Disclaimer: Velgrath, Valdemar, and the general world in which this story takes place are not mine, nor am I making any money off of it. The characters are mine, however, and since someday I may make money off them, but am not at the moment, I ask that they are not used without my concent 

Blackbird

Prologue: Breath of Life

By: Irish

It was the worst storm of the season. The last snows of winter were always like that in Northern Valdemar and Falcon's Pass was no exception. Jordain had woken up that morning to the clenching pain of a contraction as it tore through her body. On the heels of that agony had been the agony of terror. She was not quite in her eighth month of pregnancy yet with her second son, it was far too early for him to be rushing into this world.

If she had woken to labor pains even three months ago, she would have been greatful and willing to risk her own health for the natural miscarriage. The child she was carrying was unplanned and unwanted at conception. Her husband was a brutal man and had beaten her black and blue on many an occasion. When Jordain learned she was pregnant by him a second time, she'd had enough and had managed to throw him out with the help of her brother.

There, of course, were herbs she could have taken to end the pregnancy, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Instead she had prayed for the problem to take care of itself, after all, Gaelin had beat her severely before he left, and she had spotted blood for days after.

The life slowly kindling inside her, though, had not been extinguished. It continued to grow, rounding her belly and breasts. There had been a breif time of guilt, fear, and relief, when the baby was slow to make it's first little kicks inside her, but eventually those kicks had started.

The child in her was an active one, for as hard as this pregnancy had been on her, turning this way and that inside of her. It kicked occasionally, but more often she had the sensation that it was pressing its hands against her womb, exploring its ever smaller home. There were other times when she couldn't shake the feeling that the small life inside her was listening very carefully to the world around it. It hadn't been like that with her first, a son, who seemed rather incurious even out of the womb.

The curiousity and tenasiousness of her second child had won her over, and so, as she felt the first contractions of labor come over her far too early, Jordain was terrified. It seemed to cruel, to lose the child after only just having learned to love it. There was no denying that sensation though, the babe was coming.

Jordain woke the one employee of her small Inn, a rather simple girl of sixteen, and sent her for the midwife. Falcon's Pass had no Healer, so the local midwife would have to suffice. Already though, the snow was falling, and Jordain wasn't confident that the midwife would get to her in time.

There were no guests at the Inn from the night before, it was too col for travelers, so Jordain didn't open come daylight. Folks would just have to gather elsewhere for the day.

She tried to keep moving throughout the day, feeding her two donkeys, and the handful of chicken and sheep that kept her and her son Tobin fed and clothed. Around lunch, though, the cramps became too intense to. She was already feeling the urge to bear down, even though her water hadn't yet broken. Tobin had mostly been playing alone, and now she shooed him into one of the rooms upstairs, with a handful of toys, making sure there was no way for him to get into mischif, and shut the door. He would have to manage on his own for a bit. She had no other choice.

Upstairs to the main hallway she set herself to pacing, waiting for the midwife, each contraction so long and hard that she couldn't even draw enough breath to scream. Tobin's birth had been nothing like this! She had labored for several hours, yes, but there hadn't been this kind of pain!

When the midwife finally arrived, it was dusk. Tabin was silent now, asleep, and Jordain was at the foot of her bed. She clutched at the wooden bedstead, her jet hair drenched with sweat. She'd walked and walked all day and tried to breath just so, to ease the pain, but none of it worked. Her water had broken two candle marks ago, but she had been fighting the urge to bare down most of the day. The contractions were now a countable number of breaths apart, and drew her down to a squat, her body trying to force out the tiny life.

Even without the midwife, if it had truly been time, her body would have simply pushed the child out. It wasn't time, though, she and the midwife could both feel that her body wasn't truly ready yet. If she tried to pass the child now, she would tear, and bleed out.

The midwife had had her sit and draw back her knees, inspecting her, feeling for the press of the child's head. The crone had shook her head as the wind wailed outside.

"It is a breached birth. I'll try and turn it, but I think it is too late."

Jordain's blood froze. No! No! She would not lose this babe! Not after all of this! Not after she had agonized over whether to keep the child... or take the herbs that would expel it from her womb.

"I will not lose him!" She hissed, gripping the front of the crone's simple dress. "If you cannot deliver him, I will do it alone!" Jordain almost wished the woman hadn't come at all. She had carried Tabin to term alone, his father having long shaken the dust of this down from his heels. She had bore his unwelcome return, and the equally unwelcome piece of himself he had left growing in her alone. She had carried this challenging pregnancy, and the anxieties of it alone. She had made the decision to carry him to term alone. She would be just as glad to birth him alone.

"I will do what I can, Lady." The old woman shook her head though.

:We must go, now.:

Lara's voice interupted what had been about to be a well deserved hot meal. Kandin raised his head and shot a look at his Companion across the waystation.

"What in gods' green earth could be so dire?" He frowned. Normally he wouldn't have even asked, but he had only just got in from the blizzard outside and Lara had said it would last the night. There was a good chance it would leave them snowed in. Only mortal peril would be worth the risk and he had had no Foresight of any such danger.

:It's life and death, Chosen.: She said no more, instead, she moved over to the way stations door and gave it a delicate kick with her front hoof.

"Barbarians?" Kandin asked as he found his feet, damping the fire he had started only minutes before, pulling on several pairs of socks and still-wet boots over them.

:No. A baby.: Lara was prone to cryptic remarks, and Kandin frowned at her, ducking under her neck to open the door. He threw her tack on her back as she walked past, strapping it on in short order once outside, his fingers going numb in the bitter wind in those brief moments.

"A baby?" he shouted over the wind, but it was lost even to his own ears. :A baby?: he asked again.

:Yes, now hold on.:

She spoke nothing more to him as she broke her way through the wind and snow, back to the main road, or what Kandin assumed was the main road. Lara moved with impressive speed through the white mud. Kandin held on, raised up in the saddle, trying to make it a little easier on her.

When Lara stopped at an Inn on the edge of the town, a single window lit and glowing through the blizzard, Kandin wondered if she had died on her feet for a moment. Why were they here?

:What are we doing here?: He tried not to sound annoyed, but he sensed no danger, none.

:Go upstairs, and you will see. Hurry.:

:Lady:

Jordain wondered if she had finally gone out of her mind with pain, or if she had died and not yet noticed. She was squatting on the floor over rags and blankets, her back braced on the footboard of her bed, the midwife was between her splayed knees, a hand inside her nearly to the elbow, as she tried to turn the child around.

:Neither, not yet anyway.: It was a woman's voice, a low and rolling alto, a no nonsense kind of voice, like a mother with many, many sons.

:Exactly so, Lady. My name is Lara, my Herald will be at your side soon. You will need his physical strength, and my coaching.:

If Jordain had had any breath to spare, she might have tried to speak to the voice out loud, instead, she answered mind to mind, another wave of pain swamping her.

:Herald?:

:Yes, I am a companion.:

At that moment the door of the room opened, and indeed, a man dressed all in white stood before them, winter cloak dripping on the floorboards.

Kandin had never seen a baby born before. He had only two younger siblings and didn't remember their births. He had no wife or children and no sisters. Lara didn't need to tell him, though, that this was a woman in trouble. The floorboards, blankets, and rags beneath her were soaked in blood. She was moon-pale and drenched with sweat. He had no idea what he could do for her, why Lara had brought him, but he paused only long enough to remove his cloak before crouching down next to the woman and taking her hand as she screamed in pain. After a moment, he was hard pressed not to echo it, her grip was inhuman in its strength.

:Your son, you are right it is a son, must be born. He must live. I am here, I will help you. I have given birth to no less then six, and four of them are boys. We Companions do not birth as easily as horses. Focus your breath.: Lara instructed.

Jordain hardly noticed the sandy-haired man besides her, holding her hand, drawing her more upright. He was speaking to her, but she was past noticing. There was no holding back as the next contraction came, and she threw her head back and screamed, as she bore down as hard as she could.

:That's it. Push, push!:

The midwife still had a hand inside her, now to try and guide the child into the world, feet first.

"I have both feet." The old woman panted.

Another contraction came, and Jordain only had time to draw a single breath into lungs that felt like they were on fire, before she bore down again, a pain she thought couldn't get worse increasing tenfold as she felt the cradle of bone her womb rested again split and separate. She felt something in her tear.

:Again! I know your tired, but you have to push again.: Lara encouraged, her voice calm but emphatic.

"Push again," the midwife instructed. Jordain pushed, her hand clamped around the Herald's forearm.

"A shoulder, one more shoulder and the head." The midwife reported, almost dispassionately.

:Think of your beautiful babe. Almost there, you'll be nursing him soon.: Lara soothed. :Ride out this contraction, get your breath, then push with the next.:

The remaining shoulder passed with the next push, after Jordain had gained her breath. Kandin was panting just as hard as Jordain though he didn't yet feel the bone deep bruises she was leaving on his arm. He was just scared to death. Scared that the babe wouldn't make it, that the woman he was holding wouldn't, either. He could feel Lara using his eyes, and found himself looking down where no one but the Lady's husband and her midwife should ever see. Lara wanted to be informed though. He could see two tiny, perfect little feet, could count each of the ten toes. Gods... was this how all of them came into the world?

:No!: He heard Lara shout. :No! Don't let her pull on his legs!: Kandin didn't understand, until he saw what Lara had seen, the midwife tugging on those tiny legs as the mother pushed. In that moment Kandin could also see why the midwife was doing something so blatantly stupid, the mother was bleeding, fast. Waves and rivers of blood, not red, but black there was so very much of it.

In the time it took Kandin to process all of this, there was suddenly a baby in the midwifes hands, and the mother, who had been a tense ball of straining muscle, now went completely limp.

:That's it, good job Jordain, your all done dearling. Rest now.: Lara soothed, trying to keep the tension from her minds voice. Kandin could feel her tension, though, and knew there was more to be done. No sooner had he had that thought then the aging midwife was shoving the tiny and decidedly slimy thing into his arms, then pushing him away, still busy between the mother's legs. The woman lay lifeless on the floor.

Kandin stumbled to his feet, holding the babe. It wasn't crying...

:Lara! Its not crying!: Oh gods no... not after all that!:

:Turn him over your knee, face down, and slap his rump.: She instructed, low voice gritty with nerves. Kandin dropped to a knee and did just that, slapping the tiny thing twice, the second time rather hard when the first didn't work.

:Lara!:

:Turn him back over, put a finger down his throat, clear out any mucus, then do it again.: She instructed. Kandin slipped a finger down the tiny throat, clearing away the mucus, before repeating the slap. Still nothing.

:Turning blue!: He didn't ask Lara for further instructions, instead, he put his mouth over the mouth and nose of the babe, and puffed gently. Its little chest rose with the small puff, and Kandin did it again, before turning it over his knee and giving it one last smack, this time between the shoulders.

Never, ever had he heard a sound so sweet as what he heard next. The little thing drew a huge gasping breath, and started to wail.

Kandin sagged with relief, actually having to sit down fully, feeling Lara's relief just as keenly as his own. :Oh thank gods, oh thank gods...: He gasped. The wailing boy, it was a boy he finally saw, came to rest in the nest of his crossed legs. It was still wailing, but it was more then just a new born wail. He sensed a tone to the boy's cry. Something was still wrong...

:Chosen, look at his legs.: Lara said softly. He understood why she had spoken so carefully, his stomach twisted hard, and he felt the urge to vomit. Knees and hips, both were dislocated. No wonder he was wailing so desperately. He was far more then frightened and hungry.

:Quickly now. You know how to fix a joint, but fast, before he takes chill.: Lara said, still watching through his eyes. It made Kandin sick, the thought of having to pop those tiny joints, seeming no bigger then those on his fingers. Quickly, not letting himself think, he popped each hip and each knee into its proper place. He glanced at the midwife, she was still working hard. The mother was ashen and no longer conscious.

The Herald turned away. It was the babe who had been thrust into his arms and put into his ward, the babe whom Lara's attention seemed focused.

:Wipe him down quickly so he is clean, then swaddle him tightly.: Lara instructed him, and supervised as he did just that, wiping off all the slim and mucus, finding a clean swath of fabric and wrapping up the child tightly. It still howled, but its cries had grown less urgent. Kandin finally sat down and rocked the boy, watching now the midwife with the mother.

It seemed like years, before the midwife sat back, and finally looked over at him.

"Put her in the bed." She instructed in a raspy voice, taking the boy from him the moment she had struggled to her feet. Kandin felt a moment of fierce protectiveness, but said nothing, letting the old woman take him. He very carefully picked up the mother, and lay her down on her bed, drawing the covers up over her. She seemed at least partial conscious now, and he took it as a good sign. He watched the midwife put the swaddled babe in his mothers arms, and help her unbutton the dressing gown she was wearing and expose one full breast.

It was with utter rapture and fascination that Kandin watched the woman hold her new born son to her breast and get him to suckle. For how close the tike had come to never having his first breath, he had a hunger to shame a goat, and Kandin could hear him suckling from across the room. The mother let out a half laugh, half sob, as the boy filled his stomach for the first time.

Humbled, Kandin kneeled besides the bed, watching mother and child for a moment, Lara silent in his head.

"What will you name him?" he whispered, heart lurching as the boy opened his eyes, dark, dark, beautiful eyes.

"Mika'el." Jordain half sobbed, smiling. "Mika'el... 'gift from the gods'."

Author's Note: I've been a fan of Mercedes Lackey's Valgrath series for years, but have always hessitated to write fanfiction for it. I wrote this piece a long time ago, though, and finally think I'm ready to write the whole thing, not just a few chapters, I hope you enjoy!