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Woman's Work [Solo, Complete]

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
357
#1
((OOC Warning – Includes a graphic birthing scene, and no happy ending.))

(Springtime 9:15)

“Cauthy!

Cauthrien looked up to see Meghan running across the freshly plowed earth and hauled back on the reins, pulling the team to a halt.

“What is it?” she asked, toeing at a clod of dirt with her bare foot and watching it break apart, releasing a fat worm that immediately began to burrow downward. She briefly considered catching it to use as bait at the stream later that day, but Meg’s next words drove all such thoughts from her mind.

“It’s Natty’s time, but the midwife’s down with a fever, and Da says that you’re to go and help her.”

“Me?” Fear twisted in her gut, along with a frustrated impatience. “Who’s going to finish the plowing?”

“Da says that he’ll finish this afternoon, after he’s done planting the west field,” Meg told her, “or you can tomorrow.”

“But I’ve never birthed a baby!” She’d seen Delia give birth to her half brothers, but Adria and Natty had been in attendance, along with a midwife. She hadn’t had to do anything, and her mother – “I don’t know what to do!”

“Da says you’ve helped the goats and cows, and this is no different. He says that helping at a birthing is a woman’s work.”

Woman’s work…because she was a woman, but she also did the plowing, and chopped the wood, because her father told her that since she’d grown too tall to be a proper girl, she might as well do a man’s work. No use in protesting though; she’d only get a cuff to the side of the head for her trouble. She was the oldest of Conal MacLean’s daughters still at home, and the others who had married were too far away. Delia, her father’s second wife, was occupied with the care of her youngest son, who was still recovering from a bout of pneumonia that had nearly killed him. It was Cauthrien or no one.

“Can you get them back to the barn?” she asked Meg, who nodded. The two oxen were as tall at the shoulder as she was, but they were gentle and biddable, so Cauthrien unhitched them from the plow and handed the reins to her younger sister.

She paused at the well long enough to draw up a bucket to wash the dirt from her hands and face, then skirted the edge of the newly planted north field on her way to the road and broke into a run, thanking the Maker that she had outgrown the awkwardness that had ensued when her height had grown by nearly six inches the previous year. She still looked all arms and legs, knees and elbows, but the work of the farm was adding muscle to her frame, and had helped her to regain her coordination.

Ewan Brodie’s farm was closer to theirs than any other, but it was still a good ten minute run before she arrived at the door of his house and knocked. The door opened immediately, and she found herself staring down into the florid face of her sister’s husband. Ewan was a barrel-chested, bantam rooster of a man who always acted as though she had committed some deliberate offense in growing taller than he was. Now, however, he actually looked relieved to see her, jerking his head toward the closed bedroom door beside the fireplace, through which a sudden, piercing cry rose.

She swallowed hard and made herself move forward, unable to push away the memory of her mother’s cries the night Darcy had been born, or how that night had ended –

She opened the door to find two other women already attending Natty: Carine Fletcher, whose husband owned the farm north of Ewan’s, and old Aislinn Brodie, Ewan’s mother, but her relief was short lived. Carine was only a few years older than Cauthrien, had never had a child and – judging from the panicked gaze she shot the younger girl as she entered – had never helped birth one, either. Aislinn had the experience of her years, but she was no midwife, and the expression on her face was grim.

“Cauthrien, you’ve seen babies born before, haven’t you?” Carine asked hopefully. “Something’s wrong. She’s pushing and pushing, but the babe won’t come and –“ She broke off, eyes wide and face pale as she wrung her hands.

And Natty … Maker’s Blood, but Cauthrien scarcely recognized her sister: drenched in sweat, hair in disarray, face pale and great, dark circles beneath her eyes. “Cauthy?” she asked weakly, then tensed with another wail, cords taut in her neck as she strained. “Cauthy, it hurts! It hurts!”

"I'm here, Natty," she said, as reassuringly as she could manage. "I'm here."

“Come here, girl,” Aislinn ordered her curtly, and she obeyed, moving to the foot of the bed and the bloodstained sheets beneath her sister’s spread legs. “You’ve helped with birthing on the farm, yes?” the old woman asked her.

Cauthrien’s mouth worked soundlessly. So much blood … surely there should not be so much! “With the goats, yes,” she managed at last, “and the cow once, but I’ve never –"

“It’s your strength I need, girl,” Aislinn cut her off. “She’s got two babes within her, and they’re turned wrong.” She held up her own hands, trembling with age and fatigue, the skin nearly translucent over the bone. “I fear they’re both dead already, and if we don’t turn them so that she can deliver, we’ll lose her, as well. I’ll tell you what to do, but you must do it.”

Another contraction, another heartwrenching scream, and any question of refusal ended. Crouching beside the bed, Cauthrien listened as Aislinn told her what to do.

It’s no different than a goat, she told herself, curling the fingers of her left hand into the bloody sheet as her right hand probed blindly, encountering a barrier that she finally identified as the shoulders of a baby. The head had bent forward instead of entering the birth canal, and she felt a surge of cautious optimism: she had successfully delivered a kid from a similar position. She slipped her fingers over a tiny shoulder, pushing cautiously, trying to gain enough room for the head to drop into a normal position, but another contraction came, much stronger than any goat, and she cried out at the sudden, crushing pressure on her arm and hand, the sound all but lost beneath Natty’s scream.

“No room,” she grunted when the pressure eased. Her hand slipped off the shoulder, her fingers brushing over something else: a foot, she realized, likely that of the second babe. “They’re not moving,” she said in a low voice, raising despairing eyes to Aislinn, though she doubted that her sister was aware enough to hear. Her eyes had gone dull and listless with exhaustion, and a continuous, keening moan came from her.

The old woman’s eyes met hers, sad and knowing. “They’re gone, child. You need not fear hurting them now, but we must get them turned quickly. She’s fading.”

Fading. The word galvanized Cauthrien, and she turned back to the struggle, fighting against the waves of contractions of the womb that persisted in trying to expel its burden, the intertwined bodies of the dead babes and the cramps that tried to seize the muscles in her hand. After what seemed an eternity, a miracle: the resistance eased suddenly, and she pushed –

“Cauthrien.”

“That’s it!” she cried out in a hoarse voice. “I’ve got it! The head’s down, Natty! Push!”

“Cauthrien.”

Aislinn’s tone penetrated the haze of determination, and Cauthrien lifted her head to Aislinn’s sorrowful face.

“You did all that you could, child.”

She stood, backing away from the bed, staring into her sister’s sightless eyes. Behind her, she could hear Carine’s voice:

“In the Maker's law and creations, she shall know
The peace of the Maker's benediction.
The Light shall lead her safely
Through the paths of this world, and into the next.”


Peace? There was no peace in Natty’s face. Her expression was slack, pale, exhausted; the palms of her hands were bloody where her nails had dug into the skin, and her body was still bloated and ungainly with the offspring that had been the death of her.

She stood numbly as Aislinn left the room, heard her speaking in a low voice, heard the front door open and slam, and then the old woman returned, her cheeks damp.

“Carine, go home to your husband,” she said wearily. “Cauthrien, you’ve already done much this day, but I must ask your help for a while longer.”

Cauthrien nodded mutely, and as Carine stumbled out the door sobbing, she moved back toward the bed, knowing that her sister’s body would have to be cleaned and made ready for her funeral pyre.

More women’s work.
 
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