Lady of the Lake
By Elizabeth Blackmun
I did everything with her. So when she died, it killed part of me, too.
My mother was wonderful. Everyone said so. She was funny and cheerful, hardworking yet playful. My father said that's why he chose her to marry out of all of his choices. She always playfully swatted him for that.
She had many duties, as wife of a nobleman, but when she was finished, she was always with me-sliding down the stairs on our behinds, splashing each other with bathwater, and even sneaking cookies away in our skirts to Father when he needed a pick-me-up.
Then one day, Mother began to get rounder in the middle.
I first noticed on my eleventh birthday. After I laced my new pink gown, Mother tied a pink ribbon into my glossy black braid and opened the small door to let Father in. Then, she pulled me into her lap.
I barely fit.
Mother saw my eyebrows shoot up, and she burst out laughing. Father chuckled too, and sat down on the bed beside me.
"I thought you'd never sit down! Mir, your mother is pregnant!"
I knew what that meant. I had seen lots of cats have litters of kittens, and also watched Lottie- Mother's lady-in-waiting- grow larger and larger until she finally disappeared for a month. When she came back, she was regular Lottie again, but with a little baby girl named Antastasia to care for. I wasn't too surprised, either. Mother had been touching her stomach a lot. I was just glad to know.
As soon as it registered that I would be a big sister, I jumped up and down and cried, "When? When?!"
My father did his famous belly laugh. "About six months." Then, he tilted his head towards the presents piled on my bed.
Easily distracted, I squealed and leaped onto the bed, tearing through each one with happiness and appreciation. But when I looked at Mother after opening a soft cloth doll in a pretty rosebud dress, her eyes were slightly unfocused and she didn't react the first few times I said her name. Scared, I gently touched her arm, and she slowly turned towards me. Father murmured, "Are you all right, love?"
She still didn't respond, so my father gently took her hand.
Still confused, I watched her sink back in a cloud of skirts, eyes still open, but as if asleep. Father stared for a second, then bellowed an order to his assistant, Oliver. Together, he and Father carried Mother away. I spent the rest of my eleventh birthday with Lottie, playing with Antastasia, or crying in my room.
A few days later, I found Mother lying pale and still, her slightly clouded eyes gazing at the ceiling. I whispered her name over and over, but she didn't respond to me except for her perfect brow furrowing. I saw a wet stain spreading across the sheet. Shocked and terrified now, I backed out and went to find Lottie. When she stepped in, having run after me absolutely sure someone had died, she immediately hurried forward and changed the sheets, having me support Mother while she did so. Then I re-situated Mother, and we left.
I didn't go into the bedchamber after that. I couldn't bear to see Mother laying there, her face draped in ebony curtains, her sky-blue eyes shrouded like the sky outside my open window.
I wandered the halls during the day, lost without Mother. I dreamed of being chased by those eyes, that hair, the clothes, but they were just shells. There was nothing else there. Just like there was nothing left of my mother.
It took me almost six whole months to buck up and go in. I stood outside the room for a while, steeling myself. I thought happy thoughts. Maybe she'll be better. Maybe she'll be there, sitting on the bed, waiting for me. It doesn't have to be worse.
It was worse.
At first, I thought she was gone. A big bunch in the blankets was all I could see. As I stepped closer, I realized that the mound was Mother- or rather, her stomach. I hadn't considered the fact that she would be more than eight months pregnant.
Then, as I crept around the bed, I noticed her long brown hair. Father was kneeling by it, murmuring wishes. I tiptoed on.
Finally, I was standing right behind Father. Mother's eyes were closed, so at least I didn't have to see them. But she was jerking, twisting, and her skin was like the ice coating the cobblestones from so many months without sun. I gasped- I was so scared. I wanted to scream.
Immediately Father was on his feet, ready to grab me. His eyes were wild, and I was absolutely terrified that he would hurt me. Instead, he jerked upright, then deflated like a popped balloon, slumping back down. He glanced at Mother, still gasping and sweating under the thick blankets. Then, he murmured, "So like her...So beautiful..."
Her eyes flew open, and they were almost white. She cried, "Coming...Now...Save..."
She made an awful gagging noise.
Before Father could call out, Lottie was there. She dragged me off down the crushing stone hallways. It was only then that I realized I was sobbing.
Lottie held me until I stopped crying. "Honey, don't go back in there..."
I pushed past her.
The bedchamber was packed with priests and nobles. Shoving to the front, I broke through the circle and found a bassinet by the bed. In it was a little red thing. Joan, the nurse, was cleaning it. Finally, it was revealed to be a wiggling baby boy. Father would be happy.
Speaking of Father, where was he? I searched until my eyes fell onto the bed. There he was. With Mother. My still, beautiful, dead Mother. It hadn't taken long for her to deteriorate, but I was shocked.
The funeral was a blur. I hated the awful black gown I wore. Mother liked me best in blue.
Eventually, Father sent the child away. He couldn't bear to see his blue eyes gazing curiously out at the world his queen was not in. I was furious. The kid was all I had left! I saddened him further when I ran, too.
I went to Father's royal "advisor," Merlin, and convinced him to change me so I could help my brother.
He finished his "incantation" with this: "I name you Nimue, Lady of the Lake, Protector of thy brother, King Arthur!"
So the legend began.