Clatan 19, 1013
Spring was Marigold’s favorite season.
The air was fresh and clean; the soil dark, wet, and bursting with life. So were all the plants. The trees in the small orchards set out new branches and leaves every day. Even if it meant that Marigold needed to spend extra time trimming them, it didn’t matter. It was worth it, if it meant it was spring.
Spring was a fat time in the business, too — something about finally getting outside after months and months of cooped-up winter tended to loosen customer’s purses (and their nether purses, too). It was second only to autumn, when the customers were flush with cash from the harvests. In summer, many might have money from all the summer crops, but they were too exhausted from working in the fields all day. In winter, everybody had time on their hands, and some even had money, but that was worth little when a snowstorm blew in and trapped everyone in their homes.
Marigold had heard tell that in truly big cities, where brothels could serve a specialized, wealthy clientele, the fat times and lean times weren’t so starkly seasonal. Wealthy men tended to have money throughout the year. Of course, Albion had its share of wealthy men … but many of them were happily married and in no need of their services, more’s the pity. Not all, of course, but enough that, say, Mark Wesleyan’s ever-welcome silver was a small enough portion of their revenue that the seasonal ups and downs from the farmers mattered more to their bottom line.
She was glad of it, too, in a way. If it wasn’t for the fact that business was so good in spring, she sometimes thought that she would just disappear into the woods one spring. Get back in touch with Nature. Put down roots.
If spring wasn’t the season for Plantsims to take root and grow, Marigold thought as she went to the back of the garden and started to weed, then she didn’t know what the season for it would be.
Spring was a time of yearning for her. Take Thorn. He hadn’t been born in the spring, but if he’d come a mere eleven days earlier, he would have been. She’d carried him all through spring, marveling at the little life inside her, eager to meet this person who was half — only half! — of her. She never got to be half of somebody. She was all her father’s daughter, her other parent merely a bit of pollen on the wind. Thorn was special, unique, his own little person in a way neither she nor Ash could quite manage to be.
She had spent all of that spring in hopefulness, anticipation, like a flower patiently awaiting the bee or bird to take its pollen and deliver other, different pollen unto it. Then, in summer, she had — like the flower — borne fruit.
That was when reality had set in.
She couldn’t keep Thorn. She was lucky, she supposed. Unlike Tambu, Mirelle, Erin, even Wei Li, who had all had children before she did, she was still able to see Thorn, almost whenever she wanted. She knew, too, that Thorn was well taken care of, happy, even. He was so much a part of Ash’s family that most who didn’t know the dynamics well probably assumed that Thorn was Ash and Lyndsay’s son.
… Or they would have, if not for what Thorn had gone through. But Thorn was recovering well from that. Now, two years and some odd months later, he seemed like a normal boy. He loved his games, his fishing, his family, his dog. If you didn’t know, you’d never guess.
But Marigold knew. And, as she fetched the watering can she’d already filled and started to give the plants their drink, it was hard not to second-guess herself.
Maybe, when Thorn was born, she ought to have given it up — all of it. The house, the girls, the life. She had thought, back then, that family were the Sims you chose to have around you. She’d loved the late nights. Ash spent most of his nights puttering around the house, trying not to disturb everyone else, or else holding Lyndsay quietly and staring at the ceiling. Marigold spent hers on john’s knees, playing cards, dancing to the piano, joking with her girls. There was the work and the johns, no mistake. Some could be rough. Sometimes they didn’t want to pay. But some could be gentle, some could be generous, and all in all, the work wasn’t bad, all things considered. Hell, men paid extra to lay with her just so they could say they’d done it.
But now she was older, so much older. Maybe it was only seven years since Thorn was born, by the calendar. It felt much longer. Her kind, she was beginning to understand, didn’t age like other Sims. She was only twenty-one years old by the calendar. But she felt twice that age. Her back hurt, a knee wrenched in a fight with a troublesome john ached when the wind blew westerly. Ash said much the same thing. And Lyndsay, who was technically ten years their senior, bustled around, practically ran the Onion, chased after her children, ran a flower stall on market days, and generally showed no sign of slowing down. She was even expecting again, last Marigold had heard.
Marigold set the watering can down, took a deep breath and arched her back, soaking in the sun’s healing rays. She kept her eyes closed so no sap would leak out. It was, after all, springtime, time for the sap to move.
Or so she told herself. But she couldn’t lie, not in her own head. She knew damn well what it meant when sap leaked from the corners of her eyes. Those were tears.
Lyndsay was expecting again, and Marigold doubted she’d ever have another baby. Her courses were slowing, becoming more and more irregular. Sometimes, a sudden wave of heat would overtake her, causing her to sweat and desperately search for cold air. Kata said those were signs that the change of life was coming to her. Marigold tried to protest that she was too young for that, but Kata could only shrug. These things went according to the Lord’s timeline. There wasn’t much anyone could do about it.
Besides, maybe it was a blessing, not being able to have any more babies. It was stupid for Marigold to want more. She’d never get to keep them, not if she wanted to keep her life with her girls. But it was part of springtime for those old yearnings to come back. They were tied up in her feelings for Thorn, the loss she’d felt when she parted with him, the loss that was never quite stanched by the fact that she could walk over and visit him any time she wanted to.
That was the kicker, really. Visit Thorn. She shouldn’t have to visit her own child. She took a deep breath, hoping to chase the stupid sap away with it–
She smelled something.
Marigold reeled. It was — it was warm, and spicy, the smell. Heady and energizing. It made her want to dance, stand up on a table and belt out the bawdiest ballad she knew, laugh until she wet herself — and she didn’t even piss!
And the small stalks on the top of her head, the stalks for which Marigold had no name, were tingling.
What happened next was something Marigold was never able to quite remember and piece together. But this did not surprise her. There were some things that were not meant to be remembered well. If they were, no sane Sim would go through them more than once. And then what would happen to all of them?
But there was dominant impressions, nonetheless. The first was light — then, just as suddenly, darkness. Her head kept tingling, the tingling growing stronger and stronger, until it turned into an ache, then a pain, then a throbbing. Just when Marigold was about to cry out, sure her head would explode from the pressure, there was a burst of leaves —
Then, as Marigold stumbled and reeled, trying to regain her balance, something giggled by her feet. She looked down.
“St. Robert on a llama!” It was the most irreverent oath there was, precisely because it was so silly, but it was all Marigold could say at that moment. “Did ye — did ye come from me?”
She remembered, then, what her father used to say about her birth and Ash’s. He had been lonely, he said. He had been thinking of the child he’d left behind, the wife he could only see rarely, the fact that even if he and Kata had another child, he’d only be a distant part of that child’s life. He’d been desperate for some kind of companionship. Then, he said, he’d smelled something on the breeze, felt drunk …
Felt his head tingle — pain —
Then, two little plantbabies appeared at his feat, and Jeremiah for the life of him couldn’t imagine how they got there. But he knew they were his.
Just as Marigold knew this little mite was hers.
“My Lord,” she whispered. The child grinned, then lifted its hands in the universal gesture for “up.”
Slowly, gingerly, as if this was the most delicate of flowers and a stray breath would break it, Marigold picked up the baby.
“My word,” Marigold whispered. “My word. Look at ye, me little …” She patted the leaf fronds around the child’s waist, tugging at one of them. The baby didn’t show any sign of pain, so Marigold slowly felt with her finger around the waist. It slipped inside the leaf fronds easily — so it was only a napkin! Amazing! How had the baby been born with a napkin already on? Still, that was the least of all the miracles of today. Relieved that she wouldn’t hurt the child, Marigold flipped up the leaves and checked between the baby’s legs.
A little girl. She had a little girl!
The baby laughed, batting the leaves down. She looked expectantly at Marigold, clearly waiting for … what?
The baby tugged at the leaves, her eyebrows arching up. She wanted Marigold to lift the leaves again! She thought it was a game!
But as much as Marigold might want to make her baby — her baby! — happy, she could have no more lifted those leaves than she could have put on a pair of wings and flown to the moon. Instead, she buried her face in her baby’s shoulder and cried hot, sticky, sappy tears.
It was the best cry she ever had.
Tambu groaned and rolled over to her side. It wasn’t time to get up. Not yet. Surely Ma could wait just five more minutes …
“Tambu? Please wake up! You know I can’t wake Mirelle; it’s still light out!”
Still light out? What was Ma going on about, it being still light out? Why wouldn’t it be newly light out? Wasn’t it —
Oh. No. Wait. It wasn’t dawn. Tambu never woke up at dawn. She went to sleep at dawn. That was, after all, what working girls did.
She slowly cracked one eye open.
“Tambu!” Wei Li’s fluting voice played every note of relief. “Hurry! You must get up! You must come and see!”
“See what?” Tambu muttered. “Good Lord, Wei Li, what time is it?”
“I do not know–”
“Ye’re already dressed.”
“My bedroom window was open. I heard Marigold crying.”
Tambu blinked once. She sat up, pushing the blankets off. “Cryin’? When?”
“I do not know the time. I was scarcely –”
“How long ago?”
“Fifteen minutes, I think. I got up, I dressed, and by the time I got downstairs, she was already there, and — oh, Tambu! You must come see!”
Tambu got up and squinted at Wei Li. She’d never seen the other woman in such a state — wringing her hands together, jumping from foot to foot, chewing on those perfect pink lips of hers. Tambu ran a hand over her face. Whatever this was — it was too early for it.
“Please, Tambu! Come!” Wei Li pleaded.
“I’m comin’, I’m comin’,” Tambu grumbled. “Lead the way, hon. But what am I comin’ fer?”
“You must see!”
“Wei Li –”
“You won’t believe me if I tell you!”
Well. Wei Li was one of the most truthful Sims Tambu knew, far more prone to understatement than exaggeration. If she was saying that Tambu wouldn’t believe her —
Tambu had no time to complete that thought, for Wei Li had hurried out of the room, the outsized bow on the back of her dress trembling with every footstep. Tambu swore under her breath, but she had little time to do anything else but follow Wei Li into the hall and down the stairs.
And when they got to the foot of the stairs …
“St. Robert on a mother-fuckin’ llama!” Tambu shouted.
“You see?” Wei Li wailed. “You see why I said you would not believe me!”
Tambu wouldn’t have believed St. Robert himself if he had come down from heaven and told it to her. But Tambu had no choice, now, but to believe her own eyes.
And what her eyes were telling her, now, was that there was a little baby on the floor in front of Marigold, with leaf fronds for a napkin, a bit of green fuzz where hair ought to be, leaves growing out of its head, and bark and moss dotted over the baby’s skin.
And Marigold was singing a child’s rhyme to it.
“Marigold!” Tambu yelped. “What the hell is that?”
Marigold looked up and scowled at Tambu. She had been crying, just as Wei Li said: there were sap trails down both cheeks and her eyes were red-rimmed. “She is not a that!”
“Who?” Tambu asked.
“Sh-she?” Wei Li quavered.
Marigold’s face creased into a smile. She leaned closer to the baby, stroking its cheek. “Me daughter. Dai–Daisy,” she whispered. “Me daughter.” The baby laughed.
“How the hell d’ye have a daughter? Ye weren’t pregnant this mornin’!” Tambu shouted.
“I don’t know,” Marigold replied. “Ain’t it wonderful?”
“Wonderful?!” Tambu yelped.
Marigold didn’t answer immediately. She rose, picked up the baby, and swung her to her hip with an ease that should have come of long practice, but which was apparently instinctual. Tambu wouldn’t know. She’d never had a chance to handle her children as anything other than newborns.
Marigold then turned to Tambu with the widest of grins. “If it ain’t wonderful,” she laughed, “what is it, eh?”
She was tickling — tickling — the baby as she said it. The baby laughed and kicked her little feet.
Then the baby turned her wide grin to Tambu. Tambu almost gasped. She knew that grin. It was the same grin Marigold was grinning now!
“Ye want ter hold her?” Marigold asked, holding the baby forward.
Wei Li’s eyes lit up, and she stepped forward, her hands inching toward Marigold and the baby. Then her cheeks colored as she looked to Tambu.
“Go ahead,” Tambu muttered. There went one potential ally.
Wei Li grinned, and Marigold handed the far-too-compliant baby over. “Look at her!” Wei Li breathed. “Isn’t she beautiful?”
“The most beautiful thing I ever did see,” Marigold crooned.
“Oh, fer the love o’ Wright! Am I the only one here thinkin‘?” Tambu groaned. “How the hell are we gonna take care o’ a kid?”
“Erin took care o’ Wulf,” Marigold replied, her voice still dreamy, beatific. “An’ Daisy won’t need near as much as Wulf did. She’s like me.” Marigold ran her fingers through the baby’s leaves and over the mossy fuzz on the top of her head. “Jest like me! She’ll only need sunlight, water, an’ lots an’ lots o’ love. We won’t even need to change her!”
Sunlight, water, and love. Tambu winced. It wasn’t like sunlight and water cost anything. As for love, Marigold already had love overflowing for the little girl, and if Wei Li didn’t, she would soon. And Mirelle … well, who knew about Mirelle. She could be quite funny when it came to little ones. She’d probably fall in love with Daisy at first sight, too.
But caring for Daisy had been the least of Tambu’s worries.
“An’ what about her moral upbringin’?” Tambu snapped. “Remember that? Erin did a fine job with Wulf, but she weren’t morally fit ter have ‘im!”
Wei Li gasped and clutched the baby closer. But Marigold grinned. “How’s Brother Tuck gonna know, eh?”
“How’s he not gonna know? This is gonna be all over the kingdom by sunset!”
“No, it won’t. Nobody saw me give birth ter her,” Marigold replied. “An’ if we keep her out o’ sight? I don’t need ter take her anywhere, ye know–”
“Marigold. She needs sunlight! Ye’ve got ter take her outside!” Tambu looked at Daisy, resting contentedly in Wei Li’s arms, gulped, and went on. “Ye’ve got ter bring her ter yer brother, quick. Brother Tuck won’t bother ‘im, what with ‘im workin’ fer the King an’ all, but he’ll take that little girl away from us faster than ye can snap yer fingers.”
“Marigold! Be reasonable!”
“Reasonable? Reasonable? Tambu, like ye said — this mornin’, I weren’t even pregnant! An’ now I got a baby, a real baby! What in all o’ this is reasonable?” Marigold’s nostrils flared, and if they had dirt floors instead of wooden ones, Tambu was sure she would have seen her dig her heels in. “I got a miracle this mornin’, Tambu! I ain’t givin’ Daisy up after I got a miracle ter get her!”
“But Marigold –”
“I think we should keep her,” Wei Li interrupted. “Would the orphanage even take her? And Tambu — the King’s steward, he likes you, yes? If Brother Tuck made trouble, you could ask him to ask the King to intervene for us.”
“An’ I could ask Ash,” Marigold pointed out. “The King — he put us Plantsims under his protection. His especial protection! He promised me pa! He won’t break that now!”
Tambu doubted that. The King was a powerful man. In her experience, powerful men didn’t give a rat’s ass what they promised you, or what they owed you. Just look at how Brother Tuck had treated her, had treated Erin, had treated Wulf.
“Tambu, he had his own sister arrested — an’ probably killed — fer the sake o’ me son. An’ he ain’t even a Plantsim. Ye think he wouldn’t put a snivellin’ monk in his place fer the sake o’ me daughter?” Marigold asked.
That was when Tambu gave up.
“Fine! Fine! Keep ‘er!” Tambu threw her hands up. “But when there’s trouble, Marigold Thatcher — don’t ye dare say that I didn’t warn ye!”