Content warning: Nudity and sexual innuendo
How wrong Shasta was, thinking Leonardo would give her freedom back to her. As soon as Rowan had left Monte Aquila with Granny, he locked Shasta up in their large mansion again, under guard of their butler.
She spends her time idling, getting more and more bored as the baby grows. Leonardo doesn’t even try to touch her, and she never thought she would miss his advances. But she does. It made her feel desirable. Now he hardly looks at her. So why bother?
Dr. Dilorenzo, an old friend of Leonardo’s, is not usually doing house calls, but for her he makes an exception. He liberates time on his busy schedule and comes over at least once a week to examine her. She obediently takes the vitamins and folic acid he prescribes and follows his advice about wholesome food, resting and not over-exerting herself. Since a couple of weeks she has been bleeding. Dr. Dilorenzo has assured her it doesn’t necessary mean she will lose the baby, but he doesn’t seem to be able to stop her bleeding. He has advised her to practice some stress relieving exercises, but yoga and deep breathing is not her style. When he suggests gardening, she just looks at him, and he quickly changes his orders to a murmured “stay in bed as much as possible”. But it is difficult and she is restless.
Trouble keeping anything but raw meat down and recurrent nightmares contribute to her weakness. But the baby seems to grow just fine and feeling it move around in her belly sometimes hurts like hell and makes her hate the child causing her such pain. Sometimes it is just a bump that makes her smile beatifically, filled with love…
‘You’re something, aren’t you? Let’s just hope it is you who are bipolar and not me…’
Slowly she strokes her swollen belly. She has, as usual when James is off duty and away, lounged on the couch in the living room most of the day, binge watching Netflix series. It is becoming more and more straining to get up and down the stairs, but she has grown to hate the tastefully decorated master suite. Her breasts ache and her stomach feels like it is about to burst. Maybe Rowan was right, she won’t give birth, she will explode.
The new Shasta doesn’t bother about her appearance. Why should she? She doesn’t go out anymore, and they don’t have any visitors. And sweatpants and a T-shirt is so much more comfortable than designer dresses. She sighs. It is time to shower. Again. She is not bleeding very much, just enough to feel dirty and scratchy, and a hot shower is on the menu several times a day. To hell the water restrictions due to the drought in Tuscany. Their cat jumps off the couch when she stands up. Purring and twisting around her legs he puckers for food. But that is James’s job, not hers, so Egon will have to wait until he comes back from whatever a single butler might be up to on his day off.
She heads for the stairs, careful not to trip on the meowing cat.
James doesn’t really have much to do on his own, so he is back early. He uses the back entrance to get up to his Spartan room where he gets into his uniform. He’ll fix some healthy salad for the Contessa for dinner and maybe a raspberry cake, he knows she likes that. He feels sorry for her, spending all her days in the bedroom or on the terrace. She seems so lonely, and he can’t help wondering why the Count doesn’t take her to the hospital. He is acting so strange since her pregnancy. He wonders if he has a new mistress. Probably…
Egon’s shrill meowing draws his attention and he is surprised to see Shasta disappear at the top of the stairs.
Worried out of his mind, he catches up with her and follows her into the master bedroom. At the view of his mistress up and about, his normally unflappable behavior seems to vanish, and he addresses Shasta with more than a hint of irritation.
‘Contessa! What are you doing up? You should go back to bed immediately. Here, let me help you.’
He reaches for her arm but she violently shakes his hand off.
‘Don’t you dare touch me.’
‘You are supposed to lie down, walking around isn’t good for the baby. What will happen if you fall?’
She backs away from him. ‘Just leave. Please. Just leave and I’ll lie down. I promise.’
But he doesn’t leave before making sure she is comfortably installed on the large king size bed. She closes her eyes, intending to count to a hundred before getting up again, but instead she falls asleep.
Later that evening, when Leonardo comes home from whatever business he’s had in town, Shasta tells him about their butler’s too familiar behavior.
‘… and he’s not supposed to talk to me like that.’
Leonardo shrugs. ‘I’ll have a word with him. He might be a little zealous… After all, I’ve asked him to make sure you follow the doctor’s orders. He only means well, he has got the baby’s health in mind.’
Shasta can’t get over the fact that her husband is defending their butler.
‘But I’m the mistress of this house! He should obey me – not boss me around!’
‘Of course he should, cara mia. I promise I will put things straight with him.’
He looks at her fragile appearance. He can’t believe he still feels attracted to her in the state of neglect she is in. She is but a swollen belly with thin arms and legs, her usually glossy hair is attached in a loose ponytail that looks more like a crow’s nest than anything else.
He fights the urge to reach out and push the dark strands of hair behind her ears, instead he turns on his heels and heads for the door. Maybe he should get some steam off with his secretary. She has always been there for him in the past, no questions asked and no claims.
Shasta scrambles out of bed, stretching her aching back. Leonardo stops on the threshold.
‘You should stay in bed. Remember what Dr. Dilorenzo said?’
‘Yes. But if you don’t have a bedpan ready right now, you’d better leave me alone.’
She looks defiantly at him. Leonardo opens his mouth to say something but thinks better of it. Seeing him hesitate, she feels triumphant. Right, let him fret.
Shasta suddenly doubles over with pain from the baby’s violent kick.
‘I hate this! I hate this baby!’
Leonardo watches her outburst with disapproval.
‘Is the baby hurting you? It means he’s upset-’
‘Upset!?! The baby is upset? A baby is supposed to kick, not try to tear your intestines apart!’
‘You mustn’t get anxious and troubled like this. The baby can feel it. You should try to lie down and sleep a little…’
‘By the Goddess! I don’t do anything else than sleep!’ She brushes a strand of hair from her forehead, glaring at her husband. ‘Just go away. Let me die in peace…’
To her dismay her husband silently leaves the room. She staggers back to the bed and with a sigh she lies down and tries to breathe calmly. Slowly the pain eases but Shasta is worried. Something is wrong… She can feel it.
Oh gods… How tired I am… And I don’t trust Dr. Dilorenzo… I shall go to the hospital myself and have an echography as soon as possible…
She counts in her head. It’s the beginning of September, the baby is due any time now. Thoughts are swirling in her head, but she feels a little better knowing she will take action tomorrow. Or the day after tomorrow. She closes her eyes. The exhaustion gets the better of her and she drifts off to sleep.
True to his word, Leonardo goes in search of their butler. He finds him in the kitchen where he is having his usual cup of coffee while reading the paper before going to bed. Leonardo is upset. He starts out calmly but his Latin temper is impossible to hold back.
‘I have just spoken to la Contessa. She said you behaved improperly towards her, irrupting into the bedroom and addressing her in a very inappropriate manner.’
‘I beg your forgiveness, Sir. I only tried to do what you have instructed me to do.’
The butler’s placid manners only makes Leonardo more exasperated. He leans over the corner of the table, hitting his fist so hard on the table the cup rattles and spills coffee onto the saucer. James rears back, surprised at the outburst. As usual when Leonardo gets angry, he reverts back to his native language.
‘I have never instruito – instructed – you to act improperly, James. And I am very surprised at your intrepid comportamento. You have been with me for a long time, but nothing stays forever. Capisci?’
James has never seen his employer as angry before and he fears for his job. What could the countess have told her husband? Better set things straight immediately, even if it means to tell Leonardo that she had left her room.
‘She was on her way upstairs when I came back from my day off, Sir. I am glad I came home so early or she might have fallen in the stairs. She is so weak, Sir. I guess I got scared and wanted to be sure she went to bed.’
‘Le scale? The stairs?’ Leonardo closes his fist, trying to keep his cool. She had been downstairs. Anything could have happened to her – and the baby.
‘Yes, Sir. I suppose she had been watching television, as I found a pillow on the couch that doesn’t belong there.’ When Leonardo doesn’t answer, he continues. ‘May I suggest something, Sir?’
‘It might be a good idea to install a television in the master bedroom, Sir. La Contessa might find her days less boring…’
The opportunity to sneak away doesn’t present itself until a few days later. Shasta has asked for some books to read, and when she holds the big heavy volume of “Gone with the wind” her plan takes shape. She waits behind the door for James to bring her the afternoon tea, then she slams the book on his head and flees the house. “Gone with the wind” was a premonitory title indeed.
She is lucky, she hails a cab at the end of the street that takes her to Policlinico Gemelli.
The worried driver waits for his client to clumsily stagger out of his taxi and towards the entrance before he decides to drive away. She is not his problem anymore, she is at the hospital now and they are supposed to take care of her.
‘Mamma mia,’ he mutters. ‘I’m lucky she didn’t go into labor in my car. Mamma mia….’
Shasta watches the taxi drive off. It is such a relief to have made it to the hospital.
‘Le chiedo scusa, Signora.’ A woman in a white coat brushes past her and through the revolving doors.
The baby has not been moving for a while now, and a little worried she caresses her bulging stomach. If she tells them everything about her exhaustion, the horrible pain and the bleedings, they will surely keep her there until it’s time for her to-
She swivels round at the sound of screeching tires.
A sleek blue limousine with a distinctive white roof has stopped at the curb. The back door opens and her husband jumps out.
‘Aspettare! Wait!’ He quickly walks up to her and grabs her by the arm. ‘Are you crazy? What were you thinking? Just walking away in your condition! You should have known better.’
He looks down at her and she can see her terrified, pale face reflect in his mirrored glasses.
‘Please, Leonardo. You hurt me!’ Shasta tries to shake off his hand, but he only tightens his grip.
‘Basta! Don’t make a scene, cara,’ he says between clenched teeth, nodding with a tight smile at a couple walking past.
‘Let go of me, Leonardo.’
‘So you can run off again? Not going to happen.’
He firmly steers her towards the car without letting go of her arm, and she staggers along, trying to shrug off his hand.
‘You can’t do this to me. I’m an American citizen. I will go to the consulate. You’ll be sorry when Mother finds out-’
The driver steps out of the limousine and holds the door so Leonardo can steer Shasta inside. She scoots across the seat and fumbles at the door but it is locked. Her husband sits down next to her on the plush leather seat and takes off his glasses. He rubs his nose with a tired gesture.
‘So you thought I didn’t know about your powers? Or the lack of them? Maybe it’s good they’re gone… It might be what saves you.’
She stubbornly turns her head, staring with unseeing eyes out of the window. So he had known the whole time.
‘Ti amo, Shasta. You know how much I care for you… But my father made a pact a very long time ago with someone you don’t cheat on…’
Shasta stares at him. ‘What do you mean by-’ But she can’t continue as a sudden pain rips though her lower back, making her double over and scream out.
‘The baby,’ she gasps. ‘The baby is coming…’ Another pain waves over her, leaving her panting and transpiring profusely.
Leonardo pushes the intercom button. ‘L’aeroporto! Now! Sbrigati!’ Then he puts a cool hand on Shasta’s feverish forehead and quickly chants an old spell.
And everything goes black…
She wakes up, shivering with cold. She breathes in damp forest air, heavy with the smell of dead leaves and mushrooms. She can feel the scraggly surface of stone beneath her fingertips and she opens her eyes. She has some trouble focusing, moving her eyes from side to side without turning her head. What happened? She remembers arriving at the hospital… Tears flood her eyes. Her head hurts, humming insistently.
She is back in her nightmare. The circle of stones, the men clad in monk habits surrounding her, the terrifying masks. The humming is not in her head, but all around her. The low rumble of the chant is vibrating through her bones and the warlocks’ slow waving hands are almost hypnotic. She just has to wake up now, and eat something and everything will be all right. She tries to sit up, but a firm hand pushes her back.
‘I want to go home,’ she articulates with trouble, feeling like she has just had a shot of anesthetic.
She looks up into the concerned grey eyes of her husband. He is dressed in the same monk outfit she remembers from her dreams.
‘Shhh… Everything is going to be all right, cara.’
She wants to believe him, but her brain registers that this isn’t a dream. She is reliving her nightmare for real. She can feel hot tears run down her cheeks. Oh, please, God, don’t let it happen again.
A terrible pain rips through her. It feels like her body is torn apart.
‘The baby… The baby is coming! I must get to a hospital!’
Panicked she looks around her for help.
But the warlocks are in a trance, murmuring and rocking from side to side. Something dark, the same color as the monoliths, moves in the shadows. Growling in victory it steps forward, red eyes glowing as fierce as the paintings on its massive body.
In terrified fascination she watches the incubus advance, each step making the altar tremble slightly. It stops by her feet. It is the demon from her nightmares, its muscular arms and chest covered in pagan symbols glowing blood red under the full moon. It raises a trident that must weigh at least 400 lbs and roars. She closes her eyes, willing the apparition to disappear.
‘I must be hallucinating again… This must be another nightmare… Please, please make it just a nightmare.’ The words stumble out of her mouth, incoherent. She grabs Leonardo’s arm, hard, tugging at the coarse tissue.
‘It’s not true. It can’t be. Tell me I’m dreaming. Wake me up, please, Leonardo, take me home.’
Apart from the murmuring chant, the night is silent. Slowly she opens her eyes, looking straight into the demon’s. She opens her mouth to pray, but another pain rips through her stomach, radiating out towards her back and her pelvis.
Leonardo is by her side, holding her up. She tries to tell him she can’t do this, she doesn’t want to give birth now. Not here. Not ever.
But another contraction arrives. She grabs her knees, and her body takes over…
Shasta can feel the baby ease down each time she pushes, but it eases up again between contractions. As if the baby doesn’t want to be born. The demon bends down to watch and Shasta feels utterly exposed. But she can’t stop pushing. Her strength ebbs away, each painful contraction draining her forces.
The demon grows impatient. He shoves his hands between her legs and she tries to close them, but it is impossible.
‘Baby,’ he snarls.
She can feel his hot, clawed fingers cut her open to help the baby pass and she howls in pain.
Leonardo closes his eyes, cursing his father’s stupidity.
Triumphantly the incubus raises its blood soaked hand towards the sky, eliciting an increase in the humming.
Lasciviously it licks the blood away, its long, pointy tongue curling around each thick finger. Shasta almost faints with disgust and fright.
‘Don’t let him touch me! Leonardo, please…’
But her husband averts his eyes in shame of his own dependency. He holds her in an upright position and in powerless desperation he watches the incubus get ready to retrieve the payment promised from his wife’s womb.
She pushes so hard she thinks her head will explode. The whites of her eyes fill with blood as the capillaries break. She pushes and then pushes again, gasping for breath. She can feel the baby crowning.
One last monumental push but as she is too feeble to expel the baby, the demon forcefully drags it out, not caring about ripping her apart.
Leonardo lets go off her and she falls clumsily back. She raises herself up on her elbows, faintly asking for her baby, but when she sees the blood and slime covered monstrosity, she freezes. It can’t be her baby. Not that grey skinned… thing.
Then it squeaks and starts crying and her motherly instincts kick in.
‘Give him to me,’ she whispers.
Triumphantly the demon cuts the umbilical cord with its teeth and devours the placenta. It holds the little bundle up towards the moon. Its horrible laugh almost drowns out the baby’s cries.
Leonardo approaches reverently, handing over a smooth, black cloth to wrap the baby in.
‘Your Highness. I think it is highly recommended that we take the mother to a hospital or she will bleed out.’
The demon’s answer is short and cannot be questioned. Leonardo closes his eyes in pain. Lowering his head he withdraws. This is not what he had expected. All human birth is dangerous, but it is supposed to get easier for each baby and this was Shasta’s third. He had been secretly pleased when he found out she had lost her powers, reducing the risk of losing her. He would never had thought the incubus would rip her open to get to the baby, fatally wounding her by pulling the placenta out by force.
He leans over his beloved wife, wishing he could erase what his father had promised, but knowing it is too late for her anyway.
‘I’m sorry. I had to do it, my Father promised him our second born… I never meant for it to end like this…’
Shasta meets Leonardo’s gaze a last time before drifting off into a welcoming darkness, the faint sound of his voice echoing in her head…
‘No! Don’t kill her! Please.’
‘No need to, she will die anyway… anyway… anyway… any…‘
‘She is mine now…’
Shasta is drawn in and out of consciousness… Wait… Where are they going? They can’t leave me here. Where is my child?
She tries to sit up but falls back again against the cold stone.
Another ripping pain finally pulls her out of the soothing black void. Her dress is covered in blood and she can still feel the warmth of it gushing out between her legs as she goes into labor once again. She can’t think beyond the pain, her voice coming out as a whisper.
‘Help… Somebody help me…’ She struggles to sit up, staring in awe at her thin grey arms. The veins stand out, as if ready to burst. Yet, there can’t be much blood left in her, judging from the state of the altar. She must find someone to help her get to a hospital…
Heavily she falls down from the elevated stone and remains propped against it, trying to get her head clear enough to stand up. Tears fill her eyes and trickle down her cheeks as she realizes there is no way she can go on any longer. She can’t do this anymore, the pain is just too much.
She staggers forward but falls on her knees. She tries to crawl, but it is impossible. She is too tired. She’ll just lie here and rest a little. The earth is so cool and smooth under her cheek. It smells so good. Just like when she was little and went picking mushrooms with her mother. She usually found a spot in the sun where she sat down, her back against a tree while Granny filled the big basket with St George’s mushrooms, chanterelles and giant puffballs.
‘Hurry up, Shasta! I don’t want to lose you in the forest.’
‘Just a moment, Mother.’ I’ll just close my eyes a minute…
Dawn is breaking when two figures laughing surge out of the darkness towards the ring of stones.
‘Wait for me, Azaléa! Don’t fly in there! It’s dangerous, the Queen has warned us – we’re not supposed to…’
But Azaléa doesn’t listen to her sister. Intrigued, she approaches a still figure on the ground.
‘Come and take a look, Iris.’
‘Oh my! Is she all right? Can we do something for her?’ But even as Iris asks, they both know the still figure is beyond help.
‘We should leave.’
‘Just a minute, Iris. Can’t you feel it?’
Iris shakes her head. ‘I can only feel evil here, and I can feel we should go home – now!’
She tugs on Azaléa’s arm. ‘Come!’
But Azaléa stops in mid-air and returns.
Iris follows right behind, turning around one of the monoliths only to see her sister landing. ‘Wait! Stop! Don’t touch the ground!’
Too late. Azaléa is already standing on the damned ground next to Shasta’s inert body.
‘Don’t touch her. She might be contaminated with evil.’
‘Don’t worry, I won’t touch her.’ Azaléa nudges Shasta’s inert body with a delicate, naked foot.
Iris hoovers safely above the ground, watching her sister with a worried frown.
‘Is she alive?’
Azaléa bends and rolls the corpse over to check. ‘I don’t think so. It’s too late, she doesn’t breathe anymore… And I can feel the cold of death emanating from her. But… ’
‘Don’t you feel it?’
Iris would love to say no! But yes, she can feel hope. Just a faint ray, but still. From where? She looks beyond the corpse towards the altar. It is covered in something dark, glistening… and smelly. Blood.
With a gasp her attention returns to her sister who is on her knees, pinching the corpse’s nose.
‘What are you doing? You can’t do that? She’s a mortal. And worse, she’s dead. Anything can happen.’
Azaléa leans back on her heels. ‘She’s not entirely dead. I can feel life in her.’
‘Must be the baby,’ Iris says matter of factly.
‘The baby!’ they both exclaim looking at Shasta’s bulging belly.
‘We have to get it out.’
‘A knife. Or something sharp.’
‘We can’t cut her up, just like that.’
‘You said it yourself – she’s already dead. It’s not as if we were hurting her.’
‘Push on her belly,’ Iris says. ‘I’ve seen it done. The doctor pushed real hard on the belly, and the baby slid out.’
‘Just do as I say, push.’
‘Come and help me.’
‘I can’t. It’s forbidden to set foot inside the stone circle.’
Azaléa stares at her sister. ‘OK. If I get it out, I get to keep it.’
Iris’s technique works, mostly because Shasta had already been torn up pretty badly.
‘Look, Iris. It’s a girl. Just like ours – but without the wings, of course. She’s so tiny…’
‘Don’t touch it! Her mother won’t recognize her scent if you do!’
‘She’s dead. And the baby is human, not an animal. And we can touch animal babies anyway because we are fairies. Remember?’
Iris doesn’t answer, just rolls her eyes, so Azaléa continues, ‘The mother is dead and the baby will die too if we just leaves it here. There must be bears around, you saw in what state the mother was – as if an animal had wanted to tear the baby out.’ She shudders. There is no way her sister can convince her to leave this lovely little creature to be eaten by wild animals.
‘Do what!?! We’re not supposed to interact with humans.’ Iris gesticulates to underline the importance of her words. ‘We can’t take it with us – it will get huge!!! And dangerous! The mother died in childbirth in a cursed stone ring, for God’s sake! She was probably sacrificed to some evil Demon as far as I’m concerned…’
‘Maybe…’ Azaléa tears away a piece of cloth from the dead mother’s skirt. ‘And maybe she was just walking around in the forest picking flowers…’
She bends down and carefully she wraps the smooth cloth around the tiny baby.
‘It’s just a baby, Iris. Look! She doesn’t even have teeth yet to bite you with! I will keep it! Ta-dah!’ Azaléa sticks her tongue out at her sister.
‘I can’t believe you just did that!’ Iris is outraged. ‘You promised not to stick your tongue out! And if you look at the altar over there, it’s drenched in blood! The baby might be a threat to us all…’
‘Maybe she is a threat…’ Azaléa kisses the baby’s downy chin. ‘And then again, she might not be. Let’s take her home, the Queen will decide for us.’
Iris peeks at the baby, who yawns and grimaces. ‘Look! Did you just see her smile at me?’ She taps a finger against her lips as she always does when she’s about to make an important decision. ‘Maybe you’re right… Let the Queen decide! But take the mother’s ring – to keep for the baby.’
The two fairies take off with their precious burden.
‘Careful, Azalea! Don’t drop her!’
‘I won’t. She likes it. Look at her!’ Azaléa holds the tiny baby up high with one hand in front of her, its blue-grey eyes open wide in wonder.
‘She must have a name. I think we should call her Gardenia!’ Iris proposes.
‘No, I think Gloxinia is better! Love at first sight…’
‘Or Willow? What about Willow? I think it suits her…’
Part I – End of Chapter 60
Special thanks to Jamee’s Sims 3 for the labor poses!