RB Wood hosts a podcast where writers read their own writing. I've listened to a few of the podcasts and have been meaning to contribute. This episode (22) I am included!
In case you are unable to do the audio, or you just want to take a look, here is the print form of Bloody Bleating. I hope you enjoy the entire podcast!
I washed the blood from my hands, but only my hands. My arms were still streaked with it, and no doubt smudges reddened my forehead and hair. I couldn't stop. The lambing waits on no man, or woman. I swiped at my forehead again, the bitter tang of iron from the blood filling my nose and seeming to coat my tongue.
“How many more?” I asked, breathing heavily. The rough wool of my worst dress itched all over my skin particularly where the perspiration irritated further.
“This was the last, Missus. The rest seem to be progressing normally. Will this ewe make it?” the shepherd asked.
I looked back at the bleating ewe, the crying lamb. I put a hand on her chest, above where the lamb was already trying to suck. It rose and fell, her breath shaking, but not impeded. “She'll live. I'm not sure she'll lamb again, though. Mark her for slaughter. We won't take her 'til we have to, but come the winter...” I sighed, wiping my hands again on the rag that I'd tucked behind my belt, pushing back sleeves to scrub at my arms. My husband's shepherds were all diffident. The master's first wife was not just any woman, after all.
“Yes, Missus.” He ducked his head and hurried away in the direction of the other ewes, ones having less trouble than this poor creature.
I knelt beside her, spitting on my rag and wiping my face. I tucked some hair behind my veil. I made no move toward her lamb, but touched the ewe's head gently. “You have something I never will, even if it costs you your life.” I would give my life to have a babe, a son or daughter.
“Missus!” I stood quickly, afraid someone might have seen my moment's weakness. I was already burdened with all the weakness my people assumed of women; I didn't need any added to it. One of the younger shepherds came. “It's another set of twins, Missus.”
“Holy Father,” I prayed. Silently I added a promised sacrifice if He would see me through this day. Almonds and lotus. It wasn't a typical offering, but it was one I had found He appreciated, one specific to me. I hurried after the boy, no older than my Caleb. In fact, Caleb should have been out here. I looked around the pasture, but couldn't spot his shining black head. More were the dark dusty brown of the hired boys and men.
Caleb wasn't mine. It was a ruse orchestrated by Jessa, Benjamin's second wife, and myself. Her first son was mine, having all the rights of the first born. No one outside our family knew that Caleb wasn't my own blood; even Caleb didn't really know. He resembled his father so much that it didn't matter what little of Jessa he bore. Her second and third children were more like her, exotic in appearance, nubile.
I pulled another lamb, using a work knife to cut free as I needed. This ewe was lost. She'd stopped bleating before I reached to her. It was all I could do now to save her lambs. The first was black and the shepherds all backed away. I opened the lamb's jaws and wiped free any birthing fluid that might be blocking his air. He immediately began crying. The second lamb came free easily, almost falling from her mother before I'd finished with her brother. She had a beautiful white coat despite the blood that stood atop the downy hairs. I pulled her into my arms, knowing this lamb was special.
“Make sure that one finds a nurse ewe,” I instructed the others. “He will breed strong.”
“But he's black, Missus,” one of the older shepherds said.
“I know. It is a sign of his strength that he holds to black when father and mother were white. He will add to our flock.”
They continued to stared at me, obviously unsure whether or not they should listen.
“You heard my wife.” I smiled at the sound of my husband's voice behind me. I turned to look up at him, towering over me, and I wasn't small for a woman. “What have you found? A bedraggled little thing.” He ran his hand over the bloodied fleece without concern. “She is fine.”
“She will be the queen of our flock one day,” I promised him, rocking the tiny lamb. “And I know just the mother ewe for her.” I walked back to the mother I'd marked for slaughter, Benjamin following me.
“This one? You're sure she'll survive the night?” He squatted down beside the still recovering animal. He huffed. “She will at that. You helped her lamb, didn't you?”
I nodded, setting the second lamb beside the first. “She won't lamb again, but she will feed these two, and then she will feed us.”
“A worthy life for a worthy animal. Dani, you are a mess. You'll send me running to Jessa looking like that.”
I nudged him with my hip and sent him sprawling from his squat. He laughed, lounging on one elbow.
“We'll see who's running,” I warned. Another cry came across the pasture. “Me,” I answered myself with a sigh, lifting my skirts enough to run. Every ewe saved, every lamb saved, was one more to bring our family wealth. I didn't notice Benjamin follow at first.
“Me,” he said, his voice full and low. “You've done enough, Dani. Clean yourself, rest, have one of the children bring you some food. I'll take care of tonight.”
Leaning on his arm, I kissed his cheek. He could have divorced me when I was proven barren. He could have vaulted Jessa above me to first-wife. Instead he had kept me close, consulted with me about a second wife. I was with him when he found Jessa and knew she would be a friend to me as well as wife to him.
Despite all the children Jessa had given him, and continued evidence that I could not, he came to my room as often as hers. He loved me as my father hadn't loved my mother, as I'd never seen a man love a woman. I would do anything for him.
“I will eat, and then I will return if the lambing isn't over. I will bring food for the shepherds as well.” Jessa and her daughters would have been cooking while I was in the field.
His eyes and smile must have seen through the blood and grime that caked me because the fire in them was usually reserved for my chamber. I licked my lips nervously and wiped hair away from my face, odd honey-coloured hair. I almost adjusted my veil before thinking of the blood I would get on it. My hands fell to my sides.
“I suggest you hurry, wife.” His tone, like his eyes, gave me the impression that I wouldn't be returning to the pasture tonight. “I will expect your return.” Then again... I looked to sun sinking in the west. Making love with Benjamin under the stars would be a perfect end to a bloody day.