It's always interesting looking back at older projects. Sometimes I just want to burn them, but every now and then, I find something that is interesting, even if it makes me roll my eyes a little.
This one is the beginnings of a novel that I remember had The Lady of the Lake after she left England and went to live in the mountains of Kentucky. I also remember that there was some sort of conflict between various magic-wielding groups that centered around the twins born in the first chapter of the book. And I had just read all of Charles Williams novels. So there is a fair amount of allegorical overtones.
This is just the first chapter. I'll probably type up the others at a later point, just for fun. Always interesting to see where I was pushing on various bits of style and craft at a particular time. This was written about 2006-2007, I think. No dates on it, just a bunch of handwritten pages, so it might be from a little later.
Chapter 1: Birth
The labor was long, drawing on through the hot green afternoon into the soft warm night until, in the mysterious grey hours before dawn, the girls had finally come.
The eldest emerged in a healthy glow, skin all roses and cream beneath the birth fluids, eyes opening bright and blue, fair hair wisping from her head in nearly invisible strands. She looked up at the midwife and chuckled, a bright and innocent sound that immediately dispelled the pain and struggle that had haunted them through the past hours.
With quick, competent hands, the midwife separated her from the umbilical cord and gave her to her daughter to clean and wrap.
The Lady lay on the bed, strength fading after the long night, and the midwife spoke reassuringly.
“One more now. We almost done.”
Ansley stirred, raising her head a little. “One more?”
“She’ll come easy after the first.”
They began again. The midwife singing low and rich, the mother sobbing as she writhed in the grip of the contractions that felt they would tear her in two. But the midwife was right - the second child came quickly.
As the babe came forth, the midwife felt a horror strike her. The child was much smaller than her sister, born too soon to be fat and strong. There was no deformity, to all appearances she was healthy. Just too small, too still, too cold.
Silent, the midwife cut the cord, rubbed tiny hands and feet, opened the small mouth and blew air into her lungs. But there was no response.
“Lady,” she said. And there was such a note of a grief in her voice that she needn’t say any more.
Ansley began to weep, soft and low, a sorrow beyond words.
But the midwife’s daughter looked at the cold, still babe and said, “She is not yet beyond hope.”
The mother and the midwife both knew the infant could yet be saved, but neither had the instinct to do so - tired after the long night.
But the girl was not so old nor so practical as her mother or the babe’s. She knew only, with the clarity which is the constant companion of the very young, that the infant’s life could readily be saved. That knowledge grew in her with such power that when she spoke her voice was older and strange in her mouth, though it was no less certain.
“She is not yet beyond hope.”
The babe’s mother stirred. She was ashamed of her own lack of courage, but that shame could not overwhelm her love and she sparkled with hope that perhaps what she feared to do, this young woman would accomplish.
The midwife looked at her daughter with narrow eyes, wanting to disbelieve this truth and so absolve her own hesitation. But the girl, normally so timid in her mother’s presence, held out her arms with such surety it was as if she had spoken a command.
The woman handed the cold, still babe to the girl and now her doubt was tinged with malice as she allowed herself to hope perhaps her daughter was wrong and nothing could be done. As she surrendered the child to the more innocent girl, she muttered, “The curse will have its way.”
To which she responded lightly, “ The curse will be undone.”
Kneeling, she laid the infant in her lap and lifted the tiny, pale head in her slender, dark hands. Leaning close she spoke gently, but with purpose. “I freely give that which I have for you to take of what you will. For I have been given much.” And she breathed on her.
At that moment the other babe cried out with the same joyful chuckle as before, magnified by recognition of the words I have been given much. Her voice, though small, was clear, and the echoes chimed throughout the house.
Her sister took a breath and opened her eyes, dark and somber. And she too cried out and the whole house trembled with it, the great arches outside ringing in affirmation, for the second voice and its small cry spoke not only of life given, but also grace.
Ansley, lying weak on the bed, felt her spirits life and she allowed herself to hope that her cowardice would not haunt her forever.
Tiana, kneeling on the floor with the babe still in her arms, knew that she would no longer stand in the shadow of her mother.
The midwife, crouched beside the bed, looked at the infants with malice growing in her heart. She did not yet realize she hated them nor would she ever understand why. But in that moment, when her daughter, glowing with justice and mercy, so lightly tossed aside her fear, the midwife began to hate the twins.
Ansley held both her daughters in her arms and fresh tears poured down her cheeks, though these were sweet, not bitter. “My daughters,” she said. “How beautiful you are.”
The twins who were not twins looked at each other - bright blue eyes meeting dark black eyes; rosy fingers reaching lazily toward an ivory fist. The extraordinariness of the moment was lost to them as all such moments are to the very young. Life and grace seem only unusual to those who have lost their innocence. To the newborn girls every moment was simply love and grace.
They expected no less.