Derreg had slain many men in combat, had seen battlefields littered with corpses, but he had to force himself to look on Varra’s body, at the bloodsoaked bed, at the opening in her abdomen out of which Erdan, the priest, had mined the child. Her face, finally free of pain, looked as pale as a new moon.
He could not release her still-warm hand. He held onto it as if with it he could pull her back to life.
“She is gone,” the midwife said. “Gone to light.”
Derreg nodded. He’d known Varra perhaps two hours, but he had felt a connection with her, a whispered hint of what might have been had they met under other circumstances. Through sixty winters he had never married, and now he knew why. He was to meet his love only in the twilight of his life, and he was to know her for less than a day.
He thanked Amaunator for that, at least.
“What’s wrong with it?” the midwife said, her exclamation pulling Derreg’s attention from Varra.
Hand to her mouth, the midwife backed away a step from the birthing bed, a step away from the child. Erdan, eyes as wide as coins, held the baby out at arm’s length, as he might something foul.
The child, pinched, dark, and bloody, his legs kicking, cried in sharp gasps. The umbilical cord still connected him to Varra, and a thin vein of shadow twined around the cord’s length and slowly snaked toward the child as if the baby—Vasen, Varra had named him—had received nourishment not only from blood but also from darkness…