You think you know anger, you silly thing. You think you understand fury, betrayal. It’s hilarious when you little nothings think you have an understanding of those emotions.
Your hero failed you, didn’t he? The Great Calvin, who everyone thought would be the champion for the common man. They all fail, after a while. Heroes are just people, after all, and people fail. Certainly, your hero failed me. The greatest fault of the males of your species is always your obsession with the females.
But it is not as though he was important. Not so important that he cannot be replaced by a hundred others. After all, you’re hearing me now.
Your new hero will arrive soon, and he will fail you, too. The difference is, this time you will know my rage. Soon, you will learn the true meaning of anger.
And while you take care of the shining one, the precious little vessel, I can deal with other matters. My Blood waits in the rip of the land. It only needs a drop of blood to awaken, and I’m sure it will get it. There is always blood when two neighbors fight over history.
Victor paced the floor of the game room, a low growl barely contained in his throat. Everything about the room, from the soft backed chairs, the heavy curtains and the thick wooden tables irritated him right then. Including every single other man in it.
Lord Lewis, Victor’s uncle by marriage, and his son Howard played pool. They were knocking the balls together louder than he thought was really necessary. Every now and then Lewis would look up at Victor and chuckle. He was a broad man, with gray hair and a paunch he hadn’t had in his youth. Howard looked much like him, but with darker hair and no paunch to speak of yet.
“First time jitters,” Lewis said finally, “I was just the same when my twins were born.”
Oliver sat on the couch by the fire with Lord James. “Sit down, Victor,” he said, “The king will be back in a moment to tell us how it’s going.”
Oliver was, in Victor’s opinion, too good looking for a man. His hair got far too much attention, his perfect face was in need of roughening. The only thing that redeemed him was the kindness in his eyes.
Lord James, flipping through the pages of a book, chuckled. He was the only other man besides Victor in the room with light hair, a sign of their shared Montelarian heritage. But where Victor was tall and broad, James was a thin man. “It’s hard for you to be away from her right now, isn’t it?” James asked.
“It is not right,” Victor snapped, “I should be with her, she needs me.”
“That’s just where you shouldn’t be,” Lewis said, pointing his pool cue at him. “You have no more place in a birthing chamber than Lenore would have on a battle field.”
Victor thought of his wife and how she’d looked on the battle field, digging her dagger into the back of the neck of the man who’d killed her brother. He thought she’d done just fine.
“That is the way things are done in Montelair,” Victor said, “My da was with my ma when she had us.”
Howard set a hand on his shoulder. “You know you shouldn’t talk like that,” he said, “The people of Septa are having a hard enough time accepting a Montelarian so close to the throne. If we can’t let you wear your furred boots in public, we can’t let you follow Montelarian birth customs.”
Victor glanced down at his high polished boots. As far as he could tell, their only benefit was to match his black silk pants and Septan blue jacket. “Don’t remind me, they pinch,” he muttered.
“Victor,” Oliver said, “we all know how hard it’s been, getting used to Septa customs. But Montelair has been our enemy for so long. You can see why it’s been necessary, can’t you?”
“You would think killing my brother would be enough to prove my loyalty to the Mestonie family,” Victor said, “maybe even give me enough leeway to actually take care of my wife the way I think she should be taken care of!”
There was a scream from the other wing of the palace. Victor recognized Lenore’s voice. He started towards the door, but it opened before he could reach it.
King Samuel, his father in law, stood there. He was one of the few men in the palace big enough to look Victor in the eye. His hair was thick, with a steady streak of gray coming from both of his temples.
“Where are you going?” he asked with a smile.
“Lenore is screaming,” Victor said.
“She’s in pain,” Samuel replied, “Women suffer to bring our children into the world, and we should never forget that.”
“Did they let you in to see her?” Victor asked.
“No, of course not,” Samuel said with a chuckle, “But Lorna spoke to me in the outer chamber, and told me that all is going as well as can be expected.”
“Lenore’s got two midwives, Lorna and her auntie Heather,” Lewis said, naming his wife. “She is well supported.”
“Ramona and Tabitha are with her, too,” James said. James was common born, too. He knew the presence of Lenore’s own nurse and maid would be more of a comfort to Victor than a noble aunt neither of them were fond of.
Samuel sat down at a table that supported a chess set. “Come and have a game. It will make the time go faster,” he said.
Victor thought this unlikely, but to please Samuel he took a seat. But for the gray in his hair, Samuel looked just like he had the night they met. Victor had been so afraid that night, desperately trying to stop his mad brother from murdering Lenore and her family. He hadn’t expected to survive, let alone be given a job. Nearly three years had passed, and now he was the husband of the princess who would someday be queen.
“I remember when Lenore was born,” Samuel said, setting up the chess pieces. “It was the first time I ever heard Lorna raise her voice.”
“Not much like Lenore then,” Howard said.
The men laughed, but over their laughter Victor could hear Lenore’s voice. It didn’t sound like just a scream this time.
“Is she calling for me?” he asked.
Samuel’s cheeks turned red. “No, you’re hearing things,” he said. But the scream came again, and this time it was clearer. “Victor!”
He was out of his seat and to the door before anyone else in the room had time to react. As he ran through the halls of the palace, no one dared stop him. The other noblemen didn’t even bother to follow.
Lenore’s new body guard, Anthony, was standing in front of the door to the entry chamber. A tall, lanky man with a long tail of hair, he looked as bored as he ever did. He saw Victor coming, and moved aside.
“Thanks,” Victor said.
“Queen Mother is only going to throw you out anyway,” Anthony replied.
Howard’s twin sister Harper sat in the chamber with Lady Hannah. They were Lenore’s ladies of court and closest noble friends. Harper was a tall woman, thinner than her brother. Hannah was shorter, with a broad, soft build.
Lenore’s hound, Shepard, was lying in front of the door to the birthing chamber, looking forlorn. She, like Victor, was unaccustomed to being away from Lenore this long.
Both women jumped when he burst into the room. “What are you doing?” Harper cried, “I nearly put my needle through my finger.”
“Was Lenore calling for me?” he asked.
“She was,” Hannah said with a nod. Unlike the rest of court, she had not yet removed the black mourning cloths for Prince Octavian. “But I don’t think the queen will let you go in.”
“Don’t you tell me what I want!” Lenore screamed, “Victor promised me he would be here, and I want him here now, not later when I’m all fancied up!”
“Are you entirely sure you want to go in there?” Harper asked.
“Of course,” Victor said, “she won’t yell at me like that.” He opened the door to the birth chamber while Harper snorted.
The room was large and circular. In the center of the room was a bed on which Lenore sat, her nightgown pulled up around her waist. Her long, curly hair was pulled back in a messy braid, and her face was covered in sweat. A midwife knelt in front of her, hands between her legs. Queen Lorna stood between two waiting bassinets, looking tired.
“What in The Creator’s name took you so long?” Lenore cried.
“I am sorry,” he said, coming to her side.
“Oh, no,” Lorna said. “You’re not staying, not with her in this state.”
“Mother, shut up!” Lenore cried. “He put the babies in there, he’s seen it. And if anyone makes him leave I’m going to make them as miserable as me!”
Ramona and Tabitha glanced at each other. “No, that’s alright,” Tabitha said.
“He’s not bothering me,” Ramona said, “Make yourself useful, boy.” She handed him a clean cloth and pointed towards a bucket of iced water.
Victor took off his jacket, and dipped the cloth in the water. He sat down behind Lenore on the bed so that she could lean against him and set the cloth to her cheek. “Your uncle said to me that I had no more place in this room than you would have on a battlefield,” he said.
“Then you should do fine,” Lenore said, tensing with pain.
“He must not remember the last time Montelair attacked,” Victor said. He washed her face. “We’re changing all the rules, aren’t we, my girl?”
Lorna sniffed, but brought a fresh towel to the bed. “I suppose the next thing will be that you want me to teach you how to run the bloody palace,” she muttered.
“I’d be honored, if you have the time,” he said. When Lorna gave him a sharp look he shrugged, and said, “My old job is taken. I cannot be idle while my wife works.”
Lenore screamed, and pressed against him. He put his arm around her. “Deep breaths,” the midwife said, “In, hold, out.”
Lenore breathed for a few minutes. When the pain subsided, she said, “I wish Devon could have stayed to meet the girls. And Octavian, they’ll never even get to meet him.”
“Octavian will watch over our girls like a guardian angel,” Ramona said, “And I’m sure Devon and Sultiana will visit soon.”
“We haven’t thought of any names yet,” Victor said, trying to change the subject.
“You pick,” Lenore said.
“You can’t give them Montelarian names,” Lorna said.
“Hush, Lady Mother, you are upsetting my wife,” Victor replied.
Hours passed. Lenore’s pain grew worse. Victor started to get worried. He brushed stray bits of hair from her face. “Tabby, will you come and fix her braid?” he asked, thinking that getting her hair out of her face would be some relief.
Tabitha nodded. She brushed Lenore’s hair and set it in a neat plait while she napped between bouts of pain. “One of the many benefits of being sapphic,” she whispered, “Girls don’t get other girls pregnant.”
“Does it normally take this long?” Victor asked, “The midwife would know if there was something wrong, wouldn’t she?”
Tabitha gave him a smile. “Yes, she would know. She’s the best midwife in the country.”
The midwife in question moved Lenore’s knees apart, and said, “Don’t you fuss about me. The princess has only been in labor for six hours. Many women take days to bring their children into the world. They will come when they’re ready, and be cared for like every other baby born in this palace.”
“My heir,” Lenore said with a smile, “the first girl ever to be born heir to the throne.” Then, she drifted back into a light doze.
Lorna shook her head. “You should talk her out of that, you know. It’s one thing for Lenore to rule, Octavian chose her. But your daughter doesn’t have to.”
Victor raised an eyebrow at her.
“I’m only thinking of the baby,” Lorna said, “Lenore’s life is going to be hard. Don’t you want something better for your daughter?’
“My Lady Mother, how about you suggest to Lenore that her daughter not inherit?” Victor asked.
Lorna sighed. “I only want what’s best for you all,” she said.
Lenore was stirring, moaning in pain again. The midwife looked between her legs, and said, “She’s crowning.”
“Are you ready?” Ramona asked.
“I’d better be,” Lenore said.
“Push!” said the midwife.
Lenore pushed. Victor held her close and whispered, “You are so strong, so brave.” Lenore screamed, and soon her screams were joined by those of her daughter.
The midwife pulled the baby girl out, and held her up. “Look at that blond hair,” she said.
Victor looked at his daughter, aching to hold her. But there was another baby coming, so Ramona took the first born to clean her.
Lenore was screaming again, and another ten minutes of pain followed. Finally, the second daughter, tiny with dark hair, came into the world.
“Our girls,” Lenore said.
The midwives hurried to get Lenore cleaned up and in a second waiting bed.
Ramona and Lorna brought the babies to the bed. They placed the girls into Lenore’s arms, and she set them to her breasts for their first meals.
“I’m so tired I don’t know if I can hold them,” she whispered.
“I’ll help,” Victor said, placing his arms under hers, supporting them all.
“What do you want to name them?” she asked.
Victor smiled. “The one with the golden hair, we’ll call Eleanor, for you my love. And the dark haired one can be Loralie.”
“To match,” Lenore said, “That’s good. Eleanor will need her sister. She’ll need all the help she can get.”
Lenore fell asleep, and Victor held his little family close. There were so many dangers waiting outside of those doors, he thought. The people in Septa who didn’t want a ruling queen, much less one with a Montelarian husband. A bitter Montelair, full of men furious at how the war had ended, hung over their heads as well.
“Other das just have to worry about scraped knees and boys,” he whispered. He looked up at Tabitha, who sat nearby. “These girls have inherited all of our enemies.”
Tabitha gave him a sleepy grin. “Good thing they’ve inherited all of your friends, too,” she said.
Lorna wiped tears from her face. For the first time ever, Victor felt close to the cold woman. “You should take Eleanor out to see her people,” she said.
“Just her?” Victor asked, “Won’t the people want to see both of them?”
“She is the heir. She will always be the people’s first priority,” Lorna said.
“She’s sure to curse us for that one day,” Victor said. Never the less, he took his daughter with care, and carried her to the balcony attached to the birthing chamber to see her people.