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The Next Round

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Monza was being betrayed. The pain crushed through her abdomen, slicing through her gut and sending barbs of fire down her legs. She gasped, and screamed, words dissolving into formless obscenities, primal monkey screeching from the time before humans actually were humans. She panted, mouth open and drooling, not caring, not really aware of what was happening outside of the boundaries of body, pain making solipsism not so much a philosophical viewpoint as an unarguable truth. Monza howled. She had been in hundreds of battles, been slashed with swords, broken many bones - been thrown down the side of a cliff, but nothing, nothing had ever felt like this. Why had this happened? How could she have let it happen? Because she had let it happen, had let it creep up on her over weeks and months, had known and thought it would be fine. The great Monzcarro Murcatto, the Butcher of Talins – of course she could deal with it, fit everything in between running a city and planning some small battles. How wrong, how very, wretchedly wrong she had been. The pain sliced through her and she screamed again, body curling in synchrony with her agony. Fucking betrayed! Normally, any fool who thought they could betray Murcatto – and there might be one, someone who’d been living under a rock for the past decade maybe, and hadn’t been keeping up with current fucking events - would have received a swift and uncompromising reply, punctuated with sharp steel and brute force, but in this case there was a slight problem. Monza sobbed and shrieked and clawed at the hand gently wiping her sweaty brow. She was being betrayed by her own body.

The midwife was a little concerned. Everything had gone well with the Grand Duchess’s pregnancy, at least, for a slightly older first time mother. She was slightly unsure as to how old the Grand Duchess actually was, but the midwife was fairly certain that it was a question that she should not be asking. At least, while she still valued her health, freedom and all her fingers attached in the appropriate places. She had heard the stories. However, the stories, all the tales of the ice cold Snake, not really a woman, hardly a human by all accounts, they loomed – just a little less, now. They seemed a little more mystical, a little less true, now that she was more familiar with the Duchess. The Duchess had not engaged the midwife, but the Council had insisted, and now she was about as intimate as you could be with your employer and ruler. And now, well…..
“Just relax, take a deep breath and exhale slowly,” she encouraged the Duchess.
“If you say one more thing about being relaxed, or calm, I shall fucking impale you on spike in the middle of the fucking palace courtyard for everyone to see the fate of you …bastarding mother fucker!”
“Breathe, your Grace! It’s just a contraction!”
Monza’s shriek trailed off in a whimper. “Professional killers did a job of work on me and then left me for dead and it didn’t feel like this,” she panted, grabbing at the midwife’s white apron. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, your Grace, nothing!” said the midwife. “Everything is proceeding quite normally.”
“Then why…” Monza’s snarl disappeared into an inarticulate burble. The midwife laid her hands on Monza’s rock hard abdomen and palpated firmly.
“Your Grace, I think it’s nearly time. I need you to bear down with the next contraction. Ready, ready – now push, your Grace!”
Let in never be said Monzcarro Murcatto couldn’t take orders when necessary. Monza ground her teeth and pushed.
The world turned inside out, and there was a moderate amount of blood.

Monza drowsed. She felt… she felt bloody exhausted, if the truth be told. Bone tired and weary, muscles burning with that dull ache of abuse and overuse. Her back creaked as she shifted her weight and there was stab, acid bright, between her legs that shafted up through her belly. That woke her properly, and she looked about. She was in her own bedchamber. The curtains of the tall windows flapped gently in a cheerful breeze, smelling of spring and promises that no one had broken. There was a middle aged woman, dressed in crisp white, leaning over something to the side of Monza’s own grand bed. “Who are you?” Monza started to demand, before her brain caught up with her mouth. “Oh. It’s you,” she stated, and the midwife bobbed a crisp curtsy. There was a brief pause. Something moved in the crib the midwife had been standing over. “Is it over?” Monza asked.
“Your pregnancy and birth is over, your Grace,” the midwife replied, a funny quirk to her lips. “Motherhood, however, that’s just beginning. Would you like to hold your baby?”
Monza wasn’t sure. It was like the last battle of a campaign, the same feeling. You could have won or lost, either way it was the same, because it was over. No, Monza, thought suddenly. It was like being given Talins, or taking it, or whatever. Not part of the plan, the plan was over, and all of a sudden you were a Grand Duchess, or a mother, it would seem, without having planned to become so. Monza’s reverie as interrupted by the midwife placing a small, linen wrapped bundle in her arms. “What am I meant to do with this?” she asked, slightly aghast.
“Just hold her, your Grace,” the midwife offered. “Here, in the crook of your elbow, so,” Monza felt her arms being gently re-positioned.
“She?” Monza asked.
“She. Your little daughter. She’s very healthy, your Grace. Very strong.”
Damn straight, Monza thought. She’ll be tough, if she lasted nine months inside me.
And another thought drifted through Monza’s mind, a tiny thought but one with nails, with little tiny nails that clung on and wouldn’t let go: My daughter.
Monza had waded through her life soaked in blood, her own, her enemies and her friends, and gained nothing, well apart from the odd city state and those chests of gold. Maybe this time her blood had bought something different. Monza rocked her baby gently. The baby’s little pink face creased, and she opened her eyes to look at Monza. Monza smiled tentatively, and the baby let out a terrible wail.

Maybe it wasn’t anything different, the innocent screaming at a smile on the lips of Monzcarro Murcatto, the Butcher of Talins. But, Monza considered, handing the baby back to the midwife, at least it meant her daughter had some damn common sense.