It was Kata Thatcher’s firm belief that joys and sorrows tended to come from all sides at once. There were some who swore that one or the other — or both — only came in threes. They didn’t know a damn thing, or else they were only seeing what they wanted to see.
As for Kata, she wondered as she wove — Billy was growing apace these days and needed all the new outfits she could make for him — just what would be next around the bend for her.
She had seen a lot of sorrow and a lot of joy over the past few months. First and foremost was, of course, Marie’s death. That cast its shadow over all. Her first grandchild — gone. Her heart still seized unexpectedly when the grief came and hit her out of nowhere.
But she had had joy, too. Lyndsay’s newest, a pretty girl the proud parents called Cicely, was a bouncing and healthy mite, thriving and happy. And then there was Ella, married the very day after her eighteenth birthday.
And there, in its own way, was sorrow.
Not that she didn’t have joy, too, or that her joy wasn’t stronger than her sorrow. When Kata thought of Ella and only Ella, she couldn’t be anything but joyful. Ella was thrilled at her marriage, and her boy Lukas was every bit as proud and preening as a new young husband should be. And if Ella had to leave Kata’s roof to live under another woman’s, then there was no other woman Kata would rather see Ella with but Betsy Pelles. Betsy Pelles was probably the sweetest woman in the kingdom, and what was even more, she’d risked her own life and livelihood to help Kata’s grandchild. And then she’d given that grandchild a dog to make up for all the poor boy had suffered! To top it all off … if one believed Betsy’s story that Thorn had been dead when she found him, and only brought back to life by Betsy’s praying, then that woman was nothing less than a living saint. Between her and Lukas, Ella was in good hands.
But that meant that Ella wasn’t in Kata’s hands anymore. Any mother who didn’t feel some sorrow at that was not a mother at all.
The shuttle dipped and danced over the warp, and Kata wondered just what the Lord had in store for her next.
Maybe it would be more joy. Roma wasn’t showing yet, but she’d missed enough courses and was showing enough other signs for Kata to be sure she was pregnant. Ella would soon be expecting, too — Kata was practically certain of it. She had told that girl all she knew about keeping babies from starting before one was ready, but Ella doubtless thought she was ready. And why not? She was married to a good man, had a stable home, and also had a pair of in-laws who were probably dying for more grandchildren. Ella was as ready as she would ever be, and probably readier than most when they had their first child. As for all the ways she wasn’t ready … well, nobody ever was until the squalling newborn arrived. That would only resolve itself with time.
She was just about to start a new row when a knock came from the door. Kata looked up. Now, who could that be? It wouldn’t be Billy, he was out fishing behind the barn — and he’d come in through the back, anyway.
She got up and went to answer the door — and almost jumped. “Roma!”
“Hallo, Ma.” Roma tried to smile, but it soon dropped of her face again, as if holding the expression was too much effort. “I — I hope ye don’t me comin’ over — but, but all me chores were done, an’ me shift won’t start fer an hour, so I thought –”
“Oh, shush, ye an’ yer thinkin’! Ye know ye’re always welcome!” Kata grabbed her and crushed her to her breast. “Ye want some tea?”
“I don’t want ter put ye out, Ma.”
“Nonsense, ye ain’t puttin’ me out none. Ain’t nothin’ ter boil water fer tea.”
“But I’m fine, Ma. An’ … an’ the smell …” Roma rested her little chin on Kata’s shoulder. She probably thought she was holding her emotions in masterfully, but Kata was her mother, and a mother always knew when her baby was distressed. And Roma had been so thrilled when Marie was on the way, too … not, perhaps, thrilled about the being sick parts of it, but thrilled to know she was growing a baby.
And now …
Kata patted her daughter’s back. “Well, that’s enough said, then. I won’t be sendin’ ye runnin’ fer the privy right before ye’ve got ter go ter work.” She broke away, gesturing Roma to the table. “Have a seat, love, an’ tell me how ye’ve been doin’. Does the food at work set ye off?”
“Not unless Nicole is makin’ her spicy porridge — an’ she promised not ter do that until I stopped feelin’ sick.”
“Ye’ve got a good friend in her.”
“Aye.” Roma pouted, her chin in her hands. “That’s why I weren’t about ter … ter bother her. Her shift starts same time as mine, ternight.”
If Roma had been in better shape, Kata would have asked what that meant for her. But Roma wasn’t, so only more reassurance was in order. “Honey, ye ain’t botherin’ me.”
“If ye say so. I know … I know it’s been slow fer ye, recently.”
“It has been,” Kata agreed. There was no need to fill in the rest: that Kata’s slow times, when for some reason most of the women of the kingdom had decided to not be having babies, were sometimes her busiest times, since she was so busy getting things out of the way for when the next baby wave crested. “But ye know, what with that Lady Clarice comin’ back home an’ settin’ up as a doctor, I think I’ll have a bit of an easier time o’ things fer a while.”
“That can’t be good.”
“Bah! Bite yer tongue, lass! Let yer poor old mother rest, an’ let someone else go runnin’ around after the noblewomen. They’re always more trouble than the fee is worth.”
“Really?” Roma asked, seeming to come out of her daze, if only in disbelief.
“Ye’d better believe it! Lord, they expect ye ter wait on them hand an’ foot, on top o’ the other place. Or — no, I shouldn’t say that. A birthin’ mother’s got every right ter be waited on hand an’ foot. An’ half the time it ain’t the woman givin’ birth who is the problem. It’s the other noblewomen attendin’ on her, or the husband.” Kata shook her head and clucked her tongue. “I’ll tell ye a secret, me lass. When ye’re attendin’ ter a noblewoman, ye ain’t really in charge o’ yer own birthin’ room, an’ there ain’t a midwife on earth who likes that. The mother don’t answer ter no one, o’ course — but it’s everyone else in the room who ought ter be answerin’ ter me, not the other way around.”
“An’ it’s different with peasant women?”
“You bet it is?”
“Even with …” Roma sighed and closed her eyes. “Even with me ma-in-law?”
“Oooh, ye bet! Especially with her!”
Roma rested her chin on her hands again and sighed. “She’s already sayin’ she wants ter be there when … when the new baby comes.”
Kata barely avoided blinking. So. So Roma was slowly beginning to accept that there would be life, and a baby, after Marie. Or else she had only seen the futility in trying to fight against it.
“Hmm. Well, that’s yer call, me lass. I won’t say no if ye want her there.”
“I don’t know how ter say no ter her. It’s her grandbaby …” Roma’s head tilted forward, her hands tangling in her hair.
“It’s yer baby, an’ it’s ye who will be givin’ birth ter it. That’s how ye say no,” Kata replied. “Look, lass, ye’re more than welcome ter use me as an excuse. Say the last thing ye want ter deal with while ye’re pushin’ is her an’ me feudin’. Axe her, nice-like, if she really wants ter put ye through that.”
“Fer hours an’ hours an’ hours …” Roma shuddered.
Well, it probably wouldn’t be hours and hours and hours, not for a second baby. But if Roma thinking so kept that bitch Cerise out of Kata’s delivery room, then she would gladly let her think that. And she would tell the truth later — say, when it was too late for Cerise to be called in.
“Does it make me a bad person, ter not want her there?” Roma asked, her head popping up. “She … she’s been right kind ter me, with … everythin’ …”
So she had been. So she had been. Cerise was over there at least every few days, Kata knew by way of Ella by way of Meg. If Roma was tired or queasy, Cerise shooed her into her room to rest and did all of her chores for her. She didn’t even criticize Roma’s housekeeping, though from what Kata had gathered about Simon’s housekeeping before he married Roma, maybe Cerise saw enough improvement that she wasn’t about to jeopardize it with criticism. Cerise was certainly doing her part to make sure that this pregnancy went smoothly and the baby that came at the end was as healthy as they could make him or her. With all that in mind, it seemed a bit cruel to deny her access to the delivery.
But on the other hand …
“Look, Roma, it don’t make ye a bad person ter not want ter have ter listen ter her an’ I bicker when ye’re havin’ a baby. Lord! That would be silly. But what ye could do is axe her ter sit out with Simon, keep him calm. Say it would be a big favor ter ye. That way she gets ter see her grandbaby at once, an’ she an’ I won’t be at each other’s throats.”
“That …” Roma hesitated. “That could do it, but …”
Roma sighed. “Simon …”
And the back door flew open, and Billy called, “Ma, I –” He stopped. “Roma!”
Of all the blasted times fer the little scamp ter come in!
“Hallo, Billy,” Roma waved, smiling wanly.
“Ma!” Billy trotted up to Roma with a twelve-year-old’s loping, not-quite-finished-growing stride. “Why didn’t ye tell me Roma was here? How are ye, sis?”
“Figured ye wouldn’t be that excited,” Kata replied laconically as Billy pulled his big sister up and hugged her as tightly as he could. “Guess I was wrong.”
“Ma! It’s Roma!”
“Ye ain’t never half this excited when Ella comes by,” Kata teased.
“She ain’t been gone long enough fer me ter miss her yet!”
“Billy!” Roma half-shrieked, scandalized and laughing. “That’s mean!”
“It’s true is what it is!”
Kata chuckled. And there was some truth in it. Roma and Ella had always had sisterly spats, but underneath that was the unspoken assumption that if anyone went for one, the other would have her sister’s back. Ella and Billy had always had a more tempestuous relationship. And as for Roma and Billy … well, they scarcely ever fought at all. But Roma had been eight years old when Billy was born. An eight-year-old and an infant didn’t have much to fight about, and as they grew older, they still didn’t have much to fight about. Ella and Billy had been just close enough for spats to start.
“So, Roma,” Billy asked, watching his big sister, “how are ye feelin’?”
“Oh, fine, fine.”
“An’ that Simon? How is he treatin’ ye?”
If Billy had asked that question six months ago, Kata would have laughed out loud to see the boy carry on so. So firm, so serious! A little patriarch at twelve. But now … on the night of Marie’s death, Kata had had plenty to distract her, but she had seen the glares Billy had thrown in Simon’s direction, had watched him at the funeral. Something was going on there.
And something was going on with Roma and Simon, too, for Roma only said, “Oh, fine,” and didn’t elaborate further. She didn’t even laugh. That wasn’t like Roma.
But there were limits to what a mother could ask her daughter — especially when a little brother was sitting so close. “How’s he bearin’ up?” Kata asked instead. That, she thought, would be permissible.
Roma didn’t answer right away. Her hands were still — she didn’t even look down at the table — but with Billy there, Kata could feel Roma’s self-control ratchet up a few notches. Roma stared, unblinking, out the window at the gray sky. “He put Marie’s cradle upstairs. Said … said he’d get it down again when the new baby came. Said … said lookin’ at it every day made him go all twisted up inside.”
“An’ how do ye feel about it, Roma?” Billy asked, taking his sister’s hand.
Roma jumped and stared at the brown hand clasping hers. “Oh …” She whispered. “I … I didn’t much like lookin’ at it either … an’ Marie would have probably been out o’ it now, anyway … he says he’ll take it down again when the new baby comes.”
“D’ye want it upstairs, or d’ye want it where ye can see it?” Billy asked.
“Oh, Billy,” Roma sighed, “it ain’t that simple.”
“Sure it is!” Billy replied. “If ye want it downstairs, he should leave it downstairs. Seems the least he could, considerin’ …” He broke off, and mumbled, “Everythin’.”
“He lost his only child too,” Kata broke in. “Like Roma says, lad, it ain’t that simple. Sometimes folks handle the same loss different-like. If it hurts Simon so ter be seein’ that cradle, maybe it’s best fer both o’ them ter keep it out o’ sight fer a while.”
“An’ it’s better ter keep it fer the next one than ter chop it up fer kindlin’,” Roma murmured.
Billy jumped, and even Kata straightened and blinked. “Ye think he would have done that, Roma?” Billy gasped.
“I don’t know. I … I did, at first, when I saw it gone. I thought he went an’, well, chopped it up. Because … because there were some days when I would have done it, if anyone had given me an ax. An’ that’s how I knew I didn’t want him ter do that, because it made want ter cry so hard when I thought he did …” Now Roma cradled her head in her hands. “But he didn’t. It’s upstairs. I saw it. We’ll bring it down again when the new baby comes.”
“He still should’ve talked ter ye before he did it. Rather than have ye think that,” Billy retorted.
“Billy,” Kata reproved, “it might have been an impulse. A moment when he jest couldn’t take it any more. That happens.”
“He still should have talked ter Roma before he done anythin’!”
“Sweetheart, ye’re twelve years old.” Kata rolled her eyes. “I shouldn’t have ter be explainin’ ter ye about the stupid things a young man’ll do on impulse, should I?”
“Aww, Ma, don’t be so down on him. Billy’s a good kid.” Roma ruffled her brother’s hair, and Billy ducked away. Roma laughed. “Maybe he ain’t grown inter the stupid phase yet.”
“Hmm. Maybe. Kids do get uncommon level-headed before they turn inter young men an’ maids an’ get all stupid,” Kata replied, winking at Roma.
“Hey! I am a young man — an’ I ain’t stupid!”
“Oh, ye jest wait!” Roma giggled. “Ye jest wait until a young maid comes twitchin’ her hips at ye! We’ll see how stupid ye get then!”
“Bah! There ain’t a maid on earth who can make me act like a fool.”
“All right, Roma,” Kata said, turning to her daughter, “ye’re me witness. He did say what I thought he said, didn’t he?”
“That he did, Ma!”
“It’s true!” Billy wailed.
“Sure, sure, that’s what ye think now. But it won’t be true fer more than … eh, a year, I’d say. Two at the most. Nah, ye’ll find yerself a young maid, go head over heals fer her, an’ that’ll be the end o’ that.”
“I will not!”
“Oh, leave him alone, Ma,” Roma shook her head. “Still in denial, the poor boy is.”
“Aye, aye. I guess I’ll jest leave it ter time ter prove me right.”
Roma laughed — real laughing, which was more than Kata had seen from her in a while — and so Kata was half-tempted to go on with the joke. She’d apologize to Billy later. He’d forgive her for Roma’s sake. But Roma was looking out the window, at the angle of the sun. “Er, Ma? I think I’d better get goin’. Me shift starts in half an hour.”
“Then ye’d best get a move on, lass. Ye want ter be gettin’ a nice pile o’ savings laid up fer when ye’ll have ter take time off.”
“Aye. Well, goodbye, Billy. I’ll see ye soon.” Roma kissed Billy’s cheek, and Billy hugged her shoulders. Then Kata was up and bidding her daughter farewell.
As for Billy, he stayed seated — turned and waved, but stayed seated — until Roma had gone down the front path, turned toward the Onion, and Kata had shut the door after her.
Then Billy slumped forward, head in his hands, as Roma had sat not all that long ago.
“Billy?” Kata asked, alarmed. She laid a hand on his shoulder. “Lad, what’s wrong? We didn’t hurt yer feelins, did we?”
“Huh?” Billy looked up. “Oh … no, ye didn’t …”
“Then what’s the matter?”
Billy stared at her, something inscrutable in his dark blue eyes. Then, almost without warning, he stood and faced her. “Ma, if I tell ye somethin’, can ye promise never ter tell Roma?”
Kata’s eyebrows arched upward. “Now, lad, why would ye be wantin’ me ter promise that?”
“Because … because …” Billy rubbed the heel of his hand against his eye. The mother in Kata wanted to tell him not to do that, but the better mother told the other mother to shut up and let the boy speak. “Look, Ma, it would hurt Roma if she knew. It would hurt her real bad. An’ I don’t want her hurt none! She’s hurt enough already by that — that garbage!”
“Simon! That — that –” He broke off, shaking, fists clenched at his side.
“Son, did Simon do somethin’?”
“Well, if ye tell me what … I promise ye, I won’t tell Roma unless I’m certain she’ll be hurt less in the long run by knowin’.”
“Billy, I know ye want what’s best fer yer sister, an’ believe me, so do I — that’s why I axin’ ye ter let me be the judge o’ what’s likely ter hurt her. If tellin’ her will hurt her more than not, believe me, I’ll take whatever ye say ter me grave.”
He stared up at her with those dark blue eyes of his, the same eyes that had stared at her from his cradle — the same eyes that had begged her to make everything all right after Jeremiah had died. She had thought she was done seeing those eyes, but no, Billy was still enough of a boy to want his Ma to fix what was broken in his life. Or in Roma’s life. “Ma … ye remember, when — jest before Marie died, Simon went out …”
“I found him …” Billy’s voice began to shake and crack — not as a twelve-year-old boy’s voice ought to crack, but with rage. “I found him at Marigold’s! At Marigold’s, when his baby was dyin’! What an arse hole, Ma! How could he do that?”
“I hate him! I hate him! If I’d been bigger, I think I would’ve beat him up right there! Or worse!”
“Now, lad, would ye have done that ter yer sister?”
“He would’ve deserved it! He still does deserve it! Hidin’ Marie’s cradle on Roma like that!”
“Lad, I won’t argue that with ye. Aye, a man goin’ ter visit whores at a time like that could probably use a good poundin’. But think of all that was on yer sister’s plate, lad. Would ye want ter dish that out ter her, too?”
Billy’s shoulders slumped. “No.”
“There ye have it, then. An’ ye know …” She pushed some of her son’s hair away from his face, stroked his cheek. “Ye’ve got good instincts with Roma. This ain’t somethin’ she’s gonna want ter know. If ye’d have given him the poundin’ he deserved, she’d have ter know.”
“Ye don’t seem upset, Ma,” Billy mumbled.
Kata considered that. Then she sighed. “Son, in case ye ain’t noticed, I’m a midwife. It’s me role in life ter stay calm when everyone else is flappin’ about an’ squawkin’ like a bunch o’ mad hens.”
“I’m not squawkin’ like a mad hen!”
“But ye ain’t calm.”
“Why should I be?” His voice began to break again — not with anger, this time, but with tears. “How could he do that ter her, Ma? How could he be so mean?”
“Oh, son.” Kata now wrapped her arms around her youngest. “Don’t go axin’ yerself questions like that. That way … son, that way lies more heartache than either ye or I can bear jest now.”