Author’s Note: Pregmorph issues strike again! Pay no attention to the size of Meg’s bump. She’s still in her second trimester in-game, and as far as I remember, she’s not expecting twins. 😉
The music was good, Meg would give them that. It was the sort of tune you could tap your foot to, even if you weren’t dancing. And if you were dancing, well, you’d be tapping far more than your foot.
Meg was not dancing.
But then again, it wasn’t like she was a green girl again, sitting on the sidelines and wishing someone (Pierre) would ask her to dance. She was a woman, a grown one, carrying a baby, and dancing wasn’t for women waxing great with child.
She patted her belly; it was only the littlest of half-moons now, but it was big enough to forestall any dancing. Perhaps the next time one of the King’s children got married, she would dance. Prince Kay would surely be married in a few years, so there was hope. In the meantime, she’d sit and enjoy the free music (paid for by the King) and drink her fill of small beer (also paid for by the King) and cider.
Then again … she patted her belly again. As long as she and Pierre continued to get along, she’d probably either have a babe on the breast or on the way for the next ten years. Perhaps she wouldn’t dance again at a King’s child’s wedding until Prince Thomas became king and his children were getting married.
After all, if her mother-in-law could still shake and twist and turn with the best of them, Meg could surely manage a sedate dance or two with her husband at that age — couldn’t she?
Though Meg forced herself to make a note — she would not dance like that if Basil and (Wright Willing) his wife or sweetheart were near by. There was no point in driving her darling to an early grave by way of embarrassment.
An’ I’ll do me best not to embarrass ye, either, Meg promised the little one in her belly, who showed its appreciation by way of a hearty kick to the kidney.
“Everythin’ all right, love?” Pierre asked.
She glanced up. Amazing, that he had heard her over all the hubbub of pounding feet and laughing voices and music. But he was nothing if not attentive, these days.
He had been nothing but attentive for a while. Meg felt herself start to smile. “Oh, I’m fine, Pierre. Jest yer little boy decidin’ he weren’t too pleased at what his mama was thinkin’.”
“See what I was sayin’?” Pierre remarked to Neil, who was standing near him at the dart board. “She’s certain-sure this one’s gonna be a boy, too.”
“She’s probably right. Ailís said from the beginnin’ that Jake was gonna be a boy, and lo, he was!”
“Aye,” Pierre lined up his shot, “but what’d she say about Nellie an’ Josie?”
“… Um … I … don’t remember?”
“Ye’re jest sayin’ that,” Pierre teased as he let the dart fly. “Ha! Bullseye! Beat that, Porter!”
Meg glanced toward the fire and rubbed her belly again. Truly, she did have a good husband — all that nonsense with the Shepherd woman aside. Even if she couldn’t love him any more, she could at least appreciate him.
For instance, he could have been dancing now. There weren’t too many women lacking for partners, for men outnumbered women here, but surely someone would have stood aside and let Pierre dance with his sweetheart, if Pierre had wanted to. Pierre, after all, was safely married and therefore not competition in eyes of clever girls — and every girl here was to some degree clever.
Well, maybe not Ella Thatcher. Meg tried to keep an open mind, she really did, but by now she had made up her mind. Whatever Lukas saw in that girl, it wasn’t brains. If the girl had more than fluff between her ears, Meg would eat her scarf.
However, she had a good heart, Meg would give her that. Davy was almost as over the moon about Ella as Lukas was. It was a good girl, a nice girl, a patient girl who would entertain and be sweet to her sweetheart’s little brother as Ella was sweet to Davy. And Meg had heard of Ella’s mothering ways from both her own mother and, sidelong, from Lukas. The girl would make Lukas a good wife someday, if they decided to stay together that long. And even if they didn’t, Ella would make some boy a good wife, and Lukas would find some other girl. He would inherit the farm someday, and he already had a steady job after school on Lord Lot’s lands, so he was a good prospect for any young maiden.
Joyce, though, Joyce was cleverer than clever. And though Berach hadn’t the best of prospects — he hadn’t when they met and he certainly hadn’t now — Joyce was sharp enough to make up for that. She’d cared for her own self for nigh on two years now! Surely, she could help Berach out enough to keep the three of them in reasonable comfort, and if more came along, Joyce would figure out a way to keep them comfortable too. That was Joyce all over.
And Roma, who was around here somewhere with her betrothed Simon, she was … well, she’d gotten herself a man, and when Meg spoke to her, she certainly seemed to gotten some of the brains Ella had missed. But Simon? Perhaps Meg was still sore about her wedding night, but Simon wasn’t a young man she would pick as a good husband for a young girl with her whole life ahead of her. There was just something about him …
“Ye’re lookin’ a bit lonely over here, Meg, mind if I join ye?”
Pierre was joining her anyway, and even if she had minded. And she didn’t. Not really. Pierre was right, it was getting a bit lonely over here. She needed someone to save her from the nasty thoughts she was having about Simon, thoughts that didn’t really become her.
So, “Not at all, dear,” said Meg, and she kneaded her aching back as best she could into the hard bench.
“How’re ye both doin’?” he asked, patting her belly.
“Oh, fine, fine. I think the little one was jest startin’ ter drop off ter sleep.”
“Really?” he asked, noting how stiffly Meg was sitting.
Meg felt a smile begin to poke out. “Well, ye know what this baby’s like — the minute I say ‘he’s sleepin” or ‘he’s playin’,’ he goes off an’ does the opposite jest ter spite his poor ma.”
“The perversest child that ever was, ain’t he?”
“Aye, Pierre, that he is.”
Pierre smiled a little wistfully. “Our Basil, he weren’t that contrarywise in the womb, were he?”
“Nah, he saved all his tantrums an’ headstrong ways fer when he came out.”
Pierre sighed, no doubt remembering some piece or other of Basil’s mischief. “Why’d we ever teach that boy the word ‘no,’ again?”
“Pierre, I don’t know of no other way ter keep a little one away from the fire or the road without shoutin’ ‘No!’ right loud.”
“An’ then he jest picked it up from ye? Is that what ye’re tellin’ me, Meg?”
Meg smiled. “Aye — aye, that’s what I’m tellin’ ye.” She pretended to sigh. “What can I say — pitchers have ears!”
“An’ mouths, too, Wright help us all.” Without asking permission, or warning her in any way — but he was her husband, what permission did he need to ask, what warning to give? — he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “Ye think the newest one’s contrariness might be a good thing, then? Maybe he’s gettin’ it all out o’ his system ahead o’ time?”
“An inter his poor ma’s?” Meg asked, rubbing the skin above her bruised liver.
“Ah, but jest think about it — true, it’s a rough nine months fer ye, but when it’s over! We get a nice easy kid to raise. Ain’t that nice?”
“Nice fer ye, ye don’t have ter get kicked an’ punched day in an’ day out!” Meg laughed.
“I’m willin’ ter take a beatin’ as well as ye, ye know that. Jest point that belly in my direction whenever he starts goin’, and I’ll absorb some o’ the blows.”
He held her a little closer, whispered a little into her ear as he said that. Meg did not answer, but smiled and leaned her head ever more against his shoulder. He didn’t want to hear logic now — the logic that the baby would kick her no matter what, and his offers to take the shocks for her were useless. He just wanted to feel like he could do something to make her life easier while she carried his child.
She could let him believe that.
Pierre’s hand fell to her belly and moved up and down it, a caress far more gentle than anything he’d given to her back when she was a green girl wishing for somebody, anybody to dance with her. “Mmm,” Meg murmured. “What’re ye doin’?”
“Wishin’ fer a girl,” he answered.
Meg looked up. “Eh?”
Pierre flushed and looked down. “That’s a bit silly, ain’t it? A boy would be much more help around the farm.”
“Pierre, I hate ter remind ye, but this baby ain’t gonna be much help ter no one for a good long while.”
“All the more reason ter hope fer a girl, then.”
Meg tilted her head to one side. “Ye really want a girl?”
“Aye, aye, I do.”
“Hmm … maybe … because I want another face around these parts that will be as pretty as her ma’s. I’m sick o’ lookin’ at different versions o’ my ugly mug.”
“Oh, Pierre, ye ain’t ugly!”
“I’m glad ye think so, but all the same …” He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to his lap without further ado, “Ye have ter admit, Meg, ye’re prettier than me.”
“Pretty is as pretty does.”
“An’ when don’t ye do pretty?”
“Oh, I don’t know. When I’m feelin’ mean, I guess.”
“An’ when do ye feel mean?” Pierre nuzzled her neck; when she was still a green girl and indeed when she had been a young way, it made her want to do nothing so much as arch her back and purr under his touch. Even now, a wide pool of contentment spread from the spot where his whiskery chin rubbed her neck and made her lean her head on his shoulder and sigh. “Ye don’t ever feel mean. Ye put up with Basil with such patience.”
“Aw, he’s me son, how’m I supposed ter feel mean ter me son?”
“Ye ain’t never yet yelled at me ma …” Pierre glanced over their shoulders and then whispered, so close that his breath tickled her ear and made her giggle, “even when she deserved it!”
“Well, ye’re supposed ter respect yer elders …” She was silent for a moment, then whispered, “Even when they don’t deserve it.”
“Ah, Meg!” He squeezed her nearer to him. “An’ ye wonder why I love ye so much!”
As it always did, her stomach dropped when he said that, or something like it. He knew. Somewhere, deep in his heart, he knew that though she had let him back into her good graces, and her mind, and indeed her body, her heart hadn’t opened its door to him again. And somehow, deep in his heart, he’d decided to worm his way back in there somehow.
Meg closed her eyes and wanted desperately to bury her head in his inviting shoulder, but held herself up. If she did that, he would ask her what was wrong. And even though she could have blamed it on the baby, for everyone knew that when babies weren’t tormenting their mothers’ bodies they were wreaking havoc with their mothers’ hearts and minds, she did want to lie to her baby’s father. So she would hold it in, for now.
Oh, Pierre, Pierre, she thought. Ye swore ter ‘forsake all others an’ cleave unto me. Ye broke that promise. I swore ter love, cherish, honor an’ obey ye. I still cherish, an’ honor, an’ obey ye, but I don’t love ye no more, not like I used ter. Can’t we just call it even?
But vows didn’t work like that. Marriage didn’t work like that. Life didn’t work like that. You didn’t get to break a promise to your neighbor just because your neighbor broke a promise to you. You just had to muddle along and keep your word as best you might, because at the end of the day you could only be responsible for your own actions, and not for anybody else’s.
So Meg would keep trying, as best as she could, to be a good wife. At the end of the day, it was all she could.
“Yoo-hoo! Pierre! Would ye scoot over? I want a word with me sister.”
Joyce! How had she known she wanted rescue?
“I’m havin’ a word with me wife,” Pierre answered.
“So? Ye can have a word with her all day, every day. I don’t get ter see me sister everyday. Now, shoo!” Joyce waved her hands like a housewife scattering children from out her door.
Pierre sighed, but he let go of Meg and set her back on the bench. “I’ll be back,” he whispered with a wink, then withdrew. And Joyce thumped her rear end in the place Pierre had just vacated.
Joyce turned to Meg with a smile. “So, why ain’t ye dancin’?”
“Joyce! Dancin’? Me? I can’t dance!”
“Aw, sure ye can, not as good as me, mind ye, but –”
“Joyce! I ain’t talkin’ dancin’ talent! I’m talkin’ about being — being — being pregnant!”
“Aw, pregnant ladies can still dance!” She patted Meg’s belly. “Ye’ll rock the little one right ter sleep, ye will. An’ so ye both will sleep wonderful tonight!”
“Joyce, ye’re mad if ye think that’ll work.”
“Mad? Me?” Joyce batted her eyes.
“Aye, ye. Tell me, ye think ye’d be dancin’ with the troupe if ye were in the family way?”
“‘Course not, leastways, not if I were as big as ye. Would throw me center o’ gravity right off. But Meg! Ye don’t have ter worry none about yer center o’ gravity fer these dances! Ye jest gotta shimmy a little bit an’ step in the right direction.” Joyce even gave a little seated shimmy to demonstrate.
“An’ what if someone were ter bump inter me an’ I fell?”
“Meg, ye still go to the market, don’t ye?”
“O’ course I do. I ain’t that big yet.”
“Well, what if someone bumped inter ye at the market, an’ ye fell?” Joyce asked, her eyebrows waggling.
“It ain’t the same, Joyce!”
“Oh, ridiculous! Ye’d still be jest as fallen, an’ jest as hurt at the market! Maybe more. Everybody here will be right careful. But there? All anyone there cares about is gettin’ what they need as quick an’ as cheap as possible. An’ woe ter any expectin’ ladies they trample underfoot!”
“Joyce!” Meg laughed. “That ain’t true!”
“‘Course it is! I dance at the market every day! I see how vicious they all are! So come on, dance with us. The King’s twins don’t get married every day!”
“Aye, Meg,” came another voice from above her head, “dance with us!”
Meg craned her neck backward. “Berach! What’ve ye got ter do with this?”
“I jest want ter dance with me betrothed, but she won’t dance with me no more unless her sister comes up an’ dances too — so a man’s got ter do what a man’s got ter do!”
“Ye’re both mad!” Meg laughed. “Even if I thought it was wise, me mother-in-law wouldn’t, an’ she’d have me head before I got halfway ter the floor!”
“No, she wouldn’t,” Berach laughed, “she’s havin’ too much fun dancin’ with Neil ter even notice.”
“What?” Meg gasped, and glanced over her shoulder. Seeing poor Neil struggling to keep up with Cerise’s shimmies and steps was enough to make her bust out laughing.
“So, ye see? She ain’t got no time ter be chewin’ ye out, an’ if she tries, ye can always threaten ter tell her husband how she was dancin’ with Neil!” Joyce laughed and sprung to her feet. “So, come on! Dance with us, Meg!”
“Aye, we’ll be right careful with ye,” Berach agreed.
Meg glanced at Joyce’s outstretched hand … Berach’s smiling face … her mother-in-law’s complete distraction.
Aw, what the hell, she thought, grabbing Joyce’s hand and allowing herself to be pulled to her feet and dragged to the floor. Ye only live once!