Seryl 6, 1013
Margery threw her head back and laughed. Kids really did say the darnedest things.
She leaned back and looked over young Annabeth “Banana” Andavri’s answer to the final question on the test administered this morning once again. The question, which Margery thought had been rather appropriate for the children, and which would encourage creative thinking and sympathy, read as follows:
What would you do if a Holy Llama came to you and told you that you were to be the Lord Wright’s Messenger?
And Banana’s answer:
I don’t know what I wood do if a Llama came to me and told me I was the Lord Wright’s Messenger. I don’t think I would believe it. I know the Capin says that if you see animals starting to talk to you, it’s time to put the bottle down and go have a nice lie-down. But I don’t know what I wood do if I hadn’t picked the bottle up first. Besides, I can’t get to the bottle. Mama keeps them up real high so that Benji and I can’t get to it, and so the Capin can’t get to it, either, if he’s had too much.
Margery knew that wasn’t the answer she was supposed to be looking for, but to give it any less than full credit would be to do a disservice to children everywhere. With one last chuckle, the moved to the next paper in the stack–
The door to the classroom flew open. “Sister Margery! I’m sorry!”
Margery turned around. Huh?
What she saw rocketed her out of her seat. “Nimue?”
The girl’s cheeks and eyes were stained pink with the tracks of tears; she was sniffling and hiccuping down sobs. But there was no sign of blood, or bruises, or even dirt or rips in her dress — something Margery always looked for when a child came in crying from their recess. “Sweetheart? What’s the matter?”
Nimue didn’t answer at first; instead, she threw herself headlong into Margery’s arms. “I’m sorry! Tell Mama I didn’t mean to!”
Didn’t mean to what? “Are you hurt, Nimue?”
“Is somebody else hurt?”
“Are you sure?”
“Y-y-yes! But I didn’t mean to tell!”
To tell? Margery wondered. “Tell what?”
“The s-s-secret! The one Mama said I wasn’t to tell! She said I was supposed to wait for their mama to tell them! She’s going to be so mad!”
“Din–your mama?” Margery asked.
Dindrane, angry? Margery had seen it once or twice … but never as a result of something Nimue had done. Indeed, it had mostly been because of …
Sir Mordred …
Margery knelt by Nimue and gently pushed her bangs out of her eyes. “What happened, Nimue? Tell me. I won’t get angry, I promise.”
It was a promise Margery knew she could keep. She had a hard enough time getting and staying angry with the children on her worst days. But when a child already knew she had done long, and was already so obviously sorry for it? Who could be angry then? And more importantly — what was the point of such anger?
So Margery nodded, and held Nimue close, and listened to her story as best she could, as it all came tumbling out.
And well before it was done, Margery realized that she would soon have far bigger problems on her plate than whether or not to get angry.
It started, as so many things do, on the playground.
Nimue had been playing with her friends — her half-brothers — Melehan and Melou. She seemed to more enjoy spending time with them than her full brother; but perhaps that was only to expected. She was much closer in age to her half-brothers … and sometimes, much closer in personality.
Nimue said that she had been playing with Melehan. That also seemed to be typical. They were talking, Nimue said, about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Nimue seemed to have some trouble wrapping her head around the concept — and no wonder, Margery thought. For all the privileges that being a child of one of the premier dukes in the kingdom brought, it did tend to take away the privilege of choosing one’s own future. Dindrane might swear up and down that her daughter would never be forced into a marriage like hers, but at the end of the day, Nimue’s future was still very much mapped out in front of her, a road that she must walk, for all others were closed.
But for Melehan and Melou … this was not the case. And Melehan, in Nimue’s telling, seemed to lack patience with Nimue’s confusion.
“You’ve got to want to do something!” Melehan huffed. “You can’t just do nothing when you grow up! Everybody has gotta do something! That’s what my papa said!”
“I said I’m gonna get married when I grow up!”
“But you can’t just do that. Even if you are a girl,” Melehan replied. “You’re not a silly girl, like the rest of them!”
Nimue crossed her arms and stamped her foot. “You don’t have to be silly to want to get married!”
“Sure you do!” called Melou, cackling. “Especially if you’re a girl! Once girls get married, they’re not allowed to do anything else. They just have to have babies and take care of them all the time. You shouldn’t want to get married!”
“Our mama has to spend all her time looking after Aimée,” Melehan added. “That can’t be any fun.”
“Do you think it’s fun, Agravaine,” Melou asked, “when you have to help your big brother look after the littlest kids?”
Agravaine laughed. “No way!”
“You like Gawaine!” Nimue fired back.
Agravaine snorted and shook his head. “I wasn’t talking about Gawaine. I was talking about Gareth!”
“Gareth’s not … so … bad …”
“He’s too little do to anything fun! And when he tries, he just barges in and messes up all your stuff!” Agravaine retorted.
“Aimée’s the same way,” Melou sighed. “But it’s worse, ’cause she’s a girl. Gareth might get better … kinda like Gawaine did!”
The children all turned to where Gawaine was playing with Lionel de Ganis. “Well … sort-of better,” Nimue replied.
“Does he mess up your stuff?” asked Melou.
“I guess not …”
“Then he’s better,” Melou answered, nodding his head as if that was the final word that could ever be said on the subject.
“I guess … but still!” Nimue turned back to Melehan, arms thrown wide. “Even when girls get married, they still get to do fun stuff! My Auntie Garnet has been married since Imsdyn, and she got to go on a fun trip, and now she’s awful good friends with Princess Lynn–”
“Who’s Princess Lynn?” interrupted Melou.
Nimue scowled at him. “Prince Thomas’s wife!”
“Her name isn’t Princess Lynn,” Melehan dismissed. “It’s Princess Gwendolyn. Everybody knows that.”
“She said I could call her Princess Lynn. Agravaine and me both! And Gawaine and Gareth, too,” Nimue added as an afterthought. “Didn’t she, Agravaine?”
“Aye, she did!”
“So there.” Nimue stuck her tongue out at Melehan and went on. “Anyway, Auntie Garnet gets to help out Princess Lynn with all the fun stuff they do at the court, and my mama has her researches!”
“Researches?” Melou pushed his way past Melehan and Agravaine. “What are those?”
“They’re … uh …” That was the question, wasn’t it? Nimue’s mama never said much about what her researches were about. Or what they were, even. Nimue just knew that they were very important to her mama, and they helped make her happy — even on very bad days. “Well, she reads old books. And she writes stuff down. And sometimes she goes away, and does … stuff,” Nimue finished. “But it’s mostly reading.”
“Reading?” Melou sneered. “That’s what your mama does, now that she’s married? She reads?”
“… Aye …”
Melou snorted. “See? That’s why you can’t get married, Nimue! You’ll just be boring. Who wants to sit around and read all day?”
“I like reading! Some stories are fun!” Nimue fired back.
“Oh, sure, some of them are fun. But some of them are boring. Don’t you remember Chapter 3 of the Book of Skip?”
Nimue shuddered. After interrupting Sister Margery one too many times in class, she, Melehan, Melou, and Agravaine had all been assigned to copy out that chapter. It was the chapter that the lineage of St. Skip, and thus St. Robert — and it was the one that started with, “Bernard begat Flat, who begat Buck, who begat …” and so on until the chapter ended with Skip, who begat St. Robert. “I’m pretty sure Mama isn’t reading those books.”
“How do you know?” Melou challenged. “Have you read them?”
Nimue flushed. She’d tried, once. But the book she was looking at was in Old Simlish, and Nimue couldn’t read that language … yet.And her mama hadn’t liked Nimue looking in that book. She had looked very, very angry, and then she had calmed herself down and explained to Nimue that books like that weren’t for little girls to read. When she got older, when she could read Old Simlish, then she could read it.
“Have you?” Melou asked again, one eyebrow going up and tapping his foot on the ground.
“… No …” Nimue mumbled.
“What’s that?” Melou asked, leaning closer and cupping a hand over his ear.
“No! I haven’t!”
“Then you can’t know! For all you know, they are that boring! And you’re going to have a boring, boring life, like your mama — like everybody’s mama!”
“I will not!”
“… Unless, of course, you don’t get married,” Melou continued. “See, that’s what you have to do, Nimue. You have to not to get married. Then you can go on adventures with us when we grow up!”
“You won’t go on adventures,” Nimue scoffed, desperate to regain some — any — ground.
“Sure we will! We’re gonna be wizards!” Melehan replied. “We’ll have lots of adventures!”
“We’re gonna rescue fair maidens!” cried Melou.
“And defeat dragons!” added Melehan.
“No, dummy, we’ll tame dragons!”
“Oh, that’s right! And we’ll ride on ’em!”
“‘Cause they’ll be our trusty steeds!”
“Better than any horse!”
“‘Cause we’ll be up in the air! When all the knights are gonna be riding on the ground on their stupid horses, we’ll be flying above their heads.”
“With our spells!”
“And our dragons spitting fireballs at them!”
“Ooh! Fireballs!” crowed Agravaine. “Can I have a dragon, too?”
“I dunno,” Melehan replied. “You’ve got to be a wizard to control a dragon.”
“But if you get to be a wizard when you grow up,” Melou added, “then I guess you can be wizard-knights like us.”
That was what made Nimue not just annoyed — or frustrated — or irked, but truly angry. “You can’t be knights!”
Melou’s head snapped to her. “Says who?”
“Says — says everyone!” Nimue replied. It was easier to say that than, “Says my mama!” Because once — when Nimue remembered that it was always the lord’s oldest son who got to be the lord after the first lord died — she had asked her mother what was going to happen to her and Gawaine and Gareth when her father died. Her mama had been confused at first, but when she got out of Nimue what was bothering her, she had explained that it wasn’t just the oldest son of a lord who got to the be the lord next. It was the oldest son of the lord and his wife. Mama was Father’s wife, so it was Mama’s eldest son — Gawaine — who would be lord next. That seemed to be very important to Nimue’s mama, even if she couldn’t quite understand why.
“Why not?” snorted Melou.
Nimue should have just said, “Because your parents aren’t noble.” It would have caused another argument — but it might have avoided a bigger one.
Instead, she told the truth. “Because your parents aren’t married!”
Melou and Melehan turned to her with wide eyes. “That — that’s not true!” Melou shouted.
Melehan had a different way of dealing with the problem. “Who — who told you that?” he asked her, his lips very white.
“My mama did!”
“Well, how does your mama know?” Melou challenged. “How’s it any of her business?”
“It is so her business! It’s because of your mama that my father treated my mama so bad!”
“Huh?” asked Melehan.
“Our mama didn’t do nothing to your mama!” shouted Melou. “How can you say she did? Our mama wouldn’t do anything bad to anybody!”
“She did! She did! She was really mean to my mama! It was because of her that my father could never love my mama! And my mama is my father’s wife!”
“Nimue, what are you talking about?” asked Agravaine, mystified.
“Aye!” Melehan chimed in. “Our mama wouldn’t have done anything to your mama. She doesn’t like to hurt spiders and flies, why would she want to hurt another Sim?”
They didn’t believe her? Nimue’s mama was hurting so badly — and it was all Melehan and Melou’s mama’s fault — and they wouldn’t believe her?
She snapped, “Because then she could have my father all to herself!”
“Our mama doesn’t care about your father, she only cares about our papa!”
“You dummies!” Nimue finally yelled. “My father IS your papa!”
And she regretted it instantly.
“Oh, honey …” Margery soothed, patting Nimue’s back. “Oh, honey. It’s all right, it’s all right …”
You weren’t supposed to lie to children, but … but … Lord help her, there were times when only a lie would do. What was she supposed to tell Nimue? That what she had said would rock her half-brothers’ world? That her life was about to change forever — possibly for the worse? How could she tell Nimue that?
“Mama’s gonna be s-s-so mad!”
“Your mother will not be mad,” Margery replied, and meant it. At least — Dindrane had better not be mad. What had she been thinking, telling a secret of this magnitude to a six-year-old — and expecting her to keep it? Children Nimue’s age and even a little older couldn’t keep from talking about anything — Margery would hold up Banana’s test answer as positive proof!
But Nimue’s father, on the other hand … “Nimue, sweetheart …” Margery took a deep breath. “I’ll write a note to your mama for you to take home from school.” She’d write two, and give one to Gawaine, for good measure. “It will explain everything. She won’t be mad at you.”
“But — but what about Lou and Han?” Nimue sniffled. “They’re gonna be mad!”
Margery’s jaw fell. “Nimue …”
“S-Sister?” came another voice from the door. Margery turned to look.
Well, speak of the cow demons. And Agravaine. Margery patted Nimue’s back and slowly stood.
“S-Sister?” Nimue whimpered.
Margery tousled Nimue’s hair and moved closer to Melou, Melehan, and Agravaine. “Boys?”
“Is what Nimue said true?” asked Melou — direct and to the point as always, Margery could see. Well, could she blame him?
But now, of course, that left the burden of answering to Margery.
She had always wondered — sometimes idly, sometimes half in terror, what she would say if one of the children had come to her and asked her if the rumors they heard about their own parentage were true. She had focused most of her fears on the orphans; they heard so many sad things. And she had already had to nurse Jade through a crisis of that type. But the FitzOrk children …
She didn’t wonder about the FitzOrk children. She dreaded that day. And now … it was here.
How good for her, then, that there was only one answer Margery could give in good conscience. She gave it.
She would not, after all, sacrifice Nimue’s reputation — and possibly her friendships — to protect Sir Mordred Orkney’s dirty secrets. And if he had a problem with that, he would do far better to look in the mirror than to take up an argument with her. Who had caused all of these problems? Margery would ask him that. And then she would ask him why he had not simply been honest with all of his children from the very beginning and so kept these problems from ever forming.
She doubted she would get very far with that line of questioning, but it was one that was worth the asking.
“But …” Melehan’s jaw was quivering. “How come nobody ever told us?”
“Aye! And how come our papa married Nimue’s mama, and not ours?” Melou asked, hands on his hips and glaring at Margery.
“I … I cannot answer either of those questions for you,” Margery replied. It would have perhaps been more truthful to say that she would not answer those questions, but a “would not” tended to immediately elicit a “why not” from most children. Especially these ones. “You will have to ask your parents about them.”
“But — but what if they still don’t want to tell us?” asked Melou.
“Oh, they will,” replied Margery. There was no avoiding it now. Not for Sir Mordred — not for Rosette Chevaux — and not even for Dindrane. It was thinking of Dindrane that made Margery’s heart crack a little, and that left room for the guilt to rush in.
But … but when Margery had told Dindrane about this, her intention, in the end, had been to avoid any of the children finding out about their shared heritage in a way that would be shocking or upsetting. Perhaps she had worried too much about Nimue, and not enough about Melehan and Melou. Perhaps, as Sister Vyn had said, she should have —
No. She should not have involved Sir Mordred from the start. She could not have done that to Dindrane. Not when there was any other choice.
Now, of course, there was no choice.“Your parents will discuss this with you — with all of you,” she said, shooting a glance at Nimue. “That much I can promise. And now, children, if you will excuse me …” She took a deep breath and turned away. “I need to write notes to all of your parents … to make sure that they do talk to you, tonight and tomorrow night and whenever they need to speak with you.” The tests would have to wait until another day.