From a chapter named “BLESSED EVENT”
LOUDEN WOOD, ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND
MARCH 21, 1637
It was early morning in the stone cottage. Light streamed through a crack in the door, illuminating the rumpled bed. Keira slowly became aware of her surroundings. Sleep had been elusive, due to an empty belly and the bitter cold. The peat pile was empty and the firewood was soggy. “Dear Goddess. Help me to bear another night.”
She snuggled against the pillow and listened to snow buntings twittering in the pines. The old rooster usually greeted daybreak, but he was gone now. They’d made a stew yesterday with the last of the root vegetables. “Poor Fowler.” Keira pushed back the blankets and got out of bed, resting her feet on the dirt floor.
She sank to her knees and prayed with all her heart. “Goddess, hear me. Today is the spring equinox. At full moon, we sow the seeds of the harvest and honor the rebirth of mother earth. Truly a blessing as food is scarce. Still, we are grateful. Michael and Torry brought back a doe, sustaining us for a few weeks. There is hope we’ll survive this difficult time. My mind spins with questions that cannot be answered. The children stare as I dole out the remaining flour, their faces pale and gaunt. Will they starve before my eyes? Janet’s belly swells, the position of the child suspicious. Will it be breech? My dreams are filled with Dughall Hay, singing and reciting poetry. Will he come for me soon? I pray fervently, intent on changing what will be. You speak to me in whispers, telling me to be still and listen.”
She stood and slipped on her brogues, digging her toes into the fur lining. A mouse scurried across the floor, searching for crumbs. It stared boldly, with whiskers twitching and black eyes shining. “Ach… You know I won’t hurt ye.” She poured water into the bowl and splashed her face. The icy liquid brought gooseflesh to her thin arms. Keira stripped off her nightshirt and dressed in woolen tights and a shift. She slipped on her coat, picked up a milk bucket, and went to the door. Someone knocked. She opened it and saw Aileana, her red hair peeking out from under her cap. The young lass looked gaunt.
“Priestess… Can I walk with ye to the barn?”
“Aye. What are ye doing out so early?”
“Michael took Torry and George bow hunting. He wants to bring back a deer or a boar.”
Keira’s stomach growled. “An honorable task. We’ll ask the Goddess to help them.” She came outside and faced the young girl, holding her hands. “Lady of light, Goddess of the hunt. Drawn bow, silver quiver, dogs at your side. Help our men sustain us for another moon. Grant them strength and skill.”
Aileana smiled. “Blessed be.” They hugged and started towards the barn. “Priestess. Is today the day?”
“What day, child?”
Aileana frowned. “I’m not a child. You said that Janet’s baby would be born after the equinox.”
“Ah that. You have to be patient. Only the Goddess knows when the child will come.”
The story continues in Dark Birthright: