Dawn had yet to break, but Rosette was already in the closet, slowly heaving her guts into the stool.
When the retching stopped, she slowly sat back on her heels, shaking a little. This was the third day in a row that had started this way. And her monthly course was two weeks late.
But it can’t be–it can’t be that, Rosette told herself, or tried to in any case. True, Mordred’s passion and hers had not slackened since his betrothal became official — if anything, it had intensified, given that they would have forgo relations at least for a year or so after graduation — but she had been taking the herbs! Taking them faithfully, as she had for almost four years now! She couldn’t recall a single day that she had missed, or taken them late, or even early.
What could have gone wrong?
It’s not–that, Rosette told herself. It isn’t. It can’t be. Something she ate must have disagreed with her–three days running–and as for her courses, well, no woman’s courses ran like clockwork all the time. Her own mother had been known to remark from time to time that if there was a baby every time a course was late, Rosette would be one of fourteen children — “six of ’em born before I even met yer pa!”
And as for Mordred showing no sign of this sickness … well, she had seen some of the ingredients he used for his spells, and her stomach turned just at the thought. If he could actually handle eyes of newts and Wright knew what else, well, he must have a stomach of steel. Someone could probably feed him actual poison for a week running and he wouldn’t turn a hair.
Yes. That must be.
Rosette took a deep, almost-relieved breath — and wrinkled her nose. Best to clean this up before Mordred awoke. Not that she would have any lack of time — he’d been sleeping later and later of late, probably because he was going to bed at obscene hours. So she grabbed a rag and quickly removed any trace of her sickness, then proceeded to rinse her mouth out with the water in the bowl, which, thanks to Mordred’s magic, was always cool and clear. By the time she was done, the dawn light was streaming through the windows.
And when she opened the door to get on with her day, Mordred was standing at the threshold, wearing his typical inscrutable expression.
“I–I beg your pardon?”
“How long,” he sighed, “has this,” he waved his hand toward the close stool, “been going on?”
Rosette’s eyes fell to the floor. “Three days, my–Mordred. I’m sure it’s just a stomach–”
“Rubbish. If it was a stomach disease, you’d be sick all the time–not just in the mornings.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “When was your last course?”
She blushed. “Mordred …”
“S-six weeks ago.”
“Six weeks,” he mused aloud.
“Oh, Mordred,” she suddenly sobbed, flinging herself into his arms, “I’m so sorry!”
“Did you take the herbs?”
“Exactly as I told you?”
“Then,” he sighed, wrapping his arms around Rosette, “I suppose there’s nothing for you to be sorry about.
Rosette stared up at him. “T-truly?”
Mordred sighed again. “Obviously, the herbs didn’t work. You say you took them correctly … and if you did … well, it’s not your fault that they didn’t work. It’s nobody’s fault.” He shook his head. “It’s a damned inconvenience, though.”
“M-Mordred–it–it’s a child, not an inconvenience …”
Mordred snorted. “Most people spend their whole childhood inconveniencing their parents in one way or another … I see no reason why birth should be the only time they can start.” He shrugged. “This means that most of my plans will have to be re-thought …” Seeing the tears still streaming down her face, he sighed and said, “Oh, come now, let’s go downstairs where we can talk about this logically, or at any rate attempt to.”
Rosette nodded slowly, and Mordred led her by the hand down the steps to the couch in the sitting room. When he settled her down, he sat beside her and almost absently put an arm around her. Rosette curled against him and watched as he stared blankly at the bookshelf on the opposite wall.
“M-Mordred?” Rosette murmured when the silence grew too long.
“Hmm?” he asked, startled, his eyes fixing onto hers as if they came from a long way away.
“Were–weren’t we going to talk?”
“Oh … we were.” He sighed. “Well, there’s not much you can discuss …”
“I was more thinking of how I was going to convince my father to give me the money to free you from your indenture and set you up someplace … since you obviously can’t move into Caer Orkney.”
“Lady Dindrane …”
“I’m not thinking of Lady Dindrane, there are stones with more feeling than she has … I’m thinking of her family.” He sighed. “The Gwynedds would view it as an insult, and we can’t afford to be insulting them so early into the marriage … we need them if we’re going to ever make a stand against the du Lacs and de Ganises …” He glanced sidelong at Rosette. “Never mind, this is just politics, you wouldn’t be interested.”
Rosette said nothing, though something inside her twisted. Lady Dindrane might have a heart of stone, but the whole campus knew how advanced in her studies she was … and she had been reared in a nobleman’s castle, learning court maneuvering even before she could maneuver her own two feet … Mordred would probably talk about politics with her …
But Rosette shook herself firmly. Really, she had more than any other woman of her station had from a nobleman, more from Mordred than she had any right to expect.
“Hmm …” Mordred glanced around. “I suppose you could take some of the stuff from this place … ‘twould cost a fortune to ship back to Albion, but it would be cheaper than buying all new … you wouldn’t mind, would you?”
Rosette looked around at the silks and polished woods, the embossed decorations and the embroidery on the seat-cushions, and thought of her parents’ home back in Albion. She thought of the still-splintery table, the mattresses stuffed with straw, the barrel they used as a table for their checkers set. “I wouldn’t mind at all,” she murmured.”
“Good, good … as for the indenture …” He glanced at her stomach. “How long before …” He gestured.
She put her hand against her belly. “At least–at least a couple of months. And I could probably hide it for a little longer.”
Mordred nodded. “And we go home in a month … yes, this could work …” He frowned. “I’ll have to ask my father to put things in train and have them ready to sign when we get home … Sir Bors is so cash-strapped that he might ask for more money if he knew you were …” He glanced significantly at her belly.
“Oh,” Rosette murmured. She rested her head on Mordred’s shoulder. “Mordred?”
“You’re not … angry, are you?”
“I already said you had nothing to be sorry for.”
“That’s not the same thing as not being angry.”
He sighed. “I am a little … chagrined … the timing is not ideal … still, as long as we keep you and your stomach out of the Gwynedds’ sight until the marriage is a done deal … they shan’t be able to say anything. As long as I don’t flaunt you in front of Lady Dindrane and do my duty by her … no, they shan’t be able to say anything.” He suddenly narrowed his eyes and stared closely at her. “You’re not–you’re not upset, are you?”
“No, no, Mordred! Not …” She sighed. “Not now that I think everything’s going to be all right.”
“It will. Never fear that, Rosette. I’ll take care of you–no matter what happens.” And suddenly he smiled. “Besides, I’d hate to be the only one at all excited about this.”
“Excited?” she asked.
“Of course … at the end of the day, after all, I get to have a child with the most beautiful woman in Albion … what’s there not to be excited about?” he laughed.
He smiled and kissed her forehead. “So … feeling better?”
“Good.” He got up and helped her to her feet. “Now everything will be all right. You just leave everything to me.” He suddenly sighed. “Though I must say, I almost hope our child is not a boy …”
“Not a son?” Rosette asked, staring at him.
“Aye …” He grinned. “Imagine if he got your looks … poor boy, he’d be beaten to a pulp every day at school.”
Rosette laughed. “Then his father would just have to teach him a few dirty tricks.”
Mordred smirked and pulled Rosette closer. “Indeed he would.” He kissed her, so gently, on the lips. “Indeed he would.”