[Note: My intent was to tell each season, which spans three years, as its own post. But SO MUCH happened this winter that I decided to break it out into two parts.]
The first snow of the season began to fall outside the the Howland home. The sudden cold suited Nash Howland. He felt the chill in his heart.
Emmaline Weaver Howland was dead. Her life had been snatched away after only a few years of precious happiness.
She left behind a a newborn baby girl with Nash’s dark eyes and curling wisps of her own strawberry hair.
Nash laid his baby girl gently in the the cradle he’d lined with fresh straw. She cooed at him, and his heart broke all over again.
He could barely breathe. What would happen to them now?
He got word to Emmaline’s kin as quickly has he could, which was painfully slow. The newborn babe now had no mother to nurse, and Nash had to focus on getting cow’s milk into her, lest he lose them both. He flagged down a messenger going into town and paid the lad to deliver the message.
Ruby and Gerbald dropped everything as soon as they heard. They left their two young sons with neighbors and arrived laden with enough food to last Nash for weeks. The three of them put the children to bed and managed the dark task of burying Emmaline. Afterward, Nash could only sit at the table and stare straight ahead.
Ruby gave her husband an unreadable look. “Our home can hold two more, can’t it?” she said.
Gerbald’s brows knit. “Yes, but I don’t see–”
“Nash should leave the children with us,” Ruby said.
“You want me to abandon my children?” Nash asked.
“I know you’re grieving,” Ruby said. “But you have to think about this. You can’t possibly run this farm alone while raising a toddler and an infant. Your land is too far from town for us to be able to offer the kind of assistance you need. Your life is your own, but please think of your children.”
“I am not going to abandon my family,” Nash said.
Gerbald took a deep breath and looked at Nash with the eyes of someone who desperately wanted to be anywhere but here. “They are welcome with us, if you think it is best,” he said.
Nash just glowered down at his plate.
“Would you set your stubborn pride aside for just a moment?” Ruby demanded. “If you stay here with the children, the babe won’t make it through the winter.”
Nash stood up abruptly. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for Emmaline,” he growled. “But I can care for my own family, and I will.”
Ruby jumped to her feet and glared at him. “Emmaline chose you, and I will never understand why,” she said. “We loved her, and we love her children because they are hers. We can’t make you think. We can only hope you come to your senses while the children still have a chance.”
She swept out of the house.
Gerbald looked at Nash with sad eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. He looked like he wanted to say more, but instead he just followed his wife out the door.
To her credit, Ruby did arrange for a town girl to watch the children during the funeral.
[Note: The babysitter did that thing that babysitters do — stood at the entrance of the room and did absolutely nothing the entire time.]
Nash arrived early to spend some time in the church alone.
His footsteps echoed on the stone as he walked past the pews to stare up at the towering altar of the Watcher.
Nash had never believed. He hadn’t believed even before the fire that had killed his family and left him alone as an orphan teenager in a workhouse, but that certainly sealed his skepticism. He’d taken pleasure out of making others uncomfortable with his irreverence.
Emmaline had been sure he would bring the Watcher’s wrath down on their family. Now she was dead. The Watcher had made his point.
He begged forgiveness and pledged to dedicate the rest of his life to the Watcher’s service. If only, please, the great deity would not make his children pay for his mistakes.
He stood by as Gerbald delivered the eulogy He wondered if the Watcher had heard his plea. Even if it was too late for him, what mattered now were Alair and Emma.
That night, alone in the house at last with his children, he put the little ones to bed and tried to quiet the shouting in his head. Was Ruby right? Was it just pride that led him to insist on raising them? Was he… putting them in danger? He couldn’t bear to think of sending them away.
Even anxiety couldn’t keep him awake after this day. He was so exhausted he could barely move. He collapsed into the empty bed and slept.
When he awoke, Alair was already up and happily making a mess all over the floor. And that was the first day of his new life.
Emma took well to cow’s milk and seemed to be growing well. That was one deadly danger Nash could worry less about.
Perhaps that was a first sign of the Watcher’s favor. He could only hope.
It’s not as if he was likely to run out of things to worry about.
As an extra blessing, the weather turned warmer, giving Nash a few extra days to prepare for the freeze as best he could. He needed to bring in the last of the harvest that Emmaline had left. They needed to be a stockpile of firewood, especially with two little ones less prepared to endure the cold. Soon, the ponds would freeze over, so the last catch had to be dried and smoked for storage.
The livestock still needed to be tended. Chickens fed. Cow milked. Their homes needed to be prepared for the winter.
[Note: These screenshots do occur in this place in the game chronology, after the first snows started. Temperatures swing up and and down in the transition between seasons, so that part is fine, but they look summertime green rather than autumnal. I have no memory as to why. It does look like the plants behind him might be evergreen?]
And in any spare moment, there was an endless supply of dirty nappies.
Alair was fascinated by sound and rhythm. They were the only things that could keep his attention for long. When Nash could hear him banging out rough tunes with a stick, he at least knew the kid wasn’t causing any trouble. The sound carried out into the barnyard and Nash could listen for it while he worked.
There was so much to do, he could seldom make time to feed his son himself. He filled bowls with food and left them within Alair’s reach. He was raising the poor boy to be a savage, but it was better that he be fed. Hopefully there would be time in the future to teach him proper manners.
Thoughts of Emmaline haunted him whenever he took a moment’s rest. He missed her so badly. He was desperately lonely on the farm with only two depended mouths to feed for company.
He saved his tears for when he was out of the house. Emma was too young to know, but he didn’t want Alair to see his father in such a state.
One afternoon, he choked on a sob, and he came back out in a fit of rattling cough.
The tightness in his chest was no longer just grief. He was getting sick.
He didn’t have time to be sick. The family’s fate this winter depended on what he could do right now. It would be his fault if the children went cold, or hungry, or worse.
He wiped his running nose and pushed on through a feverish haze.
Exhaustion was an endless cycle that never, ever stopped.
Ruby was right. He couldn’t give his children a real life by himself. He wanted to keep them with him, but if he couldn’t find a better way, they would face a much better future if he sent them away.
Oof. I hope this was kind of wrenching to read because it tore me up to play it. This whole segment was both frantic and tragic.
There wasn’t enough time in the day for Nash to do everything he needed to do on the farm and drop everything to feed the baby every few hours. Alair made constant messes with FloTheory’s Make a Mess — a mod that, I may add, makes playing with toddlers MUCH more realistic.
Nash then caught a cold (with my Symptoms for Seasons) that ran his energy down faster. With all the time it took to feed Emma, he couldn’t stop to also feed Alair (no bottles in normal situations — if there’s no one to breastfeed, a toddler must be fed baby food), I ended up feeding him with Zoeoe’s Toddler Bowls. But Nash couldn’t go into town to sell fish/produce to earn any money, and a mere §25 per meal was wiping out their savings.
So yeah, nothing manipulated for story purposes — he really couldn’t do it alone.