Copyright 2011 © Rebecca Garner. All Rights Reserved.
He was riding his horse. Trying to keep from torturing himself with thoughts of his wife Frances screaming in the throes of child birth as she tried to bear him a son and heir proved more difficult than he'd imagined. They weren't expecting the child for another fortnight... when the contractions began. When her whimpers of pain turned into full bouts of hollering, Avery could not handle hearing her anguish that she only endured for his sake. Though Avery Brooks loved children and wanted many, his wife'd never taken a great liking to them. But of course she realized her responsibility was to bear her husband many heirs as dutifully as any wife would.
Even from his great distance to his manor, Cavendash House, Avery could hear his wife's screams ringing in his ears. He felt her pain deep within himself despite their separation right down to his very soul. All of a sudden, the pain vanished. It was gone.
At first, he was exuberant: his child was born, surely! He couldn't wait to see his newborn babe and beloved Frances waiting for him when he arrived home. But then, he realized that in the same place he'd felt agony just a moment ago, he now felt...nothing. That part of him felt numb, and as that part of his heart had always been reserved for Frances, his joy soon turned mournful.
He turned his stallion back around to the way they'd just come from, and set him to a fierce galloping pace. Upon his arrival, his eyes were met with sullen faces, teary eyes, but never a direct glance. He jumped down from his horse, not bothering to even hand the creature's bridle to the waiting stable lad, and sprinted into the house as his fears grew with every averted look from servants and maids.
He took the stairs in the hall three at a time, and when he did finally reach the second floor he continued to race into the room appointed for Frances' lying in chamber. He brushed past the elderly priest and the pretty, young midwife with eyes only for his wife, who lay on top of white sheets stained with blood.
Her brown eyes were opened in tiny slits, and her face contorted with pain. He saw flesh swaddled in cloth in a bassinet and figured the babe to be healthier than its mother seemed to be so he came to Frances's side first. He put his left hand on her sweat dampened brow and took her hand in his right. He asked if she was alright, if she needed anything. She stared blankly ahead, not seeing, saying, or feeling anything.
Avery looked reluctantly back toward the young midwife, Alice. He regarded the girl he'd gotten to know in the duration of her stay in his house, begging her without words to disagree with his thoughts. She'd warned him of complications she witnessed in her years as an apprentice to a midwife; she told him not to expect any miracles based on her success with her first few solo deliveries. But he hadn't listened to her cautions. His eyes were pleading, searching, and unbelieving.
He refused to see the truth that lay right beside him, not wishing for reality to shatter his previously happy life. The poor girl found it difficult to form any words of comfort in her stricken mind.
"Master Brooks, perhaps I could speak with you in the hall, or a different room." Her tortured expression was all the explanation he needed. She asked again, "Please sir, this discussion should not partake in this room." She motioned for him to follow her out the door he'd just ran through, and he reluctantly trailed after her. He did not wish to know the details, but knew that he should know them all the same.
Standing in the hall, they stared at each other a moment. The last image Avery saw of her wife's death bed was of the priest walking towards her, holding a bejeweled cross and speaking a Latin prayer before Alice shut the door.
"You mustn't torture yourself over this master Brooks. She was brave and tried as best she could but you see..." she looked at him hesitantly and continued when he nodded with remorse stricken eyes. "The mother's chord was wrapped around the babe's neck, strangling the poor thing every time she tried to push. We only had one choice if we wished to deliver the babe alive, and she told us through her delirium to save the babe over herself if we must...
"So I tried using a tool to try and uncoil the chord around the babe's neck. When the instrument went inside her womb... it would have caused her the worst of pain, and in my experience many a women cannot handle such pain. She was gone before we even unraveled the chord. When we did manage to take the babe from his dead mother's womb, he'd already suffocated.
"I'm very sorry that I was so blunt with you, but I believe the truth to be the best remedy." Her emerald green eyes were filled with grief, and sympathy for Avery as he was forced to stand there listening to Alice describe the deaths of his only child, a son she let slip by saying 'he', and his wife.
She faced her eyes to the floor, not wishing to intrude on his grieving. And if he were to cry before her, she wished to be able to honestly say she didn't see it. The poor man did not need to be emasculated by the public after this horrific ordeal.
But he didn't cry, at least, she didn't hear him do so. She turned away from him silently and slipped back into the room where the priest continued on to pray for the babe's salvation. She waited until he finished then gently took the bundle from the bassinet.
Unfortunately the action served only to remind her of when she'd done this with a different babe. She pushed that memory aside before she could think on it anymore, and carried the babe out of the room. She held it in her arms as any new mother or midwife would've, and walked around to the staircase. She slowly descended the steps, her maternal instinct triggered by holding a newborn again, and stole a quick glance at the dead baby in her arms. It made her want to cry, seeing his little head tilted to the left side, cloudy blue eyes looking straight ahead.
Just as she was about to look away, she noticed a faint red mark toward the back of his neck. It looked to be a birthmark of some sort. She averted her eyes, sparkling as water shined from their impossibly green midst, from the sad sight. After reaching the first floor stepped out of the large house. On the left side of the house, when one walked around the building to a large oak tree, Alice asked two strong looking lads from the house to dig one small grave and one large one.
She'd no intention of forcing poor Master Brooks into being there for the burial, so she decided to do it herself. Another servant boy'd found a small wooden crate, to fit the babe in, and a larger one to fit the body of Mrs. Brook. When she stepped outside, the two graves were already dug, and the wooden crates lay beside each one. She took the liberty of putting little Charles, as Frances had named him with her last breath, into his casket.
She placed him gently, remorsefully into the box, and slowly put the lid of the crate over his baby face. She turned to the lads, probably her like in age, and nodded to them to remove Mrs. Brooks from her confinement chamber, and then bury them both.
They agreed sadly; everyone, by her estimation, took an instant liking to Frances, and even Alice was charmed by her huge heart and great works of charity. She treated her servants like family, not like servants. Everyone was obviously grief stricken to see her go. Alice turned on her heel, and walked around to the back of the house rather than to the front.
There was a small yard with trees scattered through it, and a peaceful river within the border of the property. She walked to the river to wash her hands and face again.
Alice Stanton, a midwife and supreme alchemist for one her age of fifteen had come into her profession at the young age of eight as an apprentice to a local midwife. That was seven years ago, and now she was a well accomplished young lady on her own. This was her fifth delivery she'd made alone, though her first solo death of both mother and babe. However, she was not completely unfazed by the sad loss of a child she'd done her best to deliver, as this was her seventh dead babe throughout her seven years in the trade, one every years approximately. Yes, she'd faced the death of babes before, witnessed her mentor deliver them time and again.
She put her hands in the cold current and felt the liquid movement sweep over her fingers and scrubbed each phalangeal joint meticulously. In previous deaths, she'd merely handed her mentor any tools she'd needed, and observed. This was the first time a babe died under her care. She rubbed her palms together, washing them until they hurt. She wanted to be rid of the feeling of the dead babe, for all it served to do was remind her of the other stillborn she'd been forced to hold, to look at, to be responsible for...she continued wringing her hands in the river. When she was more or less satisfied, she cupped her hands under the liquid and pushed the water up to her face. She rubbed her hands across her thin cheeks and forehead.
While drying her face and hands with the hem of her dress, she heard the snapping of small twigs and the crunch of dead leaves behind her. She turned around to see who'd joined her.
"I see I'm not the only one who needs to do some relaxing."
Jake Leveney said when he glimpsed his favorite costumer enter his modest tavern. Allen Speir walked in nonchalantly and nodded with a smile to the owner of The Fat Priest.
"Well good evening to you, Allen, you look wretched!"
"Well that's because I drank too many of your bloody concoctions tonight. Or was that last night?" He asked with a knowing grin.
Chuckling, Jack handed his friend the usual beer. "That was two nights ago, you drunk!" They laughed together at the jest. "What brings you to Hertfordshire, Al?"
Allen sobered immediately. "My mother, back in France, is gravely ill. My father says she may well be on her death bed, and I've come to get my sister so we can visit her one last time. Plus, the girls damn good with those potion remedies, cured a friend of mine from the pox. Father hopes she can do the same for my mother."
"Your mother? You and the girl have different mothers?"
"Yessir, her mother died of the plague. But she and her father survived, her father married my mother, and they had me. Cissy and I are half siblings." Or at least, thats the story he and Cissy had agreed to tell everyone. It kept them from asking questions.
Jack nodded. He patted his chap on the shoulder and told him the beer was on the house. But Jack had to serve other customers who were coming in, so he left Allen to himself. Al sat muddling over the one problem in his plan to bring Cissy back home to save his mother. Where is she?
Alright so i really hoped you enjoyed this story! It was originally submitted for the July WCC, and tied for second place. I have found a way recently to incorporate this story as the prequel to Courting Survival. If you plan on reading the further chapters, i must dissapoint you by saying that it wont be updated until i have finished CS and started plotting its sequel. For now im leaving the prologue up because it gives readers of CS a bit of a look into the future for one the characters. Also, if you plan to continue reading, please check out Courting Survival first because if you dont you will miss out on almost all the back story of Alice, the man Allen and his "half sister" Cissy. Also the main characters from CS will make frequent appearances in the middle-later chapters of TW. I really encourage you to read CS before continuing with this story.