The heat was almost unbearable.
For the millionth time that evening, Kent reached up to mop the sweat from his face with an old, worn handkerchief. Lyndis had entrusted him with it many years ago. The soft material had faded with age, and the embroidered thread that spelled her name had become partially unraveled. At the time, she hadn't realized the implications of her gift, but he had held onto it anyway, kept it close to his heart.
It had rained the morning previous, but it hadn't cooled the temperature at all. Instead, the dry air had turned thick and muggy.
Lyn hated it.
"I'm going to cut it all off," she groaned, pulling strands of her hair off of her face.
"The heat will pass."
Her high cheekbones were dusted a bright, cherry red, and she made a motion with her hand as if she had a knife in it to rid herself of her long, heavy hair.
If she did cut it, he would love her just the same, but he had never known her without it, and he liked everything about it, like the way it almost covered all the right places when she undressed. It made her seem mysterious to him all over again, like he was still a knight who wondered how she would react if he were to kiss her. He never could resist her, then; though he'd uncovered the secrets of her body a million times over, it never got old.
She sighed as he stared at her, and finally conceded. "If you didn't like it so much, I'd have cut it off long ago to save myself the hassle."
Elimine, he loved her. He leaned down to kiss her; her lips tasted of salt. She had shed her clothes hours earlier, but could find no relief from the heat. She'd been miserable for weeks with the high temperatures. His fingers brushed down between her swollen breasts and then over the swell of her belly.
"It's your fault," she said, but threaded her fingers through his.
"If I remember correctly," he countered, kissing her again, "you were the one who waited for me—in this very spot—wearing nothing to cover you but your hair."
She giggled a little and moved their hands over her stomach. "I suppose you're right. But why did I have to get so big? Some of the blame should go to you." She lifted a leg and let it sit across his lap. "My ankles, perhaps? Or my back? You pick."
"Your ankles." He let go of her hand to sit back up and gently started to massage one of her many aches away. Her back pain had been pretty terrible, too, but that was expected with her smaller frame.
"Mmm, thank you." She smiled softly and closed her eyes, ignoring the sweat that dripped down her face.
She cracked one eye open. "Yes?"
He smiled down at her. "Before you fall asleep, there is…something which I would like to speak to you about." When she nodded, he continued, "We don't know exactly when you will, well, go into labor, but… It might be soon, so…" He stopped his ministrations and sighed. "Please be careful. You know I worry for you."
And he did. He had taken to raising cattle on the plains, and there was nobody to help him but himself. He was gone most of the day and the entire time he could only pray that nothing negative had happened in his absence. If she was very far from their home and she went into labor… He didn't want to think about the consequences.
Lyndis closed her eyes again. "I know," she murmured. "I know. I won't wander far."
She did so enjoy her morning walks, but he would feel better about her if she stayed close to the house. "Thank you."
One week and three days later, he returned to an empty house.
Her boots were by the door (they didn't fit her feet anymore, anyway), and she hadn't even started supper (not that he expected her to, in her condition, but she always did it anyway, no matter how poorly she was feeling).
Heart pounding, he began to search for Lyn.
He found her partially buried under the woodpile that was stacked against the side of the lean-to. She had probably been on her way back from the outhouse when she had fallen into it.
It was his fault. Weeks ago, he had rushed through piling the pieces of wood because he had wanted to get back to Lyn. It had been a long day away from her, and he had missed her terribly.
"Lady Lyndis?" he called, but realized after saying it that he had not seen her in peril since she had been Lady of Caelin. He made quick work of the pieces of wood around her, glad that he had thought to chop them into smaller pieces. A few bruises littered her skin, but it didn't seem that anything was broken. He touched her cheek, "Lyn?"
She turned half-lidded eyes to him and groaned. Her breath was uneven. Her face was wet with tears. "Help me back to the house."
They only managed to walk half the distance before she groaned again, doubling over and nearly falling backward all at once. He did his best to steady her, his brown eyes full of concern. She had to be in labor, there was really no doubt about it; he just hoped that one of the stray logs falling on top of her hadn't forced her into it prematurely.
"Are you okay?" he asked gently.
"My water broke," she managed, but didn't seem capable of recalling when, exactly, it had been, "some time ago…"
She could be ten minutes from delivery, or ten hours. He had no way of knowing, and it didn't seem she did, either.
Lyndis had to stop a second time, but they made it into the house without further incident, and after he helped her onto the floor, he lit a candle to see by. Light was fading on the horizon, and he didn't want to attempt to help her deliver a baby in the dark.
Kent knew next to nothing about childbirth. In Lycia—and, he assumed, everywhere else—men were strictly forbidden from the delivery room. He supposed that had Lyn had the option of a female to help her, he would have been banned from the house and left to his worried pacing.
Instead, he found himself gently tugging off her skirt. She lifted her knees and sighed. She would find no real relief or comfort in her labor, and he knew that she knew that, but it still bothered him a bit.
"Start a fire," she ordered between ragged breaths. "Heat some water. He'll need washed off."
He. A son? He did not question her; there was no doubt in his mind that she knew more about what was going on than he did. He lit a fire and filled a kettle from the rain-barrel outside and left it to warm.
Lyn had gone still and quiet, and it troubled him. He made his way over to her, but before he could sit down, she lifted her head with a groan that quickly turned into a strangled cry. Tears fell, and he could see she was fighting to keep from bringing her knees back together.
"What do you want me to do? How can I help?" She didn't answer him, and he assumed that she didn't know, either. When the contraction subsided, he kissed her hand and moved in front of her, wedging himself between her legs to keep her from accidentally closing them. He reached forward and with the tips of his fingers, rubbed her belly and waited for the next wave of pain to hit her.
When her contractions were close together, and the pain was almost inescapable, she told him that she wanted to push—that she felt she should. To be sure, he hadn't seen her in so much pain for many years, and he had forgotten what it was did to his heart to hear her pained moans and cries.
He did his best, all he knew how, and encouraged her to push through the pain. When he could see the baby's head, he knew that one more long push for her, and it would be over. "I can see him," he said, and that was enough encouragement for Lyn to work up the last of her strength to push the baby out.
Her chest was heaving as she tried to pull in air, and she tiredly brushed her soaked hair out of her face. "Let me see," she mumbled. "Let me see."
"It's a girl," he said in surprise when he held the child up, but Lyn didn't respond.
She was biting her lip, her shoulders quivering with suppressed pain.
"Lyn?" he asked, and looked down. The cord was still attached, not just to the baby, but to his wife, too. He didn't know if he ought to cut it or not. He wasn't sure. His hands began to shake as his wife let out another cry of pain.
"Cut the cord," she ground out.
Her order snapped him into action, and he quickly sliced through it with his knife and wiped off the infant, clearing out her nose and mouth. She began to cry, finally, a tiny, frail little sound that made Lyndis hiccup through her tears.
He wrapped up their daughter in a soft blanket and laid her in a cradle he had managed to make only a few months after Lyn had announced her pregnancy. He returned to her and kissed her hand, his hand resting on her belly. "The cord is still attached to you," he managed to murmur. He didn't know what to do about it. He didn't know. He remembered many women dying in childbirth, though, and he was more frightened than he had ever been in all his adult life. He didn't think that he could bear to lose Lyndis, but if she did die, so, too, would their child, for how would he manage to take care of an infant on his own?
"It hurts." Tears slid down her face, and she struggled to take another breath. "I don't know what to do."
She hated to feel helpless. She had always been that way.
Their baby girl wailed from her resting place, but he couldn't give her to Lyn to feed, not yet, not when she was in so much pain.
He tried to think. Should he pull on the cord? A mental image of her insides coming out made his face turn pale. No, no…that would not be a good idea. There wasn't too much blood, so…so maybe if they just waited, it would be okay. He didn't know what else to do. He wasn't sure if he had ever felt such helplessness in his entire life.
Lyndis barely squeezed his hand when he lifted hers to his face, and she hardly moved when he took out his handkerchief to wipe the sweat from her face. She had worn herself out; he wasn't sure that she had any strength at all left in her.
The waves of pain continued to come, but her reactions to them were muted, her groans softer, her grip on his hand weaker. He didn't know why she was still hurting so terribly. The baby had been born. She should be feeling better.
He petted her hair, her face, while she relaxed between her bouts of pain. "Lyndis?" he suddenly asked, patting her cheek to rouse her. "Something else should come, right? Something after the baby?" He thought he could remember having heard his mother talk about it, once, but maybe he was mistaken.
She stirred, her eyes opening. "Yes…" she answered finally. "I don't…know what it's called, but…it's like…" She seemed to not know how to explain it. "Some blood or…or something..."
"Do you think the cord is attached to it?"
She nodded. "Do you want to pull it?"
"N-No!" He shook his head. "Maybe if you pushed…"
Her head wobbled back and forth weakly before another wave of pain washed over her, and she closed her eyes to wait for it to pass. Nothing more than a whine made it past her lips, but it hurt Kent all the same. "I can't," she whispered.
"Try," he pleaded. Women died in childbirth all the time. It happened a lot. Sometimes men married three or four times in their life because their other wives had died trying to give them an heir.
She sighed with exhaustion and moaned through the next bout of pain that tore at her insides.
He struggled to find some sort of motivation, but could think of very little to say. His heart beat in his chest so fast he worried that it would jump out of his throat. "Lyndis," he said after a time. He leaned down to kiss her lips, afraid that it would be the last time. "Lyndis, if you don't get the cord out of you, it will kill you."
He didn't know that for certain, but it wouldn't surprise him.
It took her a long time to reply.
"Kent…" She sounded so small. His heart felt as if it might stop beating. Was this a deathbed speech? Was she going to give up and die right here in front of him?
No! No. He couldn't lose her. He wouldn't. His tongue felt thick and heavy in his mouth, but he leaned over her, anyway, and brushed her bangs to the side with his fingertips. "Do you remember, during the campaign with Lord Eliwood, when I took the blow to my side?"
She barely nodded.
He knew she could never forget it. He had almost died. If it hadn't been for her help, his beloved Lady Lyndis, he would have surely lost his life that day. "I had lost so much blood that I couldn't move." He smiled a little, "You found me crumpled on the ground, and you ran over and tried to make me get up."
"It didn't work," she whispered, her eyes closed.
"It didn't. I tried to tell you to leave me before you made yourself a target, but you wouldn't listen."
"Of course not." Tears started to fall again as the pain returned. Her eyes squeezed shut hard as she bit back a groan. "I couldn't just leave you."
His hand settled over the left side of her chest, his calloused thumb brushing over her heart. "So don't leave me now," he choked out, and pressed a kiss there, where he could feel the heavy thud-thud-thud of her heartbeat against his lips. "Don't leave me now."