This evening I spent exploring my city some more. The changes which have occurred these past many years, how strange they would seem to my younger self. Now the hilltop fortress has 14 towers, one for each of the guilds which inhabit my town. The rope makers tower sits over my burrow, unbenownst to them. It gives me quick access to both the crypt under the cathedral, and the cemetery immediately down the hill. The people here, different than the ones I knew, but much the same. I no longer wander openly, hiding myself away so as to not be seen. There is much fear of those who are of the true faith and I have no desire to be the cause of a disturbance.
But tonight the usual activities, to examine the recently departed, to study the taverns, or to analyze the soldiers who invariably are passing through just felt dull. The same patterns, repeated over again. But in the tavern, something drew my attention. A woman in a midwife’s apron was taking some bottles of the strongest drink they had before fleeing down the road.
How could I resist such a scene?
When I found her destination, it was clear that the woman was but an apprentice, with an elderly woman, I knew her as Ingrid and she was in excess of 80 years of age, actually in charge over the scene before me. The woman in labor was clearly in trouble, the blood I could smell from before I even entered the room unseen.
Silent and unseen, I witnessed the scene as it unfolded. A life and death struggle, this battle to bring a new being into the world. Ingrid was focused, but her strength was waning. This was not the first child she had helped in to this world, she had actually helped guide the grandmother to the woman now before her when she was but an apprentice. But this time, something was different.
It began as but a pain in her arm, but clearly, this midwifery might have been one too many. I knew before she did when Ingrid’s heart began to fail, the sound was all too familiar to me. But now there was another two lives in the balance. Mortal, fleeting, moths which died in the flame, but life none the less. For a moment, I was Malik Al Ashun again, the studious girl who learned about medicine and the body from a teacher who looked more dead than the corpses I helped him study.
Without a thought, I helped lie Ingrid down. Her time was coming all too quickly, and it would be over too soon for those who were fighting. With the focus on the struggle, the assistant and woman did not even notice as the hands and voice instructing changed. Back to old memories, as a child in the desert, where we had to help as our own eldest woman oversaw the entry of new warriors into our clan, and my own centuries to study the way a human’s body worked, this came too naturally for me.
“Fantomă închis” I heard Ingrid whisper as she finally gave her final breath – a name the children of the town called me, the “black ghost” in their native tongue for my Bedouin clothing and mask. A mark of recognition I suppose, or of acceptance. As a child, she joined in the telling of scary stories, some of which included me as a ghost or spirit who would steal them away. She may have thought me to be there to steal her away. But sightings of me were brief now, since I could hide myself away without worry.
Instead, I finished her duty, as the child finally slipped free. The mother cried briefly, then was silent as exhaustion overtook her. I checked on her injuries, and while they were serious, with some cleaning, and help from the alcohol that the assistant had forgotten about in the stress of the moment, she would recover.
“Were you a friend of the midwife,” the hapless girl who tried to assist asked. A stern look from me was her only answer as I continued to clean and wrap the now quite loud child who was in my hands. Once properly swaddled, then I turned to answer.
“I have known Ingrid for a long time, since before you were even born child. You should be thankful that fortune had me find you when I did.” I then looked at Ingrid, at peace. “Let her children know. I will arrange the funeral services on the hill for her.”
“But ma’am, she was a midwife, they are always buried in the unsanctified grounds, never at the church.”
“This midwife will be,” was my simple response as I looked at the bundled up child. Helpless in this world, but with a fighting spirit. “Fetch the father, and when you get back, you will need a new mistress to teach you I imagine.”
As the girl left, a new feeling overcame me. I had been surrounded by death almost my entire life, both before and after my becoming. But to assist in the bringing of life, this was something new to me. Something remarkable, and comfortable. I had looked into deaths eyes, now in my arms the hope of life.
When the father entered the room, his eyes went to his wife, then they rested upon me.
“How dare you, a heathen, enter my house!”
The assistant tried to explain, but it fell on deaf ears. A stark reminder of what I was in this land, an outsider. Without word, I gently moved the child to the side of her mother, and left the room, curses and epitaphs flying at me from behind.
I could snap his neck, or curse him with the image of death itself. But tonight, I did not care. I found something remarkable, new. It was only when the sound of Ingrid’s assistant running after me that I became aware of the world again.
Turning, I found Ingrid’s midwife apron pressed into my hands. Without a word, I looked down at it, then at the young girl who presented it to me. I nodded my understanding as she turned to run and get Ingrid’s family.
A new role, an outsider still, but one with a role in the human world. Almost remarkable, how long it had been since I even pretended to be mortal. And now, a role to play has been thrust into my hands.
The bitter irony when the woman of death now is to oversee the arrival of life.