White clouds floated high above the twilight sky, a mosaic of all colors imaginable, the dominant colors mainly blue, red, pink and gold, already darkening as the sun began to sink, slowly, behind the horizon, a majestic orb finally letting its glory rest — for a time.
Farren Darnelous leaned against the railing of the balcony that adjoined his room. It was on the second floor, and represented an un-obscured view of the setting sun. He sighed just as a gentle breeze ruffled his dark hair.
Lively dark eyes peered out from the tan face, marred with grief. He surveyed the scene before him, not really seeing the beautiful scenery of his homeland, Jerana. His shoulder-length hair was ebony and smooth, reflecting the wanning tones of the sun.
He sighed. Down below, a little off in the distance, there was a huge crypt, where all the deceased Darnelouses were buried. Outside the crypt, adorning the wall, were white sietra flowers, the traditional flower of grief for the people who lived on Jerana, a province in the kingdom of Lacida.
Farren ran a hand through his dark hair, grieving in silence. He may be the most powerful man in that particular area — the governor, in fact (his official title was Lord Farren Darnelous, but he preferred to be called "the gov'nor" by the locals) — but he still couldn't kill the fact that Liah was dead.
Liah, his beloved wife, had died in childbirth, the childbearing taking its toll on her. Their baby boy, Shando, slept inside the room in a cot. He looked a lot like his father, with the dark hair sticking out in tuffs. Shando's green eyes were still unfocused, and Farren found himself thinking of Liah whenever he saw his child.
His eyes are like hers, Farren thought. He looks so much like her. Unconsciously, he glanced into the shadows of the room. There, in the cot, he heard the rustle of blankets as Shando shifted in his sleep.
Inside the crypt rested dear Liah, loved by the people and her devoted husband. She had been a gentle, kind and loving young woman who had given fascinating insight to many problems, minor or major.
Now, she was very dead, laying inside the dark, foreboding crypt. He remembered her lovely face, eyes closed, crimson-gold hair arranged on the pillow, her hands resting on her bosom. Not a sign of life from her.
He sighed, fighting the tears that came to his eyes. What is life without her?
He turned and leaned his lower back against the railing, supporting himself with his elbows, going back to the days when he and Liah got married....
* * *
There were flowers everywhere, and the sun shone like rays of molten gold upon the wedding area. Those invited were seated already, whispering and craning their necks, trying to spot the bride, while the whole ceremony would be talked about in the next few weeks. Farren stood at the altar, waiting for his wife.
When she entered, his breath caught in his throat. She was the epitome of beauty, clad in a long white dress that hugged her slim, curvaceous figure, but did not show too much. Made of muslin and lace, the intricate patterns were also woven into the veil that covered her delicate face. A hush came over the room as everybody stood up, young children clambering to try to get the aisle seats so they could wave.
Liah smiled and waved back at them. King Augustus, who was in town for the wedding, acted as surrogate father, her arms hooked around his in a gesture of fatherly pride. Liah was an orphan and had grown up in an orphanage, not knowing who her parents were. Finally they reached the altar, and King Augustus handed her over to Farren with an approving nod.
The clergyman started the service, and at last, came to the part that mattered most. "Do you, Farren Darnelous, take her, Liah Waters, officially as your lawfully wedded wife?"
Gazing into Liah's bright green eyes, Farren gave the affirmation. The clergyman said the same thing to Liah and she gave the positive.
"I hereby pronounce you husband and wife. Farren, please take the ring and put it on her finger."
Farren took the wedding band from the best man and slid it onto Liah's finger.
"Liah, do the same."
Liah took the identical band from the bridesmaid and put it on his finger, looking him in the eye.
"Farren, you may kiss the bride."
Farren didn't wait for the clergyman to finish his sentence. Taking Liah up in his arms, he silenced her surprised cry with a hot, searing kiss. Almost everyone knew Liah, since she sometimes accompanied him on trips Farren took to the many towns and villages that dotted the large province.
* * *
Coming back to reality and the loss of his wife, Farren let his gaze wander. It finally rested on his child, so sweet, so innocent, so young and pure.
Oh, Shando, if only you knew what pain your mother went through to have you. He thought. How excited she was when she found out she was pregnant.
* * *
"Farren! Farren!" Liah squealed excitedly, bounding into his study the minute she had heard him come in from the bedroom next to it. Farren turned and saw her. "Farren!"
He caught her in his strong arms and swung her around. "What is it, love?" He buried his face in the nape of her neck, breathing in her scent. A day apart from her was too long from him.
She turned, literally bouncing in excitement, placing her small hands on his chest.
"Farren," she whispered breathlessly, "I'm pregnant. Four weeks, Farren, four weeks! "
He stood absolutely still as she giggled. His shocked expression quickly changed into delight and joy. He laughed and swung her around again, then came to his senses.
"Bad thing," he said, putting her down. "I don't want to hurt the baby."
Liah laughed and kissed him. Already she was looking radiant, as all pregnant women did. "I want to go to Vesica's temple and pray for the baby, and to thank her for such a blessing. Come with me."
"The Sun goddess?" Farren kept his arms wrapped around her waist. "Shouldn't you go to the god of life instead?"
Liah smiled. "Already did. I rushed there after the doctor told me the good news."
* * *
Farren snapped out of the mental flashback. When the couple had announced it, they were flooded with gifts, well-wishes and visitors hoping to get a look at the radiant mother-to-be. He enjoyed the memory of finding out that Liah was pregnant; it was one of the best he had of her.
Memories are all that's left.
That was nine months ago. Throughout the whole pregnancy, Liah's cheery and gentle demeanor hadn't changed.
Farren sighed again. Below, he could hear the dinner bell sound through the massive castle the governor lived in. Shando was being fed by a wet-nurse, but he wasn't taking too much out of the lady, which was good. If the governor and son didn't come down, the food would be brought up, and the wet-nurse would come to take Shando for a while to feed him. The baby, meanwhile, slept peacefully, blissfully unaware of the emotional turmoil raging within his father.
* * *
Liah's screams could be heard in the room adjoining the birth chamber. Farren paced and looked up as another round of screams began. For the past twelve hours Liah had been in labor, but their baby refused to come out of her womb despite her water bag having burst a long time ago. Farren ran a hand through his thick black hair.
He was worried, even though one of the midwives had told him it was perfectly natural for Liah to be in labor for so long. His rhythmic steps echoed emptily through the room. Although the cosy waiting room had comfortable chairs and couches, Farren couldn't bring himself to sir.
Outside, in the dark green sky, the moon hung high and tranquil. He glanced out the window.
I hope to Arlen, Farren thought of the goddess of the moon, that my wife and child will be alright.
Another bout of screaming came from inside the birth chamber, but there were more sounds of frenzied activity. Farren knew that his child was going to be born — at last. He rushed to the door, wanting to press his ear against it, but decided not to and plunked himself down on the couch nearest to the door.
After about ten agonizing minutes, the screams of a newborn child replaced that of Liah's. Farren jumped up from his chair. Another minute or so, then the door opened. A young midwife held his screaming baby in her arms, swathed in thick blankets.
He walked up to her and looked down at his firstborn; his heir. He beamed with pride. Sure, the baby was hideous, tiny face scrunched up as his vocals worked themselves silly, thick with womb fluid and blood. A soft moan from inside the birth chamber jerked him out of his stupor.
"She wants to see you," the midwife said, bouncing the baby a little to quieten him. "It was long and hard. It took its toll on the lady."
Farren felt his stomach drop and his testicles leapt up to meet it. The rest of the midwives saw him and left the room, leaving the lord and his lady to themselves. Farren strode into the room, knelt down next to the low birth bed where Liah lay.
Her breath came out in ragged gasps. The birth had certainly taken much from her, and her face was slick with sweat, her hair in disarray. The beautiful face was haggard, paler than usual and tired.
He took her hand and kissed the back of her palm. She turned her face weakly and give him a feeble attempt at a smile.
"Farren," she whispered, clutching his hand with what was left of her strength. He squeezed it and gazed into her eyes.
"What is it, baby?" he asked quietly, kissing her knuckles. "I'm here."
"Farren..." Liah gave him a look that made his heart melt. "Our baby..."
"A boy," he answered gently. "A healthy baby boy."
Liah smiled again, with more effort put it in. It hurt his heart so, to see her trying, pretending everything would be fine; both of them knew nothing would be alright after this night. "Name him Shando, Farren..."
Farren nodded, fighting back the tears. She was losing the fragile grip on life. She looked even more sick, pained at the knowledge she would not be able to watch her son grow up.
"I will," Farren said. "I promise." The significance of the name Shando to Liah was not lost on him. Throughout her years at the orphanage, Liah had known her father's first name was Shando, and she cherished and loved the name.
"Farren..." Liah's breathing began to ease up, and not in a good way. "I love you."
Moments later, a roar of grief was heard from outside the sprawling estate of Lord Farren Darnelous.
* * *
Farren shut his eyes to regain his bearings. Liah had been everything to him, and she would remain in his memory for a long time to come. Farren swore to himself, earlier that day, that he would never remarry. He allowed himself to love, but marriage was not an option for him.
Shando woke up and made some noises, obviously hungry as his small hands tried to rub his eyes. He was only five days old, but already was winning the hearts of the grieving people of Jerana. Shando raised one pudgy hand in the air and waved it around, delighted when his father appeared over the cot.
Shando gurgled happily as Farren looked down. Shando loved to be carried around. Drool trickled down the side of Shando's face, wiped away gently by his father.
"Oh, Shando," Farren whispered. "Your mother loved you."
As in response, Shando gurgled, wriggling the short arms and legs.
"And I love you," Farren continued, leaning further down. Shando gurgled again and reached for his nose, but Farren pulled away. "I won't lose you, Shando. Daddy loves you. And he won't ever stop."
Farren picked up his children gently. Shando burbled. "And I swear, to all the gods and on your mother's grave, Shando: I will never lose you."
Shando kicked his legs free of the blanket as Farren bounced him up and down a little. Wrapping the blanket securely around his baby son, the last relic of his dearly loved wife, Farren left the room, bearing the memories of a love unrequited, the birth of new life, closing one of the most unforgettable chapters in his life, and starting into a new — and brighter — one.