Simple and good was our lovemaking, and very thorough. Afterward, her hair was netted across my chest, her breasts pressed warm against my side. I drifted, warm and content. She spoke softly by my ear, the breath of her words tickling.
“We’re going to have a baby.”
My eyes flew open. Not with the joy I had once hoped to feel, but with the shock of dismay. I took three slow breaths, trying to find words, trying to find thoughts. I felt as if I had stepped from the warm lapping of water at a river’s edge into the cold deep current. Tumbled and drowning. I said nothing.
“Are you awake?” she persisted.
“I am. Are you? Are you talking in your sleep, my dear?” I wondered if she had slipped off into a dream, and was perhaps recalling another man and another time when she had whispered such momentous words and they had been true.
“I’m awake.” And sounding slightly irritated with me, she added, “Did you hear what I told you?”
“I did.” I steeled myself. “Molly. You know that can’t be so. You yourself told me that your days of bearing were past now. It has been years since—”
“And I was wrong!” There was no mistaking the annoyance in her voice now. She seized my wrist and set my hand to her belly. “You must have seen that I’m getting larger. I’ve felt the baby move, Fitz. I didn’t want to say anything until I was absolutely certain. And now I am. I know it’s peculiar, I know it must seem impossible for me to be pregnant so many years after my courses have stopped flowing. But I know I am not mistaken. I’ve felt the quickening. I carry your child, Fitz. Before this winter is out, we will have a baby.”
“Oh, Molly,” I said. My voice shook and, as I gathered her closer, my hands were shaking. I held her, kissed her brow and her eyes.
She slipped her arms around me. “I knew you would be pleased. And astonished,” she said happily. She settled against me. “I’ll have the servants move the cradle from the attic. I went looking for it a few days ago. It’s still there. It’s fine old oak, with not a joint loose in it. Finally, it will be filled! Patience would have been so thrilled to know that finally there will be a Farseer’s child at Withywoods. But I won’t use her nursery. It’s too far from our bedchamber. I think I will make one of the rooms on the ground floor into a special nursery for me and for our child. Perhaps the Sparrow Chamber. I know that as I get heavier, I will not want to climb the stairs too often …”
She went on, breathlessly detailing her plans, speaking of the screens she would move from Patience’s old sewing room, and how the tapestries and rugs must be cleaned well, and the lamb’s wool she wished spun fine and dyed especially for our child. I listened to her, speechless with terror. She was drifting away from me, her mind gone to a place where mine could not follow. I had seen her aging in the last few years. I’d noticed the swelling of her knuckles, and how she sometimes paused on the stairs to catch her breath. I’d heard her, more than once, call Tavia the kitchenmaid by her mother’s name. Lately Molly would begin a task and then wander off, leaving it half-done. Or she would enter a room, look around, and ask me, “Now, what was it I came here to get?”
We had laughed about such lapses. But there was nothing funny about this slipping of her mind. I held her close as she prattled on about the plans she had obviously been making for months. My arms wrapped her and held her, but I feared I was losing her.
And then I would be alone.
It is common knowledge that once a woman has passed her childbearing years, she becomes more vulnerable to all sorts of ailments of the flesh. As her monthly courses dwindle and then cease, many women experience sudden flushes of heat or bouts of heavy sweating, often in the night. Sleep may flee from them and a general weariness possess them. The skin of her hands and feet becomes thinner, making cuts and wounds to these extremities more common. Desire commonly wanes, and some women may actually assume a more mannish demeanor, with shrinking breasts and facial hair. Even the strongest of farm women will be less able than they were in the heavy tasks that they once accomplished with ease. Bones will break more easily, from a simple slip in the kitchen. She may lose teeth as well. Some begin to develop a hump on the back of the neck and to walk with a peering glance. All of these are common parts of a woman aging.
Less well known is that women may become more prone to fits of melancholy, anger, or foolish impulses. In a vain grasping at lost youth, even the steadiest of women can give way to fripperies and wasteful practices. Usually these storms pass in less than a year, and the woman will resume her dignity and calm as she accepts her own aging.