Prologue – nearly twenty-six years ago – The arrival of dawn brought the departure
Even while the rosy skies of dawn partially colored the room, today would not be a good day for her. She studied her surroundings filled with the old rich furniture just coming into focus, and she saw the starkness of the walls. The curtain-less windows allowed the light but were not positioned for her to see the surrounding countryside, from where she lay confined to bed, too weak to move. Luxurious linens and down pillows gently supported her. The renewed coppery scent reminded her she was fading further with the ongoing hemorrhage. If she stayed still the pain was tolerable. She refused to whimper as that would only bring pain meds. He would give her meds to prevent her suffering, if she asked.
Each passing minute caused the fractured light to bring another item into focus, as the detailed statues on the mantel displayed some exquisite old world intricate craftsmanship. Several children had been crafted out of marble and still sat high up on the mantel out of the reach of visitors. She briefly recalled being allowed to touch each of them when she had reached a certain age, under the watchful eye of her mother. Each one had a story, which she had carefully memorized, that spoke of the expectations for children. It had been so different then.
The lofty goals for children to reach toward, but likely never obtain. There had been love, she was convinced. Briefly she wondered if her mother would have been proud of her. Her father certainly wasn’t when they had bitterly fought. What father would have forced his daughter to this horrible end, just to feed his ego? He was brutally harsh, but she knew he had glimmers of compassion. She’d seen them. The bright spot for her now, had been that she had survived the birth two days ago.
As she shifted slightly, the pain shot through her lower body. Though the doctor had examined her several times, he had been unable to stop her bleeding. A hospital would have been the prudent course of action, but her father refused. The nurses checked her frequently and had been instructed that she not suffer. Still she refused most meds as she hoped she might see her baby just one time. The baby had been taken away for care and checking while her body had failed her.
After twenty some odd hours of labor, she had been too tired to open her eyes to catch even a glimpse when the baby finally emerged. She had rested some while they tended her rent body. The doctor, old and weathered, was a trusted friend of her father. He was much more practiced with fixing gunshot wounds or other battle incurred injuries than birthing babies. The nurses that now tended her had no midwife or birthing experience either. They were kind, caring, and kept her as clean and comfortable as possible, with the exception of not answering her questions about her baby. Nothing but silence.
The door opened, and the glow from the hallway was a backdrop to the outline of the man who was still bigger than life to her. Even as much as she idolized this man, her father, she was angry that he had ultimately caused her destruction. As she watched, he gracefully crossed the room in several measured steps and sat down in the chair positioned at her bedside. Even sitting, he was a commanding figure and a force with which to be reckoned.
He reached over and stroked her silken blond hair, which the nurses had cleaned and combed for her after the ordeal, then gently asked, “My beautiful daughter, how are you feeling? Do I need to ask those cows to give you some laudanum? It will help ease you, I am told.”
Her eyes shimmered as she shook her head and murmured, “No, Father, I would rather see my last dawn. I am not as strong as you, but I will not fail on this.”
As he held her hand, an almost remorseful look passed briefly across his face as he responded, “No, my daughter, you are very strong. Far stronger than your mother. You delivered a very healthy robust child who will grow up with the best schooling and best training that I can provide. That is my promise to you, my daughter.
“Your mother failed so many times to carry a second child to term, which as you know was a battle she and your brother lost when you were seven. She gave me you, yet failed to provide any more children.”
Her eyes blazed as she implored, “Father, may I see my child, know its name? I don’t know if it is a boy or a girl. Please, I need to know.”
“My daughter, it is a healthy baby that you delivered. This offspring will be the most brilliant offspring our whole extended family will produce. After all, the father’s seed was hand selected to insure brilliance. Along with your refined elegant looks, this child will be superb. This child will continue my bloodline.”
Adelaide briefly closed her eyes and envisioned her baby. She felt her body weakening further, but was determined to finish her discussion with an uncloudy brain. Her lips formed a small perfect smile, as she opened her eyes and slowly asked, “Father, is the baby perfect, like a little pearl? Is the skin ivory and flawless with a face round and perfectly formed?”
He smiled as he reassured, “Yes, it is a very pretty baby, very tiny, but I sense it will be a force to be reckoned with under my tutelage. Your child will lack for nothing.”
Her weakened voice replied, “Thank you, Father. Please don’t force this child into the calling, if he or she doesn’t possess the skills. I beg you.”
His eyes blazed then smoldered, “The child will get only what it earns and deserves. The child will be loved, but not coddled. The child will know your best traits, though I will not speak of your failings, if that helps ease your mind.”
“Yes, Father. That would be best since you won’t give the name or let me hold my baby.” Adelaide closed her eyes briefly again, gathering some of the last of her strength, even as she felt life seeping from her body. The tinge of old copper was stronger now to her. She wondered for a moment if he noticed and dismissed it as something he would ignore. Death was nearly his closest friend. Sad but true.
Then she quietly begged, “Father, when my little pearl is eighteen, will you give him or her my box of mementoes? I would like to share the cherished books, few pieces of jewelry, like Mama’s ring and my necklace. I added my necklace when I went into labor to keep it all together. Keep it until the child is grown, please.”
“Yes, daughter. It is good, this tradition of the memento boxes. It reminds the females of the family of their role in passing down traditions from mothers to their children. The small books of learning, that have made us so great, are important to pass along. From your grandmother to her child, and now from you to your child. It is part of the way our perfect order for the world is shared. Eighteen seems a long way off, but by then your baby will be shaped, educated, launched on their mission, and the memories will only serve to make for even more determination to succeed.
“It is a shame, my daughter, that you will not see twenty and one. That your body failed, even though your mind is strong and clever. You can take comfort that you successfully created the possibilities that we will take forward in our cause.”
Her thoughts went back to the time she had disobeyed his edicts, and the results of her rebellion. Then she wondered if the information she had planted for her child would actually reach the child and be enough to change the possible outcomes. She would not fear that now but do her best to insure that the information would get to her little pearl. The life drained even more quickly from her as she continued, “Father, thank you for my life. I am sorry we fought so bitterly. Treat my little pearl as you said and promise me he or she will get my box as we just discussed. Promise me, on my death.”
He gripped her hand and raised it to his lips. Then he placed a kiss on her already cold skin that seemed almost translucent, with the room fully illuminated from the light of day. It was an infrequent gesture of tenderness that was very foreign to his normal demeanor. He emphasized, with conviction, the last words she heard before she passed away, “I promise it will be as we agreed, my daughter. I forgive you for fighting my demands. Your little pearl will do better and succeed where you failed.”