Ladies did not run. Nuns did not run (unless there was a small child in imminent danger of being hurt). Those who had been born ladies and became nuns definitely did not run.
Angelique supposed that she was even worse at being both lady and nun than she supposed she had been, for she ran.
She pushed the door open and stumbled into the sheltered courtyard of the abbey, her practical wooden-soled boots (no more soft slippers for her) thunking against the cobblestones. Her speed would shock the monks, she was sure, but could not bring herself to care.
News had just come to Angelique. Her mother was finally, finally, in a fit state to receive guests. And Angelique didn’t care how many toddlers fell down the stairs and cracked their newly-won teeth in her absence; she was going to see her mother.
It had been four long days since Mother Julian had first sent to Angelique that her mother was coming to the nunnery. Four long days when Angelique was only allowed to see Claire while she slept. “She’s too agitated,” Mother Julian had said. “Sister Angelique, I know she is your mother, and I know you want to see her, but I’m honestly afraid what seeing you might do to her, in the state she’s in.” And that witch Morgan le Fay, king’s sister or no king’s sister, had stood behind Mother Julian and nodded like a bloody sage.
The girls, whom Angelique had liberally supplied with forbidden candy in order to get an update on status, had confirmed that Claire was not in good shape — “She’s scary,” Rhoslyn had said, gnawing on a sweetmeat Angelique had gained by taking the sweetseller’s son behind the counter and making out with him — in her habit — until he begged for mercy.
Nyasha had nodded. “She screams and cries a lot. And she’s only happy when she’s with the piano.”
That little bit of information was worth every moment of the sweetseller’s son’s sticky hands all over her habit; it was worth every minute of his rancid-chicken mouth on hers. (Why, oh why, couldn’t a sweetseller’s son’s mouth taste like candy? It was one of the mysteries of the world, Angelique supposed.) It was that bit of information that enabled Angelique to receive Mother Julian’s note, and not run — and thus waste time — to the refectory or dining room or bedchambers of the nunnery, but to the chapel instead, as fast as her still-young legs could carry her.
Angelique threw the door open, darted inside, ready to scream, “Mother!” at the top of her lungs like a little girl only a third of her age —
The music …
It washed over the hard wooden walls of the chapel like a sweet babbling brook, sweeping up all of Angelique’s troubles and tossing them up like a pile of leaves picked up by a busy toddler. It was the sort of music, Angelique was certain, that the fae — demons though they were supposed to be — danced to. She could see the notes spinning around her, darting to her and taking her cares away to play keep-away with them.
Angelique grabbed the doorpost for support, the cool stone rough and real against her hand. She understood, now, what was meant by a hymn of praise. It was not the empty words she practiced and practiced with her music master, meant to give glory to Wright but really giving glory to her voice. She only sang those because she was allowed to sing nothing else. This song — this song made her want to sing, something real, something that would express her true love and appreciation for all of Creation.
And then the music stopped in mid-phrase.
Angelique gasped. Surely, surely —
The music started up again — a few measures back — more slowly, picking its way from note to note like a spry-limbed youth hopping from stone to stone across a forest stream. It reached the offending measure and chose a new series of notes. Then it stopped again.
It reached back, again slowly, and tried the phrases again. And Angelique understood.
Her mother — tucked into that tiny corner between altar and seating area — was not playing. She was composing.
Mother never told us she could do that!
“Oh, Mother!” Angelique called out — before realizing that it might, just might, be a bad idea.
The notes cut off with the indignant squawk of a flock of rooks set upon by a hawk. Claire gasped and turned around, her hand over her heart. She saw Angelique and said nothing.
“Mama!” Angelique ran again, her footsteps ringing through the chapel; Claire barely had time to stand before Angelique barreled into her arms. “Mama!”
“Angelique,” Claire whispered. “Is it really you?”
“Of course it’s me — who else would it be? Clarice shrunk?”
“Oh, Mama.” Angelique buried her head on her mother’s shoulder. “Mother Julian told me you were — you were too sick to see me!”
“Too sick to see you?”
“Aye — but oh, Mama, I’m so glad you’re better now!”
“I’m — better?”
“Of course you are. You seem so much better!” Angelique remembered her mother’s sleeping form, pale, paler than usual, tossing her head from side to side and moaning in nightmares.
“Yes, yes, you do! That music — it was beautiful!”
Claire pulled away, staring at her daughter’s face. “It was?”
“Of course it was!”
And for the first time in a long time, Angelique saw her mother smile.
“You think it’s good,” Claire murmured. “And you know music.”
“Well, I should hope so, after all those music lessons!” And all I’ve done to keep them, too, Angelique thought. She would have wrinkled her nose, but now was not the time to consider with distaste just what she had to do to keep her music and her sanity. Morgan le Fay and Mother Julian had given her too many talks on her mother’s fragile state.
But how can anyone who can make something that beautiful be so fragile?
Then again, what was more fragile than music — beautiful, yes, but gone with a passing breeze?
“Your father would call it noise,” Claire murmured. “And Mother Julian has said nothing at all.”
Angelique felt her voice stick in her throat. Her father? Her father called it bad? But surely he could not be so foolish! Surely, surely he must be able to hear the genius that went into something as gossamer-fine as that melody! How could he think that?
Then again … her father somehow thought she would be a good nun …
Angelique backed her thoughts away from the ledge of treason, and forced herself to answer. “Well, Mother, has he — has he heard that one?”
“I … I just made it now …”
“So then, he can’t think it’s just noise!”
“Oh, Angelique,” Claire sighed. “It doesn’t matter if he’s heard it or not. He thinks it’s all noise.”
All? She’s made more?
“It doesn’t matter, of course,” Claire added. “It’s just a pastime. Just a way to … fill the hours, I suppose …”
The flush that had crept into Claire’s cheeks as Angelique spilled her compliments was fading. The eyes that had lit up were darkening again. And the shivering, nightmare-tossed Claire de Ganis that Angelique had seen was coming again to the fore, pushing the mother that Angelique wanted to see down again.
“It’s not just a pastime. Not if you’re that good. You should be — should be –” Angelique scrambled for a way for her mother to use her talent, something acceptable, since running away and becoming the official Court Bard of Glasonland was probably not on the cards. “You should be composing a song for Lynn and the Prince to dance to! At the wedding!”
Claire’s eyes went wide. “Oh, no! Not that!”
“Well, if not a dancing song, then, what about a wedding march song? You know, for when they’re coming up the aisle? I’m sure Lynn would love it!”
“But … but …”
“And I could play it for you, you know. If you wanted to sit in the pews and watch,” Angelique added. “I mean, as a … as a nun …”
“I just mean, Mother, that nobody would blink if I participated in the ceremony like that! That’s all!”
“I don’t … I don’t want to …” Claire looked up, up and away, and Angelique tried her best to keep smiling. For was that not what a lady did, keep smiling no matter what the tragedy?
“Don’t — don’t want to write a song, Mother? Well, that’s all right. I’m sure Lynn won’t mind,” Angelique babbled.
“Oh, it’s not that I don’t want to … it would … it would be wonderful,” Claire sighed, which made no sense to Angelique, but she nodded anyway. “It’s just … well, I can’t.”
“Sure you could.”
“Your father would never permit it.”
“He doesn’t have to know!” Angelique snapped, for a moment forgetting she was talking to her mother, and not Clarice who found her behind the bushes, kissing a messenger boy. “I mean — I mean, we don’t have to tell him. It could be between you and Lynn and I.”
“Not — not tell him?” Claire asked, looking down again, her brows furrowed in puzzlement.
“That doesn’t — wouldn’t he know?”
“How? If we don’t tell him?”
Claire frowned. “There is a lot,” she murmured, “that he doesn’t seem to know …” Her eyes began to light up again. “I could –”
They went dead.
“No, Angelique, it wouldn’t work.”
“I can’t …” Claire blushed and stared at her feet. “I don’t know — how to write music. Not just to make music, but how to write it.”
Strangely enough, Angelique understood. She had written many a song during her youth, only to find out that it was all wrong after showing it to her music instructor. “You mean you don’t know the theory?”
“Well, that’s easy to fix. You can take music lessons with me!”
A gasp and Claire took a step back. “Oh, no!”
“No? Why not?”
“I — I couldn’t. How could I?”
“I’m sure Master Forte wouldn’t mind! I mean, as long as …” Angelique hesitated, would the nunnery be willing to pay for two sets of music lessons? How could she pay for it if they were not, for surely her father would never foot the bill for it.
I’ll find a way.
“Well, Master Forte is such a nice man, I’m sure he’d do it just to be kind,” Angelique lied.
“But Angelique — I’m a grown woman.”
“So? So am I — well, almost.”
“But music isn’t for grown women, unless you’re in the …” Claire’s voice trailed away.
“Why not? You have a gift, Mother! Aren’t we to make use of our gifts?” she replied, tasting bile coming up with Mother Julian’s words, but spitting them out all the same. They ought to be useful for something, other than forcing Angelique to sing hymn after boring hymn.
“I still … I don’t know … surely Mother Julian never would …”
Mother Julian, oh, don’t start with that! “Mother Julian will if she doesn’t want to — want to –” Want to have me run screaming from the nunnery — buck-naked! She tried to take music from me, but she won’t take it from my real mother!
“I will what if I don’t want to … what?”
“Oh, Mother!” Claire gasped. “Oh, oh, Mother Julian! I’m so sorry! She didn’t mean anything by it!” Claire’s hands were on Angelique’s shoulders, gripping them, forcing them to shake as her arms shook.
“Mother, Mother, it’s all right!” Angelique hissed, not, perhaps, sure what “it” was, but knowing that there was no reason for Claire to fear Mother Julian.
“Didn’t mean anything by what?”
Angelique looked at Claire, white and trembling — at Mother Julian, one eyebrow raised, but otherwise calm — and grabbed Claire’s hand and brought her forward. “Mother Julian,” Angelique said, and stopped.
“Mother Julian, I was wondering — could Mother share my music lessons?”
“Angelique!” Claire gasped.
“I’m sure you’ve heard her,” Angelique continued, doing her best to smile. “Playing, I mean. On the piano. She’s awfully good, isn’t she?”
“Er, indeed, but I don’t see …”
“And if she had lessons, formal training, then what she would write would be even better!”
Mother Julian turned her head a little to one side. “I don’t think I follow. She’s good, so you want to give her lessons?”
“Oh, Angelique, this was a bad idea!”
“Nonsense, Mother! Of course lessons would help, Mother Julian,” Angelique replied. “She’s got natural talent, but no formal training. She can pick out a good melody, but she doesn’t know the rules of music — do you understand?”
“I — you mean, then, that there are rules to the composition of music?”
“Er … all right …”
“So then you’ll let her do it?”
“I’m — not sure,” Mother Julian replied. Before Angelique could protest, she turned to Claire. “Lady Claire, is this what you want?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to presume!”
“Nonsense. It would barely cost anything to pay for another set of music lessons. But is this what you want?”
“Surely, surely it wouldn’t be allowed?”
Mother Julian shrugged. “Allowed by whom? Your husband? He doesn’t have to know. Lady Morgan might have to say something …”
That Morgan le Fay!
“… but, honestly, I don’t know if she would object. Perhaps, if it makes you happy, she would encourage it. She’s the closest thing we have to an expert, and I’m willing to listen to her.”
“If it — makes me happy?”
“Of course. That’s the point of having you hear, isn’t it? To help you be happy again.”
“Happy,” Claire murmured. “But — but wouldn’t I be remiss in my duties?” she whispered.
“By being happy?” Mother Julian gasped.
“No — at least — I don’t think so — but … but by taking so much time …?”
“You mean by taking some time for yourself? Well, I know I was always a better mother to Margery — Sister Margery — when I had some time to read and study, to make time for myself.”
Hmm. Maybe being a nun, and having no time for herself now, is what makes her such a shrew!
“So — so it might be allowed?”
“As long as Lady Morgan approves it, I don’t have a problem with it. But is this what you want, Lady Claire?”
Claire said nothing. But slowly, like a lily coming to its fullest bloom, she smiled.
And Angelique could no longer contain herself, and threw her arms around her mother’s neck. “Oh, Mother! We’re going to have the best time!”