I shouldered the unlatched door open, set the tray down on a table, and walked around to the divan by the fireside. The room smelled of sweat. Molly was silent; her head drooped forward on her chest. After all this, had she fallen asleep sitting in front of the fire?
She sat spraddled on the edge of the couch, her nightrobe hiked to her hips. Her cupped hands were between her knees and the tiniest child I had ever seen rested in her hands. I staggered, nearly fell, and then dropped to my knees, staring. Such a small being, streaked with blood and wax. The baby’s eyes were open. My voice shook as I asked, “It’s a baby?”
She lifted her eyes and stared at me with the tolerance of years. Stupid, beloved man. Even in her exhaustion, she smiled at me. Triumph in that look and love I did not deserve. No rebuke for my doubts. She spoke softly. “Yes. She’s our baby. Here at last.” The tiny thing was a deep red, with a pale thick umbilical cord coiling from her belly to the afterbirth on the floor at Molly’s feet.
I choked as I tried to take in a breath. Utter joy collided with deepest shame. I had doubted her. I didn’t deserve this miracle. Life would punish me, I was sure of it. My voice sounded childish to me as I begged, against all odds, “Is she alive?”
Molly sounded exhausted. “She is, but so small. Half the size of a barn cat! Oh, Fitz, how can this be? So long a pregnancy and so small a child.” She took in a shaky breath, refusing tears for practicality. “Bring me the basin of warm water and the soft towels. And something to cut the cord.”
I brought them to her and set them at her feet. The baby still rested in her mother’s hands, looking up at her. Molly ran her fingertip across the baby’s small mouth, patted her cheek. “You’re so still,” she said, and her fingers moved to the child’s chest. I saw her press them and feel for a heart beating there. Molly looked up at me. “Like a bird’s heart,” she said.
The infant stirred slightly and took a deeper breath. Suddenly she shivered and Molly held her close to her breast. She looked into the little face as she said, “So tiny. We’ve waited for you so long, we’ve waited years. And now you’ve come, and I doubt that you will stay a day.”
I wanted to reassure her, but I knew she was right. Molly had begun to tremble with the fatigue of her labor. Still, she was the one to tie the cord and cut it. She leaned down to test the warm water, and then to slide the baby into it. Gently her hands smoothed the blood away. The tiny skull was coated with downy pale hair.
“Her eyes are blue!”
“All babies are born with blue eyes. They’ll change.” Molly lifted the baby and, with an easy knack I envied, transferred her from towel to soft white blanket and swaddled her into a tidy bundle, smooth as a moth’s cocoon. Molly looked at up me and shook her head at my numb astonishment. “Take her, please. I need to see to myself now.”
“I might drop her!” I was terrified.
Molly’s solemn gaze met mine. “Take her. Do not put her down. I do not know how long we may have her. Hold her while you can. If she leaves us, she will leave as we are holding her, not alone in her cradle.”
Her words made the tears course down my cheeks. But I obeyed her, completely meek now in the knowledge of how wrong I had been. I moved to the end of her couch, sat down, and held my new little daughter and looked into her face. Her blue eyes met mine unflinchingly. She did not wail, as I had always believed newborns did. She was utterly calm. And so very still.
I met her gaze; she looked to me as if she knew the answer to every mystery. I leaned in closer, taking in her scent, and the wolf in me leapt high. Mine. Suddenly she was obviously mine in every way. My cub, to protect. Mine. From this moment, I would die rather than see harm come to her. Mine. The Wit told me that this little spark of life burned strong. Tiny as she was, she would never be prey.
I glanced at Molly. She was washing herself. I set a forefinger to my child’s brow and very carefully extended my Skill toward her. I was not certain of the morality of what I did but I pushed away all compunction about it. She was too young to ask her permission. I knew clearly what I intended. If I found something wrong with the baby, something physical, I would do whatever I could to mend it, even though it might task my abilities to their limit and might use all the small reserves of strength she had. The child was calm, her blue eyes meeting mine as I probed her. Such a tiny body. I felt her heart pumping her blood, her lungs taking in air. She was tiny, but if there was aught else wrong with her, I could not find it. She squirmed feebly, puckering her tiny mouth as if she would cry, but I was firm.