It was not long after the dawn on the day of the Winter Solstice that the palace went into a flurry. Servants were running through the halls, rushing between the royal bed-chambers and the kitchen, and the throne room, and the meeting halls. Where was the king? Where was the fresh water? The towels? For the love of Jenh, where was the queen’s mother? The only person who could be found at the ready was the noble midwife, and for that everyone was relieved. That was because the young queen, Her Highness Arialla Antraius of the royal lineage of of Onsira, was in labor with her first child.
Despite the cold of mid-winter, her auburn hair was pasted to her checks and neck by her own sweat. She grappled for a hand, and nearby hand, as her belly tightened again, and she felt the pain spread out into her back, and clawed at the sheets when none met her. The midwife had ordered a servant to open a window and grant her the relief that she so desired, but the young woman was arguing with her about the cold. When she heard her queen cry out, she dashed across the room and threw open three windows, then ran back and clutched her hand.
“I am here, my queen,” she soothed as the midwife glared at her.
“Leave her side again and you will have the king to answer to,” the older woman warned her. She lifted the blankets away from the queen’s trembling body to check on her, saying. “Her highness has a quick labor. I have ordered them to bring herbs to soothe you and ease your pain. You shall feel better soon enough.”
Arialla spoke no words, but groaned weakly and laid back. “This child is splitting me open.”
“Of course it is,” the midwife replied as she wiped her hands clean. “Try to relax and give in to it, beloved queen. You must let yourself open up if the babe is to pass through the gates of life.”
Arialla let out a soft whine and nearly wept as she asked, “Where is my k’hurin?”
“His highness will be here soon,” the old lady assured her. “The servants did not realize how quickly his child was coming when they went to fetch him.”
“Can you not send another to urge him to haste?”
“I did, my queen, I promise you. Now focus on my words, and when your belly tightens again, do not resist it. Remember the way I taught you to hum with it, like a wave of life.”
Arialla nodded, but deep down she dreaded the next contraction, and moreso not knowing when it would come. It seemed as though she had to bear through hours of them before her king came to her, but the midwife insisted that it had only been three more, and that she was doing fine.
“I was summoned so urgently,” King Z’Lé announced as he flew through the doors, “I was certain that the child would be here by the time I arrived.”
He rushed over to the bed, looking over his beloved as she laid there exhausted. He had risen with the dawn to attend to his royal duties, letting Arialla rest; Jenh knew that it was hard for her to sleep with her belly so swollen with child. He had only just begun to get to the heart of the meeting when the messengers began to interrupt him. By the third one, the other nobles were insisting that the meeting could wait, but that labor would not, and that his queen needed him. All of them knew that Z’lé treasured his k’haarana and the child she was bearing him, but he also took his royal duties very seriously.
Soon thereafter, the servants began to come in, carrying towels and freshwater, and tray after tray of herbs and poultices. The king kicked off his boots and sat on the bed, his long, thickly-muscled legs embracing his queens delicate body. Each time the midwife lifted the blankets and applied something between Arialla’s legs, he insisted on knowing what it was.
“This one will soften her,” the midwife explained, “and this one is for the pain.”
She tucked a pair of folded towels beneath Arialla, and then checked on the teapot that a servant had prepared. She pulled a small root, a dust-brown thing with faint blue striations, from the pot, gave it a thin coat of honey, and handed it to the queen.
“Chew on this, your highness. Natalroot will ease much of your discomfort.”
As Arialla accepted the root and bit into it, the sweet tenderness of the thing seemed to sooth her right away, and even Z’Lé seemed relieved.
“Your waters will flow soon,” the midwife commented as she at last took a chair. “Give it time, and let these herbs get into you before you go straining yourself any further.”
As they waited, Arialla whispered to her king, whimpering about the pain, describing how it felt when her belly tightened and she felt the raw force of he body opening. Z’Lé soothed her as best he could, knowing that they had the best midwife in the kingdom to see them through the birth of their first child, but what he really wanted was the presence of his k’haarana’s mother; he knew that she wanted her, too.
Lady Ledell had abdicated the throne to her daughter not long after seeing her joined to Z’Lé. Arialla’s father, Lord Gaereth, was growing old, and illness threatened to take him every few months. They spent most of their time at the Temple of Jenh, praying that he would live long enough to see his grandchild, and that he would not suffer.
It was the afternoon when Lady Ledell returned from the temple, having finished her prayers as soon as she could once she was summoned. Arialla was her only child, the only direct heir to throne (there were more distant relatives who could accept the crown, should matters become urgent), and she knew that she needed to be there for this birth. The servants bowed and welcomed her back to the palace, ushering her up to the royal bed-chambers as quickly as they could. She could her her daughter’s loud moans, they way they ascended into a cry and pleas to make it stop.
“I am here, sweet girl,” Ledell soothed as the doors opened and she rushed to take her daughter’s hands. She sat on the bed and caressed her cheeks, not looking at Z’Lé or any other her servants until she saw to it that was no worse of than any other labor would have been. “I am here.”
“Mother,” Arialla whimpered, giving her a pitiful look. “You said that you labored with me from evening ’till the next afternoon. This babe is coming so fast.”
Lady Ledell smiled and soothed her with a soft, wet cloth. “Every birth is different, my sweet. Be glad that it will not last for days, like my mother’s did. Even with you, I wished I would open up faster.”
The she turned to the midwife. “What can you tell me, Morgan?”
“Good lady,” the old midwife began, “your daughter’s water broke only minutes ago, and with a powerful contraction. She is nearly completely open and ready. I have given her all the herbs I can to help her through this.”
“You have my thanks, Morgan,” the former queen replied with a smile.
“And you have a strong daughter, even if she will not admit to it herself.
Lady Ledell looked up at Z’Lé. The way he sat with his k’haarana was just like the way Gaereth had sat with her when she had birthed Arialla, and it warmed her heart to see him doting on her. “You look anxious. Are you ready to meet your child?”
“I have been ready for months,” he grinned, though his voice shook. “But I wish it was not so rushed that it hurt her so.”
“Labor hurts no matter its speed,” Ledell informed him as she laid her hands on her daughter’s belly. The child was low, close to its opening; it would not be much longer. “‘Tis better to have it end sooner and let the healing begin.”
Though he did not entirely believe her, he put his trust into her and nodded. Another contraction soon overcame Arialla, but this one seemed more bearable with her mother there. It felt comforting, having them both there, along with the midwife and all the servants. She did miss her father, but her mother knew what birth was like, and having her there was a blessing.
It was nearly another hour, the contractions coming more and more often, before the midwife allowed Arialla to bear down. Her mother massaged her legs, and Z’Lé locked arms with her to help, and she breathed deeply until her belly tightened more than it had yet done so, and the midwife urged her to push in the way that she had taught her. After the first time, she collapsed onto her k’hurin’s chest, panting and exhausted.
“You’ll have to do a few more of those before it is out,” the midwife told her. “Remember, girl: ease into it, but do not force it.”
Arialla nodded, and pushed with the next contraction, during which she felt her baby’s head pushing part-way through, and she cried out. Her mother and the midwife held her still, and Z’Lé whispered to her words of comfort until the next contraction came. She breathed a sigh of relief when the midwife said the head was through, that she could see the babe’s tiny face, but she was breathing hard and clutching her king’s arms tightly, grateful that he was a strong man.
After a could more contractions, she began to complain of exhaustion, and they all urged her on until the child’s shoulders were out and the midwife could grasp its arms and tug gently the next time she pushed. It was free, thank Jenh, with the next contraction, for Arialla laid back and refused to push again.
As quick as she could, Morgan placed the child on a blanket that Lady Ledell held ready, and the babe was laid on its mothers chest. Ledell folded the blanket over its goo-covered body to keep it warm while the midwife ordered the windows be shut time so as not to give the baby a chill, and patted its back gently but firmly until it began to cry.
“Congratulations, my sweet daughter,” Ledell cooing, smiling and kissing Arialla and the babe.
In Onsiran tradition, the midwife was expected to give the baby to its mother before inspecting it, to give the parents the first joy of seeing their offspring. If she caught a glimpse of its gender, she did not say anything right away, but let the parents see and announce it to the others. Morgan was loyal to those expectations, and sat smiling proudly as she watched her queen fawn over the newborn.
Z’Lé stared in amazement at his baby, its dark locks soaked in blood and some unknown white substance, its tiny face scrunched up as it cried in the cold and the shock of being out on the open. He instantly loved the sound of its cry, the proof that it had strong lungs, that it was healthy. Its color quickly changed from nearly purple to a bright, lively pink as it took in fresh air for the first time, and Arialla was soon able to soothe it so that it only cooed and shivered.
After a few minutes of that initial awe, Z’Lé pulled back a corner of the blanket, and a wide grin spread across his face. “I have a son!” he called out, so loud that the baby was started and began to cry softly. The king laughed and kissed his beloved.
“I have a son,” he said again. “I cannot tell just how proud I am right now. He is perfect, Arialla.”
The queen nodded, feeling weak after what she had just been through, but equally proud. “He is our little prince.”
Lady Ledell was equally overjoyed. Once Arialla was ready to hand the baby to her, she gazed down at him and spoke sweetly to the newborn. “My precious grandson,” she cooed, “I am so happy that I lived to see this day.”
Morgan was thank profusely for ushering such a precious life into the world. She nodded proudly, and went back to work delivering the placenta and ordering the servants to bring more towels to help get the queen cleaned up.
“He is a long one,” she commented. “He will be very tall once he is grown.”
Tradition said that the cord need not be cut until the child’s name was announced, if it could be decided upon so soon. Arialla waited until she had cleaned the vernix from her son’s face, and he was calm enough to open his eyes and look up her before saying anything. She’d thought over a few names during all the months of her pregnancy, some for a girl, some for a boy, for she’d had no way of knowing what she was carrying, but it was not until he son looked up at her that she realized how little any of them seemed to fit him. The boy had shining blue eyes, with scattered flecks of green like leaves that floated on the purest lake, and she knew at once what he must be called.
“I shall name him Loracaz,” she announced, still staring down at him.
Some of the servants froze, some gasped. Morgan pursed her lips and looked between her, Lady Ledell, and King Z’Lé. The only person to say anything at first was the former queen.
“That is a very handsome name,” Ledell said, smiling down at her daughter, “and very worthy of the prince of Onsira.”
Z’Lé did not seem to mind at all. He nodded and agreed to the name, and when the midwife tied the umbilical cord, he accepted the small curved knife and announced, “Welcome to the kingdom, my boy, Prince Loracaz, son of the Antrauis and Spyrytte families.” With that, he cut the cord and separated the newborn from his mother.
Word spread quickly about the birth of the prince. The capital city was overjoyed, and celebrations were held for days. Messengers rode to the farms and further villages to share the news, and wherever they went, new riders headed towards the capital to bring gifts for the royal baby. When word reached the mountains, several dragons flew to the palace to give their blessings and try to get a peek at the boy; a pair one blue ones were especially keen to see him.
In time, diplomats from other kingdoms began to pour in. Loracaz was nearly two months old when guests from the furthest lands arrived to witness his official naming ceremony. The Temple of Jenh was filled with visitors, but one in particular would not go inside. A man in a hooded cloak of black leather requested a word King Z’Lé outside, which the king agreed to despite those who urged him not to.
“I thought you were going to leave this one alone,” Z’Lé hissed as he walked with the stranger.
“We were,” the black-clad man seethed, his voice deep and unapproving, “until we heard his name. I only have one question for you, and I will leave: why did you let her name him that, of all names?”
Before Z’Lé could form an answer, the man turned and walked away, muttering something about foolery. He disappeared into the shadows, and was not to be seen again for several years. In the meantime, the king shrugged it off, and went back into the temple to enjoy the ceremony in honor of his beloved baby boy.