“And once I’ve killed the dragon and married the princess, I’ll be home in time for tea!” finished Melehan with a flourish.
“That’s stupid,” scoffed Melou.
“Hey! Mama! Melou just called me stupid!”
“I didn’t call you stupid, stupid, I just –”
“Mama! He just did it again!”
“I did–all right, maybe I did that time, but still –”
“Thtoo-pid!” Aimée chortled over her brothers’ quarreling voices. “Thtoopid, thtoopid!”
“Boys!” Rosette snapped, throwing her sewing to the table. She had been trying to take a step back, let them solve their own problems, but when the baby got involved, it was too much. “Stop teaching bad words to your sister.”
“But Mama! Melou started it!”
“Melehan,” Rosette warned.
“And he still called me –”
Melehan huffed and went back to his coloring. “Well, he did.”
Rosette rolled her eyes, then reached again for the needle and thread. For a split second, though, she hesitated. There were really better things she could be sewing with this time she now had —
“Ye’re a saint, ye know that, Mistress Chevaux?”
Rosette pricked her finger with the needle and had to hurriedly bite back a few bad words of her own. Sucking on the finger, she effected a chuckle. “A saint?”
“Well, them kids are a handful, ain’t they?” Ella laughed.
Rosette glanced over her sewing basket at her children. Melehan was once again expounding about the dragons he’d slaughter and the maidens he would save. Melou was watching him skeptically, doubtless awaiting the next opportunity to call the whole enterprise stupid. Or, at the very least, he would point out that Melehan could hardly get all of that done before tea — it would take him until supper at least. One never really knew with Melou. And Aimée? Aimée babbled to herself as she colored; mostly she had words to say now, even if some of them only made sense to her.
She was chewing on the chalk, Rosette noted — but let it go. It wouldn’t do her any harm. Cleaning her teeth would be a bear tonight, but while Aimée would be bouncy and impatient, she would at least be bouncy and impatient with a smile. The boys had not been nearly as much “fun” to clean up after chalk-chewing episodes.
Rosette added a few stitches expertly, then murmured, “I’m hardly saintly, Ella. I’m just … a mother.”
“Jest a mother, my behind! My ma says there ain’t no such thing as ‘jest a mother,'” Ella laughed. “She says that was somethin’ men came up with. They don’t know the half o’ it.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m sure being a father can be just as hard as being a mother, if you’re going to do it properly.” Rosette stared at the green and pink cloth before her, at her needle flying in and out, joining the seams together. How nice to see something that was coming together, instead of coming apart. “My own father can’t have had an easy time with all of us.” And Mordred … Mordred can’t be having that easy of a time, either.
“But how many of ’em do do it right?” asked Ella.
Rosette stopped her sewing. “What … what exactly do you mean by that, Ella?”
“Well, yer pa seems a good one — he’s a nice man, anyway, that much I know. An’ my pa, he was great. Lukas’s da seems good, too. But Berach’s pa — Joyce’s husband’s pa? From what Joyce has said — when Berach weren’t around ter listen, mind — sounds like he were no more good at bein’ a pa than I’d be at fightin’ a knight.”
Oh. This was about Finley Brogan? Well, in that case … “I know,” Rosette replied. “My sister has told me some horror stories.”
“Fancy!” Ella laughed. “I fergot fer a minute there that yer sister is married ter Grady! Won’t that be fun, when I’m married? We’ll both have a sister what married inter the Brogans. Well, sort of …”
“Sister-in-law, in your case,” Rosette said with a smile.
“Is it different?” Ella asked. Luckily, she couldn’t see Rosette’s suddenly lost expression — and even luckier, she explained almost immediately. “Sisters an’ sisters-in-law, I mean?”
“Er … well …” Good Lord, Rosette wasn’t the one to ask. She didn’t have any sisters-in-law — except of course for her brothers’ brides — and she’d never even seen Meg since Meg was nothing more than a gawky girl. “Well … I think it is, Ella. I mean, you’ll probably never be as close to your sisters-in-law as you are to your sister.”
“Ye’re probably right,” Ella slowly mused. “Roma says that Meg is a right cold fish sometimes. An’ Toinette’s too busy ter have much time fer her, especially now that they moved house an’ all.”
“Hmm.” Rosette wasn’t sure she could blame Meg for her cold-fish-ness, if she was a cold fish and not just quiet and shy. It was because of Simon that her peace and happiness had been exploded; it had been Simon who had dragged Pierre out to the whorehouse and given that woman — whatever her name was — the opportunity to fixate on Pierre as the father of her child. Of course, Meg could well blame Pierre for the whole thing from beginning to end — and maybe she wouldn’t be far wrong in that — but if Rosette knew Pierre, and if she knew Simon … well, she would lay the ultimate blame at Simon’s feet nine times out of ten.
It also probably didn’t help that Roma was the sister of the woman who ran the whorehouse. If Meg was the type to let grudges expand, it would probably engulf Roma too by association. And perhaps even Ella, though Ella was just as innocent in the whole matter as Roma was. But of course that wouldn’t matter — not to the world at large, even if the Thatchers themselves were somehow blessedly free of the habit of assuming guilt by association. For most Sims, the Thatcher girls being sisters of a whore would tar them with the same brush. Somehow Simon — or more likely Cerise — and Lukas Pelles had been able to see past that.
Rosette couldn’t help the nervous glance she cast at her children, wondering who would try to tar them with her brush once they got old enough for tarring.
Good Lord. Who would have thought that she would ever have to worry about such a thing with her own children? Who would have thought that —
“I’m sorry, dear,” Rosette asked as Ella’s voice washed over her head like a burbling brook, “what was it that you said?”
“Oh, I was just laughin’! ‘Cause yer brother is married ter Meg, an’ soon I’m going to be married ter Meg’s brother. So we’ll really have a sister-in-law in common, aye?”
Rosette digested that and slowly began to smile. “Aye,” she replied. “We shall.”
“Rosette?” Ella asked. “Mind if I get a bit impertinent?”
“Impertinent? You?” Or at least — asking permission to be impertinent? It was almost as shocking as the idea of Melehan or Melou asking permission to say a bad word.
“Well … sometimes,” she giggled. “But really … where’d ye learn ter talk so good?”
“Camford,” Rosette replied at once, without thinking.
“Oh!” Ella answered. “… What was it like?”
Her voice was soft, hesitant, curious — everything such a voice should be. Good Lord. What was Rosette to say now?
“It’s …” She groped for descriptors. “It’s a place for lords and the wealthy, Ella. Not for Sims like us.”
“But ye went there,” Ella pointed out with the inexorable logic of the far-too-young-for-their own-good. “Didn’t ye like it?”
Rosette pushed her sewing to the side and sat back. “In some ways …” she murmured. “In some ways, I think … it was the happiest time of my life. But that was because of — of –”
“Sir Mordred?” Ella piped.
“Aye,” Rosette agreed. “Aye. Because of him.”
“That were kind o’ like yer honeymoon phase, weren’t it?” Ella asked, all innocence. But how could you call a girl talking about a mistress and her lover so nonchalantly at all innocent? Most Sims wouldn’t imagine it possible.
Even though Rosette hadn’t answered, Ella giggled. “Me ma’s been tellin’ me a lot about the honeymoon part. Maybe a little more than I want ter be knowin’ — she talks about her an’ Pa, ye know. I’m tryin’ ter get Roma ter spill some details, but she says such things ain’t fer maiden’s ears. She’s probably jest sayin’ that ter annoy me,” Ella mused.
“Ella,” Rosette murmured, standing up, “I wouldn’t assume that. Some things … really aren’t for maiden’s ears.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. I was there when Marie was born, ye know. Ma says she figures anybody who’s seen a baby comin’ out is entitled ter know all about puttin’ it in.”
Rosette stopped dead. “Your — your mother let you go with her?”
“Well, Roma wanted me, so why not?” Ella shrugged.
Rosette considered that. When Katie had been born, there hadn’t been any question of Rosette attending — her mother wouldn’t hear of it. And she had been just Ella’s age. But Cerise wasn’t the midwife, with her … altogether strange views of the world, relations between men and world, and her own and her daughters’ places in both. And, perhaps more importantly, Toinette and Rosette had seven years and all the baggage of it separating them. Roma and Ella were scarcely two years apart.
“Besides, didn’t ye always go when yer sister had her babies?”
“… No,” Rosette admitted, sinking to the bench beside Ella.
“No? Why not?”
“Well, when Katie was born, my mother wouldn’t have heard of it — she thought I was too young. When Paddy was born, I was at Camford and … couldn’t get home.” Better to leave it at that, and not mention her cowardice in refusing to come home without Mordred in those years. When Mordred came home, she had no choice but to return to her own home, but she had avoided it at all other times — perhaps afraid her parents would see in her face that she was no longer the innocent maiden who had left them.
“And then, when Nora and Sean and Aileen were all born … well. My mother and I weren’t speaking, and since she would of course still be there … I could hardly make things harder for Toinette with my presence. Does that make sense?”
Perhaps it didn’t. Ella’s eyes were wide as two enormous blue lakes. “Rosette … Aileen ain’t a year old yet.”
“No, no, she’s not,” Rosette replied.
“Ye still ain’t made up with yer ma?”
Rosette felt her head began to droop like a flower on its stalk.
“No.” Rosette let her voice ring the final bell, close the lid on the coffin. “We have not made up.”
But not the conversation, apparently. “But Rosette! That’s yer ma!”
“Believe me, I’m aware of that.”
“But … don’t she want ter know her grandkids? I mean, my ma’s only got Marie fer real, but she loves Bran an’ Ginny an’ Thorn an’ Betony like grandkids — an’ she’ll love the new one like her own grandkid, too, I’m bettin’, when he comes — an’ she’d walk through fire ter get ter them if she had to. I think she likes them better than she likes Roma an’ Billy an’ me!”
“I don’t think …” Rosette murmured, then she cast a glance over her shoulder at her children. They still played and colored, blissfully unaware of their mother’s distress.
May it always be so, she prayed.
She breathed deep and turned back to Ella. “I don’t think my mother is very interested in seeing my three.”
“Why?” Ella gasped.
“Because … because she doesn’t like what I’m doing. She doesn’t … doesn’t …”
“Understand?” Ella asked breezily. “Aye, do I get that.”
Rosette stared at Ella, lips slightly parted. She got it? She got it?
No. No, she didn’t get it. Ella was only seventeen — she would think that every stricture her mother put onto her was evidence that her mother didn’t understand. She didn’t remember what it was like to be young. Had she never loved? Had she never touched a boy’s hand and felt her heart flutter? Had she never kissed a boy and wanted to die rather than live a moment when she wasn’t kissing him again?
Rosette had thought the same thing when she was seventeen. But in her case, her mother had had more reason to put up strictures and rules and curfews and all the rest of it. Rosette hadn’t been respectably betrothed to a nice boy with good prospects and respectable parents. She’d been sneaking around with a nobleman who would never marry her.
No, Rosette thought as Ella babbled about her mother’s latest rules, the trouble didn’t come from mothers who forgot what it was to be young. The trouble, Rosette was slowly becoming sure, came from mothers who remembered all too well what it was to be young.
“An’ ye know, she’s told me three different ways ter keep babies from happenin’ since Lukas an’ I got engaged! Three! Can ye believe it, Rosette?”
However, apparently Kata Thatcher had different memories of what it was like to be young, or else she was dealing with them in a way Cerise Chevaux would have never considered.
“I mean,” Ella continued, shaking her head, “what kind o’ girl does she think me? Do I look like that –” Ella started, and suddenly stopped.
“Do you look like a girl like me — is that what you were going to ask?” Rosette asked, perhaps a bit cruelly.
“You’re not like that,” Ella replied. “Ye’ve only got yer one man, eh?”
“Yes, but –”
“But nothin’. I mean, jest cause ye two ain’t married — there’s worse things ye could do, ain’t there? Anyway, it’s him what ain’t bein’ true to one person, so it’s him who should get the blame. At least, that’s what my ma says.”
How ironic — one moment chafing under her mother’s rules, the next holding up what she said as the gold standard of wisdom. But what was that if not being seventeen?
“Men can, though. Do that, I mean,” Rosette shrugged.
“Well, that ain’t right,” Ella snorted. “I’ve told Lukas, he thinks he’s gonna try any funny business like that with me, he’ll be seein’ the back side o’ the fryin’ pan real soon! Er … not that yer man is doin’ any funny business with ye …”
No, I’m just the woman who should be giving his wife due cause to clock him one with a frying pan. Except, of course, Lady Dindrane had done something far more shocking than giving her husband a bruise or banishing him to the sofa or the floor in front of the fire. She had left him — left him and taken the children with her. And the King had let her do it.
“I understand. You and Lukas have …” Rosette groped for words. “You must have a very strong love. And you can — be together. You don’t have any other duties or obligations you have to fulfill, rather than …”
“Bein’ together. Aye. We’re lucky.”
Lucky. How odd, that what was normal, expected to Rosette when she was growing up was “lucky” to Ella. Ella wasn’t lucky, she wanted to say — Ella was just living the life she was born to, the one she was supposed to live. It didn’t take luck to stay in your place, mind your betters, and conform to everybody else’s expectations. It just took having enough sense never to look up the sky, lest one be bewitched by a passing bird.
“I mean,” Ella continued, gasping, “what if Lukas had been born a lord — or me a lady? Lord! That would’ve been terrible! … But not impossible, I guess,” Ella mused.
“Not — impossible?”
“Well, ye an’ Sir Mordred seem ter manage pretty well, in spite o’ everythin’. An’ Lady Morgan is a lady, ’bout as high a lady as ye can get, an’ she an’ Lukas’s Uncle Accolon managed ter make it work, somehow.”
That was … true. Rosette had never thought of it that way. Somehow, Lady Morgan had managed to marry the man who held her heart — despite the very forces of life and death, it seemed, being ranged against her. What a woman she must be, to fight against that type of enemy!
“An’ Lukas says they’re disgustin’ly happy tergether. When he sees ’em, that is,” Ella continued.
“They … don’t see each other often?”
“Well, it’s hard, Lukas says. Lord Accolon, he don’t remember growin’ up with Lukas’s pa, or their parents, or nothin’. He didn’t meet ‘im again until after Lady Morgan found ‘im an’ married ‘im. So, ye see, Lukas says it’s jest one big ol’ mess o’ awkward an’ weird when they’re tergether — so they don’t get tergether much. Ye know?”
“Aye. I know.” Rosette in theory would have been welcome at her sister Toinette’s home at any time — or even, she supposed with Simon and Roma. But it would be — awkward. And strange. Sometimes, she thought their childhood was all she had in common with Toinette and Simon any more, though less with Toinette than with Simon. To have completely changed one’s stars, and then lose the memories of the childhood?
“I understand completely,” Rosette murmured.
Yet … Lord Accolon had changed his stars for love. And somehow or other, some road bumps aside, he seemed … well, minimally the worse for it. At least Ella had said he was happy, disgustingly so, so maybe it was only a matter of negotiating the rough seas before one pulled into a safe and happy port.
Rosette looked over her shoulder at her children. “Does … does your Lukas ever talk about his cousin? Ra–Ravenna, I think her name is? Lady Ravenna?”
“What about her?”
“Is she …” Rosette looked again at her children. “I don’t know. Happy? Pleasant?” Not tarred with her parents’ brush?
“I dunno,” Ella shrugged. “Lukas says … well, he says she’s a bit cagey, ye know? Not talkin’ much? Oh — an’ he says that some o’ the other kids, the posh ones, they give her a hard time. Because o’ her ma an’ pa.”
So there was no escaping it, then. A daughter was always tarred with her mother’s brush. Even if the daughter was innocent and had nothing to do with what her mother and father had done before she was born.
But then again …
Lord Accolon and Lady Morgan had managed to change their stars for love’s sake. And they were only the first in the kingdom. And Ravenna was only the first generation of children from star-changers.
Rosette glanced over her shoulder at her own children.
Maybe it would be different for the second generation.