"You're going to freeze in that dress, Andromeda," My godmother chastised and I rolled my eyes.
"I like this dress," I complained, "And it has sleeves!"
"Thin ones," My godmother shook her head in dismay, "And it cuts off above the knee. Do you take pleasure in looking like a harlot, Andromeda?"
I groaned, letting my anger melt in the snow behind me. That old lady really got on my nerves sometimes. After my mother passed, I had to take over all of the responsibilities as head of the village, which was a lot to deal with as a blossoming young lady. I was itching to escape from my godmother observing me as I did my chores as the snow began to pick up. Usually, I escaped to the marketplace with Ezra but today was especially busy.
"The farmers need your assistance in covering their crops for winter and the buildings in the village need repairs to keep the cold out."
While she listed out my responsibilities, we passed by the supermarket and my friend, Ezra, was making faces in the window. I stifled a laugh while my godmother raised an eyebrow at me.
"Are you listening, young lady?"She hissed, "You are far passed your careless teenage days, Lady Andromeda."
"Yes, Doris, I'm listening," I assured her, "We have to prepare for winter. It looks like it's about to snow soon."
My godmother shook her head angrily, "Of course not, foolish girl! Why would it snow so early in the season?"
"The clouds are dark," I pointed out, "And the air is frigid."
We walked into the town square, where the fountain of our patron Lady Demeter stood over the frozen water. A farmer named John ran up to us, surrounded by a crowd with nervous faces. I didn't want to follow him, but I knew I had to. A small group of people followed me down the path to the farmhouses, the rest staying at the plaza to probably gossip about how terrible of a leader I was. The air was so freezing I could see my breath in the wind. I was shivering by the time we reached John's house. His fields of wheat, barley, and other grains were completely covered in frost, rotten, and ruined. I placed a hand over my mouth to keep from breaking down. My heart was in my stomach and my entire body was shaking, from disbelief and the cold.
"You see, Lady Andromeda," He said in disdain, "All my crops... gone. This was gonna be our supply to get us through the winter."
"I-" I stutter, my words betraying me, "I see."
My godmother placed her hands on my shoulders again, and it was the least I could do to keep from sobbing right there. Everything in the village was unraveling into chaos.
"How?" I mumbled, "How did this happen?"
Someone touched my shoulder in support, while one of the farmers, Charles, leaned down to face me. I tried to hold back tears thinking about the disaster.
"Lady Andromeda," He bit his lip hesitantly. He was an old man with gray entwined with his black hair and beard and kind old eyes, "What do you propose we do?"
I took a deep breath and looked up at the dark clouds in the sky, blinking away the tears. I didn't dare open my mouth to speak, hoping I wouldn't fall apart on the spot. Everyone was looking to me to do something about this, but I was just a stupid 20-year-old orphan girl who wore dresses way too short and had an attitude. I couldn't save my village if I wanted to.
"The Lady Andromeda needs some time and space to think about this deep issue," My godmother stepped up and took me by the shoulders, leading me away from the people before I broke down in sobs.
"How will we combat this?" Someone asked from the crowd.
Another sounded angry, "Why are we expecting a teenage girl to take care of this?"
"My children will starve!"Another voice shouted in agony. I was shaking and my teeth chattering, tears frozen in my eyes.
"It's alright, Andie," My godmother said softly in my ear, using my nickname to try and soothe me. I didn't want to be soothed. I just wanted the answers.
"Lady Andromeda," Farmer John called and I felt my entire demeanor shrink, "We only have enough crops to survive for the rest of the week, but after… We need you to make a plan very soon.”
"Excuse me!" A voice interrupted me from behind John, pushing him aside and standing right in front of me, "Lady Andromeda, if you would please, I require some assistance at the market."
I held back a grin before following him, "I'll be back, John, but this is obviously urgent. Don't worry, I'll figure something out."
Before he or my godmother could object, Ezra grabbed my hand and hauled me over to the marketplace. The supermarket was my place of escape during busy days. To be honest, it was my escape on most days. I was destined to lead the village, but not so soon. My mother's absence and the stress brought melancholy onto me heavily. That's when I started going to the market once a day, talking with the shopkeeper's son, and ignoring all of my responsibilities. Ezra would always give me some treat from the store and we would talk about life, look at clouds, take care of the shop, among other things. It was my only means of escapism but it was a really enjoyable one.
"Your lips are blue!"Ezra shook his head as we trudged through the building snow, "And your hand feels like pure ice."
I would have pulled my hand away haughtily and retorted with something witty, but I was too tired and cold for the effort. Instead, I just sighed and agreed.
"Seriously, are you okay?"
"Yes," I assured him, "Just a stressful day. What do you need?"
"A hot chocolate," He winked at me as we reached the market. He opened the door for me and it was completely empty. His father wasn’t around.
"Ezra," I complained, "I know you're trying to be nice but I'm seriously pressed today."
He shook his head disapprovingly while he heated up some tea for us, "Well, arguing with a farmer in a snowstorm isn't getting anything done, is it?"
"I wasn't arguing!" I said defensively but he just laughed as he handed me a cup of tea. The warmth against my hands was so refreshing. The bittersweet tea went down my throat and my entire body began warming up. I didn't realize how cold I was until now.
"Besides, I also need help with restocking the shelves."
"No you don't" I protested, but he was already near the backdoor.
"Just stay here, for a second," He told me, "I'm going to go get the goods we got today.
"Start restocking the stuff by the desk!"Ezra shouted before shutting the door and leaving me alone in the supermarket. It was calming, with the warm tea, warm fire, cozy wooden walls, and little windows showing the snowstorm outside. I could barely make anything out, everything was just a blur of white. It was so quiet being alone in the market, waiting for Ezra. The lighting was dim and ominous, making me feel isolated. There was a stagnant feeling in the air and I thought there was something wrong. My heart was beating oddly fast and my breathing was ragged. It was like a panic had overtaken my body.
"Ezra?" I called out, slowly walking towards the door. No response. I flung it open and almost took a step, but stopped with my foot halfway in the air.
There was a baby sleeping on the doorstep, swaddled in a thick pink blanket, and a bouquet of wildflowers in the blanket with her. She had fuzzy blonde hair and sparkling green eyes with freckles dotting her face. She wasn't a newborn, either, maybe a few months old. Old enough to move her arms and head around curiously, but couldn't yet walk or talk. She looked up at me curiously, her expression quickly changing to discomfort. Her cheeks and nose were so red from the cold. Though when I picked her up, she was warm. She must have been placed here by someone, and recently at that since she wasn't here earlier or Ezra would have found her.
"Hello?" I shouted, hoping to track down anyone in the nearby area. Maybe they lost her or had an idea of who's baby she was. Ezra was nowhere around, which was weird.
"Hello? Is anybody out here?!" I yelled again, walking around in the snow outside. The snow was pummeling down on us, building up in my hair and clothes and on the baby girl. She began to cry and I realized she couldn't stay out here in this blizzard. Defeatedly, I opened the market door back up and walked in. Almost instantly, Ezra came in right through the same door with a huge stack of boxes that I didn't see out there. I stood there, holding the baby, trying to figure out what just happened. How were we both outside in the same area and he didn't see or hear me?
"Alright, Andie, we got a lot of work to do... What the heck is that?"Ezra dropped the boxes and one landed on his foot, making him curse and wince in pain, grabbing his foot and hopping. I raised an eyebrow and held the baby closer.
"A baby," I answered simply.
He blinked. "Is it yours?"
"What?" I gasped, "No! Of course not, you idiot! Do I look pregnant to you?"
"I don't know," He shrugged, picking up the boxes and placing them by the shelves, "I didn't see you all last week."
"Wha- that's not even how it works? You know what, never mind." I sighed, rolling my eyes, "I haven't even thought about having a baby, mind you. I found her outside on the doorstep."
"I was just out there," Ezra said, "How could I not have seen you?"
I frowned, "I was just trying to figure that out myself. Everything went dark and all creepy and I went to find you, but there she was. On the doorstep. Really weird."
Ezra sighed and stepped closer, looking at the baby, "Well, she's cute. She's gotta be someone's baby. There wasn't anyone out there when I got the supplies."
"Maybe I should go down to the plaza to see if anyone knows anything about her," I suggested.
"Yes," Ezra agreed and offered me a coat, "We can go together."
"No," I shook my head, "You should stay here and keep an eye out in case anyone shows up about the baby."
He seemed uncertain.
"You shouldn't be out in a snowstorm all alone with a baby."
"Why?" I shot a playful glare, "Because I'm a girl?"
"What? No, I mean, no," He stuttered, "But what if something happens?"
I was already out the door, wearing his coat, "I'll deal with it. I am the leader of this village, you know."
"Be safe!" He exclaimed, but I had already left. I didn't want him to see it, but this baby was really freaking me out. There was high energy around her, she seemed to accelerate my heart rate and breathing. I was anxious to find her parents and solve this weird baby mystery. The walk through the snowstorm was not pleasant, with the baby crying, the ice slipping me, and the lack of sight. Eventually, I saw the light of houses and the fountain. There were a few people in the plaza, but most were sheltered in their houses. Smart people.
My godmother was there with two other older ladies, gossiping underneath the statue of Lady Demeter.
"Andromeda!" My godmother shouted, her eyes bugging out of her head, "Is that what I think it is?"
"I mean," I shrugged with the baby, "Yeah."
She covered her eyes like the sight was too unbearable to see, and the other old ladies averted their gaze like it was taboo. I was so confused and even the baby stopped crying, probably confused by their antics too.
"Lady Andromeda," My godmother wheezed, "I knew you were hanging out with that boy too much, now look at what we have."
"What are you talking about?" I scoffed, "This isn't mine!"
She sighed in relief and the other ladies straightened their postures. My godmother laughed nervously, "Of course not. No, of course not. Who's baby is it, then?"
"I'm not sure," I admitted, "She was left on the doorstep at the market."
My godmother raised an eyebrow, "On the doorstep? Ladies, do you know anything about this?"
The two shook their heads and held their hands to their hearts. I looked back at my godmother and sighed.
"Well, she's someone's baby."
"Yes, indeed she is," My godmother agreed, "We should name her, though. Just until we can bring her back to her parents."
"She was left with these, too," I pulled the bouquet of wildflowers from the coat pocket and showed them, "I don't understand their significance. But I think we should name her Proserpina. She's really what this village needs."
The ladies seemed to like the name since it had ties to our patron deity, Lady Demeter. The baby sneezed in response, so hopefully, she liked it. We walked door to door, asking anybody if they knew about the baby. Everybody was confounded and watched me with odd stares. The more houses we reached, the more the snow stopped. By the time we reached Farmer John's house, covered in the dead crops, the snow was completely stopped. Begrudgingly, I knocked on his door. He swung it open and stared at me, my godmother, and the baby in bewilderment.
"What in the world is going on here?"
"John, sir, we found this baby on the doorstep at the market and wondered if you knew anything about it?"
He narrowed his eyes and puckered his lips, "Nobody finds a baby, girl. Stop trying to lie about your philandering."
"Philandering?" I repeated in surprise, holding Proserpina closer to my chest.
"Philandering?!" My godmother repeated angrily, charging right up to the sneering farmer, "Listen, you pathetic plebian, I will not take this slander against my Andie. You keep your greasy mouth shut about her before I shove it full of your putrid dead crops."
I laughed in surprise while his mouth hung open shock. My godmother grabbed my arm and pulled me back around to leave.
"And for the record, I've never even kissed a guy!" I shouted over my shoulder, almost as a final insult. My godmother pinched me and I winced.
"A lady does not need to prove her own purity."
I laughed at her sudden concern for reputation after just chewing out that guy. She raised an eyebrow.
"What's so funny, Lady Andromeda?"
"You!" I exclaimed through laughter, "You call that guy a pathetic plebian and get mad at me for saying I haven't kissed anyone!"
I could tell she was trying to hold back a small smile but kept a serious face, "I said what I meant. Now, let's get off this lowlife's land."
But Proserpina was struggling out of my arms, trying to reach the ground. Curious, I bent down into the farmland with the baby, letting her explore the dead crops. She picked up an uprooted, frozen black bundle of wheat and played with it.
"Andromeda, do not let her play with that!" My godmother shouted, but I watched in wonder. Proserpina's little fingers grasped around it, the color came back slowly but vividly. Eventually, the healing spread across the entire piece and it was a normal, healthy wheat plant. My godmother and I stared at it in shock.
"Did she just?" My godmother asked. I nodded with my mouth hanging open in disbelief and relief. Word got around the village and soon everyone was crowding around the baby girl who was playing in the dead crop field, healing the soil and the crops as she walked around. Ezra came running down and panting.
"Andie, I heard the baby-" He stopped midsentence, in amazement of the Proserpina and her magic.
I turned back to face him with a smile, "You all see, she was sent to this village to save us. She's a blessing from Lady Demeter, here to bless our crops."
The villagers murmured in happy agreement, watching as the field slowly turned to rich brown and green. The baby Proserpina was the answer to my prayers. She was the village's savior.