He held his breath and strained to listen in the long silence, knowing whatever happened would change his life. The piercing scream echoed again through the castle, then stopped. The silence worried him more than the screaming. It started again, louder and more anguished. It stopped when she called out his name.
He made a fist and squeezed until his nails dug into his palm. The sharp pain helped take his mind off what he was thinking. Richard stood up from the chair that had been left for him and paced the candle lit passageway. The thump of his heavy boots echoed despite clean rushes on the hard stone floor. There was nothing he could do to help her. His wife had screamed like this before. Their first child, Joan, was a difficult birth five years ago. He had sent for a priest when the little Cecily, his favourite, was nearly the end of her two years later. It didn’t get any easier.
She called for him again, begging this time. ‘Please. Richard?’ Her voice wavered and he feared she was weakening.
The waiting would soon be over, one way or another. He forced the thought of what may happen from his mind. Women were supposed to have their mother or sisters to help them. Alice’s mother was dead. She was an only child. It would bring bad luck if a man were to enter the birthing room, so he could only pace the long dark hallway and wait. He thought of himself as a patient man, able to put up with most things. This waiting was the worst he could remember.
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