فصل 31

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فصل 31

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“Don’t you dare tell me not to push.” I was red-faced and sweating, and all I wanted was to get these babies out of me as quickly as possible.

“Do. Not. Push,” Marthe repeated. She and Sarah had me walking around in an effort to ease the aching in my back and legs. The contractions were still around five minutes apart, but the pain was becoming excruciating, radiating from my spine around to my belly.

“I want to lie down.” After weeks of resisting bed rest, now I just wanted to crawl back into the bed, with its rubber-covered mattress and sterilized sheets. The irony was not lost on me, nor on anyone else in the room.

“You’re not lying down,” Sarah said.

“Oh, God. Here comes another one.” I stopped in my tracks and gripped their hands. The contraction lasted a long time. I had just straightened up and started breathing normally when another one hit. “I want Matthew!”

“I’m right here,” Matthew said, taking Marthe’s place. He nodded to Sarah. “That was fast.”

“The book said the contractions are supposed to get gradually closer together.” I sounded like a peevish schoolmarm.

“Babies don’t read books, honey,” Sarah said. “They have their own ideas about these things.”

“And when they’re of a mind to be born, babies make no bones about it,” Dr. Sharp said, entering the room with a smile. Dr. Garrett had been called away to another delivery at the last minute, so Dr. Sharp had taken charge of my medical team. She pressed the stethoscope against my belly, moved it, and pressed again. “You’re doing marvelously, Diana. So are the twins. No sign of distress. I’d recommend we try to deliver vaginally.”

“I want to lie down,” I said through gritted teeth as another band of steel shot out from my spine and threatened to cut me in two. “Where’s Marcus?”

“He’s just across the hall,” Matthew said. I dimly remembered ejecting Marcus from the room when the contractions intensified.

“If I need a cesarean, can Marcus be here in time?” I demanded.

“You called?” Marcus said, entering the room in scrubs. His genial grin and unruffled demeanor calmed me instantly. Now that he’d returned, I couldn’t remember why I’d kicked him out of the room.

“Who moved the damn bed?” I puffed my way through another contraction. The bed seemed to be in the same place, but this was clearly an illusion for it was taking forever for me to reach it.

“Matthew did,” Sarah said breezily.

“I did no such thing,” Matthew protested.

“In labor we blame absolutely everything on the husband. It keeps the mother from developing homicidal fantasies and reminds the men they aren’t the center of attention,” Sarah explained.

I laughed, thereby missing the rising wave of pain that accompanied the next fierce contraction.

“Fu— Sh— Godda—” I pressed my lips firmly together.

“You are not getting through tonight’s main event without swearing, Diana,” Marcus said.

“I don’t want a string of profanity to be the first words the babies hear.” Now I recalled the reason for Marcus’s expulsion: He’d suggested I was being too prim in the midst of my agony.

“Matthew can sing—and he’s loud. I’m sure he could drown you out.”

“God—blasted—it hurts,” I said, doubling over. “Move the fucking bed if you want to be helpful, but stop arguing with me, you asshole!”

My reply was met with shocked silence.

“Atta girl,” Marcus said. “I knew you had it in you. Let’s have a look.”

Matthew helped me onto the bed, which had been stripped of its priceless silk coverlet and most of its curtains. The two cradles stood in front of the fire, waiting for the twins. I stared at them while Marcus conducted his examination.

Thus far this had been the most physically intrusive four hours of my life. I’d had more things jabbed into me and more stuff taken out of me than I thought possible. It was oddly dehumanizing, considering that I was responsible for bringing new life into the world.

“Still a little while to go,” Marcus said, “but things are speeding up nicely.”

“Easy for you to say.” I would have hit him, but he was positioned between my thighs and the babies were in the way.

“This is your last chance for an epidural,” Marcus said. “If you say no, and we have to do a C section, we’ll have to knock you out completely.”

“There’s no need for you to be heroic, ma lionne,” Matthew said.

“I’m not being heroic,” I told him for the fourth or fifth time. “We have no idea what an epidural might do to the babies.” I stopped, my face scrunched in an attempt to block the pain.

“You have to keep breathing, honey,” Sarah pushed her way to my side. “You heard her, Matthew.

She isn’t taking the epidural, and there’s no point in arguing with her about it. Now, about the pain.

Laughter helps, Diana. So does focusing on something else.”

“Pleasure helps, too,” Marthe said, adjusting my feet on the mattress in such a way that my back immediately relaxed.

“Pleasure?” I said, confused. Marthe nodded. I looked at her in horror. “You can’t mean that.”

“She does,” Sarah said. “It can make a huge difference.”

“No. How can you even suggest such a thing?” I couldn’t think of a less erotically charged moment. Walking now seemed like a very good idea, and I swung my legs over the edge of the bed. That was as far as I got before another contraction seized me. When it was over, Matthew and I were alone.

“Don’t even think about it,” I said when he put his arms around me.

“I understand ‘no’ in two dozen languages.” His steadiness was annoying. “Don’t you want to yell at me or something?” I asked.

Matthew took a moment to consider. “Yes.”

“Oh.” I’d expected a song and dance about the sanctity of pregnant women and how he would put up with anything for me. I giggled.

“Lie on your left side and I’ll rub your back.” Matthew pulled me down next to him.

“That’s the only thing you’re going to rub,” I warned.

“So I understand,” he said with more aggravating control. “Lie down. Now.”

“That sounds more like you. I was beginning to think they’d given you the epidural by mistake.” I turned and fitted my body into his.

“Witch,” he said, nipping me on the shoulder.

It was a good thing I was lying down when the next contraction hit.

“We don’t want you to push, because there’s no telling how long this will take and the babies aren’t ready to be born yet. It’s been four hours and eighteen minutes since the contractions started. There could be another day of this ahead of you. You need to rest. That’s one reason I wanted you to have the nerve blocker.” Matthew used his thumbs to massage the small of my back.

“It’s only been four hours and eighteen minutes?” My voice was faint.

“Nineteen minutes now, but yes.” Matthew held me while my body was racked with another fierce contraction. When I was able to think straight, I groaned softly and pressed back into Matthew’s hand.

“Your thumb is in an absolutely divine spot.” I sighed with relief.

“And this spot?” Matthew’s thumb traveled lower and closer to my spine.

“Heaven,” I said, able to breathe through the next contraction a bit better.

“Your blood pressure is still normal, and the back rub seems to be helping. Let’s do it properly.”

Matthew called for Marcus to bring in the oddly shaped, leather-padded chair with the reading stand from his library and had him set it up by the window, a pillow resting on the support that was designed to hold a book. Matthew helped me sit astride it, facing the pillow. My belly swelled out and made contact with the back of the chair.

“What on earth is this chair really for?”

“Watching cockfights and playing all-night card games,” Matthew said. “You’ll find it’s much easier on your lower back if you can lean forward a bit and rest your head on the pillow.”

It was. Matthew began a thorough massage that started at my hips and moved up until he was loosening the muscles at the base of my skull. I had three more contractions while he was working, and though they were prolonged, Matthew’s cool hands and strong fingers seemed to soften some of the pain.

“How many pregnant women have you helped this way?” I asked, mildly curious about where he had acquired this skill. Matthew’s hands stilled.

“Only you.” His soothing motions continued.

I turned my head and found him looking at me, though his fingers never stopped moving.

“Ysabeau said I’m the only one to sleep in this bedroom.”

“Nobody I met seemed worthy of it. But I could envision you in this room—with me, of course— shortly after we met.”

“Why do you love me so much, Matthew?” I couldn’t see the attraction, especially not when I was rotund, facedown, and gasping with pain. His response was swift.

“To every question I have ever had, or ever will have, you are the answer.” He pulled my hair away from my neck and kissed me on the soft flesh beneath the ear. “Do you feel like getting up for a bit?”

A sudden, sharper pain that coursed through my lower extremities kept me from responding. I gasped instead.

“That sounds like ten centimeters’ dilation to me,” Matthew murmured. “Marcus?”

“Good news, Diana,” Marcus said cheerfully as he walked into the room. “You get to push now!”

Push I did. For what seemed like days.

I tried it the modern way first: lying down, with Matthew clasping my hand, a look of adoration on his face.

That didn’t work well.

“It’s not necessarily a sign of trouble,” Dr. Sharp told us, looking at Matthew and me from her vantage point between my thighs. “Twins can take longer to get moving during this stage of labor. Right, Marthe?”

“She needs a stool,” Marthe said with a frown.

“I brought mine,” Dr. Sharp said. “It’s in the hall.” She jerked her head in that direction.

And so the babies that were conceived in the sixteenth century opted to eschew modern medical convention and be born the old-fashioned way: on a simple wooden chair with a horseshoe-shaped seat.

Instead of having a half dozen strangers share the birth experience, I was surrounded by the ones I loved: Matthew behind me, holding me up physically and emotionally; Jane and Marthe at my feet, congratulating me on having babies so considerate as to present themselves to the world headfirst;

Marcus offering a gentle suggestion every now and then; Sarah at my side, telling me when to breathe and when to push; Ysabeau standing by the door, relaying messages to Phoebe, who waited in the hall and sent a constant stream of texts to Pickering Place, where Fernando, Jack, and Andrew were waiting for news.

It was excruciating.

It took forever.

When at 11:55 P.M. the first indignant cry was heard at long last, I started to weep and laugh. A fierce protective feeling took root where my child had been only moments before, filling me with purpose.

“Is it okay?” I asked, looking down.

“She is perfect,” Marthe said, beaming at me proudly.

“She?” Matthew sounded dazed.

“It is a girl. Phoebe, tell them Madame has given birth to a girl,” Ysabeau said with excitement. Jane held the tiny creature up. She was blue and wrinkled and smeared with gruesome-looking substances that I’d read about but was inadequately prepared to see on my own child. Her hair was jet black, and there was plenty of it.

“Why is she blue? What’s wrong with her? Is she dying?” I felt my anxiety climb.

“She’ll turn as red as a beet in no time,” Marcus said, looking down at his new sister. He held out a pair of scissors and a clamp to Matthew. “And there’s certainly nothing wrong with her lungs. I think you should do the honors.”

Matthew stood, motionless.

“If you faint, Matthew Clairmont, I will never let you forget it,” Sarah said testily. “Get your ass over there and cut the cord.”

“You do it, Sarah.” Matthew’s hands trembled on my shoulders.

“No. I want Matthew to do it,” I said. If he didn’t, he was going to regret it later.

My words got Matthew moving, and he was soon on his knees next to Dr. Sharp. In spite of his initial reluctance, once he was presented with a baby and the proper medical equipment, his movements were practiced and sure. After the cord was clamped and cut, Dr. Sharp quickly swaddled our daughter in a waiting blanket. Then she presented this bundle to Matthew.

He stood, dumbstruck, cradling the tiny body in his large hands. There was something miraculous in the juxtaposition of a father’s strength with his daughter’s vulnerability. She stopped crying for a moment, yawned, and resumed yelling at the cold indignity of her current situation.

“Hello, little stranger,” Matthew whispered. He looked at me in awe. “She’s beautiful.”

“Lord, just listen to her,” Marcus said. “A solid eight on the Apgar test, don’t you think, Jane?”

“I agree. Why don’t you weigh and measure her while we clean up a bit and get ready for the next one?”

Suddenly aware that my job was only half done, Matthew handed the baby into Marcus’s care. He then gave me a long look, a deep kiss, and a nod. “Ready, ma lionne?”

“As I’ll ever be,” I said, seized by another sharp pain.

Twenty minutes later, at 12:15 A.M., our son was born. He was larger than his sister, in both length and weight, but blessed with a similarly robust lung capacity. This, I was told, was a very good thing, though I did wonder if we would still feel that way in twelve hours. Unlike our firstborn, our son had reddish blond hair.

Matthew asked Sarah to cut the cord, since he was wholly absorbed in murmuring a stream of pleasant nonsense into my ear about how beautiful I was and how strong I’d been, all the while holding me upright.

It was after the second baby was born that I started to shake from head to foot.

“What’s. Wrong?” I asked through chattering teeth.

Matthew had me out of the birthing stool and onto the bed in a blink.

“Get the babies over here,” he ordered.

Marthe plopped one baby on me, and Sarah deposited the other. The babies’ limbs were all hitched up and their faces puce with irritation. As soon as I felt the weight of my son and daughter on my chest, the shaking stopped.

“That’s the one downside to a birthing stool when there are twins,” Dr. Sharp said, beaming.

“Mums can get a bit shaky from the sudden emptiness, and we don’t get a chance to let you bond with the first child before the second one needs your attention.”

Marthe pushed Matthew aside and wrapped both babies in blankets without ever seeming to disturb their position, a bit of vampire legerdemain that I was sure was beyond the capacity of most midwives, no matter how experienced. While Marthe tended to the babies, Sarah gently massaged my stomach until the afterbirth came free with a final, constrictive cramp.

Matthew held the babies for a few moments while Sarah gently cleaned me. A shower, she told me, could wait until I felt like getting up—which I was sure would be approximately never. She and Marthe removed the sheets and replaced them with new ones, all without my being required to stir. In no time I was propped up against the bed’s downy pillows, surrounded by fresh linen.

Matthew put the babies back into my arms. The room was empty.

“I don’t know how you women survive it,” he said, pressing his lips against my forehead.

“Being turned inside out?” I looked at one tiny face, then the other. “I don’t know either.” My voice dropped. “I wish Mom and Dad were here. Philippe, too.”

“If he were, Philippe would be shouting in the streets and waking the neighbors,” Matthew said.

“I want to name him Philip, after your father,” I said softly. At my words our son cracked one eye open. “Is that okay with you?”

“Only if we name our daughter Rebecca,” Matthew said, his hand cupping her dark head. She screwed up her face tighter.

“I’m not sure she approves,” I said, marveling that someone so tiny could be so opinionated.

“Rebecca will have plenty of other names to choose from if she continues to object,” Matthew said.

“Almost as many names as godparents, come to think of it.”

“We’re going to need a spreadsheet to figure that mess out,” I said, hitching Philip higher in my arms. “He is definitely the heavy one.”

“They’re both a very good size. And Philip is eighteen inches long.” Matthew looked at his son with pride.

“He’s going to be tall, like his father.” I settled more deeply into the pillows.

“And a redhead like his mother and grandmother,” Matthew said. He rounded the bed, gave the fire a poke, then lay next to me, propped up on one elbow.

“We’ve spent all this time searching for ancient secrets and long-lost books of magic, but they’re the true chemical wedding,” I said, watching while Matthew put his finger in Philip’s tiny hand. The baby gripped it with surprising strength.

“You’re right.” Matthew turned his son’s hand this way and that. “A little bit of you, a little bit of me. Part vampire, part witch.”

“And all ours,” I said firmly, sealing his mouth with a kiss.

“I have a daughter and a son,” Matthew told Baldwin. “Philip and Rebecca. Both are healthy and well.”

“And their mother?” Baldwin asked.

“Diana got through it beautifully.” Matthew’s hands shook whenever he thought of what she’d been through.

“Congratulations, Matthew.” Baldwin didn’t sound happy.

“What is it?” Matthew frowned.

“The Congregation already knows about the birth.”

“How?” Matthew demanded. Someone must be watching the house—either a vampire with very sharp eyes, or a witch with strong second sight.

“Who knows?” Baldwin said wearily. “They’re willing to hold in abeyance the charges against you and Diana in exchange for an opportunity to examine the babies.”

“Never.” Matthew’s anger caught light.

“The Congregation only wants to know what the twins are,” Baldwin said shortly.

“Mine. Philip and Rebecca are mine,” Matthew replied.

“No one seems to be disputing that—impossible though it supposedly is,” Baldwin said.

“This is Gerbert’s doing.” Every instinct told him that the vampire was a crucial link between Benjamin and the search for the Book of Life. He had been manipulating Congregation politics for years.

“Perhaps. Not every vampire in London is Hubbard’s creature,” Baldwin said. “Verin still intends to go to the Congregation on the sixth of December.”

“The babies’ birth doesn’t change anything,” Matthew said, though he knew that it did.

“Take care of my sister, Matthew,” Baldwin said quietly. Matthew thought he detected a note of real worry in his brother’s tone.

“Always,” Matthew replied.

The grandmothers were the babies’ first visitors. Sarah’s grin stretched from ear to ear, and Ysabeau’s face was shining with happiness. When we shared the babies’ first names, they both were touched at the thought that the legacy of the children’s absent grandparents would be carried into the future.

“Leave it to you two to have twins that aren’t even born on the same day,” Sarah said, swapping Rebecca for Philip, who had been staring at his grandmother with a fascinated frown. “See if you can get her to open her eyes, Ysabeau.”

Ysabeau blew gently on Rebecca’s face. Her eyes popped wide, and she began to scream, waving her mittened hands at her grandmother. “There. Now we can see you properly, my beauty.”

“They’re different signs of the zodiac, too,” Sarah said, swaying gently with Philip in her arms.

Unlike his sister, Philip was content to lie still and quietly observe his surroundings, his dark eyes wide.

“Who are?” I was feeling drowsy, and Sarah’s chatter was too complicated for me to follow.

“The babies. Rebecca is a Scorpio, and Philip is a Sagittarius. The serpent and the archer,” Sarah replied.

The de Clermonts and the Bishops. The tenth knot and the goddess. The arrow’s owl-feather fletches tickled my shoulder, and the firedrake’s tail tightened around my aching hips. A premonitory finger drew up my spine, leaving my nerves tingling.

Matthew frowned. “Something wrong, mon coeur?”

“No. Just a strange feeling.” The urge to protect that had taken root in the aftermath of the babies’ birth grew stronger. I didn’t want Rebecca and Philip tied to some larger weaving, the design of which could never be understood by someone as small and insignificant as their mother. They were my children—our children—and I would make sure that they were allowed to find their own path, not follow the one that destiny and fate handed them. “Hello, Father. Are you watching?”

Matthew stared at his computer screen, his phone tucked between his shoulder and his ear. This time Benjamin had called to deliver the message. He wanted to hear Matthew’s reactions to what he was seeing on the screen.

“I understand that congratulations are in order.” Benjamin’s voice was pinched with fatigue. The body of a dead witch lay on an operating table behind him, cut open in a vain attempt to save the child she’d been carrying. “A girl. A boy, too.”

“What do you want?” The question was expressed calmly, but Matthew was seething inside. Why could no one find his godforsaken son?

“Your wife and daughter, of course.” Benjamin’s eyes hardened. “Your witch is fertile. Why is that, Matthew?”

Matthew remained silent.

“I’ll find out what makes your witch so special.” Benjamin leaned forward and smiled. “You know I will. If you tell me what I want to know now, I won’t have to extract it from her later.”

“You will never touch her.” Matthew’s voice—and his control—broke. Upstairs a baby cried.

“Oh, but I will,” Benjamin promised softly. “Over and over again, until Diana Bishop gives me what I want.”

I couldn’t have slept for more than thirty or forty minutes before Rebecca’s furious cries woke me.

When my bleary eyes focused, I saw that Matthew was walking her in front of the fireplace, murmuring endearments and words of comfort.

“I know. The world can be a harsh place, little one. It will be easier to bear in time. Can you hear the logs crackle? See the lights play on the wall? That’s fire, Rebecca. You may have it in your veins, like your mother. Shh. It’s just a shadow. Nothing but a shadow.” Matthew cuddled the baby closer, crooning a French lullaby.

Chut! Plus de bruit, C’est la ronde de nuit, En diligence, faisons silence.

Marchons sans bruit, C’est la ronde de nuit.

Matthew de Clermont was in love. I smiled at his adoring expression.

“Dr. Sharp said they’d be hungry,” I told him from the bed, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. My lip caught in my teeth. She had also explained that premature babies could be difficult to feed because the muscles they needed in order to suckle hadn’t developed sufficiently.

“Shall I get Marthe?” Matthew asked above Rebecca’s insistent cries. He knew that I was nervous about breast-feeding.

“Let’s try it on our own,” I said. Matthew positioned a pillow in my lap and handed me Rebecca.

Then he woke Philip, who was sleeping soundly. Both Sarah and Marthe had drummed into me the importance of nursing both children at the same time, or else I would no sooner feed one than the other would be hungry.

“Philip is going to be the troublemaker,” Matthew said contentedly, lifting him from the cradle.

Philip frowned at his father, his huge eyes blinking.

“How can you tell?” I shifted Rebecca slightly to make room for Philip.

“He’s too quiet,” Matthew said with a grin.

It took several tries before Philip latched on. Rebecca, however, was impossible.

“She won’t stop crying long enough to suck,” I said in frustration.

Matthew put his finger in her mouth, and she obediently closed it around the tip. “Let’s switch them. Maybe the scent of the colostrum—and her brother—will convince Rebecca to give it a try.”

We made the necessary adjustments. Philip screamed like a banshee when Matthew moved him, and he hiccupped and huffed a bit on the other breast just to make sure we understood that such interruptions would not be tolerated in the future. There were a few snuffling moments of indecision while Rebecca rooted around to see what the fuss was about before she cautiously took my breast. After her first suck, her eyes popped wide.

“Ah. Now she understands. Didn’t I tell you, little one?” Matthew murmured. “Maman is the answer for everything.” Sol in Sagittarius

Sagittarius governs faith, religion, writings, bookes, and the interpretation of dreames.

Those born under the signe of the archer shall work great wonders and receive much honour and joye.

While Sagittarius rules the heavens, consult with lawyers about thy business.

It is a good season for making oaths and striking bargains.

—Anonymous English Commonplace Book, c. 1590, Gonçalves Manuscript 4890, f. 14r

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