Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Charade (08/14/08)
TITLE: Split Decision
By Johnna Stein
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The recent delivery has weakened my constitution and as I approach the throne, my wobbly legs tremble under my heavy skirts. Bending in humility comes naturally as I am no longer able to stand firm. I fight off the urge to scream out the truth. As I kneel before his majesty, I feel imprisoned by my self-imposed silence.
Self-control and composure may be the gateway to sparing my child. My meaningless, regrettable life could be redeemed at this crucial moment. Adrenaline surges through my veins and I feel a renewed sense of purpose. Could it be for this moment I have been put on earth?
I sneak a glance toward my approaching foe. Her left eyebrow is arched as she marches with the crying babe slung precariously in the crook of her left arm. She draws to her knees, bows her head reverently before the king and protectively wraps her arms around the wriggling bundle.
I grit and grind my teeth back and forth to force my jaw to stay closed. My lips press together and tears begin to well. I widen my eyes, stare at the cold stone floor and will the tears to retreat.
“Stand before the king!” Announces the king’s chief.
With determination, I plant my feet, then unfurl my body until I am standing upright. My head still bowed, I purposefully raise my eyes to look directly into the striking countenance of the king.
“Tell me why you are before me,” the king bellows. I believe I discern kindness in his eyes.
Like a fierce lioness protecting her young in the wild, I will do whatever it takes to spare my son.
I answer, “My Lord, I reside together with this other woman. Just three days ago I birthed a son in her presence. She was also with child and I rejoiced when she delivered her son yesterday. We presently are the only two dwelling in our room.”
I lick my lips and continue, “That woman lay on her child and smothered him in her sleep. She exchanged her dead child for mine and placed him at my breast during my slumber. When I awoke to feed him, he felt cold and stiff. When the morning light shone on his lifeless face, I knew immediately it was not my child.”
“You’re wrong. My son lives! Your child is dead,” The other woman accuses me.
I cannot hold in my rage and I counter, “ No! Yours is dead. My son is alive!”
The king interrupts, “You say, ‘My son is alive, yours is dead.’ And you reply, ‘No, your son is dead and mine is alive.’”
The king shouts a command to the guard, “Bring me your sharpest sword!”
The guard complies and hands the king his weapon. The king holds the sword high in the air and orders, “Split the living child in two and give each mother half.”
I feel all color drain from my face at the thought of my child’s death. I will do anything to save his life, even if it means losing him as my own. Before the order can be carried out, I beg the king, “Please, my lord, spare his life and give him to her. She is the mother.”
The woman almost interrupts me with her response, “No one should have him. Just cut him straight down the middle!”
I find myself gritting my teeth again. What is she saying? I hear the air slice as the king swings the raised sword then places it on the grey slate floor, pointed toward me. He nods my way, “Give the living baby to this woman. He shall live. She is the rightful mother.”
The guard wrestles my son from the woman’s arms and presents him, kneeling before me.
I mouth the words, “Thank you” to him and to the king. No sound seems capable of emanating through my lips. My son quiets when I draw him into the fold of my arms and lean into his newborn scent. I lift the cover from his face and rejoice at the almond shaped birthmark on his left cheek that I beheld the first time my son lay at my breast.
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