Courage. That was what Angelique needed now. It was one of the cardinal virtues, but Angelique doubted the Lord would approve of what she was going to do with it now. Or maybe he would. Clearly, a woman who could think of what she was thinking of now was never meant to be a nun, Mother Julian’s plans be damned.
In front of her was the — well, one of the bookstores on the campus. But more importantly, it was the one that stocked the most difficult, esoteric, brilliant texts. Not just the boring Church Fathers that were available in every bookseller’s stall, but the new stuff, the cutting-edge works. The ones that were either this close to heresy, or were only not heretical yet because the Abbot’s Council hadn’t met since before they were published. It was Galahad’s favorite bookstore.
It was also Tuesday. Tuesday was when the shopkeeper usually got new shipments in. If Galahad was going to be there any day of the week, it would be today.
It was, in other words, now or never.
Angelique stopped at the door, trembling. What was she doing? She was leaping feet-first into the unknown! Her plan was mad! And he would never agree. Why would he agree? This was the life Galahad was born to. What did pitiful Angelique have to offer in comparison to the holy life that Galahad took to like a duck to water — unlike Angelique, who only took to it like a duck to lava.
She turned away. This was stupid. It was crazy. She should have never wasted what she had of her morning by coming here today.
She would go back to the nunnery. She would force herself to read the driest and dullest of the Church Fathers as penance. She should have never come up with this plan. She shouldn’t have convinced herself that it was possible. She should just resign herself to what her life would be and get it over with. There would be no escape.
However, as she walked, she could not help but look at the little dress shop a few doors down … and remember … remember what it was that had started her on this wild goose chase.
It was Clarice of all people. By why wouldn’t it have been Clarice? Clarice was the only one who had managed to halfway extricate herself from their father’s web. Lynn, Lynn was the perfect daughter Bors had always wanted. Angelique was stuck in her habit and hating every minute of it, but stuck all the same. Even Elyan, who wanted to study politics and make his mark that way, was dutifully training and searching around for a major that would not offend their father.
But Clarice was going to be doctor, and she was going to marry the man she loved, and presumably spend the rest of her life doing the things she wanted to do and telling their father to go to hell whenever he didn’t agree.
She’d already started with that last bit.
Maybe she hadn’t told Bors to go to hell in so many words. But she had done it symbolically when she had gone home for the investiture of Freddy’s father. Clarice had told Angelique all about it that day in the dress shop: the shivery ride to Albion, showing up at the chateau. Claire had been startled but more than welcoming, hugging Clarice and exclaiming over her. Bors had blustered and stamped and demanded to know what Clarice was doing home when she should be at school. Then he had chanced to look outside the window, saw the carriage with Freddy inside, and he had blown up all over again.
That was when Clarice had looked him dead in the eye, tilted her chin up in that way she had, and told Bors that if he had a problem with her coming home to support her future father-in-law and the man whom he wanted her to marry, then she would gladly stay with Lynn and not bother him with her presence.
What Angelique would have given to see Bors’s face then!
“But that’s not all,” Clarice said. She hesitated, then waved Angelique closer and started to whisper.
“I didn’t just ask Freddy and the driver to wait so I could get to the palace if I had to. If — if Father was going to be difficult — I was going to go inside and close the curtains while he watched.”
Angelique’s jaw dropped. “Clarice!”
“And I told Freddy,” Clarice continued, reddening but proud, “that we could warm up any way he wanted if it came to that.”
Knowing Freddy, that would just be cuddling and maybe some heavy kissing. He didn’t seem like the type to make love to his betrothed before the wedding just to spite her father. He probably also cared too much for Clarice’s physical comfort to try to do the deed in a moving carriage, too. Hell — if Freddy was half as inexperienced as Angelique had pegged him to be, he was probably just as much a virgin as Clarice and wouldn’t know how to go about doing the deed in a moving carriage.
But Angelique wouldn’t tell Clarice that, not when she was so proud of being so bad. “Why didn’t you go one better,” Angelique asked, “and tell Father you would be staying with the Ferreiras?”
It was a test, really, a test for Clarice. If she seemed shocked and aghast, then Angelique would know that the metamorphosis wasn’t complete yet. But if she was nonplussed …
And she was. “Well, I didn’t want to put Mistress–Lady Ferreira out,” Clarice replied. “And I was afraid suggesting that might kill Mother.”
“Mother is stronger than she looks.”
“She is,” Clarice agreed quietly. “But all the same, I didn’t want to upset her. She was angry enough with Father. You know, I think if I had gone to stay with Lynn, she might have come too — and taken the babies!”
“That would have put a cramp in poor Freddy’s plans.”
Clarice blushed again. “Maybe it’s just as well Father stopped arguing.” Then she sighed. “Oh, Angelique! I wish you could have come too! I managed to shut Father down whenever he wanted to scold me for the whole trip!”
“How on earth did you manage that?”
“I told him I’d go stay with Lynn.”
“What, every time he opened his mouth?”
“Pretty much,” Clarice giggled. “I told him I came back to Albion for one purpose, and that was to support Baron Ferreira and Freddy, and not to be scolded on every single thing about me that he didn’t like. And I could do that just as well with Lynn. And, you know, I visited Lynn every day that I was there, except for the day of the ceremony. Lynn sent a carriage for me. It would have been easy for me to take my trunk and go, and Father knew it.”
“Clarice, you are devious.”
Clarice grinned. “Do you think I can keep it up?”
“Keep it up? Clarice, once you get married, you won’t have to put up with any more of Father than you want to. You can order him out of your house, ’cause it’ll be yours!”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Clarice sighed. “Baron Ferreira will still want to work with Father. After all, that is the point of Freddy and I marrying, now. To give Baron Ferreira an ally.”
“Well, I guess,” Angelique replied, although something in that scenario did not seem right to her. But she couldn’t put her finger on just what it was. “But still, you’ll be in your own house. If he starts scolding you, you can always say that you have a headache and have to go lie down.”
“A headache? Angelique, I’ve never had a headache in my life!”
Angelique snorted. “You’d better start soon, then. You’re going to get married as soon as you go back home.”
Clarice knit her brows and tilted her head to one side. “Pardon?”
“Clarice …” Angelique sighed. “It’s how wives … get out of … you know. They say they have a headache.”
Clarice’s brows remained knit — and then she broke out into scandalized laughter. “Angelique! You are so bad!”
“I know. I try.”
Clarice smacked her arm — a silly, light, girly smack — and shook her head. “I can’t believe you knew that. You, a nun!”
“Eh,” was all the reply Angelique would give. She wasn’t sure how she came to know that, either. Or more to the point, she wasn’t sure how it was that Clarice didn’t know that.
“Oh, well. At least the girls you help raise won’t come out completely silly and sheltered.” Clarice smiled, but there was a tinge of red on her cheeks. Poor thing. Angelique had heard from Leona how Clarice hadn’t gotten a sex talk, or begun to truly understand how babies were made, until she started taking her obstetrics class. At least she would have more accurate knowledge under her belt than most noble wives when she came to marriage, but really. Bors, if he had known, ought to have been ashamed of himself. Not all of his children were as enterprising in the search for forbidden knowledge as was Angelique.
“Oh, but Angelique!” Clarice broke into her thoughts. “My dress! You have to see my dress!”
“Ah. The dress. Of course.”
The dress. The reason why Angelique had come to the shop.
Danielle Wesleyan had designed it and done most of the construction, but the final fittings were being handled by the seamstress here. Clarice would bring the dress back and it would all be ready to go. Mistress Wesleyan had apparently come to some sort of agreement with the seamstress here — a cut of the profits, maybe? Or the right to display the dress and make copies, as long as Mistress Wesleyan got a set fee for the design? Something. The details had gone over Clarice’s head, and so perforce Angelique didn’t understand it much, either.
But she did understand that her sister was dying to show off her wedding dress, and Angelique was only too happy to park her bum on the sofa and wait for Clarice to emerge from behind the screen.
“Well?” Clarice asked when she did. “What — what do you think?”
“You look amazing, Clarie.”
Clarice barely seemed to hear her. She turned back to the mirror. “Freddy still hasn’t seen it yet. Do you think he’ll … like it?”
“Only if he has eyes.”
Clarice shot Angelique a nervous smile over her shoulder, then she looked at her reflection again. She started to murmur about how she was planning to do her hair.
Angelique listened with only half an ear.
At the end of the day, she was realizing, Clarice had defied their father — truly defied him. She threatened to pack her bags and leave if she didn’t get her way. And — lo and behold! — she had gotten her way.
Was it really that simple? Did all Angelique have to do in order to set herself free was to stand up for herself — pack her bags and leave? Maybe she couldn’t got running to Lynn like Clarice could, but there were other places she could go.
The trouble was, she didn’t want to go alone.
All of that brought her to the bookstore, looking for Galahad.
After the thought of packing her bags and leaving had entered her head, it hadn’t left. It had stayed there, rattling around, poking itself into her life at the worst possible times. And so, to pacify and mollify the idea and maybe give herself some peace, Angelique had started asking around, softly, subtly. Gossip-mongering, really.
And had she found gossip.
It seems that every group of sisters had one: a nun who had come to Camford, usually one dedicated to the nunnery as an oblate, who had found her chance to cut and run and had taken it. The nunneries could put up their high walls and fences, they could enforce their vows of poverty all they wanted. Somehow, girls who were brave enough or desperate enough found a way to escape. All you needed was a change of clothes, a way out of the gate, and enough money for a horse, and you were gone. You had freedom.
It was the thought of freedom that made Angelique grit her teeth and march for the bookstore.
She wanted her freedom, damn it! Clarice had found freedom, Lynn had found freedom, Elyan had been born into more freedom than she would ever have in her life. Lionel and Evette would probably have their share of freedom, too. Why should Angelique be the only one to go without?
But she wasn’t an idiot. She couldn’t travel alone: that was a good way to end up raped or dead. Maybe if she had been able to go through Albion and into Reme, she could have, but she couldn’t go through Albion. There was too great a chance of being recognized and dragged back to the nunnery, or worse, her father. No, going through Glasonland into Gaul was the better option. She spoke good Gaulish, and she sang good Gaulish. She’d get by.
Just not alone. Glasonland was too unstable. A young woman traveling completely alone, even if she seemed to have nothing worth stealing, wouldn’t last a week. But a young couple, especially one that didn’t seem to have anything worth stealing? A young couple whose young man would be a lot better with a sword than he looked? There was hope for them. And once they got into Gaul, the world would be their oyster. Angelique’s singing would turn them into the most sought-after entertainment in the country. And Galahad? Galahad was brilliant. Sooner or later, some lord would see that and be only to happy to set himself up as Galahad’s patron, so that when Galahad produced his magnum opus the lord could grin and bask in the reflected glory.
Those thoughts, that hope, propelled her into the bookstore.
Where she stopped dead.
Galahad — wasn’t there?
The only other customer in the shop was a tonsured monk. His hair was the same color as Galahad’s, but Galahad wasn’t tonsured. That wouldn’t happen until graduation. He wasn’t there.
All of this, all of her courage screwed and twisted so tight it tied her gut into knots, and he wasn’t there?
Well, she could have to find him someplace else. Galahad loved coffee. She could go to the coffee shop and stay there until he showed up. He’d have to show up sooner or later!
But if he didn’t … she was persona non grata at the chapter house for the Brothers of St. Pascal still …
What was she going to do?
“Angelique! Er — Sister Angelique!”
Angelique spun on her heel. “Galahad?”
He was grinning — grinning! — at her. And he was tonsured!
He trotted to meet her, and Angelique in a daze met him halfway. “I thought that was you!” Damn him, why did he have to sound so cheerful? “No other nun on campus is so … um,” he broke off, starting to flush.
Well. Apparently she still had it after all.
She wanted to say, Galahad, we need to talk. I have an idea. She wanted to tell him, Galahad, you’re the only man who can help me now. She wanted to yell, Galahad, I found a way for both of us to be free!
Instead, all she said was, “You’re … tonsured? I thought that wasn’t happening until graduation?”
“Oh, aye,” he replied with a carefree smile. “Got it done yesterday. I figured, since Will is healthy, and Corey seems pretty healthy from everything Mother writes, and Jessie is healthy too — and so is Celeste! — there wasn’t much use in my waiting for graduation. I mean, Lord willing!”
“Oh,” Angelique murmured. “That’s why it looks so … smooth.”
A day late! she was thinking. Yesterday, I could have had him! If only I could have found him yesterday!
“Aye! But I’ve got to shave it every day or so. Whenever I shave my beard.” Galahad ran a hand over his chin, wincing a little at the rasping sound. “Well, maybe more often than I shave my beard.”
“That must be … hard.”
“Actually we help each other keep our heads shaved. I mean, otherwise, you know me! I’d stab myself in the back of the head with a razor. And that wouldn’t be good!” Galahad laughed.
“No,” Angelique murmured, “no, it wouldn’t be good at all.”
Galahad’s eyes narrowed. “Angelique, is everything all right?”
No! she wanted to yell. No, it’s not all right! You went out and got yourself tonsured! If you had a blasted normal haircut, I could have gotten us both out of here!
But it wasn’t the tonsure, was it? Angelique’s stomach sank as the realization dawned. A tonsure was only a haircut. If it had come to that, they could just shave Galahad’s whole head and let the hair grow back as it would. They could have said that Galahad got on the wrong end of a barrel of pitch — all-to-likely with Galahad — or that he had a bad case of lice and just wanted the little bugs gone. No, the tonsure would be easy to get around.
What was impossible to get around was that Galahad had gotten the tonsure before he had planned to. Not because he was pressured into it, or because the other monks had done it in his sleep or some other stupid guy thing like that. He’d gotten it because he wanted it. Because he wanted to be a monk.
For there was no such thing as a monk without a tonsure — it was easier to imagine a dog without its bark, or a cat without claws, or a woman without a womb. If Galahad go the tonsure … then he was a monk. And he wouldn’t have wanted to run away with Angelique in any case.
Angelique was stuck.
“Oh … nothing. I just …” She sighed, not that that took a lot of effort. “My stomach’s bothering me. I’m sorry — I just have to go.”
“Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that. Do you need somebody to walk you home?”
“No, no, I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. But thank you. Thank you — anyway.” Angelique turned on one heel and hurried out of the bookshop.
After all, she might as well walk herself home alone. Alone — alone and in prison — was how it was going to be for her for the rest of her life.
Her father had won.