The one who came but never was



This is another recollection of memories of Waelden from many years ago, one of the many things that formed the man he is today.

This story may not be suitable for everyone. Read at your own discretion.

 

 

 

The wintery night outside had just put down a blanket of glistening snow over Faldham, and the ominous black clouds that loomed over us should've been an omen of this fateful night to many a wise man and woman - but superstition and mystery were not for us this night. Life and joy was to be our goal, and to welcome a new life into our midst - Mine and Eda's first child. We were young and newly married only two year past, we were strong of flesh and bone, and our hearts were full of love and our minds prepared to meet the future. The fable my father had told me when I came of age merely passed through my mind like a shadow, and not a second thought I gave it then: the not-so-merry tale of one of his ancestors and the ill-fated spell, such as it was, that was said to follow in all our steps. He told it only once, and that I should be careful and remember that even old tales have power. It was said that the man had once wronged a woman and without regret left her with a stillborn child in her arms, never to return or seek to comfort her in the most trying of times. The scorned woman uttered a curse upon him that night before she buried her lifeless child, and it would echo through the generations - or so some believed. I did not, even if I knew of my younger brothers that never lived past their first year, of which my father had spoken very little. Or my father's sister that came before him, also gone within a week of birth. Circumstance, the cruel lottery of life and ill health it was; this I had always told myself, for I put little to no faith in such things as spells and witchcraft. Everyone knew the tale of Wyrgende and had heard it retold more times than once, but that's also what it was - a tale to make people kinder and generous to those who need it, and to frighten children and stir up uneasiness and grief to those who believed in such things; forcing people into believing their own misfortune to be caused by dark and unrelenting forces, and not circumstance or their own failures. Our "curse" was no different, and even if there had ever been one laid upon our blood, surely it had paid its dues now, more than a hundred and fifty years later? A tale, nothing more.

 

And there in our bed she lay outstretched and screaming then, and her golden hair rested in a twisted and stormy chaos over the raised shoulders and chest. Her breath was stressed and shallow and the cramped hand crushed and whitened my fingers, though what little I felt in my hand was but a gentle and caressing breeze compared to that of hers: the dire torment of childbirth that most women will endure in their lifetime, some more than others, and some not at all. Madness and anguish was in the once so caring and lively eyes, now spurred on by the tremendous pain that no woman should ever have to know, and yet the miracle of life is always worth it, they say. We knew it was too early to give birth, though it wasn’t uncommon either, and it did not worry us as such. Her screams were the hardest of it all to bear. To see my woman in such pain when the midwife urged her to push on, to breathe, to endure through the hurt, and it went on forever. The midwife then glanced at me, and her hands were covered in blood, a sight I had known many times upon the fields of battle. No stranger I was to seeing blood and hurt, and I wanted nothing but to support the woman in my life in her most trying hour, and to be all that my dreaded ancestor was not, but the midwife did not want me there anymore that night. She mouthed, "Get out." to me, and I refused her command at first. "GET OUT! This is no place for a man now!", she screamed again, with the authority of a captain yelling orders to their men, and I had no choice but to follow. Here in this moment, she was the commander and her words were the law. One of her helper’s hands was placed on my shoulder and pulled me away while my wife still bellowed in pain, and she reluctantly released her grip on my hand to grasp the linen sheets upon the bed instead. Why was I not allowed to witness the birth of my own child?, I wondered, and went outside of the room. There I wandered upon our coarse and uneven floorboards, pacing unendingly on troubled feet as anxious drops of sweat rolled over my face and stung my eyes. One nail in the wood had raised itself from the wood and dug into my foot. I could still hear her screams, and like endless bells her voice rang in my ears: the sound of torment and of despair, but also a call for life in its own way. Women welcome a new life into the world with primal screams of pain, just as the children themselves will make their entrance with new voices knowing their first breaths of air and their skin feeling the coldness of the real world for the first time, after spending so much time in the safety of a woman's belly.

 

Her screams then stopped, and an eerie quiet filled our house. I heard no more but muffled voices, where I expected to hear the hollerings of a newborn. My heart pumping harder than in the most heated of battles, my blood racing like a wild stream after a heavy rain in the mountains; and I was anxious to see my child - my firstborn, our pride, our joy. Some minutes passed, though it felt more like days. Then the door opened again at last, and out came the midwife. Her arms and apron wore now the color of a dark red, like that of a field surgeon after a heavy skirmish. Her eyes were dim and dull, and full of transparent tears. "Waelden.", she said. "Your child. It's a boy." She paused and swallowed, and my heart ached like a thousand barbed arrows had hit me, and I grew pale and winded, and all my breath had left me. I knew what she had come to say. "He did not live. I'm sorry.", she finished. My knees weakened and gave in, and I found myself on the floor for a moment. I pulled myself up on unsteady, hollow legs and followed her inside. There she was, my wife... facing the window, staring out into the darkness where no light burned this night. Her skin was pale and upon her chest there lay a lifeless form wrapped in bloody, dirty linen, with her arms embracing it. I fell down again by her bedside, and my knees slammed into the floorboards with the weight of a thousand stones upon my shoulders; my spirit all spent and broken by those words, my heart empty and my eyes red, though it was nothing compared to hers. “He did not live.” No sword, no arrow, no pain of childbirth could ever have hurt more than those words. 

 

"If this pain is all that life will bestow upon us, then do not ask me to ever put another child to this cruel and hollow world." Eda whispered to me with a wrecked voice, still facing the window and staring at the darkness, and I knew that her pain echoed mine a thousandfold and more. Perhaps the curse, if there ever was such a thing, had claimed another life in that hour. I offered my prayings and my hopes to Bema that it would take no more ever again... And Eda would have her wish - never would I ask her to carry another, unless she herself chose and wanted it later in life. And by Bema's blessing she did; our beloved daughter Ethel was born many years later, and she has never known about her long lost brother. Perhaps one day I will tell her. But on that cold and dark night, more than twenty years ago, my pale, cold hands rested on my wife and our child. In that moment I knew our firstborn son for the first and last time, and Eindride we named him: He who rides alone, he who never was.