Author’s Disclaimer: When you see Claire, she’s gonna be huge. And I mean HUGE. Like third trimester huge, even though, story-wise, she’s only just begun her second trimester. Don’t read anything into this. I’ve got a weird glitch in my game where second-trimester pregnant Sims, if they appear in the game off their home lot (i.e. at a community lot or somebody else’s home), they look like they’re in their third trimester. *throws up hands* I don’t get it!
“Where are the brides?” Lady Guinevere du Lac asked as the Queen sat next to her. She gestured to the table, more overburdened with flower samples, wine samples, centerpiece samples, sample samples than it had been, in recent memory, with food. “Isn’t it their job to at least look through some of this?”
“You’re not getting out of this that easy, Gwen.”
“It’s a serious question!” Guinevere protested. “After all, Jessie and Lady Lynn are more likely to … well, they’re more likely to care about all this than my son is, that’s for certain.”
“Or than you are?” Alison chuckled as she smoothed her skirts.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that,” Guinevere replied, looking over the display of samples. “I appreciate a good aesthetic display as much as anyone. Though I do wonder just how we’re going to fit all the family colors in without causing an eye-searing mess.”
“Jess already suggested doing everything in lavender and calling it a day.”
“She would try that.”
“Indeed. It’s a good thing she’s met your son — if we had to marry her off to a Reman nobleman, she would have pined for the loss of her purple.”
“Or tried to coax her husband into usurping the emperor so she could get it back.”
“Or that.” Alison bit her lower lip. “Gwen, have I mentioned to you — in all seriousness — just how grateful I am that your son is one of us?”
Guinevere nodded. She knew how it was for Queens, to raise a daughter from babyhood just to the brink of glowing womanhood, then let her go and watch her move to a faraway land, perhaps never to be seen again. It would be hard enough, she knew, losing her Leona to the de Ganises — and they were close enough that she could ride over there on a moment’s notice and slap both Bors and Elyan silly, whenever they should need a good slapping. She couldn’t imagine how hard it would have been to watch her go to another country.
Though, while she was — mentally — on the subject of the de Ganises … “Have you heard from Lady Claire?” Guinevere asked.
“She did confirm she was coming, didn’t she?” asked Alison. “Though I must say, it was awfully sweet of you to have this meeting here, so she wouldn’t have to travel so far in her … delicate condition.”
“So you haven’t talked to her.”
“Not about anything more than pleasantries — why?”
Guinevere made a face. “I’m considering bribing the midwife.”
“Alison, I — look, you know Lady Claire doesn’t confide much in me, but Bors talks to Lance, and Lance — Lance has been over there for various things, and he’s worried. The — the child is being really rough on her. And of course Bors is no help.”
“I would think that this is the only possible occasion in which Bors would be any help — considering that the baby might be a boy, after all.”
“Yes, but though Bors wouldn’t care if she lazed around in bed all day, considering, he still expects his dinner to be on the table precisely at six, he still expects his clothing to be perfectly washed and pressed, he still expects to not find a single dust mote on the furniture.”
“Gwen, you’re exaggerating. Even Arthur wouldn’t mind a few extra dust motes if I was pregnant and couldn’t supervise the servants as well as usually! And he grew up in palaces!”
“Alison, Arthur is a reasonable man — and from what you tell me, he’s almost as bad as Lancelot on the neatness front. I swear you could put Lancelot in a pigsty and he wouldn’t notice the filth for at least a week.”
“All right, all right, I am exaggerating about Lance. He’d probably notice the smell in about a day or so. But where was I?”
“Bors not cutting Lady Claire any slack.”
“Right! Poor thing. I don’t know how to help her — I mean, you couldn’t give Bors some money to hire a halfway decent housekeeper, he wouldn’t accept it. Nor would Lady Claire. And even if I did bribe Kata Thatcher to put her on bed rest or something, either Bors would badger Lady Claire into resuming her ‘wifely duties’ –”
“Oh, Wright, don’t tell me he’s making her still do that!”
“No, no, not that wifely duty — that one, he knows, could injure the baby — or make a twin, I swear that’s how we got either Galahad or Leona — but anyway, not that wifely duty, just all the other ones. And Bors would badger her back into them, or else he’d demand that one of the other girls interrupt their studies to pick of Lady Claire’s slack.”
“What about Angelique? Surely the nunnery could spare her if it was to help out her own mother.”
“Oh, please, do you think Bors would ever be that sensible?”
Alison chuckled. “Touché, Gwen. So what do you think …” She trailed off as footsteps entered the room, and both women turned around to see the steward waiting patiently in the doorway.
He bowed once. “The Lady Claire, my lady — your majesty.”
“Send her in,” Guinevere replied, and both women leaned back and tried to wipe the guilt of gossip off their faces.
Slowly, another set of footsteps tread nearer and nearer to the door. Guinevere looked around the Queen to try to see the visitor. As for what she saw … well.
If all Bors wanted was a healthy baby, he was in luck, because he was probably due for a very sturdy and healthy baby. If he wanted a healthy baby and a healthy wife … there, his luck seemed poised to run out.
Lady Claire looked exhausted. She could barely seem to keep her eyes open as shambled slowly to the other side of the table, grabbing the nearest available chair that would put her directly opposite either Guinevere or Alison. Her already-pale face was even more so, and her cheekbones were unusually sharp and well-defined. Guinevere was not a betting woman, but suddenly she found herself in the position that she could probably safely wager a year’s pin-money that all the fat in Claire’s body had migrated down to her stomach.
The worst was when she tried to be polite and smile — her face became an obscenely grinning skull. It was all Guinevere could do to smile back.
Wright, this woman needs help!
“My lady — your Majesty,” Claire said softly. She took a deep breath. “Forgive me for not waiting upon your pleasure …”
“Oh, that’s no trouble at all,” Guinevere replied. “Please, please — a woman in your condition shouldn’t spend any more time standing than is strictly necessary.”
Claire tried to smile again.
“And how are you, my lady?” Alison asked.
“Oh, I’m quite well.” Claire rubbed her stomach as she spoke. Aye, that part of you is well, but how about the rest? Guinevere wondered. “And yourself, Majesty? Lady Guinevere?”
They both made polite murmurs of assent. Then the awkward silence set in — the silence in which both of the women on the side of the table nearest the fireplace, Guinevere knew, were trying to think of a polite way to suggest Claire take it easy, while the woman on the other side …
“Well, did I miss anything?” Claire asked with a faux cheerfulness.
Maybe the best thing they could do for her, right now, was to get this particular meeting over as quickly as possible so she could get home and into bed — or something. “We were just, um, discussing –”
“Flowers,” Alison broke in. “I was just asking Gwen, what flowers Will would prefer — if he would have a preference.”
“Ones that don’t stink,” Guinevere answered without thinking. “Er — I mean –”
“You don’t have to explain, Gwen, that’s pretty much what Tommy said in his letter — go wild as long as he doesn’t smell of them for the next week running.” Alison laughed and Guinevere wondered if Claire heard how on-edge it sounded. “Well, my Lady Claire? Has Gwendolyn any preference?”
Claire’s smile, this time, was of a slow, gentle variety — slow enough that Guinevere could get used to the effect. “She loves hibiscus.”
“Hibiscus. That won’t clash with — er — what is the Princess’s favorite flower?”
“Lilacs, what else?” Alison laughed. She turned to Lady Claire. “We were discussing, before you came in, how my Jessie had suggested solving the dilemma of using all the familes’ colors by decorating the church and reception area in lavender.”
“Blue, red and white, you see,” Guinevere put in.
“And purple happens to be my daughter’s favorite color, so … well, it was a rather transparent ruse.”
“Gwendolyn likes pink,” Claire murmured. “And periwinkle blue … she’s always had more of a preference for pastels. Not like Clarice, Clarice always goes for bold, rich colors, the boldest and richest her father can afford for her clothing … and Angelique …”
But Claire would not talk about Angelique. She turned slightly to the side, staring into space.
“It must be such a blessing to have daughters — I mean, daughters plural, because of course I know all the joys of having a daughter,” Alison said with a small and patently false titter. “But to be able to compare these things of taste … well … I’m sure Gwen will back me up on this, but boys are just no fun in that regard. Mine … mine will wear anything that isn’t torn, smelly or stained.” Alison sighed. “And sometimes not even that.”
“But even so, sons carry other blessings,” Claire murmured, still staring off into space. “Especially born early in the marriage.” She rubbed her stomach again and shifted in her chair.
Alison and Guinevere exchanged glances, and Guinevere swiftly changed the subject to the types of music that would be preferable at the service and reception.
They were able to get so carried away in this subject, naming the songs and dances that their children had begged to be played, as well as those which the children (and their parents) had insisted would not be played, that Guinevere didn’t even realize that Claire’s responses were getting fewer and farther between — not until Alison called out, “My lady, are you all right?”
Claire knocked her head back, blinking swiftly. “I — what?”
“Oh, my lady,” Alison murmured. “You don’t look very well. Are you feeling all right?”
“I — I’m so sorry — I just — I …”
Lady Claire — the poised, the polished, the so-bloody-unemotional-you-wondered-if-she-had-any, embarrassed! Discomfited! Confused!
And a bit greenish, now that Guinevere was noticing. She remembered what Lance had told her, earlier, about Claire’s morning-noon-and-night sickness, how during his short meeting with Bors, he had counted her running back and forth to the privy with a hand over her mouth no less than four times. Guinevere bit her lip.
“Lady Claire, would you like to lay down?” she asked. “Leona’s room is still clean and comfortable, I’m assured.” Cleaner than it ever was when she was living there!
“I — oh, but that would be so rude! When I came here specifically to help …”
“My lady,” Alison replied, with just a touch of the firmness that came out whenever she had to deal with the recalcitrance of her sons or her husband, “we are all women here. Surely, we can understand how … how one is not up to one’s usual stamina at these times.”
Claire looked from one to other, then, without further ado, murmured, “Thank you,” and began her slow, shambling way out of the room.
“Do you need any help?” Alison asked.
“No, no — thank you, Majesty — I’ll just call for a footman.”
Guinevere and Alison watched Claire shamble out the door, then, as soon as she was out of earshot, turned to each other. “We’ve got to do something,” Guinevere announced.
“I know. But wha–”
“What was –” Alison started, but Guinevere didn’t give her a chance to finish — she was already up and running.
“Oh, Wright!” Guinevere called as she skidded to a halt.
“Oh, my goodness!” Alison added when she stopped, slightly behind Guinevere.
“Alfred!” Guinevere called over to her shoulder to the steward — who had to be around here, somewhere, he just had to be. “Alfred, get the midwife! And get a footman to help us get her upstairs!”
Then Queen and noblewoman got on their knees, to give the prone Lady Claire whatever assistance they could.
To be continued …