luni, 3 august 2015

Of life and living

“Birth and death were easy. It was life that was hard.”

My salvation came five weeks later, in the form of a short message, delivered by the royal courier. I recognized the seal, though it was the first time I was seeing it, but I couldn't find any reason why the royal family would want to associate their name with a disgraced woman such as myself. There were two messages, a long letter and a short note, where I made out my brother's crooked signature. How could I have been so naive? My sweet, not so innocent, younger brother, Albrecht, crossed swords with the Marquess' men, chose the right leader and was rewarded with the title of Duke of Leinster as well as the King's second daughter's hand in marriage. His five-line message was, as usual, brief and to the point. No pointless introduction, no uncalled-for courtesy, not even a word about my faux pas. His wife, the Duchess, would give birth to their heir any day from now and he was asking for my assistance. If I hadn't known my brother, I could have misread his bluntness for bad manners.
The letter though, three pages of elegant formulas signed by the Duchess of Leinster herself, was more considerate and included a formal invitation to their residence in the Capital. I wasn't invited at the Court and I still couldn't believe that someone from the royal family would want to associate with me, but ,if desperate times call for desperate measures, then I was free to act as desperately as I wish.
The fact that the Duchess was to give birth only five months after her wedding only intriguied me more. I couldn't help but hope to find some form of support, even frienship from this woman. If my brother chose her and dared to defy the King, who first offered him his oldest daughter's hand, she had to be noteworthy. She too hurled defiance at her father, after all.
I left two days later, chaperoned by my father, who offered to outride me to the Capital. This time I took my daughter with me. If my sister-in-law was desperate enough to send for me, then she could turn a blind eye to a five week old babe born on the wrong side of the blanket, because I wasn't going to make the same mistake I did the last time. My heart still twinged every time I thought about the way Gregory separated me from his children. This child was only mine and I wasn't going to let anyone interfere between us.
The journey proved long and fatiguing, but when we arrived at our destination six days later, I was surprised to find my brother's house, along with everyone in it, family members, servants and even some mislaid pryers, upside-down. I could probably have died laughing seeing my formerly very composed brother now missing his footing upon a clueless lap dog and bitterly yelling at an innocent stable boy to get the creature out of his way and return it to the kitchen where it rightfully belonged, had I not been so exhausted after my own journey.
And then he looked at me briefly and knit his brows. My travelling attire didn't impress him. I probably looked slightly better than his wife's chambermaid on a Sunday morning.
"What do you want? Get out of my way! Or better! See what happened to that harebrained hallboy I sent to look after the midwife more than two hours ago!"
His commanding tone and the annoyance I immediately sensed from his words almost made me instinctively comply and run outside, on the streets, but I resisted my first impulse and reciprocated his politeness.
"I'm sorry I deceived myself and misinterpreted your note, my lord. I know that you are now the Duke of Leinster and I owe you respect and probably my gratitude too, but I don't think I changed so much that my own brother wouldn't recognize me."
"Alleken? Dear God, I thought you wouldn't make it here in time! Agnes is screaming bloody murder upstairs and no one knows what to do! Like that wouldn't be enough, I sent a boy after the midwife and I haven't heard from him in more than two hours. He better have been run by a carriage! I was about to go looking for one too."
And, just like that, I was reunited with my brother after almost six years of absence. In a strange way, he was still the same plainspoken person I knew and that gave me a bizarre sense of comfort.
"Now, pull your hands out of your pockets and come with me! I need you to assist Agnes, do something for her! I'm tired of people twiddling their fingers and lying idle while she is obviously in pain!"
So my first meeting with the Duchess of Leinster would be while assisting her in the efforts of childbirth.
In a minute I was sweept away by a very distressed Albrecht and almost dragged on the stairs, to the Duchess' bedchamber.
The person that I met there was far from the flawless image I expected.
She was probably shorter and smaller than I had anticipated, apparently ten inches shorter than my brother and the massive, encrusted canopy bed only made her look smaller, more fragile and feeble, emphasising her enlarged belly. She was hollering and squalling, frightening the servants that were surrounding her, and despite the fact that she didn't show any sign of shedding a single tear, I had the feeling that she was terrified of what was happening to her. The utter confusion around her was doing nothing to chase her fears away.
So the first thing I did from the moment my brother pushed me inside her bedchamber, taking care to shut the door against me, was to drive away all the fretting help that was only slowing me down and unnerving the poor mother. As soon as we were left alone, I heard her speak to me.
"Thank you! Those imbeciles were running around like a cluster of headless chicken! I assume you're my husband's sister, Alleken, the midwife."
"Why yes, Your Grace."
She still managed to frown at me and look quite overbearing, despite her laboured breathing and dishevelled appearance.
"Don't Your Grace me right now! I'm having your brother's child and you're supposed to help me through it! I have no time for pointless honourifics! We're sisters, you can call me Agnes! Now get here and deliver this baby for me!"
I may have laboured under a delusion from the first time I entered her bedchamber, because the Duchess was anything but fragile or feeble. She may have been frightened, yes, but that was only because no one was telling the young woman what was expected of her in this situation that was so out of the ordinary to her.
"As you wish, Your... Agnes. I want you to take a few deep breaths and allow me to examine you. It may not be pleasant, but it should help me estimate your condition. I assume there have been other persons overseeing your condition, right?"
"Well, there was the Royal Physician appointed by my father, but he never came... very close to me. My father, the King, forbade him from doing ... whatever you're doing right now. He probably wouldn't even know what to do. He used to be my father's barber."
"So, no midwife?"
I wasn't exactly staying abreast with the situation in the kigndom after King Geoffrey's self-coronation, but I knew that only male physicians were allowed to treat the royal family. I still don't understand why would someone appoint a person to look after their health if they are not going to let that person come near them. But a barber doing the work of a midwife? That was simply something I refused to accept.
"And where, pray tell me, is this Royal Physician now? Assisting you from the other side of the door?"
I should probably have kept my toungue in check, because I was in no position to criticize the King's decisions, but I was simply too tired to care any longer.
"Probably four sheets to the wind, collapsed in some damned whorhouse. I sent someone to look for him this morning, but I doubt he'll be of any help to us. Does this have to hurt so much?!"
I knew that if I wanted this to end well for both me and my brother's wife, I had to try to reassure her.
"Listen to me, Agnes. There is a secret that your mother probably never told you. It’s not that birth is painful, it’s that women are strong. So I need you to focus your attention on this and do as I tell you."
I decided not to tell her that I didn't know that from my mother, but from Teacher. She also used to say that men died in battle and women died in childbirth. But I saw no reason why she should hear that from me now.
"My mother was nothing but a depraved woman! She was the reason why this damned war even begun in the first place! Please, I don't want to die like this!"
Gaining a deeper understanding of our late queen's affairs wasn't exactly why my brother sent for me, so I tried to ignore her words and put her at ease.
"There is no way out of this except through it and I'm not going to let you die, Agnes."
In the end, it took her more than 12 hours to get through everything and by then, I didn't know which one of us was more exhausted. But her and my brother's smiles when I presented them their daughter were worth every effort.
"You helped me deliver her, so I see it only fit that you will be her godmother."
Both my brother and his wife seemed to agree on that matter, so I gladly accepted. It wasn't everyday that I was offered the oportunity to become the godmother of the King's grandchild.
After we had the baby cleaned, fed, swaddled and carefully laid to sleep, I drove away Albrecht from his wife's bedchamber and saw to her health.
"Is this really necessary? It doesn't smell very appealing and it's not even comfortable ..."
After endless hours of labour she still had the energy to complain about me wrapping her belly and applying ointments and warm compresses with chickweed, lavender and honey on her skin.
"Well, it is necessary if you want your old figure back. In time. You will never look exactly the same, but not many people will notice that. Until you will have your next one, of course."
"I'm not sure I want a next one ... "
I hear that each time, after every delivery. Every woman, regardless of her rank, education, manners, would swear there won't be a next time. She would mean it, of course. And there always was. So I kept my mouth shut and finished treating her.

"Was it like this for you too? Albrecht told me you have children too."
"I gave birth to my daughter Charlotte almost 6 weeks ago."
"And you're back on your feet and travelling too? Already? You told me I'll get my face wreathed in wrinkles if I get out of bed too soon!"
"Well, my Charlotte was not my first child. I have ... five more."
"What? Six children?! But you're not much older than I am! Albrecht told me that you are his senior only by a year and a half! That makes you ... 26 at the most!"
"Actually, I am still 25 years old, but I got married young. And I had my first four children at one time."
"That's not fair... "
I sensed she was worn down, so I put an end to our less-than-customary chat and let her rest. I needed a good rest too, so I let the servants show me my room, where I found that Albrecht was expecting me.
"She is asleep and she will probably sleep for at least five or six hours, but please send someone to call me if she wakes up."
"But she is fine, right? Out of the wood and recovering?"
"Yes, she did well and she will be fine. She just needs a little time to rest."
"Thank you. I don't know what might have happened to her if it weren't for you arriving here exactly when we needed you the most."
In a way, I was taken aback by my brother's attitude. I suspected the two of them were in love, but I have never seen my brother caring so much for somebody. Not openly at least, because I knew that he cared about me and our parents. I was glad that the two of them had each other.
"You will remain here, right? I'm sure Agnes needs your help and she would be a lot more relaxed if she'll have someone to show her how things work."
"Of course I'll stay."
It wasn't like I was needed somewhere else and somehow, I suspected there won't be many people that will demand a Baroness/Midwife's help. I still wasn't used to the title that my husband received after the war.
"You know ... you and Agnes make beautiful babies. You should have a couple more and introduce them to their cousins."
He answered me with a smile and took his leave, wishing me a good evening.

2 comentarii:

Ari Lee spunea...

I love your storytelling.

Auteur des Rêves spunea...

Thank you very much!

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