Raja sat outside the door, shivering. The cold winds of winter blew through his coat as he waited, as tradition required, outside while Ema gave birth to their first child. She had assured him that it was a male kit. How she knew he did not understand.
She roared once more in agony! That shattered his resolve. Standing, he shook off the snow and turned and opened the door. It would be easier to carry the shame than to ignore his mate’s cries.
Ema was squatted on the floor, holding a bedpost for support. She looked up at him with a defiant glare. Slamming the door behind him, he strolled over to her and knelt beside her. Another contraction gripped her, and her free hand found his shoulder. Her claws pricked his skin through his thick coat. A growl rumbled in her chest. Then it passed, and she addressed him. “If you must be here, be of some use.” She took a deep breath, knowing a contraction could come at any moment. “Pull that pot of water from the fire. The water’s too hot.”
Before he could rise, her hand tightened again. Another grow escaped her lips. Then she pushed him away with enough force that he toppled over. She chuckled before she roared, “Hurry!” as her voice lost all meaning.
He pulled the pot from the fire and saw a towel floating in it. He realized that Ema intended to use the towel to clean the kit after its birth. He used a meat hook to pull it from the boiling water. His eyes cast about for someplace to hang it as a stream of water escaped. There! She had a drying rack standing near the fire. During the summer, they had smoked their meat on it. Now it served to cool the towel. No sooner had he lain the towel on the rack than she roared again. He turned just in time to see his kit spill from his mother onto another towel she had laid beneath her.
Her hands moved over the squirming child deftly. She moved her hand over its mouth and nose, clearing them of obstructions. Then she lifted it to a teat and encouraged their new male kit to nurse with a sigh.
A few minutes later, Raja determined that the wet towel was cool enough to clean the kit. As Ema wiped her boy clean, she grunted, and the afterbirth passed. According to custom, she wrapped the towel the kit had landed in around it. Ema then dropped both into the cooling water. Crawling onto the bed with her kit, she indicated that he should move the pot to the fire once more.
Raja pulled the blankets over her and the kit. Then he turned to complete the task she had given.