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Fiction

You’d watched the sunrise that morning, as you did every morning, sitting beside Cassandra in the Hamic you’d built for her a few months earlier. It had been so peaceful, so calm, so ordinary. There’d been nothing about the morning to indicate that the day it gave birth to would be one full of sorrow and regret.

The sky had just begun to turn pink when Cassandra had suddenly stiffened. You’d felt the change instantly, her entire body becoming taught as a bowstring, the muscles in her leg where it pressed against yours going rigid.

Your gaze had shot from the sky to her face, and found it full of pain. “What’s wrong,“ you’d asked voice sharp with alarm, “is it the baby?” Without giving her a chance to respond you’d jumped to your feet. “I’ll tell Armand to summon a healer...“

“William there’s no need. I’n fine, and so is our baby.“ Her expression had relaxed, the pain that had darkened it moments before beginning to ease. “The baby is fine,“ your wife had repeated reading your unconvinced expression. “He kicked me in the ribs and it caught me off guard that’s all.“

You’d sat back down reluctantly, putting an arm around Cassandra and watching her intently for any more signs of discomfort. “You’re sure you’re fine, you’re both fine? You don’t want me to call for a healer… just in case…“

“I’m sure. William, I promise, your son and I are both completely fine. In fact,“ she added voice tightening slightly and muscles once again beginning to stiffen, “ I’ll show you.” 

Before you had a chance to voice another concern Cassandra had taken your hand and placed it gently over her slightly rounded stomach. And then you had felt it, for the first time, you’d felt your child move inside Cassandra.

“Wow,“ it had been the only word you could come up with, awestruck by this concrete proof that the life Cassandra carried was real. “That’s… amazing. You’re amazing.“ You’d leaned over and kissed Cassandra then, one hand still resting lightly on her stomach.

“You really think it’s a boy?” You had asked when the kiss ended.

“Of course,“ Cassandra had replied confidently. “It’s a boy, I know it.”

“Well,“ you’d said with a grin, “I think it’s a girl. We will be having a daughter.”

“Maybe, one day. But not this time. This time we’re having a boy. Mark my words.“ Cassandra had smiled back at you then, light and happy, content and self-assured, loving and beautiful. So beautiful. If you had known what was going to happen, you don’t think you ever would’ve stopped staring at her.

The sky had turned orange by that point, Dawn being fully upon the world. Without knowing enough to wish that time would freeze, you’d broached the subject of the journey the two of you would be undertaking later that day. It would take less than an hour, but Cassandra didn’t want to take the carriage, she wanted to ride. You convinced her not to. You said it would be safer for the baby for her to be ensconced in the cushioned carriage seat, and not bouncing around in the saddle. She’d scowled at you, both because of your an eloquent description of the riding she loved so much, and because she knew you were right.

“Fine,“ she‘d agreed exasperatedly, “but only for the baby.“

You replay that moment now. You wonder if you’ll ever see that flash of fire in her eyes when she’s angry again. If you’ll ever see her mouth twist into a irritated scowl, or turn up into her beautiful smile. Will you ever see her lips twitch again as she tries to hold back a laugh, or part when you lean in to kiss her?

Stop it, you tell yourself firmly, just stop it. There’s no use asking yourself such questions, they’ll do nothing but heighten your anxiety and concern for her which has already become all-consuming.

You’ve tried not to look at her from the moment you brought her here, so far you’ve managed it. But all at once you know longer can and your eyes are drawn inexorably towards where she lays on the spring green grass a few feet away.

Her eyes are closed, her face is deathly pale, but her chest, you see with great relief is still rising and falling, although far more slowly than it aught to be. You look at her and your thoughts return to this morning’s carriage ride, the place where in the blink of an eye, it all went so terribly wrong.

She’d spent most of the journey staring out the window at the green fields and tall trees which lay beyond the glass. You thought at first that perhaps she was still angry at your insistence on taking the carriage. Maybe she was imagining herself galloping along the side of the road, how much quicker the journey would have been that way.

You were about to say something, tell her that you hadn’t meant to make her cross, but she turned to face you and it had been clear from her expression that anger had not been what had made her so quiet.

You’d leaned toward her, taken her hands in yours and asked her gently what was wrong. 

She’d looked at you directly then, her bright blue gaze meeting yours squarely. You’d known before she spoke that you weren’t going to like whatever it was she was about to say. You hadn’t tried to forestall her however, all that mattered to you was that she trusted you enough to share her deepest thoughts, even in perhaps most especially when they were troublesome ones.

“I’m frightened,“ she’d said the words in a whisper as if half hoping you wouldn’t hear. “ I’m not sure how they’ll react.“

Her words had surprised you. You’d thought she was going to say that she was frightened about the pregnancy. You were, who wouldn’t be? You were both first-time parents, each rather far along in years to have a child. But you were also healthy, well established in your relationship and social standing. 

“Surely they’ll be happy for you, for us,“ you’d said giving her hand a reassuring squeze.. 

“ Of course they’ll be happy,“ she’d agreed returning the pressure of your fingers with her own, “that’s not what I’m worried about.”

“Then what is it?“ 

She’d glanced away for a moment, fixing her gaze on a loose thread which dangled from the hem of her tunic. Running her fingers along it absentmindedly she’d looked back up at you and said, “I’m worried that they’ll be obsessed with possible complications. You know what they are both like, mother is always ten steps ahead of where she actually is. She’ll be giving me all the precautions for seven months before you know it, never mind that we’re not even at the halfway mark yet. And father well, he doesn’t say much but when he does it’s usually serious and contains a warning of some kind.”

“Cassandra,“ you’d said relieved that this was the only thing troubling her, “ your parents love you and want what’s best for you. If they worry overly then it’s only because they’re trying to show you how much they care. But if it’ll make you feel better,” you’d continued placing a hand on her knee, “I’ll do my best to run interference. If it seems like one or the other of them are getting to comfortable with the rattling off of possible disasters,“ you had given her a crooked smile, “I’ll do my best to head them off and steer the conversation into a more favorable, and practical, direction.”

The concern which had been clouding her dark blue eyes had lifted slightly, “Thank you, that will definitely help.“ She‘d leaned forward on the carriage seat and without giving you a chance to reply, pressed her lips to your cheek in a butterfly brush of a kiss. 

You can still feel the soft, feather light sensation now. You hold onto it, replay every exquisite detail of the fleeting feeling in your mind, desperate not to lose a single second of the precious memory. Because as you watch the slow, laborious rise and fall of Cassandra’s chest, as you clock the movements of the black cled healers sworming around her like ants on a picnic blanket, you can’t help thinking that that fleeting brush of a kiss may be the last you will ever share.

Her lips had still been on your cheek, when the world exploded. There’d been an earsplitting crack, and then the unmistakable sound of shattering glass. Cassandra had screamed and you’d thrown yourself across the carriage seat toward her.

 The horses winnied in alarm and frantically tried to free themselves from their traces. The carriage jerked beneath you and then spun. You’d covered Cassandra’s body with your own, pressed her between you and the seat cushions, done your best to shield her, but it hadn’t been enough.

You felt the ripple of air as it flew past your cheek, you heard The whoosh of wind as it speared toward its target. It happened so fast, was over so quickly, that by the time your mind was able to process what was going on it was already far too late.

The arrow had struck Cassandra in the collarbone. It hadn’t hit any major veins or arteries, but she’d been unconscious from the moment it had penetrated her skin. The healers had explained that it had been coated with poison, one the likes of which they had never seen before. They were laboring furiously to find an antidote.

You notice distantly that the sun has completely faded, its light replaced by the pearly luminescence of the rising moon. It doesn’t seem possible that an entire day has come and gone. 

A thought occurs to you and you sit bolt upright in horror. If you‘d let Cassandra ride her horse the way she wanted to, if you hadn’t convinced her to take the carriage, then none of this would’ve happened. She would have easily been able to bolt away on her trusty gelding at the first sign of trouble.. 

“My Lord, I think the healers have something to tell you.“ The words, spoken by Arden, your faithful squire and oldest friend, break into your spiraling train of thought. He is standing in front of you, you get the feeling that perhaps he has been for sometime and you have been so wrapped up in regret over the days events that you only now realize it. 

When you speak your voice cracks from having been unused for the past several hours, “Report.“ Your tone is curt, not polite as it should be, but you don’t have the energy for decorum right now.

Miriam, an older woman with long gray hair who has been the head of the palace healers for as long as you can remember is the one who speaks. “My Lord,“ she says, “we are cautiously optimistic about lady Cassandra‘s condition. My fellow healers and I believe we may have found a possible antidote to the poison. We have administered it to your wife and it is exhibiting promising results. She is still unconscious as you can see, but her breathing has stabilized and the levels of toxins in her blood have slowly begun to diminish.”

“Thank God.” You don’t know if you speak the words out loud, but you must because Miriam falls silent. You don’t want to ask the question, you don’t want to hear the answer, You don’t think you’ll be able to bear it if it’s a negative one. But you must . If the situations were reversed and you were the one injured, if your life was tied to that of your child the way Cassandra’s now is, then you know what she would do. Cassandra would have the courage to ask what she needed to, and so you must find it within yourself to be that brave.

You bite your lip, take a deep breath, and finally ask, “And the baby?“

Miriam’s expression tightens, her lips pressed together and she looks at you grimly. ““I’m afraid we don’t know my Lord. The baby is alive and does not appear to have been injured, But we won’t know for sure until he has been born. As we have not encountered this poison before, we do not know what its effects might be on his development end…“

You cut her off, “He? Cassandra is having a boy?”

Miriam‘s expression softens, becomes slightly less grim.“Yes my lord, that is correct. In about six months if I’m not mistaken, you will have a son.“

A son. Cassandra and you are having a son. She was right. You really shouldn’t be surprised. She usually is.

The moon has risen completely now, its silver glow reflecting the still water of the lake. The lake had been your destination on this morning‘s faithful carriage ride. You’d been going to surprise her with a picnic at its shore before continuing on to her parents' home.

You stare at the water, and the patches of light and shadow that dance across it as the moon makes its inexorable journey across the sky. You don’t know what the future holds. You don’t know what impact the poison may have on Cassandra or the baby. You don’t know what the long-term consequences of your actions today, of your failure to protect your wife and child, may be. But right now, the woman you love and the child she carries are both alive. And right now, that’s all that matters.

November 14, 2020 23:11

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