Mothers and Flowers
“Thus each of us had to be content to live only for the day,
alone under the vast indifference of the sky.”
Three days before Yule Mirian Walter set out from the North gate of Bree and made her way through the grey, dry grass of the fields. It was the year 2997 and she should have been inside the house starting the Yule baking and decorating with holly branches. She should have been wrapping up gifts for the little ones and trying to stop little Elinia chewing on ribbons.
A breath of cold wind blew through the field. It made the great, arching skeletons of trees groan and creak above her. It carried along ice that cut through Mirian’s thin cloak. It was late afternoon and she hadn’t even started dinner. She had three- No four children to think about.
“Cor, Mirian, don’t think like that,” she muttered to herself, half-heard above the wind. She had four children. There was Ennoric, he was the youngest and the only boy, he was only a year old and named after her husband. And then there was Elinia who chewed ribbons and was aged three, Sildia aged five who clutched her rag-doll in a vice-grip whenever it was removed. And then, the oldest at six, was Sedania, Sadiebell as Mirian said.
Sedania looked the most like her Walter side, all red hair and beaming face, and though Mirian would never choose a favorite Sedania had a special place in her heart for her first-born all the same. The children had never been problems, not before this month, this month it had all turned as quickly as the winter weather.
It had all started with a splinter. And what little one didn’t get a splinter at that age? It had hardly seemed like anything until the skin got puffy. And then it had changed colors. Within a week they’d had to call the surgeon and Mirian had had to clamp down around her baby to keep her from pulling her arm away while the man cut her finger off at the second knuckle and dipped the offending digit in pitch.
But it didn’t seem to have worked. And now Mirian’s first-born baby was lying in a nest of blankets so cold she felt near dead and nothing the physician did seemed to be doing any good. By this point he was hardly doing anything though, just tried to cover her up with blankets and bladders of warm water and keep her from getting too cold. Except she was like ice as it was.
She made her way through the graveyard gates and up and away along the paths to the older part of the yard. Here the stones stuck out rounded and worn like old teeth from the rolling earth. The gravedigger tended them still but no one else did and the old names had faded nearly unreadable on most. Here were her husband’s family, the old ones, the Lowaters, and she crossed through the uneven lines trying to get sight of the one she wanted.
It took her an hour of careful searching before she came up to it and gently pulled away the weeds from its worn face. Sedania was a family name and this Sedania Lowater had died at nineteen, trying to give birth when she ought not have. Hadn’t been married either… just a bad spot of luck all around. Mirian dug in the low pocket of her apron and withdrew a little circlet of dried grass peppered with minute white flowers she’d paid a premium for given the season.
She carefully set the crown atop the gravestone, hands trembling and made red by the cold. She couldn’t hardly feel them
“Don’t you let them take my Sedania. You hear me? Don’t you let the dark take her,” she plead to the gravestone.
“You’ll protect her won’t you?”
The market was bustling this early morning and the crowd, predominantly women, moved around in a flurry of colorful skirts, trying to get shopping done before the summer rain and summer heat came on again in whatever combination would afflict the town today.
“Alright, Missus Ashten, what did you say we needed again?” Sadie asked, adjusting the basket on her arm. The headaches were gone now, as suddenly as they’d appeared they’d washed away again and that was fine by Sadie Lowater. Made dealing with her mother-in-law easier, anyway.
“I was thinking chicken soup for when the girls come round,” the older woman said, letting out a little huff of noise as two women with sweeping low necklines passed. Sadie watched them just as Missus Ashten did, wondering if she could ever manage something like that.
“Huh? Oh, aye, I think that’s brilliant,” Sadie agreed, only half-listening. She’d need to buy another underthing, even lower cut and lacier… She adjusted the basket on her arm carefully. “Been storming so often in the evening it’ll be really nice. I’m sure they’ll like that.”
Sadie had three sisters-in-law leftover from her marriage. In addition to her own sisters and her brother’s wife that made a total of six women who rarely spoke to her. Sadie chalked this up to being a widow, primarily. Women always seemed uneasy about her, like she carried a curse or a sickness (an assessment apparently not entirely inaccurate). No one wanted to be a widow, even Sadie didn’t want to be a widow, and once a year had passed and she hadn’t remarried she had begun to feel like a pariah of sorts.
And Sadie supposed it was the life she preferred but it meant that tonight, when she was done helping Missus Ashten cook dinner she’d apologize and say she couldn’t stay to eat. The conversation went easier without her being there, after all. She didn’t want to spread her madness around.
“Do you want to go get the chicken, Missus Ashten? I’ll go run over to the grocer and get all your vegetables for you,” Sadie offered with a smile, already walking away from the old woman. She needed a breath of fresh air.
Conversation with the green-grocer was always pleasant, they talked about the state of cabbages and the good fortune of finding a nice tomato this time of year and how onions were always good hot or sweet but it was really only sweet worth eating raw.
The conversation had lulled while Sadie returned to examining a clump of celery and, as she would recount it to herself, nothing happened except that she blinked. But in the space of that blink (however much space that was) she had dropped her celery and a worried man had appeared out of nowhere to hold her arm.
“-right Miss? Are you sick?” He was asking as the world seemed to pick itself back up to speed.
“What? No, no I’m perfectly alright,” she said, trying to edge out of his grasp, bending down to pick up the celery where it had fallen on the cobbles.
“Are you sure? You don’t look well,” he said slowly. Worrying, always worrying. Why was everyone always worrying over her? “Do you want some help home? I could-“
“No,” she said firmly and reached into her pocket for coin for the vegetables. “I’m quite fine, thank you.” She turned on her heel and marched away to find Missus Ashten and lose the worriers in the crowd.
“Mama?” asked the little voice, drawing Mirian out of the sleep she had found curled around her daughter. “Mama I’m thirsty,” the voice whispered.
“What? You know where the pitcher is,” she murmured, half asleep, face pressed into the pillow. She never got water for any of the little ones in the dark, that was a rule well-established. Beside her the little figure stirred and crawled up and over her. Hard, little fingers dug briefly into her side and in her head the strangeness of the situation finally clicked in.
“Sadiebell?” Mirian asked, blinking the sleep out of her eyes and sitting up. There in the dark of the winter’s night stood her Sadie, fumbling with the pitcher.
“It’s alright, Mama, I figured it out,” Sadie said in the dramatic un-whisper of children trying to be quiet. After a few moments the little figure returned to the cot, snuggling up beside her and Mirian felt for the girl’s forehead. She was warm. Not hot but not freezing either. Warm and alive and Mirian clutched her as tightly as she had ever held anything or anyone in her whole life.
It was a quiet Yule that year, but a merry one. Merrier than most, even.