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Saturday, 14 February 2015

Valentine's Day Special: Excerpt from The Book of Death

The Birth

This is an excerpt from my current WiP, The Book of Death. It is unedited, and comes from one of the first chapters. I haven't got to any "romantic" bits yet - so you'll have to make do with newborns. 


The crowd were now completely hushed. The silence was eerie - eerie in its suddenness, the way it passed like an electric current from person to person, group to group. Their king was reclusive, not given to many public appearances of this type. He was so pale it seemed he was not given to many private outdoor appearances, either. In fact, he had lived most of his pre-royal existence outdoors, hardy and tough despite his frame and well used to making the best of things in all weathers and without shelter. Seven hundred years could change a man. So could draining a powerful Dark Faerie of his life-force and glamour, and artificially extending his youth and life through drinking the blood of willing mortal donors. The heart that pounded resolutely in his chest was fit and strong, and the hazel eyes that looked out over the crowd below were sharp, shrewd and flecked with purple.

"We are delighted to announce," he said in low tones which nevertheless carried all around the city, "Her Majesty, Queen Johanna Vassilissa, has given birth to our firstborn -" There was an eruption of cheers, and the king raised his voice, drowning them out with little effort, "- twins, a boy and a girl, safely and without complications. Prince Cenred Kristof was born two minutes before his sister, the Princess Adosinda Elsa. We thank you, our people, for your love and your faith, and take all of your good wishes and prayers to our hearts at this glad time. A national holiday is declared - we wish for you all to celebrate with us, and share in our joy." He dipped his head, the chiseled, serious features ever the fantasy of many of his more romantically-minded subjects, and the crowd erupted.

There had been no heir for seven hundred years. Their great-grandparents had told them stories of when the royal couple first began their shamanic experimentations, their grandparents had wondered if it was possible. Some of them had been in this very square twenty years ago, when the announcement had been made that a prince had been delivered stillborn. Those that had been there could recall even now the deathly hush that had descended after the chamberlain's quavering words, and the way the wailing had began. Quietly, with gasps, broken and sad - and the ones that wept, the ones that sobbed, the ones that screamed. The candles and lanterns that had been lit, and stayed lit, and the crowd that camped out in the square for a whole week in resolute steadfastness despite the miserable weather, remaining to grieve with their king and queen.

Now, it had worked. The historic moment had arrived.  

Those that remembered sitting down on the cold wet stones, staring up at the balcony with tears and raindrops running down their cheeks, were so happy they were weeping out loud, their passionate sobs of joy merging with the frenzied roars of excitement and history-making hysteria until the sounds were indistinguishable and the ensuing din could be heard for miles around.

They were still cheering ten minutes later when he finally made it back through the curtains and into the warmth of the plush carpets and central heating system of the palace, running on its immense furnace deep in the belly of the basements. King Vin had invented central heating himself, based on descriptions of the ancient underfloor heating systems of his mother-in-law's native country, and had also designed Acca's sewage system. He had established the Royal Academy of Inventors and Engineers, and worked closely with them on various projects. He was eternally thankful that the royal treasury had also invested in the Royal College of Shamans, without whom the twins would not have been conceived, and the Royal College of Midwifery, without whom the twins would not have been so safely delivered.

            The Black Queen was in bed with the twins, the midwives still present and standing by, when he came into the room. The grey light of the mild December poured through the bay window, washing over the thick pile blue carpet, where soft-soled midwives were handling bloody sheets and wrapping up the afterbirth for burning. Jola looked up at him with a bright smile, still bathed in a sheen of sweat and looking exhausted. Her long black hair was spangled with white, which glowed brilliantly as if a constellation had been sprinkled through the raven curls, which were not true black but shot through with the same glimmering purple that shimmered in the clouds.

"Is it too late to change the names?" she said, as soon as he pushed open the door. 

Vin nodded, walking gingerly across the room to the bed as if afraid the carpet would scream. "We agreed." He took a seat by the pillows and kissed the top of her head. "Naming them after our parents does not mean they will turn out like our parents." They both knew he meant her parents, but Jola appreciated the inclusivity of 'our'. "Have you taken blood yet?" 

"Yes." 

He checked; the glass at the bedside was stained, but empty save for a few clots. Jola had not been taking blood throughout her pregnancy - the shamans had advised against it - but now it would help her to heal faster following the birth. Jola and Vin had aged a little in the centuries that had passed since their marriage. Jola had been sixteen when they met: now she was thirty. When she stopped taking blood, she aged naturally, her body clock ticking forwards again at a steady, normal pace, and when she started her daily rations again the aging process halted. Vin had allowed himself to age a little more, and counted his natural years as thirty-two, but they had both been around for far more years than they cared to remember. 

He looked down at the twins, nestled in their mother's arms, wrinkled red faces and closed squinting eyes giving them the confused expression of newborns unused to the world beyond the womb, and a great surge of love welled up within him. They were so real, so present, no longer a bump separated from his touch by layers of skin, no longer hypotheticals and what-ifs and maybes and the subject of aching daydreams. They were finally here. 

"Hello, Addie," he whispered, as his daughter's tiny mouth moved. Her brother flexed his little fingers into a star, whole hand completely dwarfed by his father's calloused palm. "Hello, Red." 

He had almost given up with the treatments. He had even begun to resent Jola for forcing them both on down that path of private humiliation and endless disappointment, but seeing her now, the culmination of all their struggles peacefully napping in her arms, and her exhausted joy shining through the blotches and sweat, made all their dashed hopes seem more than worthwhile. Vin swallowed, so full of emotion it physically hurt. 

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