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“Of course!” Leyna started to leave, but paused in the doorway and held a finger to her mouth. “Don’t tell her!” she whispered, then ran from the room.
Perchta snarled. “Tell me what?”
Lorraine tittered. “Nothing at all. I think I just heard carriage wheels outside. That must be the midwife.”
It was the midwife, who bustled into the room a moment later with her hair pulled tightly back and a no-nonsense expression on her face. Her appearance brought a sense of calm to the room, and though Lorraine was one of the most capable women Serilda had ever known, she could tell that the innkeeper was relieved to pass some responsibility to a professional.
Serilda was relieved, too. She might loathe Perchta with all her soul, but the child … She wanted so much for the child to be born healthy and strong.
She lingered in the corner, chewing on her envy that Perchta was experiencing something so precious, somiraculous, hating that this moment had441been stolen from her. And yet, when the screams started in earnest, she found herself feeling a little less disappointed.
Lorraine and the midwife bustled around. Leyna came and went, hurrying to bring whatever was needed. Perchta gripped the bedsheets and loudly cursedthis fragile, pathetic, mortal bodyand ignored the baffled looks exchanged around her. Serilda watched, holding her breath, feeling disconnected from it all. This moment that should have been everything to her.
Then—suddenly—there was a new scream.
Shrill and bewildered, a cry that tore at Serilda’s insides.
She stepped forward, trying to peer around the midwife who stood at the foot of the bed.
“Here we are,” said the woman, cutting the umbilical cord and taking the newborn into her arms. “A baby girl.”
Tears sprang into Serilda’s eyes as she took her in, all wrinkled and pink, with a pinched, furious face and a wisp of red-gold hair. She tried to reach for her daughter, but her arms met only air. She stayed close, tears on her cheeks as Lorraine took the baby and washed her.
“Hello,” Serilda cooed, desperately wishing the child could hear her voice and know it was her mother speaking to her. Her mother, overflowing with a love so powerful it nearly drove her to her knees. Her mother, who would do anything for her,anything.
Lorraine swaddled the child in a clean blanket while Serilda hovered close, her arms aching to hold the baby. She wasn’t sure when she had begun to cry in earnest, but she could not bite back the sob when Lorraine settled the child into Perchta’s arms.
“Talk to her,” encouraged the midwife. “She’ll want to hear her mother’s voice.”
Perchta leaned up against the pillows, flushed skin and sweat-dampened hair, and peered into the child’s face. The baby’s crying had stopped, replaced with curious squirming. Then she scrunched up her face and slowly opened her eyes.
Serilda gasped.442
The baby had her eyes. Wyrdith’s eyes. Black irises overlaid with two perfect golden wheels.
“Wyrdith’s godchild,” muttered Perchta, tracing a finger in circles around the baby’s cheeks. “How sweet.”
“What will you name her?” asked the midwife.
Serilda bit her lip, considering. She had been too afraid to try to choose a name for her child, worried that to do so too early would bring bad luck. Superstitious nonsense, the Erlking would have said.
As for Perchta, she just smirked. “Names have too much power to be given easily.”
Leyna burst back into the room. “I heard … is it …?” Her gaze landed on the bundle in Perchta’s arms.
“A baby girl,” said Lorraine. “Healthy as can be.” She settled a hand on Perchta’s shoulder. “We’ll have a room prepared with fresh linens. You can stay and rest as long as you need.”
Perchta scoffed and pulled away from the touch. “I do not need rest, not on the Endless Moon. What I need is a wet nurse.”
The midwife let out a bewildered laugh. “A wet nurse! What are you, the queen?”
Perchta sent her a murderous look that cut her laughter short.
“There aren’t any wet nurses in Adalheid,” she said, more sober now. “You will have to feed the child yourself. You … are her mother.”
Perchta sighed. “Fine. Then I will require a governess, at least for the night.” She glanced at Leyna. “You will do. Here, come take her.”
“Wh-what? Me?” said Leyna, accepting the baby into her arms.