The room was sweltering hot. Fire everywhere. It poured from torches set into the stone and painted the walls with orange light. The low ceiling forced Usher to bend and crouch as he checked on his mate. The beautiful Sabina lay naked on the bed, writhing and screaming as her body was taken over. Usher looked at her swollen belly and saw tiny hands press against the flesh from the inside. Five fingers stretched with all their might against his mate’s flesh. A tiny drop of blood appeared at each point. Usher gently wiped them away with his finger, which he slowly licked. Sabina moaned again, this time with a hint of ecstasy.
“You cannot play those games now, lover,” she said through gritted teeth. “We must complete this task, then we may resume our games.”
“My apologies, Sabina,” Usher ran a muscular hand through her sweat drenched hair, “Even in the deepest throws of pain, you bring me much pleasure.”
Sabina opened her mouth as if to speak, but a scream poured forth. It reverberated through the room, pounding against their ears as it ricocheted off the stone walls.
The heavy wooden door to the chamber burst open and Malik, leader of their people, strode into the room. Power emanated from his flesh, as did a fine sheet of sweat which clung to his bald head and bare chest.
“We are ready,” Sabina told the great man.
“Bring her to the throne room,” Malic turned on his heel.
In his wake, three powerful men entered the room. They beamed at Usher as they joined him at the bed. Each man grabbed a corner of the mat on which Sabina laid and lifted it high into the air. As one they moved towards the door, the mattress bending around Sabina as they moved through the small doorway. The pressure brought a fresh wave of agony to Sabina’s body, and she bucked and screamed. Once through the doorway, the passage was wide enough for the men to spread out and pull the mat taut. They walked as quickly as they dared.
Sabina let out a terrible scream. Usher looked down at her naked form and watched with horror as the small toes of the child became visible against his lover’s belly. They had to hurry.
They turned and Usher’s step slowed slightly as they approached the doors of the throne room. Their sheer magnitude never ceased to amaze him. Sixteen feet high, ten feet wide, made from solid metal and rimmed with the spoils of war. A cascade of rib bones and skulls framed the doorway. Usher swelled with pride as he looked up and saw at the apex of the arch, the bright white skull he himself had added only days before.
The doors opened wide as they approached, and the men hastened to the centre of the room. They placed the mat in the sacred circle and immediately Sabina rolled onto her hands and knees. The men backed away as Sabina moaned and crawled about on the mat, desperate for some relief from the pain. Usher stepped forward and moved to place his hand on his lover’s back.
“Do not touch her!” Malic’s voice rang out. “She must do this alone for it to be true.”
“Why?” Usher spat the word’s at his master. “How do you know? Who among us could know? I will not lose her!” Usher rushed towards his mate.
“Do not touch me!” Sabina growled, scuttling back from him, “This must be true.”
There was rage in his mate’s eye and Usher recoiled. He knew what a warrior she was. He had stood beside her in battle. He had fallen for her as she had ripped the head from a minion with her bare hands. They had made love in its blood.
“Of course, my mate, I shall do as you wish.”
Her mate dispatched to the far reaches of the room, Sabina concentrated on her own body. She closed her eyes and shifted her weight onto her knees. She sat up, her feet wide beneath her pelvis, her swollen belly rippling of its own accord as she placed her hands upon it. As she ran her hands over the surface of her body, she could feel the vastness with her, she could feel exactly where the child lay. She felt it twist and turn within her. She felt it kick out against her ribs, against her pelvis, against her spine. She felt its hands reach forward and pull at the very lining of her womb. If she wasn’t careful, if she wasn’t quick, she would lose herself to this thing.
She had a fighter within her; she held a warrior in the crucible of her body. But she was a warrior too, a true birth, although hers had taken place so long ago no one in the throne room could remember what her mother had gone through. But Sabina remembered. She knew the child inside her was aware of everything unfolding, just as she had been.
As if hearing Sabina’s thoughts, the child grabbed hold of her spine and pulled. Sabina screamed, doubling forward as the sound crested inside her. She screamed and told her child who was in charge. This was her body and no one, no creature, no man, no Traveller, not even her child would own her vessel.
With a deep breath, she sat up on her knees again. She pressed her hands into her flesh, either side of her swollen belly. Her fingers found the special spaces beneath her bottom ribs, the place where her people drew their power. She dug her fingers into the flesh; they moved past the ivory she would normally draw forth for battle and moved deeper into her body, through sinew and down into her womb. She punctured the lining with her fingers, fluid poured from her sides, drenching her body. Sabina did not open her eyes. She moved by feel and touch, speaking calming thoughts to her child as she peeled open the flesh of her stomach and pulled forth her son.
The wriggling child screamed as it hit the air, letting out a wailing almost as bloodcurdling as his mother’s. The umbilical cord and placenta tumbled out after the child, and when Sabina knew she was once again empty inside, she laid her son on the mat beside her and placed her hands on her belly. The power of every mother before her flowed through her hands, making quick work of the ragged incisions that crossed her torso. She felt the currents of power suture the deep layers of muscle, tendon, and sinew deep within her. It took mere seconds, and she was healed.
Sabina looked down at her son. Without hesitation, she took the umbilical cord in her mouth and bit through its rubbery surface. She tasted bile and foulness on her tongue as the cord severed in her mouth. She spat the substance to the floor before it could slip down her gullet. She tied off the cord and reached for her child.
He was beautiful, perfect. As their eyes met, his cries ceased, and she scooped him up, pressing him to her chest. He found her breast easily and began to suckle. They stayed that way for some time, staring into each other’s eyes, as the surrounding room erupted in celebration.
Usher approached his mate slowly, gently kneeling down beside her and placing a hand on his son’s head.
“What shall his name be?” he asked Sabina.
“He shall be the Archer.”