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Elana's Tale  by Elana

Chapter 5 - Courage

Elana lay on her pallet, her hand resting on her round belly, feeling the wiggles and kicks of the life within. Though it was hard to keep track of time, here where each day followed the same pattern as every other, she knew her time to give birth must be drawing near. Stay put, little wiggler, she thought. Although experiencing the discomforts common to all women in late pregnancy, she knew that every day the babe lingered inside pushed farther into the future the day when she'd again be taken to the breeding room. They'd given Roswyn barely more than a month to recover after her birth. Now her body was swelling again.

She caught her breath as she felt her womb harden. It stayed firm for a minute, then relaxed. Still painless, the contractions had been occurring more frequently in recent days. Elana was familiar with the processes of pregnancy and birth. Like all girls in her community, she had been included in the company of women who gave comfort and support to each birthing woman in the village. Her own mother had birthed many times. Elana smiled as she remembered her youngest brother's birth. Deeply in tune with her woman's instincts, Marbrona had moved about their small house, walking, squatting, leaning on one neighbor woman or another, taking the positions her heart told her would ease the contractions and facilitate the baby's movement down through her body. Beona had been three, apprehensive but fascinated. Elana reassured her, as she had once been assured, that the low moans and grunts were not screams of pain, but the sounds of a body laboring at a great work. At the end, Marbrona had knelt on her hands and knees, head down with the effort, and pushed the baby out into the waiting hands of the midwife. Marbrona turned and sat, and the midwife placed the wet infant in her arms, cord still connecting their bodies. The baby’s eyes were big and dark, gazing with an expression of wonder at his mother’s face. Beona’s eyes were equally big, mirroring his look of wonder as she reached a tentative finger to stroke his cheek.

Elana’s reverie was interrupted by another tightening in her belly. Suddenly afraid, she squeezed her eyes shut and buried her head in her arms. How could she give birth, alone in a den of monsters? What would she do without the loving, supportive presence of her mother, her sisters, her friends? At the first sign of contractions, Roswyn had been taken away, to return only after three days, refusing to speak of her ordeal. In those lonely days, Elana had realized how much she had come to depend on her friend’s company to ward off the black depression that sometimes threatened to overwhelm her. Now soon it would be her turn to be taken away, to face her fate alone.

Elana continued to have irregular contractions over the next few days. One morning, almost a week later, she noticed the contractions were coming at regular intervals. They continued through the midday meal, and by the time Elana and Roswyn were taken to the exercise room, they were starting to feel painful. Elana hid her reaction from the watching eyes of the orc overseers as long as she could. The other women sensed what was happening, and let Elana know by many quick looks and quietly squeezing hands that they supported her. The contractions became stronger and stronger, requiring more and more concentration to get through, and Elana was hard pressed to conceal her labor. Finally, as an orc escorted them back to their cell, a particularly strong contraction hit. Elana gasped and stopped. Leaning heavily on Roswyn, she focused intently on deep, slow breathing and relaxing all her muscles. She had heard the theory of how to cope with labor pain many times, and now she was learning the trick of it in her own body. The orc’s presence seemed a terrible distraction. All she wanted was to find somewhere dark and private and safe.

The orc figured out what was happening, and called for reinforcements. Several more appeared. One dragged Roswyn off in the direction of the cell, while the others grabbed Elana and half-dragged, half-carried her away. Straining to look back, Elana saw Roswyn raise her fist in the air, and silently mouth “Courage.”

Elana was taken to the room with the stone table. She was hoisted onto the table and bound down. Her arms were tied at her sides, and her legs were bound to metal supports that held them high and straddled. Elana writhed as much as her bonds would allow, trying desperately to find a comfortable spot. The contractions were so much more painful in this position, and everything in Elana cried out to move. Orcs went in and out, adjusting things in the room, occasionally poking or prodding her with leering faces. The half-orc who had examined her before, Obstuk, came in. He looked over the preparations, then thrust his hand inside her to check her progress. He grunted noncommittally to himself, then went out again.

For hours her labor went on. Elana tried hard to concentrate on relaxing through the pain, and was successful for a while, but every time she’d get into the rhythm of tension and release, another orc would come in, messing with the furnishings of the room, tightening her bonds, or feeling her body. Lunch seemed very far past; the time for supper had long since come and gone, and Elana was ravenous, her mouth dry and sticky, but she was given nothing to eat or drink. The awkward position was becoming unbearable. Elana had never seen a woman in labor lie flat on her back for more than a moment or two, and she could well understand why – she could hardly imagine a worse position to labor in. Her spine ground into the hard stone, and the circulation in her arms and legs was cut off, leaving them numb.

The contractions were coming hard and fast now. One would barely be over before the next began. The pain was intense, and Elana began to cry out, calling for her mother, begging to be let up, for the pain to stop. Orcs gathered around, and Elana could see in their faces a sadistic enjoyment of her pain. Obstuk was back in the room. Elana saw him take up a long metal rod with a hook on the end. He inserted it in her, and she felt a pop as water gushed out. Immediately the pain was greater, but Elana also felt a stirring of a primal need to push. Over the next few contractions the urge grew stronger, and Elana was hopeful, for she knew this meant the end of her ordeal was close. She began to push with the contractions, feeling the powerful muscles of her womb working far beyond any conscious effort on her part. She moaned and grunted, the sound and the sensations strangely satisfying. Surely a few more of those powerful pushes and her task would be done.

Panting after the end of a contraction, she opened her eyes. She saw Obstuk choose a metal instrument shaped like a pair of tongs. She yelped in horror and pain as he inserted the tongs into her. He clamped the tongs around the baby’s head, and began to drag it from her. She cried out in protest, and screamed, because this was more painful than anything that had gone before.

Then, in an instant, it was over. The babe was pulled and tugged free of her body. Obstuk seized it by one leg, and held it aloft for all to see. The watching orcs cheered as he slapped it roughly, and it began to wail.

Elana’s eyes fixed on her child. Red and wrinkled like any newborn, his face was screwed up in distress, his body flopping as it dangled from the orc’s hand. A powerful compulsion seized Elana, to hold him, comfort him, protect him. She struggled wildly against her bonds, but she was ignored.

With deft fingers Obstuk knotted a string around the baby’s cord, then with a quick slash of a knife severed it. “Let’s see, I think Lurnahk whelped last week, didn’t she? She can suckle this one along with her own brat. She’ll teach him proper orcish manners!” The gathered orcs roared with jeering laughter. “You, take him there.” The child was tossed to another orc, who slung him over his shoulder and turned to leave. The last glimpse Elana had of him was his crying face as they vanished out the door.

Worn out with so much effort and emotion, Elana began to sob. At first she’d thought of the babe growing insider her with horror and disgust. But somehow, over the course of her pregnancy the horror had faded, and now, seeing his reality, knowing he was as much a victim of their cruel captors as she, recognizing in him the innocence of any newborn, she wanted him desperately, and his loss devastated her.

Ignoring her distress, Obstuk went about his business. Where his instruments had torn her flesh, he splashed a liquid that burned with a searing pain. Then, seizing the end of the cord still attached to her, he gave a sharp tug. The afterbirth came out, followed by a rush of blood. After disposing of that, and cleaning and tidying the room, the half-orc finally released her bonds. Dizzy and faint, Elana could barely sit up. Her shift and a few rags to contain the blood were tossed to her, and she scrambled to put them on. An orc guard appeared, and dragged Elana, weak as she was, down long corridors to her cell.

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