Reef Debyal sat behind his huge mahogany desk and looked very irritated indeed that he'd been distracted from his money counting. Reef was in his mid forties and was a very imposing man. He had deep-set dark eyes and black, cropped hair and his solid six foot frame was dressed in a smart but comfortable black tunic. He'd inherited his late father's jewellery sales business and properties, and now Reef was twice the success his father had ever been. Opposite his sat Kim, Reef's first wife and one of three, also mother to three of Reef's seven children. Kim was ten years younger than her husband and had been wed to him for ten years, since she was legally old enough at fourteen. Kim sat sturdily, with an air of firmness and confidence, although her eyes remained downcast, as was done, until she was told otherwise.
"Damn the slut." Reef heaved at last. "Showing enough to cause talk."
"Yes." Kim replied, eyes still downcast.
"You may speak Kim." Reef waved his permission for his wife to converse with him, rather than be confined to 'yes' or 'no' answers. Kim raised her eyes to look at her husband and hoped the anger and resentment at his own stupidity and arrogance didn't show through. The slut in question was a servant in the Debyal household and Reef couldn't even remember what she looked like, let alone her name. It seemed she was sixteen and now had a belly full of child, courtesy of Reef. She obviously had no husband to bribe, pay off, or coerce into keeping quiet as to the parentage of the bastard child.
"See a place is bought for her in State Seven, Kim." Reef said in annoyance at this inconvenience. Kim nodded. State Seven was the poorest State by far and like another world compared to the environment of the Debyal family. One more bastard of a single mother would never be noticed.
"Reef what if this girl demands attention after the child is born?" Kim asked.
"Demand?" Reef snapped. "A woman making demands?"
"No of course not. I'll rephrase that." Kim lowered her eyes automatically at the admonishment. "What if the child inquires about it's parentage via its mother?"
"Hardly Kim. Every woman has her price and this serving girl ... er ..."
"Enid, yes. She's no exception. She'll keep her mouth shut. Trust me."
Eight months later and it looked like Enid wasn't to be given the option of silence or voice. Her poverty stricken life during her wretched pregnancy had made her weak and sickly. Despite this, tears of pure love and joy streamed down the young girl's face when she heard the loud, healthy cry of her new-born daughter. Tears of grief soon replaced the happiness when it became obvious that the Enid wasn't going to survive. She was too sick and feverish to even suckle the infant.
Midwife Lalin settled the baby and tended to Enid as best she could. It was a losing battle.
"Suzanne! Sit with mother and child. I could no more sit and watch needless death than I could suffocate them myself. Stay with them." The old nurse's voice was tinged with anger as she dragged her hair up into a knot on the top of her head, then covered it with a cloth cap so it was out of sight of the men-folk, as was done. Lalin then struggled, cursing, into her surpressor, which was a series of tight, boned and stiffened sheets of linen that flattened Lalin's bust that had long since flattened of its own accord. This was also 'as it was done'.
It was Justine, wife three, that answered the door of the Debyal Mansion. She visibly stiffened when she saw Midwife Lalin standing on the step.
"My husband threw you out of this household, charlatan. You cannot come begging for re-employment." Justine said haughtily.
"That I'd never do, Lady Debyal, nor have I the need to. Would you please tell Lord Debyal I have need to speak to him urgently?" Lalin looked evenly at Justine. Justine had given birth to two consecutive daughters and this was, in turn, after wife two, Nancette, had just given Reef a Daughter too. Reef had declared the Midwife incompetent and fired her before Justine's last daughter had finished her first feed. Justine had agreed wholeheartedly with Reef, thus deflecting some of the 'blame' away from herself.
"Lord Debyal is busy, old crone. You are in no position to decide what is important to him and what is not." Justine snapped.
"What is it Justine?" Kim said from inside the house. "You'll disturb Lord Debyal and he will not be ... you!" She glared at Lalin, who glared right back. Kim was definitely not a stupid woman. She knew that Lalin was still working and she knew where. State Seven. The hospital was a slum, like the rest of it, with no lighting, heating, and very few drugs. Lalin was a midwife and Kim remembered very well the last time she'd had business to attend to in State Seven. "I'll deal with this, Justine." Kim dismissed the younger wife. Lalin was still kept on the step, but heard Lalin's reasons for calling. The serving girl had the fever. Kim merely shrugged.
"The drugs needed are available, Lady Debyal." Lalin tried not to snarl. "Obviously neither Enid or the hospital can afford these expensive medicines."
"Lord Debyal is not a charity." Kim said flatly. "He was good enough to make provisions at the time. What happens now is out of his hands."
"It will be anything but that if that baby has no mother to raise it." Lalin nodded. "You with me?"
"Stay there." Kim set her jaw and closed the door on Lalin.
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