Yet another author’s disclaimer: Turns out that Claire’s nightgown doesn’t have a pregmorph! And damned if I could figure out how to change it while she was at someone else’s house. ARGH! Suspend your disbelief, pretty please?
Waiting, Guinevere knew, was always the worst.
Waiting for news. Waiting for confirmation of disaster or salvation. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Claire was upstairs in Leona’s old bedroom, as comfortable as they could make her. Alison had sat with her, held her hand and wet her brow while Guinevere barked orders to the servants. One servant was sent with the fastest horse in the stables to fetch the midwife, another was sent with a much slower horse to track down Sir Bors. A third fetched an old, loose nightgown of Guinevere’s, because surely that tightly laced dress wasn’t helping Claire any. The Queen and one of the leading noblewomen of the land wrestled the unconscious Claire out of her gown and into the nightgown. From there they went to home remedies for fainting, none of which worked before the midwife arrived and shooed them out of the room.
They had done all they could. So now there was nothing for Guinevere and Alison to sit on the bench nearest to the staircase, and wait.
“You know,” Alison murmured, “perhaps — perhaps it would be better if I left. You certainly don’t need –”
“Don’t you dare!” Guinevere hissed. “You’re not leaving me alone with — with all this!” She sighed. “How long do you think it will take Mistress Thatcher to …?”
“I don’t know,” Alison admitted. She shifted, absently fluffing her skirts. Not a word about leaving now, Guinevere noticed. “If either of us had any idea what she was attempting to do …”
“If — if Claire is losing the baby …”
“We didn’t see any blood, when we were undressing her,” Guinevere murmured. “There — there’s supposed to be blood — isn’t there?”
“That’s what the midwife always told me to watch out for. But I never …”
“Nor did I.”
The two women glanced at each other. “Maybe it hadn’t started yet — for Claire, I mean,” Guinevere suggested.
“Or maybe she’s not losing the baby.”
“Maybe.” Guinevere sighed. “I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.”
The two women went back to staring at the fireplace — and waiting.
They sat that way, in silence, until they heard a set of footsteps pounding along the walk and a body fly through the door. “Where is she?”
Oh, hell, was Guinevere’s first thought when she turned and saw Bors. Her second was, Well, I suppose this beats waiting.
She rose slowly, smoothing the front of her dress. “Sir Bors.”
He turned and stared at her. “Where’s Claire?” he asked. “Has she lost the child?”
“We don’t know yet,” Alison said. “The midwife is with her now.”
Bors nodded once to Alison, mumbled something that Guinevere guessed was supposed to be a thanks, and turned to Guinevere again. “Where is she?”
“Upstairs, in Leona’s room.”
“And where is that?”
He’s not seriously considering — “Sir Bors, you can’t possibly be thinking of going up there?”
“Why not? It’s my child that might be lost!”
Oh, Wright! “Because the midwife is working, and you can’t interrupt her now! Really, Sir Bors, both Claire’s life and the child may depend upon the midwife not being distracted and being able to do all she can!”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on staying there!” he snapped. He put his hands on his hips and made a face, a face like a wizened old woman might make at the merchant she thought was cheating her. “I simply need to know what is happening!”
“Lady Guinevere and I would both like to know what is happening, too,” Alison said, rising. She adjusted her hood, stuck up her chin, and did her best to look down on Bors while not actually being taller than he. “But Sir Bors, it is simply impossible to disturb the midwife now. We care too much about Lady Claire — to say nothing of the child.”
“Besides, it’s not like you’d even think of leaving before the midwife had done all she could for Lady Claire,” Guinevere added, just in case Bors did have a foolish idea like that in his head. “You’d have to wait anyway. Why not wait on the midwife’s convenience–”
“Peasant or not,” Alison replied, “she is the expert here, and you, Sir Bors, are not. I am certain that she will come down as soon as she is certain that leaving Lady Claire will be safe, and after she has done all she could.”
“Perhaps she has not yet come down because there was no one with the proper authority for her to report to.”
If Guinevere had been a Queen, and Bors — or anyone — had said such a thing as that in her presence, she would have been livid. As it was, she was still rather annoyed — even more annoyed, considering she’d had the servant who fetched the midwife take with him a few silver coins, just to make certain that Claire’s health wasn’t going to be sacrificed to Bors’s skinflint ways.
But, not for the first time, Guinevere was made to understand that it was a very, very good thing she wasn’t Queen. Alison didn’t even blink. “If Mistress Thatcher had felt it was safe to leave Lady Claire, then she would have come down,” she replied. “And though, naturally, she would have saved a full and complete report for you or someone else related to her, she certainly would have told us whether Lady Claire was like to recover, or whether she had lost the child or not. Since she has not come down, it is only reasonable that she is still caring for Lady Claire, and the child.”
Bors bit his lip, then beckoned to a page. “You — boy — tell the midwife that I’m here, and to come down as soon as possible.”
“Young man,” Alison said before the boy did any such thing, ” wait. What Sir Bors means is that you will go instead to what was the Lady Leona’s former bedroom, and you will wait outside the door. If the servant we assigned to Mistress Thatcher to fetch and carry and provide other assistance comes out of the room, you will give her the message to repeat to Mistress Thatcher. Thank you, you may go.” The page looked at Guinevere, who nodded, too impressed with Alison’s quick thinking to even consider doing otherwise. The page went running before he could get any more contradictory orders.
And before Bors could do more than level a glare at her, Alison shot him her most blinding smile. “That is what you meant to say, is it not, Sir Bors?”
“No, Majesty, it was not! I –”
“What a pity,” Alison replied. “My order was far more intelligent.”
Bors stared at her, nostrils flaring, fingers twitching — Guinevere sucked in her breath, ready to expel it in a call for guards —
But alas, though Bors could not give a sensible order to a page to save his life, he was smart enough to know that attempting to strike the Queen, or even scold her, was not the kind of act he wanted to do. Instead, he huffed, and like a spoiled child retreated to one of the other benches, to cross his arms and stare into space and sulk.
Guinevere and Alison retook their seats. The celebrations would have to remain until later — if, indeed, there was still anything to celebrate about, come later.
Guinevere sighed, and they began to wait again.
It was the sigh that first alerted Guinevere to the midwife’s probable presence, a sigh followed swiftly by slow, shuffling steps down the staircase. She knew the footfalls of her staff well enough to know that not one of them walked like that — she was already turning around —
Alerted by her reaction, Alison and Bors sat up and turned, too. Thus, when Mistress Thatcher finally rounded the corner and appeared on the landing, one hand rubbing her temple, she was greeted by a nobleman, a noblewoman and a Queen.
“How does the child?” Bors asked before poor Mistress Thatcher could even get down the rest of the steps.
Guinevere felt Alison’s gaze on her, but didn’t trust herself to look — if she felt herself emboldened by the Queen’s approval, it would probably take the strength of Lancelot, Will and Leona combined to keep her from hitting Bors.
Not that Leona would ever add her strength to that particular cause.
Mistress Thatcher sighed. “I wish I could tell you.”
“What?” Bors snapped. “Has she lost him or not?”
“If by ‘him,’ you mean the babe, no, she has not lost the babe.” Mistress Thatcher waited for Bors to puff up with pride before she added, “Yet.”
“What?” This time Bors’s voice was barely more than a whisper.
“Your lady is not well,” Mistress Thatcher replied. “Not well at all. Frankly, she’s exhausted and overwrought — this pregnancy has taken a lot out of her already, and she’s barely halfway through it. Frankly, if she doesn’t get a great deal of rest, and soon, I won’t be at all surprised if her body expels the child in order to save itself.”
“Nonsense. That’s impossible. Claire knows her duty.”
“With all due respect, my lord, duty has nothing to do with this.”
“Duty has everything to do with this! Claire will not lose the child if she can possibly help it! She knows better!”
“My lord, my lord, please calm down! Of course Lady Claire would never willingly do anything to endanger the child, or cause her to lose it. But her body won’t care about that. Her body will see that the child is taking up too many resources, to the point that it is endangering her health; nay, her life — and it will deal with that threat. Her body will only care about its own survival.”
Guinevere astonished herself, she really did. She felt truly sorry for Bors as the blood left his face. He gulped. “What can be done?”
He didn’t even spoil the effect by adding, “to keep the child safe.”
“Rest,” Mistress Thatcher said without hesitation. “She will do best if she is off her feet, in bed or on a sofa as often as possible. And by ‘as often as possible’ I mean most of the day. She can take gentle walks through the house a couple times a day, to keep her circulation going — and of course tend to bathing and, er, other bodily business, but other than that, she should be resting.”
Bors nodded slowly. “What else?”
“She should have as little to deal with as possible, in terms of — er — other duties. I mean duties of housekeeping –”
“My wife, mistress, hardly does much in the way of housekeeping!”
“Of course, my lord — forgive me, I lack the words for what I seek to describe — what I mean to say is, whatever other duties she has, by way of supervising the other servants, ensuring that the household runs smoothly, etc., should be taken off her hands completely.”
Bors made a face, but to his credit, he nodded. “Anything else?”
“She should drink plenty of water — not wine, but good, fresh, clean water. And — forgive me if this sounds finicky, but her clothing — when I was examining her, I noticed that there were red welts from where her clothing was too tight — from lacing and things of that nature. It would be better if she were to dispense with all that until the end of her pregnancy.”
“I will inform her,” Bors replied. “Is that all, or can I bring her home?”
Mistress Thatcher blinked, and glanced at Guinevere. “Er … my lord, that would not be at all advisable just now.”
“What? Are you to tell me she can’t return to her own home?” Bors snapped.
“She can rest well here,” Guinevere put in. “Sir Bors, you needn’t worry about a thing. I’ll make sure she’s taken care of.”
“Nonsense, Lady Guinevere, you don’t have your husband’s permission.”
“Oh, please, Sir Bors! Do you really think Lance would say no?”
He didn’t have an answer for that, or at least he didn’t have it very quickly. “My lord,” Mistress Thatcher said, “what I meant — well, when you bring her home, I would advise that she go in a hand-carried litter. Not a carriage, and certainly not on horseback. Since that will take a while … well …” She gestured to the window. “My lord, it’s getting late and near to dark. It would be far better to let her rest overnight, and take her home in the morning.”
“I see. I see.” Bors bit his lip. “Can I see her?” He sounded almost like a child asking its mother for sweets.
“Yes, of course, my lord. But I must warn you –”
“I gave her a sleeping draught — to make sure she rests. So she won’t be able to talk to you.”
“Oh. Oh, well, if that’s all …” Without so much as a by-your-leave, he headed upstairs.
Guinevere, Alison and the midwife exchanged glances, and without a word, Alison and Guinevere followed him.
They waited a good ten minutes before Guinevere (it was her home) got up the courage to knock on the door. “Enter,” Bors said, and Guinevere and Alison entered.
They stood at the foot of the bed, not saying a word, while Bors sat near the head. Claire was pale and unmoving.
“Sir Bors,” Guinevere said — almost choking on her words — “if you wish to stay the night — to be sure she’s well — you know you’re more than welcome.”
He looked up. “Thank you, Lady Guinevere.” He glanced again at Claire. “But that will not be necessary. Elyan should be arriving at home soon — and of course the servants have no idea — and I will not tell him of this in note form, or by a messenger. I’ll leave soon.”
That was so reasonable, even Guinevere couldn’t argue with it.
“But I would ask you ladies for a favor, if I could.”
“Of course, Sir Bors,” Alison replied.
He pursed his lips together. “I’ve been thinking of the girls — Gwendolyn and Clarice. I would rather not have to send this news to them by way of writing — there is no point in worrying them when there is nothing that can be done by them — but it appears that there is no other choice. So I have decided that it would be best if I do not write to them at all, but wait until Claire is well enough — that way, if they must learn that their mother is unwell by writing, they will at least see that she is in no danger.”
That was … less reasonable, but at the same time, Guinevere could see why he might want to do that.
“So I would ask — will you two, please, not write to your own children of this? It would be even worse if they were to find this out by rumor or hearsay.”
Guinevere bit her lip and looked at Alison. Alison looked at Guinevere.
“I think,” Alison replied, slowly, “we can manage that, Sir Bors.”
And hopefully, Guinevere thought, looking at Claire, we won’t have to manage it for very long.