Lihandii Khuda’Cronell “Casey” Kendrick sat silently with her husband, Jake, in his medical bed as they contemplated what she had told him after pulling him out of his burning house. It had been almost a full week since he had passed out on his lawn, and he hadn’t been able to talk to her about it yet. The past week had been focused on his recovery. In the fire, he had broken more than just his arm Though his arm had been all but shattered by a falling rafter, he hadn’t realized at the time that that was due to his arm having successfully redirected a hit that had very nearly creamed him right in the head. It hadn’t missed completely, however, and that was evidenced by the cracks to the side of his skull and the fractures in his collarbone, scapula, and his top three ribs. Had he not first caught the beam with his arm, it would have killed him. Atop the broken bones, or rather beneath them, his left lung pierced, his right ventricle punctured, his spleen ruptured, some mild bruising on his brain, and his left eye actually rather well demolished, since replaced by a Thorlinthian optic prosthesis fashioned by Feri’Andi, Valkyr 52’s copilot and medical officer, Jake’s arm had to be completely reconstructed. It was a miracle he’d survived.
Now, however, his recovery had progressed to a point where he was quite able to discuss his wife’s pregnancy. “So,” he finally projected into the silent compartment of Valkyr 52’s makeshift medbay in the main hold, “how long have you known you were pregnant?” He didn’t know how else to ask. The shock was just starting to kick in. He didn’t really feel like a dad yet, though he’d always wanted to be one.
“About seventy-five days.” Lihandii’s idea of estimates differed slightly from his. Once narrowed to the day, that’d be plenty of precision to state definitively for Jake, but that was not the issue.
“Seventy-five days?!” Jake nearly shouted, a rare occasion when flames weren’t surrounding him. Liha flinched at the tone. Valkyrie she may be, but it killed her to disappoint him. “Why on Earth didn’t you tell me sooner?! We need to be planning!” He wasn’t sure if he should be mad or excited, so for now, he was a bit of both.
“Most Valkyrie pregnancies miscarry in the first eighty days. We’re talking the vast majority. There was only a two percent chance of me staying pregnant. I couldn’t bear having you look at me if I’d lost your child!” All the anger Jake had mustered up melted when he saw tears pouring down her face. The green light from her eyes carried into the edges of her tears, and he’d never seen her cry like this.
“Hey…” Jake beckoned for her to embrace him. “I love you. I understand why you didn’t want to tell me, and I forgive you, but you still should have told me. Imagine if you’d lost the baby, and I didn’t even know. I’d hardly be able to comfort you. I wouldn’t even understand why you were upset.” He smiled gently at her, and she smiled weakly back at him, the light of her eyes brightening slightly.
“I suppose that’s true. I’m sorry, Jake.” Lihandii strengthened her smile. Jake marveled sometimes at the strange docility his wife assumed toward him. She was an incredibly strong and independent woman, but some part of Valkyrie culture stressed the importance of the husband’s position in the family despite the fact that the Valkyrie women were most assuredly much stronger and often made a more luxurious living. Their devotion to their husbands was only ever second to their devotion to the Great One, their concept of God.
“I do have one question, though,” Jake said. “Don’t you have to return home in four or five years?” He hoped Lihandii would say no.
“Yeah, of course I do,” she replied. She gave him a puzzled look. “Why?”
Jake frowned. “Well, I can’t go back with you. What about the baby? Will you take him home with you? I know Feri is taking her baby home.”
“Yes, I’ll be taking her back. A Valkyrie wouldn’t do well to grow up here. She’d have no education on Earth.” Lihandii seemed to be holding something back, but she had always been as honest as she could be with him. If she didn’t think she should tell him, he’d trust her judgement.
“It’s a girl?” He latched onto the feminine pronouns with fervor. “You think so?” He smiled, pushing through the concept that he’d never see his daughter again after only a few years together.
“It’s practically impossible for a Valkyrie to have a son, and you’re not even Thorlinthian. Besides, a son would be…” Her eyes darkened. The light seemed almost to disappear at the thought of having a son. Jake decided not to press. It wasn’t worth pursuing. The child was a girl, anyway. He gripped her hand, their eyes met, and he was briefly glad her glow had dimmed as he stared directly into her eyes before the light was restored, and he had to look away from the phenomenon that was a Valkyrie’s gaze.
He smiled as he looked back, closing his right eye. The prosthetic optic wasn’t impacted the same way. He focused hard directly on his wife’s eye for the first time as her glow grew, and anything seemed possible. Of course, it wasn’t, but he didn’t know that yet…
Lihandii screamed in the medbay of Valkyr 52, her eyes burning the ceiling with their brilliance as she pushed. Her sweat-drenched hair singed the pillow as it shone just as brightly. She looked with gritted teeth at Feri’Andi, who was poised to receive the baby into her gloved arms and wipe off the blood and meconium. After that, Jake would take the baby in his bare, disinfected hands and place her on Lihandii’s breast after declaring her name, place a blanket over the baby and allow Lihandii to breastfeed while she delivered the placenta. After the feeding, Jake would cut the umbilical cord. He would then wait and wash the baby when prompted by Feri’Andi.
They had decided in a conversation months ago to name her Drigan’di after the mother of light and matriarch of the heavenly valkyri’din, the heavenly army of Jalihu’Dai, the ancient religion of Linthia. They had even rehearsed the birthing ceremony, including teaching Jake how to properly proclaim the child’s name, cut the cord with the ceremonial blade and wash the child with water from the Pond of Grace, the place where Valkyries had the full potential of their power released through their final ceremony of initiation. It was said that the sacred pool was home to a true valkyri’din of old, a spirit creature of nearly infinite power. Its waters were known for their tremendous healing power and had even been known to grant the power of the Valkyries to normal Linthians temporarily, filling them with the Light of Drigan’di, a purer form of the source of the Valkyries’ signature glow. Washing their daughter with the water would prevent the baby from entering full glow, which in turn would save the baby’s life. No one was sure exactly how it worked, but it was a ritual as old as the Matriarch that had been used before the Valkyries had become what they were now.
Jake gripped his wife’s hand tightly as her screams issued ever louder, and his brow seemed permanently furrowed in worry. Feri’Andi’s labor had been nowhere near this long and traumatic. She was nearing full glow, a dangerous state where Valkyries unleash their full power at risk of immense bodily harm and even death. Lihandii had often trained at high glow levels to lengthen the time she could remain in the state safely, but it was a highly volatile state, and Jake would be forced to leave if that happened so Feri’Andi could sedate her, which would be particularly dangerous during childbirth. That would be especially bad this near the baby’s emergence.
“Jake!” Feri’Andi exclaimed. “Come here. It’s time.” Lihandii’s screams grew stronger, and the room grew warmer as Jake released her hand to prepare to receive his daughter into his arms. When he moved down to the foot of the bed, he saw the top of his daughter’s head, and all his unease became more bearable. If he remembered, this was crowning. As the baby emerged, Feri’Andi grabbed the head and took a small tube in her hand, applying it to the nose and mouth, suctioning out the various fluids with which the baby had been filled for her entire life thus far. Once the baby had fully emerged, Feri’Andi wiped her and handed her to Jake still a bit slimy.
Jake raised the baby slightly, saying with rehearsed precision, “Sja edt minn barn. Yk karr nom edt Drigan’di,” meaning, “This is my child. Your name is Drigan’di.” He set his child as practiced properly on her mother’s breast to feed and placed a blanket over her body to hold in heat. Feri’Andi ensured the proper delivery of the placenta and began to tend to monitoring the activity of the strange, independent organ and making sure Lihandii was feeding Drigan’di properly. After a while, she gestured to Jake to grab the blade while she grabbed the clamps. She clamped either side of the point where he was to cut, and he slid the blade against the cord as instructed, slicing the cord cleanly as he spoke, “Yk karr andi edt band vidh ykfold,” meaning, “your spirit is bound to yourself.” Immediately, he brought the baby to the small basin of water and began to wash him, first saying, “Sja aegir edt yk karr rondi,” meaning, “this sea is your shield.” The baby’s crying stopped as the remainder of the umbilical cord fell off, leaving no navel, only a flat belly. Jake continued washing, saying (with permission from his bishop due to the risk of the baby’s death due to extremely high mortality rates of Valkyrie babies to full glow within the first day.), “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” At these words, the water of the font glowed white, then green, and the light flowed onto the right arm of the child, wrapping around it, settling in the form of a green dragon, the Thorlinthian image of a purified and redeemed Oa’din symbolizing the Great One’s mercy. Jake’s mouth opened slightly as he saw this, but not as much as it did when he looked down Drigan’di’s tiny body. She was a he.
Feri’Andi’s hand came quickly upon his mouth as he turned to tell Lihandii and she saw the baby’s groin. She shook her head and had him hand her the baby. He did so, and she pushed him out of the hold as she said, “Lihandii, I have news.”
“Yes?” Lihandii’s eager, if weary, smile was the last thing Jake saw as the door closed.
“It’s a boy.” There was a single, brief moment of silence.
Lihandii let loose a blood-curdling scream. “No!” She screamed. “They’ll kill him!” Hysteria filled her voice. “Not my baby! Not my Drigan’di!”
Feri’Andi’s response was oddly cool and reserved. “Drigondii,” she calmly corrected for gender, “would be safer here. Look. The Great One Himself has bestowed the symbol of redemption on his skin. It happened during his baptism.”
Lihandii’s crying quieted down, and Jake realized the door was cooling as she calmed down. Now he understood why he’d been pushed from the room. He re-entered. “I thought you said it would be a girl.” His face was filled with compassion but his eyes cut into hers with immense questioning. “What does this mean?”
Lihandii spoke gaspingly through the tears as she held Drigondii lovingly yet mournfully in her arms. “He’s a Sheii’Cronell, one of the most powerful beings that live. His power will lead him to madness, and the Monarch will have him killed unless his powers are sealed, and he is hidden.” She looked up at her confused husband. “I will ensure his powers are adequately sealed away, and he’ll remain here on Earth with you. It’s the only way for him to remain safe. Feri and I will have to send a message seeking instructions from the Matriarch beyond that.”
She looked at Drigondii with tear-filled eyes. “He’s so beautiful.” A tear fell upon him, and he opened his squinted eyes wide, showing a brilliant red light just as it was washed away by what looked like fluid to reveal plain mahogany eyes.