Staring at her reflection in her mother’s vanity (her mother’s vanity because her father refused to buy one for her), Angelique de Ganis pondered what had, in the past few months, become some of the existential questions of her life.
Number one: Did the Lord Wright hate her?
Number two: If not, why had her father selected her to go to the nunnery out of his three daughters?
Number three: And in any case, was there any way to get out of it?
Angelique rested her chin on her hands and thought. The first two questions, though important, weren’t much use to dwell on — not when the third was unanswered. Especially not at this juncture, when the servants were packing her trunk (one, single trunk, that was all she was allowed to bring) for the journey tomorrow.
So stop procrastinating, Angelique, and think! Some girls, she knew, could wrap their fathers around their fingers with a well-placed pout or puppy-dog stare. Angelique had never been one of those girls. Or was it that Bors was never one of those fathers? He certainly never stood any of what he would call “nonsense” from the girls. And “nonsense” had a rather broad definition — as far as Angelique could tell, it was whatever happened to annoy Bors at the moment. Any attempt to try to talk him out of making her go would be nonsense for sure — or worse. (What “worse” was Angelique didn’t know, and wasn’t sure she wanted to.)
So what else? Could she just refuse to go? Refuse to get into the carriage? Not likely … Angelique had a sense her father wouldn’t care whether she wanted to go or not, if she pitched a fit at the last second he’d just toss her into the back of the carriage like so much baggage and leave with her screaming all the way rather than be embarrassed by being forced to break his word.
Could she run away?
She stared hard into the mirror, debating that. Run away … and do what?
She could sing, she knew that … even Bors admitted that she could sing. Maybe she could do that. Find a powerful lord, sing for him, and offer to become a court bard for him. Surely any lord would be honored to have a voice like hers to grace his court. And it probably wouldn’t be much different a life than she had now — she’d still have a comfortable room, pretty clothes (probably more pretty clothes than she had now, to be honest), and plenty of boys to flirt with …
But that plan collapsed around her in tatters as she realized that there were only four powerful lords in Albion (including her father), and all of them knew her. And thus they would send her straight back to her father. She could, perhaps, go to Reme or Glasonland, but how? She didn’t have money for passage on a boat. She was a horrible rider and couldn’t drive the carriage. And walking … that would take days, weeks even, and she couldn’t walk that far. And she didn’t have money for food and places to stay, not even for a smelly old inn. Angelique’s nose wrinkled at the thought.
So what could she do?
“Angelique? Shouldn’t you be packing?”
Angelique started. “M-mother.”
One of Claire’s eyebrows went up. “Is there something the matter?”
“I … I …” Angelique swallowed and laid her cards on the table. “Do I have to go to the nunnery tomorrow?”
And she held her breath.
Whatever Claire was thinking — or feeling — about this request, she didn’t show it. “Your father has already made the arrangements. They’re expecting you.”
“But — but –”
Instead of answering, or cutting Angelique off, Claire turned to the door. She gazed down the hallway, and then — to Angelique’s utter shock — slid the bolt home. “Sit down,” Claire said, nodding to the bench, “and tell me what’s wrong.”
Dazedly, Angelique got up and stumbled to the cushioned bench. Claire sat down beside her. “Now, Angelique — are you asking not to go to the convent tomorrow — or not to go at all?”
Angelique blinked without being able to answer — for she had never expected her mother, who, so far as Angelique could remember, had never contradicted or questioned her father or any of his decisions, to even be considering a rebellion of this magnitude. “Not to go at all.”
“Then get that thought out of your head, Angelique, for I can’t help you with that. Your father made his decision years ago and he shan’t change his mind now.”
“But why?” Angelique asked in a tone that was perilously close to a whine.
“Angelique, the Lord Wright … blessed your father and I with three lovely daughters. Don’t you think it’s fitting that we try to return the gift to him?”
“But why me? Why not — why not Clarice?” Mentioning Lynn’s name would be a no-go, since Lynn was the most beautiful girl in the kingdom (after all, if the Prince wanted your hand, that made you the most beautiful girl by default). Clarice, on the other hand, Clarice could be pretty, Angelique supposed, but she was nothing to Angelique. And who would look past Clarice’s faulty complexion to see any beauty that might — might — be lurking underneath? “Clarice is so studious, she might actually like the nunnery.”
“Your father has other plans for Clarice,” Claire replied, though something in the pinched set of her mouth hinted that Claire wasn’t particularly fond of those plans. Or probably Father just has no plans, and Mother doesn’t like that very much. It wasn’t like there would be suitors lining up at the door for Clarice’s hand …
“But … what if sending Clarice instead of me is the better option?”
“How would it be the better option?”
“Um … well, she likes babies — so she’d be better in the nuns’ orphanage!”
“Liking babies would also help her to become an excellent wife and mother.”
Drat, that was something she hadn’t considered … “But what if she ended up barren? Then her husband would just send her to the nunnery anyway!”
“And what makes you think that Clarice would be barren?”
“Well, she might be. Lots of women are barren.”
“And you know for certain that you wouldn’t be?”
Angelique hesitated. “Well, my courses are more regular than hers are. And I got mine sooner.”
Claire shook her head. “My courses were just as irregular as Clarice’s are when I was her age. That doesn’t mean anything.”
“… Oh.” Angelique’s eyes fell to her skirt. “But …” She whispered, so low she wasn’t sure her mother would be able to hear her, “But what if I don’t want to go?”
Claire was never a very affectionate mother — most of the kisses and cuddles Angelique remembered from when she was young had come from her grandmother — but she reached out and patted Angelique’s hand. Just once, but Angelique was still startled. “I’ll talk to your father,” was all she said. “Maybe we can wait another year.”
Angelique looked up, her eyes shining. “But,” Claire said before Angelique could reply, “don’t count on anything. You know what your father is like.” She patted Angelique’s hand once more. “Now get back to your packing. Because more than likely, you’ll be leaving tomorrow.”
Whether Angelique even heard the last part was questionable, for a flame of hope, once lit, was hard to extinguish. She all-but-skipped out of the room (stopping only to unlock the door). Claire watched her retreating back and sighed.
She shouldn’t have even given Angelique that much hope — but even though she knew her duty as a wife, it was hard for a mother’s heart to bear the thought of sending her bright and vibrant girl to stifle in a convent. She owed it to Angelique to try.
So it was with a sigh that Claire got up, dusted her dress off, and began to mentally prepare herself for the coming battle.
Claire had not chance to talk to Bors until they were both preparing for bed, which was just as well. Pillow-talk was the only one of her woman’s wiles that stood a chance of working with Bors. Everything else he simply dismissed.
But on the other hand, she couldn’t look too eager — either for potential lovemaking (as if, they hadn’t made love in years, though he still came to her bed regularly), or for conversation. So she buried her nose in a book while Bors shuffled around and eventually made his way to the bed.
Taking Bors’s grunt as her cue, she put the book away. But before he could grab her for a perfunctory attempt to engender a child (unlikely at her age, but Bors still was dutifully trying for a spare son), Claire said, “Bors, I think we need to talk.”
“Talk? About what?”
“About Angelique.” Claire hesitated, then said, “I — I’m not certain she’s ready for the convent yet.”
“Not ready?” Bors asked. “What’s to be ready for?”
“The religious life is a heavy responsibility,” Claire edged. “And she’s so young … and you must admit, Bors, she’s not the most calm and serious of girls.”
Bors snorted. “Best to send her sooner, then, knock those silly ideas out of her head.” He glared at her. “Did she ask you to talk to me?”
“Of course not, dear. Angelique would never dream of doing that. I’ve just noticed … well, it might be well if we wait another year. Right now she’s built the whole thing up so much in her mind … well, you know what young girls are.”
“She’s being hysterical, you mean?”
“A little.” Claire hesitated. “You know, you could still take her over tomorrow. But just to let her get acquainted with the nuns first. After all, if she was getting married, I would have taken her to her future husband’s home for tea a few times by now. It’s a bit much to ask a young woman to go from being a daughter to a nun in one day, to throw her into a place where she knows nobody and isn’t technically even part of her old family anymore …”
Bors snorted. “You’ve had fourteen years to get her acquainted with the nuns. Am I to truly believe you wouldn’t fritter away the one coming as you have the last fourteen?” He shook her head. “No, she goes tomorrow. She should have gone two years ago. But …” He sighed. “Anyway, she goes tomorrow. And thanks to Sir Mordred Orkney buying that girl’s indenture — well — I was able to give her a bit better dowry than I might have.”
By that, Claire gathered that the windfall coming from the buying out of Rosette Chevaux’s indenture had been the only thing that enabled Bors to afford to send Angelique to the nunnery at this time, and that if he tried to sit on the money, by this time next year he probably wouldn’t have it.
“So that is that,” Bors said. “Now, wife …” He held out his arm and raised one eyebrow.
And with that Claire knew that her battle was lost, and there was nothing left to do but to lie back and allow her husband to claim his marital right.
Angelique learned of her mother’s failure when, the next morning, before dawn, she was roused by one of the servants and told to dress. Her trunk was already removed from her bedroom. With a sigh — because now there was no more delaying — Angelique did as she was told.
She went down to the vestibule to find her family all gathered around, waiting to say goodbye. Elyan yawned openly, clearly not happy to have left his bed this early. And while Bors would have yelled at any of the girls for such a display (as he had when Angelique had been yawning when they all said good bye to Lynn), to Elyan he sent an indulgent smile.
Angelique tried very hard not to sigh — or worse, burst into tears — and her family wasn’t making it easy. Especially not Clarice. Because Clarice came up to her with tears standing in her eyes, grabbed Angelique and held her close. “You be sure to write, you hear?” she whispered. “It’ll be lonely without you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bors scolded. “Your brother is still here, and so is your mother. You should be rejoicing for your sister’s bright future.”
For a fraction of a second Clarice’s embrace became tighter — and then she let go entirely. “Yes, Father.” But was it Angelique’s imagination, or was her tone less dutiful than … annoyed?
She didn’t have time to ponder this, though, for Elyan was the next to hug her, and after that her mother. “Let’s go,” Bors said as soon as Claire let go, giving Angelique only a moment to nod to the servants before following her father to the coach.
He climbed onto the driver’s seat — they couldn’t afford a full-time coachman, though Bors made certain to hire a temporary one for important events. Apparently shipping her off to the convent wasn’t such an important event.
“You can sit up here,” Bors said, patting the bench beside him. “No point guarding your complexion now.”
“Yes, Father.” As she climbed up and settled into the seat, she closed her eyes.
“What’s the matter?” Bors snapped.
“Nothing, Father — I’m just a little sleepy. The earliness of the hour.”
Bors snorted. “Well, you’d better get used to the earliness,” Bors replied. “You’ll be getting up this early for the rest of your life.”
“Yes, Father.” And so Angelique sighed and resigned herself to not looking at the future, as it rose up bleak and empty before her.