The birth of this child was harder than the others. More blood, more hours of contractions, so many more screams than the ones before. The midwives mopped my brow as I sullied sheet after sheet, moans echoing off the castle walls. But finally, the child came. Another girl. Entering the world covered in the blood of a Queen.
Someone sent word to him, I’m sure. Told him of my failure. That the baby was weak, that it would not last the night. Same as the others.
I hold her close, blood sticking to her fuzzy head. Skin so pale compared to mine. Inhaling deeply as I cradle her; iron, spoiled milk, skin. Poor thing. To be ripped into the world with violence and pain. For life to never be anything more.
The night continues on, darkness deepening in the windows. Servants shuffling to bed, braziers dampened in the hallways. I sit up in bed, blood pooling between my legs, nursing her. Unattended at last, the whispers and creaking of the castle fading as the minutes, then the hours pass. That is when I leave.
I glide from hallway to hallway in the dark. My eyes adjusted, the girl sleeping contentedly in my arms. She knows the safety of being with her mother, as all children do. The only sound she makes as we flit down staircases and into the courtyard are soft, gurgling burbles.
The moon lights our way, suspended by night and sky. Guiding soft steps all the way to the wall encompassing the gardens. A tangle of ivy, the sweep of fabric on stone, and we mount it, descending down the other side. With more effort this time. Every birth taking more and more from me. Every night of escape draining me slowly away. But worth it. Always worth it.
The vines shine with more than dew now.
The wall disappears, forest taking its place, as we move away. The trees are said to be lined with spectres, goblins, and wretched demon souls. Or was it the souls of the damned? After so many long years, it’s hard to remember how it all started. Which rumors were whispered, which were dismissed. All that matters is the empty silence of the swaying trees. The guaranteed peace of a place feared.
All the while the moon guides our way, my princess and I, to our destination. The trees open, and the glade stretches before us. Long grass bent in the wind. Undulating, whispering, beckoning. I shush the babe.
“Not much longer my sweet. Little darling.” I sing to her, cradling that too soft head.
The grass parts beneath my unslippered feet, darkening in the blood running to them. The stalks turn denser, stockier, well-tended yet wild. My heart soars at the sight before me, at all the mounds of grass and dirt. I count them as I walk between. Six, seven, eight.
“My little nine.” I coo with delight, nuzzling her head with my lips. Murmuring soft, motherly things as I bring her to the freshly mounded soil, the tiny hole beside it. I knew she would be smaller than the others. Humming, I nestle her down into the soil. With her brothers and sisters. All saved. Protected by their brave mother. As if I would abandon them to this life, as if a mother could be so cruel to her own children. What a gift it is to be swaddled in soil, to know the embrace of the earth always. To have a mother who visits every night, singing to them beneath the moon. To be warmed by sunlight as the days pass, feeling always the freedom of the cool breeze. Oh, the lucky little darlings.
Finally, she starts to cry.
Shaina Cordas is a YA fantasy writer based out of Orlando, Florida. She is a graduate of Rollins College’s English and Biology departments. She writes flash fiction and novels, and is currently revising and editing her unpublished and unrepresented novel ABSENT IS MY NAME. She is a Ravenclaw (of course) and currently works as a horticulturist by day and writer by night. Twitter: @shainacordas Email: email@example.com