December 26, 1330, Melcombe Regis, England
Screams filled the room. It was the twelfth hour of labor, and all the dark-haired woman would do was watch the girl writhe in agony. It was not that the woman was incapable of assisting. She simply had no desire to do so. Her policy was to never get involved in the lives of those who served her.
Besides, the servant had been warned about lifting her gown and meeting men in the dark. Sadly, the wench did not even know the name of the man who put her in such a predicament.
But the woman knew. There was very little that went unknown in her presence.
“How much longer?” the woman, weary of waiting, asked the wizened midwife. If only they could cut out the babe and be done with it.
“The girl is not progressing,” rasped the old woman. “At this rate, she would not survive.”
“Her survival is of no importance,” the woman said.
If given the choice, perhaps she would have tried to save the mother. After all, the girl was a good and loyal servant despite her propensity for rutting around. The poor lass fled Ireland along with her employer, but it was neither hither or thither. The babe had been deemed important by a greater—or perhaps he was a lower—power.
The woman pushed to her feet just as the servant girl arched off the bed. She cried out again, and the handmaiden made the sign of the cross. Sweat, glistening in the candlelight, covered the brow of the girl.
The coppery stench of blood permeated the room. It coated the bed linens and the chemise of the servant. When the girl burned with fever, the midwife called for a bucket of water. It only made the floor slick with red-tinted fluids.
Perhaps if the woman had assisted when the pangs first began… A simple spell could have easily avoided the difficult birth. But the woman wanted the girl to suffer as punishment for her recklessness.
The woman shook her head, trying to dispel the memory. No time for second guesses. It was time to act and end the agony. She leaned over the girl and lifted the damp garment over her swollen belly.
Signs of the pending birth were evident. The babe twisted and stretched inside the womb. The frantic movement resembled a gigantic knot, constantly changing shape.
The woman barked at the handmaiden, “Leave us.”
A sudden shriek, however, froze the feet of the helper. Two sets of eyes landed on the bed. There was a rustling beneath the bloodied garment as if something was trying to get out. Without any warning, a tiny fist shot out from between the legs of the girl.
The midwife crossed herself again. “Tis the work of the devil.”
“Shush with thy nonsense and help her,” the woman admonished. Secretly, she knew who had a hand in making sure the wee one was born. His name was not to be spoken.
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