“Perhaps . . .” Aldrik was lost in thought. His gaze was fixed on Vhalla’s stomach as though it would tell him. “Three months ago?”
“Three months?” Elecia blinked. “You’re further than I thought then. A spring birth, I’d estimate.”
“You shouldn’t have taken so long.” Vhalla grinned up at her, and Elecia only offered an unlady-like snort in response. It was adorable when the woman thought she could return Elecia’s humor in kind.
“I was busy.” Elecia knelt down before the Empress.
“Were you?” Vhalla asked with an annoying little smile.
“Are you well?” Aldrik inquired.
“I am, cousin.” Elecia nodded with a smile just for him and completely ignored Vhalla’s question. “And you both?”
“We could not be happier,” Aldrik proclaimed boldly, his fingers wrapping around Vhalla’s still resting on the swell of her stomach.
Elecia shook her head with a small smile as the two shared a look, and she was forgotten for a moment. She wasn’t going to be the one to mention the Northern princess’s deal and cast a shadow over that look he was giving his wife.
“That’s beautiful, but she has not been properly looked at yet. Let me see if you truly have cause to be happy,” Elecia cautioned, reaching forward and placing her hands upon the swollen abdomen of the other woman.
“Is there a risk?” Aldrik leaned forward. “Is something wrong?”
“I don’t know yet.” Elecia shook her head. “If she’s progressed this far without problem, then you should be well on your way to a healthy child. But we can’t be certain until I’ve taken a look at her, and more until the babe is here.”
“Right.” Aldrik sat back. Vhalla gave him a little grin. Apparently, the worried questioning was not new, and it wasn’t about to stop. “Her feet are swollen, and the small of her back aches.”
“So rub them.” Elecia rolled her eyes.
“Can it be made better?” Aldrik asked. “Perhaps some potion or—”
“Aldrik,” Vhalla stopped him with a squeeze of her hand. “I’m fine.”
Elecia saw the look her cousin was being given by his wife and returned her attention to the work at hand. She remembered how Aldrik had reacted to the miscarriage at the Crossroads. Clearly, women’s matters still troubled him deeply.
Closing her eyes, Elecia shifted her focus, delicately sending waves of magic through the veins in Vhalla’s body. Elecia checked the responses echoing back to her. If the response was slow or did not come, something was likely broken. If it was cold, that could mean there was a problem of a different sort. If it was too warm, it normally indicated sickness or infection. But everything returned to her palms with ease.
“You feel good, Vhalla,” Elecia encouraged, more for her cousin’s sake than anyone else’s. “Let me check the child also.”
Elecia probed gently, connecting through mother to what was carried within the womb. She paused, furrowing her brow and shutting her eyes once more. Listening closely, she tried to make sense of the response that echoed in her ears.
“Elecia, what is it? What’s wrong?” Aldrik asked hastily at her expression.
“Quiet,” Elecia ordered without opening her eyes. Vhalla’s heartbeat was clear and strong. However, underneath that was not one but two additional heartbeats.
Elecia pulled her hands away slowly, opening her eyes. Three total heartbeats. It was small wonder Vhalla was so large so early.
“So!” Elecia stood quickly. “Do you want a boy or a girl?”
“The baby is well? Do you know that already?” Aldrik looked with eager interest.
“Who do you think I am?” Elecia laughed. Had they not called her out from the West just for the care she could give? Though, now that she knew the truth of the Empress’s pregnancy, Elecia was thankful for it. There was a hard road ahead before these babies could be brought screaming into the world.
“It’s a boy,” Vhalla said definitively. “I’ve never had an appetite like this.” She rubbed a palm on her stomach, and Elecia withheld comment on why she thought that fact to be true. “Clearly it must be a boy to demand so much food of me.”
“Not all women are like you and have trouble eating. You carry a girl, I can feel it.” Aldrik kissed her temple.
“You can feel it?” Vhalla laughed, smiling brightly at her husband. “I carry him in me, I know what I feel.”
Elecia smirked. Both of them looked back to her expectantly. She turned for the door and began shrugging her cloak back on.
“I’m hungry. Maybe I’ll tell you what they are over lunch,” Elecia announced. The information was far too satisfying to give it all up at once.
There was a long silence. Elecia looked over from the ties on her cloak to see them frozen in place. Aldrik’s hand was still on Vhalla’s back, the other wrapped around hers as he helped her up. The Empress blinked at Elecia, total shock in her eyes.
“Elecia,” Aldrik finally forced on both of their behalves. “They?”
Elecia shook her head with a laugh. He was truly going to be in for trouble. She began to wonder what kind of father Aldrik would be. She thought she had a far better idea already of the mother before her, but Aldrik was an amusing mystery yet. Far removed from the man he once was, Elecia had faith that he would surprise them all.
“Good luck, both of you. You’ll need it for both of them.” Elecia glanced back to Vhalla’s swollen stomach.
She did not say it aloud, but she already looked forward to meeting the children of fire and wind.