“It’s too early.” The hearth-mistress whispered to Dashana, lips pursed tight and the branches of her tree like vallaslin pulled tight from stress. “The child comes too soon, too harshly. There is a chance that neither mother nor babe will survive if a decision is not made between the two, Keeper.”
Dashana frowned, torn between decisions. The idea of being forced to choose between the life of one she had known for years and the life of a babe, a precious piece of the future of the elvhen, was difficult. It was the type of choice that even her many years as Keeper of Clan Lavellan could not make easier.
“My baby.” Samahl whimpered suddenly from beside them where she was nestled against the pelts and furs on the floor of the healing aravel. “Keeper, please, my baby, my daughter.”
Dashana stared down at the woman silently, sorrow already beginning to weave its way into her heart. Samahl was pale, her normally smooth dark hair in disarray and plastered to her sweat soaked face. Dashana could see death in her eyes, the knowledge of the sacrifice to come, and knew that it was already too late. The horrible sadness of knowing that she would never see her child grow or laugh or one day take its place among the elvhen was already plain upon Samahl’s face. But beyond that was a quiet sort of acceptance, a noble sort of pride, the strength that had gotten Samahl through her pregnancy after her bond-mate had been killed by shemlen months before.
“The babe.” Dashana ordered the hearth-mistress. “You must save the babe above all else. It will be a part of the future of the elvhen and we must do all that we can to protect it.” It was after all, not truly her choice to make. It was, and had always been, Samahl’s right to choose to sacrifice herself for her unborn child. As a woman, as the Keeper of the clan, Dashana could do naught but honor that decision.
The hearth-mistress nodded solemnly and turned back towards Samahl’s side. The woman murmured prayers to Sylaise as she worked, the sound echoing in the aravel as she entreated the goddess for aid in the child’s delivery.
Dashana knew it would not work. She loved the Creators as much as the next Keeper, kept their stories and their customs as best she could, prayed daily. Still she had seen enough births in her time to know that not even her healing magic would be able to aid Samahl in surviving. One could not heal a broken heart and a broken will with spells alone. Samahl, for all her strength, had lost the spark that pushed her to live when they had planted a tree atop her bond-mate’s grave. She had long suspected that Samahl would have already joined her beloved if it were not for the pregnancy. All Dashana would be able to do was ease the woman’s passing and give her the comfort of knowing that her child would be cared for if it survived.
Dashana knelt beside Samahl’s head, reached out, and grabbed the woman’s hand tightly in her own. “Your child will be loved lethallan. Your daughter will cared for and protected by the entire clan. We will tell stories of your love and your sacrifice, of the skill of your bow and the swiftness of your feet. We will sing songs of you so that as it grows your child will never doubt your love for them.”
“Ma serannas Keeper.” Samahl breathed the words out as tension visibly drained from her face. “Will you sing for me now? Give me my rites so I might step from this life into the Beyond?”
“You cannot go yet Samahl.” Dashana reminded her gently. “You must help us for as long as possible if you wish the babe to live.”
“She will live.” Samahl sounded so very certain suddenly. “My daughter, his daughter, will survive. She will have her father’s strength and none of her mother’s weakness.”
“You are not weak da’assan.” Dashana said firmly. “You cannot be weak. For her you must have strength enough for this one last task.
“Then sing for me, so that the worry of my passing will not haunt me, so that I might focus my remaining self on her.” Samahl panted, her features twisted in pain. “Give me this comfort Keeper, please.”
Dashana could not find it in herself to deny Samahl that bit of comfort even if a birth was no place for a funeral dirge to be sung. Carefully she laid her staff on the floor of the aravel beside her and wrapped her other hand around Samahl’s.
After a moment’s pause Dashana opened her mouth and sang.
She sang of the Golden Dawn and of the glorious peace their ancestors had once found in the quiet of the uthenera. She sang to Falon’Din, begged him to guide Samahl into the Beyond safely.
Dashana sang as Samahl screamed in agony, as the hearth-mistress coaxed her forward, pushed her to give more, to be stronger, to push harder. Dashana sang as the cries of the babe, a daughter just as Samahl had been so determined to believe, rang through the aravel alongside Samahl’s exhausted sobs.
Dashana sang as the aravel slowly grew quiet around her and the hand she clutched in her own grew limp and cold.
Dashana sang until her voice grew hoarse and her throat painful, for there was little else she could do.
One of the harshest truths a Keeper ever faced was the realization that they could lead their clan but they could not always save them.