A battle was fought in the castle that day. It was not a battle of swords, fought between soldiers. Nor was it a battle of words, fought between the orators of the country. No, it was a battle between birth and death, fought between the queen of Lerata and unseen forces.
She was alone as the battle raged. Her husband and stepson were far away, settling some dispute that threatened the peace of the kingdom. She alone was left to face the doctors and attendents and the hand of death that sought to claim both her and her son. And it seemed to her that they were all against her.
The sun had set on Lerata, filling the castle with a darkness held weakly at bay by a show of candles, when the battle ended. Mara sank deep into her pillows and breathed a sigh of relief, scarcely believing the battle was over.
"It is a son," announced the doctor. He carried the newborn, upside down, by his ankles across the room and handed him to a woman who was waiting by a basin of water.
Mara took a deep breath, trying to calm the postpartum trembling in her body, and stared up at the rich burgundy canopy over her bed. A faint smile spread over her face. "A prince," she murmured. Even in her weary state, she felt a sense of pride. "Prince of Lerata. My son."
The wail of the newborn suddenly cut through the silence like a knife aimed at her heart.
"What are you doing to him?" she demanded, raising her head to search for her son. Suspicion clouded her vision. She did not like this doctor.
The doctor raised an eyebrow. "A newborn must be cleansed, my queen," he stated. He spoke with the pompous tone of voice common to his position, and it filled Mara with anger.
"Leave him alone! All of you! He doesn't like it!" Mara hissed. She shoved her arms against the bed, struggling to sit up.
"You must not sit up yet," said one of the attendees, rushing to her side. "You are too weak. You will faint. See how you are shaking!"
"Bring me my son," Mara insisted. Her eyes were wide and wild, showing the ferocity of a mother bear in spite of her weakness.
The doctor raised his eyebrow again; and the woman, suspending the newborn over the basin of water, pursed her lips and shook her head over this breach of tradition.
"But my queen," the woman began, wavering between her fear of the queen and her fear of what might happen to a baby who was not properly bathed.
"I care not for your superstitions," Mara snapped. "Bring him to me at once."
Reluctantly, the woman carried the babe to new mother.
With her son safely in her arms, Mara breathed a sigh of relief. As he nestled against her, she somehow felt happier and more contented than she had ever felt in her life. Her baby was beautiful.
"Newel," she whispered. "His name shall be Newel."
The doctor looked at her sharply. "It is customary, I believe," he said stiffly, "to let the king name his own son. Perhaps we should await his return?"
Mara's eyes flashed angrily. "He is MY son, is he not?" she demanded. "If my husband wished to name him, he should have been here." Her eyes settled once again on the babe in her arms and took on a softer hue. Then, in a tone that was half lullaby and half triumph, she repeated, "Newel...son of Mara...prince of Lerata!"