Queen Marlena's Story

by A. Carr

Part 3:

And then she had two pretty babes born

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She said, "oh babes, it's you, can tell
Oh the rose and the linsey, oh
What kind of death I have to die?
Down by the green wood sidey-0

Terran folk song

In the magic, eerie blue glow of Dark Moon, Marlena began to speak of the early days of her marriage to Randor.

"Mari-Libana trid to instruct me in the ways of the Eternian queens, but I was not the most receptive student, perhaps." The queen and the healer exchanged an affectionate glance. It was clear that they had explored this subject many times before. "The one thing that we both agreed on, however, was that I should have a child. And that was no easy task. The last thing anybody needs on a space voyage is a fertile female, and I had been taking drugs not only to keep from getting pregnant, but to suppress my monthly cycles altogether. I wasn't sure I could bear a healthy child, and my medical records had been lost with the ship."

"What all did we do?" Marlena turned to her companion for corroboration. "I was treated with every fertility herb known to Eternian medecine, and visited every shrine to implore the help of every power on the planet!" Marlena laughed, remembering those happy days in which she actually was able to see most of the kingdom and meet the majority of her subjects. Did she know how welcome the sight of her was in that time? Did she know how it cheered the hearts of every villager when she would inquire respectfully for the advice of the local wise-woman, and leave offerings at the shrines in their sacred places?

"I was even tempted to consult Miro's doctors," continued Marlena, "for I suspect that hordian medecine is actually very similar to the drug therapy that I would have received on Earth. But I dared not reveal to Randor that there was any problem whatsoever. And so more than a year went by before I conceived. Luckily, Randor and I did not mind doing our part during those long months!" Again the Queen smiled to herself and Adora was glad to see it, for like every child she was pleased to know that her parents loved each other.

"Is it any wonder that I had twins?" chuckled the Queen. "Everybody knows that multiple births often occur to women who can't conceive and try too hard."

But Mari-Libana was having none of it. "Your twins were... they are the gift of the Great Mother," she insisted. "The legends say that Queen Mari-Daliena had twins, and those women became the rulers of the twin planets, Eternia and Etheria." The older woman turned now to Adora. "Our two worlds are said to be joined like two babes in the womb, between whom there is a bond so deep that it defies all sense of human communication. That bond is the basis of the greatest magic. It is the deep intuition that unites all women."

"But my mother's children are boy and girl," whispered Adora softly. "What of that bond now?"

Her question hung in the air for a moment, and then both women answered.

"I do not know," admitted the Queen. "Perhaps it is the sign of a new relationship between men and women."

"Not all twins have brought good fortune to our worlds," observed Mari-Libana more darkly. "Miro's grandmother Sitilla was twin second-born with Helena, true ruler of Eternia. Sitilla's discontent led to the presence of Hordak and three generations of war."

Adora held both of these answers in her heart. She believed in the goodness of her new-found brother Adam, but she had to admit that their twinned lives--separately and together--were filled with little but violence and death.

"When I did become pregnant, I was spectacularly pregnant," Marlena resumed her tale. "My belly was large and you babies were active, from the beginning. Everyone could see that there would be two children. I was ecstatic to be with child, with children, and took every precaution. You had me off my feet and secluded in the castle almost from the beginning, my dear," she chided Mari-Libana mildly.

But Mari-Libana had a different point of view. "There were threats to your very life, you know. Hordak implored daily that you visit his doctors, but I had learned my lesson and would not let them near you. The common folk whispered about the advent of twins. When the babies moved so visibly, old wives were sure that the spirits of Earth and the spirits of Eternia were fighting battles in the womb."

But Adora knew better. The evening's talk--and perhaps Mari-Libana's potions--had stirred many memories in her, as well. In the past few weeks, she and Adam were recovering that deep bond that now she knew had been nurtured from their first moments of life. Whatever struggles might now exist between the powers of Eternia, she knew that her brother was part of the solution, not the problem.

"I remember well the night you were born, Adora," her mother began. "It was exactly time...."

Scarcely had the pains of labor begun when the first head began to slip through the birth canal. To Mari-Libana's amazement, the baby practically fell into her waiting hands, so easily was that first twin born. Yes, it was a girl, lithe and quick. Quickly cleaned, she was delivered into a waiting pair of arms. Was that young baby holding up her head already? Queen Marlena's eyes misted over with tears. This was her child, her most beloved, long awaited child. "Her name is Adora," Marlena announced proudly. The chamber was bathed in the metallic sheen of moonsday, the luckiest time of the month for a girl child to come into this world. Could there be a more auspicious birth?

But the second child would not be rushed. The labor lasted through the night and into the next day. The sun set and the Bright Moon rose, but still that baby would not be born.

There are those who say that no boy baby ever wants to leave the womb, for never again would he be so close to the Great Mother. There were those who whispered that Mari-Libana did not want for a boy to be born to challenge the rights of a queen, and so she worked her dark magic to prevent that child from taking his first breath. But any midwife would tell you straightforwardly what the problem was. Eternian men were known for their extraordinarily muscular frames and especially their broad shoulders. Marlena Glenn from Earth, strong and healthy as she was, had not been bred to give birth to a child of such size. And so she labored.

Queen Marlena was exhausted. Mari-Libana had tried everything she could think of: massages, teas, candles and incantations, smells and bells. All were exhausted and begged her to relax and let nature take its course. Marlena closed her eyes and tried to reach within herself, to find some still, small voice that would tell her what to do. And then she heard it, a clear, sweet sound in her ear. "Mother? Can you hear me? It's your daughter."

Marlena started abuptly, as if someone had tapped her on the shoulder. There was no one there. After a short pause, she heard "I'm Adora." There was a gurgle of delight. "I like my name. Thank you."

The midwives noticed that the Queen had suddenly became calm and inwardly focussed.

"Mother. You're so tense and tired. How would you like it if I sang to you? I can sing one of the songs that you've been singing to me for the past nine months." And hearing no protest, the baby girl cooed, "Let me call you sweetheart, I'm in love with you...." The Queen let the precious little voice wash over her, feeling each limb of her body renewed in energy with every note.

What had come over the Queen? The midwives did not know, but took advantage of the opportunity to encourage the Queen to make another effort. But it was no use. The baby would still not drop, and the Queen seemed no closer to delivering than she had hours before.

"Mother?" The sweet and soft voice sounded anxious now. Marlena was too tired even to lift her head, let alone marvel that her newborn child should be speaking to her in this way. Marlena shut her eyes and concentrated on the sound. "Mother, my brother doesn't want to be born. He's very large, you know, and he's sure that he will tear you. He does not want to hurt you." Marlena was amazed. Had Adora been able to understand the conversation of the midwives? How would she know?

But the child continued. "Mother, you must tell him that it's all right. That the wise woman will be able to heal your wounds. He won't listen to me." At that remark, the astonished Queen summoned all her strength to raise herself up on her birthing stool to stare at her daughter. The startled midwives followed her gaze to the baby in the wetnurse's lap. The newborn Adora was sitting up straight, holding her head high, and staring directly into her mother's eyes from across the room. What was happening?

Marlena lifted herself up the rest of the way and formed her words with effort. "My beloved son, I am well pleased that you are large and strong and healthy. The blood that you sense and smell around you is the very stuff of life. Although bleeding is a sign of dying, it is the special power of women that they can bleed and not die. You must not be afraid, but come forth and meet your destiny."

Marlena paused a moment, as if in thought, but started up again boldly. "In my world, the first-born man was named Adam. And so I shall call you Adam, for although I seem to die, I will live again as new in your birth."

Mari-Libana shooke her head. She had tried to teach the young terran queen everything she knew about childbirth, but she had not thought to inform her what bad luck it was to name a child before it was born!

The Queen could utter not one word more, but no more was necessary, for the second twin began to pass between her legs. The hefty boy broke free of the womb just as the first ray of sunlight beamed into the birthing chamber. It was indeed the dawn of a new day. There was a rending of the flesh, to be sure, but Mari-Libana was there immediately with a needle and a poultice.

Now that both babies had entered the world, the worst was over, the midwife thought. To let Marlena appreciate what she had accomplished, she placed a swaddled babe in each of the mother's arms. But Marlena had only enough energy to think one thought. "Blessed am I among women to have two such beautiful children!"

Mari-Libana gently removed her young charges and let the Queen collapse in exhaustion. She passed Adora into the arms of the nursemaid and laid Adam in the cradle for his full examination. "Run and give the news now," Mari-Libana instructed one young girl, while another was sent off for more soap and water.

In the excitement and relief, no one noticed that a great black serpent had slithered into the room and was crawling in the dark shadows along the wall. The midwife turned away only for a moment to make sure that the afterbirth was carefully packed away for safekeeping and important magic. When she returned her attention to the crib, she cried out in horror to see the long black snake coiled at young Adam's side and flicking his tongue at the baby's face. Before she could utter a simple warding spell, however, the young boy had grabbed the wily serpent at the base of his head and, with a baby's instinct, began to squeeze tight. At the first pressure, the snake began to thrash wildly. At least three times the length of the baby, the snake looked powerful enough to hurl the newborn out of the cradle.

Suddenly, Adora's eyes flashed and Adam's fist squeezed. From across the room, a laser beam of light flashed out, paralyzing the writhing creature. In a single moment there was a huge burst of golden light. When the air cleared, the snake lay dead on the floor beside the cradle. Standing at the edge of the room amidst the swirling smoke was none other than Hordak, stumbling as he escaped his dying host creature.

Mari-Libana cried out in dismay. "Leave this place at once, you old serpent! This is no place for men..., especially ones like you."

The two adversaries squared off, each quickly trying to assess the situation. In the same moment, each grabbed for the nearest child. Mari-Libana picked up the baby Adam and cast a warding circle around the two of them. Hordak seized Adora from the wetnurse's very breast, and placed a field of energy around the two of them. The wetnurse did nothing, but fell instantly into a deep trance. No sound came from the corner, where the Queen still sat on her birthing stool. Marlena's eyes were closed; after two days of labor, very likely nothing could rouse her from her needed sleep.

"You have taken the wrong one, Hordak," taunted Mari-Libana. "Don't you want your precious man-child?"

"True, woman, I could raise him to his greatness, while you will ignore him as you ignore all males."

"Have you had such wondrous success with your protege Keldor, then?" insinuated Mari-Libana slyly. "Do you really think you can raise a child, any child?"

"You are a foolish old woman," sneered Hordak. "Give me that boy, and perhaps I will let this trifling female live." His large hand hovered over the tiny throat of Adora.

"Two can play that game, Hordak." Mari-Libana had her midwife's scissor poised over the soft new body of little Adam.

"This is what my mother says on Earth they call a Mexican stand-off." Adora's baby voice now sounded in Mari-Libana's head, and it took all the crone's control not to waver in her concentration on Hordak. "My mother is only feigning sleep," explained the child, "as a protective strategy."

"But Hordak doesn't know about me," continued Adora. "I think I can surprise him into dropping me so that I can escape. Are you ready?" Mari-Libana tightened her muscles in anticipation of ....

But immediately Adora nearly shouted, "Wait!"

"Mother is afraid for us, her children. She doesn't think I'm strong enough to survive." Adora confessed, "Mother might be right. I'm not very old yet, you know."

What an understatement! Mari-Libana tried to think of something that would keep Hordak talking, stalling for time.

"Would you really kill the rightful-born Queen of Eternia?" asked Mari-Libana. "Can you imagine no use for her, no reason to let her live?"

Hordak looked thoughtful, so the healer continued. "Give her back, so that these children might be raised to rule."

But now Hordak laughed. "Both of them to you? What kind of idiot do you think I am, to surrender my advantage?"

The healer's mind was racing. She was desperate to save the little princess, and was turning over in her mind every plan to keep Adora in Castle Greyskull, her rightful home.

Mari-Libana began slowly. "All right, Hordak, perhaps you are right. What do we women know? You are the one who knows how to raise boys. Let us trade," she continued reasonably. "Give me the girl, and you may take him."

But now the Queen moaned, and again Adora cried out in Mari-Libana's mind. "My mother says no. She says not to let Adam go, no matter what the cost." The little girl's voice was barely audible, and there was a touch of sadness in it.

Hordak also disagreed. "No, old hag. It will not do for me to leave the Castle overrun by a pack of women." He gazed down at little Adora in his arms. She was deadly still. "I made the right choice, after all. You may keep ..Adam, is that his name? Raised in the castle, all Eternia will come to look to him as their ruler, a fine king." He laughed at the sheer cleverness of his plan, as if he had always intended it.

"I will raise this girl myself, in the ways of the Horde, the true people. If you want a Queen, you will get one," he cackled. "If she ever returns to Eternia, she will rule in my name!"

"Returns?" Mari-Libana was anxious. At what cost was Adora's life to be saved? "Where are you taking her?"

"Away from here, you can be assured." Why should he reveal his plans to these folks, Hordak mused. In fact, he had just established a small colony on Etheria. The resources there had been discovered to be of great value to his people, particularly the rare mineral sheridium. Those foolish backward people had neither the sense to develop the market for themselves, nor the power to stop Hordak from doing so. Yes, Etheria would be a fine place to raise Adora and keep an eye on Adam. "I think it will be best for this girl to be as far away from you as possible."

Mari-Libana was in a state of near-panic. Everyone else in the room was still, and without some sort of form of communication from the baby girl, she had no idea what to do. At last the voice came. Adora spoke in her mind, clearly and deliberately, with all the grace and dignity of a queen, although she was but one day old.

"Mother is satisfied that this would save our lives. If this arrangement assures that we will all survive, you must let me go with Hordak." Was that a hint of regret in her voice? Could Mari-Libana in fact insure that they would all survive?

"All right," she allowed Hordak to relax visibly. "But I have a condition to impose."

"We each now have something that the other prizes. Surely it is in our best interests to promise that both of these children will grow into their maturity. It is so easy for a small child to falter, to disappear, to perish, ... accidentally, of course. If you take good care of the girl, we guarantee to care for the boy. And if you leave young Adam alone, neither will we challenge your guardianship of Adora. We will raise the prince our way, you may raise the princess in yours. And we shall see, eh?"

Hordak rolled the thoughts over in his mind. A truce could be made to serve his needs. And yet, was he wise to give his promise here? Hordak actually considered himself to be a man of his word, but could he expect the same honor from females? For one dark moment he thought of the deep and painful betrayal of his most beloved student Keldor, but he shook off the memory. He could not promise to have nothing to do with Prince Adam, ever.

"And I, too, have conditions," Hordak countered. "Let us tell these children nothing of our little...experiment...for the time being. When they are of age, we might renew contact, if we so choose. Shall our truce last for...sixteen years, then?"

Mari-Libana's heart jumped. Sixteen years was not too long to wait for an Eternian Queen, especially when, only a few moments ago, she feared never to see the princess again.

"So be it," Adora's voice rang clearly in her mind.

"So be it," Mari-Libana's voice rang clearly in the chamber.

"So be it," Hordak likewise sealed the agreement. With a gesture of his hand, he dispelled the glittering force field around Adora and himself. In another moment, both he and the princess had disappeared out of the great open windows, making their way out of the castle as the sun began its daily climb into a blue sky.

After only a perfunctory knock on the door, King Randor burst into the birthing chamber. Expecting to meet with a scene of exhilarated celebration, he pulled up short at the awful silence that greeted him instead. His queen had not dressed to receive him, but still straddled her birthing stool, wearing the stained and sweaty garments marked by two days of labor. One baby only lay in the cradle. Randor's sense of protocol was completely disrupted. He had been summoned, but had clearly arrived too early. He dared not touch his wife, still numinous from her efforts, and he could see the wards glistening around the cradle. The nursemaid in the corner slumped in her chair, looking nearly dead. Mari-Libana stood in the middle of the room with her hands hanging limply at her sides, seemingly unoccupied for the first time in nine months. On an impulse, Randor fell to his knees and began to mumble awkward pleas to the Great Mother that his household somehow regain its sense.

At the sound of the king's voice, Mari-Libana snapped into action. In two minutes she had removed the queen's soiled garments and wrapped Marlena in a crimson receiving robe lined with the softest fleece. She led the woman to the bed, propped her up against satin pillows, and spread the coverlet over her weakened body. With a flick of her wrist, she loosened the wards around Prince Adam's crib, and lifted the baby into his mother's arms. Gently she touched the king's shoulder, and he lifted his eyes to hers.

Now Mari-Libana fell to her knees. "The Queen would like to present to you her son. Although the labor was long, he is healthy and strong. I prophecy that he will live many years and bring glory to Eternia." It was a comfort to be able to deliver the traditional midwife's speech after so strange a night. Would Marlena remember her part? And then what would happen?

"This is Adam," Queen Marlena said softly, gesturing to the baby in her arms. "He is your son." Indeed, the Queen had uttered the presentation ritual and had publically acknowledged the father of her offspring. Was there ever any hope that the earth-born queen would keep her child to herself in the way of the ancient ones?

Marlena then extended her hand and pulled Randor closer to her bed. "My dear," she faltered, "Oh, my dear." Copious tears began to fall from her eyes.

Randor held himself stiffly as he heard about Hordak's appearance in their chamber. The two women kept many details of the birth to themselves, especially the miraculous maturity of Adora and the way in which she assisted in her brother's birth. But they confessed to the King that in their desperation they had bargained for the safety of Adam by allowing Hordak to take Adora. It was no use pretending that the girl had not been born, after all. While Randor had not been permitted into the birthing chamber until it was all over, he had surely heard by rumor that the first child had been born a day ago. And Marlena wanted to be truthful with her husband, according to Earth custom.

"What happened is for the best," Randor proclaimed after only a few minutes silence. "Hordak and Keldor would never have rested content to let us raise two children in peace. In this way, perhaps, we have purchased some time of rest for our kingdom." He smiled at Queen Marlena and took her small hand in his large one. Adam gurgled happily, and for the first time in two days a light spirit pervaded the room.

"A terrible tragedy befell our... other child," continued King Randor. He could not bear the thought that the lost one was a girl, and did not dare to ask her name. "It will do no good to advertise this victory of Hordak. Without saying much, we can perhaps imply that...the other one... met a natural end. If they think anything at all, the people will assume, perhaps, that this was for the best. Twins can be trouble, you know, and are often feared."

Randor looked into his wife's eyes, hardly guessing what she might be thinking. "Hordak was my tutor as a child," he tried to comfort her. He is not an Eternian, of course, but he has ...gifts to offer. We must hope for the best."

Randor straightened up and rustled his garments to shake out the dust from kneeling on the floor. He headed toward the doorway, but paused and turned to survey the room.

"We will speak of this no more," he announced firmly, and departed.

Queen Marlena fell back into her soft bed and slept deeply, for the first time in days. In his crib, Adam cooed softly. Mari-Libana pressed a soft poppet into his arms and he grasped it instinctively, perhaps as he had once embraced his sister in the womb. Then the old healer busied herself about the room, uttering soft spells of banishing and purifying as she tidied and cleaned. Two babes had been born, she thought. What would become of them?

Forward to Part 4


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