Sister Margery must have been out of her mind, and she knew it.
She was out of her mind to leave Sister Angelique alone with three little ones for the afternoon. She was out of her mind to even be thinking of helping Erin. Any other nun, Sister Margery knew, would have said that losing her child was exactly what Erin deserved. That women like Erin didn’t deserve the pains and pleasures of motherhood. That women like Erin weren’t fit to be mothers, never mind that their profession made it that much more likely that they would become mothers. They would say that Erin had already made her bed and had no choice but to lie in it, that she had gone so far down the path of sin only the divine mercy of the Lord Wright himself could redeem her. Yes, indeed, Sister Margery was out of her mind to be doing what she would do in spite of all this conventional wisdom.
But most of all, she was out her mind for planning to tell her Mother Superior instead of just doing it and presenting Father Hugh and Mother Julian with a fait accompli when it was all over.
Yet Sister Margery, when she had taken her vows as a nun all those years ago, had sworn three things: poverty, chastity, and obedience to her Mother Superior. When she had made that vow, Mother Hildegard had been the one she had sworn to obey. Just because Mother Hildegard had died, though, did not make the vow obsolete. She owed Mother Julian that obedience. And while Mother Hildegard might have bowed to conventional wisdom and made a wreck of Sister Margery’s nebulous plans … Mother Julian might not.
After all, Mother Julian was a mother, too.
So Sister Margery straightened her habit, patted her wimple into place, and made her purposeful way through the abbey courtyard as if she had every right to be there. She did have every right to be there! She was still a Sister of St. Coral, for all that she was now running the off-site orphanage and not in residence at the abbey. And no one, if they saw her, would question her. Naturally she would still come to the abbey from time to time to discuss orphanage business with Mother Julian, to visit with her former charges, even just to visit the chapel and pray for a bit. No one — other than Mother Julian — needed to know the special business that had brought Sister Margery back to the fold, if only for a little while.
As she walked, she looked about the courtyard. The flowers were sere and wilted (it was winter, after all) and the grass wasn’t doing much better, but this place would be quite pleasant, come spring. I see they found another hot spring, Sister Margery noted. It was right outside the monastery wing of the abbey. Figures that Brother Tuck would want that nearby, so he could “relax” after all his hard work–now, Margery, be charitable. He does work hard for the church …
Aye, raising money to build new abbeys.
And orphanages! Sister Margery’s charitable impulses reminded her.
Only after we stole children from their mothers in order to fill the beds.
Her more charitable instincts had nothing to say to that, other than, Well, at least somebody saw to putting a playground in for the little ones. If we’re going to have children here on a regular basis, there ought to be things for their amusement, and not just for their edification. Childhood is too short to begin with.
Wright knows mine was …
She slipped into the nunnery wing and walked down the long gray corridor to Mother Julian’s office. As she walked, she marveled at how silent it was — only her footfalls echoing against the stone to break the quiet. Were nunneries supposed to be this quiet, she wondered? She’d never had a chance to visit the original Order of St. Coral chapter house back in Reme, as her mother so often had. Her mother had timed those visits for when Margery was in school. But surely an order dedicated to the raising of orphaned children should always be noisy, full of children’s laughter and shouts and yelps … then again, the girls were probably at school at this hour, and the little ones were at the orphanage.
Sister Margery arrived at the door to the office, gathered her courage, and knocked.
Swallowing and screwing up her courage, Sister Margery pushed the door open and entered.
“Margery!” rang out Mother Julian’s voice. “Margery, how wonderful to see you!” Before Sister Margery could say anything silly, like “Don’t get up,” Mother Julian was up and holding her in a tight embrace. “How are you? How is the orphanage?”
“Well, and — well, that’s what I came here to talk to you about, Mother Julian.” Sister Margery had never been good with holding back bad news or waiting to catch those in authority with it at a good time. Better just to get it out and over with, she thought.
“Is everything all right with the children?” Mother Julian asked instantly.
“Oh, yes, yes — everyone is quite healthy, and … well, I won’t say happy.” Sister Margery rolled her shoulders. “You know little Wulf hasn’t been quite happy ever since we — well — took him.”
Mother Julian simply looked at Sister Margery, saying nothing.
“But,” Sister Margery continued, “he’s been a bit better recently.”
“Oh?” No emotion. A little bit of interest, but no enthusiasm, no hope. Mother Julian’s eyebrow went up, but other than that, her face was as blank as her voice.
“Yes.” Sister Margery took a deep breath. “His mother came to see him.”
Mother Julian blinked twice, slowly. She pursed her lips together. And then, slowly and with great deliberation, she pronounced, “I think we had both best sit down, don’t you?”
“Yes, Mother — Mother Julian — I think that would be best.”
Mother and daughter sat. Mother and daughter looked at each other from across the cluttered desk. Finally Mother Julian blinked first, or rather, sighed, rubbed her temple, and announced, “I think you had best explain. What happened?”
“It’s all quite simple, Mother — Mother Julian. I saw Erin — Wulf’s mother — standing outside the orphanage window one day. Sister Angelique informed me that she — Erin, I mean — had been coming and standing on that very spot for months.”
Sister Margery could not quite hear Mother Julian’s muttered response, but she would bet serious coin — were she allowed to have any, as per her vows of poverty — that it was, “Figures.”
“Well, anyway,” Sister Margery continued, “I went out to ask the woman what her business was, and if she needed anything. Then she told me that she was there to see her son. And, I — well, I …”
“You couldn’t tell her no.”
Sister Margery stuck her chin up. “It was a reasonable request, Mother Superior, all things considered. To judge from Wulf’s condition when he came in — other than the emotional shock, of course, which was certainly not Erin’s fault — she was in no way a negligent mother. He was well-fed, reasonably well-clothed, and well cared-for. Not sick, and while there was a bruise or two, he was just starting to crawl and toddle about. Even the most diligent mother cannot protect her child from every bump and bruise.”
“And don’t I know it,” Mother Julian replied. “You managed to amass quite a collection there yourself, at one point. Well, continue — you let her in, what happened next?”
Quickly, Sister Margery ran down the facts of Erin’s visit, and her plans to help her. Before Mother Julian could protest, Sister Margery went on, “And I understand, Mother Superior, that Erin has lived a sinful life — but all Sims live sinful lives. Maybe Erin’s is a bit worse than most. Maybe it’s not, only the Lord Wright can judge that. All we know is that Erin’s sins were more — obvious, shall we say, than most. But she loves that boy, and she did the best she could for him before we took him, and she’ll move heaven and earth to get him back.”
Mother Julian said nothing.
“Well? Don’t you have any objections?”
Sister Margery blinked.
“Just questions. First of all — when do you plan on telling Brother Tuck this?”
“I — er, well –”
“I really –wasn’t planning on telling him at all, if I could avoid it.”
“Good,” Mother Julian replied with a smile that — well, if Mother Julian had been anyone else, Sister Margery would have described it as devilish. “The less he knows, the better for us all.”
“Letting Mistress Shepherd have her child back — indeed, getting her out of the brothel and into a life that, while it isn’t quite respectable, certainly isn’t at the bottom of society’s shoe — is not what he would want.”
“What? Why? He goes on and on about whores and their sinful ways, surely he would rejoice to see one of them reforming her life!”
“He would if he was stage-managing the reformation,” Mother Julian muttered. “But not if she does it on her own terms. Not if he can’t get the credit for it — and you know Mistress Shepherd wouldn’t give him the credit.”
“Why should she? He took her son away!”
“Exactly. But, you see, if Mistress Shepherd manages to clean herself up without his aid — without being inspired by him, hell, in spite of him, don’t you see, this looks bad for Brother Tuck.”
“Obviously. So — you think he would try to stop her from getting her boy back, then.”
“If he could. If he knew about it, he’d do whatever he could to gum up the works. He’d need to, you see, to keep the hold he’s trying to develop over the people.”
“If you are so eager to — to take Brother Tuck down a peg, as you seem to be,” Sister Margery asked, “why did you let him take Wulf in the first place?”
Mother Julian’s eyes fell to the desk. “Well — I would like to say that was because I foresaw just this kind of thing happening,” she replied, “but that would be a lie. The primary reason was the reason that I gave to Brother Tuck — that we needed a new orphanage, and this was the best way to get funds for it.”
“Mother! That’s — that’s –”
“I believe the men,” Mother Julian filled in, “call it ‘playing hardball.'”
“It’s not a game! Those — those are people’s lives you’re playing with, Mother! Wulf and Erin did nothing to deserve being dragged into your spat with Brother Tuck!”
“It’s not my spat with Brother Tuck. It’s our spat with Brother Tuck.”
“I never signed on to any–”
“Margery — Sister Margery — please, hold your peace for just a moment, and hear me out.” Mother Julian fiddled with her cross. “Brother Tuck is power-hungry. He wants to raise the prestige of the Church in Albion. He wants, in fact, for the Church to be the main political player in Albion, influencing the King in all important decisions … oh, and by the way, when I say ‘the Church,’ I mean Brother Tuck.
“The difficulty, however, is that King Arthur is … a rather independent-minded man. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on his faith, I am sure he is quite orthodox in his personal beliefs — but he does not believe that the Church holds all the answers to political situations. Which is good, since the Church — at least, the more sensible branches of it — never claimed that particular power. Because of this, King Arthur does not give advice any particular weight for coming from a Sim of the Church. Another good thing, for Wright knows there are as many fools in the Church — and in positions of authority, too — as there are in any other walk of life.”
“Amen,” Sister Margery muttered.
A quick, fleeting smile from Mother Julian. “So, you see, Brother Tuck’s means of access to the King are … limited. He will listen to what he has to say, but if he follows Brother Tuck’s advice, it will be because it is good advice, not because Brother Tuck gave it. This is not what Brother Tuck wants. So, in order to influence events around the kingdom, he is turning to a different weapon — the common people. For you know, of course, that if the common people agitate loud and hard enough for something, they’re likely to get it. Easier to give in to a small demand, than to wait for the demands and anger to grow to the point where violence and rebellion result.” She sighed. “The problem with this, of course, is that Brother Tuck is a fool and has no idea what kind of fire he plays with.”
“I don’t understand, Mother.”
One of Mother Julian’s eyebrows went up. “You remember learning of the slave rebellion of 884, do you not?”
Sister Margery blanched. “Of course.”
“And you remember,” Mother Julian continued, “that some of the first seeds of discontent were sown when Father Johannus of the Order of St. Walter began a ministry with slaves.”
“But — but Mother Hildegard said he had nothing to do with the rebellion — he specifically advocated against nonviolence –”
“Indeed he did. But he also preached the equality of all Sims, and tried to make things better for the common laborer as well as the slave by working to abolish slavery — for, of course, if there was no free slave labor against which to compete, wages for all would go up. Or so he thought, honestly, I’m not sure how well that would have worked. But of course, it only took one slave-preacher to take his words a bit too far, to ask, ‘When Skip delved and Brandi span, who was then the gentleman?’ in front of a crowd, and before you knew it two thousand masters, mistresses and their families were dead and another ten thousand slaves were executed — and those are only the ones who got caught!”
“And Father Johannus got off scot-free — well, he had nothing to do with the rebellion and tried to stop those he could …”
“Mmm, perhaps. His last illness — a very sudden illness — bore some of the marks of poisoning. Not exactly what I would call ‘getting off scot-free.’ In any case, Father Johannus attempted to preach to the common people, to use their discontent to push through reform — and he ended up with a rebellion on his hands. The discontent of the common people can be a powerful weapon, and it can turn in your hands if you are not skilled enough to wield it properly. I doubt very much that Brother Tuck is skilled enough to wield it properly.”
Sister Margery gulped. “So — so what then do we do?”
“First, we protect ourselves and those under our charge. Then, we do what we can to curb Brother Tuck’s power. Which you already are doing. When it gets out that Mistress Shepherd reformed herself in spite of Brother Tuck’s best efforts — and it will, eventually, and hopefully after she gets Wulf back and he can do nothing to stop it — that will be a blow to the power he hopes to gather. He will lose credibility in the eyes of the people, and that is one thing he cannot afford to lose.”
“So — so we just keep doing what we’re doing, and … pray that it works?”
“Aye,” Mother Julian replied. “For at the end of the day, what else is there that we can do?”
They spent the afternoon going over the plans Sister Margery had made and those she hoped to implement in the near future. Mother Julian had nothing but encouragement, cutting questions, and back-up plans in case her current ideas did not work out. Finally, though, rushing feet were heard in the outside corridor, and Mother Julian sighed. “I think it’s time to get out there,” she said, nodding to the door. “Rhoslyn and Nyasha will be so happy to see you.”
“Aye, and I shall be happy to see them.”
“Indeed.” They both rose, but before they left, Mother Julian rested her hand on Sister Margery’s shoulder. “Margery?”
“I just want you to know how proud of you I am — it takes real courage, and real smarts, to stand up to someone as sure of himself, and as charismatic as Brother Tuck — and you have both.”
“Oh, Mother –”
“Come here,” Mother Julian said, enfolding Sister Margery in her arms. “We’re all those children have, you know that? We’re all that a lot of children have — all the children of Wright in Albion, you could say — and we have to do our best for them. You’re doing that. Thank you, so much, for doing what you can.”
And as they embraced underneath the portrait of St. Coral and her daughter Mary-Sue, Sister Margery had to wonder if the great saint would approve.