Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Ninety One

Helena looked miserably out at the yard and her garden, dripping and quiet in the gray rain.

She had yet another of her sick headaches, and no amount of Esmeralda's lovely tea or Nan's warm compresses or Cathy's cool headwraps helped.

She sighed and turned again to her needlework, stretching her neck side to side, breathing mindfully...


Worse than useless, she could see she had made a mistake at the beginning of the last row. She pulled the thread from the needle and used the eye end to gently lift each stitch, her fingernails plucking and smoothing lift, pluck, pull, smooth down the row. She squinted and frowned at the previous row, the first one she had made today.

It seemed okay. Not up to her usual standards, but --

A pain jabbed her left eye and she sagged back in the chair, grateful that Peter was out in the fields with Paul and Daniel, walking the rows and discussing what would be planted this year. Inga was off in the village with Meg and Doris, visiting friends and shopping at the market.

It was First Weekend for the market, and Helena was disappointed to miss it. Everyone showed up at First Weekend -- vendors, sellers, neighbors. It was the first big event after the snowmelt and the budswell on the trees. And Helena's work was always displayed on the table next to the ribbon merchant's goods.

Helena knew that her work was there, Gilly would see to it, but it wasn't the same. And she would feel awkward when she was next in town and everyone asked anxiously after her health. What a bother!

She set the needle gently into its case and the fabric on the table and stood slowly, walking carefully so her shoes didn't tap on the floor.

Peter always worried when one of the headaches came on. Though he ought to be used to them after so many years, Helena thought. He hovered so...

It was sweet though, she smiled as she remembered how he had brought her breakfast the first time it happened after they were married -- anxiously tiptoeing to her bedside, a plate with runny eggs and half-browned toast in his hand. She had resolved never to worry him like that again, but of course her head had other ideas.

So every few months she would let Peter make breakfast while she kept the shades drawn and the covers over her head, emerging only when the children were out of the house and things were quiet to do little chores that didn't make much noise or require bright light. Some headaches were easier than others, but even those, she had learned the hard way, required stillness and quiet.

And so she quietly made her way to the hub of the house, and, without bothering to open the window shades, stoked the fire and set the kettle to boil while she sat with a cool rag over the painful eye. Her other eye gazed around the kitchen. It was tidy if dim.

She liked her house to be tidy. The canisters were lined up neatly by size and contents on the shelves, the dishes in orderly stacks. Even the baskets of root vegetables and nuts stored under the counter were logical and well placed.

Peter was a less tidy person, but he had soon come to appreciate how much faster things got done with some order and method. Helena had determined to teach their children properly from the start. Daniel had easily learned to keep tools and supplies ready to go; Inga had been born knowing how. But Sebastian never did quite get it.

Helena stood and poured the boiling water from the kettle into the teapot, and used the rest to fill the sink. Only a few dishes to wash, she could do it while the tea steeped.

As she put the last bowl in the drying rack -- she would be reasonable and let them air dry today, she felt the room around her twist and quickly sat down with her head in her hands.

Breathe, pause, breathe, pause... Her fingers sought the muscles in her shoulder and pushed on the knot that was always there. It didn't make the head feel better, but at least something improved.

Breathe, pause, breathe, pause... She could hear the house shifting slightly as the wind gusted outside.

Breathe, pause, breathe, pause... She could feel the hard tabletop under her elbows, the contours of the chair where she sat.

Breathe, pause, breathe, pause... She could smell the nutwood drying next to the stove, the hot metallic scent from the kettle, the roast in the oven.

Breathe, pause, breathe, pause...

She opened her right eye and poured a cup of tea, cradling the delicate ceramic in both hands, willing the warmth of the tea into her veins. She sipped, and savored the deep, earthy tones.

The room had resumed its normal shape, and the pulsing noise in her head had subsided into the background. She thought about Sebastian...

Where was he?

Had he learned yet to keep his extra socks in pairs?

Helena shook her head. He might not have extra socks. She wondered if he had enough, at least.

Tor had said a traveler had brought word that Sebastian was alive, but more than that no one knew.

Paul had tried to be reassuring, reminding Helena that most people managed to get home again sooner or later.

This line of thought was doing nothing for her mood, but her headache wasn't riled. Maybe it would be over soon and she could get to the market tomorrow. She smiled.

Peter and Daniel would be home soon, she thought, and hungry no doubt. Well, the bread in the pantry was perfect for sopping up roast juice since it was a few days old, and the vegetables that were in the pan by the sink could go in with the roast now. Supper would be ready in no time.

Outside, the rain tapered off and the men began coming in from the field, chilled but pleased with the state of the fields. It looked like it would be a fine year.