Here’s another sneak peek of my new work in progress, a historical fiction novel based on the life of Ann MacLean. In this excerpt, Ann gives birth to her second son while fleeing to Canada, fresh from the loss of her husband.
Ann gripped the hands of two strangers and groaned, pushing with all of her strength. Sweat beaded on her forehead, cheekbones, and lip, soaking her hair and oozing down her back beneath the layers of travelling clothes. Broken twigs poked her back, and the leaf mulch rustled beneath her trailing skirts and squatting legs, as soft a landing place as she was like to find.
From somewhere nearby, acrid smoke from a fresh-started fire drifted, along with men’s voices. Wee Jamie’s voice cut through the blinding pain, a searing knife through her heart with his every cry. Someone answered him with a reassurance, to no avail. These were strangers to him as much as her.
The woman in front of her locked her gaze with earnest brown eyes. “When the next pain comes, bear down with all your might.” She smiled. “It won’t be long now.”
Ann moaned as her abdomen clenched again and gritted her teeth. She let the women on either side of her hold her weight. The world darkened behind her eyelids and shrank to encompass only the pain, the power of her body, and the sudden, smooth rush of birth.
She gasped and sagged against her supporters, eyes now wide, searching. The woman with the brown eyes held up a red, wriggling, squealing bundle with a smile.
“Another fine son, mistress.”
The women let her down to rest in the leaves and she leaned back against one of them, holding out trembling arms for the newborn. She pulled him close against her and smelled the odd sweet smell of him. A ragged sob burst from her throat, then another, and then she was freely weeping.
The brown eyed woman pulled her close and held her like a mother as she wept.
Jamie was there, nudging at her side, his face dirty, red, and tear-stained. “Mammy, is this my brother?”
She nodded, unable to speak through her tears. Her chest burned with a bright fire.
Someone brought a cloth and wiped the baby clean where he lay in Ann’s arms. She couldn’t bring herself to relinquish him for a moment, nor allow anyone to guide Jamie away. She had lost too much already.
The brown-eyed woman sent the others away with a cluck of her tongue. “She needs rest.” They obeyed, withdrawing to the direction of the fire that now crackled merrily not far away.
“I’m sorry to have made you stop. Surely you might have covered more distance tonight.”
“Nonsense.” The woman smiled. “Thing are not so bad yet that a woman has to give birth in the forest alone. I’m Mercy. Mrs. Josiah Cass.”
“Is your man in the army, then?”
She almost choked on the next words. “He was.”
Please let me know what you think in the comments below.
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