Prologue

"I can't hold it any longer!"

"Don't worry, just keep breathing!"

"I am!"

"Bring me a stool to sit on, for heaven's sake, she's taking forever to come!"

The maiden rushed away to fetch a stool, leaving the midwife to care for her younger sister herself. The poor woman had been in labor for the past hour, and she was now weary from the effort to deliver. She was blinking profusely from the sweat that stung her eyes, and her face was constantly twisted in agony, her hair sticking to her damp forehead.

"Did I not tell you about these consequences, sister?" asked the midwife. "You should have heed my advice, but no, you were stubborn as a mule, just like this babe – " the woman did not reply, instead, grimaced, and let out an ear-piercing scream.

"No, no! It's here." Her breaths quickened, her chest rising and falling more rapidly. The midwife checked, and sure enough, she saw a lump of black between the flesh. Her heart pounded wildly against her chest.

"Now calm down," she said shakily, although she was also becoming rather nervous and panicky. "I don't think the first thing the child wants to see and hear is a mother screeching like a banshee."

A speck of white emerged, and gradually the whole head came too.

"It's here darling, just a few more pushes now…" the midwife supported the baby's head, and tugged on it gently. Soon the whole body was out, strangely clean and extraordinarily light. As soon as the midwife cradled it in her arms, the infant let out a loud short hiccup. Upon hearing this, the new mother smiled in relief, before passing out in exhaustion.

By the time her sister had come to, the midwife was sitting on a stool, having already swaddled the baby up in a thin woolen blanket, and propped the newborn on her knee.

"It's a girl," she said sympathetically. Girls weren't as well considered as boys, since the men were the ones who carried down the name. The midwife herself was very traditional, and took genders rather seriously. Only deliver girls, and that's the end of the family name; and the midwife was quite particular about that.

The woman saw what she was thinking, and said, "Names aren't important to me. Moreover, the child's father is unknown."

The midwife's eyes widened in shock and concern. "You still haven't found him?"

"Haven't see him since that night at the inn."

The midwife jumped to her feet, and placed the baby in the mother's arm. She started to storm about the room, her face black as thunder.

"Outrageous!" she was seething with rage. "That deranged, egocentric devil of a man! He leaves an expecting woman to care for herself while he runs off to carry out his own adulterous business! I should have never let you gone to the inn!"

"Hush now sister," the woman said, attempting to mollify the agitated woman. "There is no point in complaining; what's done is done, and we can't do anything in our power to change the past."

"I should have observed you more carefully!" continued the midwife irritably. "Or else all this wouldn't have happened!"

"You are saying the child is a mistake?" inquired the woman, raising an eyebrow.

"She is a child being implicated!" said the midwife, "A victim of our carelessness! She will be a burden, a weight that will drag you down."

"From my view, my daughter is a foretold story," insisted the mother, "one that cannot be erased once written.

"She will cost you more than you can imagine. Think of her education, her clothing, her daily necessities of life, added on to ours," warned the midwife in a stern voice. "Sister, think carefully about this. Are you ready to spend so much on one child? Our daily salaries are barely enough to provide for ourselves! What else will the child be able to do, other than consuming our money? Tell me, sister!"

"In my eyes, my daughter is priceless. I will spend anything." The woman fixed her gaze on her sister, her face masked with conviction.

The midwife stared at her in disbelief. "Have you been blinded by love and your arrogance?" she asked. "Your daughter is also the man's child! What if the girl inherits his cunning traits, and follows his slippery, selfish ways? What if – "

"We will talk of this no longer!" snapped the woman, suddenly irritated. The infant in her arms began to cry. Realizing her mistake, the mother hastily drew the newborn closer to her breast, and stroked her silky black hair, soothing the baby in a motherly tone.

Then before anyone could react, the baby leaned forward, and sank two extraordinarily sharp teeth into the woman's forearm, sending blood gushing out. The midwife gave a scream of fright and leapt forward, pulling the baby from the mother. The woman cried out in pain, hurriedly clamping her other hand over the wound, trying to staunch the flow of blood.

"Look what justice has brought you, sister!" screamed the midwife, not even bothering about the bawling baby in her arms. "A blood sucking, inhuman offspring! Why would an ordinary child have teeth at this age? I demand we dispose of her immediately!"

"NO!" shouted the woman, clutching her injured arm. "She is my flesh and blood! I cannot stand to let her go!"

"But she will cause you trouble!" argued the midwife. "Best we take our hands off her now!"

"She is your niece, mind you," said the woman in a quiet voice. "You two are blood related." The midwife's face twitched.

"To this thing?" she demanded, holding the baby at a distance. The girl had calmed down by now, and her breaths were sharp and wheezy.

"Yes," said the mother. "Even if she is different, she is still family. We do not hurt family, sister."

Reluctant, the midwife settled the baby down in her cradle, before helping her sister wrap a bandage around her arm.

"Thank you," said the woman, as she watched the white fabric coil around her injury.

"No need for that," said the midwife gruffly. She did the last round and clipped it down with a pin.

"Oh, I must," insisted the woman. She raised her arm, and tested the bandage. "You didn't hurt my babe."

"Why would I?" asked the midwife, a little not so truthfully. The woman did not notice her tone.

"Sister, darling," she said. "Would you be a dear and lift the child up into the sunlight? This dark room makes it hard for me to see."

In the dimly lit room, they saw a ray of light filtering in from a small gap in the thatch. Picking the infant from her cradle, the midwife brought her up to the light. She unwrapped the cloth around her, so that they could see her more clearly.

At once the rays landed on her thick black lashes, her smooth black hair, her thin red lips, and her pale white skin.

"She has your hair," said the midwife in awe. The woman nodded with a smile, acknowledging her comment.

Then without warning, the baby's body began to smoke. Wisps of steam curled from her body, and she started to tremble.

The woman screamed, she snatched the baby away, and at once the smoking died down.

"What was that sorcery?" she demanded, her body shaking in anger. "I thought we agreed not to harm her!"

"That was no murder!" protested the midwife, also quite shaken from the incident. "I swear upon the name of the holy father, I did not – "

"We will not do any swearing here," chided the mother softly. "That was your last straw, sister, and now I will no longer trust you with my child. Be gone."

"But – " The midwife then saw no point in arguing, for she knew it would be futile.

The woman turned her back on her sister. "Go now."

Feeling wronged, the midwife collected her things, and marched out of the room. She would have to leave the inn, since her sister would not want to see her anymore. But she would stay for just one more night, with that slight hope that her sister will ever forgive her.

Mice scuttling across the floorboards, insects crawling on the walls, the wind beating at the window, and the trees rustling their leaves. The midwife turned over under her covers, unable to sleep. She stared out the window, where the moon was beaming down at her. Stars dotted the dark blue background, like tiny silver lanterns lighting up the sky. The sky itself almost seemed to be rippling, as if it were a deep blue ocean.

Captivated by the brilliant scenery, the midwife nearly missed the short scream of shock that came from the neighboring room, but she did. A woman's scream, high and ear piercing, sounding through the thin walls of the inn and into the midwife's ears. Worst of all, she knew whose scream that was.

The midwife crashed out into the corridor, not caring if she had made a commotion. She ignored the annoyed looks on her fellow tenant's faces, and pounded wildly on the door.

"Sis! SIS! Can you hear me!" she rammed into the door with her shoulder, but it didn't budge. "Open up!"

"No…no…" she heard muffled sobs behind the door. "Leave us alone…please…"

"I was just worried," explained the midwife, and then stopped. Her sister was not talking to her…

"Not her please…please…I beg you…" she heard a thud, and knew her sister had fallen to her knees; but to whom? "You can take me instead…"

"SIS!" the midwife began to pound on the door again. The last thing the midwife wanted was for her sister to be taken away.

The sobs behind the door became louder, and soon they were wails.

"No…NO! PLEASE!"

The midwife summoned all her remaining strength, and slammed her whole bodyweight against the door. The lock finally gave way, and the flustered woman stumbled into the room.

The midwife took a minute to register the scene. Her sister was on the floor, hugging herself, crying uncontrollably. Tears were literally streaming down her cheeks, and her nose was as red as a tomato.

The midwife felt a breeze, and shivered. She looked for the source, and found that the window was open.

Then she looked around the room. There was something missing.

Suddenly it hit her, and with dawning horror she staggered to the cradle.

She looked at her sister, at the window and down at the empty cradle.

"No…" started the midwife, backing away from the cradle. "This can't be happening…"

The woman looked up, now hyperventilating, and she managed to choke out a few words.

"Yes…she's..." she gasped for air. "Gone."