This piece has been such a fun summer project, but I will admit that it'll be nice to switch that little button over from "In-Progress" to "Complete." Little did I know when I started it was going to turn out to be such an adventure...
Big thanks to all my readers and reviewers (past and future) – knowing someone was out there, along for the ride, certainly helped keep me going!
Her feet skimmed upon the ground as fat snowflakes wove their way through the evening sky. The snow had begun earlier that day, but hadn't stuck; the night was cold, though, and the path was now strewn with a fine dusting of white.
She wanted to check on the stock before they bedded down for the evening. The Marshal's gift had allowed the two of them to purchase not only their cottage and a timber-framed barn, but a shorthorned heifer and a brace of blackfaced ewes. They would have a steady income, and a firm roof over their heads, no longer held captive by fear or insecurity.
For his part, John had been welcomed back into the arms of his plentiful family, who had almost given up hope of ever seeing him again. There had been a fine celebration the night of their arrival, replete with a kind of aqua vitae made, so John said, with barley grain. It burned her throat and warmed her belly, and within her grew the glow of happiness. Everyone had smiled and danced, and ate until they could hardly stand. Two weeks later, in the first sharp days of December, they celebrated again as John and Joanna were wed, in his childhood kirk, his parents looking on with pride, his long-passed forefathers bearing silent witness under stone crosses in the churchyard beyond. Marion had cried a little, if only for the good fortune of others, and perhaps even for her own.
Inside the barn it was cozy, though not very warm, as she looked to see that there was enough feed and water. One of the ewes gave her a nudge with its head as she passed; she leaned down to give it a rub and breathed deeply from its wool. The fleece was redolent of rosemary and heather, of the spring that would come after the last snows melted away.
She drew closed the barn door and closed the latch, breathing on her cupped hands for warmth as she made her way back towards the cottage. Maggie had gone for the night, choosing to spend the evening with John and Joanna, or maybe even to see Will, who seemed to have caught her eye as of late. Perhaps tonight he might even return her glances.
Once inside, she settled down next to him before the hearthstones, drawing a wool blanket over their shoulders. They were comforted by the warmth of a peat fire in the hearth, secure from the pummeling January winds outside.
For some time, they sat in silence, watching the dance of the smoke as it twirled and lifted, the hypnotic glow of the embers.
"I have been meaning to thank you," she said, turning her face partly towards his.
"For my wedding gift." Her eyes were cast downward, refusing to meet his glance.
"As I remember, you did thank me. But what does it matter now? That mattress is long burnt away to ash."
"No, not the mattress."
His brow furrowed, lined with confusion.
"What are you talking about?"
She took his hand, knitting her fingers through his, and pulled it across the faint curve of her belly. Her mouth was tight as she smiled at him, her eyes awash and brilliant.
He looked at her, hoping yet uncertain.
"Mid-summer. I wanted to be sure, before I said anything."
"And now you're sure?"
The corners of his mouth began to turn up, showing the faint outline of a smile.
His eyes swiveled away, as if he was seeing something in the distance.
"If it's…" He stopped, holding back the emotion in his voice. "If it's a boy, we should…we should call him…"
She squeezed his hand, wrapping it around her waist.
"That's a fine name for a boy," she murmured.
She leaned back against his chest, curling herself around him, feeling the warmth of the fire on her cheek. She stared into the smoky flames and then let her eyes drift closed. Held tight within the depths of winter, the nights were now long and dark, and full of promise.