Author's Note: This one-shot was written as a part of the Deltora Quest One-Shot Challenge. The challenge is open to anyone who wishes to take part, and the details for the challenge can be found in the main DQ Forum. Just click the link below to find out more! Each one-shot must contain several key features that have been listed in the forum. Help bring more wonderful stories to the Deltora Quest fandom by taking part, it's all for a bit of fun! .net/topic/4169/69621/2/
A bird scrabbled to a halt on Lief's shoulder, jolting him and cawing urgently. It was Ebony. Lief reined in Honey, Ebony's dark feather's brushing his cheeks. She clacked her beak near his cheek. He spun, catching her and slipping the message capsule from her claw.
It was a note of good paper, palace paper, but ripped hastily and hastily penned. There was no code. It simply said, in Doom's rough hand
THE CHILD IS COMING
Lief's heart plummeted there was only one child that would spark so much panic, and that child was much too early. "No," he whispered. He dug his heels into Honey's sides, the flash of guilt that accompanied the movement quelled by his growing sense of dread. It was too early; six weeks too early. He felt bile rising in his throat. Honey threw her head, her muscles bunching for a gallop.
Lief was perfectly happy to give her her head; she couldn't go too fast. He had to get to Tora. He had to get there now. Early births weren't dangerous just for the baby, but for the mother too. Jasmine. Lief's world tilted again. His hands clenched the reins, the wind whipping his hair in his face. He welcomed the pain as a distraction, trying not to whip Honey. His mind was filled with thoughts of Jasmine. Jasmine, whom he had only told he loved within the past eighteen months. Jasmine, who he had seen bloom into increasing beauty. Jasmine, who had been glowing as their child grew. Lief choked, tears clenching their hands around his throat.
Tora was glowing on the horizon, the farms around her boarders raising neat lines, contrasting with his agitation. He spurred Honey again, and she stumbled through the clear waters of the lake, her hooves frothing the edges. Tora drew no closer; lingered tauntingly out of reach.
Honey reached the shore once again, but as she clambered up the bank, she stumbled. Tossed out of the saddle, Lief lay dazed on the ground. His head ached profusely; a sharp pain at the base of his head informed him sharply that a stone had struck his skull. Ebony fluttered to the ground, remarkably more gracefully. Honey was beside him, her sides heaving. Again, Lief felt a twinge of guilt for Honey. An image of Jasmine, screaming in pain flashed in front of his eyes, and Lief pushed himself to his feet.
Honey was glaring at him balefully. "I am sorry," he mumbled, jabbing a foot into the stirrups. As his bottom hit the saddle a dull ache shocked his spine. He gritted his teeth and pushed his heels to Honey's sides again. She broke into a grudging trot, and a reluctant canter. Ebony flew beside him.
Finally, Tora seemed to be growing closer. The rosy city loomed above him. He did not slow as the tunnel wrapped cool arms around him. He did not slow as the lights danced and twirled around him. He growled, as he felt the magic of Tora leaching his urgency.
Honey slowed to a walk, and he patted her calmly, looking around. Marilen was standing next to the tunnel, her face curious. Ebony landed on his shoulder once again, clacking her beak, and Lief turned his head to look at her, reaching up to stroke her feathers.
"Lief, what has happened?" she asked, her arms reaching up to indicate his head.
Lief belatedly reached up to the base of his skull. He brought his fingers away sticky with blood. "I fell."
"Indeed." If they had been out of Tora, Marilen's voice may have been dry, or heavy with sarcasm, but it contained only gentle curiosity.
Lief took the note from his pocket, and handed it down to her. Marilen unfolded it, and looked at it calmly. A shadow passed momentarily over her face, then she looked back to him. "Jasmine is not due for another six weeks."
"She must be in pain."
"Yes. And frightened. And I am not there."
"Why are you here?"
"I need your help. I need Toran magic."
Her eyes cleared, and Marilen grabbed Honey's bridle, tugging her through the streets. "Zeean!" she was calling, through her mind and aloud. Around them, other Torans were looking at the King with worried expressions, making gestures of luck towards him, and the queen.
He all but fell from his horse, his legs shaking. Zeean took his arm, steadying him. "Lief, you are exhausted. I do not know if it is wise to send you to Del with Toran magic in your condition."
Lief looked at her, puzzled. "But I must go," he said slowly.
Zeean folded her hands, "You do not know if that note was even authentic. You know that Doom rarely writes out of code."
"No, Zeean," he said softly. "It was Doom's hand. He would be panicking; his daughter is having a child of her own, and too early for it to be ensured safe passage to this world."
Zeean remained silent for some time, perhaps conferring with other Torans. Eventually, she bowed her head, "We will send you in an hour."
Lief hesitated, "I would like to go sooner," he suggested. Had Lief been outside of Tora's calming influence, Zeean's life may have taken a remarkably shorter turn.
But she was implacable, "Not until we have cleaned and dressed your wound."
Marilen stepped forward with a glance at Zeean. "I will do it."
She guided Lief to a stone bench, sitting him down. A small boy brought a bowl of water and a cloth. Deftly, Marilen washed the wound. Lief winced; with his sense of overwhelming urgency neutralised by the subversive power of Tora, he could feel each and every ache anew.
In a remarkably short time, Marilen leant back. "Done," she said. "You are ready to leave." Lief heaved himself to his feet, to find Marilen's small hand catching his sleeve. "But I am coming with you."
"As am I," said Ranesh, stepping out from the pillar he had been leaning against.
A few minutes later, Toran magic was speeding them on the way to Del, little Josef bundled in his mother's arms.
Sharn ran, whey-faced, a scream following her from the room. "Lief!" she called, barrelling towards them. Ranesh caught her before she slammed into Lief. "Please hurry," she gasped, "She needs you."
Lief did not hear her. He was already running. He froze before the door, before which Gers was standing defiantly, arms akimbo. Gers glared at him, "You took your time," he sneered.
Lief's hands balled into fists, "Let me through," he hissed, as another scream ripped through the door, and through his soul. "Now."
Gers had flinched from the scream, now he stepped aside, his head bowed and shoulders slumped. Lief staggered past, to fall beside the bed. Jasmine's small, elfin face was sheened with sweat. He stroked her forehead with a trembling hand. Her lids opened and feverish green eyes stared at him. Anguished seconds passed before recognition simmered in her eyes. As he saw himself again in those green depths, Lief breathed a sigh of relief.
He took her hand. "I am here, my dearest," he said. He twined his fingers through hers, feeling the slight digits trembling in his palm. Her lip was caught between her teeth against the pain.
Marilen hurried beside him, sliding cool fingers under Jasmine's wrist to check her pulse. She looked at Lief. "It will be a long night, I am afraid."
Lief shook his head; he did not care how long the night would be, provided Jasmine came out of it safe.
Morning found him haggard and still beside Jasmine's bed. A cup of water appeared beneath his nose, attached to a callused palm; Ranesh's arm. He gripped Lief's shoulder, "She will be fine, Lief," he said confidently. "Josef was a long delivery; he came out fine."
Lief darted bloodshot eyes at the other, "Was he six weeks premature?" Ranesh hesitated. Lief turned his back on him contemptuously, "Then your vague assurances are worthless."
The hand on his shoulder gripped almost painfully. Ranesh gritted his teeth. "Nevertheless, I know part of what you are going through, Lief," he muttered. "And I think it is about time you went for a walk."
He bundled the King through the Palace, to the gardens, and sat him down. The leaves rustled soothingly. Ranesh hoped fervently that some of that calm would permeate Lief's not-so-private hell. He decided that it was time to inject a note of hope into Lief's world.
"It will be fine, Lief. You will understand when you hold your first child in your arms; you will wonder why you worried so. Then you will worry again, constantly. They seem never to be quiet; incessantly noisy, incessantly demanding... impossible to deny. Impossible not to love. Your own flesh and blood calls you; it is a siren call. You shall understand soon."
Lief looked up at Ranesh slowly, the words seeping slowly through his anguish. Ranesh continued, telling him of the weight of a newborn; the warmth and the utter trust they place in their parents. How impossibly small they were, and the inconceivable speed with which they grew. The feeling of their tiny fingers gripping your thumb.
Ranesh trailed slowly into silence, the leaves shushing his words above him.
"Were you worried about Marilen?" Lief asked.
Ranesh laughed shortly, "Out of my mind."
Lief's shoulders slumped, and he rested his face in his hands. "I am sorry for the way I spoke to you before, Ranesh," he addressed to the grass. "Only I am so very worried; she is strong, it is true, but this babe is so early, and it is taking too long."
Once again, Ranesh gripped Lief's shoulder, "No apologies necessary, my friend. As I said, I know what it feels like to feel so... helpless. And, to be honest, I prefer that blunt emotion to the constrained lies of Tora."
Lief looked at Ranesh for a moment, then he said, "I wondered why you volunteered to go so quickly."
A smirk curled around Ranesh's face, and he admitted, "You have found me out." He looked out over the gardens of Del, "I longed to be away from Tora, and her damnable calm: emotions are not true there."
Lief nodded slowly, "Such restraints can be dangerous."
Ranesh looked back soberly, "As you found out."
Considerably refreshed, Lief returned to the room. Jasmine too had had a respite. She was sitting up and looking for him. He sat beside her, taking her hand and stroking her face. "How are you feeling?" he asked gently.
She smiled wanly. "How do you think?" she asked tartly. Lief grinned and kissed her forehead, glad to see her spark had been by no means diminished. Releasing her hand, Lief unbuckled the Belt from his waist, pressing the diamond to her hand. She curled slim fingers around it gratefully. Lief pressed his own hand over the top, and Jasmine smiled.
Removing his hand after a moment, he poured her a glass of water from the pitcher beside the bed, holding it to her lips so that she could drink. Once she had drunk her fill, her head fell once more back on to the pillows, clearly exhausted despite the added strength of the diamond.
Lief bent forwards, smoothing her forehead with another kiss, stroking her sweat drenched hair from her face. "I love you," he murmured against her hair.
Leaning back, he looked at her. Her face was blissful and calm... and unconscious. Lief laughed softly to himself, stroking her hair.
He stayed with her, in that same attitude until she woke again, tensing with contractions. Marilen entered with a tray of foods. She took one look at Jasmine and hustled Lief from the room.
"You are not to watch this; you will probably regret even hearing it. Ask Ranesh if you do not believe me." Marilen so bullied him from the room, all but pushing him from the chamber.
Long tense minutes followed, each second an eternity. Then, shattering the terse silence was the cry of a fresh pair of lungs. Lief's gaze shot up, and he leapt up the stairs as though electrocuted.
He paused before Jasmine's room, lingering before the door-frame. He peered around cautiously before walking gently into the room.
Jasmine was sitting up in the bed, her dark hair curling around her shoulders. An infant was resting against her breast, one tiny arm flung out in defiance of the world. A fuss of black hair fuzzed against the babe's head.
Marilen looked at Lief and passed him to where Ranesh was standing. A smile curled around her lips, and she brushed passed Lief, stopping only to say, "Go in, you goose, and meet your daughter."
Lief walked forward wordlessly, holding out his hands for the tiny creature that had chased him through hell. He placed a hand on Jasmine's shoulder. His other hand rested against her arm, and the newborn girl. Her outflung hand caught his and her fingers wrapped around one of his.
A smile crept over his face, echoing on Jasmine's. He leant forward to rest a kiss on the girl's brow. Then he bent again to kiss her mother. "You know I love you?"
Jasmine's eyes sparkled in answer, and he leaned in for another kiss. "I love you too," she said softly as they parted.
Lief looked down at the two of them: his daughter and his wife; his world and his future.
Jasmine smiled up at him, "I thought Anna."
A/N: Yes, it's been a long time... I hope it's not too bad for you all. This was our attempt at the challenge. Hope you enjoyed... and you see that little button down there? Yes, the one that says 'review'... press it. Type something. You never know, you might enjoy yourself XD