March 8, 2021

The Queen’s Midwife, by Brigid Levi


Editor’s note: A troublesome, difficult birth, a midwife who does her best—then a very, very unexpected twist at the end. I just love this story. I think you will too—but stay away from
ergot. :) KW

It was a bleak winter’s night—once upon a time—when I was summoned to the Queen’s lying-in chamber. The snow had kept the messenger from my door for two days, and by the time I arrived, the poor Queen was weak in her laboring. I knew the minute I laid eyes on her ghostly face that her prospects were precarious. 


But the King rushed to me with panicked pleas, and I gave him the most reassuring smile I could under the circumstances, curtsying upon his reluctant exit. If I couldn’t save the mother, I was determined to save the child.


The Queen lay limply in bed, layer upon layer of quilts heaped upon her. With a frown, I stripped the layers, assessing her in silence. The sheets were soaked with her sweat, but her skin was ice cold.


It was no wonder. The King, in his singularly-focused fretting, kept the servants from the chamber, and the fire had all but gone out, the embers giving only the slightest sign of having once been a flame. I made quick work of rekindling it, poked my head into the hall, and recruited the first servant girl who passed by to sit quietly in the corner and keep watch over the fire.


In the short time I had been there, the Queen had hardly made a sound. Her pains weren’t progressing fast enough, especially for someone who had been laboring for two days.


A potion it was, then.


I rummaged in my bag for the peeled ergot and pinched a thimbleful, sprinkling it into the glass of water beside her bed. “Now, you drink this, Your Majesty, and we’ll get that baby here in no time.”


Weak as she was, the Queen was unable to hold the glass herself. Would she have any strength when it came time to push? I scrubbed the thought from my mind as I washed my hands at the basin and began to lay out my instruments. A moan from across the room signaled that the potion was taking effect.


“Step lively, girl,” I instructed the maidservant. “It won’t be long now, and the fire should keep. I’ll need her on the stool, but she’s quite weak so stay behind her for support. Let her use you as she needs.” The girl gaped at me, her blue eyes wide with fright. “It won’t be long now,” I repeated sympathetically. “Keep your eyes toward heaven if you’re squeamish.” I gave the girl a wink, and her lips twitched in an attempted smile.


The next bit passed in a space outside of time: minutes seemed like hours, days, and seconds all at once. Our bodies moved of their own accord, no thought behind our actions—only nature. One voice screaming. Two hands catching. The coppery scent of blood and the loud silence that followed in the seconds before a new life cried out.


But she didn’t cry out. The babe only sighed and pursed her beautiful rose-red lips into a yawn. Newborns were rarely anything to look at, but this one…her skin, even after a troubled birth, was lily-white. No, whiter than that. It was like newly fallen snow, and I could already see the glossy wisp of ebony-colored hair atop her head.


“Mistress!”


The servant girl’s voice pulled me from my quiet admiration. The Queen had gone limp in her arms, and there was a shocking amount of blood beneath the birthing stool. Laying the infant carefully in the cradle, I quickly saw to her mother.


“We’ll need a wet nurse for the babe,” I whispered firmly after we got the Queen in bed. “And see to the mess before summoning the King. She’s not long for this world.” The blue eyes widened once more, and she was gone.


Another pinch of ergot, this time beneath the tongue to slow the bleeding. Her lips were dangerously pale. I massaged her belly, beginning a half-hearted healing spell, but a loud crash stopped me.


“Take your hands from her, witch!” The King wrenched my shoulder, asserting himself between me and his wife.


“Your Highness, there’s been a misunderstanding. The Queen…”


“Is dead!” he roared. I glanced over his shoulder to find he was right. “I’m told you didn’t whisper in her ear. Whatever spell you say to call forth the child. You didn’t do it.”


Curse that servant girl! She knew more than she let on.


“And then you laid your hands on my wife, whispering evil incantations to take her life!” He was mad with grief, tears streaming into his beard.


“Your Majesty, I did no such thing! I was trying to heal her!”


He drew himself to his full height. “I should never have trusted an ugly, twisted hag with something so precious. It’s a wonder more of your charges don’t die just from looking upon you! You are to be hanged for witchcraft and treason. Guards, seize her!”


Without thinking, I took the fireplace shovel and threw hot coals at the guards who approached me. Then, I ran far from the castle to a cave high in the mountains. The village people believed it once belonged to a witch. Everything I found there led me to believe so, too.


Twisted, he’d called me. Ugly. The King’s cutting words echoed through the cave, hardening my heart. Vanity had no place in midwifery, but I was a midwife no longer. If the King wanted a witch, then a witch I would become. I dove into the old witch’s spellbook, learning to conjure a mirror. Each day, I found a new spell to widen my eyes, lengthen my neck, soften my skin, and shrink my nose until I knew I was the fairest one of all.


I descended the mountain, knowing the King wouldn’t be able to recognize or resist me. My revenge would be sweet—like an apple—and no one would be more powerful or more beautiful than I.


All hail the Queen.


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Bio: Brigid Levi is a writer and performer. She finds Celtic lore fascinating and is using it as the basis for her next book series. When she's not writing, Brigid enjoys watching old movies and spending time with her husband and son.


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Image from Pixabay.


This story was sponsored by Lisa Vlsek. To learn how to help EC, visit our Patreon page.

16 comments:

Kelly Jarvis said...

What a fun slice of a Snow White story! I love the first and last lines--a great read!

Lee Gaitan said...

So well written and I love the twist. I can't wait until he gets his! ;-) Wonderful tale!

Brigid Levi said...

Thank you so much!

Deborah Sage said...

I, too, love the twist. Beautifully written.

Lynden Wade said...

Beautifully written, and what a great twist!

Ellie a.Goss said...

I agree, a fun origin flash.
Just enough of this and a handful of that made a great balance for a read to lift the day.

Doreen McGettigan said...

I love this! Wonderful imagery, great story.

Doreen McGettigan said...

I love this story, beautiful imagery!

Brigid Levi said...

Oh, wow! What a compliment! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Brigid Levi said...

Thank you! I’m a sucker for first and last lines as well. :)

Brigid Levi said...

Thanks :)

Pamela Love said...

Excellent idea for the mirror's existence!

Brigid Levi said...

Thanks, Doreen! <3

Brigid Levi said...

Thank you! I always wondered why she had a magic mirror...

HulderMN said...

Brilliant take on an ancient tale. And now I also see the potency of the image paired with this story. ❤❤

Brigid Levi said...

Thank you! Snow White was never one of my favorites, but I felt like the story leant itself well to this theme because some much of the backstory is left untold.

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