A summer storm had unexpectedly descended on Paris, the wind causing great drops of rain to fall against the windows, making them rattle loudly. This only added to the chaos at the Royal Palace of France. Queen Madeline had gone into labor quite unexpectedly, and the commissioned doctors were nowhere to be found. King Charles was in a nervous rage and had ordered almost all of his guard to leave in search of them. He paced for what felt like hours, frequently pausing at a window to glare out at the storm.
An anguished cry from the Royal Chamber brought him running. He burst into the room, rushing to his wife’s bedside. Her young, beautiful face was pale and sweaty, filled with agonized pain.
“The doctors…” she gasped.
“No sign of them yet, my love,” he said, kissing her forehead.
She clasped his hands tightly, painfully. “The baby…. there is something wrong…”
“Shsh, please, everything will be fine,” King Charles said, almost choking on the lie. He looked towards the foot of the bed where the midwives huddled. Useless, the lot of them, he thought darkly.
More time passed. The King fretted and paced. The Queen writhed and moaned. And still, they waited.
“I’ll have their heads for this!” the King growled.
Queen Madeline suddenly let out a terrible scream. There came a sound of gushing liquid, and then silence. One of the midwives fainted. The others gasped in fright and fled the room.
The King stood frozen in his spot, startled and fearing the worst.
“Charles…. the baby….” Madeline cried.
Charles squeezed her hand and stepped to the foot of the bed. He tried to keep the horror from his face at what he saw.
Laying in a spreading pool of blood and afterbirth lay a monstrous creature, barely recognizable as human. It’s flesh was snow white and twisted like a wrung out cloth, with blue veins bulging out like worms. And it’s face- it’s terrible face! No nose, no ears, no hair, just a pair of mismatched eyes blinking up at him. He could see clearly that the thing, for he could not think of it as human, was a male of some kind.
I am being punished, he thought bitterly. I am being punished by God for choosing a wife so many years my junior, for destroying her innocence. I have been cursed with the devil’s child!
“Charles, is the baby alive?” he heard Madeline ask weakly. “Bring it to me.”
For one terrible moment the King entertained the thought of smothering the creature and whisking it away, telling Madeline it was stillborn.
And bring upon myself further condemnation? No!
Knowing just enough about birth to sever the umbilical, Charles did so and grabbed a nearby cloth. With trembling hands he wrapped the thing in it and slowly brought it towards her.
“Madeline… I am afraid that… it is not…. normal.”
“What do you mean?” Her pale face was a mask of confusion. She strained to see what was in his hands.
“It has an illness of some kind,” Charles said, thinking quickly. “I daresay it will not live long.”
Madeline held out her arms. Charles hesitated, then placed the bundle in her arms. He watched her face intently as she parted the cloth. To his surprise she did not cry out in despair or shock, only shed tears, tears of joy, he thought.
“He has your eyes,” Madeline said softly.
Charles stiffened. “He does?”
“Your left eye a greyish blue, your right an emerald green,” she said. “His are exactly the same." She pressed the baby gently to her chest and closed her eyes.
“Madeline…. Madeline?” Charles asked, his panic rising.
She reached out a hand to him and he grasped it tightly. “Call him Erik,” she said wearily. “And always tell him that his mother loved him.”
She sank into the bed and breathed no more, her hand becoming limp in Charles’ grip. With a cry of despair he fell upon her, trying desperately to rouse her. “Madeline! Madeline! Please, please don’t leave me!”
And for the very first time, the baby cried.