She dreamt she was falling.
Her body parted a sea of clouds before plummeting towards the surface of a storm-tossed sea, but she didn’t find that she was afraid – only sad, that it all should end so quickly. She closed her eyes and waited for the waters to take her, to drag her down –
… and awoke to the sudden need to vomit, as she had every morning for the past month.
As she heaved up the contents of her stomach into a chamber pot, crouched beside the pallet she shared with her stirring husband, she promised herself she’d find time to consult her ma on this mysterious ailment. It seemed only to strike in the pre-dawn gloom, leaving her feeling wretched for all of a half hour; it was easy to ignore, but for the rude wake-up call that had left both her and Solmund sorely lacking for sleep.
A large hand shifted her hair away from her cheek, and her husband growled into the quiet between heaves – “You’ve been sick a while. Should go see someone. Your ma, maybe – or a priest.” The hand drifted from her hair to rest on her shoulder, and she glanced up wearily. “I haven’t had time. We’re awake now, though; might as well start the day.”
The barrel-chested man peered down at his wife, looking troubled, but grunted an affirmative. His hand fell from her shoulder, and the floors creaked as he rose to dress for the day’s work.
Yngrid wiped the back of her mouth with a rag and stood, tucking the pot in the crook of her arm to be emptied, and set about preparing herself for the rest of the day that would follow. Though they went to bed early, she still felt exhausted. He was careful to hide it, but she could feel Solmund watching her, and his brow seemed more creased and worried than it had been before.
Today, then, she told herself firmly. No matter how much better she felt by midday, she resigned herself to taking a few hours to visit her childhood home. Her stomach knotted in dread; whatever it was should surely have righted itself by now. Her jaw set grimly, and she finished tying her braids, pausing only to eye her pale, haggard looking features in the rust-flecked sheet of metal that passed for a mirror.
Even to herself, she looked worse than ever.
The sway-backed pony was a jolting and uncomfortable ride that left her sore and bruised all over. Worse still was the cold rain that seemed determined to soak her through, leaving the long track miserable with mud. Even so, she didn’t envy her husband; the Tern’s Beak would have a rough time of it today. Between the trees, she could catch glimpses of white-veined waves snarling and frothing, and there was a bitter wind blowing in from the north. She didn’t trouble herself, worrying for him. Storms came and went, but Solmund and Yngrid had weathered them before, and would weather them again, no doubt.
Through the sheets of bitter rain, she could barely make out the squat, broad cabin that was her family’s ancestral home. Smoke rose from the chimney– greasy looking smoke, but the cold sapped her sense of smell, which was probably a blessing. Her mother wasn’t Ma Blacktooth without reason, after all.
Sodden and jostled and inexplicably tired, she slid from the pony’s back and pulled open the gate, nudging the old beast in before latching it behind her. He half-heartedly began to tug at the beaten grass as Yngrid trudged to the door frame. Dread was an anchor weighting her stomach as she shouldered the door open and stepped into her mother’s house.
The stink of charred fish and her mother’s familiar voice snarling curses beneath her breath was as familiar a greeting as any, but Gwenaa was quick to set down the black metal cauldron that was causing her so much trouble. Within moments, Yngrid found herself being critically examined, pinched, patted, and hugged –
“You’ve come to visit your old ma in the middle of this storm? By Tsun, but you never do that anymore – look at you! All skin and bones, and those dark circles under your eyes, harrumph! Is Solmund keeping you properly-? Has something happened? Don’t just stand there like a blinking toad, speak already – and you’re dripping on my floors, tracking mud in no doubt, let’s fetch you a shawl and take off those boots!”
Yngrid felt as if she were eye of a terrible storm, as Ma moved about her, fussing unnecessarily. It was impossible to get a word in edgewise, as she was admonished and fretted over by turns, and at last she found herself seated in a chair by the fire, wrapped in a shawl with a mug of toe-curlingly strong mead in hand.
Gwenaa eyed her daughter with a hawk’s sharp gaze as she chattered on blithely, bemoaning the rain for coming too early and cursing the fish for being elusive – the fire had been at fault for her latest charred luncheon, of course, and how could she be blamed, worried sick over her husband’s safety in weather like this? But nothing escaped her keen eye, and at last, there was silence between them as she reached for her daughter’s cold, rough hands.
“… but enough about me. Yngrid, why are you so pale and wan-? You look poorly, child. Have you been sleeping?”
She couldn’t quite help the faint tug of her lips; at thirty and two, she was no more a child than Gwenaa herself. Yngrid studied the weathered lines of her mother’s features, the cool grey of her hair, and couldn’t quite set aside the memory of burying her face in her mother’s shoulder as a child. She’d smelled of leather and the sea and, yes, burnt things too. It was just how she was.
But not even memories could banish the dread she felt, as she reluctantly spoke her fears into the comfortable, if rare, silence.
“I fear I must be ill, ma… I thought you might help me. I don’t know what’s wrong, but… each morning, I wake at the crack of dawn to be ill, and each day, I feel heavy and tired and- not quite myself. I ache for no reason.” She frowned and glanced aside, pulling her hand away from her mother’s to look steadily into the fire. Yngrid’s thin lips grew thinner, and she bowed her head, a lock of damp brown hair escaping her braid to brush her cheek.
Gwenaa studied her daughter shrewdly, eyes narrowing. “Sick in the morning, hm? Tired, and tender?” Yngrid met her ma’s stare with a guarded frown; there was something in Gwenaa’s eyes that seemed perilously cheerful, as a smile might erupt at any moment, though her words were properly businesslike.
“It’s been happening for a month and some, now – I should be past this, I feel healthy otherwise. Are you familiar with this, ma? Do you know of a cure-? It’s getting in the way of Solmund’s sleeping, and my own as well.” It was hard to school her irritation in the light of her mother’s crafty expression. Whatever it was she seemed so pleased about, Yngrid felt little more than cold fear and exhaustion.
“Tell me, child – your monthlies, have you had them?”
Yngrid frowned severely at her mother. “That’s a private affair, ma… besides, you know it’s – unpredictable, with me.” She blinked. “But – no, I… I haven’t. It’s been at least two months, come to think of it…”
Gwenaa raised an eyebrow and her smile widened. Yngrid eyed her for a moment, puzzling… then blinked again as it dawned on her.
“What – you don’t think…?”
“About time, Gridie!”
“But for years – we’ve tried – we can’t! The priestess said we –“
“Well Mara changed her mind, now didn’t she? She’s a goddess, she can do what she pleases, can’t she?”
“Pregnant? Are you sure-? Do you really think…?”
And then her mother was up and sweeping Yngrid into her large, soft arms, and she still smelled of leather and ocean and burnt things. Her voice was loud, but her shoulder was soft, and she babbling away about names and whether it’d be a boy or a girl, where the child would sleep, how the cousins might play together. Yngrid felt her heart pounding and her throat was tight, her eyes were hot.
They’d expected a baby for years after they’d married; and year after year had passed with no child. A priestess had blessed them, but to no avail – no potions, no herbs, no magic spells could make fertile what was barren; not for them, anyway. Whose fault it was never came into question… one of them, both of them, did it matter? She’d consoled herself that perhaps someday they might raise a foundling, but… it had been twelve years, now. They’d resigned themselves to their strangely quiet way of life, to a family name that would spread no further than their small, empty household.
It wasn’t a bad life. Just not, perhaps, the one they’d envisioned together.
She blinked, and pulled away from her mother’s embrace. “I have to go. I have to tell Solmund – he… he should know.”
Her heart began to beat faster. She should have been happy, but she was too stunned for the words to really mean anything. Her hands trailed down to her abdomen, resting over where their child would grow.
It would seem more real when she told him, surely. She let her hands drop, and hurried for the door.