It took him a moment to realize she had said his name. He shook his head, apologizing for his absentmindedness. “Forgive me, I was lost in thought.” It was then that he noticed the contortion of her face. She was in pain...and the reason was suddenly evident.
“Now?” he asked. When she nodded, he shouted for his manservant. Francis appeared only moments later, and Guy gave the order. “Fetch the midwife.”
Francis nodded and quickly hurried off. As he went, Guy turned back to Cassia, watching her painful expression. He was familiar with these first signs of labor. But time and experience had not eased his fears about them. They had, if anything, only taught him that the worst was yet to come. More distressing was the thought that he would not be permitted to witness anything once the midwife arrived.
When Cassia’s discomfort eased, Guy grumbled a curse.
“Curse the Almighty. Why must he insist that all things be done with difficulty?”
“Do not curse the maker, my love. I will be in great need of his presence.”
He nodded. “You are right, of course.” He crossed himself, hoping he had not invited a curse upon them all. With a sigh, he embraced her again, pressing his lips to her cheek. She turned her head to look at him, and their lips met in a soft kiss.
“I wish it were true that the stork delivered children. ‘Twould make these events more tolerable.”
She smiled at him. “I am inclined to agree with you. But as you have said, we will soon meet our child, and then this suffering will be forgotten.”
Looking down at Cassia’s belly, he gently placed a palm there, and her hand came to cover his. It never ceased to amaze him, knowing that just beneath the place where his palm rested, there was a little life waiting to be born. The great mystery of its identity, of whether it was a boy or girl, was a great fascination to him, as he knew it was to Cassia. She had not made a bold declaration about her preference, but he secretly knew that she longed for another girl. And in truth, he had found himself hoping for the same. No one knew, of course, that he harbored such a wish. If Cassia suspected it, she never let on. But sitting with her now, knowing that she was silently hoping for a daughter, he wondered if he should confess his desire. Perhaps it would offer her encouragement in some way.
“Would you think me less of a man if I told you I hope for a daughter?”
Her smile was instant, and he found his confession rewarded with warm kisses. Such affection delighted him beyond measure. And yet, there was caution in his tone as he whispered to her.
“Such a secret must remain between us, of course. But...”
His hesitation, born of pride, did not escape her notice.
“Tell me,” she prodded him. “I am your wife, Guy. I love you. Never fear to tell me the secrets of your heart.”
At last he spoke. But his voice was soft and very low, still fearful that someone might hear what he would say and think ill of him.
“My heart swells at the thought of a daughter.”
Cassia’s eyes filled with joyful tears. “Does it really?”
He gave a little nod. “When Theodora is affectionate to me, the feeling is so profound. I cannot find words to describe it. When she speaks in that way of hers, so soft and sweet...”
A swell of emotion closed off his words. He cleared his throat to regain his voice, and a sense of embarrassment came over him. Turning his head away, he avoided meeting her eyes.
“I feel quite foolish speaking of such things.”
She made him turn his head back to her. She looked into his eyes, speaking softly. “I find it endearing.”
His heart and soul overflowed with love for her. It seemed that no matter what secret he confessed to her, she found only delight in sharing his confidence. And such confidences, he knew, would never be betrayed. As he leaned in, intent on having a sweet taste of her lips, a contraction stole her breath. Watching her as she struggled with the pain, he cursed again, growling through clenched teeth.
“Damn! Why must these things occur in the dark of night, or during a storm, or at any time that is most difficult?”
She clutched his arm until the pain subsided. And then she smiled at him. Taking his hand, she held it in hers, and together they prayed for a happy and healthy Gisborne to be born.
The midwife arrived several hours later. Louisa was a short, stout, white-haired woman, with rough features and a slight scent of ale about her...a testament to the difficulties of her profession. Upon her arrival in the master chamber, Guy unleashed a torrent of angry words at her, berating her for her lateness. But she only stared calmly at him. She stood with her hands on her hips, waiting for him to finish. And then, she responded in a cool, unaffected tone.
“If you are quite through, I should like to get down to business.”
He only managed a small kiss to Cassia’s lips before he found himself being pushed from the room. He had endured such dismissal twice before, but still he was angered by it.
“Devil take it, woman! Why must you be so great a bully?”
She responded by shoving him hard into the hallway, and then the door was slammed after him. He wanted to curse her for being so brusque in shutting him out...but a small voice made him stifle his words.
Turning his head to look, he saw Thea coming down the hall, rubbing her eye and clutching her rag doll. Fearing that she would hear something she shouldn’t if she came near the door, he moved quickly to pick her up.
“Why are you not in bed?” he asked in a hushed tone.
She leaned her head on his shoulder, mumbling in a sleepy tone. “The dark scared me.”
As he carried her back to her room, her nurse met them in the hallway. Claudia apologized for Thea’s wandering, but Guy had more to be concerned with than punishing a servant. Placing a kiss on Thea’s cheek, he handed her over to the nurse. His tone was calm, yet stern.
“You must be more vigilant,” he said. “The candles burned out. Be certain she does not again wake in darkness, do you hear?” As Claudia replied with a nod, he added in a whisper...
“Lady Cassia is having her child at this moment. Until it is safely born, keep close watch over Theodora and her brothers. I do not wish them to be present. Is that understood?”
Claudia curtseyed. As she departed, Guy turned back towards his chambers. Dark thoughts began to trouble him as he took to a chair near the door. They were familiar feelings of fear, the same as he had felt during the birth of his other children. And as before, he could do nothing but sit and wait for the torment to end.
The noise gradually increased as the hours passed. Again and again, Guy found himself pressing his ear to the door, hoping to determine some sense of her progress. But he could hear only muffled words and sounds of pain. It was intolerable. There had to be a way to be near, even if he was not allowed to be right there beside her. There was a room adjacent to the master chamber, and its door was close to the bed. Perhaps from there, he could hear more clearly the goings on inside the room.
Arriving at the door, he instantly heard the commotion more clearly, and without hesitation, he tried the handle. It was locked, of course, as he had known it would be. But still he cursed the impediment. Louisa knew him well, and was quite the taskmaster. She did not want him there...but she could not keep him away altogether. He pressed his ear against the door, and he was relieved to find that he could hear every word and sound...even if, in hearing them, they filled his heart with fear.
The head comes, madam. Push.
He listened to the sound of Cassia taking in a breath, and her groans as she made the last efforts to bring the babe forth. He found himself silently encouraging her. She gave a final, agonizing cry, and then he heard the midwife.
The babe is a girl, madam.
For a moment he was elated. Until he realized that there was no sound of a baby crying. Why was there no wailing? It made his heart grow cold...and then he heard Cassia’s voice raised in fear.
“What is it?” she cried. “What has happened?”
Guy grasped the door handle and shook it. He pounded the door with his fist, demanding entrance. From within, he caught enough words to understand what was wrong.
The baby was not breathing.
Delirious with fear, he threw all of his weight against the door. He could hear Cassia’s cries of distress and the noise of a commotion within, and it drove him mad. After several more rams of the door it gave way, causing him to crash and stumble into the room. Cassia was in hysterics, and the midwife’s helpers screamed at his sudden burst into the room. In a blur of action he saw the baby in the midwife’s arms, and the child was blue. The entire room was in chaos and fear, and a moment later the midwife brought her hand down, hard, on the baby’s back. There was a sputter, and a sucking in of breath...and then a furious wail. It grew louder and angrier with each taking in of breath. And as the baby cried, the occupants of the room collectively sighed and wept with relief. Guy turned to Cassia, who reached out for the baby. She wept uncontrollably, and Guy fought back his own emotions as he watched his squalling daughter being placed in her mother’s arms. The child’s color was changing before their eyes, the blue fading to purple and then to bright red. When one of the servants tried to take the baby, Cassia refused, at first, to let her go. But Louisa was insistent.
“Madam, we will return her quickly. But she must be bathed and swaddled. Come, let her be tended to.”
Reluctantly, Cassia handed her daughter over. Louisa gave the baby to a servant, and then she turned on Guy.
“What madness has seized you? How dare you come bursting forth in this way, inviting a curse on us all?”
“I do not give a damn,” he spat.
Louisa snorted, and attempted to push him. “Get out, you fool. Your wife and child are in no state to be seen.”
His answer was fierce and direct. “No.” He stood his ground, despite her determined looks at him. At last they reached a compromise. He would hide behind a screen while Cassia was bathed and changed into clean garments, and the room was tidied up. He hid himself, reluctantly, but he vowed he would not wait for long. The midwife was fortunate she had held him back thus far. He had been patient enough for one night, and he would have his way.