It was “quiet time.” The time when they were all supposed to be working on their penmanship, or their reading, or their arithmetic, depending on what Sister Margery had assigned to each of them. But Nimue was done with her arithmetic and didn’t want to start on her reading yet. They weren’t doing animal fables today; they were doing stories from the Book of Wright instead.
The story was supposed to be a “fun” one, too. At least, Nimue had heard some of the other children chattering about it. There was an evil witch who was defeated and everything, to make the world safe for Wrightendom. But Nimue didn’t like reading stories about evil witches who got defeated. Stories like that weren’t true. Stories like that tried to pretend that everybody lived happily after when the witch died. But they didn’t. Nimue knew that was true.
But she couldn’t say any of that in class. Because if you said that the Book of Wright wasn’t true, you got into trouble — even if you were right, you still got into trouble. So Nimue swung her legs back and forth, glanced at Agravaine’s penmanship lesson, and looked around the room.
At least Sister Margery wasn’t paying attention … well, not too much attention. She was busy with her big books at the front of the room. Nimue didn’t know what was in her big books, but she knew it was very important, because Sister Margery spent so much time with them. Still, even when she was deep within them, she would look up at the first sign of giggles or papers being crumbled and shake her head. “Boys and girls,” she would say, “remember, it’s quiet time, now.” And that was usually enough to make it be quiet time again.
Sister Margery was the reason why Nimue didn’t like to say when the Book of Wright was wrong. Sister Margery would turn very white and tell Nimue that she mustn’t say such things, that the Book of Wright was always right. Nimue didn’t see how that could be true, but she didn’t like to make Sister Margery unhappy.
At least Mama understood. Mama always listened to what Nimue was trying to say. And when Nimue had said that, Mama had nodded. “That’s quite right, the Book of Wright doesn’t tell the whole story,” she had said. “But you must not say those things in school. Sister Margery and the other nuns won’t understand what you mean, and they might not let you explain. It’s better not to say things, sometimes, or to save them for when you get home to tell me. Then I’ll try to explain it to you.”
Mama always listened. Mama always explained, or if she couldn’t, she would say why. Mama —
Nimue glanced over to see where the whisper was coming from. Ah — the FitzOrk boys. They were two red-haired terrors, only a very little bit older than Nimue herself. Hardly enough to count, she would think. But they knew themselves to be older, and sometimes they seemed to rank her with the likes of Agravaine, or some of the very little kids!
So Nimue did not say anything at first. She only raised her eyebrows.
“Do you have a pen?” whispered Melehan. She never knew which of those twins was speaking until she turned her head to look. It was funny; Nimue had heard that it was supposed to be very hard to tell twins apart, but she had never met any twins like that. Auntie Dilys and Auntie Delyth were so different, only a real fool couldn’t tell them apart. Melehan and Melou were both redheads, but they didn’t look anything like each other. Prince Thomas and Princess Jessica were even easier to tell apart, because they were boy and girl!
Still, the boys had asked a question, and Nimue supposed they deserved an answer. “No. Just the one I’m using.”
“Uh oh,” Melou whispered.
Nimue soon saw why: Melehan’s pen had snapped in half. The boys were lucky that ink hadn’t sprayed all over them, and the table, and their parchment. But good luck explaining that to a couple of boys. Especially since they were already panicked enough over the pen. They were supposed to take good care of their things.
“Maybe we can fix it?” Melehan whispered.
“How?” Melou replied.
“Rub it! You know — like you did with …” The twins put their heads together — literally — and began to whisper. Nimue, mostly for lack of anything else to do, leaned closer to watch them.
Melou had put the two halves of the pen together and was rubbing it a shade frantically. He was going to get ink all over his fingers. Normally the FitzOrk boys weren’t very fond of mess, but this time, Melou didn’t even seem to care. He just kept rubbing —
And there was a flash, a tiny flash, of green light, and the pen was again in one piece.
Nimue gasped. “How did –”
“Boys and girls!” Sister Margery called. “It’s time to start our reading for today. Who would like to read first?”
They were going to read that horrible story about Olive the Specter. And they were going to read about how brave Ripp the Grunt and Ophelia of Nigmos were when they went after her. And then they were going to read about St. Robert himself feasted them, and said they were so good and so brave to kill that awful witch.
But Ophelia Nigmos was Olive’s niece. And she had a son, too. Even if she was bad and mean and evil — wouldn’t they miss her? Wouldn’t they still be hurting when St. Robert was giving his feast, and for a long time afterward? Mama said that there was nobody, even really bad people, who didn’t have anybody to love them. She said she knew this for a fact. And if Mama said it, it had to be true.
Besides, Agravaine’s mama and Nimue’s own father’s mama had been an evil witch, and they hadn’t been happy when she died …
“Banana?” asked Sister Margery, drawing Nimue back to the present. “Thank you for reading. You can start in Chapter 5, Verse 22.”
Banana — that blonde girl in the front row — leaned forward and began to read. “And so it came to pass …”
Nimue tried to pretend that she couldn’t hear.
But Agravaine squirmed and shuffled in his seat, and oddly enough, the FitzOrk boys didn’t look any more comfortable than Nimue felt. Why should they feel like they had rocks bouncing around their tummies? There wasn’t anybody in their family who could be called an evil witch, like there was in Nimue’s family.
Nimue began to smooth out her skirt, the way she always did when she was scared. Mama had said that Lady Morgause — Nimue couldn’t call her grandma, like Grandma Eilwen — was not a very nice lady. She had said that Lady Morgause had done some very bad things, and that the King had to execute her, so she wouldn’t hurt anybody else. But she also said that the King had been very careful before he did this, and he had gotten everybody who knew about the bad things Lady Morgause had done together, and he made them tell their stories. And then he let Nimue’s father try to show that they were wrong, and some other Sims listened to it all and decided who was right. That was how, Mama had said, the King made sure that he wouldn’t hurt anybody who was good and nice.
But Olive the Specter didn’t get any of that. St. Robert had just said she was evil, and then everybody went after her. What if he was —
“Sister Margery?” called Melou.
Banana stopped reading and looked over her shoulder. Sister Margery frowned for a moment. “Melou, what is the rule before we want to speak?”
Melou huffed, but he put his hand in the air dutifully.
“Sister Margery,” asked Melou, “how do we know Olive the Specter was bad?”
“St. Robert said she was bad!” called Jean from the back.
“Jean,” Sister Margery scolded gently.
“Sorry, Sister Margery. But he did!”
“Yes, indeed, he did,” Sister Margery agreed. “But we must raise our hands, remember. Fabian?” she added as a boy in the front row raised his hand. “What do you want to say?”
“She was a witch,” Fabian said — sneered, really. “Of course she was bad.”
“That’s not true!” Nimue called before she could think better of it. “My Auntie Garnet is a witch, and she’s not bad!”
“And our grandmama wasn’t bad, either!” called Melehan.
“My mama wasn’t, either,” Agravaine whispered. Nimue had long ago decided not to argue about that with him. And she had asked her Mama about it, and her Mama had said she was right not to.
“Boys and girls,” Sister Margery reminded them, “we need to remember to take turns. Now …” She wrung her hands together and looked worried. But Sister Margery tended to look worried a lot. “You know what I think, boys and girls?”
They shook their heads, each and every one of them.
“I think,” Sister Margery replied, “that witches and wizards are just like regular Sims. Some of them are bad, and some of them are good. And the King things the same way. That’s why witches and wizards are allowed to come and live here in Albion, and help Sims with their magic, as long as they don’t do anything bad.”
Nimue’s mouth opened on a but, but luckily she remembered to put her hand up just in time. “Nimue?” Sister Margery asked.
“Then why does St. Robert pick on witches?” Nimue asked. “It says right in the Book of Wright that ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’!”
“Well, that’s a very good question, Nimue,” Sister Margery replied. “And there are lots of reasons for that, some that you might not be able to understand until you are older. But I think there are some very simple reasons, too. You see, first of all, when St. Robert said that, he only meant bad witches and wizards.”
“But that’s not what he said!” Melehan protested. “If that’s what he meant, how come he didn’t say it? A lot of good witches and wizards got hurt because of that!”
“That is very true,” replied Sister Margery, for once not going on about hand-raising. “But let me explain. You see, St. Robert didn’t speak the same language we do. Do you understand that, boys and girls? Do you know — yes, Banana?”
“I know, I know!” Banana called. “Sims from different places speak all kinds of different languages! They don’t speak in Reme like we speak here.”
“And they speak even differenter in Simspain,” added Darius.
“More differently, and yes, Darius!” said Sister Margery. “Yes, Banana. Sims from different places do speak different languages. And now, when St. Robert was talking, the word he used for ‘witch’ means only ‘bad witch.’ But it’s not quite the same in our language, so the translator — that’s a person who takes a book written in one language and turns it into another language — did the best he could. Now, that being said … does anybody still think it is wrong for the King to punish bad witches and wizards?”
“How come it’s gotta be killing them?” asked Agravaine.
Sister Margery just stood up there, her mouth open very wide, and her eyes very wide too. She gulped — Nimue saw her gulp — not just once, either, but a couple of times! “Agravaine …” she began.
And then the big gong rang, the gong for recess. For once, Sister Margery looked as happy as they did. “We’ll talk about this after recess. Boys and girls! Calmly, calmly! Get your cloaks, and then you can go outside.”
Most of the other kids ran to the cloakroom, the way they did every did. But Nimue, Agravaine, Melehan, and Melou all hung back. Nimue didn’t know why the boys were moving so slowly, though she could guess why Agravaine was. But she knew why she was moving slowly. She was thinking.
She kept thinking even after she went outside, and she and Agravaine started to play on the slide. She liked the slide. She could slide down, and run up, and slide down again, barely having to pay any attention to what she was doing. It helped her to think.
She didn’t know if it was helping Agravaine to think. Maybe it wasn’t. Or maybe he was having so much fun he didn’t care anymore. Nimue hoped he was. Otherwise, he might have to think about Sister Margery, and what she might or might not say about his mama. Nimue always thought it was hard to talk about witches and wizards around Agravaine, and then to think about his mama, but she always thought it was hard for her because she was little. She thought it would be easier for bigger people.
She must have been wrong.
She looked across the playground, to where Melehan and Melou were playing on the merry-go-round. It was very odd, how they had stuck up for witches and wizards. Most of the other kids didn’t do that. They mostly seemed to think like Fabian thought: all witches and wizards were evil. If they thought about it at all. Maybe some of them didn’t think about it all that much.
But not Melehan and Melou …
Thus, when Agravaine next came down the slide, Nimue had an announcement for him. “I’m going to talk to them.”
“Huh? Talk to who?”
“Melehan and Melou! They’re different. They don’t call witches and wizards evil. So I want to know why.”
Agravaine scrunched up his face. “Why?”
“No, I mean … why do you want to know why?”
Nimue stared back. “Why wouldn’t I want to know why?”
“I …” Agravaine scratched his head underneath his black hat. “I don’t know.”
“Exactly!” Nimue answered. “So I’m going to go and ask them!”
Agravaine glanced at them. “All right.”
“Well, aren’t you coming?”
Agravaine shook his head.
Nimue shrugged. “Well, suit yourself!” She hurried over to the merry-go-round, leaving Agravaine the slide to himself. Maybe that was all he wanted. “Melehan! Melou!”
“What?” Melou shouted as he went around.
“I want to talk to you!”
“What if we don’t want to talk to you?” Melou asked.
“Hey! Don’t be a meanie, Melou.” Melehan stuck his foot out and slowed the merry-go-round. “What do you want to talk about, Nimue?”
“You two are awfully smart,” Nimue began. She almost giggled to see Melou and Melehan puff themselves up with pride. Her grandma did like to say that men liked it when women said they were smart, especially when it wasn’t true. That always made Auntie Delyth laugh and laugh, and now Nimue was starting to get the joke. “You think a lot about witches and wizards. How come?”
“How come?” asked Melehan.
“Aye. How come? Most other kids don’t think about it at all.”
“Well, why wouldn’t we think about it? Our papa is a wizard!” Melou replied, his chest stuck out like a little robin redbreast’s.
Nimue’s eyes flew wide and she gasped. No way! She hadn’t known that there were other kids whose fathers were wizards! “Really?”
“Aye, of course,” Melehan replied. “But Papa says we’re not supposed to talk about it.” He glared at Melou.
“That’s all right, you can talk about it with me! My father is a wizard, too!”
Melou’s jaw fell. “Really?”
Melehan and Melou exchanged shocked glances. “We thought we were the only ones!”
“Does your papa do spells?” asked Melou. “What kind? How often?”
“He doesn’t do spells a lot,” Nimue admitted. It was easier to say that than to have to say that she didn’t see her father doing spells much at all.
“Then how do you know he’s a wizard?” Melehan asked, scratching his head.
“‘Cause he is!” Nimue snapped. “I’ve seen his workroom! With his big magic book, and his big bubbling cauldron!”
Melehan’s jaw fell, and Melou whistled. “We’ve never seen our papa’s workroom,” Melou answered.
“Why not? Is it warded?”
“What’s warded?” asked Melehan.
“That means there are extra special-super-spells to keep Sims out. My father tells me that whenever I come on a warded room, I have to walk away from it before the wards get too mad.”
“You have warded rooms in your house?” asked Melou.
“Well … in my father’s house,” Nimue admitted, trying to smile.
“In your father’s house?” Melehan repeated.
“Your father doesn’t live with you?” Melou asked.
“No,” Nimue admitted. Her face started to get hotter, and the rocks started to move around in her tummy again.
But they didn’t have long to move. “Wow!” Melehan gasped. “Our papa doesn’t live with us, either! And we thought we were the only ones!”
“He doesn’t?” Nimue gasped.
“Nope!” Melehan replied.
“Wow! I thought I was the only one, too!”
“I guess you’re not!” Melehan laughed, and Melou grinned, too.
I guess I’m not. Nimue felt herself start to smile. So often she felt like she was the only one who was like she was. The only one whose father and mama didn’t live together. Darius didn’t have a mama, but that was different — she was only dead. She wasn’t still alive but didn’t want to live with him.
And other than Agravaine, there was nobody else who had a family member like Lady Morgause. And if anything, it was worse for Agravaine, so Nimue didn’t like to talk about it with him. Plus, there was nobody else at school who had a witch or a wizard for parents — other than Agravaine, whose mama didn’t really count, because she was dead. It was nice not to feel so alone for once.
“Want to go on the merry-go-round?” Nimue asked.
The two boys agreed quickly, and before long, they were all laughing and shrieking their way around and around and around.
They were having so much fun, all of them, that everybody else on the playground could have started standing on their heads and the three of them wouldn’t have noticed.
But just because they were beyond noticing anything else happening … that did not mean that they themselves were beyond being noticed.
And fortunately or unfortunately, they were indeed noticed.