With all the things Maile had told us to get for winter, and what people gave us, we had a really good winter! Now winter is always warm here, but Halla’s hens kept laying almost until the Feast of Naigha and she thought that was unusual, too. And then the Ishey also gave us a jar of pickled eggs to use when Halla’s eggs ran out. Raisse and Arni learned to brew so well that we always had some beer, mostly good enough, sometimes really excellent.
The Ishey hadn’t only given us eggs and caught a boar, but they’d also made a crib, all carved wood! Two very black young men came to bring the pieces and put them together. They took the two small cribs apart and stored them in our attic so there was room next to the big children’s bed, and the crib was on wheels so we could easily move it wherever we wanted. The more I looked at the carvings, the more I was sure they’d used Ashti’s skin paintings as a model, even the hedgehog and fox mothers were there!
“Perhaps you can make a little straw mattress to fit,” I said to Raisse. After all, I’d taught her to sew a straight seam in Valdis! And she still knew how to do it.
We tried to find a way to make love — Ashti was so round that we didn’t really fit on the bed any more, though she still had three or four weeks to go. So we put a blanket on the kitchen table, and we were at it enthusiastically when Arni came in and said “Oh! I’ll just go away, shall I?” That made us laugh so much that we had to start all over again. And then I had to make a seal on the door because the children got interested. It’s all right that they know we’re making love, but that doesn’t mean we want them watching!
Just before the Feast of Timoine we met a couple of people the school was sending away as runners at the Apple, Aldan who works as a bouncer and dogsbody in the Red Door Inn (I’m glad I have a trade or they’d probably have asked me because I’m so strong, but I’m not going to be the man you ask to shove people when they drink too much and get nasty! But Aldan is such a quiet guy that you’d never expect it of him but he’s good!), and Khushi, the eldest daughter of the Síthi sweet-maker. They’re going to Selday in Idanyas! We stood them beer and pie for their last evening in Turenay, because Ashti had just been paid and we didn’t need anything from the market. But anyway, I had to make room for them because Ashti and I were already taking up enough room for four. (There were four of us! Only two were still very small, and still inside.)
Early in the morning on the feast the whole procession of children came over the bridge to collect ours (and the neighbours’) and go into the wood. (And then to the Temple of Dayati, and I don’t know where else, but they’d be away at least the whole morning.) As we stood in the doorway seeing them off Ashti went “oh!” and there was a puddle of water under her feet.
“Raisse!” I called, but of course Raisse wasn’t there, she was off with the procession. So I sent Arni to get Halla and some more of the neighbour women, and I called Lyse at the hospital.
I’ll see who I can send, Lyse said, I’m busy right now! But at least the midwives knew they were needed.
Or were they needed? Halla brought a birthing-chair (we hadn’t known she had one!) and put our bedpan under it, and Ashti had hardly sat down in it or there was a tiny little girl! And while the women were rubbing her down and giving her to Ashti to put at her breast, I got to catch a tiny little boy.
“They’re so small!” I said. I could hold one in each hand, head and body, with only the little legs on my wrist!
I got the afterbirth in a bucket. “Bury it under a tree,” Halla said.
“The willow tree or the alder tree?”
“Doesn’t matter.” I chose the willow tree, because Timoine had sat on that. One of the cats was very interested but I kept it away, only let it lick my fingers afterwards.
When I’d washed, and carried Ashti to the bed, and the neighbours had helped me and Arni clean up, and the babies had drunk their fill of the first milk and were asleep in the crib, a midwife came, Maile. She was very young. “I’m the journeyman,” she said, “Lyse had a tough case, she’ll probably be along later.” She laughed. “But I see I’m too late. Ooh, they’re tiny!”
“I’ve had twins before but it wasn’t this easy!” Ashti said. The midwife looked her over and said, “Oh, you’re that woman! Yes, looks like it was easy. Well, if you’ve had twins before you know what to do.” She looked around for the other twins, then realised it was the Feast of Timoine. We heard the children outside, for that matter, back from the wood and perhaps from the temple too. I went to round up ours. “You have a little sister and a little brother, the three of you can come in to see them now, and everybody else can see them at the name-giving.”
The babies woke up a little when their brother and sisters stood at the crib. Sidhan touched her sister’s hand and the baby promptly grabbed her finger and wouldn’t let go of it. She pulled it out, though, and ran back outside with the others to tell them everything.
Then Lyse arrived, still damp from washing. “Gods, I wish it always went this smoothly!” she said.
“Aren’t they very small?” I asked.
“Twins are always smaller, they have to share the space. Were your other twins small?” she asked Ashti.
“Yes, but I don’t think this small. Oh! I was smaller myself then, of course. And they were four weeks early too.”
“Completely normal with twins. Well, girl, you’re sound and whole, take it easy for a week or so, you know you can expect some bleeding, call us if you’re worried. Now let’s look at these little ones.” And the little ones were all right too, meeping for milk again. “Feed them whenever they want,” Lyse said, “can’t give them too much. You’ll have your proper milk in a day or so.” What came from Ashti’s breasts now was more like honey, but she’d told me that that was what newborn babies needed.
Then Lyse and Maile went home, and I shoved everyone else out of the house, except Arni and Halla who were in the kitchen finding something for Ashti to eat. I found clean sheets and clean shirts and clean baby-linen, and then sat down next to Ashti and fell asleep in the chair.
I don’t remember much of the rest of that day, except that I was giving babies to Ashti and putting them back in the crib all the time. The children came back in the afternoon, bringing some friends, and I told them to be quiet if the babies were asleep so they all tiptoed to look in the crib.
Raisse came up to Ashti, “may I have a drink of milk? I don’t remember drinking from my first mother’s breast, and–” Ashti understood that, and told her to suck really hard, then held Raisse firmly against her for a while.
The next day I went to work late because we hadn’t slept much. Ashti had sent the children to school with a note for Master Fian, “this season I’m a cow”, and told me to take some pennies from the household money because I’d have to buy the whole workshop a beer to celebrate.
When I arrived they all congratulated me, and we went to the Badger on the corner where I bought a round, and then Master Mernath sent me home again. “How long until Ashti can stand up for the name-giving?”
“A couple of days, she thinks.”
“You’d better stay with her until then.”
“Thank you, and I’ll invite you all!”