How wrong Shasta was, thinking Leonardo would give her freedom back to her. As soon as Rowan left Monte Vista with Granny, he locked Shasta up in their bedroom again, under guard of their butler. Dr. Dilorenzo, an old friend of Leonardo’s, now comes every week to examine her. She takes the vitamins he prescribes and follows his advice about lying down as much as possible. Add trouble keeping her food down and recurrent nightmares to contribute to her weakness. But the baby seems to grow just fine and feeling it move around in her belly both hurts and makes her smile…
‘You’re a tough little fellow, aren’t you?’ Slowly she strokes her swollen belly.
The family butler, knocks on the door and enters before she even has the time to answer. 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. ‘What are you doing up? You should go back to bed immediately. Here, let me help you.’
He reaches for her arm but violently she shakes his hand off. ‘Don’t 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’s comfortably installed in the large four poster bed.
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.’
‘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.’
‘But I’m the mistress of this house! He should obey me – not boss me around!’
‘Ouch!’ Shasta suddenly doubles over with pain from the baby’s violent kick.
Leonardo watches her with a disapproving look. ‘Is the baby hurting you? It means he’s upset…You mustn’t get anxious and troubled like this. You should try to lie down and sleep a little…’
Leonardo silently leaves the room, but Shasta doesn’t pay attention. Upset!?! The baby is upset? Both Taïga and Rowan kicked a lot, but I can’t remember it hurting like this… She staggers to her bed and with a sigh she lies down and tries to breathe calmly. Slowly the pain eases but Shasta is worried. Something is wrong… I can feel it. Oh gods… How tired I am… And I don’t trust Dr. Dilorenzo… I shall go to the hospital and have an echography as soon as possible… She counts in her head. It’s the 4th of September, the baby is due any time now… The thoughts are swirling in her head, but it feels a little better knowing she will take action tomorrow… or the day after tomorrow…
But the opportunity to sneak away doesn’t present itself before the following week… Shasta waits behind the door for James to bring her the afternoon tea, then she slams a book on his head and flees the house. She is lucky, she catches a cab which lets her off in front of Doctor Simano’s Sanatorium. Worriedly the driver watches Shasta stagger towards the entrance before driving away. Mamma mia. I’m lucky she didn’t go into labor in my car! Mamma mia…
I made it! Shasta feels so relieved to have made it to the hospital. If I tell them everything about my exhaustion, the horrible pain and the bleedings, they will surely keep me here until it’s time for me to…
She swivels round at the sound of screeching tyres…
A sleek black limousine has stopped at the curb.
‘Wait!’ Leonardo jumps out and quickly walks up to her and grabs her by the arms. ‘Are you crazy? What were you thinking about? Just walking away in your condition! You should have known better…’
‘Please, Leonardo…’ Shasta tries to shake off his hand, but he steers her by the elbow towards the car.
‘So you thought I didn’t know about your powers? Or lack of them? Maybe it’s good they’re gone…’
‘Let go of me, Leonardo.’ Vainly she struggles but Leonardo doesn’t let go. The driver steps out of the limousine and opens the door so Leonardo can push Shasta inside. He sits down next to her on the plush leather seat. ‘Ti amo, Shasta. But I’ve made a pact a very long time ago with someone you don’t cheat on…’
Suddenly Shasta bends over and screams as pain rips through her lower back…
Leonardo pushes the intercom button. ‘The airport! Fast!’ Then he puts a cool hand on Shasta’s feverish forehead and quickly chants an old spell… And everything goes black…
A terrible pain wakes her up. It feels like her body is torn apart… The baby! The baby is coming! Panicked she looks around her. She’s back in the circle of stones, surrounded by men clad in black, wearing terrifying masks. An obscure figure is standing right in front of her.It’s the demon from her nightmares, his arms and chest covered in pagan symbols painted in blood. I must be hallucinating again… This must be another nightmare… But the pain and the freezing cold of the stone altar tells her she’s not dreaming.
Leonardo is by her side, holding her up. She tries to tell him she can’t do this, just as another contraction arrives. She grabs her knees, and her body takes over…
She pushes so hard she thinks her head will surely explode. The whites of her eyes fills with blood as several of the capillaries break. She pushes and then pushes again. She can feel the baby crowning. One last monumental push and the demon drags the baby out, ripping her apart…
Triumphantly the demon holds the little bundle up towards the moon. His horrible laugh almost drowns out the baby’s cries. 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! She’s hemorraging, she will die anyway… anyway… anyway… any…’
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 holds on tightly to the altar and tries to sit up. I must find someone to help me get to a hospital…
Heavily she falls down from the altar and remains sitting against it, trying to get her head clear enough to rise 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. I’ll just close my eyes a minute…
Dawn is breaking when two figures laughing surge out from 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?’
‘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… ’
Worriedly Iris looks over her shoulder. ‘We must hurry home, Azaléa! The sun is rising! And this place is forbidden to us…’
‘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!’
Azaléa stops in mid-air. ‘Did you hear that?’
Iris would love to say no! But yes, she heard the low whimpering too… ‘Wait! Stop! Don’t touch the ground!’
Too late. Azaléa is already standing on the cursed ground. ‘Look, Iris. A baby! It’s so tiny…’
‘Don’t touch it! Her mother won’t recognize its 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, so Azaléa continues. ‘The mother is dead and the baby will die too if we don’t do anything about it.’
‘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 god as far as I’m concerned…’
‘Maybe…’ Azaléa tears away a piece of cloth from her 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! Tadah!’ Azaléa sticks out her tongue towards 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 cheek. ‘And again maybe not. 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?’ Iris 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…’
The two fairies take off with their precious burden. ‘I think we shall call her Gardenia!’
‘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 54