Gena holds the baby

“Why isn’t she bein’ the most precious little thing yew ever did see?”, Hepsie asked while making silly faces at the baby.

“I don’t know Hepsie… I can’t see her”, Gena replied softlly.

“Oh listen to me openin’ my big ole silly mouth… sorry love”, Hespie said sheepishly, “well then… the most precious darlin’ thing yew ever held, and smelt… she probably tastes wonderful too… maybe I’ll just be givin’ yew a lick little darlin’ see if yew be tastin’ like candy”

Aisling_Gena_Hepsie_1

She moved towards the baby, who looked extremely concerned by this turn of events. Gena could feel her squirming in her arms and she held the baby close, resting it on her shoulder.

“She doesn’ like that sorta thing Hepsie”, Gena scolded with a quiet laugh, “she’s a neat little thing ain’t she. Didn’ like her papa’s big grubby paws on her and she certainly doesn’ want to be licked”.

There was a sharp knock at the door.

“Well who on earth could that be knockin’ at this hour… ooh I hope it’s bein’ my Steen… I could use one of his big bear hugs right now. Mebbe he can scoop me up in his big ole arms and carry me home. I’m bein’ that tired I don’t think I can even climb up into the wagon”.

Aisling_Gena_3

She went to open the door, and Gena focused her attention on the warm child snuffling softly in her arms, its tiny face pressed into the crook of her neck. She had never been allowed to hold a baby before, people back home had assumed she was dull as well as blind and had told her no because she might drop it.

She could not believe that in a few short months she would be holding a baby, just like this one, but her own in her arms. She had to admit that after attending Darina’s labour she wasn’t feeling too confident about her own. There had been too much screaming for her sensitive ears and she could still smell the blood on her clothes, even though she had cleaned herself up. But if this was the result of such efforts then she was willing to go through them again and again, just to be able to hold her own dear sweet baby in her arms.

“Perhaps you two can be friends”, she whispered softly to the baby in her arms, and that within her swollen belly.

“Well look who it is”, she heard Hepsie cry as she opened the door to the cold.

Eallair_Hepsie_1

“Well I heard that my first new subject had almost arrived and I had to ride over here and sight it myself”, to her suprise she heard the cheerful voice of the King.

She panicked slightly, clutching the baby tighter to her chest. The King and here she was covered in grime and blood from the birthing, her hair an absolute mess and her stomach so large she didn’t know how she would be able to curtsey for him.

“Can I come in or does Sir Cade who his guarding the door deem me unworthy”, he sniffled theatrically, “Please let me come in Sir Cade… it is so very cold out here and my shoes are wet”.

Eallair_7

“Of course of course yer Highness… look at me standin’ in the doorway like a goose and blockin yer way… come in where it’s nice and warm… sort of”.

She moved out of the way and the King strode through the door. Gena thought she would pass out at the sound of his heavy footsteps, but reminded herself that she was holding the baby and willed her legs to remain steady.

Eallair_Hepsie_2

“Who’s bein’ at the door at this time of night?”, Darina shouted from the next room.

“Er… umm… the King”, Hepsie replied with resignation.

Gena knew what was about to follow. Hepsie had told Darina she must be confined to bed for a few weeks, but she had mentioned to Gena that she had only given such extreme advice because she knew Darina would not follow it. If she had told her she merely needed to take it a bit easy then Darina would have ignored her completely and probably worn herself out. At least now she might be convinced to rest a little.

“I’m coming out… hang on a minute”, her voice came from the other room, “Engin help me with my dress!”.

“No Darina… yew need to stay in bed like I told yew!”, Hepsie called back.

“No, no it’s fine… I’ll be just a minute! Engin be careful!”

Aisling_Eallair_Gena_1

“Well is this the newest addition to my Kingdom”, Eallair said standing just in front of Gena.

“She’s very small”, he whispered conspiratorially with a grin on his face, “but I guess babies usually are”.

“Actually she’s quite a good size for a baby”, Hepsie said, her shoulders slumped in defeat, “She’s a perfect little thing ain’t she… look at those teeny tiny fingers n’ toes”.

Gena stood stock still, trying not to draw attention to herself.

Aisling_Eallair_Gena_Hepsie_1

Then she heard the door to the other room click open, and Darina come through with Engin following closely. Darina paused in the doorway and Gena had the eery feeling that the woman was staring directly at her. Her face began to grow hot with embarrassment.

Darina_Engin_1

“Yer Highness”, she gushed, “What a wonderful surprise… did yer come all the way out here to see our little Aisling?”

Aisling, what a pretty name, Gena thought to herself absent-mindedly and was startled when she heard Darina’s voice beside her.

“Can I be havin’ my baby then Gena”, she said, her voice low.

Aisling_Darina_Eallair_Gena_1

Gena handed her the baby and quickly walked to the opposite side of the room, hoping the darkness would hide the flush that had crept over her cheeks.

She heard everyone cooing over the baby, the King congratulating Darina and Darina bragging proudly about the newest addition to Mhalwae.

Aisling et al_1

Gena was glad they were ignoring her. She was happy to stand her face turned to the window feeling a cool breeze coming through between the cracks. She was frightened that she would draw this kind of attention when she had her baby. She didn’t want any people to visit her, with their raised voices and racous laughter. She didn’t dream of Kings knocking on her door and congratulating her. She just wanted to be allowed to sit somewhere quiet holding her own baby in her arms.

Gena_4

Engin is not prepared

Engin was so nervous he could not sit still. He sat on the chair, drumming on the table with his fingertips, adjusting the collar of his shirt, pushing the hair that fell into his eyes back into place. He looked up at the door every few minutes willing someone to walk through, to end his suffering.

Engin_5

He had spent the last few hours listening to the dreadful screams that were coming from the room where his wife and the other women were. It had been a long time since the cries of pain had ended and now there had not been a noise emitting from the room for almost half an hour. He thought there should be the squalling of a baby, the moaning of his wife anything to still his thumping heart, but all was silent.

He heard the door quielty clicking open and soft footsteps as Gena carefully maneuvered her way through it. In her arms lay a perfect little baby, its arms neatly folded over its belly. He could do nothing but stare, unable to believe that he and his wife had made this tiny creature.

Aisling_Gena_1

He blinked for a moment and then stood up so quickly the chair almost crashed to the ground and he had to grip it in one hand to stop it from falling. The small person looked at him with wide alarmed eyes.

“Is… is he bein’ arright?”, Engin asked amazed, standing next to the table unable to cross the space between them.

Engin_6

“Yes… yes… he’s being just fine”, Gena chuckled softly, “except he’s bein’ a SHE”.

“A… a girl?”, he asked confused.

In his head he had been prepared for a boy, someone he could teach the ways of the farm, to go fishing with who perhaps would be just as bad as he. A boy who would inherit all this from him one day. He didn’t quite know how to respond to this unexpected news. He stood a couple of feet away from Gena and the baby, his arms hanging rigidly at his sides.

Aisling_Engin_Gena_1

“Would yer like to be holdin’ the wee thing?”, Gena asked gently.

He thought she must be able to sense his discomfort, his terror that he might break this small, fragile thing that God has somehow seen fit to place in his big, clumsy hands. A boy would have been more durable, he thought, but maybe a girl was too delicate and he shouldn’t be allowed to hold her.

But Gena was holding her out to him. He stared at her not moving at all for fear he would scare her. He could not help but think she was drawing away from him, he body cowering back towards Gena’s. Of course she would be frightened of him. He was so big and ungainly and she, she was so very small and perfect.

Aisling_Gena_4

“I… I don’t think I can”, he said, his voice trembling.

“Don’t yew be bein’ silly then… if I can yew can and she’s yer little’un”, Gena said in a no-nonsense voice that Engin thought she must have inherited from Hepsie.

“Here yew go… just put yer hand behind her head and she’ll be fine”.

Aisling_Engin_Gena_2

And then suddenly there was warm baby in his arms, staring up at him with his own big brown eyes. Her head was bald apart from a few wispy strands of fair hair, the same colour as his.

“She… she looks like me”, he marvelled.

“Well I don’t know what that looks like silly, but I sure hope she isn’t looking exactly like yew… maybe she has some of her mother’s traits”, Gena smiled despite herself, looking pleased at her small joke.

Engin realised he had never spent any time with the woman, disliking her based on principle. He had always thought the worst because of the way he felt about Noah, but right at this moment he was so grateful for her presence he could have hugged her.

He held the little girl a bit closer so he could look at her face in the fading light. She began to squirm in his arms, raising a tiny hand in protest.

Aisling_Engin_1

“What?”, he asked, directing the question to both the baby and Gena, “what’m I doin’ wrong?”.

The baby was now beginning to whimper and make distressed snuffling noises, gazing up at him in horror.

“Maybe yew should take her back now”, he said thrusting the upset baby into Gena’s arms, “she doesn’t seem to be likin’ me much”.

Aisling_Engin_Gena_3

“What are yew doin’ to that baby of mine yew silly man”, he heard a voice call from next room.

Darina! He had been so focused on the baby he had not even asked how she had fared. Now he hastily walked towards the other room, leaving Gena to comfort the baby.

He stood awkwardly in the doorway. His wife was talking to Hepsie who had a grave expression on her face. She looked exhausted, her face pale and drawn, her red hair clinging damply to her clammy face.

Darina_Hepsie_1

He grinned stupidly unsure of what else to do.

“Are yew arright Darina?”, he turned to Hepsie his brow crinklilng into a worried expression, “Is she arright?”

Engin_7

Darina looked up at him and smiled wanly. He glanced at Hepsie and saw she was staring at him intensely, a severe look on her face.

“Yes she’s bein’ fine”, Hepsie answered before Darina could open her mouth, “but she’s lost a fair amount of blood and that means she’s goin’ to be needin’ lots of bedrest in the next few weeks”.

Darina_Hepsie_2

“Which means”, she continued, “yer goin’ to have to take over a lot of the housework while she takes care of the baby. And yew can start by gettin’ some firewood fer that there stove of yers. Yew don’t be wantin’ that baby girl of yers to get cold then do yew?”

“Now, I’ll be leavin yew two fer some alone time. Yew need to choose a name fer starters. We’ll get the baby cleaned up while yew rest a bit Darina”.

She gave Engin another meaningful look and carefully shut the door behind her.

Hepsie wants to laugh

Hepsie could hear Gena behind her as she cheerfully asked Darina about the dress she was making. The wheel was clicking rapidly between her deft hands and Hepsie had to admit that Darina was indeed a skilled seamstress.

Darina_Gena_1

Darina snapped at Gena by way of an answer and Hepsie sighed softly. Darina was always being mean to the poor girl. She thought it was some misguided form of jealousy or resentment that Gena, a blind girl had managed to do just as well as her in life. She knew Darina was one of the people who considered Gena to be a useless burden on their small society. But if she only opened her eyes a little, Hepsie thought Darina would realise that Gena worked just as hard as the rest of them, often even harder in some attempt to prove herself worthy.

Darina_10

She sneaked a look at Gena though she always felt a bit ashamed to do so, like she was stealing something from the girl. It was one thing to look at someone when they could meet your eye back, but to look when they could not know, that felt somehow rude. Gena’s misery at Darina’s snippy comments was written all over her pale face. One of the affects of never having been able to see herself, Gena’s moods were always easy to read. Hepsie found this endearing, Gena was so open and desperate for affection, she could not help but give it freely.

Gena_1

She bent over the steaming bucket, glad to plunge her cold hands into its warm depths. She had always liked washing the dishes and it was exceptionally pleasant on such a frigid winter day. She thought that Darina’s little house was a tad to cold, especially since Engin had not collected enough firewood to warm it properly.

“He had better do it soon”, she mumbled to herself. That baby wasn’t going to wait for firewood.

Hepsie_2

Hepsie and Gena had made the journey to Darina and Engin’s house in a wagon, since Gena was so far along. They were staying with her until the baby came, making the tiny house extremely cramped. Hepsie thought she would be very glad to get back to her little room on the ship with Steen.

She shifted her weight. Her ankle was aching severely with the cold. It seemed to finally be healing and she could hobble about on it now without a stick, but it was still causing her a lot of pain. She had resigned herself to the fact that she would be limping for the rest of her life.

And she thought irritably, not only was her ankle aching, but her back too. She did not know how the other two women were managing to carry the weight of their babies. Her belly had barely begun to swell and already she was beginning to feel exhausted. Maybe that was due to the little one inside her spending the majority of the night kicking, or as Steen like to call it barn-dancing. It certainly felt like it was dancing and as she had repeatedly lovingly scolded it there was not room in there for such shenanigans.

Hepsie_3

Darina heaved to her feet and began to rub her neck and back.

“I tell yew what”, she drawled, “my neck be achin’ something terrible today… and me back… don’t even get my started on that”.

Hepsie felt a little sheepish for complaining about her pain in her head. She could not imagine what she would be feeling like when she was as far along as the other women.

Darina_11

“Ooof… and it sure be painin’ me today… feels like the little blighter is trying to win a kickin’ competition”.

She rubbed her belly thoughtfully, with an odd expression on her face. Hepsie turned to stare out the window.

“Looks to me like we might be gettin’ some snow today then, what with those black clouds gatherin’ out there on the horizon”.

There’s lots of sticks out there perfect for firewood too, she thought to herself.

Hepsie_4

She heard a scraping noise, and then some fumbling as Darina suddenly pushed herself out from behind the spinning wheel.

“Are yew alright then there Darina”, Gena asked kindly.

Darina_12

“Of course I’m bein’ arright you stupid girl”, Darina spat back at her.

Hepsie was surprised by the venom in the women’s voice. She knew Darina could be mean but she was not usually so cruel.

She turned to look at her in time to see the older woman’s face contort into a grimace of pain.

“My goodness”, she cried out of breath, “I don’t think it’s supposed to be feelin’ like that”.

Darina_13

She cried out loudly and clutched at her large stomach.

“Hepsie!”, she almost screeched, “I think there’s bein’ something wrong with the baby… it’s painin’ me so much”.

She clenched her teeth and Hepsie could hear her breath whistling through them in ragged gasps.

Darina_14

A large smile spread across Hepsie’s face.

“Now yew just be breathin’ then Darina love… there’s bein’ nothin’ at all wrong with yer baby. It just wants to come and meet yew now is all”.

She wiped her hands on her apron and began to hobble across the room.

Hepsie_5

“No… No! I don’t think it should come now… I’m not sure I’m bein’ ready for it… I’m arright now… it’s not hurtin’ so much anymore… I… aaaagh!!!”

Darina leant her head back and howled as another contraction hit sending waves of pain rippling through her body.

Darina_15

“Of course it should be comin’ now love… it’s been bakin’ inside yew for well and truly long enough and it wants to be seeing this big ole world now”, she couldn’t help but grin wider at the thought of the first little Mhalwae baby to be born.

She turned to Gena, “Gena love… I’m going to be needin’ yer help now… how about yer go and check that the beds all ready fer Darina while I be helpin’ her into the room?”

Hepsie_6

Gena stumbled to her feet, her heavy belly pushing the table out of the way as she scrambled to help. Hepsie could see she was nervous and guessed by this she had never been present at a birth before. Hepsie thought this rather sad, that the other women back in their old home had shunned her so much she had not even been able to attend a birth. Well it was a good thing she was here so she knew what to expect when her own baby came in a couple of months.

Gena_2

Another shriek came from Darina who was doubled over in pain beside the spinning wheel.

She looked up pleadingly at Hepsie her hands holding her belly, her face terrified and drawn. Hepsie had seen the look before on the face of every first time mother.

“But Hepsie it hurts too much… it aaagh!!!”.

Darina_16

“I don’t… I don’t think I can Hepsie… maybe I’ll just be gettin’ in yer way with my fumblin'”, Gena had jumped almost a foot in the air startled by the last scream.

One hand was clasped to her chest which was rapidly rising and falling, and the other raised weakly in protest.

Gena_3

Hepsie wanted to laugh, stuck here with these two novices in the art of birth but she managed to suppress it. Maybe she should have asked one of the other women along. It was too late for that now. They would just have to make do.

“Yew”, she said to Darina, “Don’t yew be silly… of course ye can have this baby… and anyway… whether yew like it or not baby is comin’ so are you going to let me help yew lie down or not?”

“And yew Gena”, she said, “Yev got two hands I see so yer perfectly capable of helpin’. Now get in that room before I make yer!”

Hepsie_7

Valeriya stands in the wrong place

Valeriya looked around the room and could not help but think that everyone was enjoying themselves but her. She was glad in her heart that Radomir had not shown up for the Christmas festivities but there was another face she would have dearly liked to see who had not attended either.

Valeriya_17

Varda and Sigurd were quietly sitting at the table before her, listening to the conversations around them. She thought it must be nice to be able to just sit with someone, to be so comfortable together that words became unnecessary.

Sigurd_Varda_15

The King was laughing at the back of the room with the Queen who was proudly showing off her swollen belly. He stopped occasionally to lovingly stroke her growing figure. Valeriya had to swallow hard to stop tears from coming to her eyes.

Eallair_Madlenka_2

The Arwaduhns who before had hated each other so passionately it had been impossible for the other inhabitants of the boat not to hear their frequent screaming matches, were chatting to each other happily. Since Cordell had mostly recovered from his illness they had been absolutely inseparable, and while the occasional fight was heard echoing through the hollows of the ship, it was clear that they had put aside their differences and were very much in love.

Cordell_Lisbet_37

The only person in the room who did not look happy was Lochan who was standing in the opposite corner of the room to her, watching the proceedings with a bleak look on his face. She had heard that Isaura’s condition had deteriorated and now she was so weak most days she could not leave her bed.

Lochan_2

Their eyes met across the room and she weakly smiled. He didn’t smile back but she didn’t expect him to and she thought his expression had grown slightly warmer than the moment before.

Valeriya_18

She heard a squeal from the centre of the room and her gaze fell upon Cindra and Garrick.

Cindra_Garrick_1

Cindra was shrieking with laughter as Garrick, who had drunk far too much wine was trying to tickle her. She ducked away from him, hindered by her large belly and ran giggling over to the doorway where a sprig of mistletoe hung.

Cindra_Garrick_2

She stood underneath it looking up at her towering husband, one hand resting on her hip.

“Well… are you going to come and catch me or not”, she said saucily.

“I most certainly am”, he growled, slurring his words slightly.

Cindra_Garrick_3

He leapt forward and gathered her up in his arms trying to kiss her. Unfortunately their height difference, the amount of mulled wine consumed and the size of Cindra’s belly proved to make this a very difficult task.

Cindra_Garrick_4

Eventually he gave up and tipped the small girl backwards, planting a rather large and wet kiss on her mouth while she squealed and squirmed in his arms.

Cindra_Garrick_5

Valeriya sometimes found Cindra a bit too much to handle, and this was one of those times. She wished she were somewhere quiet, away from these jovial people who had so much to live for.

The door opened with a click beside her and he walked in, his footsteps barely making a sound on the hard wooden floor. Her heart began to pound so hard she felt sure that everyone else in the room could hear, that they knew what she was thinking. She shuddered at the thought as she looked at him, her breath quickening the room beginning to spin.

Cindra_harndall_Valeriya_1

Then he noticed her there and smiled. The room stopped spinning and everyone else in it ceased to exist. It was just her standing there before him basking in the warmth of his smile.

Harndall_10

Then she heard a shrill cry from behind him.

“Father Harndall is standing under the mistletoe! He’s going to have to kiss someone… and look… Valeriya is standing the closest!”

Cindra_1

She looked up at Cindra in dismay and followed her gaze to the offensive object hanging above the doorframe. Her heart began to flutter in panic and she felt the world going black around the corners. She took a deep breath and willed her knees to hold her up.

Mistletoe

She heard the others begin to join in, drunkenly jeering as the two of them stood awkwardly before the doorway.

“Come on Father… it’s Christmas time… even Priests get to be a little bit naughty on Christmas!”, Cindra cried.

“And just because you’re a priest doesn’t make you exempt from the mistletoe rule”, Garrick almost shouted with glee.

“Come on Father, it’s just peck on the lips”, Cordell joined in.

Harndall_Valeriya_everyone_1

Harndall looked at the King beseechingly, but when Valeriya glanced up at him, he too was staring at them expectantly.

Cindra_harndall_Valeriya_2

She noticed his eyes were blurred slightly from the drink and then he nodded at them and grinned congenially. She knew that in his head Ealliar thought he was doing the priest a favour, letting him savour a quick kiss from a beautiful woman.

Eallair_8

There was nothing else that could be done to appease the party-guests so Harndall stepped closer to her and laid one hand gently on her shoulder. She closed her eyes tightly waiting for it to be over, for the humiliation to end.

Then she felt the light brush of his lips on hers and a tongue of fire arced its way through her body. Her heart was beating so hard she thought it would burst and she could feel a red burning blush snaking its way up her chest and neck, to settle on her cheeks. The jeers of the others fell away and for a moment, with her eyes shut she could imagine it was just them.

Harndall_Valeriya_23

Then it was over and he stepped away from her, his hand leaving a warm imprint on her shoulder, his kiss leaving an imprint on her heart.

They stood staring at each other for a moment ignoring the drunken cheers around them. She could see that his face was flushed too, his pupils dilated and his breath coming quicker than it should have.

Harndall_Valeriya_24

And then, without a word, she turned and walked through the doors, leaving them all behind her.

Valeriya_19_6

Gena’s senses are filled

Gena could feel the cool wind whipping at her hair as she stood clasping Noah’s hand tightly. It felt warm and big and strong, enfolding her small fingers in its embrace. Wrapping her fingers around his made her feel safe after years of grasping in the darkness with noone to guide her. She was so glad she had finally found him, her fingers tentatively brushing his in the blackness until he had firmly gripped her hand and brought her with him, and a bond had been formed that nothing could break.

Gena_Noah_1

“Do yew know what we be standin’ before me lovely Gena?”, his deep, gentle voice said somewhere close to her ear.

Gena could not guess what it was. She thought by the tangy taste of salt on the air they must be somewhere close to the sea, but they had walked quite a ways from the ships. By her reckoning they must have turned back towards the coast after walking further inland. The soil felt gritty beneath her feet and she could smell the sharp scent of the Cypress trees which liked to grow quite near to the sand.

“Are we standin’ near the beach?”, she asked tentatively not sure what he expected her to say, desperate not to disappoint him.

“Come now let us be walkin’ a little closer and we will see what yew be thinkin’ then”.

Gena_Noah_2

He gently guided her forward about ten paces and then they stopped again. Suddenly there were new scents on the breeze, the smell of freshly sawed wood, the sandy smell of mortar, the rising scent of packed dirt.

“We are standin’ near some buildin’ aren’t we”, she said, “but whose I cannot tell”.

She ran through the list of buildings that were being worked on but could not determine which it was.

“It’s bein’ ours my beautiful Gena”, her husband’s voice whispered in her ear, “Come and let me show yew, but first we’ll be goin’ round the back of the house”.

Gena didn’t know what to think, what to say. She had not thought to have a house built for them before the little baby came. She had pictured them all three, crowding into the the small confines of their room on the ship. She had not dared to wish for something more, believing she would be happy and cosy with her loved ones even in such cramped conditions. She had not dreamt of this.

Noah led her behind the small structure.

“Here is where we’ll be havin’ some pigs and a cow when the weather turns good again”, Gena could hear the pride in his voice, “the King hisself has promised us a fine milkin’ cow and five pigs.

Gena_Noah_3

She tentatively reached out her hand to stroke the well-made fence that would contain their own farm animals. The fence felt strong and sturdy beneath her hand, the beams interlocking snugly, each one perfectly straight. She could not see the things her husband made with his hands, but she could feel the way they fit together and knew that he was very good at what he did.

“Come now, I want to be tellin’ yew about what else we have ourselves on this fine piece of land we have here”, he paused thoughtfully, “our own land it’s bein’ too.

It seemed a very great thing for them to have their own land, where before they had face a lifetime of working another man’s land for pittance, barely able to feed themselves. She wished the war had not happened, that their great city had not fallen, but she could see the good in this for them too.

Gena_Noah_4

She felt the ground gently sloping downwards beneath her feet as they walked a little way from the house.

“Now me love”, Noah said and she could hear the joy in his voice, “we be standin’ lookin’ directly out towards the sea”.

Gena felt the cool, salty breeze on her face and she could hear the waves rushing up the beach, over the sand.

Gena_Noah_5

“And right before you reach the water there’s bein’ a stand of tall Cypress trees”.

She could hear the wind rustling the leaves in the trees, smell the dark scent of their resin, feel the coolness of the shadows cast from their broad branches.

She heard his voice fill with pride again, “and a little bit before you reach those there trees I’ve planted us some apple trees from the seeds the King hisself has given us. They should be burstin’ through the ground when Spring comes along and one day we’ll be havin’ ourselves a fine little grove”.

She could detect the scent of freshly turned earth, a warm damp, slightly sandy smell. She thought it would be very good indeed in a few years to be able to pull down those ripe, crunchy apples and taste the juicy sweetness on her tongue.

“Now you must be comin’ over here too”, Noah was tugging at her hand as eagerly as a child.

Gena_Noah_6

“So where do you think we are bein’ standin’ my dear one?”, he asked, his body close to hers.

She stood for a minute thinking. She could hear the tone of the wind changing as it move through some other trees, their leaves must be dangling closer to the ground. She felt a gentle brushing against her face and reached up to grasp the hanging leaves between her fingers. She listened carefully and somewhere below her she could hear the gentle gurgle of a brook, running over smoothed pebbles and down to the ocean.

“And we have a brook on our land too my love?”, she said her voice filled with joy, questioning him although she already new the answer.

“That we do my dearest”, he answered his voice full of happiness.

She tilted her head and listened carefully.

Gena_Noah_7

“And by the sound of it, we’ve got ourselves as fair a fishin’ pond as that ole Engin has too”.

She did not see Noah gently shaking his head, as always astounded by how attuned his wife’s other four senses were.

“Shall I take yew over to the house now then”, he asked.

“Yes… please… let’s go”, she said, her voice filled with excitement.

He led his wife back to the front of the house, and then carefully helped her up the steps so they were standing in front of the door.

Gena_Noah_8

“Here we are then… home sweet home”, he put his arm around her shoulder as they stood there.

Gena reached out the back of her hand to feel the wall of the house that Noah had built for her.

Gena_Noah_9

“Why Noah”, she cried in suprise, stroking the cool stones gently, “it’s bein’ made of stone… however did you make this in time”.

He could have winked if she had been able to see him, but as it was Noah was not the winking type and he gently took her hand instead.

Gena_Noah_10

“Well.. since we men been finished on the Rawtharn’s cottage over there we’ve had time to build this one here and I put in a bit of extra time before that… that’s why yew haven’t been seein’ so much o’ me in the evenings my love. I hope yew’ll be forgivin’ me. And that good lad Steen has been helpin’ a lot and the King hisself said we could be usin’ some of the stone. And I thought to myself… we should build out of stone now so I can be keepin’ yew and the wee baby warm this winter”, he paused for a minute, “it’s not bein’ as big a the Rawtharn’s then, but I think it’s bein’ warmer and we can always make it bigger when more young’uns are comin. I think there’ll be bein’ enough room for us three for the time bein”.

He rubbed her swollen belly thoughtfully.

She wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him as close as she could with her belly as large as it was now. She smiled up into his face her hand on his broad shoulder.

“Thank yew Noah… it’s bein’ the most nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me”, she said and then kissed him soundly.

“Now… are yew plannin’ to be takin’ me on the inside tour?”.

Gena_Noah_11

Varda cannot keep despair out

Varda sat in her usual spot waiting for Sigurd to come home, but tonight there was not small embroidery in her hands. Her palms were pressing into her thighs, her fingers working the fabric of her dress between them. She felt a thread come loose and began to absentmindedly pull at it before reminding herself that she did not have many dresses here and it would not do to ruin this one. Then she heard heavy steps in the corridor and she clasped her hands together, waiting for him to enter.

Varda_8

The door swung open and Sigurd walked through it, a wide smile on his face. He had been like this every night since she had told him, despite the dreadful things that had happened. He had told her their room was like a cocoon of happiness for him, a place where he could hide himself from the despair that lurked outside the door. But Varda hadn’t been able to keep the despair out, it had crept through the door with its long limbs to join her before she had even realised. She looked up at Sigurd and she knew he was expecting her to stand up and kiss him on the cheek as she had done in the month since she had told him she was pregnant.

Sigurd_Varda_7

She did not give him a kiss, but instead stood and turned towards the mirror. She knew she was confusing him, but she could not bear at that moment to look him in the face. She didn’t want to see the naive smile that was plastered across it. She thought she might slap it if she did.

Sigurd_Varda_8

“Varda… is something wrong?”, he asked, a twinge of worry entering his tone.

Inside her mind she was screaming at him. Of course there was something wrong, something so very wrong her whole being felt like it would collapse.

She turned towards him closing her eyes tightly so she would not have to look at him.

“Sigurd, I have lost the baby”.

Sigurd_Varda_9

Now that it was said she could open her eyes and stare at him, waiting to see what he would do. She knew in her heart how it would be, but somehow she wished it would be different now.

But it wasn’t. His face crumpled like a small child who has lost his favourite toy.

“The baby?”, he mumbled, “Our baby…”.

Sigurd_2

And then he buried his face in his hands and began to sob, his long blonde hair falling around his face. She stared at his strong, manly hands, covering his face, catching his tears. His muscular shoulders were shaking and his thick legs looked as though they would buckle.

Sigurd_3

How she hated him in that moment, watching as his arms wrapped around himself. They should have been wrapped around her waist, her small tear-stained face pressed up against his chest as he whispered comforting words in her ear. It had been her baby too.

Sigurd_Varda_10

Her baby, thinking the words made her want to retch again, and she clutched at her empty stomach desperately. A sob caught in her throat and she choked it back again. She would not cry in front of him. She would not let him see her weakness even if he was happy to flaunt his in front of her. There was plenty of time to cry later, behind closed doors when no-one would see.

Varda_10

She walked over to the set of drawers and briskly opened it.

“I am going to bed now Sigurd”.

She pulled out her nightgown and closed the drawer with a loud thud.

Sigurd_Varda_11

She hurriedly pulled off her gown, dropping it on the floor in her haste to clothe herself once more. It did not matter. Sigurd was not watching her tonight as he often did, out of the corner of his eye while pretending to be doing something else. She hated the way he looked at her, it made her skin crawl. If he had been a real man he would have boldly watched her, his eyes upon her naked body. And she would have enjoyed him watching. But not Sigurd, who had to peek at her with his guilty eyes.

She stood in front of the mirror and hastily unpinned her hair. He was watching her now, his pitiful tearstained face visible to her in the mirror. His eyes met hers, beseeching and she knew he wanted her to comfort him. But tonight, she thought angrily, she would not.

Sigurd_Varda_12

She moved over to the bed and began to pull the covers up over her. It was a chilly night, winter was fast approaching and she thought it would have been nice to lay her head on a warm, manly chest, to feel thick fingers stroking her hair, to hear a deep voice whispering to her in the dark. She pulled the blankets up firmly to her neck. Sigurd was still watching her like a puppy that has been kicked.

Sigurd_Varda_13

“Goodnight Sigurd”, she said firmly and closed her eyes.

She lay there, unable to sleep shivering with cold and sorrow as she listened to the muffled sobbing of her husband.

Sigurd_Varda_14

Valeriya pays a visit

Valeriya stood in the hallway before his door. Her heart was thumping in her chest so that she felt as thought it might force it’s way out at any moment, leaving a ragged, gaping hole. She swallowed, her throat dry, and knocked softly on the door.

Valeriya_13

She heard the muffled sounds of movement inside, and then the door swung wide and he was standing before her. She had to stop herself from gasping when she saw his face, his eyes were sunken and hollow, the skin on his face an unhealthy grey in the flickering candlelight.

His mouth sagged at the corners where it had once warmly smiled and the light had gone out of his eyes leaving them dull and empty.

Harndall_Valeriya_15

“What do you want Valeriya?”, his voice sounded dry and dusty, the rustling of parchment left too long in the sun, curling upwards at the edges.

She desperately missed the warmth of his smile, the way that simple upward flick of his lips could make her feel happy again. She wanted him to smile now. No, she realised, she wanted him to smile for her, to smile because she stood in his doorway, unable to cross some invisible barrier that stood between them.

Harndall_8

“Father Harndall”, she began, her words catching in her throat, “I… I came to see you because one of the peasants has been killed”.

“I know”, he replied with a sigh, “what do you want me to do about it?”

Valeriya_14

She felt anger flare up inside her. “What do I want you to do? I want you to say the rites over the poor woman! I want you to come and comfort her poor husband!”.

He sighed again and began to turn away his hand on the doorknob.

“I am not the man you think I am Valeriya… I cannot help these people. I am not worthy of my station”.

Harndall_9

She hated this weak man she saw before her, this usurper of Harndall’s body who had taken someone strong and brave and turned him into a coward.

“You cannot stay like this snivelling in your room”, she cried, “the people expect more of you! I expect more of you! You cannot hide in here just because she is gone!”.

The words had poured out of her mouth before she could stop them. She noticed with growing distress that his body was trembling.

“Leave me alone Valeriya!”, his voice cracked at the end as a sob tore from his throat and he turned away from her his shoulders shaking.

Harndall_Valeriya_16

It only took a moment for her to walk through the doorway and she was in his room, her arms wrapped around his body. She had crossed to the other side without thinking and now her body was pressed up against the warmth of his, her face close to his, her hand brushing away the tears that ran down his face.

Harndall_Valeriya_17

A gust of wind blew through the corridor and slammed the door to Harndall’s room shut. She was suddenly filled with dismay, though she did not know why. She could only stand there, gently stroking his back, whispering comforting words in his ear.

Harndall_Valeriya_18

His weeping began to subside and he wiped his face with the sleeve of his robe and turned towards her, shame written across his face.

She carefully withdrew and placed her hands firmly on his shoulders, looking into his red-rimmed eyes.

“You are a good man Father Harndall… do not ever let anyone tell you otherwise. What happened to Sister Mella was not your fault. You did everything you could for her and more. She was lucky to have someone like you watching over her”.

“You are a good man”, she repeated as much for her own benefit as his.

Harndall_Valeriya_19

She slowly lowered her hands to her sides as he gazed at her. She could not look away, she felt as though he could see right into her, to the depths, to her very soul and see the tattered edges and the oily black stains that covered it.

“Am I?”, he asked, his voice trembling.

She felt a blush rising slowly from her breast, the heat caressing its way up her neck to settle in her cheeks, lovingly entwining the freckles that covered them.

Harndall_Valeriya_20

She saw his gaze lowering unbidden and she followed it to were it lay, on the bed that she stood a mere step away from. If he had wanted he could have thrown her down there and done as he pleased. She realised she would not have resisted him.

Harndall_Valeriya_21

“You should go”, his voice sounded strained in her pounding ears.

She stood there unable to move. He turned away from her and walked to the corner.

“You should go”, he said it again, his voice brittle now and she feared if she replied something would shatter and fall to the floor in a thousand tiny pieces.

Harndall_Valeriya_22

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath then walked towards the door, opened it and stepped out into the hallway.

She heard it click shut behind her and she felt something snap inside her. She wanted to throw herself to the floor and weep, laughing madly. Her entire universe was spinning from her grasp and she was helpless to stop it.

Valeriya_15

She clutched at her sickened heart not knowing whether to let it beat again, or to crush it to a pulpy unfeeling mess between her fingertips.

Valeriya_16

Lochan does not know what to do

Just a quick warning guys. This one’s a bit upsetting and a bit gruesome… I found it upsetting to write but maybe I’m just wussy. Just in case anyone doesn’t want to read… the usual… you’ll find out what happened in the next post anyway.

“Here she is! I think I’ve found her here!!!”, Arran shouted, “bring the torches! I’ve found her”.

Lochan and the other men ran to the spot they heard the young man’s desperate voice coming from.

Arran_Nell_1

When they arrived he was already on the ground cradling her limp body in his arms. Lochan couldn’t help noticing the glistening blood spattered on her dress and face, her blue eyes open and staring, her once-pretty mouth set in a dreadful grimace. He shuddered, imagining that it could be his Isaura, lying dead before him, her and the baby she was carrying inside her lost to him forever. He could not take it, and he had to turn away for a moment as Arran chattered in terror.

Arran_Lochan_Nell_Sigurd_1

“You’ll be bein’ arright then my lovely Nellie… don’t yew be worryin’ that pretty head of yers… we’ll get yew inside where it’s warm and safe in no time”.

He was stroking her damp hair absent mindly, rocking back and forth her head lolling like a doll’s on his lap.

Arran_Nell_2

“She’ll be arright won’t she Sir… won’t she… she’s just a little bit frightened… cause… cause… she’s been bein’ lost all this time an’ it’s a very cold night… won’t she”.

He looked up at Lochan his innocent face pleading, shining a sickly white in the glow of the full moon. Lochan could not take it, he wanted to escape, to flee this dreadful scene and curl up somewhere dark and warm and bury his face in Isaura’s hair. But Isaura’s hair was no longer warm and soft, but lank and plastered to her face as she tossed and turned in the clutches of a fever. There was nowhere he could go.

Arran_Nell_3

“Now lad… how about you come over here and let me take a look at her”, he said in a firm voice desperately trying to hide the shake in it.

“Yer arright my beautiful, beautiful Nellie… I’m sorry for makin’ you cry and run off in the dark… I don’t mind if yew can’t have babies… I still love yew… I do. We can be happy anyway… Nellie… Nell why won’t you answer me… I said I was sorry… Nell…”

His hand was desperately stroking her rigid stomach and Lochan thought he would be sick as he saw the blood smearing on the young man’s pallid hands.

Arran_Nell_4

“Yew have to help me! Help me! It’s sick my Nellie’s bein’… we have to take her someplace warm and safe so we can fix her till she’s better… she’ll be arright if we just take her inside”.

He had pulled the woman’s body up into a sitting position and was desperately pawing at her, shaking her by the shoulders.

“Yew’ll be arright old girl… yer Arran will take care of yew just like I always done… won’t you help me”, he said imploringly to the men.

Arran_Nell_5

He began to drag at the corpse, trying to get his shoulder under her weight but Lochan could see the young man’s trembling knees buckling under him. Lochan did not know what to do, he was frozen to the spot in horror, his stomach churning, bile rising in his throat. He could hear Sigurd whimpering softly somewhere behind him.

Arran_Nell_6

Then he heard a strong, gentle voice beside him.

“Come on then lad, let her go… we’ll be helpin’ her if we can… you need to move yerself so we can see if there’s anythin’ to be done”.

The young man suddenly realising that there was nothing that could be done, fell to his knees the body falling from his arms and sliding to the ground. He began to sob, the terrible abandoned crying of a child, pressing his hands against his eyes. Lochan couldn’t bear to watch his shoulders shaking with sorrow, to listen to the animal noises of grief. He wanted to put his hands over his eyes, to block up his ears and make it all go away.

Arran_1

“Let me give you a hand up then lad, yew’ll be arright”, Noah reached down with his strong arms and hauled Arran to his feet, holding him steady as he swayed in place.

“She’s gone then hasn’t she”, he gave a heartrending sob and almost collapsed, but Noah had his hand firmly on Arran’s arm and he held him there, speaking kindly to him with his calm, deep voice as the young man quietly wept against his shoulder.

Arran_Noah_1

Lochan bent down to feel the young woman’s neck for a pulse. She was definitely dead, her heart still and cold, her skin so pale it looked like all the warmth had been sucked out of her. She must have been attacked by wolves, he thought. If only the poor silly girl had not run outside alone. They had warned all the people of the danger. He reached out to close her staring open eyes, he could not bear to see them any longer. He was surprised to see blood on his fingers when her did.

Lochan_Nell_1

“Sigurd! Bring the torch closer… yes here… over by her neck”.

“That’s strange, it looks like something has bitten her here”, he said quietly, pointing to the ragged flesh just beneath her chin where he had just been searching for a sign of life, “but it doesn’t look like a wolves bite… it’s too neat for that”.

What Lochan did not add, what he did not want to admit to the others was something about the wound that disturbed him greatly. The teethmarks looked almost human.

Alexis opens the gate

Alexis managed to carefully maneuver his way through the door, despite the weakly struggling, mewling bundle in his hands. He looked down at the tiny creature amazed that it had survived. He had spent the entire night sitting beside the mother cat, trying his best to help. He wasn’t particularly fond of Boots and he considered this to be women’s work, but he knew how much she meant to his wife and so he sat with her and listened to her yowl in pain as she struggled to give her kittens life. But it had taken too long and most of them had not even drawn breath.

Alexis_3

Afterwards poor Boots had licked desperately at their feeble bodies as she lay dying, perhaps trying to instill them with what little was left of her own life. Alexis had felt her go as he gently stroked her shivering back. He had been surprised then, to hear a very small meow from under the pile of tiny bodies. There she had been, alive, the very tiniest of cats and her coat pure white.

He looked over to where his wife lay on the bed, her hands resting uncomfortably on her enormous, swollen stomach. He thought it was too soon for her to be this big. She had not even noticed him entering the room, caught up in her own pain.

Alexis_4

He gazed at her pale, drawn face. It was as though the baby inside her was taking her very essence, leaving this pale empty shell before him. Morven had been complaining of chest pains for a month now and Hepsie had warned him that she was not taking the pregnancy well and he must do everything in his power not to upset her. He did not know how he could do that now.

Morven_2

His wife finally noticed his presence and the small creature in his hands.

She smiled wanly at him, “Well look what you have there? What a dear little thing”.

She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment as though speaking were a great effort, “How did my girl do then?”

Alexis_Morven_9_6

The moment he had been dreading had arrived. He knew that his wife liked to be told things plainly, and so he did not mess about trying to make it sound better. If he was being honest with himself, he did not know how to anyway.

“My darling heart, I am so very sorry… Boots did not make it. She was very brave but it was too much for her and the babies did not come for a long time”.

Morven_3

His wife stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, then began to struggle to a sitting position.

“Dearest, perhaps you should stay lying there, I can bring this little fellow over to you so you can have a look”.

Morven ignored his pleading and swung her legs over the edge of the bed.

Morven_4

She sat there for a moment, panting from exertion, her heavy belly heaving. She had become so weak in the last months that now even such a simple movement was an effort.

“Alexis”, she said breathing heavily, “I want to see her. I want to say goodbye”.

Alexis_Morven_4

Alexis understood and he would do this for his little wife.

“Of course my darling. Would you like to see this tiny new friend first though?”

She nodded slowly and reached her hands out for the newborn kitten. Alexis handed her the squalling ball of fur. She took it in her hands with a small, brave smile on her face.

Alexis_Morven_5

“Have you named her yet Alexis?”, she asked softly.

“I thought maybe we could call her snowflake”, he said, “it was the first thing I thought of when I saw her but I guess it is quite a silly name”.

He felt somehow embarrassed but he had already grown quite attached to the little thing and he was worried his wife would tell him it was a stupid name.

Morven managed a small laugh, “It sounds like the perfect name for her my dear”.

To Alexis’ surprise snowflake stopped mewling and began to purr ecstatically as Morven gently stroked her, just as her mother had always done.

Morven gave a small wounded cry and buried her face in the kitten’s soft fur.

Alexis_Morven_6

The hand he raised to wrap around her body dropped uselessly to his side. He knew that Morven hated for him to see her upset and so he would pretend for her that he did not know. Still, it was killing him to see her shoulders trembling, so he took a step closer until his body was pressed up against her. Her shaking subsided and she began to murmur softly to snowflake.

Alexis_Morven_7

Now he reached round a hand to gently stroke her swollen belly. His throat felt dry and his hands were sweaty. He had seen now how easily birth and death intermingled. His sigh caught in his throat and he suddenly felt that he might cry. He had finally realised what he had pretending wasn’t true for weeks. He was gut-wrenchingly terrified for his wife and the baby she carried inside her, and once he had opened the gate and fear had stalked through it, there was no shutting it again.

Alexis_Morven_8

Eallair has a request

Eallair walked up the hill admiring the finished structure of the first house built on Mhalwae. It was not a big building but it would be enough to house the Rawtharn’s and his first new subject due to be born in a matter of weeks.

He could see already the soil in front of the house had been tended in preparation for a small garden perhaps. He assumed this had been done by the lady of the house. From what he could tell Engin Rawtharn was not a man who appreciated work. He hoped that Goodwife Rawtharn would turn out to be different.

Eallair_1

He raised his hand and knocked confidently on the the carefully crafted hardwood door. It was a relief to him to have some of the peasants moving into houses, the approaching winter and the number of babies due soon were of great concern to him. The space on the ships was limited and having some of the peasants moving to houses would definitely give them more room.

Eallair_2

He heard a small groan and movement inside, then footsteps coming towards the door. Darina opened it wide, her large belly poking first through the door-frame.

Darina_Eallair_1

He saw a flicker of surprise cross her face and then it was replaced by an extremely wide grin. Eallair was sure that he could see almost all of the teeth in her mouth. It was nice to be welcomed like this though. He could tell Goodwife Rawtharn must be a congenial woman if she could smile so broadly at a first meeting.

Darina_4

“Yer Majesty!”, she cried, “Yew’ll be forgivin’ me if I don’t be curtseying fer yew won’t yer… I’m afraid if I get down I won’t be getting back up again till this here baby is being born”.

“Of course, of course”, he grinned, “we would not want that would we, then I could not ask you the favour I have come for. But first of all tell me, how is that little… or should I say big baby of your’s?”

Darina smiled again, looking down at her swollen figure. Eallair thought her smile now seemed somehow warmer. And there were definitely less teeth involved.

“Well I believe it’s being quite fine Yer Majesty, judging by the amount of kicking it be doin'”, she laughed fondly, “the little mite is gettin’ so bad these days I think it wakes up Engin with it’s kicks they’re that hard!”.

Darina_5

Her huge grin came back again, “But I be forgettin’ me manners Yer majesty! Would yew like to come inside this little house of mine… yew said yer had a favour to be askin’ me”.

She opened her arms wide, gesturing to the inside of her small house with obvious pride.

Darina_6

“Yes, yes… I will come in, thank you Goodwife”.

He gazed around the small tidy house. The floor had been neatly packed with clay and it was evident Darina swept it frequently. He spotted the object he had come to enquire about sitting in the corner, next to a barrel with a small candle burning brightly atop it.

“Can I be offerin’ yer somethin’ to drink Yer Majesty, yew can sit down while I fetch yer somethin'”.

“No, no”, he protested, “I am fine. By the looks of it you are the one who needs to be sitting Goodwife. How about we sit at the table and I tell you why I am bothering you on this fine autumn day”.

Darina_Eallair_2

He winked at her and they went to sit at the table. Darina heaved herself into the chair, barely squeezing her enormous girth under the table.

“Now, the reason I have come, is because I have heard from some of the other folk that you have a talent that I could well make use of, and also the means to apply it”.

Eallair_4

He turned to the left and Darina’s eyes followed his gaze to the spinning wheel that stood there, beside a chair with a basket of material and threads neatly tucked beneath.

Darina_Eallair_3

He saw from her face that Darina was obviously confused about what he wanted.

“I’m not sure I’m completely undestandin’ Yer Majesty here. Are yew wantin’ some tapestries mended? Or perhaps a new outfit… I have not made any of these thins’. I mostly been sewin’ dresses to be honest”.

Darina_7

“And that”, he said triumphantly,”is precisely what I am wanting”.

“You see I have a little secret which will not be a secret for very much longer”, he winked at her conspiratorially, “the Queen will be needing very soon some larger dresses, particularly in the region of her stomach”.

He laughed heartily, “And I can tell you it is not because she has been eating too much candy”.

Eallair_5

He saw a look of surprise and then something like gratitude mingled with glee at being the first to know of the approaching addition to the Royal family.

“And yew be wantin’ me to make a new dress fer her”, Darina said slowly.

Darina_8

“That is precisely what I am wanting from you Goodwife Rawtharn! I will provide the material and of course you will be payed a decent sum of money”.

He went on to describe exactly what Madlenka wanted while Darina listened intently wondering how best to exploit this opportunity.

Darina_9