Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 12. A New Life
High in the castle, Ariashal waited for the birth of her child.
Her women fussed over her, trying to help her prepare. Wet-nurses moved into the royal nursery, along with a small army of servants to cater to the baby's needs. Numerous gifts of blankets and toys arrived daily from the members of Angmarim society, along with notes and other small tokens of affection. Ariashal sorted through them all, selecting those which she wished to keep and sending the others home with her servants.
The King was in almost constant motion, checking and rechecking his charts and papers. Every now and then he would disappear into his study, never staying long. Never much of a sleeper, he now forswore slumber completely, concentrating instead on the preparation of spells.
Ariashal understood that he was trying to keep someone--or something--from stealing their newborn child. She tried not to think about what it must be that he was trying to keep at bay, nor what would happen if he should fail.
Herumor moved into their chambers, that he might help with the incantations. The two wizards spent hours poring over the charts and spell books, speaking a strange, harsh language she did not understand. Adzuphel was now the only other soul permitted into the rooms. He brought their meals, removed soiled clothes, gave Ariashal the greetings and blessings of the rest of the court; any messages for the King would have to wait. From him Ariashal learned that the entire city was on alert, with guards posted everywhere. The castle itself was fully armed, as though they were expecting a siege.
One afternoon she sat by the windows overlooking the mountains. Snow fluttered down, heavy, wet flakes that stuck to the rock. Would the snows never end? Being locked in here was depressing enough, without the added misery of iron-gray skies and wet snow.
She felt a sudden pain in her stomach.
Calmly, slowly, she made her way to her husband and Herumor, lost in their texts. "My Lord," she called, "it is time."
Quickly they laid her on the bed. Herumor collected some white cloths, which he carefully placed at the end of the bed. They began to chant, all the while pulling the drapes shut and sealing them with strange iron pins. When they had finished the King stood at her right, near her head; Herumor at her left, towards her legs. The King held his hands over her head and began his spell.
Half-spoken, half-sung, it was in a language strange and harsh, yet Ariashal felt warm, safe, secure. She was being wound into a cocoon of well-being so strong she was only dimly aware of the sensations in her abdomen. She had a vague sense that something was prowling outside the bed, trying to breach the curtains. For some reason this did not alarm her; she was safe here, knowing that whatever it was could not reach her.
There was a dull ache in her stomach; it was as if her insides were being pulled from her body. Oddly enough there was little pain; she had expected to be screaming in agony by now, yet all she wanted to do was lie still. She could hear Herumor speaking, another spell, probably-- it no longer mattered. She was swirling in warmth, bathing in an ocean of it, so serene and secure that she barely noticed the cessation of the pulling. She could stay here for the rest of forever, here in a place where nothing could touch her, where she felt neither hunger nor pain nor the passage of time.
Something touched her, someone was calling her name, bringing her out of the warmth. She tried to resist, to stay at peace a while longer. But the voice was insistent. Slowly she opened her eyes, forcing herself to focus.
She could see a tiny bundle, wrapped in white clothes, stark against the blackness of the drapes, held aloft by a pair of black gloves.
"Look, Ariashal," said the voice, "we have a son."
She managed to look at the little thing, squirming in its covering. Black hair, eyes still closed, tiny hands balled into fists. She closed her eyes, falling back into the warmth.
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