Emmeline lay awake in the dark of night before the coming dawn. She knew it was very late and tonight something was happening to her that had never happened before. Was it her continuing closeness to a Fey Lady that made her so hyper-aware of life right now? But it was more than that.
The warm, comforting body of her Baron lay beside her as she stared up at the ceiling. She could feel his dreams thriving, moving, changing just under the skin of mortality. She thought that if she turned toward him, she might fall into that dream like a youngling leaping from its nest for the first time. Her heart fluttered and she almost gasped aloud when he turned over.
But that wasn’t all. That wasn’t nearly all. There was something else, something new inside her. She knew beyond any shadow of a doubt, she’d conceived this night.
Everything felt alive. She felt more alive than she ever had before. She imagined life filling the castle from the people sleeping, to the servants already hard at work, to the vines creeping up the cracked stone outer walls. The stars sang a silent lullaby.
A familiar voice was heard at the edge of Emmeline’s consciousness. “It is accomplished, in a way unexpected but not unwelcome. Go to Zoë on the morrow.”
The voice faded and the night continued undisturbed.
Emmeline smiled happily. She didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but for the moment, she slipped back into sleep and tumbled into a dream in which the Baron and she again made love together. It was perfect and so real and she didn’t want it to end.
The knock of a servant at the door announcing breakfast roused her and only then did she know it was a dream. Yet she awoke in the Baron’s arms in exactly the position they’d been in the dream.
She was smiling all through breakfast, her adoring eyes on the Baron every minute of the morning ritual in the castle. As he readied to back to work, she readied to ride out to Cerisey and the Vale. She let the Baron know that she needed to attend to something and would return on the morrow, but that she would take Renee with her for extra protection.
Riding along, Renee noted, “you look happy this morning!”
“Between the Baron and Mara I have every reason to be very happy,” Emmeline said with a big smile. “I’ve been really fretting for weeks that I might be with child when the Baron has to go to war and trying to really push to have him take me with him. Which then causes a lot of worry for the Baron who should really be focused on winning and surviving this crazy war. But last night was… magical. No it’s more than that. Magical is for us, kind of ordinary. It was very, very special to me. I just feel like everything changed last night.”
Renée nodded, “Well I don’t understand it, but I’m happy for you. I’m worried too about my papa leaving with the Baron. It has been a few years since he left, and then he took me with. He doesn’t seem to want to do so this time.”
“I think they are worried the war could get really bad. But, although I fear the idea of my children losing their father as much as anyone, I intend to be with him every night,” Emmeline said. “It won’t be as good as him being home safe with me, but it will be the next best thing.”
“Kind of like the hags, fairies, and bogarts visiting in dreams, right? But nicer. Makes sense, fey are the stuff of dreams – or so mother says.” Renee responded. “So, you will be sticking around then?”
Emmeline looked utterly surprised. “How did you know?” She shook her head. “You continue to amaze me, Renee. Yes, through dreams. I think. I need to practice. But Renee? Can we keep this between you and I? I don’t want to suddenly be turned into a glorified redcap, or worse get in trouble with the Wizard’s Guild for … I don’t know what. I just don’t trust them yet. If you keep it a secret between us, I… I think I may be able to let you visit your father the same way.”
“Just a guess really. You have magic powers based on the fey. Makes sense you’d find a way to communicate – dreams sounded like your method. I mean you told me that that Jon person visited your dreams, so did Mara. From my own experience I know Vorn has a wizard friend who employs some kind of dream spell. And frankly you and most everyone you know except for the Baron, Elemix, and Typhon Né are somehow associated with the fey or the natural world. Not a huge leap really.”
“Good point!” Em admitted.
She nodded, “but sure, I’ll keep the secret. I mean I shouldn’t even know the magic I know. And it would be more important to me for my mother to visit my father. They don’t deserve to be apart any more.”
“That’s a lovely thought, Renee. I know it’s some time off and a lot can happen between now and then, but I’ll do what I can for her,” Emmeline said.
“Thank you!” she said with excitement. “Mother is the perfect person. So is Papa. I’m trying to be the best for both of them. I’ve focused on my ranging, archery, perception and scouting skills for you and the team, but mostly for them. I’m looking forward to our next adventure together!” she said with grin.
A paranoid little voice in the back of Emmeline’s head whispered that if she had enemies in the Baron’s court, then it might be an adventure just protecting herself from them while she was pregnant. She made a face. “Yeah… I probably should avoid getting stabbed, slashed, punctured, punched, or kicked so much in the near future. Maybe you can help with that. Not everyone is going to be happy to see me carrying the Baron’s child. Not even close.”
“You are the Baron’s mistress. I mean, I’m not that awfully experienced compared to you, but I’ve been around a bit. I know what happens eventually and I think everyone would expect a baby at some point. Who wouldn’t be happy? And if so, what can I do there?” she asked.
“It has been colorfully illustrated to me that there are other women who imagine they would make a better suitor, and would like me out of the way to get a shot. And having children by him cements things a bit. And then there are those who think I would manipulate the Baron. And the rest are just jealous bitches,” Emmeline said with a wave of her hand. “But the trouble is I have absolutely no idea who these supposed enemies are. So … watch my back?”
She nodded, “I can do that. I see how some of the courtly daughters look at you. Its a mix of admiration and jealousy. Pretty odd if you ask me. I did notice the Lady stare one down once, that day when we first got here. I’d hate to be her enemy or yours ma’am. I’ll keep an eye out though.”
“Lady Rivanon did that for me? She’s the best. And thanks.” Emmeline paused. “Hey wait a minute. What do you mean you’ve been around? Aren’t you a little young for that?”
“I haven’t been around, but I know what is involved. Anyway, lots of girls marry at sixteen. For myself I’m in no hurry,” she replied. “Not even looking yet, though I’ve met a lot of handsome knights and soldiers. Father tends to scare them away. Likely what happened to Elemix. Papa must have scared him.”
“Renee… I think what happened is the best thing that could have happened to you. El’s heart is in the right place, but he just doesn’t… pay much attention to important things when there’s magic to do. And there’s always magic to do.”
She nodded, “Probably so. Father says most wizards end up like Titus. Old, crotchety, and alone with their magic. Vorn has a few friends, but he too burned most his bridges.”
“Well, I hear he burns lots of things. The point is, you are a catch! And the men that realize it straight away are the men you should pay attention to.” Emmeline seemed certain of that.
“What if I don’t want to be a catch?” she replied. “What if I want keep being an adventurer, a full-time explorer of the unknown and goblin slayer? That holds my interest more. I don’t care about households or a husband or the simple life. It bores me.”
Emmeline laughed. “Simple life? You are near me, Renee. Nothing is ever simple near me, no matter how mundane it may seem. But you don’t have to rush into anything. I just think you should keep your eyes open.”
Emmeline thought about what the Baron had told her of Brennic coming here. She wondered if she might be able to deflect some of his attention. Then again, once he learned she was pregnant (assuming she was; she thought she could be), he’d probably want nothing more to do with her and the matter would be solved.
“Um, sure. I have years for figure that out. Mother said many years.” she replied. “I’m not even sure now I want to be courted or the like. I’m having too much fun.”
Emmeline nodded, her mind suddenly far away. She really didn’t know why Mara had called her. That brought her to reflect upon what had happened the previous night. Had Mara literally sent some part of her spirit across the abyss to this world?
As they traveled and the silence deepened, Emmeline’s were clouded with lovely thoughts of the previous night with the baron, both worry and elation that it had worked and she was pregnant, and fear that something had gone wrong and that was why Mara called her.
Her whole life might have just changed. The curse her bloodline had been under might have been lifted, but that didn’t mean that bad things couldn’t happen. Women died in childbirth all the time. Complications happened. Stillbirths happened. Infants can suddenly die inexplicably. All the magic in the world seemed unable to prevent any of these kinds of tragedy.
And her life was dangerous. She had enemies, and a tendency to find trouble.
What if she was a terrible mother? It’s not as if any of her direct lineage in recent generations were sparkling examples of motherhood. What if she had a boy and Mara was disappointed? What if she had a girl and the Baron was disappointed? How many years would she have to be at this to keep everyone happy? She’d approached all of this as a way to solve problems without real consideration for all the changes it would require.
Both Mara and the Baron wanted and needed children. She always thought she’d want children one day, but that had always seemed far off. That day is now, right now. And now she didn’t feel very certain of anything.
Emmeline’s eyes leaked tears treacherously. She pressed her arms close, hugging herself defensively as they rode in an unconscious expression of her stress and worry.
“We’re closing in on the Vale are…” she looked at Emmeline, “Ma’am are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing,” Em said. She clammed up, not wanting to reveal her doubts and fears to Renee. It wouldn’t help Renee become a better adventurer, Emmeline reasoned with herself.
She rose in her stirrups to get a first look at the Vale. It always calmed her.
Renee shrugged and the two dismounted, leading their mounts up the winding path by the falling stream. When they arrived Emmeline could see spring in full bloom. Zoe was planting flowers. Animals followed her around, curious to what she was doing. When Emmeline and Renee stepped up the the rim of the Vale, they quickly departed, letting Zoe know someone was here. “Hello my friends,” said Zoe. “Did your travels go well?”
“Good to hear. Actually Mara told me what was going on and my role in it. You see much of her power was drained in the last week. Fighting the hag’s spells, bringing Calista back, and of course your own situation.” She turned to Renee and said, “Dear child, do you mind if Emmeline and I share some thoughts alone?”
Renee shrugged, “Sure. I’ll go find something to do.” Renee disappeared into the surrounding wood.
“Mara told me. You are expecting.” Zoe said.
“I thought so and since Mara says it’s so, then I know it’s true,” Emmeline said. A smile flickered on her lips.
“Congratulations!” Zoe said. “Now here are the instructions Mara left with me for you. You may not like it, but it is for the best. You will have twins. One, a boy, is Mara’s gift to you and your Baron. The other, a girl, is the fulfillment of your promise. You must never reveal the existence of the girl to the Baron. I will act as midwife for you and secret the girl back here to the Mother Tree to awaken Mara. You see, she is gone. We have power still that she lent us, but from now until the birth we are on our own. Do you understand?”
Emmeline’s jaw dropped. “Twins?” He mind reeled. The baron would be overjoyed! “I understand why Mara is away but then to hide her? Hide my daughter? Who would ever know who she was but you and I?”
“To truly become Mara, she needs two mothers. You provide the physical body and the womb of the mother tree the final connection. She must be given to the tree to truly be. If we fail to do so, Mara will live, but she will just be a normal girl and her power and gifts will fade. There is no way the Baron will allow this. None. As it would be risking the child – and there is a risk.”
“So I must lie to him?” Emmeline was deeply troubled. “What risk do you mean?”
Zoe sat Emmeline down and said, “The babe will be given to the Mother Tree shortly after she is born. She would develop in a creche within the wood and change to be closer, but not truly, her fey nature. Not unlike your rod’s change. She will be completely drawn from the astral and everything will be complete. The risk is the problem with the astral and the risk to the tree we all life with today. Now about the Baron. Do you have to lie to him? No. You don’t have to. Mara was afraid he would say no and would not risk giving up the girl to become Mara. He would rather her be his daughter and protect her. He has no allegiance or pact and would think you insane for giving her to the Mother Tree. I could be wrong, but somehow I doubt it.”
Emmeline’s mind was full of the images of Lara, of raising a daughter that would one day fully become Mara, too. It broke her heart to have to give that up. She covered her face with her hands as tears dripped from her eyes. “Today I can understand what must be done. I accept she must be given to the Tree to become what she is meant to become. But on the day of her birth? I can’t say I will feel the same. You’re asking me to give up a lifetime with her. You… may have to take her from me to do what needs to be done.”
She thought about how her Baron might feel. What if she told him after the children were born? Would he hate her for giving up their daughter but keeping their son? Would he resent her taking away the right to be part of that decision? She couldn’t stand the thought of that. She truly didn’t know what to do. For now, there was only one thing she could do. She’d try.
Emmeline threw her arms around the hapless and probably surprised druid. “I’ll do my best, Zoe.”
Zoe hugged her back. “Good.” She paused and then after letting go she said, “There is a third option. One that would be challenging for you and me. We could bring both the children to the Mother Tree after they are born to bless them and to ask the gods to watch over them. The Baron may go for that. Then over time Lara would awaken with my help, your help, and that of the Mother Tree – which is also bound to her. That means however that at least for a time you could not gain more gifts from her until she understands. It would be a middle way, but would mean that she is mortal and after a lifetime she, like you, like me, would pass forever like the ancients of old. But, she’d have a life. We’d likely keep our current power, but it may never grow again.”
“I like the idea of blessing them,” Emmeline said. “That sounds like a beautiful thing. But I don’t want to let Mara down for my own selfish needs. And I want this Vale to become a new haven for the fey and perhaps elves. We can’t fail to provide her what she asks or my vision will go unfulfilled. And I think it’s really important.”
Zoe nodded, “We all serve Mara and the Mother Tree who will be one.” She smiled. “I know how hard this is for you.”
“A part of me knows that Mara has had to wait untold centuries alone and in darkness for this day. So we’ve already achieved more for her and given her more hope than she ever had before.” Emmeline wiped her face. “I just have to sacrifice so little in comparison to that. I will do what I have to do.”
Zoe responded. “I know. I know. Now as your midwife, there are some things while you are expecting I need you to do and to not do…”