Sansa heard her scream echoing around the bedchamber until it finally died on her lips. Then she closed her eyes and flopped back amongst the pillows, panting heavily.
“You’re close…so close”, she heard Sam say as he leaned in to whisper into her ear. She gave him a little smile but her eyes remained resolutely shut.
She balled up her fists and leaned forward as the pain surged again, building higher to an excruciating level.
“This”, she muttered through gritted teeth as she bore down, “is so much harder than the last time”.
She let out a strangled howl… a long, drawn out guttural sound that seemed to rip out of her chest. She could feel the tears streaking down her face and the saliva dribbling from the corners of her mouth. She felt like a dying animal.
She glanced at the midwife who was poised between Sansa’s parted legs. The woman was unsmiling as she kept her eyes fixed for signs of the emerging child.
Sansa felt the pain begin to build once more. She doubled over and gripped the furs so tightly she could feel her fingernails pierce the skins. Then she bore down and screamed until her vocal chords were dry and without purpose.
She heard a yelp of triumph and a smile split the midwife’s face as she pulled the baby from the birth canal. Sansa lay back in exhaustion and grabbed at Sam as he brushed past. She gazed at him mutely as she listened to the baby take its first breath.
“It’s a girl”, he said as he patted her shoulder. “Well done, Sansa”.
The midwife deftly cleaned off the squalling newborn and wrapped her in linens before presenting her to her mother. Sansa cooed to her daughter as she gathered her in her arms and stroked her cheek gently with her thumb.
But then, without warning, a sudden groundswell of pain fairly took her breath away. She intensified her grip on her daughter as she wheezed in agony.
“Somebody, please take the baby before I crush her”, she gasped as her daughter began to wail anew. The midwife snatched up the baby girl and placed her in the cradle before Sansa pressed her hands hard against her belly, riding a crest of immeasurable pain.
As the pain abated, she panted and stared unbelieving at the blood that was oozing from between her thighs. The midwife let out a shrill cry and scooped up some linens to staunch the blood while Sam grabbed his medical bag and began to root through it frantically.
“Why is there so much blood?” murmured Sansa in confusion. She had never seen so much blood before pouring out of her own body. She looked on helplessly as the two shouted at each other.
“What is happening?” she began to ask until she heard her voice fade into the distance. It was replaced by a roar, like a wave charging towards the shore. Above it all she could hear a high-pitched whine that refused to stop no matter how vigorously she shook her head. Her feet and hands were tingling and her tongue felt numb. She looked around the room in a panic. She could see people in motion but their voices sounded like they were coming from the bottom of a well.
Val’s face floated into view. Her face was constricted with fear and apprehension. She leaned in to cup Sansa’s face and spoke words that were incoherent to Sansa’s ears. Then Val nodded at Sam before she disappeared from sight.
Sansa closed her eyes for what seemed like an eternity. When she opened them again she saw Jon’s face. His eyes were filled with tears which streamed down his cheeks and it suddenly occurred to her that she hadn’t seen him cry since they were children. He was holding somebody’s hand and she realized, with a shock, that it was hers. She no longer had any feeling in her arms and legs. Black splotches danced before her eyes and she blinked rapidly to try and make them go away. Her vision began to blur as the contours of Jon’s face became fuzzy and indistinct.
Am I…dying? She pushed away the thought as she experienced renewed pain that throbbed in her belly, spreading like a disease. She opened her mouth to cry “enough” and then her world went completely black.
She found herself floating in an endless void. She felt free and weightless, no longer burdened by pain and fear. She had little sense of herself… unsure of her dimensions… unaware of a beginning and an end. She knew she existed and little else as her senses reached out to find…nothing.
Then she finally heard something. It was faint, at first, but she knew it well. It was a voice that had imprinted itself on her forever. It was a voice that called to her from her past, her present and her future. It begged for a response, like a wolf howling in the night for its mate.
“Sansa, love”, she heard it say, “please, please, please wake up”.
She swam up out of the darkness with renewed energy. She kicked and powered her arms as she moved towards his voice. And when she broke through the surface of her consciousness, she forced her eyes to flutter open before she took in a gulp of sweet, tangy air.
“Welcome back”, said Jon hoarsely.
She slowly turned towards his voice. His face was haggard and his eyes were red and ringed with dark circles but to her he was a most beautiful sight to behold.
She struggled to raise herself from her bed but he pushed back on her shoulders, forcing her to remain prone.
“Sam says you must remain in bed for a few more days so you can properly heal. In the meantime, there is still the risk of developing an infection but we are all doing our best to make sure you stay healthy” he explained calmly.
The chair legs scraped the floor as he sat down again and raised her hand. He cradled it against his cheek and his lips grazed her knuckles.
“We almost lost you, Sansa”, he murmured softly.
She tried to present a smile which she hoped was both reassuring and self-deprecating.
“You can’t get rid of me that easily”, she croaked.
Her eyes roamed around the room, taking in the beams of light that broke through the cracks in the shutters, hearing the daily sounds of life beyond these inner walls. Her gaze stopped when her eyes rested upon the empty cradle by the fireplace. She suddenly felt the colour drain from her face and her heart began to pound.
“Where is she?” she whispered loudly as she clutched at his shirt. “Jon, please tell me our baby is not dead”.
“She’s fine”, he replied soothingly. “She’s with her brothers and sister in the nursery”.
It took her a few seconds to register his use of the plural. Her eyes opened wide and her lips parted as if ready to pose a question. He smiled and leaned over to kiss her, his breath warming her cheek.
“There was another…her twin. Sam said he must have been positioned behind her so their combined heartbeats sounded as one. He’s much smaller but appears to be healthy enough and I’ll wager that, in time, he’ll match her in every way”, he said.
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