A/N: Companion to In the Paths of Our Forefathers. More blatantly MurNas and a little less tragi
In the end, she always leaves.
She passes her blue-eyed baby son to a woman she barely knows, just hours after he's born. She kisses the top of his forehead as she does so, her chapped lips brushing his downy hair. She blinks back tears, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. But she still gives him up.
She goes back with the child's father, far away from the one she really wants to see. She's pushed back into her life like it was before her son was conceived, but it's not the same. She wanders the halls of the king's palace the first few nights, sleepless.
They fight. They've always fought, but it's worse now. He won't let her go back to see their child. There's no time. It's dangerous. They don't want to call attention to him. There are more important things to do. She shouts and hits him. He shouts louder and hits harder.
When she does return, her son is older. She feels as if she's watching him grow up in flashes. Sometimes he doesn't recognize her. And she can never stay long.
She falls in love again, and finds herself torn. Too many secrets, too many lies. She's caught between her two lovers, and her baby suffers—not really a baby any more, but a little child.
The night her son almost dies, she knows it's her fault. She buries her face in her hands and cries, unable to look at all that blood. She's seen blood before, wounds caused by that blasted sword, but never on someone so small. The old healer is not to intent on his work to send her accusing glances.
In the hall, the healer's two little grandchildren play jacks, their piping voices filtering through the smoky air. They're messy-haired with hand-me-down smocks and no shoes, but their faces are full of laughter. So very different from her own little one with his expensive clothes and sad eyes.
Not for the first time, she wonders if her life would have better if she'd stayed in Carvahall.
She hates herself for leaving him, vulnerable, scars still healing. But she leaves anyway.
Later, she hopes the child she's carrying will have a better life than her older son
Murtagh paces, circling and circling the antechamber, his feet hitting the stone floor with sharp raps where it's bare and muffled thuds where it's cloaked in carpet. His mind is buzzing with excitement, and it would be impossible for him to even try to sit still.
Thorn would probably tease him over his impatience any other day, but today he can feel torrents of excitement pulsing over their mental link. Thorn is in no position to mock him for anything.
Jormundur is doing a much better job of waiting, sprawled on a bench. His fists are clenched, though, and, like Murtagh, he flinches whenever a particularly loud scream comes from the next room. Jormundur's waited through the birth of two sons of his own, though, and he's therefore much more practiced.
Suddenly, muffled by the heavy door and stone walls, a new sound is audible. Nasuada's no longer making any noise, but he can just barely hear a high-pitched, mewling sort of wail.
He jolts to a halt, spinning around to face the door. He's slightly queasy, but he can also feel a wide smile spreading across his face. Jormundur rises halfway from the bench.
The baby's screams lull away, as they wait for a tense minute that seems like a century.
The door swings open, Angela's curly head poking around its edge.
"Well, she's arrived!" The herbalist announces cheerfully. "Your daughter, I mean. Don't stand there gaping at me like a dumbstruck sheep, get in there."
He almost knocks over the bench in his haste to get into the bedchamber.
Nasuada's back is propped against the carved headboard, cushioned by a pillow. Her hair radiates from her head like an explosion, thick, mossy, and wild. Her brow is shiny with sweat, and she's breathing heavily. She's only wearing a thin white shift, and her eyes gaze onward, directed at a little bundle wrapped in light blue cloth in her arms.
Murtagh's never seen her look so radiant.
He races to the bed and sits on the edge, next to his wife and their daughter. Nasuada looks up at him, a tremulous smile of pure happiness curving her lips, her eyes wet. He can feel himself grinning like a fool. He leans in, and she angles the baby's face towards his.
Their daughter is tiny, and absolutely perfect. Her skin is the color of cinnamon, and when he reaches out and touches her cheek, impossibly soft. He stares at her, taking in every miniature detail of her face hungrily. There are just a few wisps of dark hair on her head. Her amber-colored eyes are huge and surprisingly alert for a newborn, surrounded by a tangle of long eyelashes. One arm pokes out of the cloth, her brown hand curled in a small fist.
He stares at her for a moment. It seems like a miracle, that he could someone this innocent, this full of life, this new.
Then he looks up at Nasuada, and sees the same amazement and love he feels on her face.
"She's wonderful, isn't she?" Her voice is no more than a whisper.
"She must take after her mother, then," he says hoarsely.
Nasuada rolls her eyes at him, but smiles at the compliment.
Their daughter's delicate nose wrinkles, and she sneezes loudly.
Murtagh and Nasuada both look down at her, then at each other, lapsing into uncontrollable, giddy laughter.
Angela, leaning against the wall, giggles as well. Jormundur stands in the doorway, the somewhat pinched, serious expression he's been wearing splitting into a grin.
Murtagh's eyes meet his, and the aging general's smile fades somewhat. At the outset of Murtagh and Nasuada's relationship, he was not exactly in favor of the match. "Over my dead body" was the phrase he used, actually.
Jormundur glances at Nasuada, who's now gazing down at her daughter and beaming. He looks back up at Murtagh and nods slightly. His smile is small but genuine.
Murtagh returns it, then nudges Nasuada. She looks up, notices Jormundur and beckons him closer to look at the baby.
Murtagh looks over at Angela. He doesn't know her as well as his wife does, since the time the two women spent together was at the Varden's encampment during the war. He knows it's for Nasuada's sake, not his, that the herbalist played midwife at the birth of their child.
"Thank you for being here," he tells her quietly.
She looks at him, understanding the motives behind his comment.
"I wouldn't have missed the birth of Alagaesia's future king or queen. It's an important event, and I like to be present for those."
Her tone is light, not barbed.
Behind him, his daughter sneezes again.
"Do you want to hold her?" Nasuada asks.
He takes his daughter from her mother.
At this point, the dragonish excitement that is coursing into his mind, diminished somewhat under the force of his own happiness , bubbles over.
Murtagh! If you're not too starry-eyed over your hatchling, bring her out onto the balcony. I want to see my Rider's daughter!
Outside of the Empire, he says, they will have a better life. She thinks life is fine as it is. Their house is warm and comfortable, and they have more than enough money to provide for themselves, and for their baby when it comes.
He speaks of corruption, evil rampant in the court, unfair laws and rebellion and a thousand other dangerous truths.
She doesn't want to listen.
Life is better than it would be if they had stayed with their tribe in the Hadarac, she tells him. Even their relatively minor position in the court is better than that. Does he really want to go back to their people?
Not to the desert, not to their people, but to the mountains, to where those with the courage to stand up to the king dwell.
She tells him he's mad. He may be a valiant warrior, and he may have a general's mind, but the king will crush him like he has so many others. Better to remain quiet and content and blind.
Better to fight, he says. Better to run the risk of crushing, to prevent anyone ever being tamped down again. And if he does die, that is better than hiding like a rat in a burrow.
And what will become of their child, now a newborn daughter in her cradle, safe and warm. Would he expose her to danger?
She will be perfectly safe with the dwarves, he says. And she will never see the injustice of the Empire. Her childhood would be better than theirs in the desert, or the one she could have here, in the king's court.
As the idealistic fervor that drew her to him intensifies, her attraction to it begins to fade, and she feels herself falling out of love with her husband. Torn between affection for her daughter and fear of her husband's beliefs, she feels lost.
When he tells her he has found a safe place for her, she agrees. He will take their baby girl with him. She remains behind. Her husband and daughter journey to their new life, leaving her behind to build her own, alone.
She will miss her child, and she will miss him too, despite it all, but she gives them up.
In the end, she lets them leave.