“Luna in the morning, shining, brightly. Luna in the morning …”
“Wain at night!”
“Yes!” Sister Margery laughed, patting the little boy’s head. “Rain at night, that’s it exactly. My goodness! You’re getting so smart, Tor.”
Tor grinned his two-year-old’s toothiest smile at her. “Again?”
“Of course we can do it again.” There were some – even within the Sisterhood of St. Coral – who thought that the orphans shouldn’t be so indulged. There were plenty who knew that these children, illegitimate and relegated to the bottom of society, would only receive hard knocks in their lives. So, it was thought, it was best to start early.
Sister Margery thought that those who thought that way forgot something important: these children were children. End of story. And every child deserved a good start, deserved to be loved and cherished for whoever he or she was, and needed to learn how to love and trust. For without knowing that there was such a thing as love and trust in the world, why should a child grow into an adult who would work hard enough to rise above the dregs of society?
“Well, whoever could that be?” murmured Sister Margery.
Tor sucked his thumb. “Dunno.”
“I don’t know.” Tor blinked. “Come now, say it. I don’t know.”
“I – don – know.”
Close enough. Sister Margery stood and swung the child onto her hip. “Well! Since you don’t know, and I don’t know, how about we go to see?”
The door was but a short walk away. What she saw when she opened it made her gasp. “Din—Lady Dindrane?”
A thousand questions crowded in her mind. Why are you here? Is that your horse tethered over there? Why did you come alone?
But only one made its way onto her lips: “Are – are you all right?”
Dindrane looked up. “Can I come in?”
“Of – of course! Of course. Where are my manners? Come on in. Have a seat, would you like something to eat? To drink?” Tor was squirming this way and that to get a better look at the visitor, so Sister Margery shifted him. “Oh – and this is Tor.”
“Hi, pwetty lady!” Tor grinned.
Dindrane blinked twice, as if coming out of a dark room into full daylight. “Tor,” she murmured with a ghost of a smile. Then her eyes narrowed, as if she saw something that puzzled or angered her, and just as swiftly cleared again.
She sent Sister Margery a soft look of appeal.
“Oh! Oh, here … have a seat in the, um, sitting room … er … are you sure I can’t get you anything to eat?”
“Thank you, but no.” Dindrane glided into the sitting room and set herself down on the couch.
“I’ll – uh – I’ll be back in a minute! Just let me put this little on into the nursery!”
“No! No nus-wy!”
“Yes, nursery, and you’ll be a good boy.” Sister Margery gathered her skirts in one hand and ran up the stairs with the light steps of a girl. It was the work of a second to hand Tor off to Sister Vyn and explain that they had a guest. Then, it was slow work coming back down the steps again.
When she got to the door again, Sister Margery hesitated, her hands hanging loosely at her sides as she bit her lip. And she wondered.
What was it that had brought Dindrane here, today, alone?
Noblewomen rarely came to the orphanage, and they never went anywhere alone — at least, not anywhere that required them to leave their keeps or castles. Well, not counting Lady Morgan, she was a law unto herself. But the others? Even the feisty Lady Guinevere had a groom with her to see to her horse while she shopped or visited. The Queen traveled by coach, as did Lady Eilwen and Lady Claire, back when she still traveled. Lady Morgause took a coach, at least two footmen, and a maid or two wherever she went.
Dindrane was the only one of the noblewomen who came to the orphanage at all regularly. Most of the other noblewomen, even when they came bearing gifts of clothing or toys for the orphanage, went to the nunnery across the way. The footmen or coachman might come into the orphanage to make the delivery, but not the noblewomen. Dindrane, however, always came in for a politely strained chat while her footman or coachman brought in her largesse.
“Lady Dindrane?” Sister Margery asked, creeping across the sitting room with the same careful steps she used when she had to cross the nursery without waking a sleeping babe or three. “How are you?” She sat.
Dindrane slowly turned to face her, and the only answer she gave was, “I — I hope you don’t mind me coming here — I needed to get away.”
Before Sister Margery could make any reply to that, Dindrane added, “Farther away, I mean. I’m — I’m staying with my parents now.”
“With your parents?” Sister Margery asked.
“Temporarily,” Dindrane replied too quickly. “Because of …” She sighed and her shoulders slowly slumped. “Everything.”
Everything? Sister Margery wondered, but there was no polite, discreet way to ask for more than that.
That woman — did she find out about Sir Mordred’s woman? Some angry, fierce beast leaped up and roared within her. If Dindrane had found out that her husband was untrue — if he had hurt her —
You’ll do what, Margery? intervened the sober voice of common sense. And for what? Sir Mordred takes good care of her, doesn’t he? And her children? Would you be so angry if this were any other noblewoman?
Sister Margery swallowed and tried to calm her fiercely beating heart.
“You — you don’t have to stay here,” Dindrane added. “Keeping me company, I mean. I know you have things you need to do. I just … I can sit here quietly. I just needed to get away.”
Oh, Dindrane, Sister Margery wanted to say, don’t be like that. Don’t push away anyone who wants to help you. Don’t put those walls around yourself, you’ll only hurt more in the end.
Her heart won out here, for what she said was, “Di–Lady Dindrane, have you spoken to anyone about what’s bothering you?”
She looked up and shook her head.
“Well, would you like to?”
It was not so much what she said that convinced Sister Margery of Lady Dindrane’s need to speak. It was how she said it. “Don’t — that is — are you sure you don’t have things you need to do?”
“It’s the job of the Church to give comfort and succor to Sims in need, is it not?”
Dindrane wilted. “Din — Lady –”
“Dindrane. Please. Just call me Dindrane.”
“Of course, if you prefer. What’s wrong?”
Dindrane stared at her lap. “I … I just wanted a …” She whispered so lowly that Sister Margery had to strain to hear. “Friend.”
Friend. It made her heart want to sing and cry at the same time — which was foolish. Was it not the job of a nun to be the friend of all Sims in need? But that was not the answer Dindrane wanted.
“I’m always your friend, Dindrane,” Sister Margery whispered. She was rewarded by a fleeting smile, and was more, a shining light in those flame-blue eyes. “What’s wrong? Tell me.”
Dindrane sighed. “I don’t … I don’t know where to start. And I don’t know … there’s so much I can’t tell …”
“You know I won’t tell a soul. We can treat this … well, we can treat this as confession, if you like.”
“I’ve been sworn to secrecy.”
Sister Margery narrowed her eyes. “Even from the Church?”
“Not forever,” Dindrane — was she pleading? “Just — just until certain things happen. Then I can tell.”
Perhaps that was fair enough. Dindrane’s father was a lawyer. They often dealt in things that were so sensitive they did not trust the Church to keep their secrets. And while the sister in Sister Margery longed to be affronted by this, the Margery in Sister Margery knew that there were too many Churchmen and -women out there who were no better than secular-minded folk when it came to keeping secrets.
“Well,” Sister Margery mused, “how about — how about if I ask you some questions, and … and you answer as much as you can, or wish?”
Dindrane blinked slowly, then she nodded. “Aye. Aye, that will work.”
Sister Margery supposed she could have — perhaps should have — asked Dindrane why it was that she was staying with her parents. But that was a question too easily evaded. Judging by the lack of kingdom-wide scandal, Dindrane must have had some acceptable excuse that she was feeding to the curious and the gossip mongers. It must have been so good that they were buying it. Sister Margery had no desire to be fed such stale reasoning, however.
Instead, she asked, “How are things between you and Sir Mordred?”
Maybe that was being too direct. Maybe, if the trip to her parents was a harbinger of ill tidings, this was precisely the question Dindrane couldn’t answer. But Sister Margery had to ask.
And if this was the question Dindrane couldn’t answer, would she respond with a groan and an, “Oh, Lord. Where to begin?”
“Are you happy with him?”
Dindrane stared at her for a moment, then she shook her head.
“Were — were you ever happy with him?”
She looked off into the middle distance. “I … no. But … but I never expected to be happy with him. At least — happy, perhaps, but not with him. Do — do you understand?”
“I … I’m not sure?”
“I could never love him.” And when she said that, something — tension, fear — seemed to rush out of Dindrane. “Never. Not him. I — were you at the royal wedding?”
Sister Margery cracked a smile. “Dindrane, I’ve got four toddlers and two infants to look after. What do you think?”
Dindrane snorted and giggled. “True, that! I shouldn’t have asked. But — but I was there. And I saw the way both couples looked at each other, spoke to each other, touched each other. I could never feel that. I don’t want to feel that — at least, not for Mordred.”
Sister Margery sternly told her heart to stop singing, and without so much as a quaver in her voice she was able to ask, “Not for your own husband?”
“When … when you put it in the abstract like that …” Dindrane stared into the empty fireplace. “Perhaps it would be easier. To feel that for a husband. But … but not for Mordred.”
“Because …” Dindrane frowned. “Perhaps because I know he would only break my heart in the end.”
“Dindrane …” Sister Margery took a deep breath. “Loving means taking that risk. We cannot give our hearts without accepting that they might be returned to us broken, or not returned to us at all.”
“Says the woman who chose a life of celibacy.”
“Dindrane. Be serious.”
“Oh, I am being serious. There … there are more ways to break a woman’s heart than by not loving her as she loves you, you know.”
Sister Margery blinked. “I — I beg your pardon?”
“You can break a woman’s heart even if you do love her. That’s what I mean.”
“You … can?”
“Oh, aye. That’s … that’s why his being with the Chevaux woman doesn’t bother me.”
Sister Margery’s jaw fell, but only intelligent — if it could even be called that — thing that sprung from her lips was, “You know her name?”
Dindrane looked up. “Shouldn’t I?”
“I — I never would have thought that you would know her name …”
“I’m not a fool, you know. I wasn’t born yesterday. And … and she’s welcome to his love. Such –” Dindrane broke off and looked away. “If — if anything, it’s … it’s for the children’s sake I mind.”
She might have been looking away, but it would have taken a blind woman not to see the trembling of her lips. “Dindrane …”
“Just Margery,” Margery interrupted. And when Dindrane stared at her in surprise, she held up her arm and gestured. “Come here, Dindrane.”
With a still and almost frightened face, Dindrane slid along the bench to rest under Margery’s arm. The velvet of her dress crushed and crumpled against the homespun linen of Margery’s habit. And even though Margery had cuddled and comforted over ten babies and toddlers now, it shocked her how warm and alive Dindrane’s breathing body felt.
Her hand seemed to move of its own accord to take Dindrane’s into hers. “Does that feel any better?”
What a stupid question? As if a mere arm around a shoulder could fix what made Dindrane’s face crumble like that! But Dindrane was nodding, and Margery could find it in herself to be content with that.
“… He doesn’t love my children the way he loves hers,” Dindrane murmured. “And … and …” Margery felt Dindrane shudder and tremble under her. “And now …”
Margery said nothing, beginning to rub Dindrane’s arm.
“I can’t love them enough to make up for … to be the only parent who loves them.”
“Dindrane! How can you say that? You’re their mother. If I can find love without measure in me for orphan babe after orphan babe, with how much more love can you love your own children?”
Dindrane managed a smile.
It faded all too quickly. “You … you have so much more love than I do, though.”
“Nonsense. You’re acting like love is … is like land or gold or fine dresses. That there’s only so much that a person has, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s not true, you know. I know it’s — what’s the word? Starts with a ‘c.'”
Dindrane wrinkled her brow. “Say what you were going to say, then maybe I can tell you.”
“Well, love is like the sea, you know. It’s –”
“That’s the word you were looking for. Cliche.”
“Oh. Oh! Well, what I was trying to say was … love is like the sea. It’s … boundless. Infinite. Trying to empty your supply of love is like trying to empty the ocean with a sieve. It can’t be done. There’s always more.”
“… I don’t think that’s true for everybody.”
“What does it matter if it’s true for everybody? I would bet my last baby-blanket that it’s true for you, Dindrane. I’ve seen you with your children.”
That, at least, made Dindrane crack a real smile.
It was gone too soon. “But I can’t make up for … for him not loving them.”
“Do you think he doesn’t love them?”
“Not … not when he has her children to love. Mine … mine are … I don’t know. Mine are like his horse, or his armor, or his peasants. Things he needs, and things he’ll take care of, but not … not the children he’ll love.”
“Dindrane … have you spoken of this to him?”
She turned a shocked face to Margery. “To Mordred?”
“Even if you can’t love him, you are … married to him,” Margery replied, trying not to let her voice grow thick and stammering. “And you have two wonderful children together. Children who need their father’s love. Tell him that you want him to spend more time with them. You’re his wife, they’re his children. How could he refuse you that?”
So many expressions, soft and fleeting, danced across Dindrane’s face. Watching them was like watching the sky at sunset, the colors all changing moment by moment. Changing too fast to be identified —
Until startled horror leaped onto her countenance. “Bucket,” Dindrane whispered.
“Bucket! Or — privy! Where’s your privy?”
“The — the door in my office –” Margery began, but scarcely had a chance to get those out before Dindrane was off and running.
“Dindrane!” Margery wailed, but Dindrane did not answer.
So after a moment of shocked paralysis, Margery tottered on trembling feet after Dindrane, as the little ones would follow Margery when they were still unsteady on their feet and unable to quite understand that just because Margery was leaving the room it did not mean that she was leaving forever. Her hand shook as she tried the knob on her office door, and her footsteps slowed to the pace of a glacier’s crawl down a mountain.
Until she heard a sound that any sometime nurse and full-time caretaker of infants and toddlers had no choice but to be familiar with.
“Dindrane! Are you all right?”
Stupid question, of course she wasn’t all right! She was vomiting! “Dindrane, I’m –”
“Don’t come in!”
“Dindrane! You’re sick! Let me –”
“I’m not –” Another retch, the sort that always turned Margery’s stomach. Perhaps every Sim’s stomach turned to hear that.
Margery started to turn the knob. “Margery!” Dindrane called. “Don’t!”
“I don’t want you to see me like this!”
It sounded like a sob. If there was a woman who could do anything other than obey that plaintive call, it wasn’t Margery. Her hand fell useless to her side. “I’m going to wait out here,” Margery replied. “If you — if you need anything, you tell me.”
“Thank you …”
So Margery waited. She waited until the retching stopped, and all that was left was the dry heaving and panting of a woman whose stomach was quite emptied. After that, there was the rustle of cloth, then the splashing of the water left in the basin.
Then Dindrane opened the door and shuffled out with the slow, mincing steps of an old woman.
“Oh, Dindrane! Come here — let me get you to a bed, you shouldn’t be walking, as sick as you are.”
Her face had the same color and consistency of chalk, but Dindrane shook her head. “I’m not sick.”
Margery just looked at her. “Dindrane, I heard that –”
“I’m not sick.”
Margery placed her hands on her hips. “And what other reason would there be for a healthy woman to be …” Then the reason flashed across her mind. “Oh! Oh! Oh, I see! But — but you should still …”
Dindrane stared at her for a moment, then she burst into tears.
“Dindrane, what’s wrong? Is — was I wrong?”
Dindrane shook her head.
Margery once again put her arm over her friend’s shoulder and tried to hold her close. “Then what is it?”
“I don’t want to be!”
“With — with child? Oh, Dindrane! But you love your children so!”
“Now, remember what I said about love …”
“That’s why!” Dindrane repeated. “I love this one, too! So — so I don’t want it!”
Margery blinked. “I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“I love it. My baby! So — so can I bring it into this?”
“The wreck I’ve made of everything!”
“Oh, Dindrane. You haven’t made a wreck of everything,” Margery murmured, and held her friend as close to her heart as she dared.
Expectant women sometimes got like this — crying and sad and carrying on. She knew that. That was probably all this was. Yes, that had to be it. Dindrane’s marriage was under some kind of stress, and her condition was making her exaggerate the matter in her mind.
After all … what else could it be?