“And did I mention, my dear, how wonderful you look?”
Lynn dimpled and did her best not to look at the ground. In a little more than an hour’s time, she would be a princess of Albion. Princesses did not blush and look away when they were complimented. They stared straight at the person to whom they were speaking, and thanked them.
“Thank you, Father Hugh.”
And if they blushed, well, hopefully whomever they were speaking with would think it was modest and charming, and be forgiving. It was all Lynn could do to keep wringing her hands in order to avoid bringing a hand to her cheek — she didn’t need to feel how hot it was getting.
Then again, Father Hugh was nothing if not forgiving. He had been her confessor since she was old enough to go to confession, and generally the small scoldings and petty penances he gave her for her sins paled in comparison to the scoldings her father would give her, on the occasions that her failings came to his ears. Perhaps the good Father knew of these scoldings and adjusted his penances accordingly. After all, he was her father’s confessor, too.
Her father, who had seated himself in the penitential booth and was, as usual, scowling about something-or-other. “Father, while you’re preparing her for this sacrament, you should probably explain to her the duties of her new station. Her mother isn’t here to do it.”
Lynn had no idea how it was that Father Hugh was an adequate substitute for her mother, just as she had no idea how it was that her mother had not stopped by the château when she was getting ready. She was trying very hard not to think about that. There would be plenty of time to see her mother after the ceremony, and surely she wouldn’t be stingy with advice and soothing words then.
To judge by Father Hugh’s expression, he seemed to have no idea how he had been cast into the role of surrogate mother, either, but by his faint smile he seemed to trying to make the best of it. It was nice to see Father Hugh looking so well — the last few times she had happened to chance upon him at the abbey, when she was able to slip away for a couple of hours to see her mother, he had looked so confused and careworn, and indeed a little green around the gills.
“I think Lady Gwendolyn is as prepared for the sacrament as one can be, and as for her duties, I think they are quite clearly laid out in her vows: ‘to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part.’ Unless you need a little more explanation …?” And here he tilted his head at Lynn, inviting her to ask if she felt the need.
Lynn, however, shook her head. It was just as well she didn’t need any more explanation, because had she opened her mouth to speak, butterflies might have flown out. To think, in a little more than an hour, she would be saying those very vows!
“It’s obedience I want to be sure she’s clear on,” her father said in her stead. “Just because she is changing her station for a higher one does not absolve her of the duty of obedience.”
Father Hugh looked at Bors, frowned, and turned to Lynn again. “I think it is generally best if married couples work out those details between themselves, and in private. As long as everyone is healthy, happy and obedient to the Law of Wright, there’s no need for the Church to get involved.”
Lynn barely had time to feel the relieved smile bloom across her faith when her father interrupted. “I think it needs to be stated again, Father. Has she confessed to you how she sinned in pride and disobedience the last time she was home — before her graduation?”
The blush Lynn felt crawling across her cheeks was not the blush of a happy maiden on her wedding day. Father Hugh raised an eyebrow, as if to ask, “What’s all this?” then he looked at Bors, and again at Lynn.
He coughed. “I think, if further confession is in order, the Lady Gwendolyn and I had best have this conversation a bit more — privately.” With that he took her elbow and drew her a few steps out of earshot.
Then Father Hugh sighed. “Now, my dear, what is this about?”
“I — I confessed it to you before, Father,” Lynn stammered. “When — when my father wanted me to attend the Queen’s monthly audience, and I — well, I defied him.”
“Oh, that,” Father Hugh sighed. He frowned a moment, then asked, “What penance did I assign you for that?”
“I — I don’t know, Father. I confessed a few things that day, you didn’t — you didn’t give me penances individually …”
“Was it something like a couple of ‘Hail St. Brandis’ and maybe an ‘Our Programmer’ for the lot?”
“Good, good. Lady Gwendolyn …” He cast a sideways glance over his shoulder. “I didn’t tell you this then, because you were still under your father’s care and guardianship, and … well, it just would have embroiled both of us in more mess than it was worth. But … well, you know that children are expected to honor their parents, do you not?”
“Of course, Father.”
“Of course — yes, of course, you would.” Father Hugh did his best to smile. “Well, all children, both adult and, well, children owe honor to their parents. Obedience, however … only true children owe their parents obedience. Adults must follow the call of their own conscience before their parents’ will — even women with their fathers. And …” Father Hugh bit his lip, glanced at her father again, and finally said in a rush, “And, you know, even though you were still under your father’s care when you — er — when you followed your conscience and went to see your mother, it wasn’t a sin.”
“It — it wasn’t?”
“No, it wasn’t. Doing what is right is never sinful. It is rarely convenient, but it is never sinful.” He looked again at Sir Bors, then made the Sign of the Plumbbob over her. “However, sometimes it is possible to do what is convenient and yet avoid sin — for instance, by making your father think that this was a confession without actually telling him so.”
Lynn had just enough time to bite down on her giggle before her father appeared at their side. “Well, Father, is that taken care of?”
“Oh, aye, Sir Bors, she’s as fit for the sacrament as ever.” He patted Lynn’s hand. “You must be incredibly proud to be giving away such a fine young lady.”
“Father!” Lynn squeaked as the blush came back.
“She is indeed above average,” Bors agreed, patting her shoulder. “Indeed, though you might think I was a bit hard on her just now, I assure you I understand how remarkably modest and pliable my Gwendolyn is still. It is because she is mainly so dutiful that I hate to see her virtues sullied even the littlest bit, and why I strive to correct the failings she does show.”
Lynn did her best not to sigh. In a little more than an hour, she reminded herself, you’ll be safely wed, and owe him only honor, not obedience.
And hopefully that means I won’t have to listen to him as much.
She had grown superfluous the conversation; she could tell. It so often was that way when her father began to talk about her, about any of her sisters. Really, it would almost be more polite to step away. And so she did.
But that left her standing alone in the vestibule of the great cathedral, with no one to talk to and nothing to do but wait out these last few moments before the start of the ceremony. She could not even slip across and chat with the Princess and the King, because with her luck the music would start to play and she would have to scurry over to her father and probably hold up the whole procession. And it must be due to start soon. She could no longer hear the thuds of shoes and slippers and the creak of wood as pews received those who would sit in them. Everyone must be waiting for them by now.
Everyone waiting …
She glanced at the huge archway. Would it be terribly ill-bred if she took a peek — just a peek? She’d be standing with her back to the congregation for most of the ceremony, she’d barely get to see anything …
It probably would be, Lynn sighed. And then another thought whispered its way across her mind. Hell — in a little more than an hour, I’ll be a Princess! I ought to take the opportunity to be ill-bred while I still can! So, gathering her skirts in one hand and her courage in the other, she stole to the great archway, determined to have her peek.
But she never got it.
A gasp — a squeak — a strangled, “Mother!”
Claire stopped short and stared at her.
Then she smiled.
“Mother!” Lynn cried again, even as Claire grabbed her skirts and ran as if she was a girl herself to meet Lynn. “Mother! You — you — you came!”
“Of course I came, darling,” Claire whispered into her ear even as her arms wrapped around Lynn. “Do you think I could possibly miss this for the world?”
Lynn sniffled and tried, for just a moment, to be so young again that all her cares and troubles could be banished away simply by being in her mother’s arms. She very nearly succeeded.
“But let me look at you!” Claire exclaimed and held her at an arm’s length. “Oh, darling!”
“Did — did we do all right?” Lynn asked, patting her hair, and her dress, and thinking of how her sisters had ooh’d and aah’d as they helped her with both.
“All right? Lynn! You look lovely! Oh, you have no idea how proud I am!”
Lynn’s smile was going to break from overuse, and she wasn’t even married yet.
“I wish I could have been there with you this morning,” Claire sighed, “but –”
And there was her father, glaring and ruining the moment, as he seemed uniquely qualified to do. Poor Father Hugh seemed to be staring at the cathedral floor as if he were praying it would fail at that moment and deliver him from this embarrassment.
“Claire, had you not best be getting to your seat? The service will not wait for you,” Bors snarled.
Claire closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and tilted her chin up. “I think these good people can stand to wait for a few moments while the mother of one of the brides has a few words with her daughter.”
“If you had been where you belonged, with us this morning, you could have had all the words you wished with her. Now it is too late. You will have to wait until after the ceremony.”
“Father, please –” Lynn whispered, trying to get between Bors and her mother.
Claire put a hand on her arm and instead interposed herself between Bors and Lynn. “Bors, I need to speak to my daughter. I would very much appreciate it if you would kindly give us a few minutes.”
“Your daughter? Your daughter, whom you abandoned like the rest of your children? Who has been taking the role of parent for her all these months? Who has been –”
“Bors,” Claire interrupted, not shouting, not crying, but with a voice as still as a glassy lake. Lynn, however, saw how Claire’s hands bunched themselves into fists and how her skirts quivered and shook. “Bors, I did not abandon my children. I needed to rest, and heal, and get help, and so I did.”
“Aye, for the first sennight — or fortnight — or even month, that I can understand! But since then? Claire, your babies are walking and starting to talk now! They could scarcely crawl when you left!”
“I did not ‘leave,’ Bors. I went to get help.”
“And how long can that possibly take?”
“It shouldn’t be surprising that it takes a few months to heal damage that accumulated for years.” Her voice, so calm, so steady! But her hands were shaking. Lynn grabbed her mother’s hand.
Claire only squeezed it once, however, before letting go and holding both of her hands before her, neatly folded like a waiting child’s. Her chin she kept on a line perpendicular to her neck, straight and stiff.
“What damage?” Bors scoffed. “You said you were sick, not damaged!” He turned to Father Hugh. “You see this? This! This is what I hope to keep Gwendolyn from becoming!”
“Er, Sir Bors …”
“Disobedient, outspoken, completely devoid of maternal feeling! Do you know that she hasn’t seen her babies since they were only just beginning to crawl?”
“If — if I havent’ seen my children,” Clarice gulped, and then put her hand on her hips, “it’s because I have been told that I cannot set foot in my own home until I am prepared to come back there for good!”
Lynn gasped. “Father!”
Father Hugh pointed to himself and then to Bors, as if to ask, “Which one?” But Bors — the father to whom she had been calling — did not even look at her. “As it should be! Why should your children be dragged here and there and inconvenienced to see their parents when both of their parents should be in the same place?”
“Inconvenienced? Bors! They’re babies!”
“Who probably don’t even recognize you anymore!”
For the first time, Claire flinched.
“You see? You see? She knows how undutiful she is being –”
And for the first time, Claire did not back down when faced with her duty, as defined by her husband. “If my babies no longer recognize me, it is because their father has failed in his duty as a father, to keep his children out of their parents’ arguments.”
At that, Father Hugh murmured, “I think, Lady Gwendolyn, we should leave them alone for a few moments …” He took her arm and gently tried to lead her away. But though Lynn stumbled a few steps with him, she stopped.
Adult children follow their own consciences.
She turned back to see her mother pounding her finger into her open palm as her father so often liked to do.
“I do not care if you think that it is better for the children not to see me. I do not care! I just want you to understand that if they have not seen me since I had to leave, it is your fault. I will not tell them this — not that they would understand it at their age — but I want you to understand it. And even if you refuse to take responsiblity for the damage you cause, I know you caused it, and what’s more important — the Lord Wright,” she jabbed her finger into the sky with every word, “knows you caused it!”
“I fail to see how I am damaging my children by refusing to allow them near a destructive and sinful influence,” Bors sniffed.
Claire sighed. “I think, Bors, there are a lot of things that you fail to see. I don’t think, though, that you fail to see them because they are not there. I think you just fail to see them.”
“Woman’s chop-logic,” Bors snorted. “You should get to your seat, Claire. The music will be starting any moment now, and as particular as you are about missing parts of your children’s lives, you would surely hate to miss your daughter’s biggest moment.”
“The music won’t start until I sit down.”
“What, did you bribe the organist? With what money? For surely I shan’t pay up!” he snorted.
“I didn’t need to bribe anyone.” And was it Lynn’s imagination, or did her mother smile? If she did, it was gone almost before she could blink. “I am the organist.”
Bors stared at her. “What?”
And as if she needed to top that pronouncement with something more shocking — as if she could! — Claire somehow did, by completely ignoring her husband and turning to Lynn. “Lynn –”
“Claire! I am not finished speaking to you!”
Claire again ignored him, though no response was really required, for Father Hugh shot such a look at Bors that he mercifully silenced himself.
And from that moment, nothing else existed for Lynn but her mother’s smile.
“That’s what I wanted to tell you, darling,” Claire smiled. “When I came out here. I — I might not have been able to do a lot mother-things for you today –”
“Lynn,” Claire grabbed her hand, “please, let me finish. I don’t want to go into things that I wished I could have done, or could have said, or could have been. Not today. And I don’t want to think about the reasons why I couldn’t do, or say, or be those things. Right now, I just want to focus on what I could do, and what I could be.”
Claire took a deep breath. “Lynn, as your wedding has come closer and closer, and I’ve been — ill, I’ve still been thinking about you. I know how much I’ve missed — ah-ah,” she put her finger on Lynn’s lips as she opened her mouth to protest, “not now, dear, please. As I was saying, I know what I’ve missed. And I wish I could have been well enough to be there for you.”
Lynn felt her lips start to tremble and her eyes threatened to overflow.
“But I wasn’t, and as sick as I was, there was something I could do. Lynn,” Claire took both of Lynn’s hands in her own, “I wrote you a song.”
Lynn blinked. “A — you what?”
“I wrote a wedding march for you.” And now it was Claire’s turn to have her lips tremble. “I — I hope you like it.”
“Like it? Mother! How could I not like it?” Lynn sobbed, throwing herself into her mother’s arms.
And for the first time in a long time, Claire was there — truly there — to catch her. “I have no idea where you get that sweetness from,” Claire whispered into her hair. “Don’t lose it, darling. Don’t lose all those things that make you you.”
She almost felt her mother swallow as she pulled away, again, and surveyed Lynn at an arm’s length. “I love you so much — you won’t possibly understand how much until you have a baby or three of your own. Now.” She patted Lynn’s cheek. “If you’ll excuse me — I need to go start that wedding march.”
Lynn could only nod and watch her mother retreat to the front of the church. She barely noticed anything until an elbow lightly touched her side. She turned to see Father Hugh looking very sheepish and holding out a handkerchief.
“Thank you,” Lynn sniffled. “These sleeves don’t have any room for –”
“I know,” and with that Lynn understood just what he had sacrificed, for his voice was as thick as her own.
Lynn scarcely had time to blow her nose and compose herself before the first strains of music started to play. And with that, her father showed up at her elbow.
“Humph!” he snorted. “I don’t understand how you can possibly be ready to be married after that display. I hope, Gwendolyn, that you understand just how improper all of that was.”
Lynn stood straight ahead, and thought of her mother, and smiled.
“Believe me, Father, I know just how improper all of that was,” was all she replied, “and I have never in my life been more ready to be married.”