She sat staring at the flame, as had her mother before her, and her grandmother, and their mothers and grandmothers for countless generations before them. She allowed her eyes to grow softer and then she saw it, the dark tunnel that brought the Visions.
The woman cried out in pain. When the contraction eased, he watched as his priestess tried once again to shift the head of their unborn baby. Why had the Great Mother spared her the journey across the sea only to have her die in childbirth on this lonely forsaken island?
Kneeling beside her, he mopped her brow. It was cold outside their make-shift shelter, but the upturned coracle placed over the crag in the rocks held the warmth of their bodies close. If only the baby would come. But for that to happen his priestess needed to turn the child and, alone, he was not sure she could.
His priestess once again massaged her belly and tried to turn the girl-child inside. But once again, the baby slipped back around, positioning herself shoulder first at the womb’s opening to the world.
“Let me try,” her High Priest said. He imitated what his high priestess had done, but she screamed out in pain again.
“No, gentler,” she said, but he knew gentler would not help either.
As the hours passed, the woman’s screams grew fainter but the contractions grew stronger. “We have to try again,” he said but she turned her body away from him and seized up as another contraction took hold.
“It is no use,” she whispered when the pain had abated.
It was then light broke unto the darkness of their shelter and the priest turned to see the flap covering the entrance had been pulled back perhaps, by the wind. The mid-day sun was streaming in. Blinded by it, he crawled out to secure the flap once again, but felt himself grabbed by strong arms and hauled to his feet. The two native men who held him were dressed in leathers and had a fierce look about them. A third stepped forward and took the knife from his waist. What they said, he could not understand.
Two native women stepped forward then and the men shoved the priest aside so one of them could enter the shelter. Moments later the woman beckoned the second and, together, the women brought the priestess out and lay her on the ground before waving the men away.
But the priest would not budge. He stood staring as one of the women squatted, then propped his priestess up between her knees. The other woman began to massage his priestess’s belly. A contraction came and his priestess called out. The two women nodded to each other. Then they both took hold of the unborn child and deftly turned it around.
The priestess reached down to probe her belly and a faint smile crossed her face. “They are here to help,” she told her priest. “Leave us. We will be fine.”
He moved off then and collapsed exhausted onto the sandy shore as the native men gathered wood for a fire and set a battered iron pot on it. So tired was he that he did not think how they could have come by iron in this far-off land. Instead, he watched as they boiled water, scooped it into gourds, and brought it to the two women.
And then he heard the cry of a baby—his baby and rushed back to his priestess.
Kneeling beside her he waited while the women covered his hands in yellow dust. “Hoddentin,” his priestess told him. “That is what they call it. I think it is a blessing.”
He picked up this daughter then and saw the baby had been blessed on her hands, feet, heart, and forehead with the same yellow powder. Then he watched as one of the women took some hoddentin on her fingers and placed a bit in the baby’s mouth.
One of the native men stepped forward. He took a rock and cradled it in his arms as if it was the baby. He turned to face the setting sun and lifted the rock to the sky. What he spoke, neither the priest nor the priestess understood, but they did know his meaning when he gestured for the priest to do the same.
As the priest lifted his daughter to the sky, the sun dropped below the horizon in a splash of glorious color, and the three native men said a prayer behind him.
“Our daughter will be blessed in both our lands, I think,” his priestess told him as he handed the baby back to her. “Tonight I will present her to the Great Mother and our wee Boudicca will hear the sacred name of the Lady for the first time. We will call her Boudicca, right?”
He nodded. “Of course, my lady.”