Fractal Myth


Chapter 2

[Michelle Whitehead ©2006]

The green of the forest was starting to paint itself with the bright russets and golds of autumn when Lynet found herself pacing the path between the house and the forest. There was a look of mixed joy and apprehension on her face. She hadn't known what to think, at first, but now she was absolutely certain.

Arlys appeared from the shadowing trees, Brogan and Drefan by his side. The boys were enjoying their time with their father, and though they still spent more time larking and joking than they did working, he was pleased with their progress. The twins ran to hug their mother and after accepting their gifts of an empty birdnest and some wilted flowers, she shooed them inside to help their brothers set the table.

"Well lass? What's up? Has Eadwyn found his mystery girl and run away to get married?" Lynet shook her head, laughing. "No? I guess Irwin's fallen out of a tree and broken his neck then? No? Then it must be Galan, because nothing ever happens to Erian. Don't tell me. Let me guess. He's been reading while walking and fallen into the river again? Why that boy can't learn to look where he's going..."

Lynet was still shaking her head. "None of the above, huh? Then there's only one thing left it could be. We're going to have another little mouth to feed. Right?"

"How did you know?" Lynet gave him a friendly jab in the ribs. "I wanted it to be a surprise!"

"Honey, I've worried my way through ten pregnancies so far. if I didn't know the signs by now, I'd have to be blind."

"I know it's going to make things more difficult," Lynet worried, "but Erian's doing such a wonderful job with the gardens, and the other boys are helping as much as they can. Just this morning, Irwin snared such a lovely fat hare, and Eadwyn and Durwyn have been out fishing."

"My love, we will survive as we always have, whether we have seven or seventy children." Arlys smiled down at her. "Were you truly worried that I would be disappointed? So long as I have you beside me, I will never be disappointed about anything. I promise you that. Now, I bet you've got some names picked out already. Are you going to share with me, or is that a secret too?"

Lynet blushed. "I thought maybe Perry, if it's a boy, after my grandfather, but if it's a girl, I'd like to call her Cate." Arlys placed his huge hand on her belly.

"They are good names," he agreed, pulling her into his embrace. "Who knows, perhaps you've got twins hidden in there. You might get to use both names!"

"Don't even think it," Lynet shuddered. "After Brogan and Drefan, I don't think I could take it. It wasn't so bad when they were babies, but once they started to walk I just couldn't keep up with them. No. I'm hoping for a nice quiet little girl this time, and if I don't get her, well... we'll just have to keep trying, won't we?" She gave Arlys a cheeky smile.

"Get along with you, wench," he responded, slapping her lightly on the backside. "If you don't take me inside soon the boys will have eaten that roast hare all by themselves and I won't have the energy to move, let alone perform in bed. Come on, woman, I'm starving!"

"You big lump," she teased, wrapping her arms even more tightly around him. "You're always hungry, just like those bottomless pits you call sons. I guess I better feed you, then."

Arm in arm they sauntered down the path and entered the warm, brightly lit kitchen, just in time to prevent Drefan overturning the kettle in a spirited re-enactment of his encounter with a huge boar. "It was a fat piglet," Arlys laughed, shaking his head at Lynet's worried frown. "If Brogan hadn't been half way up a tree at the time, we'd be eating pork tomorrow. Those boys seem capable of achieving anything if they work together, but neither of them can do a thing by themselves."

"It was big, anyway," Drefan maintained, and Brogan backed him up as usual.

"Yup. At least twice as big as that hare." Lynet placed the dish on the table in front of Arlys, who carved it into portions and shared it out.

"A hare on the table's worth a pig in the bush," he quipped, adding "and this is one fine hare. Well done, Irwin." The twelve year old blushed and ducked his head. Without the twins around to distract him, he was becoming more sociable, but he was still very shy. His mother ruffled his hair and nodded to Arlys to change the subject.

"OK boys, listen up. We've got news for you." Without pausing in their quest to shovel food into their mouths, all seven boys indicated they were listening. "You're going to have to help your mother a lot more from now on, because she is going to have another baby. I don't want her to have to do any hard work or heavy lifting. That's what we raised you brawny louts for. Right?" "RIGHT." The chorus of agreement almost raised the roof.

"Are you going to have a girl this time, Mumma?" Durwyn asked. Eadwyn stepped in before she had a chance to answer. He was old enough to remember the birth and death of each of his sisters, and he knew the heartbreak that it had caused his parents. "No-one knows, Durwyn. It's just like when you were in Mumma's tummy. Everyone kept asking if she hoped you were a girl, but all she cared about was that you were healthy. Then you were born and we knew you were a boy, and we were happy to welcome another little brother. You see, even though we might think it would be fun to have a sister, we don't get to choose. It will be nine whole months until we know for certain. Until then, it will be a wonderful mystery. When you were born we couldn't have said 'take him away, we wanted a girl', now could we?"

"I don't know about that," Brogan teased, and received a quick clip over the ear from his father.

"Eadwyn's right," he said. "Your Mumma and I would really love a little girl to stay with us when you all go off to seek your fortunes, but when it comes to your family, you can't pick and choose. We will be happy whether the baby is a boy or a girl."

"But Dadda," Durwyn piped up, "what if it is a girl and she wants to go off and seek her fortune too?" Arlys roared with laughter. "Durwyn, me lad, I guess we'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it."

"Don't worry, Dadda," Durwyn said, leaning his head on his father's arm. "I'll stay and keep you company."

"That's a very generous offer, darling," Lynet said, as she stood up to clear the table, but she didn't get to finish her sentence. A cramp shot through her stomach and she doubled up gasping in pain.

All banter was instantly forgotten as the boys clustered anxiously around her. "It's ok," she reassured them. "I'm all right, really." Looking at her white face, Arlys wasn't so sure. He picked her up and placed her in a comfortable chair by the fire. "You stay there. The boys and I will tidy up tonight. You can tell us what to do." At first, Lynet seemed ready to resist, but as soon as she tried to move she realised he was right. There was one good thing about it, she thought to herself, as she watched the boys clumsily doing their best to help. The last time she had felt this sickly, she had been pregnant with her last daughter. She had never been sick with the boys.

Every morning from then on, Arlys was woken at dawn by the sound of his wife's retching. He would silently come to her side and smooth the hair back from her sweaty face. "Poor lass," he whispered. "The things I make you go through."

"It's hardly your fault," she replied, between bouts of gagging. "I seem to remember participating rather enthusiastically myself. It does take two, you know."

"Just make sure you look after yourself," he pleaded. "I want this child as much as you do, but I couldn't bear to lose you. Nothing would be worth that. You tell me if the boys aren't looking after you properly. I'll tan their hides for them."

"They've been wonderful," Lynet promised him. "They won't let me do anything. One or two of them are always at my side, ready to jump up if I need them."

It was true. After the scare they had received on the first night, seeing their normally indefatigable mother looking so weak and faint, they had all sworn to protect her with their lives, if necessary. With typical boyish melodrama they had met secretly at the well the next day, and each of the seven, even Durwyn, had pricked his thumb with a pin and squeezed a drop of blood into the clear water. It was their surreptitious sign now. If any of them considered one of his brothers wasn't pulling his weight in making their mother's life easier, all he had to do was hold up his thumb. It was a simple system, but it invariably worked. In fact, it worked so well that Lynet sometimes found herself inventing errands for them in the village, just to get a few moments of peace by herself.

By the fourth month of her pregnancy, the nausea had finally eased and Lynet found herself actually enjoying the experience. She was sewing in her flower garden, enjoying some late autumn sunshine, and watching Erian prepare the beds for their winter crop. The midwife had just given her a monthly check-up, stating that she was very pleased with Lynet's progress. "So long as you don't exert yourself, I think everything's going to be fine this time," she announced as she washed her hands. Lynet studied the woman's broad back. Meghan had been there for each of her pregnancies, starting with Eadwyn, when Lynet was barely older than he was now. She trusted the midwife's judgment, and knew that if anyone could have saved her daughters, strong, capable Meghan would have done it. She was friendly with both the soothsayer and the priest, and both praised her knowledge and skill when it came to delivering babies.

"Do you think..." Lynet let the sentence trail off without finishing her thought. Meghan turned to consider her. She didn't like the younger woman's pallor, but having brought her safely through ten pregnancies, she knew Lynet had hidden reserves of strength. She also knew that she would appreciate plain speaking.

"Yes. From the position you are carrying in, and from your other symptoms, I think it is likely that it's a girl. But don't start celebrating yet. If you want to keep her, you're going to have to be very careful not to do too much."

"I know," Lynet nodded, almost glowing with happiness. "Don't worry. I will." Now, as she basked in the sunlight, she felt a little flutter inside her. "Be patient, little Cate," she whispered. "We want you to be born strong and healthy." She closed her eyes, drifting into a pleasant daydream which transformed the tiny shirt she was stitching into a beautiful wedding dress, and the birdsong from the forest into the laughing voice of the daughter she longed for.

"You'd think I'd be used to this by now," Arlys murmured, when Lynet placed his hand on her belly and he clearly felt a little foot kicking back at him.

"It's a miracle we've made it this far," Lynet replied. She was just entering her eighth month of pregnancy and was more than ready for it to be over. Outside the window, a branch covered in tightly wrapped buds of blossom declared the imminent arrival of spring. "I've never had such an uncomfortable winter. I swear this baby is more determined to be born than any of our other children. If I don't go into labour soon, I think she's going to try and kick her way out."

"Don't be in too much of a hurry," Arlys cautioned. "Meghan won't be back in the village for another three weeks, and you're not supposed to be due for six or seven weeks at least. We don't want to rush things if we don't have to. Besides, I've just had to give the boys a lecture on keeping up the good work. If you go and have the baby early, I'll have nothing to threaten them with!" "They've been angels, all of them," Lynet smiled. "I don't know what I'd do without them."

Arlys grimaced. After the initial shock had worn off, the boys had gradually returned to their normal occupations. More than once he had returned home from the forest to find Lynet alone, struggling to lift a heavy pot onto the fire, or hang a basket of washing. "It's nothing," she would insist. "I told them to go and have some fun. You can't keep boys cooped up inside all the time. Besides, it gives me a chance to do a little cleaning without always tripping over their muddy boots." Arlys had immediately rounded up his errant children and told them in no uncertain terms what he would do to them if they allowed anything to happen to their mother. After their initial attempts to pass blame onto each other failed, they each admitted the justice of his reproach and promised to do better. Sooner or later, however, something would distract them and they would head off in different directions, each believing the others would stay and do the right thing.

Only the day before, Arlys had threatened Eadwyn with a beating if he didn't keep his brothers in line. Normally Arlys was very even-tempered, and punishment was only meted out for the most severe offences. At the moment, though, Arlys was incredibly worried about his wife. She had suffered so severely with this pregancy, there were times when he wished it had never happened. He was also terrified of what would happen next, of the disappointment Lynet would experience if the baby was a boy, and even worse, if it were a girl and it didn't survive. The chances of a healthy daughter were so slim and he was so scared of losing his wife. The stress was beginning to show in his temper. Except when he was around her. Then he, and all the boys, were on their best, most cheerful behaviour.

If at times their smiles were a little strained, Lynet didn't seem to notice. The baby growing inside her was sapping her energy and concentration. She was withdrawing from the life of the family and spending more and more time staring into the forest with unfocussed eyes, her lips moving but making no sound. At such times the boys tiptoed around, being careful not to disturb her. "She's praying," Eadwyn had explained to Durwyn, and the little boy had taken to kneeling next to her and keeping her company in her prayers. Feeling more in tune with their father's faith, Brogan and Drefan had been seen making offerings of their favourite toys to the spirits of childbirth, dropping them into a hollow in the old oak which towered above the family's graveyard. They had been Durwyn's age when the last little girl had been buried there, and the solemn sadness of that event had made a profound impression on them.

"Ah, well, lass," Arlys sighed, levering himself to his feet. "I can't laze around with you all day. Take care of yourself, and I will see you tonight." He kissed her on the tip of her nose. "Eadwyn's promised one of his famous stews, so you can be sure I won't be late." Lynet smiled and nodded, her thoughts already tunneling inward, preoccupied with the needs of the child in her womb. The baby was very small but extremely active and Lynet spent most of her time lying in bed or relaxing in the old rocking chair in the kitchen. She was almost always exhausted, although she believed she was doing a reasonable job of hiding her fatigue from her family.

It was hard not to feel guilty about the amount of extra work she was making for them, especially unpleasant tasks like emptying her perpetually full chamberpot, but what could she do? The baby pressed constantly on her bladder, and more than once she had failed to make it to the privy in time. She had been terribly embarrassed when Galan had emerged from the back of the barn, proudly offering her the old chamberpot her father-in-law had once used. "It's all right, Mumma," Durwyn had assured her, looking up with his wide, solemn eyes. "We won't tell anyone!" She thanked them for their love and care, tears running down her cheeks as she blessed God for sending her such fine sons and such a wonderful husband.

If only she had been satisfied with her family as it was. There were times when Lynet felt a profound dread about the future, when she sensed that something terrible was going to happen to those she loved most. As she lay awake at night, listening to Arlys snoring gently beside her, all sorts of strange fancies filled her head. Surely she was tempting fate, to long so desperately for a daughter, after three had already died in her arms? At such times she would thrust her hands under her pillow and grasp the talismans she kept there. One was a small wooden cross Eadwyn had carved for her several years ago, whittling it from a branch of the old oak near the churchyard.

Long before their time, the oak had been struck by lightning. It had resprouted and grown strong again, and it was this resurrection which had prompted Lynet to bury her daughters in its shade. The cross was worn smooth with years of handling and her family knew it as her most precious possession. They would have been surprised to find it now, nestling beside a small leather bag full of... To tell the truth, Lynet had no idea what the bag contained. She could smell lavender, and mint, and she thought she could feel several tiny pebbles through its thin skin. It was from the soothsayer, and although Lynet laughed at herself, she couldn't deny the relief she had felt a few days ago, when the wrinkled old woman had suddenly appeared at the edge of the forest. Moving nervously in the open spaces of the yard, she had thrust the bag into Lynet's hand and whispered, "it will help with the baby," before disappearing as quickly as she had come.

The village gossips said the old woman could travel in the shape of a bird, and accused her of all sorts of strange and disturbing practices, but Lynet felt certain she was harmless and well-meaning. When the house was crowded with the noise and activity of her sons, and she could hardly move without tripping over them, Lynet even envied the old woman's quiet existence, living alone in a warm, dry cave, deep in the sheltering forest. Watching the moon glittering through the pear tree's branches, Lynet felt she could almost hear the old woman crooning over her fire, and the sound filled her with a calm happiness which soon lulled her into a deep and dreamless sleep.

A few weeks later, the pear tree outside the window was in full blossom, but Lynet was in no condition to appreciate its perfection. The labour cramps had started the previous afternoon, and all night they had racked her body with spasms of pain. It was now noon. Meghan wiped her face, and refreshed the cloth in a basin of cool water before laying it gently on Lynet's forehead. As she had told Arlys, whom she could see pacing back and forth in the garden, there was nothing they could do except wait. Technically, the baby wasn't due for another three weeks, but her calm demeanour lent authority to her assertion that both mother and child would be well. Then she had banished them all from the house and firmly closed the door.

Alone with Lynet, Meghan wished she could believe her own words. Truth to tell, she was extremely worried. It was going to take all her skill to save her friend, not to mention a premature baby as well. Just then, Lynet opened her eyes and gave the midwife a wry smile. "Here we are again," she joked. "They always leave the hard work to us." Then she grimaced as another wave of contractions took control of her.

"I don't know," Meghan replied, keeping the same cheerful tone. "Those boys out there look like they're suffering, and as for Arlys... he looks like he'd swap places with you in a heartbeat. I've never seen a man look so anxious. You'd think this was his first! All the boys are giving him a wide berth. They're acting like he's about to explode!"

"He probably is," Lynet gasped. "He doesn't like feeling useless, and I know he's terribly worried. Let's try and get this over with quickly, so we can put him out of his misery."

"What? You're trying to do my job for me now?" Meghan asked, her fingers on Lynet's wrist, gently feeling her pulse. "You may have delivered ten children, but I've delivered several hundred, so just you lie back and let me do my job."

"You're a bully," Lynet replied, but her eyes clearly told Meghan of both her fear and her gratitude.

Over the next few hours the two women hardly had time to spare a thought for those waiting outside in the garden. Gripping Meghan's hand so tightly that both their fingers were white, Lynet tried to concentrate on keeping her breathing even, and pushing when Meghan told her to. "Just a little more," Meghan encouraged her, "come on now, you can do it." She was glad of her many years of experience, and the training it had given her in keeping her voice firm and steady. Privately, she was extremely concerned. With such a small baby, the birth should have been relatively easy.

"I can feel the head!" Lynet exclaimed, and Meghan quickly confirmed that it was so. Praying aloud, Lynet summoned the last of her energy and pushed with all her strength, willing herself to feel the familiar wet slippery movement of her baby being born.

Meghan caught the tiny bundle and cleared the mucus from its face and mouth. Lynet had fainted with the effort, and Meghan was dismayed by the amount of blood she had lost. Still, her pulse was strong and the midwife was confident she would survive. The baby was another matter. It took several minutes of frantic effort, massaging the tiny chest and breathing her own air into the fragile lungs before the little girl finally began to breathe on her own. The baby's cry was weak but it carried clearly into the garden where Arlys and the boys were waiting. Instantly they were on their feet, staring in anxious expectation at the window. Moments later, Meghan appeared, cradling a tiny bundle. "It's a girl," she announced, and laughed to see Brogan and Drefan turning somersaults of excitement. "It's not over yet," she warned them. "She's extremely weak." Then, nodding to Arlys to show she needed his help, she placed the baby in the cradle and turned her attention back to Lynet.

The Seven Ravens:

Chapter 1
~ Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

The Original Fairytale by The Brothers Grimm

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