STRENGTH OF VISION
Disclaimer: Sometimes a story just comes out of nowhere. This one is neither violent nor turbulent. It is one of hope and faith, one that begs our hearts to believe that miracles are possible and that some things are meant to be.
I sit and look to the moonless sky. My husband sleeps a few feet from my perch, unaware of my deep concern. It has been seven full moons since we lay together and I felt life stir within my womb. The midwife's prediction was correct and we rejoiced with the realization that we would soon know the love of a child. I wept at the news as after four years I had begun to think this might never happen. Now I wipe tears from my cheeks fearing this child will not live to see the sky that I now look upon. Adareis said the child would come at the time of planting, after the vernal equinox, yet I feel the small life within me straining to hold on to its thread. I fear the time will come too soon. I fear the loss I cannot prevent.zzzuzzz
The moon has once again grown full and I thank Hestia for the time she has given me. I have spoken to Adareis and told her of the signs that have brought me to this fear. She tried to hide it, but I saw the look in her eyes. I have seen that look before. I have known that cold unnamed fear. This small being, which is known only to me, my child is in danger and there is little I can do but pray for more time. Adareis has given me a potion of calming herbs and has told me that I must take to my bed if I do not wish this child to come into the world too small and too weak to hold on to its essence. My husband looks at me through sorrowful eyes trying to avoid my swollen belly. He no longer speaks of the need to prepare. He no longer sneaks to the stable in the dark hours to continue shaping the small cradle he thinks I know nothing about. He no longer puffs out his chest as his friends and our neighbors greet him in the market place or as they pass our small dwelling. I lie here day to day staring at the ceiling, hurting within my mind and my heart, unable to comfort the man I love and unable to hold the child I carry.
The worst of my nightmare has become reality as the pains of labor pass over my body in well timed waves. I have spent all morning telling myself it is nothing more than the potato soup I managed to take last night. Yet this ache is one like I have never had before. I know its meaning without knowledge or experience. I know it by fate. The eighth moon is still full and I fear this night will see the death of the tiny soul I will never know. My husband has gone to bring Adareis and her assistant, a young woman who has traveled from a distant village to learn the ancient art from our wise healer. Together they will work to end this pain, whatever the results may be. The pains grow more fierce and come in rapid succession. My clothing as well as my bedding is soaked beneath me and I cannot force my eyes to look upon the crimson vision. Adareis will come. She will help. She will take away the agony of this atrocity, yet no one will ever take away the anguish of my loss.
The pain has passed and left me exhausted. Adareis and her aide did their best but they could not stop the inevitable from happening. The labor was long and tore away not only the baby within me but also ripped away the last part of my soul with it. I screamed at Hestia and Hera to protect my child and begged them to end my agony. I offered my own life for the life of my sweet baby but no goddess answered my plea. Adareis told me to lie still, to calm myself, to breathe deeply but my panic was overwhelming. How could this happen again? I listened after that great last push that set my child free. I listened for that dull smack that forces a newborn to draw breath. I listened for that wail a young soul emits as it takes in its first taste of life. I heard only the muffled voices of Adareis and the other. I begged my husband to let me see, to let me hold this tiny body that would have been the joy of our lives but he shook his head. He kissed my brow and turned away. He left. He went to release his own grief, as men do, away from women, away where they cannot see that the loss of a child is just as devastating to the stronger of humanity. His heart is as broken as my spirit. Again I ask Adareis to let me see my child, to know just for this brief period the feeling of holding her in my arms. I watched as the stranger wrapped my still child in a soft cloth and carried her away. I know she is my daughter. Adareis said it is not wise, that the child will not live to see the sunrise and that it is better that I do not form such an attachment to an infant that cannot stay in my arms. Why can't they see that she will always stay in my heart? She forces me to drink a warm soothing tea and although I fight it I can feel myself slipping away as Adareis and her aide begin to tend to my need.
It is well past sunset and I gaze at the full moon outside my window. It seems to smile at me with an evil grin. I blink many times trying to focus on its glow. I listen to the sounds of night outside my window and the muted sounds of conversation in the outer room of my home. Neighbors and family have come to offer comfort to my dear husband. Adareis' strong voice can be heard over the others. I know she will show them the hospitality I am not capable of showing. I push myself up and gaze across the room at the small wooden shape that is set on a barren table. The form that should have been a cradle is nothing but a box that looks more like a harbinger of death than a vessel for new life. I ignore the pain in my center and push myself up and away from the bed crossing the room in slow silent steps to reach this holder all at once fearful and curious as to what I will find. I pull away the light blanket that covers the form and nearly gasp at the diminutive being inside.
She is so small and yet so perfect. I touch her skin and find it warm. Her chest rises and falls in pant-like breaths, much the same way a small bird might breathe in the hand of a large predator. I brush my fingertips across the tiny cheek and her little body shudders as her almost nonexistent lips work into a comical pout. I smile and lift the weightless form from its berth bringing her to my breast and thereby immediately erasing all of the agony that led to her delivery. I kiss the ashen colored head and she moves in my hands. Perhaps she will not see the sun rise, perhaps her time here will be measured in minutes rather than years but all of that time will be spent in my arms not in a cold box set in a darkened room. I hug her gently and carry my tiny daughter back to the bed where she and I fought a battle of birth. I sit and hold her to my heart amazed at the perfection of her hand that, full spread, does not cover even my thumbnail. Her whole body reaches from the bend of my forearm to my wrist yet her presence fills my entire being and already I miss the fact that I will never hear her laughter and never gaze upon her smile.
My heart falls as the door creaks and a dark shape steps into the room
I recognize Adareis' assistant as she sets her candle on the table next to my bed. I open my mouth before I have considered my words but the tall woman places a finger against her lips motioning me to be silent. She smiles as though she already understands my need to hold the daughter I will never see into womanhood. She reaches down and strokes the baby's head in a manner that is gentle and loving. I immediately trust her.
'She is beautiful,' she tells me in a hushed tone. I nod in agreement, the lump in my heart not allowing my words to escape. She sits on the bed facing us and holds out her arms. 'May I?' She whispers with a compassionate smile. For a moment I do not want to relinquish this small form to anyone but something within my soul tells me this is the right thing to do. I hold out the swaddled child to this kindred soul. She holds her the way one who has had many such children at her breast would do, yet she does not appear to have seen more than 20 summers. She kisses her softly and smiles into my daughter's expressionless face. I know she is going to speak and I fear the words she has for me. I do not wish to hear I have made a mistake. I do not wish to be consoled. I do not want to be reminded of my child's fate. I watch the tiny chest strain to take a breath and notice the bluish color that has fallen across my baby's lips. Her time grows short and I regret that I have put her into another's arms.
'What she lacks in stature she will reap in spirit.' This woman, who I have not really met, says to me without taking her eyes from my child's face. 'The way will not be easy. She will walk beside great darkness and she will know terrible sorrow. Evil shall brush her soul, and she shall face immeasurable pain.' I wonder why she uses such horrid detail to bring me solace. I watch as she runs the pad of her thumb across my infant's brow then again strokes her forehead from the bridge of her nose to the line that might have been hair. I wonder at this strange ritual and a cold fear grips my heart. She realizes my apprehension and takes my hand then looks at me while she continues. 'Yet the light within will guide and protect her. Her nature will lead her through many faces and she will know a truth that traverses beyond knowledge.' She continues as if telling a story and it is a few beats before I realize she is using the word 'will' as if my child has a future.
'You must be willing to make a great sacrifice, for she will be taken from you and set on a path of which you will not approve. You must trust that she will do what is right although for many years will see it as wrong.' For the first time I feel as though this strange woman is asking me if I will agree to these terms. I nod slowly, more in fear than, in compliance.
'You must realize that she will love and be loved by many and that she will only be loaned to you until that time. She will walk beside vision and nightmare; she will look upon sorrow and joy. She will bring all of this to you as well. She will be greatness and humility at once and shall guide the hand that changes the world. She will challenge many and defeat more. She will lead as she follows and many will know her name.' She finishes as she raises the baby from the blanket holding her tiny naked form on one hand. She smiles into my infant's face and I watch tiny fists and feet move in jerking motions. She smiles at the child then closes her eyes and brings my daughter to her lips. She places a kiss on the tiny head holding her there for several seconds then passes my daughter back into my arms. I can only stare at this odd personage and wonder if perhaps she has not been touched by madness. A small mewling sound brings my attention to the form in my arms.
'Your daughter is hungry.' She smiles at me. The tiny form in my arms squirms and nuzzles at my bosom in search of nourishment and instinctively I pull away my covering. The child who had been limp and listless now suckles peacefully at my breast. I am amazed at the strength I feel in her need. Again I brush my hand across her cheek and lift her tiny hand. This time my child wraps her miniature hand around the tip of my smallest finger and I feel the depth of the bond between us. I look to our benefactor. I want to ask how, why but no words come to my lips. Instead she speaks. 'For now the bond is yours but there will be another and the bond will run deeper. Do not hold her back. Do not damage her dreams.' I shake my head.
'Who ?" I begin to ask. She places a finger on my lips to quiet my inquiry. 'I am called Elizabeth. Do not question what powers greater than man have seen fit to bestow upon we who are mothers to those that shall bring greatness upon this earth. Believe and rejoice.' She tells me so softly that I barely hear the words and wonder if perhaps I am imagining or perhaps dreaming.
'There is but one thing you must do.' She breathes in a voice that sounds as though this wish, this prayer, may not be answered. She leans forward and whispers against my ear. She kisses my cheek and smiles, then kisses my nursing child's head and rises. She crosses the room and looks back at us once before disappearing through the door. I can only stare until my eyes fall closed and I pray this dream will not end.zzzuzzz
It is daylight when again I open my eyes. A tiny form lies nestled between my breasts, her chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm that searches to match my own. One tiny hand still grasps my finger as the width of my hand covers her small body. She is warm and pink, her breath sweet and milky. I smile as I once again kiss her head immediately hearing my grandmother's voice tell me that the more I kiss her in the cradle the more I will scold her at the table. My heart soars knowing the day will come that I may scold her. A tear falls across my cheek followed by many more. My husband quietly approaches. In my reverie I have not heard him enter. He stands above us wringing his hands then reaches slowly to take away my child. 'It's time.' He says quietly and I know he is unaware of the gift we have been given. 'No.' I tell him and before he can argue I place his callused hand under the blanket and against his daughter's soft warm skin. The rough sensation startles her and together we are amazed at the strong wail our tiny child emits. He falls to his knees next to our bed but never lets go of us. I see my love's strength in his tears and he rests his head next to the petite form on my chest. He blinks the tears away from his deep blue eyes and kisses the tiny hand that still holds my finger.
I gaze to the window and marvel at the sight of one dove that lights on the sill before cooing contentedly then lighting away into the azure morning sky.
'She is ' He whispers in his deep voice, not knowing the words his heart is speaking.
'In her there is great strength.' I finish for him. 'We must call her Gabrielle.' It is a strange name, one that is unheard of in our village but its sound is pleasant to my ears. I decide it is better to keep the rest from this strong silent man, knowing he might not understand the promise our little one will fulfill.
He nods and helps me to my feet. I place his tiny heir into his arms and together we rise bringing our child into her first sunrise.
It is the only light that will ever outshine her own.
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