Chapter 1 – Birth of a Legend
The cool breeze coming off nearby Brightwater Lake ruffled Herman’s thinning hair as he paced alone outside a small cottage, his home. His eyes were distant, unfocused, staring at nothing as he rubbed his hands across his face and beard, trying to wipe away the fatigue that had settled into his bones. Dusk had chased the sun below the horizon less than an hour earlier, and with it the chill of late harvest season in northern Lordaeron had returned.
Herman didn’t notice. As the early evening stretched into night and the stars began to wink into existence, he was lost in thought and worry.
A stifled cry jerked his attention back to reality.
He turned quickly towards the source of the sound, a lance of fear twisting through his guts.
“Hazel?!” he cried out. “Hazel!”
There was no answer from his wife.
Herman approached the door, hand outstretched, only to pause as the murmuring din of voices from within rose briefly. Scowling, he glared at the door then, remembering back to earlier this afternoon when the midwife and her attendants had swept into his home.
“This is no place for you right now, Herman,” Valgriya had said after she had taken a cursory look at Hazel. “I’m sorry,” she continued, “but the secrets of childbirth are for women’s eyes alone.” Then she had taken him gently but firmly by the elbow and steered him outside. Before closing the door on him, she had said, “Don’t worry, the healer from Scarlet Monastery should be here soon, everything will be fine,” and flashed a reassuring smile.
The sting to his pride at being escorted out of his own home had brought a terse reply to his lips, only to die as the gap between the closing door and the frame had dwindled to a mere sliver. For in that instant before the door shut completely, Herman had seen the midwife’s smile, carefully constructed to convey an air of reassurance, slip and then fall away completely as she turned away.
The memory faded as fast as it had come to him. He pulled back his hand with a jerk, and then fell back into the incessant walking back and forth that had defined his past few hours.
He shouldn’t even be here, he thought idly.
If it was customary that no men were allowed to be present during childbirth, it was also customary, at least in Oakmere, that the husbands of the women in attendance should have spirited the new father-to-be away to the Rusty Nail, a small and run-down tavern at the eastern edge of the village, to drink away the hours in raucous celebration.
But no such invitation had been forthcoming in Herman’s case.
He was more than aware that his fierce temper and his tendency to express his anger with the occasional bout of bare-knuckled violence made him something of a village pariah. That he had gotten into an argument with Shaiya’s husband not four days ago over a minor property dispute and laid him out cold hadn’t helped his case either.
When he thought about it honestly, though, he realized that he didn’t give a damn. All he needed was his Hazel and the rest of the world could go to hell for all he cared.
And just like that, his thoughts were back to his wife.
How she and Herman had met and fallen in love was not a story the villagers ever learned. Herman, who had been born in Oakmere, had been orphaned early in life and grew to be a troubled youth who terrorized the village. And then one day he was gone. Some thought that he had run off to fight in the early excursions against the trolls of eastern Lordaeron, but no one knew for sure, or much cared.
And then one day, many years later, he had returned, and with him a tall, quiet woman with green eyes; his bride, Hazel.
Some of the villagers feared that Herman would return to his old ways, but though the Herman that returned was scarred and still ill-tempered, much of his darkness seemed to be held in abeyance by the quiet laughter and love of his new wife. No one ever understood what it was she ever saw in the grim and plain-looking Herman, with his fierce temper and permanent scowl, but whatever the source of the bond between Herman and Hazel, it ran deep, and with her help he was, for the most part, able to hide away the darkness that still lay on his soul.
Another cry from within the cottage. Loud and plaintive, it rang out, only slightly muffled by the cottage walls. It trailed off, to be followed by pained gasping. The incessant murmur of women’s voices suddenly became louder, more chaotic. Something was wrong. Then, above the din, a shout: “Fetch him! Now!”
Herman broke out of his pacing and sprinted quickly to the cottage. He had just reached the door when it was suddenly thrust open from the inside. Before he could react, a young woman rushed out, still looking backwards into the cottage, and nearly collided with him. She recovered herself, looked up at him, and looked back through the door, her face pale with fright. She hesitated briefly, and then without a word, she grabbed his arm and pulled him over the threshold.
The interior of the cottage was a whirlwind of activity. The bedroom was just off to the right of the common room; it was dark, the sole window shuttered against the light of the dying day and the increasing chill. Herman’s eyes went directly to his wife as she lay on the bed, her graying-brown hair plastered wetly to her face, breathing slowly now. She almost looked as if she was asleep. The air was stale, but laden with scents from the infusion of soothing herbs the women had been administering. Underneath, though, was another smell that Herman recognized immediately – blood. He could see now that the sheets had been stained an ominous red hue. He knew what this meant: the babies must be delivered soon or both they and their mother would die. Fear curdled in his stomach and his knees buckled as he sank to the floor beside the bed and took Hazel’s hand in his own.
Valgriya knelt down beside him. Turning to the woman who had nearly run into Herman, she nodded her head and said, “Quickly, Lyrasa, find the priestess. She should have been here by now. Scarlet Monastery is not so far away that she should be late, especially by griffin.” Returning her attention to Herman, she started speaking again, but Herman could hear nothing but mumbling, her voice drowned out by the tumult in his head. A familiar rage was building, starting to push out his fear. Perhaps sensing that Herman was momentarily unreachable, the midwife paused and reached out to apply a compress to Hazel’s furrowed brow.
The fury in Herman suddenly crested and he grabbed the midwife’s arm and violently jerked it away from Hazel. “Don’t touch her!” he roared. The room fell silent, the outburst snuffing out voices like so many candles in a gale.
“Don’t touch her,” he repeated, but now the words had less force as he pushed his anger aside. He closed his eyes briefly, took a breath, and then opened them again, searching the faces of the gathered women. Only a few met his gaze.
“Something’s not right here,” he growled. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Wincing in pain from Herman’s grip, Valgriya said evenly, “Let me go, Herman there’s no time for one of your outbursts. We need to act quickly.” Pulling her arm free, she continued, “Hazel will not be able to deliver this child on her own; we will need to cut it out of her soon. A healer has been sent for. But Hazel will need your support. That is why you have been summoned.”
Herman stared at her, uncomprehending. Long moments passed. Finally, he let out a bitter snort of laughter. “Child? What in fel’s name are you blathering on about woman,” he said. “She’s far too big to be carrying but one child.”
But as he spoke, doubt crept into his voice and he thought back to the last few months.
They had tried for a long while to have a child. It had always been Hazel’s dream to start a family, even if Herman was less enthused about the prospect. But the years had slipped by one by one, leaving Hazel with nothing but graying hair and more wrinkles lining her face.
At long last, though, it seemed that the Light had heard her prayers, and it was with great pride and delight that she told Herman some months ago now that she was pregnant. Herman was happy enough at first, but as her belly grew bigger, his concern also grew. He had never seen a woman swell so large with child before, but Hazel would merely smile and tell him that it must be twins, then triplets. “The Light is making up for lost time,” she would laugh.
“It’s not natural,” he would say, he would plead. “Please, see the midwife, talk to her.”
But Hazel would scoff from where she lay bedridden for weeks now and ask him teasingly what he knew about childbirth. And Herman would look at her, study her lined, gaunt face for any crack in the mask he believed she was showing him. And each time he would eventually turn away, having let her convince himself against the evidence of his senses that she was right and he was worrying needlessly.
Herman shook his head as if to shake away the memories. As for the doubts, they clung to him stubbornly.
“What am I missing here?” he said, addressing the room. “What aren’t you all telling me?”
Panic seized him then. Standing up, he grabbed the nearest of the women roughly, strong fingers digging into her shoulders so harshly that her eyes welled up with tears. “Where are the others? Why don’t I hear them?!” he yelled at her. Then he shoved the woman aside, his eyes already desperately searching the dark corners of the small room as if he might see the bodies of discarded newborns lying in a pile, their bodies already stiff.
A loud slap suddenly echoed through the room.
A few gasps and then the room went silent. No one spoke.
Herman lifted a hand to his left cheek where Valgriya had struck him, an incredulous look on his face.
Then, without a word, without even thinking, he raised a muscled arm high across his body to deliver a vicious backhand blow.
“Herman – STOP!”
His arm wavered, then dropped.
He turned to the bed where Hazel lay. She was struggling to rise enough to rest on her elbows, but fell back after the first attempt.
Her arms and legs looked almost dwindled next to her bloated belly, and her hair was tangled and matted. Her face, so pale and haggard, so drained of vitality, felt like a dagger in his heart. He was shocked by the difference a few hours had made.
She spoke again, with effort, her voice hoarse. “Herman, stop, please, they’re doing their best. It’s just…” she dwindled off as she bit off a scream, fists clenching the sheets.
Herman kneeled down again beside her. The mixed stench of blood, urine, and sweat almost overwhelmed him.
“Just what? What’s wrong, Hazel, what is it that no one will tell me?”
But Hazel had lapsed back into semi-consciousness.
It was Valgriya that spoke next, her voice both sad and firm.
“Herman…you have to stay calm. There are no other children. There has only ever been one child. We ourselves…,” she gestured at the other women, “we didn’t know until just a short while ago.”
“A single child? That’s just not possible.” He pointed to her hugely swollen belly. “And how,” he continued, fighting down his anger, “if that’s true, how could you not know?”
“She made sure we didn’t know.”
Herman looked at her blankly.
“Didn’t you ever wonder why no one visited her earlier, no one ever checked up on her? It wasn’t for lack of trying, I can tell you. She didn’t want to be seen.”
Valgriya sighed. “I can only guess, Herman, but I suspect -“
A sob broke through the conversation.
Hazel was awake again, and tears now flowed down her sunken, gaunt cheeks.
“I’m… sorry… so sorry, Herman,” she said. The words were clearly an effort, strained and spat out between gasps of pain. “I knew … you wouldn’t let me have the baby… if you knew… the risk…..”
“And you’d have been right! Damn it – ” he paused to collect himself, breathing deeply. “Hazel, I can understand you wanting a child,” he continued. Tears began to well up and he brusquely wiped them away. “But at the cost of your life? Why?”
“I.. know you don’t believe… as I believe… in the Light,” Hazel said. Her voice was so ragged and weak that Valgriya motioned at her to stop, but Hazel ignored her. “But Herman … there is something special… about this child… I don’t… I can’t … explain… “
Hazel fell back on the bed, exhausted and breathing heavily.
The tears were now flowing openly from Herman’s eyes. He didn’t even try to wipe them away.
“None of that matters if I lose you, Hazel.”
A tense half-hour passed as they continued to wait for the healer. Hazel’s breathing was still strained and she tossed and moaned as the labor pains became worse. The women continued to apply compresses, but the herbs were proving less and less effective.
Valgriya was in the midst of changing out another of the scarlet-stained sheets when Hazel’s body arched in a spasm of sharp pain. A loud moan escaped through her gritted teeth and her breathing became shallow and quick, gasping. Another splotch of crimson stained the linens around her waist.
“The baby is coming,” muttered Valgriya. “We can’t wait any longer, priestess or no.”
Herman looked up from where he still sat beside the bed. “No, you’ll kill her!”
“Without the priestess, she is already dead!” the midwife snapped. “But we may yet save the child. There is no other choice.”
“No! Light damn it, this is my house, this is my wife!” Panic flooded through him and he stood up to confront Valgriya. “We have to wait!”
A sudden wind gusted through the room as the door to the cottage was thrown open.
“Thank the Light,” sighed the midwife, clearly relieved. Turning around she saw Lyrasa, panting with effort.
The girl was alone.
A hush settled over the room, punctuated only by Hazel’s rapid panting.
Then Lyrasa spoke. “The priestess,” she began, looking around the crowded room. “The priestess is not back yet.”
Valgriya looked at her blankly.
“I went all the way to the Scarlet Monastery,” Lyrasa explained. “They said the priestess had been summoned a few days prior to the Capital City, to attend at the birth of the second child of King Terenas and Queen Lianne.” She looked almost stricken as she said the next words: “They had a son.”
“Was there no one else you could bring back, then?”
“I am sorry, Valgriya, most of them were invited to the festivities to celebrate the new prince, Arthas Menethil. Scarlet Monastery is nearly empty.”
The room was quiet for a few more heartbeats before Valgriya knelt down again before Hazel. She looked at the poor woman groaning in agony, her skin pale and clammy as the sweat evaporating in the autumn air stole precious heat from her body, despite the fire that had been lit in the hearth. Then, taking Hazel’s hand, she said, “Hazel, it’s time. We will do our best to keep you alive, but we are without the priestess and her healing magics.”
Hazel’s eyes fluttered open then, and her green eyes sparkled with tears. She nodded; she understood.
“Don’t worry about… me,” she pleaded. “Save my child… promise me!”
A look a fear came over Herman’s face as Hazel spoke, but he could not speak. Something rooted him in place, held him in thrall, and all he could do now was watch helplessly as events unfolded.
“Promise me!” she screamed.
Valgriya looked down at Hazel. Maybe it was the tears, but Hazel’s eyes burned emerald with passion, with supplication. It took her aback, the intensity. You are well-named, Valgriya thought.
“I promise,” was all that she could say.
It was enough. A weak smile curled the corners of Hazel’s mouth.
She closed her eyes for a moment and something in her that had been taut as a bowstring relaxed.
But only for a moment.
With a sudden swift motion her upper body catapulted off the bed, her scream piercing the still air of the room. Her grip on Herman’s hand tightened and despite himself, he grimaced at the sudden pressure.
A cloying stench of blood and urine cut through the air as Valgriya pulled aside the sheets.
One of the women nearby gasped aloud. Another fainted.
Hazel’s cries became screams, loud and piercing.
“What’s happening?” cried Herman.
A sudden explosion of blood flung crimson streaks on those closest to the bed.
Lyrasa bent over and vomited.
Valgriya’s hands flew to her face in shock, her eyes wide.
“Help her!” he yelled at Valgriya.
“She’s ruptured!” Valgriya’s words shook with tremors of fear. “By the Light, this isn’t possible.” She was shaking her head back and forth as if to deny what was happening. “The child, it’s … fighting its way free.”
“Gods, what kind of freak…“, began one of the women before a stern look from Valgriya cut her off.
As the midwife attempted to stem the tide of blood from Hazel, a muffled crack pierced the room and Hazel arched her back in another spasm of pain as her voice screeched into the upper registers, threatening to deafen those gathered.
Shock registered briefly on the midwife’s face and her eyes widened as she realized what had happened. “Her pelvis has been fractured,” she yelled above the din. She gestured to one of the women. “My bag! My bag of medicines! Quickly!”
But she could not make herself heard. Frustrated, she jerked up, stepped past the woman and grabbed her bag. She fumbled through it desperately for one particular vial as Hazel thrashed. Then with a small cry of exultation, the midwife pulled out a solution of greenish liquid in a vial.
“What is that?” cried Herman. He was openly sobbing now, but still held onto his wife’s hand.
“This will… this will end her pain quickly,” said Valgriya. She had to shout to make herself heard over Hazel’s screams. “She cannot survive this, Herman, not without a healer, but I can see to it she will feel no more pain.”
“No!” he roared, and, still holding Hazel’s hand, he lunged at Valgriya as some of the women tried to hold him back.
Valgriya sidestepped his grasp and quickly reached out to put the unstoppered vial to Hazel’s lips.
To her surprise, though, Hazel clumsily but forcefully lashed out and dashed the vial from her grasp. It hit the wall and shattered, the green liquid within splashing onto the floor.
Her eyes still burned their oddly intense green, and she gasped out, each word an effort: “I… will see… my… son… born!”
Then she screamed again as the baby’s huge head began to emerge from the wreckage of her body. Her head fell back on the pillow and she nearly fainted then, but fought with all the waning strength that remained to her to stay conscious. Sweat drenched her convulsing body, making it difficult for the woman trying to hold her down, trying to contain her wildly flailing limbs.
The child continued to struggle, to fight. Each surge, each push was like a heartbeat of pain that lanced through Hazel’s body, each pulse echoed in the hand that held Herman’s so tightly he thought she might break it.
Of all the women, only Valgriya managed to retain the presence of mind to help free the child as quickly as possible; the others were too shocked, and at least two had fainted. With the midwife’s skilled aid, it was mercifully but a short time later that the baby finally won free of its mother and tumbled onto the red sheets.
Hazel let out a final groan, then fell back and was still. Only the rise and fall of her chest indicated that she still lived, that she had survived the brutal birth.
The midwife quickly reached out for the child.
And stepped back in astonishment in spite of herself, mouth agape.
By the Light, Valgriya thought, she had never seen, never even heard of a child of this size being born; she barely thought it possible, but the proof was before her. Over two feet long and likely close to thirty pounds by her estimation, he was as big as some of the largest turkeys she’d seen strutting through the nearby fields and woods. She looked down then at Hazel’s limp form and whispered a brief prayer for the poor woman
Herman looked up.
“Hazel…?” he asked. He never even glanced at the child.
“She lives,” said Valgriya.
The midwife had seen many births, some easier and some more difficult than others. This was by far the worst she had ever encountered. Now with the immediate crisis past, the walls of her professionalism were beginning to break down, and she began to weep.
“But mercifully, not for long.”
Lyrasa was the first of the other women to recover from the events of the last few minutes, and together with Valgriya, they hastily cleaned the newborn. A baby boy. With some difficulty they manage to wrap the massive child in a spare bed sheet as he struggled against their efforts. Valgriya gasped inwardly: gods, such strength this tiny one possessed! Only when they placed the bundle on Hazel’s chest and helped wrap her arm around it did the baby finally relent and lie still.
Hazel’s breathing was more even now, but they could see that time was short. As she felt the weight of her child on her chest, her closed eyes fluttered open.
Herman, still by her side, looked into those green eyes that were her namesake, those eyes that had captured him so long ago.
He could not speak.
A pained smile came to her face. “A son, Herman,” she whispered weakly. “We have a son.” Though she could barely speak through her pain, pride echoed in her voice, laced through her ragged words like a seam of gold among rock. She hugged her child fiercely; he made no sound now.
As she lay on the bed damp and now cold with cooling sweat, a faraway look came into her eyes, and they sparkled with emerald fire.
She seemed to be peering beyond the roof of their small cottage, past the wispy clouds in the night sky, into the heavens themselves. Her voice took on an almost mystical quality as she began to speak, calmly, carefully, with no sign of the pain that must be assaulting her still even now.
She looked down at the boy in her arms and smiled fiercely.
“The very forests of Lordaeron whispered your name to me,” she said to him. “Bobos. Your name is Bobos.”
The child glanced up at her blankly and then smiled.
Valgriya glanced at Herman, but Herman only had eyes for his wife.
Hazel continued, as if in the grip of a vision, her words laced through with a strength that seemed in stark opposition to her dying body even as they echoed strangely in the small, cramped room. “The world will remember your name, my Bobos. I have seen through the looking glass, past the boundaries of this world and into the world yet to come. You will become a fighter, a champion, a leader. Destined to fight a great evil. Not of the Light, but for the Light. You will sacrifice and suffer much, but the Light has faith in you…”
Her voice trailed off and her eyes lost some of their intensity.
“…as do I,” she finished.
Silence descended on the small cottage. Valgriya stood quietly at Herman’s back for a few moments, then picked up the child Bobos in her arms, swaddling cloth and all, grunting with the effort.
“I will wait for you outside so you can say goodbye,” she said, still crying softly. “I… I am sorry we could not do more for her.” Ushering the other women out before here, she stepped into the night air and closed the door.
Herman and Hazel were alone.
Hazel lay still for a long time, still holding Herman’s hand, but he remained unable to speak, overwhelmed by grief. He was losing her. The thought was too much to bear.
At long last, Hazel spoke again, her voice normal and pained once again; whatever spell had held her in its grip, it had passed. “Herman, I am sorry, I just… just wanted so much for us all to be a family. I never meant to cause you this pain.”
The words began to break loose the tension that had numbed his voice, and he began to reach for words of his own. They came, haltingly at first, and then escalated to a torrent as tears streamed from his eyes and he wept openly.
“Please,” he implored her, desperate. “Hold on, please, for just a little longer, we can find another healer -”
Hazel suddenly coughed, and blood, dark red and arterial, spewed from her lips and dribbled down her chin. With effort, she lifted her free hand and held it to his face. “My dear, dear Herman,” she said with a sad smile. “It is too late for me now.”
They talked then for a while, but whatever words were said between them were for them alone.
A half-hour later, Herman stepped out of the cottage into the night. Valgriya was there, with Bobos still in her arms, asleep. The midwife was not alone: three of the women had stayed behind, the rest streaming back to the town with stricken, ashen faces and memories that would haunt them the rest of their days. A rickety two-wheeled cart stood nearby, flanked by a pair of solemn-faced men. If Herman was surprised to see them, he did not show it.
“I summoned them to take Hazel’s body back to the village,” Valgriya explained. “We will of course arrange a proper burial for her.”
Herman said nothing, his face blank as stone, as the women filed back into the cottage to clean up Hazel’s body and wrap her in clean sheets, taking the soiled sheets away to be burned. When at last the body was presentable, the men moved past Herman into the cottage, whispering brief words of consolation.
They reappeared scant moments later, carrying their burden between them.
Then the men loaded the body into the cart and started back down the path to the village, the remaining women following at a distance.
Herman still had not moved, had not spoken.
Only Valgriya was left now. The child, Bobos, was awake again, and she struggled to hold him as he wriggled and cried.
Herman’s face was blank, his stare almost vacant, betraying no hint of the tempest that had raged inside him while he sat next to the ruined body of his dear wife. The warring emotions of grief, fear, and anger had fought their battles and left his featured nothing but a numb landscape.
Valgriya stood where she was, her face lined with worry as she studied the man before him. She sensed a change in Herman. Something was fundamentally different. True, he had always been a man capable of cruel violence and brutality, but that had been kept largely in check over the years by the calming presence of his wife. But with her gone… Valgriya thought. Then, no, he has the child at least, it would have been far worse if both had died…
Hopeful, Valgriya took a tentative step, then another and another, until she stood before Herman.
She held out the child.
Herman looked down at this child, at his son, Bobos. His face was still unreadable. But he took the child roughly from the midwife’s hands.
“If there’s anything you need…” Valgriya let the words falter.
In response, Herman simply turned around, walked into the cabin, and closed the door.
Valgriya moved to follow the others now far ahead of her as they trekked back to the village. She paused for a moment and glanced back towards the cabin where so much had happened tonight and said a prayer to the Light for young Bobos, for Herman, and for the departed soul of Hazel.
She was not sure if it was the chill in the night time air or something else, some feeling of foreboding that caused her to shiver as she did so. Absently, she drew her shawl around her. The darkness was beginning to fill with mist from the light rain that had begun to fall as she walked solemnly back to the village.