“Hello, Witchling,” Dorian purred before placing a soft kiss onto hair the color of freshly fallen snow. Light and downy as the wings of a newly hatched gosling.
The bundle in his arms squirmed, her face twisting into a tiny scowl, reminding him so much of her mother. He fixed her swaddle and moved around the room, rocking her softly in his arms. Shushing her into a quiet peace until she settled, burrowing her cheek to his chest.
What was left of his heart that didn’t belong to Manon was now owned by the sweet being he held.
Despite everything, all the trials, and tribulations between Manon and himself to get to where they were. To be King and Queen of two near rivaling nations and somehow let their passion and love for each other prevail. Despite the surprise pregnancy, which nearly took the knees out from under him. Despite the difficult, long pregnancy, during which Dorian and never seen Manon so terrified, so afraid to merely breathe wrong.
After all of those struggles, today Manon brought their little one into this world with strength and gratitude.
But the labor was arduous. Manon specifically wanted Yrene and a Crochan doula in the room with her and he’d obliged, waiting out in the hall with Chaol. Chaol, his best friend. His brother. He had accompanied his wife for the birth, bouncing his son on his knee while seated in the chair he knew he’d be restricted to after Yrene used most of her magic to stitch up Manon after the birth.
Manon’s scream cut through the air before a wyvern’s worried roar sounded from above the castle, drawing Chaol and his son’s gazes upward.
“That’s a wyvern, Ress,” Chaol said to his son, who pointed to the painting ceiling adorned with frescos of their story.
Little Ress Josef Westfall entered the world a little over a year before, blessing their entire extended family. And, apparently, created baby fever amongst their group. Not long after Aelin, Elide, and Lysandra held the chestnut-haired bundle with large caramel eyes, they’d become pregnant a short time later.
Manon had only glanced at the child from afar, trying to hide her smile behind iron-tipped fingers, feigning disinterest. And yet, that evening, unbeknownst to them, they’d created a child of their own.
Ress happily burbled, his eyes transfixed on his father as if holding a real conversation. And from the pride and interest beaming in Chaol’s deep bronze eyes, they were.
“Can you say, wyvern, my son?” Ress blew out spit bubbles, leaning forward to wipe his face on Chaol’s shirt. Dorian snorted. “Just wait, Dorian. Spit bubbles are nothing. Just wait to see the liquids and solids that come out of different orifices. This castle about to get a lot less clean.”
“I can only imagine.”
Manon’s scream tore through the air like a mighty wind. Both Chaol and Dorian winced. Abraxos cried out again, his tail thumping against the roof, rattling the chandeliers and sending dust to the marbled floor.
“I better do something about him before he brings the whole wing down to get to her.”
Chaol smirked. “He’s that protective of her?”
“Yes,” he said, starting toward the room adjacent to the birthing room, connected by a wide balcony. “He once tried to bite my arm off for hugging her.”
Chaol’s laughter faded into small talk as he chatted with his son.
“Mama,” Ress asked his father, his head tilting.
“She’s in the room helping bring another little one into the world, Ress. Your Mama is good like that. Helping people. And she’s going to bring you a playmate. A cousin.”
Dorian smiled at that because both he and Chaol would make sure their children grew up close. As close as brothers. As brother and sister. He and Manon were not sure what they were having yet.
He’d calmed Abraxos by allowing him access to the balcony, explaining to the terrified wyvern what was happening. Once he had his eyes on her, he’d laid down on the balcony and watched. Waited.
Yrene pushed open the doors, her hands covered in blood. Dorian’s heart dropped to his toes.
“She’s calling for you,” Yrene said. “She needs you.”
Manon needed him? Called for him?
He rushed into the room, his eyes focusing on the pile of red fabric at that base of the bed and the panting figure in the bed.
He sat on the edge of the bed beside her, taking the hand she offered, squeezing it. Yrene handed him a cool damp rag, which he placed on Manon’s heated forehead.
“The baby was in the breech position,” the Crochan doula explained.
“Feet first instead of head first,” Yrene elaborated, taking her place at the end of the bed between Manon’s bent knees.
“I was unable to move the little one but Yrene was able to with her magic.”
“And now comes the hard part, Manon,” Yrene addressed, her eyes both full of compassion and unending determination.
“That...wasn’t,” Manon swallowed hard, and Dorian pushed back white strands matted to her sweaty forehead. “The...hard part?”
Yrene chuckled softly. “It’s all hard, Queen. That’s why the women do it.” She winked at Dorian.
Manon smiled tightly at that.
The Crochan doula bowed her head, “It’s time to push, your Highness.”
Yrene had her hands on both of Manon’s knees, rubbing soothing circles, meeting his stare. “Manon, you can do this. You are moments away from meeting your little one. You are bringing this child into the world. So do it.”
Well, played, Yrene.
Manon didn’t answer with words, but straightened, pushing through the pain until she was sitting up.
Dorian placed a strong hand on her back supporting her, feeling the pained tension thrumming through her.
Manon pushed and pushed, every effort releasing a battle cry into the world until a smaller, sharper battle cry joined in harmony. Manon collapsed back on the bed, her eyes wet as she let go with the sounds of new life filling the room.
He stayed with her, soothing her as his heart pounded against his ribcage.
Yrene wrapped the child in a white blanket, handing it to the Crochan doula per tradition. The doula walked over to the Manon, who needed help sitting up. Dorian propped every pillow in the room behind Manon as Yrene tended to the necessary afterbirth care.
“It’s a princess,” the doula bowed, handing the precious bundle to her queen.
He had a daughter.
They had a daughter.
Tears rolled down Manon’s cheeks. Not since the war, the sacrifice of the Thirteen, had he seen her weep so openly.
She moved the fabric away from the face. Her skin was like his own but her snowy hair was all her mother. Her eyes were closed as she burrowed into the familiarity of her mother.
Manon looked down at her. “Hello, little witchling,” she whispered, stroking the back of a finger down her cheek. Dorian found the small fist sticking out of the bundle, amazed when the tiny fist wrapped around his index finger in a death grip. Yes, so much like her mother. A tiny warrior.
“She’s beautiful,” Dorian said, planting a kiss on the crown of Manon’s head before murmuring into her hair, “You did so well, Manon. You brought her home safe. Thank you.” The baby cooed happily. “We should think of a name so I can still call you witchling, my love.”
“I know the perfect name…”
“As do I…”
Since then, after a short argument over the name, Manon rested in a deep slumber and Dorian proudly walked the halls with his daughter in his arms to introduce her to the world.
“Chaol, meet our daughter. Princess Asterin Kaltain Crochan-Havilliard.”
Chaol’s eyes were glossed over with emotion as he stared up at his friend, his own son staring at the small bundle with curiosity. “Beautiful name for an extraordinary beauty.”
“Named after two strong women who changed the course of the war. Without their sacrifices—“
“None of us would be here,” Chaol finished, kissing the top of his own son’s head.
Abraxos’s restless whimper sounded through the halls.
“Now if you excuse me,” Dorian whispered, dropping a kiss to Asterin’s forehead. “There’s a rather impatient wyvern that needs to see the babe for himself.”
Chaol arched a dark eyebrow. “You sure he won’t eat her?”
Dorian snorted. “Positive,” he said as he went back into the room Manon slept in and out onto the balcony, closing the door behind him softly as not to rouse her.
As soon as Abraxos saw the bundle in Dorian’s arms, his posture changed. No longer was the wyvern’s body full of tension. No. He relaxed, sitting down on the balcony stone like a trained dog.
His large snout came over and sniffed at the blanket, jolting back as she stirred in Dorian’s arms.
“This is Asterin, Abraxos. Our child. Manon’s daughter.”
Abraxos’s nose approached again, seemingly satisfied with the truth by the sniff.
Dorian stared down at his daughter and saw, for the first time, her eyes were open. They took his breath away. One eyes a familiar sapphire blue. The other the color of molten gold. The perfect representative of two kingdoms. Two realms the small one fitting in his palms would one day rule.
“They are everything to me,” he admitted aloud to the wyvern seated before him. “I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
Abraxos gave him a gentle nudge on his back.
Dorian’s eyes drew away from the beauty in his arms, gazing into the eyes of the powerful wyvern. “Will you protect her as you protect Manon? Guard her with your life? Catch her if she falls?”
Not a second later, Abraxos bowed his head, nudging the infant with a light press of his nose in answer. The wyvern would defend either female with his life. So would Dorian.
“Thank you,” Dorian said, his voice hoarse. Abraxos nodded and yawned, the exhausted wyvern plopping down with a thud onto the balcony for a nap.
“Princeling,” came a raspy female voice from the interior. Dorian hurried to her side, sitting down beside her, the bed refreshed in clean linens. Manon looked towards him and down at what he held, her tired golden eyes sparking. Asterin squirmed, her lips wobbling in preparation for a cry as she tried burrowing her face into his chest. “Give me the babe.”
His lips twitched as he handed their daughter to Manon, drew her shirt down, revealing her breast. He marveled as his daughter snuggled in, latching on with vigor, taking what Manon provided her.
“Her eyes...I’ve never seen anything like them before,” Manon marveled, as she held their child, brushing back her hair. Asterin placed a tiny hand over the swell of Manon’s chest, over her heart.
“I know,” Dorian swallowed thickly, wondering how he ended up in the room with his family. Because that’s what they were; whether he and Manon ever married, they were a family.
The three of them from now until the darkness claimed them.