Going to Milan

Hi guys! Just a quick post to say I am going to Milan for a few days for a conference so there won’t be any new posts until Sunday (hopefully if I am not sluggish from eating too much tiramisu).

Happy simming!

Hepsie watches her face

Hepsie walked towards the cottage, her arm tucked neatly in the crook of Arran’s, listening to him prattle on about the farm and what Noah had managed to do last Sunday. Hepsie was glad to see such admiration in the boy. Noah was a good man, and he had a good little wife. They had done a very fine thing taking in this lonely, grief stricken soul. Their tiny cottage was almost bursting at the seams, what with the new baby and Arran, not to mention Dog. And yet they had not hesitated.

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“Well here we are then Goodwife Cade”, Arran said politely as they reached the house. It had been a rough journey for Hepsie in the wagon, and she could feel the weight of the baby throbbing in her bad ankle. But she was not one to doubt the word of a solemn man like Noah. She knew he would not have sent for her unless he was sure there was something wrong.

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She had a dreadfully tough time convincing Steen to let her go, especially when she told him her plans to stay for a week or so to help her friend with the baby. He had grown more sullen as the weeks went by and she hobbled around after everyone. She understood his concern, but if there was anyone who knew about childbearing it was Hepsie. It didn’t matter that this was her first time, she knew she was healthy and in good condition. Maybe she was a little tired, but who wasn’t after all?

And so he had finally grudgingly agreed, sending her off on the proviso that she was wrapped in her thick woollen coat. The scratchy thing was hanging limply over her shoulders, the humidity of the day permeated the thick fibres so that her arms were sticking unpleasantly to the fabric.

“Thankin’ yew kindly Arran… and aren’t yew remeberin’. I’ve been tellin’ yew to be callin’ me Hepsie for these last weeks gone”.

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He smiled cheerfully at her, a pleasant boyish grin, peeking from beneath his tousled hair.

“I be knowin’ that Good.. Hepsie”, he corrected himself, “because yew are bein’ very good after all. But I always be forgettin’. I’m bein’ ever so sorry”.

“Now then Arran… what did I be tellin’ yew ’bout goin’ round apologising to folks all day long… yew always say sorry an’ folks will think it’s bein’ yer fault and start blamin’ yew fer things”.

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“Oh… sorry Good… I mean… oh blast!”, Arran chuckled, his cheeks turning pink with embarrassment, “Well… I best be off to be helpin’ Noah with them there pigs”.

He scuttled off round the corner, as Hepsie wearily limped up the stairs. How could five steps be so difficult to conquer.

“It’s bein’ yer fault yew fat littl’ thing yew”, she whispered to her belly.

The door was ajar, letting the heavy breeze circulate around the tiny room. Hepsie shrugged off her coat with relief, despite the fact that her exposed sticky skin cooled only slightly at the touch of the moist air.

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“Gena”, she called out gently in case the baby were sleeping. Perhaps Gena was asleep too, Noah had told her the young woman was exhausted. She turned the corner to look for a place to neatly fold her coat and was surprised to see Gena sitting at the small table in the corner. Her eyes were half closed, her head drooping listlessly on her shoulders.

Hepsie could not help but be shocked at her appearance. Gena was a neat woman, always conscious of the state of her clothes, perhaps fearing the enhanced judgemental nature of those looking upon her. Now her dress was covered with stains, some at least days old, while there was a large new patch of what looked like baby spittle drying on her shoulder.

And Gena usually tied her hair back as carefully as she could without being able to see her reflection. Even though wisps often softly found there wat down around her face, it was always apparent that she had made an effort. But today Gena piled her hair messily on top of her head, tying it haphazardly with a scarf, sweaty strands hanging down around her flushed face.

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“Gena”, she repeated again, this time her tone firmer.

The other woman was started out of her reverie, her head slowly rising up, a smile forcing its way across her resisting face.

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“Oh…Hepsie… how lovely”, Gena’s voice sounded dull and hollow, the faint echoing rebound in the depths of a canyon.

“Aren’t yew goin’ to ask yer old friend to have a sit down then?”, Hepsie asked jovially, “my feet are just about killin’ me. And me back too…”.

“Oh… yes.. of course”, Gena replied listlessly.

Hepsie lowered herself heavily into the chair, “Well I got lots of grace left in me as yew can tell. If I have to be curtseyin’ one more time for that ruddy Radomir I’m thinkin’ I’ll just be floppin’ on the floor at his feet like a turtle on me back, wavin’ me poor swollen ankles in the air”.

“Now dear”, she smiled broadly while closely watching her friend’s face, “How is that dear young Derrin of ours then?”.

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She had been warned by Noah that Gena’s reaction to the boy was not exactly normal, but she hadn’t been expecting this.

Gena’s head sank slowly, the corners of her mouth drooping, her shoulders slumping as though her whole body were dragging downwards by some force pulling from below.

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“What’s wrong love?”, Hepsie asked gently, “Is that baby not lettin’ yew get enough sleep at night?”.

A great sob choked Gena’s throat and she buried her face in her hands her shoulders shaking softly.

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Hepsie had definitely not been prepared for this. She had heard of mother’s who didn’t take to their babies the way that was normal, but she had never seen it herself and certainly had not expected it of Gena. The young woman had been so looking forward to having her baby.

“Oh love… there now, yew let it out and talk to yer old Hepsie. What’s troublin’ yew dearheart”.

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She waited patiently while Gena sniffled, wiping her eyes on an already grimy sleeve.

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“He doesn’ love me Hepsie… my son doesn’ love me”, she sighed deeply, her body sinking lower in the chair, “He knows I’m not bein’ a good mother and he doesn’ want me”.

Hepsie opened her mouth to say something but shut it again when Gena continued.

“An’ they’re all goin’ to be knowin’ an’ then they’ll come here an’ they’ll say… “Gena Ulcar… yer not fit to be a mother. God musta made a mistake givin’ yew that baby because yew don’t love him as yew should an yew aren’t the mother fer him”. And then they’ll be takin’ him”.

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“An’ Hepsie”, she said in a tiny voice, “I don’t know if I would mind just to stop hearin’ him cryin’ all the time… the poor littl’ soul knowin’ who his mother is an’ cryin’ his littl’ heart out in grief of his misfortune in this life”.

“Gena Ulcar”, Hepsie scolded, “Now yew just stop right there feelin’ miserable fer yerself. Yer baby isn’ cryin’ fer any reason other than the littl’ mites are always weepin’ an’ wailen’. It’s what babies do love. Doesn’ matter who his mother was he’d still be wailin’ his littl’ lungs out cause he’s knowin’ its the best way to get his Ma to come and be holdin’ him the way he likes”.

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“An’ no one’s goin’ to be takin’ him from yew. Yer just as fit as the rest of us are bein’ to have a baby, as God as surely shown yew… better than most fer that matter, all the squalling whores my Ma helped with the birthin'”.

“Yew need to be pullin’ yerself together and stoppin’ with this nonsense. Littl’ Derrin loves yew in a way he’ll never love noone else and that’s bein’ somethin’ special”.

“But Hepsie”, she whimpered, “I don’t like him sometimes when he’s cryin’. Sometimes I don’t like him an awful lot”.

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Hepsie chuckled heartily over the worries in her heart, “Don’t yew think everyone sometimes is feelin’ like that. I know the Queen herself tells me sometimes the baby is cryin’ so much she feels like screamin’ and cryin’ too till she’s blotchy and red in the face like the littl’ prince”.

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“The Queen”, Gena whispered.

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“Not just the Queen but the rest too… them babies of Lady Hwratar’s. Sometimes there bein’ so noisy I want to wring their dear littl’ necks. There’s a reason it’s bein’ such a terrible sound an’ that’s to be makin’ the Ma be sittin’ up and takin’ notice because it’s bein’ feedin’ time”.

“It isn’ bein’ cause he doesn’ love yew dear, it’s cause he does an’ he knows yer the one who takes care of him an’ loves him”, she said it with conviction, knowing that these were the ideas that frightened Gena.

Gena sighed weakly, “Maybe yer bein’ right”.

Hepsie laboriously rose to her feet and waddled over, pulling Gena to her feet and then into a very pregnant embrace.

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“Of course I’m bein’ right yew silly goose. When have yew ever know’d me not to be bein’ right?”

“Now then”, she said, taking Gena by the hands, “what on earth have yew been doin’ to that dress of yers… an’ yer poor hair, bein’ messed up in that great knot sittin’ atop yer head”.

Gena giggled self-consciously and Hepsie was pleased to see a slight smile creeping shamefully back to her face.

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“First of all let’s be fixin’ that hair of yers. Then we’ll see if there isn’ bein’ something clean we can be puttin’ on yew while we wash that there dress o’ yers”.

“Come an be sittin’ over here fer me that’s a good girl”.

Gena sank wearily into the chair and Hepsie began to unwind the scarf from around her knotty hair.

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She started to brush out the knots with her fingers.

“What were yer thinkin’ love… these are bein’ dreadful tangles. Looks like yew haven’ brushed yer hair for days”.

“I haven'”, Gena softly admitted, “I was just bein’ so tired and it’s bein’ so hard to make it sit nice”.

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“Well then, it’s a good thing yer Hepsie’s been sittin’ around by the poor Countess’ bedside fer these last days. Yew know me, can’t sit still so I been makin’ somethin’ fer yew”.

“Yew have”, Gena asked in surprise.

“I have”, she replied, “Now just let me be findin’ it in my coat”

She rummaged around for a moment, retrieving the item which she laid on the table while she began to braid Gena’s hair.

“It’s bein a hair net… pretty too with yellow thread and littl’ white daisies woven through it”, she carefully fixed it over Gena’s braid.

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“There now, that ought to be holdin’ most of them stray hairs in their place”, she exclaimed, satisfied with the finished result.

Gena stood up carefully stroking her head with trembling hands.

“It’s bein’ so neat”, she said in a hushed voice, “an’ so fine. Oh Hepsie, yew shouln’ have”.

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“Of course I should silly… an’ yew know what else. I’m goin’ to be stayin’ with yew for a bit to help with the baby while those silly men yew got hangin’ around here run around after them pigs”.

“Thank you Hepsie”, she said softly.

“Well then, yer bein that welcome!”

“Now let’s be seein’ what’s happenin’ with that boy o’ yers. I guess it’s probably about feedin’ time eh?”.

She watched Gena’s face closely as she mentioned the baby, waiting for some reaction, hoping for some sign of happiness, fearing some return of Gena’s earlier misery. She did not get either.

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The 100th chapter!

Hi guys! Hurray… I just reached the 100th chapter of my story. I know it is not a lot compared to some blogs but I am pretty happy about it so I decided to make a page “The first 100 chapters” to celebrate. It is just a collection of some of my fav pics from the first season 😀 so I hope you enjoy the recap.

Noah faces the storm

Noah carefully raised his hands in the air, ready to grasp the squealing pig at his feet. He had spent the majority of the cool spring day slipping around in the pig pen, trying in vain to catch the squirming creatures. Being a carpenter, he had never before had the occasion to capture a pig and he now knew that it was not as easy it looked.

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Not to mention that the icy morning sleet had turned the pig pen into a muddy nightmare of scattering pink bodies, and splattered boots. He brought his hands down slowly until they were on either side of the pig’s rotund body and reached out to grasp it with his strong hands.

Suddenly the pig gave a mighty squeal and skittered into the corner of the pen cowering with the other muddy grunting bodies. He swore softly under his breath and then he heard the sound that had startled them and he was over the fence and running before he could even think.

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His heart was in his throat as he raced around to the front of the cottage, so he thought he would choke before he ever reached the source of that dreadful sound. His ears were filled with the babies wailing and the sharp desperate barking of Dog.

He opened the door expecting to see the mauled body of his son, Dog standing above him with a bloodied muzzle.

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Dog was standing above Derrin but his body was protectively curved over the tiny, weeping baby. He was sniffing carefully at the child, lifting his head occasionally to bark loudly. When he saw Noah standing at the door, his mouth spread into a joyous grin, tongue lolling and he gave the baby one last soft nuzzle and padded over to Noah.

Noah was dizzy with relief as he leant down to scratch the top of Dog’s head. An unpleasant pang of guilt sidled through him reminding him that a moment earlier he had pictured the animal a brute.

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“It’s a good boy yer bein’. Now yew best be gettin’ outside. And don’t yew be hasslin’ at them poor old pigs again yer hear me”.

Dog woofed in reply and trotted outside happily, most likely straight towards the pig pen and frightened pigs, thought Noah.

Noah gazed down at his son who was lying on the bare floor boards. He had stopped sobbing for a moment to stare wide-eyed up at his father, his tear-stained face full of confusion at his current situation.

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He bent down and picked up Derrin, feeling with horror how cold the baby was. It was a chill afternoon and they had not yet lit a fire in the main room.

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As soon as he was safe in Noah’s arms, Derrin began to shriek again, with long hiccuping sobs of indignation at his unfair treatment. Noah tried his best to comfort the little boy, hoisting him onto his shoulder, snuggling him against his neck. He briskly rubbed at the baby’s limbs and back trying to return some warmth to them.

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Eventually Derrin stopped crying, resting his tiny face wearily against Noah’s shoulder, his limbs hanging limply.

What on Earth had Gena been thinking leaving him there like that? Then his throat constricted again and a great rush of fear pumped through his veins, his heart fluttering so wildly he thought the baby pressed against it must have been disturbed. He had forgotten all about Gena in his concern for their son.

He crossed the room in an instant, throwing wide the door without preparation for what he might find there.

But all he found was Gena sitting on the edge of the bed, her face turned towards the window as though she could gaze out at the gathering storm clouds, descending on the mountain peaks.

At the sound of his entrance her little hands clenched into fists and he saw that her shoulders had begun to shake like the rustling leaves of a tree as the wind gusts through it the moment before it rains.

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“Gena…”, he had only said one word, the warmth of it rising up to meet her chill and the rain came pouring down.

She gave a single sob, her face collapsing into her hands, blades of rain slicing into the leaves and smashing into the ground.

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Noah was not an emotional man but at that moment he didn’t know whether to feel brutally angry, compassionate or dreadfully afraid.

He silently went over to the crib with Derrin who was warm now and sleeping soundly in his arms. He carefully lay him down, his hands steady as always, not betraying the disquiet he felt within.

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The he turned to his wife who had stopped crying, and now sat, her back to him, her hands clutching at the fabric over her thighs so tightly he could see the whites of her knuckles. Her body was still trembling slightly, the rain subsiding for the moment but the branches still shivering with anticipation for the next downpour.

“Gena…”, he said her name softly, the syllables rolling like thunder from his mouth.

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She did not turn so he was obliged to walk around the side of the bed so he could see her face.

She did not speak, her attention fixed on a small thread that had come loose from her dress. She was winding it round her fingers so tightly he could see the deep criss-crossing indentations it made when unravelled, angry red lines marring her delicate pale skin.

“Gena, what were yew thinkin’ leavin’ him out there in the cold like that?”, he asked, his tone more puzzled than accusatory.

She turned her face towards him, and the corners of her mouth drooped downwards, swollen petals sagging under the onslaught of water. She looked exhausted, her head lolling on her shoulders, the stem unable to support the weight any longer.

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“He wouldn’ stop cryin’. He was just cryin’ and cryin’ and nothin’ I could do would be makin’ him stop”, she paused for a moment as though a rest was necessary, “I couldn’ bear it anymore so I been puttin’ him in that there other room for a moment so I didn’ have to listen to him”.

Noah was shocked and could not hide it, he knew she had noticed his sharp intake of breath at her explanation.

Suddenly her demanour changed, her shoulders slumping, part of the river bank dislodged spiralling into the rushing water below to be swept away and she began to wring her hands in dismay.

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“Oh Noah, what was I thinkin’, leavin’ poor little Derrin out there. I thought it’d just be for a minute then when I was sittin’ here I couldn’ even be bringin’ myself to get up again”.

Noah could have interrupted her, told her what he thought of her behaviour but he thought it best to let her speak. He could tell there was something very wrong. Things had not been right since Derrin had been born, she hadn’t seemed to experience any of the joy that usually overcame new mothers. More and more he had found he weeping beside Derrin’s crib, or sitting dejectedly at the table her head in her hands. He had tried to discuss it with her many times but she had always dismissed the topic with a forced smile. Now that it was flooding out, sloshing at the confining banks he did not think it wise to hault the overflow.

“I… I’m just bein’ so tired Noah, I can’t be doin’ it. I knew I would be bein’ a bad mother and they all knew… and look I been provin’ em right. Can’t take care of me own baby and they goin’ to know… they goin’ to know…”, she broke off into a desperate sob, “and they goin’ to take him away. I’m just knowin’ they are”.

“An he doesn’ love me… little Derrin, he knows I’m not bein’ a good mother and he knows I can’t be seein’ him. He’s knowin’ it! And he don’t love me!”.

It was too much, Noah couldn’t bear it anymore and he swept her up into his arms, the water lapping ineffectively at the barricade of his embrace.

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“Now yew be listenin’ here. Yer a wonderful mother, and little Derrin over there in his crib loves yew with all his wee heart. He don’t be mindin’ that yew can’t see him, it’s yer voice and yer touch that’s bein’ important to him”.

He tenderly lifted her hand to his face so she could trace the lines of his expression.

“The amount of love that’s bein’ in that there hand of yer’s, how could he not be feelin’ it?”, he asked, smiling softly so she could feel the upward curve of his lips.

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“Now yew know what I be thinkin'”, he murmured, “I think it’s bein’ time his mama be havin’ a rest too. She’s lookin’ real tired and the littl’un over there be sleepin’ soundly so I think it’s bein’ yer turn”.

He began to carefully undress her unresisting body, as soft rain began to patter on the window pane. She leaned on him heavily, her trembling arms around his shoulders, her face buried in his hair.

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She lifted her arms weakly for him to slide her nightgown over them, the soft folds of material falling around the battered trunk of her body.

She sat down on the edge of the bed, her knees pulled feebly to her chest, tears trickling softly down her cheeks, tiny spatters or rain making wet spots on the flimsy fabric of her nightgown.

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“Yer alright love, yer just bein tired is all, in need of a bit of a rest. Yew’ll feel better when yew be wakin’ up”, Noah had the ability to sound convincing and comforting even when he did not believe in what he was saying. He knew his wife and he knew when something was wrong. And something was very wrong.

He helped her lie down, rubbing her back and kissing her neck, pulling the covers up around her tired body.

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He sat with her until she fell asleep, looking at the the swollen moist inside of her lips as she inhaled and exhaled, the flushed rosy pink of her cheeks, her eyes closed tightly like flowers folding shut in the cool, afternoon air.

He would send Arran for Hepsie and see what she could do. He was sure she would understand what was wrong with Gena better than he could. He would send for Hepsie.

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No post badness :(

Hi guys… sorry for the lack of posts. I am totally snowed under at work at the moment and I am desperate to write but getting home late every night and so zonked that all I can do is sit around going blah. But I didn’t want you to think I had forgotten Mhalwae. Hopefully a post will be appearing some time in the next few days (I am hoping for tomorrow).

Lochan lets her cry

Lochan knocked softly on the hardwood door.

“Come in”, he heard a voice cry cheerfully from within.

He opened the door to the sight of Cindra holding her little son aloft, his legs kicking excitedly.

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She was wearing a simple dress that hung softly around the curves of her body. He preferred it to the flamboyant dresses she usually wore at court. In this she seemed more approachable, more real to him and he could remember the days she had shunned tight-fitting dresses the better to run through the forest with him.

He could not help noticing her swollen breasts peeking out the top of her dress and he found the sight somehow intimidating. How things had changed, the passing of the years turning his little cousin into a woman, into a mother.

“Hello Lochan”, she said to him and then to the baby, “look dear, it’s you Uncle Lochan here to play with you”.

She brought the baby close to her face, their button noses almost touching. He reached out his tiny hands and gently patted at her cheeks.

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She squealed in delight, rubbing her nose against his and kissing his plump little cheeks.

“Isn’t he just delicious?!”, she exclaimed then proceeded to kiss the baby’s stomach noisily, “I have half a mind to devour you my tasty little morsel”.

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She lowered him and turned to Lochan, “Come in you silly man and stop skulking in the doorway”.

“As you wish my lady”, he replied with a faint smile and walked into the room.

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“Oh and would you close the door behind you please”, she asked, turning her attention back to the baby.

He thought it was a strange request, given what the servants might think but he did so anyway.

“I see Atholt has noticed your chubby little cheeks then my dear”, he said, raising his hand, his finger and thumb prepared.

She giggled breathlessly, “Oh no not that again. I thought you had forgotten”.

He reached forward gently pinching her cheek. He had not been so gentle when they were children, sometimes forgetting he was bigger than her and pinching her cheeks till she would cry and then letting her pull great fistfuls of his hair with her pudgy hands to avenge her suffering.

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“You don’t know about the pinching do you little Atholt, but seeing as you have unfortunately inherited your mother’s lovely cheeks you are going to have to get used to it”.

He leant down and pinched Atholt’s chubby cheek carefully as the baby snuffled and squirmed in his mother’s arms, unsure what to think of this strange new person who had taken such an interest in his face.

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“Would you like to hold him?”, she asked, smiling proudly.

Would he? He didn’t know. As the weeks went by and Isaura’s belly got bigger, he had dared to begin to hope. She had never gotten so far, and there were only a few months to go now. He had thought to banish these thoughts from his head after last time, but had found that the mind is not so easy to train. And so with the passing weeks a faint glimmer of hope that this time it would be different had peeked its sunny face through the clouds, a tiny ray of light shining directly onto his heart.

So he would hold the baby, for soon perhaps, godwilling he might be holding his own.

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He held Atholt tentatively in his arms, as the baby squirmed towards his mother.

“He doesn’t like it like that you big ninnny!”, she said, directing him with her hands, “he wants to be up on your shoulder, here. He likes to be up high”.

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He raised the baby onto his shoulder, were it wriggled for a moment and then went still, resting its warm face against his chest.

“See, that’s better. You’re happy up there aren’t you my angel?”, she smiled fondly at the two of them.

“He’s so warm”, he said, unsure of what else to say.

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“Yes he is and so is his poor mother, I am surely suffocating in here. It looks like this summer will be hot if early spring is any indication. Of course there’s no windows or air in this stupid ship. I will be glad when they finish the castle”, she blew a curl that had come loose from her face, then tucked it behind her ear with an expression of annoyance.

“Did you really call me here to talk about the weather Cindra?”, Lochan asked, wondering what exactly was her reason for asking that he visit in her room.

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Her face fell the cheerful expression sliding off like a mask at the end of the masquerade, revealing the true face of the wearer.

“No… that’s not why I wanted to see you”, she replied sheepishly, “I thought perhaps you might be able to tell me something?”.

“What sort of something?”, he asked not sure what she was about to say, unable to imagine what sort of something would require a closed door.

“Who is Isabelle?”, her voice was hushed but it did not disguise the significance of the words.

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He felt a chill sinking in his stomach, displacing the warmth of an unpleasant memory that rose buoyantly from its resting place and lodged in his throat.

“What dear? What do you mean?”, he managed to croak.

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“See! I knew you would know”, she almost screeched startling the baby who looked at her with wide eyes, “You have to tell me Lochan! You have to, I can’t live like this anymore. Now that he has stopped drinking he doesn’t sleep and I know she is there with him in his dreams”.

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Lochan felt fear lapping at his heart like the rough tongue of a rabid dog. What had Garrick told her? Cindra wasn’t supposed to know, they never spoke of it and they had all nearly forgotten. It had been so very long ago.

Then he looked up at her face and he saw the desperation in her wide haunted eyes and he knew he must tell her.

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“Alright dear, I will tell you. Just let me put this little one to bed, it is not a tale for small people’s ears”.

He gently laid the drowsy baby in his crib, pausing for a moment to marvel at the perfection of his tiny limbs as they relaxed into sleep, stroking with wonder the soft skin on his head. He was so fragile, his life depending on the delicate housing of his body. It would be so easy to lose him.

Then he turned back to Cindra, “Let us sit, it will not be a short telling”.

He lowered himself heavily into the chair and Cindra perched opposite him on the bed. He noticed with irritation that her troubling bosom was now at eyelevel and he had to make a concerted effort to keep his eyes firmly on her face.

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“Please tell me Lochan… you have to. Who is Isabelle?” she repeated the question of before her voice pleading and he could suddenly detect the exhaustion underlying it.

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At the mention of that name again, he felt his heart creaking in grief, the rusty hinges of a long forgotten box being forced open once more. He knew now that he would never forget the pain, no matter how many years would pass.

He began as calmly as he could manage, “Cindra, Isabelle was Garrick’s twin sister”.

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Her hand flew unknowingly to her breast and once again he found himself forced to drag his eyes away from the area and up to her face. He remembered the high collared dresses her pious mother used to wear and he began to wish she would follow suit, as becoming as she did look clothed like this.

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“Garrick… he has a sister? Why didn’t he ever tell me? He never mentioned her. Where is she now? Why wouldn’t he tell me?” she babbled in distress.

He suddenly wondered if he had made a mistake in telling her. He had assumed that Garrick had spoken to her of Isabelle, but now he realised that perhaps she had only heard the name when he was ill and was jealous of this other woman. But then, she did not seem jealous, only frightened and tired.

He waited till she calmed down to say the dreadful words, “Cindra dear, Isabelle is dead”.

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She sat silently for a moment and then whispered what he had hoped she would not ask, but knew in his heart she would.

“How did she die?”

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He took a deep breath and began, “We had been hunting boar, Garrick, Eallair and I. I remember the day well for it was the first time Eallair was allowed to come out with us. Isabelle had been angry that we left her behind. She always wanted to do everything us boys did, to go with us even if it were forbidden by her parents. Garrick would usually let her come along anyway, hiding the fact from his father, even letting her ride like a boy. He loved her so he did. We all did”.

“She was my betrothed”, he stopped for a moment, contemplating how different his life would have been if he had married that fiery young woman, instead of his beloved Isaura. If he hadn’t been given the choice would he have loved as much?

“But this day he told her she could not come because he knew young Eallair, spoilt brat that he was in those days, would not keep silent about it and once Garrick’s father heard he would surely beat Garrick soundly and most likely Isabelle too. So he quarrelled with Isabelle and told her she must stay home. She was so angry with him, she swore she would never forgive him for treating her like just another girl”.

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“We had been following a boar for almost an hour through the forest. We came to a clearing finally and saw faint movements in the undergrowth and Garrick, growing impatient of the endless chase notched an arrow in his bow and sent it flying towards the movements. A scream of agony erupted from the bushes and we realised in horror it was not the squealing of a pig, but the cry of young woman”.

He paused his face contorting in pain, remembering that terrible moment.

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“We rushed towards the sound, Garrick arriving there first, all of us sobbing in terror. He found her there, it was Isabelle, she had followed us. The arrow had pierced straight through her heart. She died in his arms”.

“Garrick never forgave himself”, he said with a shuddering breath, “He asked that we never speak of it again and so slowly everyone forgot poor Isabelle. Everyone that is, except Garrick”.

He finally looked up at Cindra who was staring at him, her face grief-stricken and contorted in fear.

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“He never told me”, she whispered hoarsely.

“Oh God… he never told me. So why is she in my dreams every night, her face so like his”.

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“What?” he breathed, “What do you mean?”

Cindra replied, her voice trembling, “She comes to me in my dreams, since Garrick started drinking. At first I never saw her, I would always catch a glimpse but then I would wake up. But the night Atholt was born I saw her, I looked her in the face. And God Lochan, they burned her alive!”

“I… I don’t understand. You are seeing Isabelle in your dreams Cindra? But why?”

He looked up at her trying to keep the shivering that was rampaging through his body from his hands so she would not see.

Cindra_Lochan_7

“I don’t know Lochan… I can’t sleep without dreaming of her. And if I do then Garrick wakes me in the night crying her name. And always… always in the dream… the banner of their family. Oh”.

Her mouth curved into an overdrawn smile, her eyes filling with tears that threatened to burst their dams and spill over her plump cheeks. He knew that face, it was the face of a little girl with a skinned knee, a little girl who had lost her favourite toy, a little girl who was crying because he had pinched her cheeks too hard.

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The dams cracked and tears suddenly flooded over the contours of her face, pouring into her upturned hands.

“Oh… oh Lochan… he never told me”, she sobbed into her tiny hands, “he never even told me”.

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In an instant he was on his feet his hands gently rubbing her arms through the thin lace that covered them, his face against her hair. If there was one thing he had never been able to bear it was watching her cry.

“There now… don’t you be worrying yourself. You probably just remembered her somewhere in the back of your mind even though you were little and now you are dreaming of her because of Garrick”, he spoke reassuringly with a confidence he did not feel. He did not know what to think, his mind dulled by churning emotions.

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She brought her flushed face to rest against his chest as she had done when they were children, her soft curls tickling his face as she cried.

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Noah goes outside

Noah listened politely while Arran chattered incessantly about the coming spring, the new work planned for the church and the castle and anything else he could think of.

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Noah understood that he was trying to distract him from the dreadful cries of agony coming from the next room intermittently. And he appreciated what the young man was trying to do, but he thought if he mentioned foundations or ploughing one more time he too would begin to scream through his clenched teeth and once he started he would not be able to stop.

“Yew see… I figure… if we bein’ puttin’ in these wooden latts in a manner like this ‘ere”, he demonstrated enthusiastically with his arms, “then we’d be all set”.

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“I mean, if we was to… “, he trailed off with a grimace as another anguished screech echoed around the small room, amplified by the stone walls surrounding them.

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Had Noah known the effect those walls would produce he would never have built them. Right at this moment he wanted to tear them down with his bare hands, anything to stop that terrible sound. If something happened to her he would anyway, breaking apart all his careful work, smashing the rocks to pieces, his axe slicing through the wooden fence she had stroked, digging up the trees he had planted dirt pushing beneath his fingernails, the grainy brown material scraping along the fibres of his heart.

“Sorry lad… “, he mumbled, “don’t think I’m really bein’ in a talkin’ mood anymore. Thanks all the same”.

Noah_8

Arran nodded mutely, with a distraught look, his next sentence dying on his lips. Noah knew that the poor boy, eager to please as he was, was probably scolding himself inwardly for talking too much, perhaps for saying the wrong things. Right at that moment Noah could not even bring himself to care.

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He slowly rose from his chair and went over to the window, gazing at the snow-covered fields, distorted by his hot breath panting onto the frosty glass. The world outside was muted pink, the last stars winking out over the horizon. It was dawn and his wife had lain in that tiny room he had built for them for almost a day.

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He suddenly had a desperate urge to be outside, where there was no sound but the infinitely soft thud, as tiny snowflakes spiralled down to the ground, and the hollow sound of the wind through the deadened trees.

He fled the closeness of the tiny room with its carefully packed walls, its merrily crackling fire and the awkward conversation of a sad young man, a gust of frigid wind hitting his face as he opened the door.

He cautiously picked his way down the slippery embankment of snow, shivering slightly as the tang of the cold breeze caressed his body. He stood gazing out to sea, under a roof of cypress trees that creaked in dismay under the weight of the countless tiny flakes that had never made it to the ground.

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The water gleamed blue in the early light, chill tongues of ice reaching out from the shoreline towards the darker water where sluggish currents still stirred.

He could venture out on that ice, painstakingly making his way over the frozen path. The grating sound in his ears as the ice below his feet began to deform, the tiny crystals kinking and bending until the strain became too much, brittle fractures rampaging through like fast growing roots. Then there would be the dreadful roar as the seemingly solid ground cracked below his feet, the dark, cold water rushing up to meet him as he scrabbled uselessly with numbing fingers on the edges. The first breath taken, the burning of icy water rushing into his resisting lungs, a struggle and then quiet, spiralling towards the depths.

He heard a gentle padding sound behind him, and turned slightly to see Dog gingerly picking his way over the snow, lifting his paws high in a futile attempt to keep them warm.

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He came and sat silently at Noah’s feet without the usual whining and begging. It seemed that he understood the solemnity of the morning and for once Noah was glad for the company.

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They stayed there for a long time as the sun began to peek her rosy face over the sparkling white fields and the icy blue sea.

He heard an awkward crunching behind him but he dared not turn around for fear of who it might be and what they might have to say to him.

Hepsie came to stand silently beside him. Still he dared not look at her, desperately afraid of what he might find in her face.

“Ooh… now then yew big ruddy baby… I know it’s bein’ that cold out here an yew’ve had a hard day but that’s not bein’ a good reason to start kickin’ at yer poor old Ma”, she rubbed her moving belly painfully until the baby began to calm.

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With a burst of courage he turned towards Hepsie, gazing at the soft lines of her face. She was not paying attention to him, her concentration centred on soothing the small being inside her.

She looked exhausted, dark circles around her eyes, her head drooping wearily. Her hair had escaped it’s usual tight bun and hung in sweaty curls around her shoulders.

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“Now good sir”, she said turning to Noah with a broad grin, “I am bein’ that pleased to announce that yew are the father of a healthy son… that big he’s bein’ though… and he was so turned around… gave yer poor wife a dreadful time he did”.

Hepsie_20

“My wife”, he croaked, unable to bring himself to speak properly

“Oh the poor lamb… she’ll be just fine. She’s a bit tired is all. So I’m bein’ as well fer that matter. And I think yew too”.

His heart was suddenly filled with an overwhelming joy and he scooped Hepsie into his arms planting a large kiss on her flushed, cold little cheek.

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“Thank yew”, he murmured unable to say anything else, choking slightly on these simple words.

“Yer bein’ welcome Noah love”, she replied, smiling wearily at him, “it was my pleasure to be bringin’ another bonnie wee lad like him into this world. And God’s own pleasure to let me be the one to do it”.

Hepsie_Noah_3

She whistled softly, “He’s bein’ the fifth boy bein’ born this month. Better be gettin’ some girls soon or there be bein’ an awful lot of fightin’ over poor wee Aisling when they grow up”.

Suddenly her smile fell and all that was left was the sagging features of exhaustion pulling heavily at her face.

“Yew be gentle with that wife of yer’s then Noah. She’s had a real rough time of it and she’s goin’ to need both yew and Arran to take good care of her”.

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He nodded mutely and they walked back to the house together, Dog trotting along beside them, his eager footsteps squeaking softly in the newly fallen snow.

He accepted Arran’s congratulations as quickly as he could without seeming cruel and then opened the door and walked into the room.

Gena inclined her head towards him as she always did when she heard his footsteps. However her usual radiant smile was missing, her lips slack, her face drawn and weary. Her hair was plastered around her flushed expressionless face.

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He bent down and gently kissed her clammy forward, stroking her hot cheeks with his chilled hand. She did not reach out to feel his features as she usually did when he was close, her hands resting wearily on her still swollen belly.

“He’s bein’ over in that there cradle if yew want to be seein’ him”, she murmured, her voice soft as though speaking were a great effort, “yer son”.

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Something about what she said disturbed him, though he could not work out what it was and so he crept over to the cradle to peer in.

He gazed down at the baby in wonder. He was indeed a robust little thing with rosy skin, and strong kicking legs. His face was turned towards the wall and suddenly Noah desperately wanted him to turn and look at him.

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He reached down a tentative hand, his big rough fingers gently hovering above the chubby body lying restlessly in the crib. His courage faltered, his fingers almost brushing the tiny creature but then retracting to hide shamefully curled inwards to the palm of his hand at the last minute.

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Then it did not matter because the baby turned his head to stare up at his father, his brown eyes blinking with curiosity at this new face above him.

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“Gena love…”, he breathed, “He’s being the most amazin’ thing I’ve ever been seein'”.

He heard her sigh deeply from across the room, the sound hissing from her exhausted lungs and through her drooping lips.

“I wouldn’ be knowin’ cause I can’t be seein him”, she said dully.

And then he realised what was bothering him. She had said his son, not theirs.

Gena_17

Garrick waits

Garrick stood gazing at the closed door before him. It seemed such an easy thing to reach out with one hand, a gentle flick of the wrist and the application of a minimal amount of pressure and it would swing slowly open to reveal the scene beyond it.

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But then again it also seemed like an impenetrable barrier, a gateway to the forbidden. He could not turn the doorknob any more than he could protect his wife from the variety of complications that could assail her. It was beyond his control.

What had he been thinking losing his temper with her like that? What a brute he had been. His stomach swam with steaming red nausea just thinking about it. The clinging fingers of the wine he had drank prying open his brain to test each nerve for an unpleasant response. They poked gingerly at every sensitive part conferring with detachedness, if you touch here he will feel ill, press gently on this tender spot and his eyeballs will throb in their sockets, this is the area that will illicit a strong urge to vomit.

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He leant forward, resting his aching head on the wall, the slight dampness of the warped wood soothing his burning forehead.

His wife lay on the other side of this hardwood obstruction. He breathed in deeply the faint scent of salt, worked into the fibres of the wood tanging in his nostrils. She may as well have lain a thousand miles from him so unreachable was she. He only knew she was still there from the occasional soft cries and moans that rang in his ears, echoing through his troubled head.

Garrick_13

His wife. His wife he had shouted at, frightened and reduced to tears. And the tiny fragile life of their baby, lying in the warmth of her womb, below a heart that he had caused to pound, lungs he had caused to contract and squeeze as she panted in anger and fear.

Garrick_14

He was not fit to be husband. Not fit to be a father. And Isabelle… dearest Isabelle with her smiling eyes… he had not been fit to be a brother either.

His heart contracted painfully in his chest, the part of it that belonged to her still, twitching in torment like a fish on a hook.

A great rolling sob burst from his throat, vibrating into the salt stained walls. It had been so many years, the thought of her still clinging tenuously, but new joys in his life so he thought he could finally live again. He knew now he would never escape the pain, never run fast enough and far enough to outreach the sorrow. She would keep with him forever, pattering behind on soft feet, graceful as a deer, hidden from sight whenever he looked back.

Garrick_15

And now his wife dreamt of her too… how could it be, she knew nothing of her. They had all respected him enough for that.

“Isabelle… I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… please… not her too. She is just a child”, he whimpered into the empty corridor.

An answer came from within the room, a single cry of agony wrenching from his wife’s throat and then another sound he could not comprehend for a moment. It was the sound of a baby wailing.

He drew back from the wall as though its salty coolness had suddenly grown scorchingly hot.

Garrick_16

He waited for long minutes, though in his mind they became torturous hours, the sound of his wife’s agonised cry resounded in his head, bouncing off the sides of his skull.

He closed his eyes tightly to try and rid himself of the dreadful noise, but the voice only continued to ring out until there were two voices, the voice of wife juxtaposed with cry of a long-dead sister.

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Suddenly the door clicked open and he leapt back from it startled, the horrible sound his head cutting out instantly.

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The figure in the door smiled at him as he tried to refocus his eyes. He realised it was Lisbet and in her arms she held a pink, chubby baby.

“Well then Garrick”, she giggled, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost. Don’t worry you silly man, it’s just your fat little son”.

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He gazed past her through the door and caught a glimpse of his wife lying wanly in the bed, Hepsie fussing with the blankets.

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Lisbet catching him looking quickly closed the door with resounding click behind her.

“Now then you naughty man, no peeking in there”, she scolded.

“Cindra…”, he gasped, his voice catching in his throat.

“Oh she’ll be just fine dear, she was a brave little thing. And look at the size of this big boy she had to squeeze out”, she chided, “makes me glad I’m about the same size as Cordell it does”

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He stared down at the creature she carried in her arms.

“He looks just like her”, he mused in amazement.

“He sure does… has her chubby cheeks and her little pouty mouth doesn’t he. He’s got her eyes too and looks like he’ll be getting her hair as well. He’s going to be tall like you though, mark my words. Poor thing might be getting your nose too”.

The baby looked up at him, one hand brushing against his mouth with a sweet expression on his face.

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He looked up to see Lisbet smiling down at him as he stared in wonder at his son.

“Did you want to hold him?”, she asked.

“Yes…”, he whispered barely able to find his voice.

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He lifted the small snuffling bundle to his shoulder, and his son buried his heavy head in the scratchy fold of his mane of hair.

When he looked up he saw Lisbet staring at him accusatorily.

“What did you say to that poor dear in there to make her so upset?”, she asked a hint of anger in her voice, “she was absolutely distraught when I arrived”.

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His tongue caught in his throat, unable to answer her but it did not matter since she continued speaking.

“She wants to call him Atholt you know… and I think you should let her”, her tone of voice was challenging him to defy her.

Atholt, Cindra’s beloved father. Of course she could name him that, it wasn’t as though Garrick would name him after his own.

He was about to say as much when a figure flew around the corner almost colliding with them.

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“Oi!”, he roared, finding his voice again now that his son was threatened, “What were you’re going you young hooligan!”.

He regretted his words when he realised who it was. It was that young man, Barran wasn’t it, that’s right Arran Barran, unfortunate name that. The poor man had not recovered well from the death of his wife and Garrick thought he deserved a bit of kindness.

“What is it then lad?”, he asked more gently.

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“It… it’s Gena… sorry Goodwife Ulcar yer Lordship, she goin’ ta have her baby and Noah… sorry Goodman Ulcar is thinkin’ it’s goin’ to be a hard one. He reckons’ babies got itself a bit turned around if yer know what I’m meanin. I’m here ta’ see if I could be fetchin’ Hepsie… I mean sorry… Goodwife Cade”.

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He stopped suddenly as he noticed the squirming baby in Garrick’s arms.

“Oh… a baby”, he said as the air rushed out of his body in a deflated sigh, the urgency of the moment before gone.

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His face was suddenly childlike, a little boy who had been told off for some misdemeanour, at the same time his eyes growing wide like a frightened rabbit while his lip trembled.

Garrick felt deeply sorry for the young man, so terrible for him to lose his wife like that. He had heard that he was living at the Ulcar’s farm now, Goodman Ulcar had taken him under his wing. It was just what the poor fellow needed, a bit of family on this godforsaken island.

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Lisbet hadn’t seemed to notice, “Well I don’t know Goodman, the Baroness has just given birth you see and it might not be the best time for Goodwife Cade to leave”.

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The man’s face fell at her words but then the door beside them clicked open and Hepsie walked through.

“What’s all this commotion bein’ out here then. Yer botherin’ her ladyship with yer howlin’ and caterwaulin'”.

Arran_Atholt_Hepsie_Lisbet_1

“Oh hello then young Arran”, she said, surprised when she saw him, “What’re yer doin’ here?”.

He quickly explained the situation to her, while she asked some questions about the progress of Gena’s labour.

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“Gena… Gena… me love, why’d yew have to be choosin’ now… uer bein’ two weeks earlier than I was thinkin’. I’m never goin’ to get a sit down am I”, she tutted, smiling at Arran comfortingly.

Then she turned to Garrick, “Arright me Lordship… it’s seemin’ that Goodwife Ulcar’s bein’ in sore need of some help. Of course if yew want me to be stayin’ I will but yer wife has done a find job, and there’s bein’ no problems. I ask yew now whether I can be goin’ an’ givin’ some help to the poor girl?”.

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Garrick’s first instinct was to forbid it, what if something were to happen to Cindra or the baby while she was gone. Then he thought of Goodman Ulcar and his poor blind wife, struggling in the throes of a difficult childrbirth with no help. He could not do that, what if it had been him in that man’s place. And he trusted Hepsie, if she said Cindra would be fine then she was probably right.

“Yes… yes go”, he managed to croak.

“Thank yew me Lordship”, she replied with an awkward curtsy, the weight of her belly dragging her down slightly, “Yer a good man yew are”.

“Yes… yes… thank yew… yer very kind”, Arran echoed.

Hepsie looked over to Lisbet who seemed less impressed with the idea.

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“Yer in charge now love, yew’ll do just fine. She’s bein’ through it now. Yew just need to be makin’ sure she’s eatin’ somethin’ when she feels like and drinkin’ some water. If she’s wantin’ she can nurse this littl’ fella too”.

Lisbet nodded bravely.

“Well then, if you ladies are finished I would like to see my wife”, he opened the door before they could cite any feminine laws barring entrance and walked through.

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Varda won’t leave her

The door opened with a thump and Varda had to suppress a sigh of irritation.

“Good evening Varda”, Radomir rasped.

“Good evening your Lordship”, she replied dully, not looking up at him.

She hated that he took the liberties to call her by her first name while she was forced by etiquette to use his title.

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“How are you doing today my love?”, he asked shambling over to the side of the bed, where his wife lay deep in the throes of fever.

Varda realised then that he was staring at her over the bed, expecting her to answer for his wife. She rose gracefully to her feet and stared back at him.

“Unfortunately your Lordship she is about the same as last night, her fever has not abated yet. She is stable for the moment however, at least she is not getting worse”, Varda tried to dull the blade of her tongue on bland medical details, reducing the urge to slice it through his uncaring body.

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He bent down his hulking shadow falling across his wife’s face. Varda could not help but think of the golden glory of the sun blotted out by the towering darkness of a storm cloud, seething and roiling while the sun tried to meekly peek her face through the holes.

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“Valeriya love”, he had slid one brawny arm beneath her shoulders and was now shaking her body, “Valeriya… it’s Radomir. Can you hear me?”.

He loomed above her, his massive form dwarfing the pale, wasted figure that lay below him in the bed.

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Now he was shaking her harder, Varda could see her head lolling back and forth on the pillow.

She realised she had been unconsciously clenching her fists into tight balls beside the soft flowing of her skirts.

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She unclenched them and drew her hands into her sides, picking at the fabric by way of distraction.

Valeriya had begun to whimper softly, Radomir’s desperate clawing obviously causing her pain.

Varda struggled to soften her features which had involuntarily curled into a scowl before she spoke.

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“Radomir, you are hurting her, perhaps you should be a bit more gentle”, she said with as little feeling as possible.

Suddenly Radomir leapt to his feet and was stumbling towards her. She recoiled back in horror from his grasping hands.

“We must get Hepsie!”, he shouted, “She is sick… look at her, she is in pain! Go and get her… go… NOW!!!”.

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She tried to be as calm as possible, for all their sakes, “Radomir, you know that Goodwife Cade is busy helping the the Baroness give birth right now. She cannot come”.

“Besides, your wife is no worse than before, the only thing to be done now is wait. I will call Goodwife Cade if she deteriorates at all. But right now, she cannot help”.

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“NO!!”, he roared at her, the little patience he possessed dissipating, “You listen to me Varda! I outrank you and I demand that you go and fetch me Hepsie right now. My wife is sick! That is more important than some squalling brat!”.

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Varda felt every part of her stubbornness rising to the occasion. She would not let this booming man defeat her.

“Your Lordship”, she said pleasantly, with an exagerrated benign expression on her face, “of course you outrank me, there’s no doubt of that. But perhaps I should remind you that the lady in question is in fact the cousin of the King himself. And I do not doubt that he would not be overly pleased if something were to happen to her… or that “squalling brat”, was that how you put it?”

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His face began to go red with rage, twisted into an ugly grimace and she could see his strong fists clenching and unclenching at his sides.

“Listen wench, don’t you play innocent with me! Go and get that woman for me… you know I cannot go into that room. Don’t play these women’s games with me, I have no patience for them.”

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She felt her blood boiling in her veins from the moment the word “wench” left his mouth. Her right hand began to twitch with a desperate urge to slap it across his cruel mouth.

“I will not go!”, she snarled, “And you will not either! Your wife cannot be helped and the Baroness is in the middle of the most difficult process a woman will ever face. You will stay well away from them do you hear me?!”.

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His demeanour abruptly changed, all the tightness of his coiled muscles drizzling out of his body, as a knowing smirk crossed his face.

He leant towards her one eyebrow raised, “Ah, so that’s how it is Varda. I can’t help but notice the lack of swelling at your belly”.

She turned her face away from him as though she had been slapped.

“Jealous are we?”.

He gazed boldly at her body, his eyes slowly moving over every angular feature of her abdomen and her small breasts, as though they were his hands roughly caressing her naked body. She felt a desperate urge to cover herself, to cower in the corner from him even though she was fully clothed.

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He leaned in so his face was almost touching hers, close enough to feel the heat rising from his body, to smell the metallic tang of his sweat.

She felt his hot mouth at her ear, the heat of his breath was scorching as he whispered, “Couldn’t your man do the job darling… too limp to rise to the occasion eh? Poor little Varda, what you need is a real man inside you to finish it don’t you?”.

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She shuddered in disgust, her cheeks flaring crimson red and turned her head away but he followed with his.

“There now… not so defiant after all are we”, he purred, his breath on her face, the touch of it sending a new wave of heat expanding the blush down her throat.

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“Will you get Hepsie for me now?”, he asked.

She looked up at him, gazing boldly into his eyes and murmured, “No… no I won’t”.

Then she turned on her heel and strode over to her seat. She would not be pushed, she would not be threatened. He might stand in the room gazing at her body with his smouldering eyes all he wanted. She would not interrupt Hepsie and she would not leave Valeriya alone with that man unless he forced her to.

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