“Mr. Ferreira, I do not understand your impatience,” said Sir Bors de Ganis. “I have given my word of honor that this marriage will take place. Why do you continue to insist that the betrothal be sealed soon?”
Of course you don’t understand, Sir Bors — you lack at least half the brain mass most other Sims possess! Richard, of course, could not say this to the nobleman — although someday, when Freddy and Lady Clarice were safely wed and could not be severed, he promised himself that he would — but he could think it, even as he tried to scramble for an excuse that Sir Bors would accept.
He found one and mentally apologized to Freddy for the way he was about to blacken his name. “Sir Bors, we both are grown men and understand the value of each others’ words, but the young ones … I know my son would feel far more secure if he knew his future was safely planned. Sorry, Freddy! I’ll make it up to you someday, I promise!
Sir Bors did not look unimpressed. “Naturally, you would know your son’s securities and insecurities better than I would,” the knight began. Aye, I ought to, considering that you’ve never met my son! “But I assure you that my daughter has always been secure in the knowledge that her future will be planned, and that she need worry about nothing.”
Wright, what kind of spineless lady am I marrying my son to?
It didn’t matter — or, well, it would someday, but not right now. And who knew, maybe the girl would grow a spine, or at least a brain, or both, away from her father’s influence. Richard doubted it, but he supposed anything was possible.
“My lord,” Richard replied, “young men are not the same as young ladies. Though your daughter is probably content to wait until you indicate to her what her future will be, young men are — restless. Certainly you, yourself, remember what it was like to be Frederick’s age?”
“Naturally — I was, indeed, restless, as you point out.” Before Richard could do a jig at the prospect of finally getting through to this imbecile, Sir Bors continued, “But I certainly was not quite so ‘restless’ to find out who my future spouse would be — though, of course, marriage is but a relatively small part of a man’s life, while it is the center of a woman’s existence.”
Richard glanced sidelong at the other man. I didn’t … actually hear what I thought I just heard, did I?
Sir Bors didn’t actually think that, did he? Of course men had more opportunities to make names for themselves outside the home, of course in the world of men it was one’s accomplishments, one’s good name, one’s wallet that counted for everything, but … if Richard hadn’t met, hadn’t married Bianca, he would still be an obscure merchant seaman, a bloody clerk, sent along with a far wealthier man’s cargoes to make certain all arrived safely. He’d still be scrambling for extra room to fit his own cargoes into to try to get ahead.
If he hadn’t met and married Bianca, he’d have no Dannie, no Freddy, no George, no new baby.
How could his marriage be anything but one of the most, if not the most significant event in his life?
Richard swallowed. “My — er — my son does not see it quite like that, my lord. He …” How to explain Freddy’s feelings and his own without destroying Sir Bors’s estimation of their masculinity? “Well, like all young men, he seeks to have it all,” Richard finally decided. “Success at home, fame abroad — and domestic happiness. As such, he — well, he is quite eager to meet his future bride, and to — well — attempt to woo her.”
That was a lie; Richard knew — from Dannie’s letters — that Freddy and Clarice had met already. What Freddy felt about the young lady, he didn’t know; Freddy had never once mentioned her in his letters home. Richard found that a very troubling sign, but both Maude and Bianca had told him not to worry about it, even as they poured over Dannie’s letters to her grandmother for hints and clues (that they refused to share with him).
“I assure you, no wooing will be necessary. My daughter knows her duty.”
Damn you for a fool, don’t you know that there’s more to life than duty? Does it not ever occur to you that there are some men who might want more from a wife than cold duty? “My lord –”
Richard heard a door open and slam shut and jumped in spite of himself. Even Sir Bors seemed to come alert. “What the –” Sir Bors said, rising, one hand near his belt where a sword would be if Sir Bors had been wearing one.
“Hey! You, churl! Stop there!” Richard didn’t know that voice, but it was light, easy — a young man’s voice. A spoiled young man’s voice. Probably Sir Bors’s son —
“Get out of my WAY, you inbred ass, I need to find my father!”
Richard definitely knew that voice.
“George!” he called, jumping to his feet. What is he doing now, I’ll kill him if he’s ruined this for — “George, what are you doing?!”
His son skidded to a halt just outside the door, and any anger that Richard may have felt toward him evaporated instantly.
George was not naturally this pale. He was not naturally this wide-eyed. And, even given the amount of time he spent running — from angry shopkeepers, angry teachers, angry parents (though, luckily, not yet angry town guards or angry young ladies’ parents) — he was not usually this out-of-breath.
“George, what’s the matter?” Richard asked, jogging to his son and completely ignoring the slack-jawed Sir Bors.
Richard grabbed the doorpost for support. “What’s wrong?”
“She — she — she was in the kitchen, and suddenly she started bleeding –”
“Bleeding? Bleeding where?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t see, Granny was with her and she yelled at me to run for the midwife and then get you, because — ’cause — ’cause she thought Mum might be losing the baby!”
Richard only paused to grab his cloak before he was running with George out the door.
Bors slowly sank back into his seat as Mr. Ferreira and his young son ran from the room.
He was not even upset at the abominable rudeness they had shown in leaving — so quickly, so abruptly, without so much as a by-your-leave or any kind of farewell. A couple of months ago, he would have been furious. A couple of months ago, he might have even considered calling off the betrothal, for why would he allow his daughter to marry into a family whose head clearly had no idea how to act?
But now …
Bors sighed. Mr. Ferreira was about to lose his chance for a third son. Though not nearly so urgent as a first son — or a second — Bors could now well understand why a man might run from a room, forgetting all decency and propriety, at the thought of such a loss.
And this could well be Mr. Ferreira’s last chance for such a blessing. Mistress Ferreira was, he had heard on good authority, even older than Claire. Bors doubted that Claire would even conceive again after this pregnancy had come to its conclusion — look how long it had taken her to conceive after Elyan — never mind carry another child to term. There was, moreover, a part of him, so far down and so deep that Bors barely knew it existed, that was not at all sure whether he wanted Claire to conceive again. If she had failed him again and this child was a daughter, they would, of course, need to try again. If Bors was to have another drain on the family’s financial resources, he would need another son, who could someday add to the fortunes of the family, to offset it. But trying was not necessarily success. And lack of success would mean that neither Claire’s health nor the health of any potential child would be endangered by her woman’s weakness.
After all, Bors was not a sensitive man. He was not a particularly loving. He was not even particularly intelligent, not even grasping the intelligence necessary to realize his own lack of intellect. But if he was not loving, he was fond of Claire and used to her; even if her fertile period was ending, he did not want to lose her. And even if he was not intelligent, he knew that the other nobles of Albion — never particularly warm to him at the best of times — would begin to whisper among themselves and shun him, saying that he had killed his wife, if only with pregnancy.
“Did you hear what that churl said to me?”
Bors looked up, recalled from his reverie by a fuming Elyan.
“He called me inbred — and an ass! But inbred! Have you ever heard such disrespect?”
Bors blinked twice, trying to determine what Elyan was talking about.
“Can you believe the gall of that commoner? He spoke of the careful preservation of noble blood as if it were something to be ashamed of! As if — as if it were somehow a perversion of Wright’s Holy Laws! Inbred! A dog is inbred, a nobleman–”
Elyan’s jaw snapped shut. “Yes, Father?”
“Enough. The boy was … understandably distraught.” And without another word, he got up from his seat and left the dining hall, leaving Elyan gaping in the doorway.
Bors climbed the stairs, nodding once to that common girl Elyan had found to take over Claire’s duties while she was laid up — a very respectful girl, and awfully cheap too. She must have been so overawed by the honor of serving the de Ganis family that she considered her rather low wages more than ample recompense for her work. And a good thing, too, since Bors couldn’t have afforded much else.
He walked through the hallway to his and Claire’s bedchamber, and — like a coward, perhaps — peeked inside. Good, she was only reading. He opened the door. “Claire.”
She looked up. “My lord?” She moved to put her book to the side and rise —
“No, don’t get up,” he said, motioning with his hand to get her to lie still. She did so, putting her book on the nightstand and glancing at him curiously.
“Are — are you well, Claire?” he asked, a little awkwardly.
“Of course, Bors.”
“I mean — er — you know that if you feel the slightest bit ill, we can send for the midwife and she’ll be here instantly.”
“Yes, I know that. But really, I feel fine.”
She didn’t look fine — not compared with how she had looked even at this stage in her earlier pregnancies — she looked drawn and tired. Pale, too, a deeper pale than her normal becoming fairness. But on the other hand, she didn’t look nearly as bad as she had looked on that awful day when she had collapsed in the du Lac keep.
“Well,” Bors murmured, “I just — wanted to make sure.”
“That was very kind of you.”
He moved away from the door. “If you need anything — just make sure. After all — I want both you and my son to be healthy, at the end of the day.”
The last thing Bors heard before he shut the door was the sound of Claire’s soft sigh.
“Maude, just tell me, is Bianca all right? Where’s the midwife? Why isn’t she –”
“By St. Agnes, calm down! I’m trying to tell you what happened!” Maude laid a hand on his shoulder. “Bianca is –” She paused.
“She isn’t — she didn’t lose too much blood, did she? Should I send for Father Hugh — he’s said to be a great doctor, he could–”
“RICHARD! She’s going to be FINE!” Maude finally shouted — and that was what it took to get Richard to shut up. He felt the tension leak from him, like air from a popped balloon.
“Though I wouldn’t go so far as to call her fine now,” she continued. “Physically — she’s on the road to recovery. Kata Thatcher said, before she left –”
“She left already?!”
“By the time she got here, there was nothing she could do, Richard. It — it might not be over for a while — she’s still bleeding a bit — but Kata gave her a potion to help her with the cramping, and another one if the bleeding gets much heavier. But really, right now … we can only wait. Besides, the woman has children and a family of her own, plus between Lady Dindrane being ready to pop and Lady Claire having the pregnancy from hell … I didn’t want to make her cool her heels here when there was nothing she could do. She’ll drop by tomorrow, and if things get worse I’ll send for her — but I don’t think they’ll get worse.”
Behind Richard, George went pale and gulped.
Richard sighed. “So … the baby?”
“It wasn’t meant to be. I’m sorry.”
He sighed and nodded. “We — we’re lucky to have three strong, healthy children already. One more would have been — but — well …” Richard shook his head. “But what about Bianca?”
Maude took a deep breath. “Like I said — physically, she should recover, and relatively soon. Mentally … she’s very upset, Richard.”
“She has every reason to be.”
“I know. Believe me, I know.” Maude sighed. “I lost one between Bianca and Sophia … it. Well. Wasn’t pleasant, to say the least.”
Richard gulped and nodded. “I — can I talk to her? Or is she resting?”
The only answer Maude gave was to point to the stairs. With the energy of a much-younger man, Richard sprinted up them.
He knocked once as a courtesy, and when Bianca said, “Come in,” in he came.
“Bianca, are — no, don’t get up, please, you should be resting!”
She was getting up anyway. And when she looked at him …
Richard gulped. He’d never seen Bianca’s face crumple like that. Oh, he’d seen her cry — she’d wept, quietly, when Dannie first went off to school as a child, when Dannie and then Freddy had gone to Camford. He’d watched her silently rage at business setbacks, or loudly rage at George. He’d even watched her break down once on the anniversary of her father’s death.
But he’d never seen crying quite like this.
“Bianca …” Slowly, he put an arm around her shoulder.
“I lost the baby!”
“I don’t — I don’t know what I did! I — I wasn’t doing anything unusual, was I?” She glanced up at him, the tears standing glassy in her green eyes. “I — I’ve been thinking — I can’t think of anything I did differently from when we had Dannie and Freddy and George! I wasn’t sick — but — but I couldn’t help that! Could I?”
“Bianca! Of course you couldn’t. This isn’t your fault!” At least, he hoped it wasn’t her fault — Wright, but he hadn’t a clue what could have caused this — but surely, whatever it was, it couldn’t have been anything Bianca did purposely.
Bianca sniffed. “That’s what Kata and Mother said.”
That was a relief.
“Then they’re probably right,” Richard said, drawing her closer and kissing the top of her head. “You’d never do anything to harm any of our children, even the ones that — that — aren’t here yet.”
“Not yet, not ever!” she sobbed into her hands. Richard put his other arm around her and rocked her. “Do you think it knew?” Bianca whispered.
“That we — that I — that I didn’t — that we weren’t trying for it?”
“Nonsense,” Richard replied warmly. “If every baby who wasn’t tried for didn’t make it to birth … well, there wouldn’t be any out-of-wedlock births, that’s certain.”
Bianca snuffled. “It wasn’t anything you did,” Richard said. “It wasn’t anything you thought, it wasn’t anything you felt, it wasn’t because it felt unwanted — Wright, Bianca, look at how sad you are. How sad we are. Even if it was a surprise — that baby was wanted. There was nothing that you did or didn’t do that caused this. These things — just happen, I guess.”
She rested her head on his shoulder; he could feel her tears dripping onto his tunic. “Then why,” Bianca whispered, “do I feel so guilty?”
What a day. Maude sighed and rubbed her forehead as she walked into the dining room, bustling around and cleaning things that didn’t need cleaning. It was one way to deal with pain and sorrow. Her house had never been so clean than it was in the weeks after her husband died.
And today — today Maude’s baby was sick and hurt and crying, because she’d lost her baby. And worst of all, there wasn’t a damn thing Maude could do about any of it.
She wiped nonexistent dust from the table. What was she supposed to do about this? The one thing, she knew, that had most helped her recover from the miscarriage been Bianca and Sophia (Andie, she’d named that baby — Andie because it could be short for Andrew or Andrea, a boy or a girl) had been Sophia. But she’d been over fifteen years younger than Bianca when she’d had Sophia! At Bianca’s age — well, they saw what happened when she tried for a healthy Andie. Maybe even trying for a healthy Sophia wasn’t the best idea.
But for now —
Maude paused. Was that sniffling?
She stuck her head into the kitchen. “George? Georgie, what’s the matter?”
George looked up, the redness around his eyes belying his crying. He gulped. “Was it my fault, Granny?”
“Was — what?”
“I — when you told me to get the midwife — I went first to the Wesleyan’s stables, because I thought that would be faster — but I didn’t have any money and I had to beg Mr. Wesleyan to let me borrow a horse, and that took time, and then I got a little lost on the way to the midwife’s, and –”
“Oh, Georgie! Georgie-porgie, come here. Come to Granny.” She slung an arm around his shoulder and pulled him closer. “It wasn’t your fault! Of course it wasn’t your fault, you did everything you could!”
“But — but you said — you said that there was nothing Mistress Thatcher could do by the time she got here –”
“I misspoke. Georgie, by the time your mother started bleeding, there was nothing anyone could do. Trust me.”
“But — but then, why?”
“Because … I don’t know why. It just wasn’t Wright’s Will, I guess.”
“That’s not a very good reason.”
Maude sighed. “I know.” She held George a little tighter. “But right now — it’s the best one we’ve got.”