“I am,” she began. Her voice broke. She gasped as another contraction took hold. When it passed, she continued, “Rowena.”
“Good, Rowena. I’m Mara. I can help. Just relax. You’re going to be fine. Now, let me take a look here.” She removed Rowena’s coverings, then touched her tentatively. “Just relax now, you’re safe.” She examined her. “The child is near. I need to go to the river for water, to get some supplies, and—”
“No,” Rowena interrupted. “Please, listen carefully.” She struggled with each word, each breath.
“I’m listening. Take some steady breaths. That’s it. Relax.”
“I will not survive this birth.”
“Hush! Hush, now. Don’t you say such a thing.”
“I must tell you. Please, listen,” she sputtered out between chokes and gasps. She grew ever more agitated. Though weak, she grasped Mara’s wrist with urgency.
“What is it? You tell me, and then we’ll see to this new gift from Creovita, the life giver.”
Rowena loosened her grip. “I am a.” She winced with the pain of another contraction. “I am.” She cried out. Tears spilled. “A se—” She struggled to catch her breath. “I am a—”
“You are what?”
“You are seven. Seven what? Leagues from home? That’s not so far. I’ll help you to get there afterwards, or to get word to whomever you like if you can’t make the journey right away. That needn’t concern you. Now let me see what I can do here.”
She shook her head again. “This child is—” She sucked in a breath. “This child—”
“Surely, this can wait. Yes? You need to save your strength. We have some work to do here.” Mara pressed her hands against her shoulders to lay her back again.
She rested for a moment, then her eyes opened large. “Listen, I haven’t much time. I’m a seventh. She is a seventh.”
“A seventh? A seventh! But that can’t be!” The Oathtaker pulled back. She thought for a moment, then looked at Rowena closely, her eyes narrowed. “Oh, dear Good One, are you the Rowena? Rowena Vala? The ranking member of the Select?”
“Goodness! But . . . who’s ‘she?’ Was there another seventh with you? Are there two of you?” Mara glanced about. Nothing indicated that anyone else had been there.
Rowena struggled as a powerful contraction bit. She clenched her teeth. “I’m a seventh,” she continued when the contraction ended, her voice steady and clear for the first time. “A seventh daughter. This child, my daughter, will be a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and the ranking member of the first family. You must save her. Take her. Run. Promise me, I—” She choked down a sob. “I can trust you. Yes? You’re an Oathtaker.” She sucked in a breath. “I’m counting on you. Please . . . tell me I can trust you.”
“Dear Good One! Rowena, your child could be my assignment—my charge!” The Oathtaker’s eyes lit up. “Oh, I’ll help you! But first we have to get you through this labor. Oh, if this child is a girl—”
“It is a girl. Help . . . me.”
Mara picked up a nearby cloth and wet it with water from a canteen hanging at her waist. She placed the cloth on Rowena’s forehead, then retrieved a blanket from her pack to cover her against the chills that had come with her loss of blood. Once done, she examined her again. The child’s head would soon crown. Mara hoped a few strong pushes would do it, as Rowena had little strength remaining.
After pouring water into a cup from her sack, she rummaged through her dried herbs to find a relaxing, pain-numbing tea blend. When she tore it open, the smell of green permeated the air. She could not brew a tea without a fire, but it would steep at least some in the tepid water.
“Here, drink this.” She helped Rowena lean forward, then put the cup to her lips.
She drank, then turned her face away as another contraction took hold.
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