Ruby was true to her word. She returned with Alair and Emma before midday the next day.
Nash grabbed Alair and held him so tightly that he squeaked in surprise.
Jacqueline took the baby upstairs to her cradle. “So you’re the little Emmaline Howland?” she said. “I think we’ll get along fine. At least you’re cute.”
Against all odds, this arrangement looked like it might work out after all.
Jacqueline was not exactly a good cook, but she was determined.
Some of the harvest was lost to the frost, but the cow was still milking and the hens were laying. They drank plenty of milk and ate a lot of eggs. At least they were easy to prepare.
Nash’s tension began to ease. For the first time in almost a year, he began to sleep deeply and restfully.
In many ways, Jacqueline was the opposite of Emmaline. She was impulsive, playful, and bold. Nothing seemed to intimidate her.
She was always doing something unexpected to make Nash laugh or just stop to appreciate the world.
She was also passionate.
She and Alair connected almost immediately.
“This kid is going to grow up to be a minstrel, mark my words,” she told Nash. “Just listen to what he can do already!” Nash couldn’t make any sense of the noise Alair was making, but he enjoyed the fact that it made both them them happy.
When Alair made the worst racket, Jacqueline seemed the most proud of him.
Nash found other ways to bond with his son. Winter had set in, and with Jacqueline’s help running the farm, he suddenly had time for both his children. He felt like he was getting to know Alair for the first time.
Alair sometimes had more attention than his little body could handle.
With another adult to handle the children, Nash was free to take extended trips away from the house. He jumped at the chance to add some fresh meat to their food supply.
Pickings were thin, but when he managed to bring down a deer, the venison fed them days.
Sometimes he just took a moment to enjoy the beauty of the snow-cover land around him.
Though food was tight in general, they did manage enough of a surplus in eggs that it was worth a couple of trips to the market. Jacqueline made those journeys to take some time away from the house and see some other people. Later in the season, the cow was generous enough that the could also sell some soft cheese.
Emma grew into a lovely toddler.
Nash could see Emmaline in her face, and he was instantly enchanted by her.
She wasn’t interested in sound the way Alair was, but she could spend hours fitting blocks and shapes together.
Then Jacqueline learned that she was expecting. “I’ve always been the favorite aunt,” she said. “Now I’m a step-mother. I guess it’s time to go in all the way.”
Nash built a small extension onto the home for the growing family.
Jacqueline didn’t have a wonderful time with pregnancy. As her belly grew, she grew snappish at Nash and repulsed when he touched her.
Nash was too nervous about her and the coming child to take it very personally. He took to spending more time out of the house. Cutting firewood was a good place to take out his frustration.
When he was home, Jacqueline often spent afternoons outside playing her lute. She didn’t say it directly, but she clearly had her own misgivings about impending motherhood.
As the long winter at last began to peek into spring, she gave birth to a son, who she named Lafe. Childbirth was incredibly smooth, and she felt better almost immediately.
Soon she was back to her playful self again.
Lafe looked to be the spitting image of his mother. Nash didn’t realize just how tightly his heart had been squeezed with worry until he saw both mother and baby healthy and happy.
Still, he felt no longing for more children. He only wished that the Watcher would let him keep the family he had.
And we’re finally done with the winter! Woo!
Emmaline has been enjoying her afterlife.
She also seems to approve of Nash and his new wife.