at him while a low moan,
little more than a whimper, escaped her.
Leaning close to
her, the healer’s tone was firm when he said, “It’s too soon to bear down. Just
bent to whisper in her ear. “Listen to the healer, Rella. Put the child
first; he’s more important than you or me.”
comprehension registered on her face, it came as no surprise to him. Weeks ago
he’d met with the healer, and had been told what to expect when the time came.
And every word spoken that day was proving true. When she was imprisoned by the
pain, her sole focus was to free herself from the hellish bounds where neither
thought nor reason had stay.
The gilded doorknob rattled for only an instant
before the door flew open and a small woman barged in. Deamante narrowed
his eyes. Not a soul in that room could have missed the hatred when he
growled,"Crinda, you're not welcome here."
Tossing moon-white hair over her shoulder, she
leveled defiant, pale blue eyes at him, then spat, "Perhaps not welcome,
but needed nonetheless." Turning away, she walked to her younger sister's
bedside. Rella moaned and Crinda leaned close to her and crooned, "Look at
you, my beautiful little Rella, lying here in the sweat and determination of a
Deamante bristled at the sound of her voice.
On the other side of the bed, the healer worked his hands
nervously, wringing them over and over again. Sweat beaded above his eyes as
they darted from face to face.
Deamante looked away, his eyes coming to rest on
the scene outside the window. Looking beyond swaying branches of a wisdom tree,
the late afternoon light obscured by heavy clouds lent a strange color to the
river beyond. The water itself looked red, capped with pink froth, tumbling and
crashing over and around red boulders. Another booming round of thunder rolled
above them, snapping his attention back to the room. “It is an omen, an omen of
his strength, that something so formidable, so mighty as a storm… will sweep
across my son's first breath.”
Without even looking
away from Bella’s face, Crinda accused, “I've read my glass and bones, the real
omens. Mine came as a gift; yours come now, false and hollow. Damn your pride,
Deamante; you forced this. You stole her away from our people; you took a woman
little more than a girl.”
Deamante fired back, “And look where it has brought us, Rella and me.
Look at the good coming for the Dominion, a son born this day.”
Brilliant flashes of lightning came amid deep rumbles
that shook the house-- a harbinger of doom. Deamante could see it— the wisdom
tree standing so close to the house it was witness to this birth. Its mighty
trunk, a lesson in naked strength, gave way to twisted and weak, broken and
gnarled branches. The wind roared through it, shouting to the ruler, but
pride numbed his ears. He didn't hear it say, “From the mighty sometimes come
the weak, a willow in the shadow of an oak."
Crinda turned away from Rella's
face, and with a voice that carried more sadness now than anger, said, "
I've been looking, Deamante, and don't see good coming; I see sorrow—and
most of it was sown a long time before today.”
The healer leaned over the bed until only inches separated his eyes from
She grasped the
sheets and twisted them as if she'd tear the fabric, then released them and
clawed another knot of them into her hand. Her knuckles trembled while she
groaned through gritted teeth until Deamante felt like he couldn't take any
more. It had been an eternity; how much longer was he to endure her cries?
The Creator either smiled on him, or
took pity on him then; she'd barely begun to push and it was over. Rella's
cries were replaced by the babe's defiant squawks. Deamante remained at
her shoulder, unable to form words for the lump in his throat. The beauty of
this moment, the joy of this day. His child, his son…son of Deamante.
Deamante could see the boy's blonde hair, pale as
moonlight, so unlike his own dark brown, but a fine match for the mother’s; he
was sure it would darken with age.
The healer then cut the tie that had bound mother
and son for months, and, after giving him a once-over, wrapped the babe in a
A perfect moment, a snapshot in
time... Deamante had never been so happy or so proud. He reached out to take
the child, but the healer hesitated before handing the boy to him. In that
moment, he saw something in the healer’s eyes, something in the man's furrowed
brows, in the very obvious lack of joy for this birth. And it sent panic
through the new father.
between instinctive tenderness and his sense of urgency, Deamante took the
child from the healer. Were the old man’s hands trembling? Well, who
wouldn’t tremble holding a miracle so tiny, so new? A random thought grasped
him as he cuddled his son; were babies really made of flesh and blood, or did
life begin of fragile spun-glass and magic?
He moved the blanket away from the tiny face to get
a good look just as lightning splintered the wisdom tree; wood exploded against
pink stone walls, shattering the window. In that flash of brilliant light, he
saw the face of a savage in his arms, lightning doubling the effect of the pale
skin, colorless hair, and blue eyes ringed in violet.
He couldn’t breathe—as if the air had been sucked
out of his lungs. The child fell out of his arms, dropping onto the bed beside
Several long steps back from the bed, the healer fidgeted. His voice
sounded tiny and frightened when he asked, “Your instructions, my Lord?”
Deamante was mum in the
deafening silence of failure.
Without hesitation, Crinda picked up the child and
placed him in his mother’s arms. Then she touched his face while clucking
soothingly to the boy.
looked up, seeming to search the world around him, finally locking onto the
face of his mother—all that stood between him and what the world deemed his
fate. She pulled him close and nuzzled him the way only a mother can when her
heart has steeled to protect the new life in her arms. Even the imperfect ones
are children of their mothers.
Thoughts as endless as the stars shining in the
heavens raced through Deamante’s mind. They all came back to this one: all that
had been beautiful and wonderful in his world had simply vanished when the
savage breathed its first breath. He desperately wanted to wake up from what
had to be a horrible dream, and discover that the babe’s blood really wasn't
tainted and unacceptable. With a growing detachment, he glanced at the wiggling
bundle of new life in his mate’s arms. How could this animal have been born
of her body? An Albayne! Repulsed by the thought, he pictured the stinger
that was surely on the tip of its tongue. His eyes rose to meet Rella’s, and
coldness swept into his heart.
Crinda, narrowed her eyes and accused, “I
know what you’re thinking, but you are wrong. A mightier hand than Juman has
touched this child, and who understands the ways of angels, of divine
messengers from the other side?” She spat on the floor and when she continued,
it was as if the vilest dirt was rolling from her tongue,”You?”
Deamante had to look away from her, from all three
of them. No, this wasn’t the work of a divine messenger; it was the work of the
devil himself. The realization of what had happened was too much.
There was nothing sacred about this. It was quite the opposite-- the most
unholy of acts; she had lain with a savage.
Disbelief jolted him, immediately followed by doubt
clawing its way into his thoughts. He lifted his eyes but what he focused on
was well beyond the ceiling, even well beyond the late afternoon's stormy
climes. He shouted through angry sobs, his hands clasped together against
his chest as he fell to his knees, “How? How could you do this to me? Haven’t I
done enough? Haven’t I fed the hungry and clothed the poor? Haven’t I built a
world in your name?”
After he was done
shouting at the only god he’d ever loved, all was silent save for the newborn’s
soft baby noises. The small sounds swirled around Deamante, compounding the
dizzying effects of grief coupled with rage. He fell to his knees, his
breathing a fierce rush through gritted teeth while petrified onlookers didn’t
move a muscle
His breathing grew quieter and quieter until it was finally soundless. He
slowly stood, and looking at no one in particular, said, “God does not exist.”
There was no shouting, no elaboration, just the strangely controlled
proclamation that caused everyone who witnessed it to tremble. Shadows of a
vastly changed future flickered in their eyes; an edict had been given.
The healer cleared his throat twice before his trembling voice emerged,
"Shall I do away with it, my Lord?"
of tears still glistened on Deamante’s face, but his voice was devoid of
emotion when he answered, “Yes.”
clutched the child against her and screamed,“No! You can’t! I don’t know why—I,
I don’t know what happened, but you can’t kill him!” She’d moved beyond
pleading; defiance burned in her eyes.
felt suspended in the room that was now silent except for splattering waves of rain
blowing against broken window shards. Standing in the middle of shattered
glass and shattered dreams, Deamante turned to look at her, and with that same
strange, controlled voice said, “Whore, you have betrayed me and have no say in
this.” Then he turned to the healer and said, “For now, leave it be; it must be
public. I’ll send someone to take care of it.” There was no sign of anger, save
for the clenched fists hanging at his sides.
He spun on his heel and departed, with his
aides scurrying to keep up
Collapsing into her pillow, Rella shook with sobs.
Crinda squeezed her shoulder and urged, “Rella, collect yourself. We
have to act now.”
Rella sucked in a breath of air and held it for a few seconds then
slowly blew it out. She looked up and met Crinda's eyes, mirrored pools of
summer-sky-blue pain, fear, and longing. A leftover shudder of a sob
racked her when she said, “You believe me, Crinda, don’t you? I was with no
other, and I don’t know how this happened.”
Using the corner of a blanket, Crinda dabbed at the tears on Rella’s
face.” “I believe you.”
Rella reached out and grasped Crinda’s wrist, then her words
tumbled out in a desperate stream, "I think he really will kill him.
Please, help me.”
tried using her big sister voice, but it came out more a plea than a demand,
“Neither of you are safe. You both must go. Now.”
In the answering silence, Crinda added, “The glass. The bones.”
Rella’s voice was low and oddly composed when she answered. “The
auguries are wrong; I have to stay. But you can do it--you can slip the baby out of here and take him to safety.”
They were out of time. Defeated, Crinda accepted what she must
do. Sliding her hands to cradle Rella’s
face, her gaze lingered for unaffordable seconds, a last fleeting glimpse to
register the beauty, the goodness, and the love that existed in her baby sister.