[This STILL doesn’t get us through the winter, so there will be a part 3. This whole idea of writing one post per season may not float. I don’t expect every season to be this eventful, though.]
As snow piled deeper outside the Howland house, Nash wrapped his children in thick blankets against the cold. Food was running thin, and so was firewood. Nash’s illness faded after the last chance at harvest was past. The cow was still giving milk, and the chickens still laid a few eggs huddled up in their henhouse, but it wouldn’t be enough. Nash had a decision to make, and it broke his heart.
He bundled up the children and walked them into Mahlsberg, trying to keep them warm. Ruby and Gerbald, to their credit, gave him no trouble when he asked if Alair and Emma could stay with them for a few days while he looked for work in Praaven City. It was understood that he need not come back for them, but nobody said that.
Thus found himself alone inside of the walls of the city after dark, walking through drifts of snow and thinking. The last seven years of his wife were wiped away. His family was gone. He couldn’t keep the farm alone, and he wasn’t sure he even wanted to try. He had rebuilt the place expecting to purge it of dark memories, and instead it had only gathered more. He wasn’t sure he ever wanted to return. Perhaps the place was cursed. Perhaps the Watcher considered it too tainted by blasphemy.
He could return to the workhouse. It wasn’t a joyful life, but they didn’t ask questions. He would have food and a bed, and he wouldn’t need to think for a while. It had worked for him as an orphaned teenager. It was familiar.
“You filthy whore!” A man’s shout cut through his attention. Around the corner, he saw a man and a woman in the middle of an argument.
“You are not going to hit me, Dagon,” the woman shouted back.
“Like hell I won’t! You deserve worse!”
“You want to be that kind of man? I thought you were better than that.” Then she dropped her voice and said, “It didn’t have to end like this.”
Her voice…. what was it about her voice?
Nash’s numbed mind was working again, and he was finally moving. He was not going to stand back while a woman was abused. He threw himself between them. “What in Watcher’s name are you doing?” he demanded.
“We’re fine,” the man, Dagon, growled. “This is none of your business.”
Nash turned on him. “Are you kidding me? You’re threatening this woman out in the middle of the street! This is everyone’s business!”
“You don’t know what she did!” Dagon shrieked.
“I don’t care what she did!” Nash said.
“Mess with me and I’ll make you regret it!” Dagon shouted.
“You want to try me?” Nash said.
“Dagon, go home,” the woman said.
Dagon looked up the hill at her, then back to Nash. Rage distorted his face… but also pain. He started to move, and Nash tensed for a fight.
Dagon only shook his fist. “You’re a whore, Jackie. You can dress yourself up nice, but you’ll always be a whore. You disgust me.” Then he turned and stalked away. Nash let out his breath.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”
Nash turned to look at her then, and suddenly his knees felt weak. “…Jacqueline?”
She frowned staring at him. “Nashie? Can that be you?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Nash said. “I heard you’d gone someplace far from here.”
“I did,” she said. “Then I came back. Where are you living these days? I’m not going home, or not to that home anyway, and you and I need to have a long talk.”
“It’s out of town,” Nash stammered. “Actually, it’s the old Howland farm.”
“You went back there?” she asked with wide eyes.
“I fixed it up,” he said. “For my wife.”
“Oh,” Jacqueline said, nodding. “I bet she wouldn’t like to see some girl from your past turn up on her doorstep.”
Nash shook his head. “She’s gone,” he said, feeling his chest grow tight again. “Things didn’t… turn out like I planned.”
Jackie put her hands on her hips. “All right then. I have time. Show me what you did with the place.”
“It’s a long walk from here in the cold and snow,” Nash said.
Jacqueline shrugged. “It turns out I have plenty of time, and my plans canceled. Also, I have nowhere to stay at the moment, so unless you want to pay for an inn, your place is what we have.”
So he led her back to the farm. The snow was finished for the moment. The sky was clear, and the wind was low. Jacqueline told him her story in broad strokes — not long after the Howland fire, she joined up with a troupe of traveling minstrels to see the world. And she had seen some fascinating places, but the work was seasonal, and winter wasn’t the season. She and Dagon had been paramours for a while, but he’d gotten very possessive in recent months, and well, “We’d never had any expectation of being faithful,” she said, “And he certainly wasn’t.”
Nash listened in silence and grunted his sympathy. Then he let her draw out his story in bits and pieces until at last they were back at the farm house.
Jacqueline looked around appraisingly. “You built it back better,” she said. “I see that there’s only one bed, and I’m exhausted. I hope you don’t plan to be weird about it.
Nash was too exhausted himself to make any protest.
In the morning, they continued to talk over sandwiches.
“So, you have two small children and a farm to tend and no wife,” Jacqueline said. “Those are hard times.”
Nash just chewed and glared.
“I think I could be a help with this problem. Do you want my help?”
Nash dropped his sandwich back onto his plate and stared at her. “What exactly do you have in mind?”
“I grew up on a farm, Nashie, same as you. I know my way around cows and crops. I even like kids. You need a woman to run this place with you, and I happen to be one.”
Nash was dumbfounded. “Why would you do that?” he asked.
“Because I like you, Nashie, and you deserve better,” she said. “I never forgot all those plans that we made before everything went wrong.”
“I– don’t know what to say,” Nash said. And he didn’t say anything more as they gathered up the dishes.
“Think about it,” Jacqueline said. “And think about those babies. You sound like a great father. You should be taking care of them. I want to make that happen.”
She drew close then and caressed his cheek. “Do you remember all the hours under the apple trees, making plans? I remember how you looked at me then.” Nash looked into her eyes, and for a moment he was back there. It had been such a happy time, a world away — a time filled with all kinds of promise. Nothing had turned out the way they planned. It had been months before he could look for her after the fire, and by then she had already left.
She leaned in to kiss him, and that was enough to break the spell. He jerked back. “Jackie, I–”
“Oh,” Jacqueline said. “No is an acceptable answer. I just thought, well.”
“This is all so fast,” Nash said. “You can’t just move in here. I have to… I mean Emmaline was… I couldn’t be like you and Dagon. I need to stay right with the Watcher.”
Jacqueline let out a surprised bark of laughter. “Nash Howland found religion? I didn’t see that coming.”
Nash looked at the floor. “You wouldn’t have,” he said.
She cocked her head and gave him a long look. “So, let me get this straight. You want me stay, but only if we get married. Is that right?”
Nash looked at her helplessly, a dozen feelings tangled in his head. He nodded.
“All right then,” she said. “I guess we’ll have to get married.”
Then before Nash could really believe it was happening, it was over.
Jacqueline drew the line at a church wedding. They were married on the farm, on a hill overlooking Praaven City in the distance.
Ruby, Gerbald, and their eldest son attended, along with a minstrel friend of Jacqueline’s and, of course, Nash’s old friend Boggs.
As he slipped the ring on Jacqueline’s finger, hope swelled in Nash’s chest like pain. Those old teenager feelings came back, dusty and confused, the longer he spent time with Jackie. But neither of them were the same person they’d been back then. Was this the right decision?
He could only hope so.
After the ceremony, guests gathered in the house where it was warm to congratulate the new couple, drink mulled cider, and laugh.
“I will bring the children back in the morning” Ruby promised. “I assume you want a night to yourselves.”
“Of course we do,” Jacqueline said before Nash could respond. “You’ve been so kind. Thank you.”
Ruby’s disapproving scowl softened. “I wish you both the best,” she said.
At last, Jacqueline herded family and friends out of the house and waved them goodbye. She turned on Nash. “So are we good in the eyes of your Watcher now?” she demanded.
“Yes?” Nash said hesitantly.
She grabbed his arm and pulled him into a kiss.
“If you’ve done your duty, then let’s get to the good part,” she said.
And they did.
Jacqueline was the girlfriend that NRaas stuck Nash with while he was in the middle of courting Emmaline, because of course it did. He was definitely single when they started courting, but not when he joined the household. I had him send her a breakup text before he proposed to Emmaline, but their relationship stayed incredibly high.
I’d been scouting for single women Nash had chemistry with, or even some he didn’t, but NRaas had been thorough. I’d just concluded that I was going to have to break up a couple in order for Nash to have a shot at remarrying when he took an opportunity to deliver fish to a townie and there she was in that alarming argument with her romantic interest. Lo-and-behold, she was still single (if only technically — she’d clearly been having a good time). Their relationship and attraction scores were very high.
Jacqueline is almost Emmaline’s opposite — Brave, Lucky, Absent Minded, Virtuoso, and something else I can’t remember. I’ve decided that her health/death rolls will get a bonus due to the Lucky trait.
In conclusion, I offer a few wardrobe malfunctions:
The problem with loading up with cc is that some folks are going to screw it up. I’m still rooting out the bad stuff.