Here’s another one. I’ve written at least one short story in this setting, the world of the Extermination — “Arms and the Woman,” which appeared in Sword & Sorceress XVIII. There may be more; I’m not sure. I certainly plotted more. Anyway, this is a bit of fluff, but I had fun with it. I really ought to finish it someday.
The midwife lifted the baby, cooing, and then stopped. Her smile turned to a puzzled frown.
“What?” the new mother asked, still panting from the delivery. “Is something wrong?”
“Not wrong, exactly,” the midwife said quickly. “He’s a fine healthy boy, by the look of him.” The child, silent until that moment, suddenly let out a wail, his face crumpled in displeasure at his new surroundings. “But he’s got a birthmark!” the midwife called over the baby’s crying, as she handed him to his mother.
The father had appeared in the bedroom door at the baby’s first yell, and now stared as the mother cradled her new son. “What kind of a birthmark?” he demanded. “Is he disfigured?”
“No, no,” the midwife said. “It’s quite small. It’s on his left shoulder.”
“I see it,” the mother said, as she held the infant to her breast. The crying came to a sudden end. “It’s shaped like a sword and crown.”
“Like what?” the father asked, startled.
“Like a sword and crown,” the midwife said. “Exactly like a sword and crown. Right down to the star on the pommel.”
The father hesitated. “That doesn’t sound natural,” he said.
“It’s not,” the midwife said. “You can see that at a glance. That’s a magical birthmark if I ever saw one.”
“Magic? My son has some kind of magic?” the father demanded.
“I’m afraid so,” the midwife said. “It’s not one I know, though – you’ll need to talk to someone at the Department of Signs and Prophecies.”
“What, up at the Citadel? That’s a hundred miles!”
“No, no,” the midwife said. “They have a branch office in Deerford.”
“Oh,” he said, slightly mollified. “That’s still a long walk – fifteen miles, isn’t it?”
The father frowned. “Do I really need to go?”
The midwife shrugged. “I would, if I were you – what if it means he’s cursed? Destined to kill his father, maybe? I’d certainly want to know.”
“That’s a good point,” the father admitted. “All right, then, I’ll go. Eventually. No need to rush off.”
“None at all,” the midwife agreed.
“He’s beautiful,” the mother said, interrupting.
“He’s a pretty baby, all right,” the midwife agreed.
“Let’s have a look, then,” the father said, stepping to the bedside.
The midwife didn’t leave the room, but she moved aside and said no more; there would be time enough to collect her fee later.
The royal physician kept his expression carefully unreadable as he announced, “There is a birthmark.”
The queen looked up, puzzled.
“On her left shoulder,” the physician’s chief assistant confirmed. “It would appear to be magical.”
The physician threw his assistant a quick irritated glance. “Indeed,” he said, “but it is not one I recognize immediately.”
“What does it look like?” the queen asked.
“See for yourself, your Majesty,” the physician said, as he handed her the baby. She accepted the child hesitantly.
“A crown with a sword through it,” she said. She looked up at the physician. “What does it mean?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know, your Majesty,” the physician said. He turned to the royal magicologist. “I believe this would be your department, my lord Hopin?”
“I suppose it would,” Lord Hopin replied. “I am afraid I do not recognize the significance of the mark, your Majesty. I did, of course, research all signs, portents, and prophecies known to relate to your own bloodline, or the King’s, but this birthmark was not among them. It may well be described somewhere – no one could memorize all the known prophetic indicators – or it may be a previously unrecorded sign. If you will allow me, as there is no other manifestation of magic in evidence, I shall begin researching it at once.” He bowed.
“Go on, then,” the queen said, dismissing him with a wave, then turning her gaze back to the infant in her arms.
“Your Majesty, what shall we tell the king?” the physician asked.
She looked up. “Tell him he has a healthy daughter.”
“Shall we mention the birthmark?”
The queen looked back at her daughter. “Oh, I suppose you had better.”
“Perhaps we should wait until Lord Hopin…”
“And which would you rather do, physician,” the queen interrupted, “bring his Majesty bad news, or have it known that you concealed bad news from him?”
“I see your point,” the physician said, ignoring the sudden look of terror on his assistant’s face. “I will tell him, and pray that Lord Hopin discovers the mark’s nature quickly.” He turned to go, leaving the assistant to clean up the blood and sweat and other detritus that must attend even a royal birth.
Just three hours later Lord Hopin found the relevant prophecy, and reported that the princess Rhaminythaeria was destined to bear a child who would one day save the entire world from destruction.
“Well, that’s not bad,” King Korigildin said, a smile spreading across his face. “That’s not bad at all. My grandchild will save the world?”
“So it would seem, your Majesty,” Hopin said, with a bob of his head. “As so often with magic, however, there is one catch.”
The smile vanished. “What is it?” the king demanded.
“The child must be fathered by the one man in the world who bears the same birthmark on his left shoulder. Otherwise the prophecy shall be voided, the spell placed upon the girl broken, and there shall be nothing to halt the threatened catastrophe.”
The king stared at the magicologist for a moment. He stroked his beard thoughtfully, then said, “And where do we find this man?”
“I have no idea, your Majesty,” Hopin said. “The prophecy gives no indication at all. The records simply says that the wizard Gharoush of Shethor became aware through his arts that at some point in the distant future – this was recorded before the Extermination, of course, in fact some seven hundred years ago, so the present day is his ‘distant future’ – at any rate, at some point, possibly in our own time or possibly still far in the future, spells cast well before Gharoush’s own day would have repercussions that could destroy all the world. Gharoush’s response was to perform magic of his own, ensuring that two children would be born bearing the crown and sword, one male and one female, and that they would in turn produce a child whose actions would prevent the disaster. It appears that Gharoush himself did not know who the children would be, or exactly when or where they would be born.”
“So Rhaminythaeria’s destined husband may not even be born yet?”
“So it would appear. Or he may be a child, or a grown man.” Hopin was careful not to mention the possibility that the prophesied father of her child might not ever actually be her husband.
“This may significantly diminish her betrothal value,” Korigildin said thoughtfully, plucking at his lower lip. “If she must marry this person with the matching birthmark, I can’t pledge her to just any princeling who comes along offering an alliance.”
“Your Majesty is wise,” Hopin said. “On the other hand, the renown of being destined to bear the world’s savior must surely have some value.”
“True enough. And that other birthmark may well turn up on the Prince of Attesteyin or someone of the sort, and if it does, he can’t very well refuse an alliance, whether he wants one or not.”
“Well, it’s a complication, but it’s not bad,” Korigildin said, slapping the arms of his throne. “And Ferinora will undoubtedly provide us, in due time, with other heirs not so magically hampered.”
“When the Queen wakes, you may tell her everything you have told me. And you will observe our daughter, and make sure that any other signs and portents are noted.”
“Shall I send word to the various archives and recorders of signs and prophecies, your Majesty? Or perhaps begin discreet inquiries regarding the bearer of the matching birthmark?”
“I don’t think there’s any great hurry about notifying anyone. After all, we have several years before my daughter will be capable of bearing a child. Let us wait until we know a little more. Discreet inquiries would be appropriate, though – very discreet.”
“Good. See to it.” With that the king rose, and the audience was over.