Clatan 14, 1013
Seumas sprinkled water over the cucumbers. The plants in their little garden were growing well. That was — to put it mildly — a relief. Sometimes he still woke up in the night with gnawing hunger pains. The pains themselves would vanish the moment he sat up in bed, panting, and remembered the good dinner he had eaten the night before, but the memory would often linger until the next morning, when breakfast would chase it away.
He ran a hand over the stick the kids had planted into the ground to help the cucumbers grow, then crouched to feel the soil. Good — just moist enough, but not too watery. He was done here. For now.
Seumas still leaned on his haunches, looking over the backyard — the neat garden plots, the orchard, the beehives, the chicken coop, even a little house made for a dog or cat to sleep outdoors. The garden back at home had been nothing compared to this. It had only been a patch of bare dirt filled with what few plants they could coax to grow in it, with a couple of areas kept clear for the chickens and perhaps a pig if it was a good enough year for Pa to buy one. But Seumas had always felt pride when he looked over their little garden back home. It was, after all, to be his someday. But here … nothing.
Maybe he just needed to get used to the new place. They had scarcely been here for a month. Maybe later, the pride would come.
But for now, Seumas would force himself to be content with lunch. He put the watering can away and walked up the shallow steps and into the house, being sure to wipe his boots before going inside.
“Glenna?” he called.
It was usually just the two of them for lunch. Glenna and Bea packed lunches for the younger ones to take to school with them, since that was easier than having them come back to the house and Glenna fix lunch for all of them. As for Seumas, he used the lunch hour to hide in the schoolhouse, puzzling over the hornbooks and trying to make sense of the letters. The teachers had started to ease up on him these last few weeks, after they began to understand that the schools in Glasonland were, to be blunt, nowhere near as good as the schools in Albion. But Seumas still wanted to catch up. He’d had to give up so much when they left Glasonland. He ought to get something — a better future — here in Albion, in return. It was only fair … wasn’t it? That was why he studied during lunch, and grabbed a quick bite at home, before he dashed off to Sir Lancelot’s lands to work away the afternoon. Seumas only did the gardening first because, well, Glenna had her talents, but cooking wasn’t one of them, and usually lunch took a couple of tries.
But today, there wasn’t evidence that there had even been one try, never mind a couple of them.
Still, Seumas would give this to Glenna — the job she’d gotten at the fair put most of their food on the table, and the house was spic and span, cleaner than their little house had ever been back home despite being two or three times the size of it. Part of it was the construction. It was hard to keep a dirt floor clean, but this house was built on a foundation and floored with honey-colored wood. The furniture, too, was much better quality; there was actually a point to dusting it. Seumas still couldn’t believe that it had all come with the house, and Sir Lancelot had looked at him like he had two heads when Seumas asked how much extra it would cost.
However, none of this was getting lunch — and Seumas really needed to eat something before he went off to work. Where could Glenna be?
He headed upstairs, wondering if she’d taken a nap and had forgotten the time. He hoped not — he needed to eat! But she had been complaining about backaches, for some reason. Women, Seumas thought in his father’s mocking voice — and the memory stabbed him in the belly. He could just see his father sitting on one of the family’s three stools, tsking as Ma and Glenna ran around trying to get supper on the table. He could hear Ma shouting at him and snapping her apron in his face, too. Lord, what he wouldn’t give to be back home, with his parents, where he belonged!
But all these thoughts were gone when he hit the little hallway at the top of the stairs, and heard from the little room that they were using a privy closet the telltale sounds of someone vomiting.
Shit! No! Peadar had gotten over his stomach troubles as soon as they got into Albion! Seumas thought Glenna had, too — at least, she hadn’t said otherwise! But if she was still sick after all this time … Lord, he couldn’t lose Glenna! He couldn’t be in charge of all the kids! They barely listened to him and Glenna, they’d never just listen to him!
“Glenna?” Seumas croaked, sounding far more like Niven or Peadar than their strong pa. “Glenna, are ye all right?”
Seumas heard another cough, then a heave — the dry kind that came after a stomach had been fully emptied, but before the stomach seemed to catch onto that. “Ugh!” groaned Glenna. “I’m fine.”
She laughed bitterly, heartlessly. Seumas winced. Glenna hadn’t been much for laughing before this — that was Bea’s job — but at least when Glenna used to laugh, she’d always done it properly. Not like this.
But he hadn’t heard a real laugh from her since before the soldiers came and burned the village to the ground, killed their mother before the eyes of Seumas and the younger children, and killed their father before Glenna’s eyes. As for Seumas, he hadn’t laughed at all since then.
“Ye need a doctor, Glenna?” Seumas shouted to the closed curtain. They couldn’t afford one, but if Glenna was still sick … “What about that monk fellow what helped Peadar?”
“No!” The ferocity of it made Seumas stumble back a pace. “No monks!”
“Aww, come on! He were good with Peadar!”
“Well, ye got a better idea, sis?” Seumas spat out. “Ye’ve still got that — whatever ye’ve got! Whatever Peadar had!”
There was no answer, just water splashing in the basin. Well, good, at least she was getting herself cleaned up. If she felt well enough to do that, then maybe it wasn’t so bad. After all, if Glenna was really that sick — well, wouldn’t she be sick? Weak, in bed? What kind of disease made you vomit once every few days and be otherwise fine?
But there were the backaches, too. Maybe this was serious …
The curtain was suddenly pushed back, rings rattling on the rod. Glenna scowled down at Seumas. “Believe me, Peadar never had what I’ve got.”
“Bullshit!” Seumas snapped. His ma would have clocked him one if she’d heard him say that, but, well, their ma wasn’t here now. And Glenna didn’t seem to much care.
However, Glenna was giving him that look he hated — the irritated, faintly sneering, supercilious, I’m-your-big-sister-and-I-know-better-than-you look. Seumas scowled back. “It is bullshit! Ye had the same thing! That’s why the guards let us go!”
As Glenna always did, these days, she shuddered when he said “guard.” Or “knight.” Or “man-at-arms.” Or, Lord forbid, “soldier.” Seumas didn’t blame her. He himself had to refrain a shudder at the sight of a shiny helmet or crested surcoat.
“No, Seumas, I didn’t,” she sighed, shaking her head. “I jest let ’em think that.”
“How can ye tell? Ye ain’t no doctor! No wise-woman, neither!” Seumas snorted. “Come on, ye ought ter go see someone about that — problem ye’ve got. We … we …”
We need ye, Glenna, we can’t be losin’ ye so soon after Ma an’ Pa, I can’t be takin’ care o’ all o’ us without ye …
“Well, ye’re the only one who can even halfway cook around here!” Seumas finally settled on.
Glenna stared listlessly at him — then shook her head. “I’ll get yer lunch on, then. How long ye got till ye gotta be at work?”
“Glenna! Fer the love o’ Wright! I’ll manage fer lunch!” Seumas shook his head. “Ye need ter take care o’ yerself, first! Go back to the monk! Get what he gave ter Peadar ter–”
“Fer the LAST TIME!” Glenna shouted. “I don’t got what Peadar had!”
“How d’ye know? Ye ain’t no–”
“‘Cause there ain’t no four-year-old BOY in the world what’s got what I have, dumbass! Boys can’t get–”
Glenna stopped. Her eyes went wide.
And Seumas got it. There was, after all, one … problem which women sometimes got, which led them to vomit once every few days or a few times a day, but which wasn’t a sign of sickness. Some folks would say it was just the opposite.
But Glenna wasn’t married!
“What the hell?” Seumas demanded. “Damn it, Glenna! What’ve ye been doin’ when me an’ the kids ain’t around ter see? We don’t need this now! Come on!”
Glenna, for once, didn’t have a pat answer. Instead, she stared at him, white-faced, shocked, like he’d slapped her.
Wait … She’d been sick before they got to Albion, so it must have happened … but it couldn’t have happened while they were running away! None of them had left any of the others alone, not after losing their parents! So it must have happened before …
“Good Lord! What were ye an’ Lachlan up ter, before he were taken up by the army?” Seumas demanded.
“Shut up,” Glenna whispered. She still looked pale, waxen even.
“I ain’t gonna shut up! Somebody — somebody’s gotta get ter the bottom of this! Find the man, an’ make ‘im marry ye!”
Glenna’s waxen face turned slightly green, and she made a retching sound.
But Seumas ignored that. “That’s what Pa would’ve done, if he were here! An’ since Pa ain’t–”
“No! No, he wouldn’t!”
“Don’t be daft, Glenna!”
“He wouldn’t! He wouldn’t! Pa would never!”
“Why not?” Seumas demanded. “Gimme one good reason!”
“Because he tried ter get the beast off me! That’s why he killed ‘im!” Glenna shouted back.
Before they killed ‘im? But their father had died during the attack–
When he ran back to try to find Glenna —
And Glenna had said she saw soldiers kill him —
Glenna pushed Seumas out of the way and hurried into the bedroom she had claimed for herself. Seumas stood like a slack-jawed idiot, watching her go.
He didn’t move when the curtain rattled back into place.
He didn’t move when he heard Glenna retch a couple of times, though, as far as Seumas could determine, there was no splash of vomit hitting the bare wooden floors.
He did move when he heard Glenna gasp, and then — sob?
The last time he’d heard Glenna cry was … was … was the night after the Baron’s soldiers came to the village, picking up all the young men of fighting age and pressing them into the army. He and his father had crept back into the village after sundown to find Ma sitting by the fire, Glenna sobbing into her lap and Ma smoothing her hair. “They got Lachlan,” was all Ma said to Pa.
But that crying … that had been the crying of a sad and worried girl. This was more like the keening of a wounded animal. Seumas had never heard a Sim cry like that.
He crept into the bedroom after her.
She didn’t seem to notice the rings of the curtain being pushed back, or hear his footsteps. She kept her face covered by her hands.
“Glenna?” Seumas whispered. She didn’t respond. No wonder. He barely heard his own voice over her crying.
He edged closer to her, his boots making scarcely any sound. One hand touched her shoulder. Glenna startled — she’d been doing that whenever she was touched recently, at least when she wasn’t expecting it. Seumas suddenly understood why.
Glenna blinked a couple of times, saw him, and turned away. Seumas took that as the nearest he was going to get to permission and slung his arm over her shoulder. Glenna didn’t relax into him, but she didn’t pull away, either.
“Ye … want ter talk about it?” Seumas asked, for lack of anything else to say.
Glenna snorted between sobs. “What’s ter — talk about? I were gettin’ the washin’ done …”
Seumas nodded. That was why Glenna hadn’t been with the rest of them when the soldiers attacked. She’d been with the other young women of the village, washing their clothes in the river.
“We didn’t hear nothin’ … not at first,” Glenna murmured. “No screams. No hooves. Nothin’. Jest the river, an’ us. An’ then …”
“Kn-knights. Comin’ out o’ the woods. All at once! On their horses! We screamed and run … an’ … an’ …”
Did she have to go on? Seumas didn’t want to know. Didn’t want to have to picture this. He was already starting to imagine it, and it was making him want to vomit, too.
“He caught me by the hair,” Glenna said. “One o’ em. With a big helmet. Caught me hair, an’ pulled me down, half in the river. I could’ve drowned!” She suddenly sobbed. “I wish I had!”
Seumas was glad she hadn’t. He never would have gotten all the kids out of Glasonland on his own.
“He — he dragged me out o’ the river — by the hair — an’ he threw me down on the bank, an’ … an’ I … he were so heavy! I couldn’t get ‘im off me, so I screamed and screamed an’ screamed …” She must have screamed until her throat was raw. Seumas remembered that she hadn’t spoken above a whisper for days after the attack.
“That must’ve been how Pa heard me … he found me … tried ter pull ‘im off me …”
Seumas’s heart dropped. He didn’t want to know what would come after this —
But Glenna kept talking. “The knight, he turn around, an’ he jest … he took his knife, an’ he stabbed Pa … here,” Glenna touched her throat. “Like it were nothin’, like he were carvin’ his meat fer dinner. The blood sprayed out. Pa fell, an …” Glenna’s eyes, glassy and far away, fixed on the ground. “The knight, he wiped his knife on the grass an’ put it away.”
Seumas wondered why, of all things, Glenna would remember that.
“I couldn’t scream no more after that,” Glenna whispered. Then she fell silent, except for sniffling.
Seumas was glad. He didn’t need to be told what came next. But all the same, he tried to remember how Glenna had acted when she found all of them hiding in the woods later that evening. Had she seemed bruised? Hurt?
She walked a little funny, Seumas remembered. And she barely spoke. But other than that … Seumas hadn’t noticed a thing. And then, when they moved out, tried to get to the Albion border, she had taken command so effortlessly, shooting down Seumas’s every suggestion, that he’d never suspected that anything was wrong. Well … anything, that is, other than everything.
She hadn’t even said how Pa had died. But Seumas had been glad of that. It meant that he didn’t have to tell her how Ma had died. He wondered, now, if she might want to know.
He decided he would wait for her to tell him. Then he’d tell her. But only if she asked.
Glenna’s sniffles were slowing, so Seumas could finally speak. “So … what are we gonna do?”
“Do?” Glenna asked.
“We … we gotta find someone ter marry ye,” Seumas stumbled along. They had to. They just had to. How were they going to care for a baby on their own? Seumas had been just eight when Peadar was born, and he’d been even younger when Bea and Niven were both born.
And who was going to earn money? Bea, Niven and Peadar were too young. Glenna would have to take care of the baby. Seumas couldn’t earn enough as a laborer to care for all of them. They needed someone else to do that.
They needed someone else to take care of them.
“Marry?” Glenna gasped. “No!”
“Glenna, ye need someone ter care fer ye. Ter care fer us. An’ the baby!”
“I can’t be beddin’ no man! No! No!” She was starting to shake. Seumas held her a little closer. How was it that she had been steely and hard throughout their whole journey, and she was going to fall apart now?
“But … what else are we gonna do?” Seumas asked.
Glenna didn’t say anything. She kept her face hidden behind her hands. But she stopped shaking. And if Seumas knew his sister half as well as he thought he did, this meant that she was thinking, and thinking hard.
She tossed her hair — the hair that she hadn’t worn loose, Seumas realized with a shock, since before their village had been attacked — straightened, and wiped her eyes. “I’ll think o’ somethin’.”
“Don’t ye worry yer head about it.” And there it — she — was, back again. That was the Glenna of their journey. Calm, always far too calm, confident they would find some way to get through. But things were different now. They were back in civilization now, and civilization had rules. Those rules didn’t take kindly to unmarried mothers, no matter how they came to be in that state. Glenna rolled her shoulders. “I’ll think o’ somethin’.”
“We ain’t got time.”
“We got six months, give or take.”
“Not if we’re gonna find someone ter marry ye!” Seumas snapped, and hated himself for it.
Glenna snorted and glared at him, then sauntered past him as if the conversation of the past half hour hadn’t even happened. Except she did have one last remark to make.
“I ain’t marryin’ no one. I’ll think o’ somethin’. Now — what d’ye want fer lunch?”
Seumas didn’t answer, because there was only one thing he wanted now, and it had nothing to do with lunch.
He wanted his pa back, and his ma. He wanted to go home.
But most of all, he wanted the last three months to have never happened.