The birthing room at the mauntery was a dark, dank place, gone long unused. It was small and cobwebby. The high windows along the far wall were draped with heavy brown sack curtains that allowed only slivers of yellowy light to escape, and the only other light was a guttering torch near the door. In the wide metal bed in the center of the birthing room Elphaba lay still, holding her knees to her chest, trying to assuage the pain that pulsed between her legs. Her hair clung to her sweaty forehead, eyes fighting to stay open.
For the first time in hours, she was alone, and she savored it. The door of the room still swung creakily on its hinges from where the attending maunt had rushed out, cradling a slimy newborn in her arms. The novices had followed after her, too terrified of the green woman to apply balm to Elphaba's sore body like they had been ordered to, and now she was blissfully alone.
Elphaba blinked, listening to the mutterings in the infirmary next door. If Frex was right, and the Unnamed God punished babies for their parents' sins, then the child would be maimed beyond recognition.
The whining cry of a newborn escaped from the walls of the infirmary, and Elphaba's heart jumped, in a mixture of anger and excitement. Had she really been hoping for a stillbirth? The infant wailed again, and she turned her head away from the noise, wishing it could be stifled, or at least ignored.
"He wants his mother, Miss Elphaba. You have a beautiful baby boy," the attending maunt said from the doorway.
"I don't want it," Elphaba said, not looking the woman in the eye. The baby began to cry again, and she felt a pang in her chest at the sound of its voice. "It will be better off without me."
The maunt moved in towards her. "Miss Elphaba, if only you would tell us where the father is we might—"
Elphaba slammed her fist on the mattress in frustration. "I can't—" she began, almost hissing, her breath coming short in her throat.
"The baby deserves a father and a mother," the maunt chided.
Elphaba wiped a stray tear from her eye with the blanket. "I can't take it," she said.
"I don't want it." She thought of her own childhood, her own drunken, distant mother. She didn't want me either, Elphaba thought, remembering. The old midwives of Nest Hardings should have drowned me the minute they saw my skin, to spare me the pain of what was to come.
The attending maunt didn't respond. She had never presided over a birth before, having been confined to the cloister of celibate maunts since girlhood, and the images of the scene from minutes ago haunted her. "I'll go fetch the child," she said, finally.
Elphaba shook her head and tried to speak, but the words caught in her throat. She knew if she saw the child she could not abandon it. Even hearing the infant's cry created pangs of longing in her chest.
The attending maunt brought the boy in wrapped in a blanket. The shadow of a novice flung open one of the heavy curtains, filling the room with dusty yellow light, and the maunt lowered the baby into Elphaba's limp green arms.
At first, Elphaba could not look the child in the eye. She was afraid of what she would see—Fiyero, or herself, or a mirror of Nessarose's twisted form, or something else, something unimaginably freakish or frightening—
She saw perfection.
The baby boy was not green, or crippled, or deformed. He had a dusting of the same mysterious coal-black hair as Elphaba's, and, even moments after birth, eyes the same piercing sapphire as Fiyero's had been. His tiny, reddened fists clenched and unclenched themselves, in the miracle of the beginnings of movement.
Elphaba's long green fingers traced her son's cheek. A tear caught in the corner of her eye and slid down her cheekbone, burning like fire. She brushed the child's damp, sticky black hair with her finger, ignoring the pain, thinking only of Fiyero.
"Have you thought of a name, Miss Elphaba?" the attending maunt said, hovering over mother and child.
Elphaba shook her head, words caught in her throat. "I can't—" she said, again, trying to refuse her son. "I can't take him—" it was barely above a hoarse whisper.
The maunt smiled. "Don't worry, the name will come," she said. "You've done well with him, whatever control you had. Exceptionally alert, and with such strong muscles." She admired the child from above. He was exploring his newfound abilities, opening and closing his gummy mouth like a fish, curling his toes and blinking lovingly up at the pinched green face of his mother.
Elphaba's face was soaked with burning tears. Fiyero danced in the baby boy's eyes, a reminder of what they could have had, a memory of what it was like to be in love.
But it was too late, Elphaba saw. She was in love again. The pain of it had beaten her down, again and again, and always she slipped back under its spell. She had hoped that she, like Melena, would have been exempt from motherly love or feeling, but this child had her under his spell. She choked back a sob.
The attending maunt moved away to let mother and child alone, and the novices followed after her, whispering in awe.
When the maunt returned an hour later, Elphaba was asleep, her green arms looped around the baby boy snoozing against her breast. Her chin sagged against her son's silky scalp. Even with Elphaba's skin, the attending maunt thought, they were the perfect picture.
For the first time since her arrival at the mauntery, the green woman looked at peace.