It was one of the most frustrating things in Marjory’s life. Her best friend Emily was pregnant again after years of miscarriages but she wouldn’t, couldn’t, accept any of Marjory’s charms to help her safely bear her child. Political forces from outside of their little village threatened not just Marjory’s livelihood but also Emily and her baby’s lives. Marjory hoped that she could find a solution before Emily lost yet another baby.
Threads of Birthing is a fantasy story of family, politics and finding a path that protects everyone you care about in dire circumstances.
Threads of Birthing
By Meyari McFarland
Emily smiled at Marjory, gently rubbing her belly as if she was afraid that the contact might cause her newly conceived baby damage. Given that Emily had suffered through six miscarriages in the last seven years, she had every right to worry about it. Marjory smiled with all the confidence that she could. The one thing Emily didn’t need is more warnings about being careful and cautious. The poor dear barely dared set foot outside of her bed when she was pregnant.
“I’ll be praying to Inina for you both,” Marjory said as she finished the last few stitches of the new blouse Emily had commissioned. “I do hope you’ll let me make a new headscarf to go with the blouse. It can be my congratulations for you.”
“Oh, that would be too much,” Emily said even though she patted her scarf a little self-consciously. “You don’t have to do that, Marjory.”
“Nonsense,” Marjory said as she passed the shirt over. “I have scraps left over that are just the right size and shape and you know it wouldn’t be a bother. You’re my best friend. I’d like to make you something fetching, dear.”
Emily ducked her head to hide the pleased smile. The long years of praying for a baby and never successfully carrying one to term had worn her down from a bright happy girl to a thin, too-quiet woman who bit her nails and avoided meeting everyone’s eyes. Her husband Darren doted over her, as did Emily’s parents and mother-in-law.
None of that seemed to matter compared to her apparent inability to carry a child to term. Every time Emily saw Louisa or any of the other children in town there was a wounded look about her eyes even if she smiled and laughed for their antics. When Emily looked up her smile drifted away like a mask dropping to the floor.
“I think we’ve been unlucky before,” Emily said, eyes flicking towards the front of the shop. “I… I hope that we aren’t this time.”
“Your father-in-law is still against charms?” Marjory asked with her own more lingering look towards the street outside. She didn’t see anyone who could overhear them talking. Most of the town was busy catering to the influx of tourists come for the twice a year solstice festival that the Temple on Spider Mountain always hosted.
“Yes,” Emily sighed. “He thinks they’re dangerous. Nothing Darren says will change his mind, I’m afraid. You know that I’d have asked for a charm from you and your mother ages ago if he weren’t so stubborn but, well, it’s just not worth the arguments.”
“Of course it’s not,” Marjory said even though she really wanted to slap the foolish old man for his stubbornness. “Now, since the blouse has roses I thought I’d embroider roses and vines on the headscarf. Red or yellow, do you think? I have a lovely new stock of fine green silk for the leaves and vines, three different shades. Hmm, maybe both red and yellow? How about some nice little white daisies among them?”
Emily started laughing, waving her hands to try and stop Marjory as she went to the shelves for the scraps and embroidery silk. It wouldn’t be proper to make the scarf too ornamented. Emily was, after all, a happily married woman in a very proper family who had no need to attract men’s eyes, but Marjory could easily get away with a lovely cluster of flowers on the back near where the scarf would be tied in place.
“Really, you don’t have to,” Emily said as Marjory started embroidering the border of thin green vines around the edges of the scarf. “Though that does look truly lovely. You’re so good at sewing.”
“I’ve been doing it since I could walk,” Marjory laughed.
Emily’s matching laugh trailed off as her husband Darren came in with her father-in-law on his heels. Darren was no problem at all. He only had eyes for Emily as he came over, gently touched her cheek and then gave her a chaste kiss on the lips. William, on the other hand, frowned at Marjory’s sewing as if he suspected the magic she was working into every single stitch.
Marjory ignored him in favor of praying Haraldr to protect Emily from every threat physical and emotional that might jeopardize the pregnancy. Every time she worked a tiny leaf along the vine Marjory prayed to Inina to strengthen the baby and the mother both. It wasn’t a traditional pregnancy charm with its proper prayers and symbols specifically designed to help mother and child but it was the best she could do within the limitations she’d been given.
“I thought you just bought a blouse,” William growled.
“Oh, she did,” Marjory said. “But I decided to give her a gift. The blouse is such a lovely pale rose and I only have this little scrap left. It’s about the right size for a head scarf. A quick head scarf to match the blouse and she’ll be lovely.”
“You still don’t have to do all that work for me,” Emily said. She smiled but she leaned into Darren’s side while eyeing William with worry.
“You’re my best friend, dear,” Marjory declared firmly enough that it made William wince. “Inina knows that you accept few enough gifts and this one is literally the work of a few minutes. Really, it’s not as though you’re advertising your sewing skills the way my family does with our clothes.”
That finally drove the disapproval out of William’s eyes, replacing it with honest amusement. The difference between Emily’s simple and lovely clothes with their restrained embroidery and Marjory’s riot of colorful embroidery on every single scrap of fabric she wore couldn’t be more obvious. Darren grinned at her, nodding approvingly as Marjory finished the vine and switched to red silk for the biggest rose.
“Just the one?” Darren asked.
“I was thinking a big red rose like the ones you grow,” Marjory said as she worked the under-stitches for the main petals and then began overcasting them to make the biggest rose stand out properly. “And then along the side two yellow rose buds with maybe three little white daisies. All in the back, of course, so that it will be proper.”
Emily flapped her hands as if to tell Marjory that it was far too much work but Darren straightened up and beamed at her so brightly that Emily sighed and shook her head. Neither she nor Darren could see William hide a grin behind an upraised hand. He was standing behind them, after all, leaning against the wall of the shop as if he intended to supervise every stitch that Marjory made.
As Darren nodded and sorted through the silk for just the right shade of yellow to match their rose bushes back home, Louisa ran into the back room. She gasped with delight when she saw Emily and Darren, immediately running over to claim a hug from Emily that made her coo with delight.
“I believe you’ve grown since this morning,” Emily said, patting Louisa’s head as if measuring her.
“I have not!” Louisa giggled. She rubbed her nose where it had been broken a couple of months ago but she didn’t have the disturbed expression she normally did. “Are you picking up your blouse? The fabric is so pretty! I wanted Mama to make me a dress out of it but there wasn’t enough left.”
“No, just enough for a nice headscarf for Emily,” Marjory agreed as she finished the red rose, took Darren’s yellow silk and set to work on the rosebuds. She would have made them larger if William weren’t there but she’d make do with what she had if it helped Emily through her pregnancy. “Louisa, be a dear and get the apron strings I embroidered for the cutwork apron you were making.”
Louisa peered at the scarf and then gasped, nodding as she ran to rummage through her project bin by the back door. She came back, beaming as she put the apron strings onto the table. They were a little long for a head scarf but not by much. The apron had been intended for Louisa so the strings hadn’t been cut as long as they normally would.
The apron had been a dead loss, sadly. Louisa’s cut work had unraveled badly as she worked and the design had too any holes to support the weight of the embroidery. It had been intended as a learning effort, though, so Marjory didn’t count it as a failure. Besides, Louisa hadn’t sewn the straps. That had been Marjory’s contribution to the project and they’d been quite salvageable.
“It’s almost the same color,” Louisa said as she displayed it for Emily to approve. “Mama did the embroidery on it while I did the apron but that didn’t work out very well.”
“What happened, dear?” Emily asked, her expression hesitant as she examined the red and yellow roses embroidered along the length of the slightly darker sash. Unlike Emily, Darren looked utterly delighted by the sash, nodding enthusiastically to Marjory that she should use it.
“It… kind of fell apart,” Louisa admitted with a huge blush that made Emily start laughing though she did try to muffle it behind upraised hands. “I was learning cutwork and the holes were too big and the fabric tore and raveled and then it sort of… fell apart.”
Emily passed the sash to Darren so that she could hug Louisa. Darren immediately passed it to Louisa while William laughed quietly in the background. That was permission enough for Marjory. She set to work on the simple little daisies, finishing them in moments. Attaching the scarf to the sash was the work of moments given that she’d left one edge unsewn so that it would be easy to attach Louisa’s apron to the sash. Putting Emily’s scarf in its place was simplicity itself.
Instead of rushing through the stitches, Marjory carefully arranged the fabric layers and meticulously stitched them together as invisibly as she could. The sash already had layers of magic worked into the embroidery to encourage a child’s growth, safety and happiness. The embroidery on the scarf had focused on ensuring that Emily would be strong and healthy through her pregnancy.
“Blessed Inina,” Marjory prayed as she carefully stitched the two separate pieces of work into one whole that hopefully would support and protect Emily and her baby, “please bless this family. Help this baby survive. Help this woman to thrive as she brings your blessing of life to the world. Please, give them both the chance the other babies never had.”
Marjory poured her whole heart into the hidden spell. She knew that Emily would never be happy if she didn’t somehow give Darren a child. No matter how hard the pregnancies and miscarriages were on her, she wouldn’t give up. Darren had already tried twice that Marjory was aware of. If only she could use her magic to help Emily enough that she finally bore the child she’d dreamed of for so long, everything would be worth it.
“There we go,” Marjory said as she tied off the last knot and carefully buried the tail so that the magic wouldn’t spill out and ruin the working. “All done. Try it on. I think it will look very good on you.”
“Rose always has been your color,” Darren said as he snatched the scarf from Marjory’s hands and gestured for Emily to take off her simpler brown headscarf.
“You think every color looks good on me,” Emily said, blushing prettily as she removed her headscarf.
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