I’ve decided to call the bits and pieces, the scenes and false starts I’m posting here outtakes. Like pieces of a film, most of these will wind up on the cutting room floor.
Once upon a time, I fell in love with the idea of fairytales. Not the popular or Disney version, but the old, dark tales. The ones where the wolf at the door had real teeth.
This is a piece of a very dark, feminist YA fairytale called Awaken. I’ve cheated on three different adult novels to slowly add to this book. I’m not sure the world needs a feminist version of Sleeping Beauty, one where the wicked queen isn’t so wicked, but I need to write it. I will finish this book. There are two novella’s ahead of it, and then Miranda and Elspeth have my full attention.
I’m really on the fence about whether this scene will make it into the book or not. All I’m going to say for now is “maybe.” That’s why it’s going up here.
This is a ways into the book, so a tiny bit of setup to avoid confusion. Miranda is the first daughter born to the house of Shavano in 200 years, and destined to fall prey to a revenge curse. Her mother is a northern princess, with flaxen hair and ice blue eyes. Her father, a western prince in a kingdom by the sea, is dark haired, dark skinned, and has deep brown eyes. The king and queen love each other deeply, and love their daughter even more. Finding a wizard who can break the curse is the focus of their lives.
Miranda looks like her father, and especially like Elspeth, her many times great-grandmother. Mira has the same long tight curls, the same dark bronze skin. Elspeth was supposed to have died when the curse was cast 200 years before, but you all know how it goes with fairytales.
Personally? I love this scene. Still not sure it’s going in. I’ll decide when the book is finished.
The day before I turned seven, my brothers were born.
Owls filled the tree outside my window, silent and watchful, their feathers ruffled by a strong wind. Clouds raced ahead of a storm, hiding the stars. Meadow was curled up on my pillow as always, paws twitching as she dreamed. I tried to blame my restlessness on shifting shadows and the owls’ silence, but it was more than that. I was afraid.
Katt had put me to bed earlier and hurried away, thinking I’d stay there. I’d tried to fall asleep, but harried voices carried down the corridors from my mother’s private suite. Far too many of my mother’s women came and went, some at a run. Before long muffled cries and half heard scraps of conversation pulled me out of bed to investigate. I couldn’t have said why the need to see my mother was so strong, only that I had to be with her.
The midwives were too busy to notice when I crept into the room, or that I’d hidden in the small space between a wardrobe and the wall. I could see the birthing bed from my vantage point, the bright wash of blood on the sheets, and the worried glances between Katt and the midwives. My mother’s moans and the pain twisting her body terrified me, but I was more frightened of leaving her than of staying.
One of Mama’s cries made me screw my eyes tight shut. When I dared look again, Elspeth sat next to me. “Come back to your room, Mira. I’ll sit with you until you fall asleep. Katt and the others will take good care of your mother.”
“No, I have to stay.” I pulled my knees up under my skirts and hugged my legs, rocking back and forth. Women died in childbed every day, a reality not even a young princess was shielded from. Being Queen of Shavano offered my mother no more protection than a scullery maid enjoyed. “I can’t leave her, grandmother. I can’t.”
Elspeth cupped my chin and looked into my eyes, no doubt seeing the mix of terror and stubbornness churning in my chest. She didn’t try to talk me into leaving again. Instead she sat with me, holding my hand and petting my hair. My hiding space was much too small to hold us both, but somehow we fit easily.
“The baby’s almost here, Rissa.” Katt sponged Mama’s face with a wet cloth, and made her drink something from an old clay cup. The potions she brewed were supposed to ease birth pains, and help keep my mother strong, but even I knew they weren’t working. “You don’t have far to go, a few more pushes and then you can rest. He looks to have a fine head of hair on him, near as much as Mira did when she was born.”
Mama dropped back down on the sweat soaked pillows, panting and crying. “I can’t—I can’t push again. Something’s wrong, Katt…he…he should have come already. Tell me what’s wrong!”
The young midwife at the other end of the bed swore. She met Katt’s eyes, her face ashen. “There’s a second babe. I can see a foot next to the head.”
Elspeth sucked in a breath and went very still. She stood, putting a hand on the top of my head before stepping into the room. “Stay right here, Miranda. No one will see you if you don’t move, and you mustn’t distract Katt. I need to help your mother.”
The way Mama screamed, and the panic on Katt’s face as she tried to ease one baby out and push the other back, would have frozen me in place without the warning. Elspeth stood at my mother’s side, both hands on Mama’s swollen belly, and face screwed up in concentration. She was muttering to herself, and the little I could hear sounded like a song.
Mama stopped screaming, but there was so much blood I didn’t take any comfort in the quiet. Katt’s apron was soaked in crimson, her arms red to the elbows. I curled over my knees and covered my eyes, unable to watch.
My head came up when I heard my brother wail, his cry full of anger over finding himself cold and forced into the light. A midwife took him from Kat’s hands, covered in birth blood and legs kicking, his face flushed scarlet from crying.
A minute later the second babe flopped in Katt’s hands, limp and unmoving. She laid him in her lap to cut him free of the cord, and passed him to the midwife waiting at her shoulder. He didn’t cry, not even when the second midwife splashed his face with cold water, or rubbed his back and belly with a scrap of linen. I held my breath waiting for him to move, to make a sound.
He never did. The midwife looked at Katt and shook her head.
Katt wept as the midwife wrapped my smaller brother in a blanket and laid him in a cradle. But her voice was cheerful as she pressed on my mother’s belly to help stop the bleeding, and bring her labor to an end. “There’s only the afterbirth now, Rissa. Sleep and I’ll take care of things.”
Elspeth stood at Mama’s head now, brushing hair off her face and whispering in her ear. My mother’s eyes were closed tight, and my noisy brother suckled at her breast. His hair was fair like Mama’s, his skin rosy. I listened to the mewling noises he made, thinking it strange to have a brother that small, and trying to picture him grown to be as tall as our father.
But I couldn’t stop staring at the cradle in the corner, watching for movement that never came. Feeling my brother roll and tumble inside Mama as he grew had made him real to me; made me love him before I’d ever seen his face. How I knew I’d felt my smallest brother push against my hand I couldn’t say. I only knew I couldn’t let him be alone and forgotten.
Everyone was busy. Not even Elspeth noticed as I tiptoed from hiding.
I knelt next to the cradle, staring at the brother who looked like me. His skin was as dark as mine, his hair just as curly, and his fingers square at the ends like mine. I stroked his cheek with a fingertip, imagining what teaching him to walk would be like, or naming the flowers in the garden for him while red and black bumbles buzzed around our heads. He’d love Meadow as much as I did and he’d never pull her tail.
The owls would sing for him too, I was sure of it. He was my brother.
I leaned into the cradle and whispered. “Open your eyes. I have so much to show you.”
Elspeth knelt next to me, the swish of her skirts loud in the sudden silence. I’d grown used to her carrying a bubble of quiet with her, shutting out everyone but her and me, and holding long conversations with none around us any the wiser. This didn’t feel any different than a hundred times before.
But it was.
The questions I needed to ask were different too, but I trusted Elspeth to answer truthfully. That I already knew the answer didn’t make asking easier. “He’s not going to open his eyes is he?”
“No, he’s not.” Her voice was tired and full of grief, something I’d never heard from Elspeth before. “I’m sorry, Miranda. I tried, but I couldn’t save them both.”
My fingers curled around the cradle’s edge, holding so tight they ached. “He looks like me. Was he cursed too?”
“Oh stars, Mira. No, no, he’s not cursed.” Elspeth put an arm around my shoulders, pulling me tight against her side. “He was turned the wrong way and the cord wrapped around his neck. This was an accident.”
Just as women died in childbirth, babies were born that never drew their first breath. I knew that too, but I was seven and the curse loomed large over everything in my life.
Elspeth stood and held out her hand. “Your mother needs to sleep now and so do you. You can visit her tomorrow.”
“Will they give him a name?” I looked between her and the still form wrapped in blood-splattered blankets. Knowing if he’d have a name was suddenly the most important thing in the world. “He should have a name so people will remember him.”
“I don’t know. He was stillborn, and sons are usually named on their tenth day. But there’s no reason you can’t name him.” Tears glistened in her eyes, but Elspeth brushed stray curls off my face and smiled. “You and I will remember.”
Thinking of the right name, one that fit and did him honor, was harder than I thought. Elspeth waited patiently until I’d chosen.
“Lucas is a good name. Do you think he’d like that?” She nodded and I leaned into the cradle to kiss him goodbye. “We won’t forget you, Lucas.”
We went back to my rooms then, before I could see the midwife take Lucas away and give him to the seers.
Elspeth put me to bed and lay down next to me, telling stories of faraway lands and what it was like to grow up in a forest kingdom, far from the sound of the sea. With her voice in my ears and Meadow curled tight against my side, I was able to fall asleep.
The dreams I’d had fled as soon as Katt woke me. She told me I had a brother, healthy and strong, and that my mother would send for me soon. Katt never told me about Lucas. Neither did my mother when I saw her after the evening meal.
No doubt they saw little reason to upset me, and their own grief was still new and raw, but how I viewed the world changed again.
Seven was young to feel the ache of loss, certain the empty spot inside would never fill. But I understood something new about Grandmother Elspeth, and the distant look in her eyes when she told stories about Penelope.
Love doesn’t end because someone dies.