In the world but not of it. Lord, how Angelique hated that phrase. It was the sort of thing the Sisters of St. Marla which whom she was staying babbled about morning, noon, and night. It was the sort of phrase she felt and understood when she managed to escape the small convent and go someplace, anyplace, that wasn’t one of her classes. If she hadn’t been wearing the damn habit and the twice-damned wimple, she wouldn’t get so many stares and questioning looks. She wouldn’t set the other students even more on edge than the coffee did.
But she had to get out from time to time. It was either that or spend all of her days in the little convent, and if Angelique had to do that, she would well and truly go mad.
The Sisters of St. Marla were … well, they weren’t like the Sisters of St. Coral, that was certain. They tried to discuss the tenets of the faith over breakfast, outlined their duties over lunch, and eagerly looked forward to doing it all again tomorrow over dinner. From what Angelique could determine, their duties mainly consisted of translating works of the Church Fathers, writing psalms, and singing services. She had thought that she would get along with them just fine, because of the singing. But the Sisters didn’t much care for music as such. They sang services with all the determination of a peasant plowing his field and all the harmony of a crash of dishes in a crowded restaurant. They claimed that it was their faith that mattered, not their sound. If that was true, Angelique decided, the Lord Wright either didn’t have ears or had a really good pair of earplugs.
But Angelique was stuck with them, because she had decided to live there at the beginning of her four years, and she would look difficult if she tried to move to a different branch. Besides, there were advantages to staying with the Marlians. If she said she was going out to have some coffee with her brother, none of the Sisters insisted that they accompany her.
The disadvantage was that when Angelique said that was where she was going, she did have to meet with her brother sometime in the course of the day.
“Good Lord!” Elyan huffed as he sat down. “I cannot believe that serving man! It took him quite five minutes to prepare my coffee!”
“Well, was it a complicated order?”
Angelique furrowed her brows. That was strange; normally the coffee here was doled out at a good clip —
“And every one of the five people ahead of me was served immediately!”
Wait a moment. “So … he probably had to make a fresh pot?”
“Aye, what of it?”
Angelique glared at him. “That takes longer?”
Elyan snorted, the snort he had either inherited or picked up from their father. It was the snort that made Angelique’s palms itch with the desire to smack it out of him. “What difference does that make? The man should plan better. He shouldn’t keep his custom waiting!”
Angelique looked at the line, which was still five Sims deep, with others sitting at the tables, no coffee in hand, clearly waiting for the line to clear up a bit before they took their places in it. She debated pointing this out to Elyan, realized it would get her nowhere, and settled for sighing and rolling her eyes. She had always been the first to butt heads with Elyan when they were younger, the only one to try to assert the natural right of age superiority over him when their father would always take his side. Now that she was older and wiser, she was beginning to see the wisdom of Lynn and Clarice’s strategy for dealing with him. It was easier to leave Elyan to his delusions and laugh at him when they blew up in his face.
Speaking of which, he had probably faced some sort of setback this week — he almost invariably did, even if he refused to see it that way. “Well, enough of that,” Angelique said in a faux-cheerful tone that would have never fooled her sisters, “there’s no getting your coffee any faster now. How has your week been?”
“Good! Very good!”
It has? Damn!
“I did quite well in all of my classes this week,” Elyan continued, a little smugly. “Though I’m still trying to determine what, exactly, to declare for my major. I think politics would be most interesting, but …”
Angelique tilted her head to the side. “But what?” What could possibly be wrong with politics, at least for Elyan, a noble male? It would help him prepare for his position, and if he liked it —
“Father wouldn’t approve,” Elyan sighed.
“What makes you say that?”
“Politics is a game for older men,” Elyan replied, in a sort of world-weary tone that suggested he was quoting, probably their father. “Younger men have to prove their worth with their swords before they can think of pursuing politics.”
“Will du Lac isn’t,” Angelique pointed out. “Proving his worth with his sword, I mean. He’s working with Lord Pellinore.”
Elyan snorted. “Well, I’m sure that’s all well and good for him. He’s Prince Thomas’s best friend, not just his brother-in-law. He can do whatever he likes, I’m sure, and the streets will just be paved with gold for him.”
“Will is Prince Tom’s brother-in–”
“I know that!” Elyan snapped. “I just wish — ugh! Why am I even discussing this with you? You would hardly understand.”
“Try me,” Angelique muttered.
“Bah! You’re a woman. You could never understand a man’s problems.” Elyan waved his hand.
Angelique rose one eyebrow, wondering what would happen if she commented. What if she told Elyan that she knew just how he felt? That she hated being forced into whatever mold their father had decided would be theirs when they were born, a mold that had been made before he even knew what they would be like? That she was sometimes madly jealous of Lynn and Clarice, who had managed to mold their molds around them, instead of the other way around, while Angelique was still figuring out how to do that? Mother Julian’s plan was one thing, but that wouldn’t come into fruition for years yet. Sometimes Angelique didn’t know how she would make it that long.
All she said, with a shrug, was, “You’d be surprised.”
Elyan glanced at her sidelong, his nostrils flaring as they always did when he was deep in thought. He did not, however, say a word. He only snorted and faced front.
Angelique, in her turn, shrugged again and stared out at the coffee shop. If that was how Elyan wanted to be, well, let him. Serve him right if he refused to see that he might have an ally in the never-ending fight against their father.
“Speaking of the du Lacs,” Elyan started, and Angelique almost winced. She didn’t want to speak of the du Lacs, thank you very much. But Elyan continued, “I haven’t seen Leona in ages. I hope she hasn’t gotten herself into mischief.”
He pronounced “mischief” like a stern patriarch who equated any “mischief” on the part of females with mortal sin. In other words, he sounded like their father. Angelique rolled her eyes.
“Well? Have you see her?” Elyan asked.
“I –” she started, and finished lamely, “did.”
“Oh? And where?” It was a demand for an answer, not a request.
Partially because of that, Angelique didn’t want to answer. She only shrugged and replied, “Eh, around. You know. It’s not that big of a campus.”
She also didn’t want to answer because the last time she had seen Leona was also the last time she had seen Galahad, and it had been when Sister Grace stuck her big nose square in the middle of Angelique’s business.
Her last concert. Not her final concert, but the last one she had performed in. Her best yet, in Angelique’s mind, though who knew if anyone else would agree.
Angelique did not know why Leona had even been there. The only explanation Angelique could imagine was that Clarice had told her, and even though Clarice couldn’t make it herself, she had sent Leona in her stead. It would be a very Clarice thing to ask of Leona, and it would be a very Leona thing to agree to. Whatever Elyan might think of his betrothed, Angelique couldn’t imagine a better future sister-in-law.
But what Angelique could not at all understand was why Galahad had come with Leona.
Both of them had sat front and center, drinking in every word Angelique sang. And Angelique sang! She had planned to sing her heart out in any case, since Sister Grace of the Marlians had insisted upon accompanying her, and Sister Grace was one of the most insistent that it was faith that mattered when one sung a service, not mere vocal talent or practiced skill. She had wanted to show Sister Grace just what a well-sung psalm could add to a service, to prove that even if well-sung prayers weren’t more likely to get answered than badly-sung once, they probably annoyed the Lord less.
With Galahad sitting in front of her, though … that plan had, perhaps, not been over-wise.
It wasn’t that her voice had cracked, or she had failed to hit her notes, or that she forgot her lyrics or anything embarrassing like that. Angelique had sung well. She had sung her best to date. Her skill, her talent wasn’t the problem.
Her choice of hymns, however … that had, perhaps, in hindsight, not been the wisest.
She had chosen a hymn written by St. Darren the Dreamer, or so everyone claimed. It was about the love of the soul for the Lord Wright; all Church authorities agreed on that. That Lord Wright sounded a bit … feminized in the song was problematic, but as Angelique’s own music teacher pointed out, St. Darren’s soul was presented as masculine. To characterize the Lord as masculine in that context would be problematic, to say the least. As for any resemblance the Lord in the song might have to a certain Queen, Cassandra of Lothario, well, that was just coincidence, and to suggest that the song wasn’t about the Lord at all, but was about that Queen was just this side of heresy. It was a holy hymn, that was the end of it. If it sounded like a love song … well, it sounded like a love song.
Except, when Angelique had sung it with Galahad in the room, it had come out as a love song. And at least one member of the audience had noticed that.
Still, Angelique had finished her set and slipped into the audience with the normal post-performance high washing over her. “Well!” she whispered to Sister Grace as the next group of performers prepared their instruments, “what’d you think?”
Sister Grace turned her pert little nose up into the air. “You certainly … ‘sang with feeling,’ as you think we ought to.”
“Of course I sang with feeling. That’s how I sing.”
“However,” mused Sister Grace, one finger to her lips, “I am not at all certain you sang with the right feeling.”
Angelique blinked. “Excuse me?” And just who was this broad to accuse Angelique of not singing with the “right” feeling? Would she know the “right” feeling if it managed to make its way through her layers of skirts and habit to bite her in the arse?
“Your ‘Hymnus ad Amantem‘ sounded like a love song.”
Angelique almost flinched, but luckily was able to keep enough of her wits about her to avoid it. “It’s called ‘Hymn to My Lover,'” she pointed out, opting to play dumb instead.
“‘Hymn to the Lover.’ The Lord,” Sister Grace corrected, bowing her head in reverence. It was lucky for Angelique that she did so, else she would have seen Angelique rolling her eyes.
“Whatever,” Angelique replied. You didn’t quibble with Sisters of St. Marla over translations — they took it so damn personally. “The point is, ‘Lover’ is in the title — and I think my interpretation is true to St. Darren’s original intention. If you can’t see that, well …” She made a show of looking to the side and sighing. “I’m not sure if I can ever explain it to someone who isn’t, well, musical …”
“I have been singing in the Oblates’ Choir with the Sisters of St. Marla since I was a child. I assure you, Sister Angelique, I am just as musical as anybody.” Sister Grace sniffed, and Angelique forcibly bit her tongue. If she hadn’t, she might have been forced to point out that singing off-key with a bunch of bored little girls who, again, wouldn’t know real music if it bit through their habits to get them on the arse did not make one musical. “What’s more important, I think I have more of an acquaintance with holy music than you, Sister Angelique. After all, your order is only concerned with the care of orphans.”
Angelique turned to Sister Grace with a hiss. “And what is that supposed to mean?”
“I mean I doubt that you sing so much as a single service for the dearly departed, to hasten them in their journey to Heaven.” She had the gall to turn up her chin and look smug at that!
“No, we don’t,” Angelique admitted, voice syrupy-sweet. “We have other ways to extort–I mean, garner donations.”
Angelique should not have said that. She truly, truly should not have said that. That would be sure to get any singing nun’s dander up. It would definitely get any badly-singing nun’s dander up, because Angelique had just threatened her meal ticket.
Sister Grace’s eyes widened and she almost sucked in her teeth with her gasp. “Sister Angelique! How — how could you –“
Then her eyes narrowed. “Never mind. I know well how you could say such a thing. You are hardly a model sister, after all.” She sighed, endeavoring to sound disappointed.
Angelique was sure that Sister Grace was expecting a protest, an argument, so that she could outline in just ways that Angelique was no model sister. That was why she shrugged. “I know. But I think I am the sister the Lord wants me to be.” Let’s watch her try to turn that into a bad thing!
“Far be it from me to criticize what the Lord desires,” Sister Grace replied, “but I think you are in grave danger of assuming that your desires are the same thing as the Lord’s calling.”
Angelique felt her head swivel to stare at Sister Grace. “And just what does that mean?” she hissed.
“Very little,” Sister Grace admitted, “other than that, whatever else the Lord may want you to do or be … I doubt he wants you to be profaning His holy hymns by singing them as love songs … to a monk.”
Sister Grace won that round.
“Say,” Elyan murmured, leaning forward. “That’s a fine piece of –” He broke off, staring guiltily at her. Guilty? Elyan?
“Piece of what?” asked Angelique.
“Oh … nothing,” he said, flushing. “At least — nothing a — nothing a — nothing a nun would understand!”
“So …” Angelique considered the rather short list of things a man would choose to end the phrase “piece of” and wouldn’t want to repeat to his sister the Sister. “A fine piece of ass?”
“Angelique!” Elyan gasped.
“I may be a nun, brother, but I’m not dead — and nor am I an idiot. So where is this girl that’s caught your eye?”
“… Was it a boy?”
Elyan’s jaw fell, and almost before he knew what he did, he pointed.
Angelique’s jaw fell too. Does he … She glanced sidelong at her brother, who was sizing up the “piece of ass” with a lustful look that she had never once seen him apply to Leona. Amazing what a dress and a new haircut could do. Amazing what an idiot her brother was.
She wondered …
She glanced at Elyan, then at the “piece of ass,” then at Elyan again. “You know,” she said, doing her damnedest to keep her tone musing, “I think you have a better-than-average chance with her.”
“You d–” Elyan started to ask, then he gasped. “Angelique! You are a nun!”
“And a woman. And, once again, not dead or an idiot,” she pointed out. “I think you ought to try.”
“But — but you –“
“Is it such a sin,” she asked in her best sad-voice, “to want to see my little brother get all that he deserves and more?”
That did it for Elyan. His eyes bulged for a moment, then he puffed out his chest. “Well! When you put it that way … wish me luck, Angelique!” He pushed his hair back, as if he was straightening an imaginary hat, rose and ambled over to where the “piece of ass” was standing.
Angelique snickered and just hoped that Leona would forgive her … eventually.
The girl was still involved with the boy she with whom was conversing when Elyan came up to them. Angelique saw him pretend to cough, and fidget, and try to get the girl’s attention. She, however, refused to look away.
Angelique tried hard not to laugh aloud, or at least so loud that Elyan would hear her. But it was so hard! She could just see Elyan blustering and bluffing and puffing himself up, preparing to steal the pretty girl — or attempt to steal the pretty girl — from the attentions of whoever the young man was. If only she could see the expression on his face — that would have been a memory she would cherish unto her very grave!
Perhaps, however, it was just as well that she could not see his face. If she could see his face, then he might have been able to see hers, and that would have given the whole game away. She wouldn’t want to let a little thing like a smile she was unable to hide stand in the way of her brother getting all that deserved, would she?
Besides, the golden moment soon came, the moment they had all been waiting for. The moment when the girl turned around. The moment when Elyan’s pretty (or so he would think) compliment finally rose to his lips … and promptly dropped dead of shock.
And they must have all been waiting for that moment, for when Elyan yelped, “LEONA!” all other sound in the coffee shop ceased.
“Yes?” asked Leona, as easily and as carefree as if Elyan had said her name in a perfectly normal tone of voice, as if every eye in the coffee shop wasn’t on her and her bumbling betrothed.
“Le–Le–LEONA!” Elyan repeated.
“Last I checked?”
“You — you — what happened to you?”
“I got a new dress and a haircut.”
“But–but–but–” He stared Leona up and down, his jaw falling.
Then Elyan proved that he was Bors’s son, not just by his looks or his voice or even his walk, but by his actions. When presented with something he could not possibly understand or truly appreciate, he found something unrelated and started to yell about it. “I never want to see you act that way again!”
“Act what way?” Leona snarled.
“Flirting! Being — practically –” Angelique could almost watch the steam rising from Elyan’s ears. He turned to the boy, who was watching the exchange with what could only be called confusion. “She’s my betrothed!”
“Unfortunately,” Leona deadpanned, causing the entire cafe to break into giggles, even the boy to whom she had been talking, who had only looked confused when Elyan half-accused him.
“You — you aren’t taking me seriously! You must–“
“Take you seriously?” Leona laughed. “Elyan, have you looked in the mirror lately? Take you seriously?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Elyan asked, almost looking … stung.
That seemed to subdue Leona. She really was too good for Elyan. Angelique would have only laughed harder. “Look, Elyan,” she murmured. “You want me to take you seriously? Then be serious. Treat me the way you’d like to be treated, and I’ll do the same for you. Until then, Elyan …” She shrugged. “Don’t expect me to treat you as anything other than my joke of a betrothed.”
With that, she pushed past him and sidled up to the counter to order her coffee.
Leona, Angelique thought, won that round.