Daul rubbed at his temple again, not for the first time that afternoon. Plenty of times he had sat in this very yurt, in this very spot - perhaps even scribing the poetry that brought bread to his family - but never had his head hurt in such a manner before. His mind was now spinning from the tale that had been spun back to him - this could not be true. He would not let it be true.
“I d-don’t understand, I thought you said this procedure was safe?” The woman next to him, his wife Gia, tried to stand up, but her heavily-pregnant belly prevented her from even shifting comfortably on the spot, let alone standing.
Daul slipped his hands beneath his wife’s underarms, lifting and supporting her as he did.
“Thank you,” she whispered softly, touching the back of his hand with her palm. He reached for the sun-bleached weave in the middle of their living space, pulling the blanket across Gia’s knees as she turned back to the other woman in the yurt, the midwife kneeling opposite her.
“I’m afraid the situation has changed,” the midwife said. “-as I have already explained to your husband-”
“Cut to the chase, witch-” Daul snapped. Undirected anger and frustration consumed him for a moment, sending his tongue lashing out at the nearest target.
“Daul!” Gia scolded, sparing a vicious scowl for her husband. “I’m s-so sorry, please ignore him-” she stammered. “You were explaining about our expected?”
“Your newborn could live a perfectly normal life, albeit without any potential for magic. It is likely something he’ll not miss - most are unable to develop a talent for it”.
“-or?” Daul growled. He had grown to hate the woman in front of him. Not his wife, no - never his wife. Not even on the darkest nights where he couldn’t do anything but sit in the midnight air remembering how she’d begged for the second child, and how she’d convinced him that everything would be fine thereafter- no, not even then.
Daul had grown to hate the midwife, the trickster and charlatan, who alongside that blasted surgeon, gods rest the dead, had promised them everything; wrapping it with a ribbon of lies at the last moment. In his most private moments of anger, it was the midwife’s bedraggled hair and crone-like features that he pictured. The woman in front of him shifted on her knees, clearly uncomfortable at having to explain herself again.
“Or - lacking the surgeon’s expert touch - there’s very few hands who can match her expertise, you see-”
“Please-” Gia murmured, looking up at the midwife with dread; at that moment Daul saw his wife as the same person he’d first fallen for, the enduringly hopeful girl who would look for the good in everything. He didn’t envy her gentle spirit right now, nor was he able to protect it - he slipped his hands around her wrists and squeezed gently, trying to reassure her as best he could.
“Your second-born could die the moment the interstitia arcana is removed. It’s a 50/50 chance”. The midwife launched into the longer explanation of the circumstances that had changed since conception; that the region’s foremost thaumaturgic surgeon had died of sickness, and how with her had passed the only qualified specialist within a season's travelling distance. It was all noise, noise that Daul chewed upon unpleasantly as he stared into space; the last dissatisfying gristle to a meal he’d been struggling with all evening.
“-if we don't pursue the operation... what of Ferric?” Gia asked.
As though on cue, Ferric, the couple’s infant son and first-born, still carefully swaddled in his small Beachwood crib, began to fuss. His curious cries stretched out into the tent, the growing whimpering the single means with which the child could explore the tent. He’d been born blind, his eyes swollen and covered by a muscular tissue - it was an outward symptom of Whisper’s disease, a rare overgrowth of the interstitia arcana, an internal natural reservoir for magical energy that existed in all living beings, though it went unused by most.
Only a healthy sample from a blood relation of similar age - such as a newborn infant brother or sister - would give Ferric’s own interstitia the biological template to right its growth. Untreated… the internal musculature would continue to outgrow the boy’s body.
Gods. Gia had begged him to conceive a new child at the behest of the now-passed surgeon - a new sibling for their son, without any risk, so they’d been told. Without the surgeon, the chances of a safe and successful operation to extract material from their second-born were slim.
The midwife didn’t reply, her face falling flat as she let Ferric’s cries answer the two parents in her stead. Daul grimly stood, knowing that he had to step away from the charlatan in their midst, lest he lose his temper, and went to attend to his son. As he knelt down to the short crib beside their bedroll, he could hear Gia’s soft sobs. Ferric was eighteen months old.
What cruel higher power could let a world like this exist?
Vote here on this story: https://www.strawpoll.me/15433187
or tweet me @NorthDT