Here’s the deal. He’d seen yet another one of his long-necked girls and gone chasing after her, not even surreptitiously: blatantly, openly, brazenly! Slipped in and out of her chamber dressed up like her husband and had one of his sons hold the day off for several hours so he could enjoy his rut, then vanished just as her real bridegroom came home and went after her. Then had the temerity — the gall — to boast in company, over dinner, while she sat at his elbow, whey-faced with shame and fury, that the son of his line that’d be born first would be a mighty king. Smirked at his Old Boys like he was so clever, being vague like that, as though he’d gotten away with a point against her.

Well. Something had to be done, of course, so she thought of his trick earlier with the midwife and called Eileithyia in to her chamber and sent her down the rainbow bridge to wait outside his chippie’s chamber with her arms and legs and fingers all crossed against the birth. Because of course he had more than one brat swelling a belly — third or fourth generation, okay, but because of his vast cleverness it didn’t matter so long as it was a boy and it was born first.

The brachet went into labor early in the morning and Eileithyia sat outside the door, her face puckered and tight like a prune. Further east on the peninsula another girl went into labor, and she went to him and quizzed him about his promise. “Do you swear?” she said, and pretended to be wheedling him out of his mind.

“Yes, by Styx! What I said shall stand: my house shall gain much dominion today after the first birth!” And that was really all she wanted. The cousin was born first and took the wreath and all that was promised while his jade still grunted and strained like a heifer. She would have kept her in her crisis for days, out of spite — she wasn’t above spite — but he sent a clever friend of his and got Eileithyia’s legs uncrossed and out came his son.

She claimed it, of course — part of the long bargain between them. In the end neither was pleased and both were. Pretty much as always.