Melkin was sitting with his head in his hand outside of the long hall, trying not to think much about what was happening inside. He was holding Brynach absentmindedly on his lap with his other arm, but barely noticed that the boy was crying and struggling. With all that was going on he had felt that at least he could free another pair of hands by keeping the boy with him tonight.
The year 486 could not be said to have been the best of years Melkin thought as he gripped the babe more firmly. Bad fortune had followed him at every turn, and now he felt that he was struggling in head-wind without getting anywhere.
Once more his body had been weakened from a serious injury. His skin was now covered in more scars than many senior knights could hope to survive in a lifetime. Melkin knew he had been lucky this year when the giant had struck him and shattered most of his ribs on his right side. For even if the wound had been grave Merlin had once more been present to heal the injury. Melkin was thankful, the problem was rather that he had lost so much strength in his body over the last two years that he now easily overestimated his own physical power.
He couldn’t help but to close his eyes in frustration thinking back on the skirmish in Caercolun this autumn. Melkin had made a bloody fool out of himself when he had tried to use a strategic trick he had learned from Amig a couple of years ago. The trick included closing a wicket when one part of the skirmish was drawing enemy riders into a trap. This should have been no problem, but the wicket had been too heavy and the mud slippery. Surprised, Melkin had pushed harder with his feet but instead of closing the gate Melkin’s foothold had given way. He had fallen headfirst into the mud, the riders had escaped the trap and all the other men couldn’t help but to snigger at Melkin’s misfortune.
Sighing, Melkin looked out into the dusky weather. Then, when he had returned to Hindon, Melkin had been met by an enormous workload. Lady Mairwen had been sickly back and forth, which had left Melkin with a doubled burden. Within all the things that he had actually managed to care for, the defenses of Hindon was not one of them. Neglected, they had rotted away before Melkin got around to think of them. Everything that he had so cunningly added, adjusted and planned last year had been lost within a month of rain and storm.
There was no storm now, except for the ruckus inside the manor. Melkin winced as another agonizing scream echoed from within the long hall. The new baby was on its way, a month early, and nothing seemed to be going right. Melkin had been telling himself the second child would be easier than the first, but it hadn’t been. His wife was still weak from the fever, Melkin had seen all the concerned looks as the day had prolonged. After seven hours of labour the midwife had told him that the situation didn’t look bright.
Melkin could hear Mairwen sobbing again between the screams and he stared out into the grey rain feeling nauseous. He hoped that Deian had reached Tisbury by now, he couldn’t bear the wait alone anymore.
Having been out hunting, Cadry had met squire Deian en route to Tisbury. The squire had explained the situation and Cadry had told Jasper to go home with the stag that they had shot earlier and a message for Brangwen telling her that Melkin needed Cadry. Taking a shortcut through the forest, Cadry and Deian arrived at Hindon manor from the southwestern path.
Upon seeing the manor house Cadry grew worried. Rot was setting in in the thatch upon the roof and one of the walls looked like it needed reinforcing, The second notable thing, was the screaming. He had heard Brangwen, scream, curse and cry when her time was upon her but the screaming and sobbing coming from the hall sounded much harsher and somehow a lot more foreboding. Over by the chapel he could see a familiar shape sitting slumped on a fallen tree. “Little brother, I am here”. Cadry waved towards the hunched up knight.
“What is going on?”
Melkin almost jumped at the greeting. When he saw Cadry his strained shoulders relaxed a little and he absentmindedly patted the whining Brynach’s back, but his eyes were wide and stressed.
“My wife,” he said his voice trembling slightly, “she might not make it.”
A sympathetic and pained look passed over Cadry’s visage as he walked up to the smaller man. He sat down next to Melkin and put his arm across his brother’s shoulders and tried to smile at his little nephew.
“I sent Jasper back to Tisbury to fetch old Llinos. She has brought forth many children in her days. If anyone can help your wife, it’s her. Her or the gods. Maybe you should go out and make a sacrifice to Modron, she might listen.”
Knowing that his brother probably wouldn’t heed his advice, Cadry briefly considered doing so on Melkin’s behalf but the Mother would only hear pleas from those closest to the mother or child and unfortunately Cadry was neither.
The shouts from inside were growing more urgent now along with the continuous screaming. Melkin nodded his head slowly, a greyish colour to his face. “I guess it could not hurt at this point,” he said and looked towards the chapel, “but Doged cannot know.”
He felt angry at the old priest. The man seemed to be nothing but inconvenienced by his wife, and Doged seemed to have started right out avoiding her the further her pregnancy went. The same last year when Mairwen’s time had come the old man had grown pale and barred himself into the church claiming to be praying. What was it really with his chaplain and women? Did they scare him? Melkin pushed the thought aside while loosening his knife from his belt. In the end prayer might be a good solution. He cut his hand and watched as the blood spilled upon the ground.
“Mother…” he said, “Holy Mary and Modron alike, hear my prayer and take my sacrifice”. It couldn’t hurt to ask both of them for help in this situation, Melkin reasoned. “Ill luck or a curse has been placed upon me and this household, so I beg you to listen. My wife and unborn child are standing on the edge to death. I ask you humbly to save them from the grave, and lift whatever evil that has entered this house”. Melkin looked from his bleeding wound towards Cardy.
“All we can do now is hope.” Cadry felt that it was a trite thing to say, but it was all he could muster at the moment. Unable to make himself stop hearing the screams, he felt like leaving again and return to the forest. He knew that Melkin couldn’t afford such a luxury though and therefore he forced himself to stay. Instead he reached out his tattooed hands towards little Brynach like if to ask for permission to hold his nephew.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.
“No,” Melkin answered and handed his firstborn to Cadry while listening to the panic inside. With a sickening feeling he realised that the screaming had stopped. Brynach also calmed while being hold by Cadry, and so silence fell over the Hindon hill.
One of the women came outside then and called for him. Standing, Melkin swayed a little. He had probably drunk a little too much. It felt like a day’s journey to reach the door. When Melkin finally arrived he gave the washerwoman a brief look before entering. Her pale face somehow managed to prepare him for the gruesome sight inside. What looked like buckets of blood covered the sheets and the floor. Mairwen was lying with eyes open staring into the ceiling, unmoving, mouth half open. Melkin stepped over to her and closed her eyes, as was his duty as husband. He gave her a kiss on the forehead as if to thank her for giving him Brynach. The taste was salty with sweat.
“My lord,” the words broke Melkin’s paralysis as he stood there looking at his dead wife. The woman who had spoken handed him a small package. “It’s a girl,” she said giving a smile through the tears.
Surprised Melkin looked at her and then at the small child. As if the babe knew that this was a place of sorrow she hadn’t cried, and Melkin hadn’t understood that she had been alive. The babe looked at Melkin with her big blue innocent eyes.
Walking in a few steps behind Melkin and holding his nephew, Cadry kept his eyes mostly fixed on the child in his arms and he tried rocking the boy to settle him back to sleep. He had calmed now and was looking extremely tired. Glancing over at the dead woman lying in the bed Cadry only felt more sadness settle on him. It was a year for death and loss evidently. Finally he looked over at the small bundle in Melkin’s arms and hoped that the child at least would live.
“Ceri,” Melkin decided looking at the little thing in his arms feeling such warmth towards the little girl as he had never felt before. “I will call you for the life that was given”.