It's the Winter Solstice, which means it's also Vivienne's birth night. Tonight, Minnlin will travel through a snow storm to make sure the Guardian's birth happens exactly as prophesied.
For a special treat, here is the story of Vivienne's birth straight from the horse's mouth:
Born from Death
In my nightmare, Devon gathers his cloak and sword, smiles at Hana warmly and says, ―Be patient. I should be able to find them at the field tent.‖ He smiles at the queen, and leaves to search for the king.
Hana stares at the door, now closed behind his departing figure. Her brow furrows just for a moment as she debates whether or not to fasten the bolt. Deciding the men downstairs are protection enough, she turns back to my mother. Worried, she tries not to let the queen know how serious the situation has become. My mother writhes in the transitional pains of labor on the bed, drenched in sweat, her hair soaked. Her breathing has become ragged and uneven. Every contraction brings waves of agony crashing down upon her slight frame. She screams as unexpected and powerful contractions threaten to rip her into pieces.
Katarina is panting as Hana washes her face with cool water—cool water that, by some strange illusion, I feel on my own face. ―I don‘t think I am going to be able to do this, she moans to Hana. ―I am too tired. I don‘t have the energy to do this.
Hana croons to her as one would a small, frightened child: ―Of course you will have the strength, my lady. All mothers are afraid when they give birth to their first child. It is an experience not comprehended except by those who have already been blessed. Everything will be fine.
My mother smiles faintly at Hana. Even though they have only been together a short time, my mother understands she and Hana are very much alike in temperament and spirit. Both are empathetic Healers, although Katarina is struggling right now to bring her own training into focus. My mother‘s senses tell her she is bleeding too much. Tired, she cannot find the correct pressure point as she searches within her memories to recall how to constrict the blood vessels with elemental energy. The pain of each contraction is evident in every fiber of her body. Her gaze keeps darting to the door, waiting for my father to walk in.
The sound of men and horses clattering to a stop drifts up from the front courtyard even through the closed windows. The wind suddenly switches direction, coming no longer from the West, but instead from the North, and the cold deepens. The clouds close in, heavy with thick, wet mountain snow. The full winter moon hanging bright in the night sky becomes overshadowed as the heavy snow begins to fall and stick. Hana tosses more logs on the fireplace to keep the chill from the room. Hearing voices and thinking Devon has found the king, Hana throws open the door of the bedroom. And that‘s when my nightmare really starts.
Three darkly cloaked soldiers race up the stairs and through the open door, throwing Hana against the far wall near Katarina‘s laboring body. She slides down to the floor and stares up in horror at the nightmare walking through the door. Into the room behind these soldiers strides a tall man, dressed in the robes of a Druid Master, with three more soldiers bringing up the rear.
Hana recognizes the druid immediately, but Katarina is too weak at first to notice who the intruder is—but it doesn‘t take her long to finally see him. Both women are deeply frightened; fear the only thing keeping them from crying for help. Though they do not say his name out loud, I know only one person would be brave enough to risk the wrath of Philippe or Der and his brothers to appear at this house at this time. It is Minnlin, the renegade druid, with his personal cadre of guards. Somehow they have slipped past all the sentries and guard posts to come here. This means they are here for only one thing—the baby … me.
The guards signal for Hana to drop her weapons, if she is holding any, and to step back from the bed where my mother lies.
―No. Hana lifts her chin stubbornly. ―The queen is in dire need. She has lost too much blood. I am a Healer. I must help her deliver the child now or both may well perish.
The guard looks at Minnlin for direction. He nods his head. They search Hana for weapons. Once she is pronounced unarmed, Hana breaks through his grasp and races to the side of the bed. Checking my mother‘s pulse, she turns her head to address the men.
―She is failing. The baby must come. Now! Do you have any Healers with you?‖ She makes her appeal to the dark man standing over her.
Minnlin judges Hana with his eyes. No feeling of malice hangs around the man, no raw lust and hunger for power is displayed across his face. Only the certainty of a man who knows what he is doing and working hard to achieve his ends. No matter how much those ends will cost. Finally, in a quiet voice, he replies, ―I will deliver the child.‖
Hana stares at Katarina and then at Minnlin and then back to Katarina. Before she can protest, a soul-rending scream comes from my mother. There is no more time for discussion.
Minnlin crosses the room, discarding his robe to one of his guards. Kneeling beside the bed, he places his hands first on her heart then on the bulge of her belly that is me. Concentrating while humming spells to himself, he seems to be listening to the energies of the queen‘s body. Hana stands beside the bed, anxious to know what is happening, even more anxious that Devon and the king will not arrive in time to save everyone.
In one fluid motion Minnlin stands up and turns to face Hana. ―I need lots of warm blankets, hot water, gauze, scissors, and some auguere.
―Auguere?‖ Hana raises one finely pointed eyebrow. ―That herb does not ease childbirth pains. It is for headaches.
―Auguere also constricts blood vessels, and once the child is delivered, I must attempt to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible.‖ He states this calmly, as some people might discuss the weather. ―If we cannot stop the blood flow in time, Katarina will bleed out and nothing either of us can do will save her.
―Save my daughter … at any cost, Katarina whispers. ―She is the one who must live. My life means nothing; only hers is important. Her eyes bore into Minnlin, as though reminding the druid of a secret promise known to only them.
―Peace, my lady. Everything will be all right, Hana croons into my mother‘s ear. ―I will keep watch for new arrivals, she says pointedly, sure Katarina understands what she means. Then she turns to the guards in the room. ―I don‘t think anyone‘s mother would be proud to know they raised their son to spy on a woman giving birth, especially when that woman is the queen. Get out of here unless you are specifically trained as a Healer.
The six men look at Minnlin for direction. He waves five of them from the room. The last goes to the fireplace and brings over the warmed towels. His dark gray eyes glance at Hana, mocking her.
―I was trained as a Healer before leaving the Fortress to follow Lord Minnlin, he informs Hana. She glares but moves over enough to allow a small space for him beside the bed.
Now is the point at which my nightmare becomes blended with the horrible reality that is the night of my birth. For many years of my childhood, the nightmares never progressed past this point, the memories blocked by some wall erected within my mind in self-defense. As I grew older, I began to wonder why I couldn‘t move past this blockage. Eventually, when I did figure out how to remove the wall, I would come to wish things had stayed as they were. I was blissful in my ignorance.
Minnlin looks into my mother‘s eyes, his dark purple eyes fixated on her gray eyes, as another version of that same secret look I had noticed previously again passes between them. (All true Mystics have some shade of purple eyes. The color is related to the elemental energies that run in our veins, allowing us to tap into the powers and mysteries contained in the world. The darker the shading of the purple, the stronger the Mysticism gift in that person. Similarly, all Healers have gray shaded eyes, while those who are born to War Craft have the ability to make the whites of their eyes darken to prevent reflected light betraying them to any enemy that might be around.) Minnlin bends over the bed, murmuring spells over my mother while running his hands over her belly. At last he straightens up and speaks to the guard and Hana.
―The child is backwards. We must turn her or they will both perish.
Hana blanches at the words. Being trained originally as a Warrior, she has only mastered the most basic of Healing knowledge. However, being raised in the countryside, she has seen horses and cows with breech babies. Most times the mother died. She thanks the heavens my mother is delirious, thus unable to process the danger she and I are in. Nodding more to herself than to the druid, she takes the few short steps to the bed, holding down Katarina‘s shoulders. Minnlin has removed his sword, and washed his hands and forearms. He sits next to my mother‘s right leg. He motions for his man to grab her left knee.
―No matter what, do not let go, he cautions both Hana and the guard.
Both nod their understanding. They know what he is attempting will cause immense pain to the frail woman lying, already past her endurance, on what can be described as her deathbed.
Taking a deep breath, Minnlin pulls back the covers. Carefully, he seeks to turn me into the correct birth position. With his left hand he presses on the top of her womb while pulling me gently by my arm. Katarina begins shrieking in pain, worse than any sound previous. Even the guard averts his gaze. Tears well in Hana‘s eyes, blinding for a moment the vision of what she was already afraid to see. Blood begins to gush forth, more than it seems one small body can bear to lose. The screaming echoes off the walls, reverberating until there is no other sound. Finally, after what was a very short time but which seemed to have lasted forever, Minnlin closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
―I am ready to begin guiding the baby down the birth canal. Hana, let go of her shoulders and be ready to wrap the child. My hands will be busy trying to save the queen‘s life.
Hana rushes to the fireplace, grabs several towels and returns to the bedside. Shuddering from her distaste at being so close to the one who has caused so much death and pain in the Five Kingdoms, she kneels beside him. She looks up at the druid, nodding in response to his raised eyebrow.
Minnlin looks into my mother‘s eyes. The look she gives him probably constitutes why I have nightmares about this night. It is the look of someone who knows she is nearing death, one who has lost all hope of saving herself. She is allowing her husband‘s mortal enemy to deliver her only child. She has given all her hope to me. All that remains is to hold on long enough to see the birth through. With a curt nod in Katarina‘s direction, Minnlin begins guiding my head down the birth canal. Slowly at first, then with more confidence, I begin to appear. Head first, then shoulders. After the shoulders the rest of my body slides out easily.
Minnlin cuts the umbilical cord, ties it off, and hands me to Hana. She wraps me tightly in the clean, warm towels, and brings me around to the top of the table, where my mother can see me. One look and one smile is the sum total of my interaction with my mother prior to death. When she tries to raise her hand to stroke my head, she is simply too far gone. As Hana grips me closer I can see the light extinguish in my mother‘s eyes. After struggling with every portion of her earthly body to bring me into this world, there was nothing left for her. My mother is dead. And I appear to be alone in a room with my father‘s mortal enemy.
Minnlin reaches over and closes my mother‘s eyes. Head bowed, he doesn‘t look like the most dangerous enemy of the Kingdoms; he looks like a broken, grieving man. But how did he know my mother? How did he know I would come this day? How did he get this far behind the front lines? But the most important question to me was never asked out loud: why did he come to deliver me? What is so special about me? "
Excerpted from "CATALYST - Guardian Rising", published by Keith Publishing, all rights reserved.