Edelina lived in a simple village full of simple men, and she had her sights on one for marriage. She wanted only a simple life of tending to her children and saw no reason she couldn’t have it. Then the lord came to town.
Wearing fancy silks and sitting on an armored horse, Lord Marks was nothing like what Edelina wanted. But with her child-bearing hips and simple maiden charms, she was exactly what the lord wanted, and he claimed a lord’s right to any unwed maiden in his domain. Only royalty could overcome such a claim, and only by his own desire to marry her. A king or a prince could be worse than a lord.
The marriage commenced that very evening and Edelina was off in her lord’s carriage to her lord’s keep that very day. As her village grew more distant, her resentment grew more intense. “I have done my duty to wed him,” she said to herself. “And I have done my duty to bed him. Yet no matter how often we lie together, I will give him no children.”
Lying together was all they seemed to do together, and only in the dark of night, for Edelina hardly saw her husband. She heard him roaring at servants to grab his hunting gear and saw the destruction that followed in his wake when a meal was wrongly prepared or a painting had been hung out of place, but she only seemed to find him in bed, as if all he wanted of her was their offspring. The weapons and hunting trophies that adorned every wall of the manor received more affection from the lord than his wife.
“No matter how often he visits my bed, I will give him no children,” Edelina whispered when he left her at night. She began to see the lord more often as time went on, often accompanied by doctors. They murmured about Edelina’s hips, her diet, and whether she was barren, and only one bothered to attend her and delivery unhappy news.
“She is with child!” the doctor declared.
Then Edelina could not escape her lord. “A child is most recipient to knowledge when within the mother,” Lord Marks said. “I will tell him of battle, of glory, of taxes. I will tell him of power, of leadership, and of discipline.” And so he did. For an hour each day, the lord sat next to Edelina and spoke to her growing belly, telling tales of bloodshed, conquest, and lordly rule. For two hours after each visit, Edelina spoke to her growing belly of kindness, patience, and duty.
Nine months passed and the lord paced his keep, anxious for the child’s arrival. Edelina hid crossed legs under her dress and tried to soothe the child inside her—now was not the time to emerge. Even when given a medicine that would push the baby out, Edelina would not give birth.
The doctors were perplexed, but the lord was furious. “What have you done to my child?” he asked. “Have you bewitched him in some way?”
“He is safe inside me, but he is not for you,” Edelina said. “From the time you broke my maidenhead, until your bitter end, I will give you no children.”
Enraged, the lord took her to bed that instant. “We shall see,” he promised. When he was done with his wife, he turned to the swollen belly and spoke of freedom, of open plains, of the sky, of a world beyond the womb.
This happened night after night, for many nights, and Edelina struggled with a womb that turned and tossed. She begged the babe to be patient, to resist his father’s temptations, and it wasn’t long before she realized that two unborn little ones could hear her words.
“Two children!” the lord cried when the doctor told him. “Ha! Let’s see her keep them both from me!”
Edelina did her best. On many sleepless nights, her middle throbbed and ached, and letting the children out would have been easier than keeping them in. Still, she kept her vow, even as the number of children grew and her belly grew with them.
Years passed, Edelina’s womb could fill half a room, and the lord reached the end of his rope.
“I will cut them free myself!” he shouted, bursting into Edelina’s room with an enormous sword drawn.
The doctors warned that an unskilled cut could kill the children, but told the lord that men of the grand desert knew a way to properly extract babes from temperamental wombs. Lord Marks sent for one of these men at once. “When this expert of child retrieval arrives, he will see each of my babes safely into my arms,” the lord told Edelina. “I cannot promise the same for you, wife. You could have had a fine life at my side had you only done your duty.”
“I could have had the life I wanted had you kept to yourself,” Edelina said.
Fuming, the lord rushed to her overgrown belly. “I’ll have you soon, children. She cannot keep us apart much longer.”
Edelina realized this much was true. With the help of her servants, she left her bedchamber and began to sit around the keep, as if absorbing all she knew of her home before her likely death. Much of her sitting went on in the training yard where the lord’s soldiers learned and practiced swordplay. Steel clashed and rang over her, and somehow felt like a soothing song, as if knowing her end could soothe the lord’s wife.
“None of us will cut them out for you,” one soldier said.
“The lord would have our heads instead,” said another.
Edelina ignored them. She stroked her enormous belly, whispered to her children, and waited for the desert doctor to arrive. The bulging woman surprised even him. He suggested that the lord’s wife might have bedded a giant, but Lord Marks only growled and the desert man set to work. Edelina was laid on her wide bed with only the lord and doctor present.
“A few cuts until my children finally live,” the lord said, glaring at Edelina. He did not need to say what would become of her at the same time.
The womb spread open and out popped one child, then two, then three. Ten of the lord’s children emerged each grown by a few years already. They gasped at the world, suddenly thrust in their bloody faces. Before the desert man could cut their birthing cords, each boy and girl grabbed a spear or sword from the lord’s weapon-adorned walls. The children aimed their steel first at the doctor, then at their father, and then they formed a tight ring around their mother, guarding her on all sides.
“What has become of my sons and daughters?” the lord asked.
“Children are most recipient to knowledge when inside the mother,” Edelina said. “And my children have spent years knowing my life for them and months learning the swordplay of your soldiers.” Her fingers tightened around uncut birthing cords as if they were dogs’ leashes. “Here are your children, husband, but they will never be yours. I told you long ago, I would give you none, and that is how it shall be. You’d best do nothing against me, for while I’ve taught them love and kindness, they’ve also heard your talk of war and power, and I doubt they’ll use that knowledge to help you. Now, see to feeding us, else my children and I will conquer your kitchen, your keep, and then your life.”