The Midwife’s Revenge
December 21, 1570, Edinburgh Castle
I had dreamed of ending my life cradled in Kirkcaldy’s arms, but not like this, not laid out on the cold cobbles of the courtyard of Edinburgh Castle with the knight’s wife and daughter hovering in the distance wondering if there was something they should be doing, some gesture that would ease my passing, if not for me, for him. My vision of death has been as an old woman lingering at the end of life long enough for the knight to hold my hand a final time and tell me that he loved me, and that he would join me soon. I had not planned to die young and mangled, and in excruciating pain. I stave off Death because I need the knight to understand why I have let it come to this. I beseech my long lost god to grant me the strength to speak, and in return I promise to be quick about it. Then the Reaper will be welcome. I am by trade a midwife, trained by Margaret Houston, the practitioner who delivered the prince who is now our king. I was with her at Edinburgh Castle for the delivery. I remember the bonfires and the bells.
But the results of a midwife’s labors are not always happy. I have watched many other women die, some drowning in the despair that follows a still born birth, others leaving a healthy child behind to be passed to the care of a surrogate. Often such women would look at me and ask if they were dying. Whether they wished to hear the message I felt duty bound to deliver, I always answered them. They deserved an opportunity to send a message to a loved one or to express a final wish. Knowing that the truth was the last thing they wished to hear, I told it as gently as I was able. However harsh the truth, I cannot withhold it from myself when I have been so free to share it with my sisters.
Earlier when I tried to speak, the knight made an effort to quiet me. This time he senses my urgency and yields. He has always had the gift to see into my heart.
“Daisy” I hear myself murmuring. “Promise ya will protect her.”
“Are you speaking of the child in the cradle, the one you carried here two years ago --the one you call your ward?”
I try to smile through cracked and swollen lips so he will know that he has guessed correctly.
‘Can ya tell me what has become a’ her?”
“A midwife from Ayr came to warn me that they were coming, so I hid the bairn away. I took her back to Rossend Castle and left her with your brother. I told him that she was yours to make certain he would keep her safe.”
He bends close so I can hear him.
“Who was it that was coming for you, Sweetheart?”
“Morton. His men did this. But it is Daisy they are seeking.”
I watch him shudder.
“Have they broken you in this hideous way just to spite me because they think the child is mine?”
Why am I not surprised by his vanity?
“Ah, Kirkcaldy, this is not about you. This has nothing to do with you” I scold. “You will understand once you know from whence I got her.”
Although it hurts me terribly, I let loose something that sounds like a snicker. Conceit was so much a part of Kirkcaldy that I found its presence reassuring.
“Ah swear to you, Dear Heart. I dinnae care who the father is. You should know that.”
“'Tis more a question of who Daisy’s mathair is, Kirkcaldy. I got her at Loch Leven.”
The geography of her birthplace is all he needs to hear to guess the rest.
With the scant breath I still have in me, I labor through the rest of it. The words are stealing my remaining strength, but Kirkcaldy needs to hear these things.
When Marie Stuart passed the child to me, she said she would send for her later in the spring, but if that became impossible, I was to deliver her to the Guises, her powerful relatives in France. Until then, she said, it would better if no one knew whose child I suckled. She made me swear not to divulge my secret unless death kept me from my mission, and even then, to share it only with someone I trusted to carry out her wishes after I was cold and dead. “My greatest hope is that my daughter finds a life of her own choosing far away from this wretched place. Her bloodline is a curse,” she said. “My Majesty is my anathema. If I am not there to do so, teach her that her heart is hers alone to rule. The only kingdom worth the effort is the one in Heaven.”
Those were the parting words of the unfortunate Queen of Scots until I received her latest letter, this one smuggled from her velvet prison in Bess of Hardwick’s elegant house.
‘’Prithee teach my daughter that the only offering that pleases God is a mind that dwells in constant prayer in a living, chaste body, devout and humble. There is no glory but in Heaven.” Those were her final words and if I were a religious woman they would be mine as well. First I must finish my pretty speech and get on with dying. I suspect that lying in my own filth in a body broken by the Earl of Morton’s rack absolves me from my vow of silence. The knight had better sense than to try to hush me up.
“If she truly was my natural daughter, I would wish her the freedom to choose her destiny and let dogs fight over the crown of Scotland. Guide her as best ya can, My Love.”
So, I finally have said my pretty little piece.
The knight draws me closer, not so much to keep me from my rendezvous with Death, but so I will not meet it cold and alone. On the soul of his much-loved mother, my champion swears that he will keep my secret safe and that he will mock my murderers by delivering the child to Joinville in my stead. It is not an easy vow for him to make. No matter how sorely he hates Morton and the lairds whom he calls ‘the hideous hounds of hell,’ he hates the Guises every bit as much. Nevertheless, he promises and seals it with a kiss.
“Sweet Jesu” he says in a voice that seems very far away, but I know that he has not left me, because I feel his tears mingling with the snowflakes falling on my cheek.
I hear strange singing at a distance-- sea sirens calling, or perhaps angels.