The pangs of labor were not unfamiliar to Elizaveta, but the timing in the matter seemed wrong. She woke up in the dead of night, her muscles riddled with an overwhelming sense pain. The baby was coming!
No! She thought to herself. This can't be right it's too early!
But yet the pain persisted, as it did the day Sylvia was being born. She clutched her swollen stomach as she told Patrice to fetch the midwife, more from the pain then concern for the child.
The early morning quickly became the afternoon. The pain came in an endless stream of waves. Small at first, a pinch in the stomach then swelled to great heights causing her to scream till the windows shook. Before collapsing as she fell back against the sheets, breathless with sweat streaming down her forehead.
She would catch whispers from the midwife to Patrice. She didn't need to hear every word to know that something was wrong. She thought of her daughter, despite the pang in her heart, and how sweetly she came into the world with rosy cheeks and bright green eyes. Sylvia came quickly, the labor so brief that Elizaveta needed time for the realization to dawn on her that she had delivered a healthy child and above all, that she was now a mother.
This time was different, the contractions too inconsistent and everything felt forced and painful. All she wanted was to hear a baby's cry, or even the simple coos of the midwife as she pulled the child from her womb. Then she just wanted to fall asleep, to fall asleep and never wake up.
She let her eyes flutter closed, exhaustion riddled throughout her body. She was on the brink of sleep when the pain of a contraction came again, pulling her back to earth and to the waking world.
Why can't I just go to sleep?
Roderich found little sleep that night. His leg throbbed with pain from the bullet wound, even after it was cleaned and dressed by his physician. The pain in his leg had kept him awake, while Elizaveta slept peacefully in her own chambers. Just as he felt himself start to drift off to sleep, he was awoken again, this time by his butler. Who kindly informed him that Elizaveta had gone into labor.
"Has the midwife been sent for?"
The butler nodded. "She has already arrived, but she says that it will be quite some time before the child arrives."
Roderich nodded as the butler left, leaving him in search of slumber once more.
He awoke the next morning figuring that he hadn't received no more then an hours worth of sleep. He donned his glasses and his butler helped him with his clothes, complete with dress coat.
He stopped by Elizaveta's chambers on his way down to his office, checking up on her. The maids forbid him to enter while the midwife confirmed that the child wouldn't come until the end of the day, if they where lucky.
He caught a glimpse of her through the small opening in the door, lying on her white sheets in silk nightgown. The sheets had been kicked away and rumbled in fits of pain. Her arms rested on her swollen stomach as if she meant to cradle the child within. A whimper escaped her lips, followed by a moan in pain that bordered on a scream, causing the maids and the midwife to shut the door in his face cutting him off from his wife completely.
With a wooden crutch leveraged under his arm he made his way downstairs to his office, where a stack of paperwork awaited him. He sat down in the seat behind his desk. Dipped his quill in a fresh inkpot and sat down to work. He had barely made his way through the first set of pamphlets and business propositions when he set his quill down, unable to concentrate.
His mind was set on the thought of Elizaveta, helpless and swollen, as she was condemned to her bedchambers lost in the midst of labor pains.
She had given Beilschmidt a daughter, was it possible that she would give him a son, an heir to call his own?
His touch was gentle, his lips lightly suckling her neck. She moaned as he shifted his hips against hers, then repeating in gentle ministrations.
"Do you love me, Gilbert?" she breathed, his mouth hovering over hers, before devouring it in a kiss. His breath was heavy on his lips, righting himself on his arms above her. Her fingers were still digging into his hips, craving more of him.
"What kind of question is that?" he said through heavy breaths, letting his voice grow deep.
"Do you love me? Because I'll never be able to let you go."
"But you did. Years ago you do did." His warmth suddenly felt cooler, his weight atop her lighter. She held fast, wrapping her arms and legs around him, afraid that he would slip away.
"But your right here, with me, right now!" She suddenly felt tears edge her eyes, a great pain begin to swell in the pit of her stomach.
"Your dreaming Ellie. For years you've been dreaming. I waited for you. I waited for so long. I just can't wait anymore." Despite her grip on him he still seemed to be slipping away, till he was just barely out of her reach, yet she kept reaching for him.
"I love you Gilbert," she said with tears in her eyes.
"That's no longer good enough." As he said those words, blood exploded from his chest. Dripping from his suddenly pale and gaunt cheeks. He clutched his chest, more and more blood seeping from the invisible wound in between his fingertips in an endless river of crimson.
She wanted to scream, but no sound escaped her mouth. She only just stared in a mixture of awe and horror.
Gilbert looked from the blood coating his chest and hands to her, his crimson eyes murderous with years of pent up rage and pain. She felt all the breath in her body leave her at the sight, never before so afraid.
He opened his mouth, blood spilling forth over his lips and screamed, "IT'S NO LONGER GOOD ENOUGH!"
Elizaveta's eyes shot open in one final scream of pain and horror. Then came the familiar rush of a child being pulled from her womb, causing her to scream. As the rush ended she collapsed back onto her sheets, in a heap of exhaustion and tears, the nightmare still fresh in her mind.
She lay there for some time, listening to the now eerily quiet bedroom. It wasn't a surprise to her that something was wrong. Yet a painful chord struck in her heart when she heard no wail of a newborn, no coos from the midwife or any of the maids still present. Just silence.
She sat up at last, her eyes widening at the sight of the amount of fresh blood splattered from between her legs across the sheets. She glanced at the midwife, who looked from the bundle in her arms to her. Pity and sadness where written across her face.
It took the midwife several minutes to say what everyone else already knew: the child was stillborn.
Elizaveta asked if she could see it, even though she was in no state to be doing anything but resting. Yet the midwife passed her the child, it was light and limp in her arms, barely clad in the cloth the midwife had wrapped it in. It was small, smaller the Sylvia was. More gray instead of rosy, even a little shriveled where some parts of the skin remain underdeveloped.
She saw its resemblance to Roderich in its face though, the long royal nose and pointed dimpled chin. She pictured it a little older with a thick head of dark brown hair, maybe even a pair of spectacles that matched Roderich's. But that was another life, a life that was never meant to happen.
She thought back to many years ago, living with Gilbert and that miscarriage they experienced together. In her heart she knew then that it was boy, a strong son to continue Gilbert's family legacy. She remembered wanting to be the one who would give that to him. She remembered very clearly wanting it more then anything. Then she lost it and with it her faith in Gilbert's affections for her. Only to later feel foolish for thinking Gilbert that kind of man. At the end of the day he only wanted her, a partner, a wife, and a lover. Not a business investment.
She could already picture in her tired mind the look on Roderich's face when he would see what she had given him, after so many years of careful persuasion and investments: Nothing but a cold bed and a dead son.
He still had barely finished any work when his butler entered the office, bearing with him the news of the child. He felt as if someone had made him swallow rocks, ripping his throat and chest open as they sank into the pit of his stomach. His first instinct was to see Elizaveta, partially to have the first-hand knowledge that she was okay, but mostly to find some sort of reassurance in her face.
"She does not wish to see you sir, nor anyone for that matter. The midwife thinks that it is best she be left alone for awhile," the butler answered, once the inquiries where made.
Roderich nodded and the butler departed, only to return minutes later with his usual afternoon tea, before quitting the room for the final time. He had brought the tea earlier then he usually did, knowing that the additional comfort might be appreciated.
Roderich just stared at the teapot. It was just a small piece of rounded and shaped porcelain, if it broke or was chipped it would be useless, yet something that could be easily replaced. A distinct memory of his father placing a high value on it then a family heirloom, and all because it was his favorite teapot and a gift from a former prestigious politician.
It was always easier to put your faith in objects and all forms of material things. They just sat there until they where needed and wouldn't break unless you didn't take care of them properly. Humans were different. Women were extremely different and children, children were a whole different story. The pregnancy was fine yet a child was born dead. Broken even with gentle care.
Money could buy almost anything, but it couldn't buy a son and it definitely couldn't buy a woman's love. The glare in the porcelain seemed to sneer at him. His eyes burned as he fought back the tears. He grabbed the teapot and hurled it across the room, the water splattered against the wall shattering the precious ceramic. He didn't want a teapot; he wanted his son to be alive. He wanted his wife to love him, as she once loved Beilschmidt. But that was impossible.
He pinched the bridge of his nose as his eyes began to tear, throwing his glasses down onto the desk in front of him, hoping they would shatter.
He didn't know how long he cried nor was he willing to admit how long. He found it hard to focus on any work in his office, so he retired early, his stomach empty and growling. Yet somehow he fell asleep. He awoke with his eyes swollen and a newfound bitterness in his heart.
The butler brought him breakfast yet he did not eat. He reached for his glasses at the bedside table only to remember he had left them in his office the night before. He didn't care; he didn't feel like working today. It all just seemed pointless now. Why provide for a family when there was none?
The butler procured some articles of clothing from the dresser, as he did every morning. Roderich listened, bowed his head and said, "I have no wish to conduct any business today."
"I understand, sir. But your guest has arrived today for the meeting you had scheduled several weeks ago."
"Tell him to reschedule. I'm not feeling well," he replied, sitting on the edge of his bed.
"I did, sir. He refused, and insisted that the dealings be done with so he can return to Russia and conduct this nasty business of war."
Roderich sighed. "Fine, lets just pray he arrives late," he said standing up.
"Actually sir, General Braginski is already here."
The parlor was fresh with the crisp morning sunlight, and sitting within one of the room's large windows sat a sunflower standing tall and proud within the rays of golden light. The guest, a tall and domineering man, couldn't help but admire it, his large and brutish hands delicately flicking the small yellow petals in amusement.
The parlor door swung open on the other side of the room and Roderich entered in a freshly pressed waistcoat and suit. "General Braginski!" he greeted the tall man, an unhealthy but believable smile decorating his cheeks. "I trust your journey was a pleasant one?" He walked with a slight limp in his injured leg, the butler insisted that he use his crutch but Roderich refused, the pain in his leg a fresh awakening in his hardened heart.
Braginski smiled, turning from the sunflower and taking a seat in one of the parlor chairs. "It was fine, Herr Edelstein. I heard you are unwell so if you would like to skip the pleasantries I would like to talk business. "
Roderich nodded, taking a seat in the parlor chair opposite the general. " I trust you and your superiors are pleased with our shipment of artillery?"
"Yes, very pleased indeed," he said still smiling. There was something unnerving about the general's smile that made Roderich twinge. The butler entered with a tea tray for the two. He poured the steaming water into its separate cups and departed without so much as a word. Roderich could sense that the general's presence was unnerving even on his staff, by the way his usually stoic butler fluttered in and out of the room in a hurry and as quickly as possible.
"You are about to engage in war with our brother country. May I ask why?"
"If you have to ask I wonder how informed you really are," the general pondered.
"I'm a businessman. I conduct business and occasionally affairs of state. The art of war, however, remains lost on me. But nevertheless I do not wish to imply that the Russian army steeps low enough to take requests from a petty businessman."
Braginski removed the cup of steaming tea from the tray, looking ever so small and delicate in his large and muscular hands. He sipped it and in the most casual if not pleasing voice said, "The German states, they are a threat, both to my people and to our ideals. We just want to give the world a push in the right direction. Yet they see our way of life as a threat and they seek to end it. If that is not reason enough to fight then I don't know what is."
Roderich procured his own cup of tea and mixed in a cube of sugar, but was hesitant to drink it. His stomach still had no taste for any kind of nourishment. "The Germans are atrocious aren't they? They are Austria's young and idiot brother that they are hesitant to acknowledge relation. I'm not saying that purely because we are no longer allies. Tell me, what do you know of their general?"
"Beilschmidt? He seems atrocious but talented. I look forward to facing him in battle," he replied sipping his tea, shadows and sunlight dancing across his face.
"He's a clever man. I would not underestimate him. I did once and he left me a scar to remember by stupidity by," Roderich said through a clenched jaw.
"I won't. I'm not a fool."
"I never said you where."
"And I never accused you of saying so."
Roderich cautiously sipped his tea. "Nevertheless Beilschmidt owes me a debt and if you could find a way to make him pay, then a fair and very negotiable price would be in it for you."
"I'm not doing this for money. Bu don't fret, an enemy of my enemy is a friend, da?"
"You do not know what kind of man he is. Would you allow him to claim victory in this upcoming war?"
"Not if you helped me," a small mischievous smile gracing his lips.
"I'm a man of my word, with an infinite amount of wealth and resources at my disposal. All you have to do is name it."
The Russian set down his tea, having lost interest in it, before crossing his legs and leaning back in the parlor chair, his violet eyes where intrigued yet where continuously pondering something. "Mr. Edelstein if it's that sort of business you wish to discuss, I suggest we discuss it over a drink."
Roderich glanced out the parlor window, the sun still climbing in the blue sky. "It is not even noon yet, General."
"You will quickly find that war, Mr. Edelstein, adheres to no time table."
Roderich stood from his chair, "Then I suggest we move this conversation to a more secluded setting."
He turned to leave, saying, "I'll have my butler fetch the bourbon glasses," as Braginiski followed him from the room.
Out of the corner of his eye, Roderich caught the most disturbing glance of a bruised and brown sunflower petal floating to the floor.
A/N: Well here is chapter 20! Not gonna lie was kinda a bitch to write, had to delve deeper into Roderich's character which I naively realized I had never given much thought before this. There was a lot of re-writing and advice asking from friends. Chp21 is already in the works, so keep your eyes peeled for that in the future, but until then enjoy and let me know what you think!
Love you all and thanks!