It was the perfect night for charting. Not a cloud passed between Celia’s eyes and the heavens above. There was a new moon, often an ominous portent, but the positioning of the hawk within the leviathan made the sky only celebratory. The stars would bless the child born tonight, surely.
Celia had made the guards put out their torches so their light wouldn’t ruin her view. The big gruff men always made noise about how such darkness would harm their defenses, but they always did as she asked eventually. She could see the gleam of happiness and excitement in their eyes. Tonight, their lord would have a son, if what the midwives said was correct. A son long after two daughters. Men do go on about sons.
Celia had climbed nimbly to the roof of the family’s residence with her blank charts beneath her arm. The old man couldn’t do this part of the job any longer. Celia couldn’t imagine him ever doing it. Had he ever felt the same joy of looking at the stars while below new life was entering the world? For Celia there was nothing more glorious. With the tip of one finger, she drew an invisible symbol in the air. The Sun would forgive her for loving the dark.
She had already filled in the preliminary information, the stations of celestial bodies, the stars and the planets. It had been an hour’s work, begun shortly after the labor pains began for Jocelyn Dudevant. Now it was just a matter of updating the minute movements of the stars as time passed. For Madame Dudevant, Celia hoped that labor wouldn’t last too much longer. For herself, Celia could have remained on the roof all night.
"Ho there! Mistress!"
The shout came from below and Celia smiled at the heavens before scrabbling to the edge of the roof.
"Yes?" she called down.
Several men in the bailey below stared up at her. She put a hand up to shield her eyes from the pinpoint of bright, white torch light they carried with them.
"The babe is born," one answered. He didn’t sound happy. Maybe he never did, an old warrior like him, but he didn’t give the impression of a man celebrating the birth of his lord’s son.
"Is there anything the matter?" Celia asked. She would be surprised if the baby wasn’t healthy. Hawk in leviathan promised a strong body and a keen mind.
Celia didn’t have time to question further. She had the boy’s chart to finish.
She checked her lenses and the sextant to make sure that their calibrations were correct and double-checked the work she had done earlier in the night.
As she sketched in the last of the peripheral bodies, ones that might influence the boy’s later life, a light streaked across the sky.
It startled her.
The falling star was followed by another and another.
They made her heart race.
Stars were meant to move slowly, to sweep across the sky in a grand, predictable manner. Many more glints of light shot across the sky.
And then she remembered that the child was already born. These things had no bearing on him. She still eyed the sky wearily, but in her heart she was relieved.
She heard a ruckus below and, out of the noise, one of the men called her.
She was ready to come down from the roof and she took her chart and tools with her. When the guardsmen saw her at the edge, he waved his torch.
"Set out your pens again, girl! There’s been another baby born!"
"What?" Celia felt blood rush to her head, and became dizzy.
"Another child! We’ll need another chart. We’ll pay your master double, it’s already decided." She could see a smile glinting in his eyes.
She stared at the heavens, aghast. The falling stars were fewer now, but could not be denied.
Celia went back to the peak of the roof and began another chart.
She found the old man standing near a door on the second floor.
"You. Where have you been?"
The thought of running entered Celia’s mind. Her master had never addressed her so.
"Here is the extra chart." She held both out to him and he yanked them from her hand with enough force to tear the corner of the bottom one.
The old man examined one and then the other, frowning at both.
"This one was second…" Celia reached out to show her master the order in which she had drawn the charts. He slapped her hand out of the way.
"I know which is which, girl." He brushed past her and was down the stairs before she could say anything.
Celia was about to follow her master when the door opened, by a small woman with a lined face and russet colored hair.
She glanced at Celia as if expecting someone else.
"Oh, you must be the astrologer." She had a kind smile.
"His assistant, ma’am." Celia resisted the urge to give this woman a bow.
"Yes, of course. Would you like to see the babies?"
"Very much, ma’am."
The room was lit by one hooded lamp and the thin light of dawn that was beginning to peek through the curtains. The crib stood well away from any draft.
The two babies were outfitted identically in white swaddling clothes. Both slept peacefully, making only the small movements that babies did. The one was smaller than the other and his coloration was gray. His little face clenched as he dreamed.
"This is Marie," Noella said smoothing the faint hair of the bigger baby. "And this is her little brother Michael. May the stars have blessed him."
Celia feared that the stars had done just the opposite.
This is the opening chapter of a novel I started for NaNoWriMo 2006 — diced and sliced down to less than 1000 words. Falling Star was meant to be the background history of Marie Dudevant, a character in Divine Fire, the second Weordan novel. It is also the retelling of my second novel ever (aka. Big Sprawling Fantasy Novel I), transposing it to Weordan. (Just as Divine Fire is the transposition of Big Sprawling Fantasy Novel II.) My history of re-purposing story ideas is nearly as long as my writing career.