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The Last Yule in Halabor
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Day 11 - The Newborn

For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.

Rating: General, for this part.

Author’s note: The mentioned practices going with childbirth were used in the Middle Ages in almost the same way.


Day Eleven – The Newborn

Mistress Dorlas, the midwife of Halabor, pulled the heavy, hooded woollen cloak tighter around herself as she hurried down the Street of the Jewellers, towards the warehouse clerk Jutus’ house. She had to be careful, as the street was covered with ice, and it would do her – or her patient – no good if she slipped and broke a bone. Still, she made the best speed possible under the circumstances, as poor Cithruadh had been overdue for quite some time with her third child, and based on earlier signs, she was expecting complications with the birth.

Rarely did it happen that Mistress Dorlas would be called to someone from her late uncle’s family. That was the fault of her aunt, Sulicena, who could never forgave Old Craban that he had moved into his late brother’s abandoned cottage. Not that she would have need of the cottage for herself or for her children. They all lived in much bigger and better houses. But Sulicena was a greedy woman who would not grant the old man such a small favour, and both her children were pretty much the same.

Thus contact between Mistress Dorlas and her uncle’s family were sparse at best. Jutus, however, Cithruadh husband, was a calm and sober man, who cared little for petty bickering within the family. All he cared for was the well-being o his wife and his children, and so he had asked for Dorlas’ help by the birth of their first child already, then by the second one, and now by the third one as well.

Dorlas would never refuse her help from anyone, and truth be told, she welcomed the chance to have friendlier contact with the younger generation. Still, she was glad that Cithruadh and her family lived in town and not with her parents. That way, Dorlas did not have to enter her cousin’s house and face the fruitless hostility of her aunt.

When she entered Jutus’ house, the laying-in chamber had already been prepared for the labour. As men were generally excluded from there, at least until the birth of the child, Cithruadh was assisted by her sister Duatha, her sister-in-law Manissa, and her cousin’s wife, Bodhmall, all of whom were roughly of her age.

Following local custom, the large room next to the kitchen served as the laying-in chamber, so that the helpers would have enough space to move around. Usually, this room served as the solar – the living room of the family – as the cupboard exhibiting their finest possessions revealed. As Justus was not a wealthy man, the displayed items were limited to a few silver cups, some enamelware and a dozen or so finely bound books. Dishes of sugared almonds and candied fruits were already set out for the visitors who would no doubt come to congratulate once the child had been born.

The helpers, however, were not interested in sweet treats at the moment. The labour had apparently set on already; so all three women were gathered around the bed worriedly. Cithruadh was in a poor shape, and the labour seemed a difficult one.

“How long has she been at it?” asked Mistress Dorlas, opening her healer’s bag and placing a small flask of ointment onto the mantelpiece to warm it up a little. It was a concoction made of tansy leaves, juniper oil, dried maythen and baldersbrow blooms and several other ingredients known to old Mistress Crodergh alone.

“Six hours,” answered Duatha quietly. The midwife’s brows knotted in annoyance.

“Six hours? And you never thought of sending for me?”

“We wanted to,” said Bodhmall defensively, “but Cithruadh would not let us. She said everything was going well, and that she would not need you just yet. She was in labour for days with her other children as well.”

“One of which did not survive birth, even though it was lying in the right way,” pointed out Mistress Dorlas in exasperation. “Have I not told you to call me at once when the labour sets in? Or do you believe I know not what I am talking about? I have been the midwife of this town for twenty-two years, you ought to listen to me!”

The young women looked properly scolded, but she could not waste more time with them. Cithruadh did not look too well, and if they could not make the child turn in her womb, the outcome would be disastrous. Despite Dorlas’ vast knowledge and her best efforts, childbirth was still the greatest hazard in a woman’s life, and Cithruadh had always had a difficult birth, for she was more narrowly built than most women.

“Loosen her hair and remove the pins,” ordered the midwife, taking the warmed ointment from the mantelpiece and rubbing it onto her patient’s belly to ease her travail. “We cannot afford to open doors or windows in this weather, but open all drawers and cupboards in the house, and untie all knots. There must be naught that is bound, knotted or closed in this room. Manissa, do you have the herbs I have sent with little Edwy earlier today?”

The woman in question nodded and presented the linen bag eagerly.

“Brew some tea then,” said Mistress Dorlas. “We shall try to make the baby turn.” She needed not to add what would happen, should they fail. Every woman in the room – including the one in labour – knew it all too well.

This the herbal tea was brewed, and more ointment was rubbed onto Cithruadh’s belly, and Mistress Dorlas encouraged her with comforting words during her tiring efforts. A jasper was placed in one of her hands – the gemstone credited with childbirth-assisting powers, among other magical abilities – and the dried right foot of a crane into the other one. Personally, Mistress Dorlas doubted the use of the latter aid very much, but most women believed in it, and she had learned to respect the powers of such beliefs. In the end, it did not count whether a certain item did have any magical powers or not, as long as the patients believed it did.

Four more hours later, when Cithruadh had reached the limits of her vaning strength, the midwife finally felt some heavy movement under her hands that were soothingly rubbing her patient’s belly. Could it be… aye, it definitely was…

“The baby is turning,” she said, and the women who were whispering pleas to Nurria, the lady of the pastures, laughed joyously. Duatha ran to the kitchen to boil water, so that they could wash both the baby and the mother afterwards. Manissa laid out the towels, blankets and linen wraps onto the table. Bodhmall fetched the salt and the honey that would be necessary after the baby was born.

Even with the baby now turned into the right position, it needed another hour to be born, for Cithruadh was utterly exhausted and had barely enough strength left to push. Fortunately, the midwife knew how to help her, applying just the right amount of pressure to guide the baby through the almost too tight birthing channel.

It came to the world with the navel cord wrapped around its neck and already blue from the lack of breath, but still alive – a little girl with a crumpled face and barely a few wisps of russet hair on her head. Mistress Dorlas quickly freed her from the suffocating naval cord, tying it and cutting it at four finger’s length. Then she patted the little back, not too gently, to start the breathing, and the baby opened her mouth to a weak, toothless cry.

“Very good,” said Mistress Dorlas relieved, “she will live, after all. She is a strong little girl, it seems. Now, let us wash her and wrap her properly.”

While Manissa and Bodhmall were washing the mother and changing her nightshift and bedlinens, the midwife, with Duatha’s help, washed the baby and rubbed her all over with salt to keep the wights that would cause illnesses away. Then she gently cleansed the baby’s palate and gums with honey, to give her an appetite. After having dried the little morsel with fine linen, Duatha and Dorlas wrapped her tightly in swaddling bands, lest her tender limbs be twisted out of shape – for a girl that would be a great disadvantage later. As a result, the baby looked not unlike a little corpse in a winding sheet, but that disturbed no-one, as this was the common practice with newborns in these lands.

As the mother had been washed and made presentable in the meantime, Manissa now allowed the proud father and the rest of the family to enter. Jutus beamed when the midwife laid the tightly wrapped baby into his arms. Two sons they already had, and he was delighted to have now a daughter, after his wife’s unfortunate miscarriage last year.

“Do you have a name?” asked Dorlas, when everyone had had the chance to see the newborn and make all the excited noises that were generally made by such occasions.

“Branwen,” said Jutus, “after my mother. We agreed to name the baby after her, should it be a girl.”

“A lovely name for a lovely child,” agreed the midwife. “But now, out with you – all of you! The baby and her mother need to rest. You can visit them tomorrow again.”

The family left reluctantly – especially the two boys, Iantho and Cynan, were loath to leave the new sister behind, without having had the chance to play with her a little – and Mistress Dorlas place the baby in the wooden cradle next to Cithruadh’s bed. It stood in a shadowy corner, where the light could not hurt the baby’s eyes. Duatha pulled out a stool and sat near the cradle to watch over the new family member.

“Rock her lightly,” instructed her the midwife, “so that the hot, moist humours of her body can mount to her brain and make her sleep. She must be nursed, bathed and changed every three hours, and rubbed with rose oil.”

These instructions were almost unnecessary, as both Cithruadh and her helpers were experienced mothers, with several childbirths behind them. But Mistress Dorlas always found that it was helpful to remind people of such simple facts, for they tended to forget something important in all the excitement.

“You must rest and sleep well,” she warned Cithruadh. “And hold back with work for a while; you are weakened considerably. Watch your diet – eat white bread, good meat, lettuce, almonds and hazelnuts, and drink good wine. Should your milk fail, peas and beans will help, as well as gruel boiled in milk. Avoid onions, garlic, vinegar and highly seasoned foods. I do not foresee any further complications, but should anything occur, send for me – or for Mistress Angharad – at once!”

Cithruadh promised to follow all her instructions, and so the midwife took her leave from the happy family, receiving her payment from Jutus on her way out. Her heart was light and so was her mood, as she walked across the town towards her home in the Old Port. For though the shadows were growing in the outside world, at least the light of a new life shone brightly in the darkness of Foreyule. And a new life always meant new hope, no matter in what dark times they were living.

~The End – for now~


Note: Mistress Dorlas escaped the destruction of Halabor and lived out her life in Lossarnach with her father, Old Craban. No-one else of their extended family survived, though.

Next update - and hopefully the beta-ed versions - on Dec 12.


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