Below is an excerpt from the novel On the Corpse of Wrath. In this scene, Burle Steeltooth, warrior of the Ragoth nation, finds himself in a situation.
“Good, you’re here. We don’t have much time.”
“What do you need me for? Where is Tetla Steeltooth?”
“I will answer all, but we have no real time. Come with me. You are needed, that’s all.” The woman grabbed his hand and he shook it off, following respectfully as he realized this was a woman of the Redfist clan. She led him past many empty cots to a room in the back, partitioned away by curtains. He stepped behind them and came face-to-face with a woman’s bleeding vagina. He spun and turned to go.
“Steeltooth, stay here. I need you.”
Burle held his hand over his eye, though his back was turned. “Is that Tet?” he asked.
“No, Burle, it is not,” he heard Tetla say.
“Then, I have no business here. I’m sorry, love, have to go. Can we talk for a moment out here?”
“Burle Steeltooth, turn around right now, you stubborn man. This woman needs your help and you are going to give it, or I will not speak to you for years. Get in here, now!” Tetla’s voice was hard, as the voice of the mother of boys should be. He had heard that tone for years and knew the hard-headed woman who used it.
He turned around, his eyes lifted to the ceiling. “What Tet? What do you need? Why am I here?”
Her hand closed around his wrist. She pulled him gently forward and around the table. “Lower your gaze, Burle,” Tetla said. Burle looked down, seeing Karaflok staring up at him, her face sheathed in sweat, her eyes mad with pain.
His heart broke open and he looked her in the eye. “Are you dying?” he asked her solemnly.
“It’s worse than that, Burle. She is giving birth,” the Redfist woman said.
Tetla turned Burle’s face to hers and spoke slowly. “She is a Fury, Burle.”
“I know she is. She is a fierce one.”
“We…are all f-f-fierce, Steeltooth,” Kara hissed. She groaned and gripped his wrist.
Burle looked back at Tet. “In her culture, the males deliver the babies, Burle,” Tetla said.
Burle took a step back as the horror of the situation hit him. “What?”
“We are set to go here,” the Redfist woman said. Her eyes widened and she stared at the place Burle dare not look.
“Now listen to me, Darling. You need to catch the baby when she pushes it out.” Burle tried hearing the words as many times as he could, rolling the things Tetla had said to him through his mind in every possible inflection. But no matter how he replayed the words in his head, they never made sense.
“Huh?” Burle said. Words seemed to fall from his head, his mouth incapable of making complex sounds.
“Now, we need him now!” the Redfist woman said. She beckoned with her hand, her eyes getting wider. “I can’t stress enough how fast he needs to get over here.”
Tetla pushed him. “Men aid in the child birthing in their nation. She needs you to do this. You have to. Do you understand? She chose you. When we asked her, she said your name.”
“Why? Why would she do that?”
Tetla kissed his cheek as she turned him around and pointed him at the woman’s vagina again. “I’m so proud of you,” she said.
Burle looked down at what awaited him. A massive round, what Burle could only guess was a head, protruded from this woman’s parts. He could not peel his eyes from it as it grew in size, inching toward him.
“Put your shield down, Burle,” Tetla hissed.
“I don’t wanna.” The words perfectly encapsulated this entire moment. Tetla grabbed the shield gently and pulled it away. Burle resisted, but Tetla would not let up. He watched the Steeltooth being carried away and the reality of his situation set in.
The eyes were visible and swollen shut. The child’s face looked like paste. It was blue and Burle shook his head. “Something is wrong with it,” he said.
“What’s wrong?” Kara almost shouted. “What’s wrong with my baby?”
“Nothing at all, dear,” the Redfist woman said. “He doesn’t know what he is looking at. It’s beautiful. You need to give me another push. Burle, don’t let that baby fall,” she said. Her voice didn’t make sense. It was calm and reassuring. Didn’t she know the unthinkable was happening?
“Don’t speak again. You will upset the mother,” she whispered. “Get your hands in there and catch it.”
“It’s all wet and bloody,” he said. He did not care what this woman said, there was something terribly wrong here.
“Burle, catch that child,” Tetla said.
Burle touched the head, feeling tacky tissue. He choked on the words he meant to say, knowing Kara did not need to know how gross her baby looked and felt. He grabbed its head and the Redfist woman slapped his hands.
“Gently,” she said. He loosened his grip and cradled the child’s head. “One more push, mother, one big, strong push.”
As if from a gushing wound, shoulders, body, and feet came squirting out, and Burle caught the child. For one horrible moment, it slipped, and he grabbed tight to the baby. The Redfist woman slapped him again and he shook his head. He looked down, seeing a twisted rope made of flesh gripping the child’s belly.
“It has ahold. It won’t give the babe up. Something is…” Redfist slapped him again. She clamped some wooden clip on the rope, close to the child’s belly and the area above it, her movements so fluid and sure, as if the world was not coming apart. She smiled. How could anyone smile at a time like this? She pulled Burle’s axe from his hip, sliced the cord between the two clips, and rescued the child from the rope.
“Can I take the child now?” the woman said.
“He has to bless it with a kiss first.”
Burle’s heart stopped dead in his chest. He looked up at Kara, not unlike she were some diabolical torturer hard at work on trying to break his will and crush his spirit. “I have to what?” Burle said. He looked at the babe, a blood-drenched mewling beast, still blue, with its eyes swollen shut. It looked like a man after a boxing match.
“It’s got stuff on it,” he said.
“It’s beautiful, Burle. Kiss it,” Tetla said. Burle realized then that his wife had lost her mind. Somewhere she had gone completely mad. There was no denying it. “Burle Steeltooth, kiss that child right now or I call you coward.”
That was not fair. He pulled the baby to his mouth and pressed his lips against its little head. He handed the babe off, wiping his mouth before he accidentally tasted it. Tetla stepped up next to him and pointed at the fleshy cord. “Take it gently in your hand,” she said.
He spun to look at her. “Why?”
“She’s not done. She must give birth to the rest.”
Real fear gripped him, “The rest of what?”
Tetla guided his hand back. “Pull very gently,” she said.
He took the cord in one hand and pulled. There was a bit of resistance before something unholy erupted from the woman’s parts. He could not look at it. “Can I drop it?” he said.
Tetla took it from him and he turned away.