Lena laid one hand on the small of her back and the other on the swell of her stomach. The pain rippled over her again like water. She had survived it so far by holding her breath as it passed, but it was lasting so long and coming so often now that she was growing light-headed from lack of air.
She did not know what to do. She was alone. She feared she would drown in pain. However, as it dawned on her that her pains heralded the birth of her baby, she saw that she could not bear it here in the chambers of the Khir, even in his absence.
As soon as one of her pains had passed, she began to waddle down the back stairs. It was a long way down, and she would have to climb up half as far again to reach the path that clung to the side of the cliff. But if she went this way she would be outside – beneath the night-dark-moon. She could meet no other elf, unless she met the Khir himself. She dearly hoped she would not.
He had spent one moon entire never leaving his rooms, fasting and meditating as after the death of some beloved one. But tonight, as the silence of the night-dark-moon fell over the court below, he had opened his eyes from his last meditation, and there had been something new and frightening in them. Innocent Lena had imagined that it was what a intent to kill looked like. Then he had risen, shaved off his beard, dressed, and gone out into the night, alone.
Now she too was alone beneath the night sky.
Although the base-born kisór fled to the woods and bore their babies alone, half-bloods such as she were ordinarily attended by other ladies. But half-bloods such as she did not ordinarily bear the babies of men. She had never seen a child born and she did not know what to do, but she would have to go to the woods.
She did not know what the elves feared on these nights, and she did not have a hundredth part of the magic of the Khir. She was little more than helpless, and she would be helpless indeed when her travail began in earnest. She had always known, however, that there was only one possible fate for herself and her infant. She had spent three seasons sleeping and singing and dreaming, waiting in peace and despair, but the end had come at last. She simply did not yet know what form it would take.
Lena had to stop many times along the way, gripping a fencepost or leaning against the rock as a pain flooded over her, but at last she made it down into the lower court.
There remained only the great gate. Tonight it would be guarded by wolves alone. She did not know what their orders were, and if they tried to prevent her from leaving, there would be nothing she could do.
Thus, when the next pain subsided, she could but lift her head like the khírrón and walk boldly out between them, hoping that her self-assurance would convince them that she knew what she was about.
The wolf who lounged beside the fire turned his head to look at her, and the other did no more than flick his ear in her direction. Apparently their orders were to keep intruders out, but they had no interest in keeping the elves in. She walked out into the world, her head higher than she had ever held it.
She had spent three seasons confined to three rooms, and she found that she had almost forgotten how springy the earth could be, even when frozen. She had forgotten how dark the night could be when the moon did not shine. She had forgotten how it felt to walk a long distance and stretch her legs.
She had never in her life left the court unattended, and she realized now she had never known how freedom felt at all.