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In Cygnus and in Health
December 31st, 1889 — Rigel Hall, Cumbria
Like a dying animal Ursula had retreated to the country house a few days earlier. There was something romantic about dying in a country house in the middle of winter, rather than in the festering muck of London. The romanticism had yet to materialize though. The house seemed cold and sterile and very empty and just getting herself there had been incredibly taxing.

It was the first day since traveling that she felt she had enough energy to do anything and rather morosely she decided to torture herself by looking at the dresses she kept in storage at the country house. Ursula ran her hands over velvets and silks and lace that she'd never wear again and consequently made herself cry a little. What she would give to go back in time and tell Phineas 'not tonight'.

It didn't take her long to grow tired of making herself miserable, not to mention she had clearly overexerted herself for she was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. Before she could leave, however, she spotted the edge of a box that she didn't recognize at the back of her closet, buried beneath some hat boxes. With incredible difficulty she got to her knees and prized it out. What was it? The box itself was handsome so the contents must be even more so. Lifting off the lid, she unwrapped the first layer of tissue paper and then froze.

It was her wedding dress. How could it be her wedding dress?! Hadn't she lost it in the fire? How could it be here? When had she asked for it to be removed from the Wellingtonshire house? Ursula felt a familiar twinge and suddenly she was reminded of her sister-in-law's dream from a few weeks ago. She let out a blood-curdling scream and dissolved into violent hysterics. "Ella! Ella, come quick, where are you, Ella!" Her voice cracked as the sobbing started. It was no coincidence, she hadn't believed in those for months, this was an omen of death staring her in the face. A dress that shouldn't be, and now the child... "ELLA!" She was in the house wasn't she? She hadn't gone out somewhere and left her alone?

[-] The following 2 users Like Ursula Black's post:
   Aldous Crouch, Elladora Black

Having spent the last few weeks nervously awaiting the cry from Ursula to alert the world that the baby was finally making it’s appearance Elladora was, quite reasonably, quite exhausted. She barely slept at night, she couldn’t shake off the unsettling visions that assaulted her as soon as she closed her eyes, and as a result she had taken to having as many catnaps as she could manage through the afternoon in the comfort of the drawing room she and Ursula had once grumbled over having to share.

Her eyes shot open and panic ricocheted through her body as she heard her name being called. Oh thank Merlin it was starting – once all of this was over they could hand the child over to nanny and she and Ursula could sleep soundly once more knowing they had decades of spats over where the furniture ought to be ahead of them. Struggling to her feet Ella apparated upstairs – a terribly lazy habit and one she didn’t usually approve of but needs must – only to find Ursula sobbing over…

How on earth…

“Ursula calm down, it doesn’t mean anything.” Except this dress was supposed to be ash on the wind in Wellingtonshire and yet somehow in was here and she couldn’t begin to imagine how it had managed the trip. She hurried to Ursula’s side and dropped to her knees, placing an arm around Ursula’s waist to encourage her to stand up. “You shouldn’t be on the floor in your condition,” she said distractedly, eyes drawn to the dress despite her insistence on it’s unimportance. “It’s just a dress.” She said again, to convince herself as much as for Ursula’s benefit.
[-] The following 1 user Likes Elladora Black's post:
   Ursula Black

fabulous set by Lady <3
Oh thank Merlin there she was! Ursula felt a very visceral surge of relief at the sight of her entering the room like a knight in shining order. However her dismissal of the wedding dress immediately frustrated her. How could she say that it didn't mean anything?! Every fiber of her being seemed to be on fire from the moment she realized it was her wedding dress. It had been Elladora's dream that had given the significance to her wedding gown in the first place!

"It's not, you know it's not!" she wailed as she allowed herself to guided to her feet. She placed a hand on her stomach. "It's happening now, that's no coincidence!" She continued to make pitiful noises of anguish and clung heavily to Elladora though she wasn't entirely incapable of walking on her own just yet. "I'm not ready, I don't want to!" Her sobs continued, growing louder by the second as if the more noise she made the more likely she was to get her way.

Was she in labour? It was hard to tell given Ursula’s usual level of hysteria but Elladora couldn’t see any of the previous signs that things had started on the floor; she congratulated herself on not choosing new shoes that morning – she had learnt her lesson well from last time.

“I know you don’t,” Elladora replied calmly, taking the dress from Ursula’s hand and lying effortlessly as she turned it over to get a better look. “This isn’t the dress I dreamed of Ursula.” She only hoped Ursula’s desire to believe was greater than her ability to discern truth at this point. “I must have made a mistake,” with effort she guided Ursula to the bed and sat her down, taking her pale, clammy face between her hands and demanding her sister-in-law’s attention. “Have you ever heard me admit to as much before? I would not say that lightly.”

fabulous set by Lady <3
Were she not in a state of utter turmoil she might have questioned her and in her head she did, she wasn't sure what to believe and what not to but even if given absolute proof that the dress was a messy misunderstanding, the dread she felt was fixed. "What does it matter if I die anyway?" With her sister-in-law's hands on her face anchoring her in the present, she found herself wanting nothing more than to dissolve into nothingness, abandon her failing body and find a new one but if the magic existed for that it was far beyond her skill set.

A shooting pain caused her to double over and sob even harder. "I can't do this!"

Snapping for the house elf she had instructed to be ready for just such an occurrence Ella sent him to fetch a medic for Ursula but in the meanwhile she was momentarily stunned by the pain on the other woman’s face and her brain stalled. Had it been this painful before? Ella remembered panting and wailing, but not these sobs and it sent a chill through her entire being.

There was no way, no way that Ursula could have been right.

“You’ll be better lying down,” Ella insisted, hiding her uncertainty and gently helping Ursula shuffle up the bed – with a great deal of effort given the pain visibly making the woman tremble – until she could prop her up with the pillows. Ella brushed hair out of her eyes and then Ursula’s. “You will survive this,” and she would see to it that there were no more if she had to pour a potion down Phineas’ throat herself.

She glanced down and her throat ran dry when she spotted the trail of unusually dark blood that had followed Ursula up the bed.

fabulous set by Lady <3
For a moment Ursula felt a moment of optimism despite the eye-watering pain, her sister-in-law sounded so certain, so reassuring... "Do you promise?" Despite the pain, despite the all-consuming fear, maybe she could choose to blindly believe that Elladora's cunning and resourcefulness extended as far as cheating death.

The she noticed that the other woman was distracted by something and her hopefulness evaporated in an instant. "Oh God!" It was like her dream, not exactly down to the last detail, but it was close enough that it didn't matter. She screwed her face up and whined. "This is it - the nightmare - this is it!" Her vision blurred as a fresh wave of tears and pain hit. "Tell me again- Tell me that thing you said-" she broke off to let out a cry she couldn't hold in. "That thing you said, after I had that first dream. Do you remember?"

[-] The following 1 user Likes Ursula Black's post:
   Elladora Black

Taking hold of Ursula’s ice-cold fingers Elladora racked her brain, trying to remember the specifics. She had said a lot of things that day, and more since then that she never expected to hear coming from her own lips, but what was it that could offer Ursula some comfort at the moment? She knew what she would want to hear, so perhaps it was best to try that?

“I said that you’re one of us and therefore stronger than the rest of the chattel in this world,” placing one hand over Ursula’s forehead she could feel the heat of her skin, how clammy she was becoming and Elladora vowed she would mount the elf’s head on a wall if he didn’t return quickly with help.

“And I still mean it, you just have to be stronger than ever before.”

On one point though she couldn’t argue with Ursula at all – this was certainly the nightmare, or some version of it, and it was so much worse than Elladora had imagined.

The stain seeped across the sheet rapidly then, a grim soup of dark blood and Ursula’s waters finally breaking, but Ella was quite sure something was seriously wrong. Oh Merlin’s balls, was she going to have to deliver this child herself!?

"I think it's coming now."
[-] The following 1 user Likes Elladora Black's post:
   Ursula Black

fabulous set by Lady <3
The corners of her mouth twitched upwards for a fleeting couple of seconds as Elladora said exactly the right thing. It didn't erase the horror of what was happening nor did she feel suddenly brimming with motivation, but she did feel comforted.

"Now?!" Her face fell like a ton of bricks. She didn't think she could bear the pain for much longer but she'd been imagining a much slower birth, traumatic for sure but not so abrupt. What if she followed just as quickly? Never mind that the only person around to look after her was Elladora and as resourceful as she could be she was no midwife. There would be no dignity in her death if Ella saw everything.

She whimpered as the pain somehow managed to grow worse. "You have to be mistaken!" She then made the fatal error of craning her neck forward as much as she could to try and see what was going on at the other end of her body. Not that it offered her a particularly helpful view. There was so much blood, too much blood. What remained of it in her face drained away and her head flopped backwards. "Ella..." she murmured. Her pupils rolled to the back of her head as she struggled to remain conscious. Incorrectly she thought this was death.

Ursula passed out for no more than half a minute but felt as though the ordeal had been going on for hours when she did come around. It was immediately apparent that Elladora hadn't been wrong about the child's arrival at all. Adrenaline and a sense of violent urgency was enough to give Ursula a brief reprieve from fear. Seizing whatever part of Elladora was closest to her, she blinked back more tears and focused her energy on getting the infant as far away from her as possible. "There are letters in my bureau, promise me you'll see them delivered!" Her voice crescendoed along with the increasing agony. 

With alarming ease especially when compared to how much pain she was still in, it was born. She was free of it but the pain wasn't abating in the slightest.

[-] The following 1 user Likes Ursula Black's post:
   Elladora Black

There was a strong possibility she would never recover from seeing a baby born into the world. Giving birth had never been a task Elladora had felt any desire to accomplish in her life and she had tried her best never to think about the grim mechanism of the whole thing – certainly she didn’t want to imagine any part of Evalina looking like that. It had always been a great relief that she had never seen her lover during pregnancy and had successfully managed to avoided being too close to Ursula throughout hers, barring the incident in the garden, but now she was altogether closer and felt slightly like she might be sick.

Her constitution never being a weak one she was not but she did lean on the bed rather heavily and had to walk herself down the mattress with her hands to look at the baby and assess that-

Fucking Merlin was there always that much blood?!

It was grimy and scrunched up and looked peculiarly like a mandrake seedling. It was also silent.

“Ursula, shouldn’t it be-?”

She glanced up and saw Ursula was in no state to answer her, groaning in pain, face screwed up in clear agony and paying no attention to her latest child. Elladora wasn’t especially concerned for it, except for the fact that it was still attached to Ursula and potentially the cause of her pain; the practice of childbirth had always revolted Elladora but she was quite well-acquainted with the theory, as any sensible, curious-minded person might be. There was some business with nutrients and the time had come for the baby boy to cease leeching from his mother.

Tentatively Elladora reached towards the child, hand cupped as she reached his mouth.

The door opened behind her but it might just as well have been a herd of elephants for all that she paid attention.

Her hand reached its mouth and she discovered that its nose and mouth were quite a bit more awkward to cover than she had thought.

Then the baby cried. Loud and piercing and she was jolted out of the trance that had taken her for a moment and a hand on her shoulder startled her into regaining the ability to stand upright.

“You took your time,” she growled, returning to Ursula’s side and leaving the rest for the midwife. “It’s over now,” she pressed her lips to Ursula’s forehead. “It's out. You’re going to live.”
[-] The following 1 user Likes Elladora Black's post:
   Ursula Black

fabulous set by Lady <3
Ursula's awareness of what was going on at her latter end was minimal once the child was out. Far more distracting was the loss of her last glimmer of hope that maybe, against all the odds, she might be able to pull through because Elladora promised her. Everything hurt and what wasn't hurting was starting to feel like it was full of pins and needles. There was Elladora again, trying to tell her the opposite of what was happening wasn't happening which made the panic return. What if Ella couldn't tell it had all gone so wrong? What did she know of childbirth? She might think this was how it always was, that there was also a midwife in the room barely registered with her at all.

Then her vision started to turn patchy and she let out a high pitched squeal. "Ella! Ella, do something! I c-can't- I'm going to faint I won't wake up again, don't let me, Ella please!" The last word came out a screech of terror as she tried to grab on to her sister-in-law, to anchor herself, but she couldn't really tell where she was everything was grainy and getting dark. "You promised me," she sobbed before passing out.

Ursula’s feeble grip had become limp and heavy in her hand but Elladora still resisted leaving her sister-in-law behind until the midwife – eyes alarmed at the sights before her and at the woman she had to confront – built up the courage to tell Elladora she needed to vacate her spot on the bed. The healer was coming, she said nervously, and he would need to tend to Mrs Black straight away.

Elladora’s desire to see Ursula well again overweighed her disdain for being ordered out of a room she owned and carefully she untangled her hand from Ursula’s and got to her feet. The healer arrived with considerably more alacrity than Ella had anticipated and began their work without so much as a glance at her – clearly something was very seriously wrong if a man like that felt obliged to be so rude.

Shell-shocked and largely ignored Elladora left the room in a trance, pausing only when she heard footfall to her left. For a mad moment she thought it might be one of the children but it was just the elf, still loitering nearby in case he was needed again. As though he had been anything other than slow and unsatisfactory in his duty.

Elladora’s chalk-white face was illuminated only briefly by the green blast of light she sent at the elf and the colour made the tears growing cold on her cheek shine.

fabulous set by Lady <3

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