She put on an unnatural amount of weight, everyone said. No one got that bloated from carrying a baby unless something was wrong, everyone said. That boy Harold was too attached to her, everyone said. It rained more than was necessary since she got pregnant, everyone said. The snows were deeper than they ought to be this winter, everyone said. Weeds were more plentiful than they had any right to be in the Spring, everyone said. And, of course, it was all because Mary's pregnancy was cursed, everyone said.
Naturally, it wasn't really everyone, it only felt that way because the gossips made it so.
The girl waddled out to the kitchen, not remotely hungry for the fifteenth day in a row. On the first day, Mama said the baby would come soon and didn't fuss. On the third, she frowned and fetched Hannah, but there was nothing wrong. 'Just make sure she eats something until the contractions start,' Hannah said, then she left again. And so began forcefeeding herself vegetable stew and bread and cheese until she wanted to vomit. Since that only took four bites, she never spent much time doing it.
The first bite was unpleasant, the second uncomfortable, the third unwanted, and the fourth unpalatable. But she ate them, because Hannah said so. Later, at dinnertime, she'd choke down another four bites. Until then, she would putter around the house, trying to do something useful, trying to move around enough to not be jabbed and kicked black and blue on the inside by the baby squirming around. At least it let her sleep at night, but not enough to be cheerful, not for several months now, and the only way it actually happened at all was if she sang to it for half an hour, a quiet lullaby, over and over until her throat hurt.
This baby was going to be trouble, Mama said, so she better not even think about moving someplace else anytime soon.
"You always feel funny," Mama said absently.
"It's different today." Mary put her plate in the sink. She'd wash it, but she couldn't reach properly anymore.
"Maybe that thing will finally come out today." Mama sounded hopeful.
Mary sighed a little in resignation and waddled off to find something she could actually do.
Now that winter finally let go of the village after strangling it for nigh unto six months, there was a lot of work to do. No one had any firewood left, and the nights were still cold enough to freeze careless toes. A crop of weeds the likes of which no one ever saw before had to be pulled before they overran the whole town. Orchard trees had to be pruned of branches that lost the battle against too heavy burdens of snow. Planting was way behind, owing to the snow refusing to even begin to melt until well into Spring. Even when it did start, there was so much of it; the snowbanks reached the bottoms of everyone's roofs, and in some places, the paths were actually tunnels through the snow. The only hope against starvation next winter was a delayed winter, because otherwise, the crops wouldn't have a chance to grow into actual food. Everyone who could manage it was out and planting whatever they could, and the sacrifice for Brax this year was going to severely impact the food supply. Still, better to be hungry than eaten.
Today was the first relatively nice, sunny day in what felt like forever. The air had a chill, but it was still and the sun was warm enough for just two layers. Busy fingers could even go bare, though still ones were best left it pockets. The ground was nothing close to firm or dry, but that was hardly new and wherever it could be done, canvas or cut logs or stones were laid on the roads people used the most. Paths normally used only a little were not used at all. The first early flowers were well into bloom, offering small spots of yellow and purple and white against the dark brown and black of the earth.
Most interestingly, Portia's house, where Mary lived, had a ring of blue daffodils around it. This was interesting for three obvious reasons. First, daffodils do not come in blue. Second, no other daffodils anywhere nearby were more than just barely poking up through the earth. Third, Portia, like everyone else, never wasted her time planting daffodils on purpose and none ever grew there before.
There was also a fourth reason, but that one was much less obvious.