Jaban 5, 1013
The light was quite, quite bright outside before it filtered through to Glenna’s consciousness. Glenna’s nose wrinkled. Surely it couldn’t be time to get up yet …
Wait … if the light was this bright … then the sun must be quite high … which meant …
What was she doing still asleep? Glenna gasped even before her eyes opened. Her legs bunched underneath her, ready to spring her body out of bed and toward the wardrobe to dress–
Then–pain. Well, not pain. Soreness, more like, from the hardest work she had ever done in her life.
Glenna remembered why she was sleeping late today.
No sooner had she remembered then she was kicking herself–mentally. How could she have forgotten, even in those few sleepy moments? She’d had a baby. What kind of mother just forgot about her baby a day after she had borne it? No–not it. Her. Glenna had had a little girl.
And she’d been so sure the baby would be a boy.
Glenna’s eyes blinked open. She had to check on her daughter–
“Easy now.” That was Kata. Glenna blinked again, her eyes adjusting to the light just as her newborn’s had. Only with a good deal less squalling. “What d’ye need, lass? I’ll bring it ter ye.”
Glenna rubbed her eyes. “Kat–Kata.” She looked at the cradle that Seumas and Kata’s boy Billy had made between them, cut from a barrel, the insides carefully sanded so that not a single splinter was left. Not a sound came from it. Glenna started scrambling up.
“Easy, easy!” Kata said again, stepping forward and making shushing, slowing motions with her hands. “She’s fine. I checked up on her before I looked over ye. She’s sleepin’, sound an’ safe an’ quiet.” Kata tilted her head to one side. “An’ Seumas says he’s been takin’ her over ter ye when she’s been cryin’, an’ ye’ve been feedin’ her. D’ye remember?”
Glenna flushed and shook her head.
“That’s all right. Ye had a busy day yesterday–both o’ ye. Ain’t no surprise that ye won’t quite remember the night feedins.”
“I–I see.” Glenna took a deep breath. Then she swung her legs over the side of the bed.
Glenna just sat there for a moment, breathing deep from the pretty pink flowers — Kata said they were called snapdragons, and were grown by her son-in-law — on the side of the bed. Kata had brought those flowers over when Glenna had gone into labor. Just one whiff of them had made Glenna feel stronger, less terrified, more equal to the task ahead of her. Breathing them in now made those half-a-dozen steps between the bed and the crib seem much less daunting.
Besides, she had given birth yesterday morning. She’d had almost a whole day to rest. She was a working woman — work was something she needed to get back to.
She stood, tested her legs, her feet. Her privy parts still felt sore, but when she tried to walk–yes, that was fine. She would manage. She could certainly walk over to the cradle.
Kata said nothing at first, but Glenna could feel Kata’s eyes on her the whole time.
Glenna bent — slowly — over the cradle and looked at the sleeping figure in it. As if the baby could sense her presence, slowly her eyes blinked open. Dark brown eyes. Nothing like Glenna’s eyes.
Did she recognize Glenna? Did she know Glenna for her mother? It didn’t matter. Because Glenna knew her.
“Hello, Seona,” Glenna whispered, picking her daughter up so gently and so carefully, just as her own mother had taught her.
Seona did not look like a Ruskin — not yet, anyway. Her skin was too dusky and dark, her eyes a dark brown that did not run in Ruskin blood. The only thing that Glenna could see that was Ruskin were the red brows over those pretty eyes. Glenna did not know what color hair her … her attacker had. He had worn a close-fitting helm that covered all his hair. And somehow she hadn’t taken note of his eyebrows. So she would say, and nobody need ever know differently, that Seona’s red hair came from her.
What else came from Glenna? Glenna couldn’t tell. She had never been much for identifying resemblances on a newborn’s face. She could remember the birth of Beatris, Niven, Peadar, how her mother had held the new arrival close and marveled over Aunt Maire’s nose or Granddad Murchad’s lips. Glenna wished, not for the first time, that her mother could be here now. She would be able to find all those resemblances that Glenna had missed … even if she was working with incomplete information.
Seona started to whimper, and with an ease born not of practice but of instinct, Glenna brought her up to her shoulder and shushed her.
Through all of this, Kata’s silence as she stood and thought was very loud indeed.
Glenna closed her eyes and held Seona close. She would revel in this for just … just now. As her time had come closer, she had run over every horrible scenario in her mind, trying to prepare herself for the worst of circumstances. Not her own death. That … was not as frightening as it might be for a happy woman, married, making her home and expecting her first child. That woman would be missing out on a lot. For Glenna … there were worse things than dying. She knew. She’d lived through one of them.
Some might say, now that the labor was over, that Glenna had lived through two of them.
Kata coughed. “Glenna, why don’t ye have a seat? No use strainin’ yerself. An’ we need ter talk.”
Glenna turned around, bouncing Seona as she had bounced Niven and Peadar. “I should be gettin’ up an’ about, though. I–don’t have time ter be wastin’.”
Kata shook her head. “Naw. I went ter see Brother Galahad this morn — an’ I jest happened ter run inter Lady Guinevere while I was there.” Kata wore a small, secret smile. “Why, when she heard ye were safely delivered, won’t ye know, she insisted that Benoic — their steward — come by with some food from the larders. So ye should be set fer the next few days.” She nodded to the bed. “So sit down, Glenna.”
There were battles one could fight — and battles one couldn’t. Glenna sat. But she put Seona on the bed next to her.
Kata’s eyebrow went up, but she didn’t say anything. So Glenna jumped in to fight the battle she thought she could fight. “That’s charity. We …” Glenna looked at her lap. “The Ruskins don’t take charity.”
She would not lie and say they didn’t need it.
“I’ll wager the du Lacs don’t see it that way,” Kata shrugged. “They’d see it as they’re yer lords, an’ the lords are supposed ter take care o’ their folk. They’d see it as bein’ only natural-like.”
“They–they’ve been awfully kind. What with … everythin’.” Glenna didn’t fool herself into thinking that her new lord actually cared how Seona was conceived. Plenty of lords figured all peasant girls were no better than they should be. Still–even if they thought her soiled, stained, they were being kind.
But … did they? Glenna hadn’t known it when she had first gone to see Brother Galahad, but now she knew that the good Brother was the son of the lord and lady. He must have gotten his … unusual views from somewhere. And Glenna would bet her last farthing it wasn’t from the Church.
“Oh, an’ speakin’ o’ Brother Galahad,” Kata added, “if–if ye’ll be sendin’ Seona along, I’d axe yer permission ter let Brother Galahad have the baptizin’ o’ yer before she goes. He–”
“Sendin’ her along?” Glenna interrupted. “Ye mean ter the orphanage?”
Kata took a deep breath. “Glenna –”
“I can’t send her there. Not … not with that …” You didn’t go around calling nuns witches — much as they might deserve the title. Not if you didn’t want to be burned for heresy or blasphemy or who knew what else. “That woman there.”
“Sister Margery is a good woman. An’ so is Mother Julian. They’d raise Seona up right.”
Glenna looked at Seona and rubbed her little tummy through the swaddling blanket. It wasn’t special, that swaddling blanket. It was just an old blanket Glenna had had. She wished she could have had something special for Seona, her first baby.
… She might as well face it. Seona could well be her only baby. Everybody would know that Glenna had had a babe out of wedlock, and nobody would care what the story behind it was. She was damaged goods, now. Ruined. What man would take her?
And considering what she had been through … did she even want a man?
Glenna stroked Seona’s cheek with just the tip of one finger. Seona turned her head, blinking in the light. “Is — does that mean she’s gettin’ hungry?” Glenna asked, looking up at Kata.
“Is she makin’ suckin’-faces?” asked Kata, straining to see.
“Then she should be fine.”
Glenna continued to stroke Seona’s cheek. “Me axin’ that … it jest made ye surer that Seona don’t belong with me, don’t it?”
“Oh, Glenna,” Kata sighed. “Stop confusin’ me with that harridan Sister Vyn. Every new mother’s got questions. Every new mother panics whenever her baby’s burp don’t sound exactly the same as the last burp. Most new mothers axe their mas–but ye ain’t got a ma. An’ between ye an’ me, I think I got more experience with newborns than even most mas.”
Glenna laughed. “That’s true.”
“So don’t ye worry none about axin’ questions,” Kata continued. “Good Lord. If no new mothers axed questions, why, there wouldn’t be no Sims!”
“When … when I were still at home, an’ when I were courtin’ … I would axe me ma questions,” Glenna murmured. “Because … well, because. An’ me ma always said that me an’ me babies would get ter know each other, an’ jest ter trust meself, because that was the surest way ter do right.”
“An’ it is,” Kata nodded. “Ye …” Kata turned her head to one side. “Ye never struck me as the kind o’ girl who spent her every spare minute imaginin’ babies.”
Glenna smiled. “Well … I wasn’t. Not till I started courtin’. An’ then …”
“I know how that goes,” Kata said, so Glenna wouldn’t have to. “Every baby ye see suddenly has his eyes, or yer smile, an’ ye can’t help thinkin’ an’ wonderin’ an’ imaginin’ …” Kata stared out the window, a small smile playing on her lips.
“Ye see why I can’t give her up?” Glenna whispered.
“Ah, so we’ve gone ter ‘can’t,’ have we?”
Kata leaned back, head tilted to one side. “Tell me. Tell me why ye can’t.”
“Kata! Ye’re a ma!”
“Indeed, I am,” Kata agreed. “But I want ter hear — all the same. Because it’s a hard road ye’re settin’ yer feet on, an’ I think ye ought ter hear yerself say why ye’re walkin’ down it — before it’s too late.”
Glenna rubbed Seona’s tummy again. She stared into Seona’s wondering face. What a good baby she was already — looking up at the ceiling, the walls, Glenna herself, and not crying even though she must want to. “Kata … ye said that the nuns would raise Seona right.”
“They would,” Kata replied.
“No. They wouldn’t. ‘Cause they wouldn’t raise her the way I would raise her.”
Kata leaned back, her head resting against the worn hanging. “An’ how would ye raise her that’s so different from how the nuns would raise her?”
“Nuns … nuns is Church-folk,” Glenna replied. “An’ — savin’ Brother Galahad — I ain’t never met a church-folk who saw a babe who–who wasn’t born in wedlock an’ didn’t see somethin’ wrong. Not with the parents, mind. With the babe. Like — like the babe weren’t supposed ter be here. I ain’t gonna let Seona feel that. Never.”
Kata didn’t make the reply that Glenna’s bad angel was whispering: But isn’t Seona not supposed to be here? Wouldn’t the world have been a better place if there was no man who had surprised Glenna that day? Killed her father? Raped her?
And the answer to that was, of course, yes. But that did not mean that there was something wrong with Seona thereby. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father — that was something St. Robert himself had said. It ought to go double for daughters.
“An’–an’,” Glenna continued, “I was so sure — so sure! — that Seona would be a boy! An’ look — she’s a girl!”
Kata chuckled. “I did notice that, bein’ as I was the one what looked between her legs an’ told ye an’ all.”
“Relax, Glenna — there ain’t barely anythin’ so serious in this world that a little joke is that wrong.”
Glenna hesitated, but maybe — maybe Kata was right. Or, if she wasn’t right, she ought to be right. And was the joke really that harmful?
No. It wasn’t. Glenna took a deep breath. “I was … I was preparing meself ter love her even if she were a boy. Even if she looked jest like … him. But she weren’t a boy. An’–an’ she don’t look like him.” That answer came to Glenna with all of the purity and clarity of church bells on a Sunday morn. “She looks like herself.”
“That she does.”
Glenna sighed. Good. At least someone else agreed with her on that.
“I can’t send a girl ter the nuns, Kata,” Glenna said. “I can’t. I know — I know they’d do their best. An’–an’ Sister Margery seems like a real nice lady. But at the end o’ the day … folk’ll hold it against her, bein’ born the way she was. An’ if she’s with the nuns, they’ll all think … that I was no better than I should be. That it was me fault. An’ it wasn’t. An’ I won’t let Seona take the blame fer that. If she’s with me — I can fend the bug–” Glenna caught the word halfway, cast a guilty glance at Seona, and rephrased, “I can fend the nasty folk off. I can keep them away from her.”
“Glenna, word to the wise–while little ones will pick up nasty words faster than ye can stop yerself from usin’ ’em, I can almost guarantee ye that they don’t pick ’em up that fast.” Her eyes twinkled even as she winked. “An’ that bein’ said — can ye fend the nasty folk off? Ye sure?”
“I can try. Will the nuns?”
Kata was silent. Then, “I’ve been talkin’ — ter Mother Julian. Ter Rhoslyn — one o’ the girls. She’s gonna be me ‘prentice, come next year. An’ … the nuns don’t fend the nasty folk off as ye’d want ’em fended off. They tell the girls … that their beginnins were sinful — an’ even Seona’s was sinful, fer all that it weren’t yer sin — and it’s the duty o’ the girls ter rise above that.”
“So what they don’t tell them is that the world is full o’ small-minded fools who ain’t more worth listenin’ ter than the whistle of the wind.”
“Oh, I’m sure there is some o’ that,” Kata answered. “Mother Julian is a fan o’ tough love, but she’s also the most down-ter-earth nun I ever met. But … she makes it clear that it’s up ter the girls ter change those folks’ minds. Not that the folks ought ter be workin’ hard ter change their own minds.” Kata narrowed her eyes at Glenna. “That’s what ye want ter tell Seona, ain’t it.”
“Yes.” That, too, was clear. She never wanted Seona to feel as she had felt — dirty and used and sinful, all for something she could not have helped.
“Well–can’t blame ye fer that.” Kata chuckled mirthlessly. “However … Glenna, I got one more question fer ye.”
Glenna swallowed so she could be sure her gaze met Kata’s.
“What about yer sibs?”
Yes. That was the question, wasn’t it?
“It’s gonna be hard — harder, now,” Kata pointed out. “If ye’re nursin’, it’s gonna make it harder fer ye ter work. An’ most o’ yer time when ye’re home will be taken up with the baby. An’ Seumas is a boy. There’s only so much he’s gonna want ter do with yer sibs.”
“That don’t matter. We’ll have to work together,” Glenna said. “We’re all each other’s got. An’ … somehow, we’ll manage. As fer money …”
Glenna took a deep breath. But ever since she had begun to see keeping her baby as a possibility — as soon as she had begun to see the baby as possibly a blessing, and not just a burden or punishment — she had thought about this. And she thought she had an idea. “The Chevauxes — Niven made friends with their little boy. Basil. He gave Niven one o’ their cats. We’ve been teachin’ the cats ter do tricks. Master Jonguleur, he said he weren’t gonna keep me job open fer me until I could come back — fine. But if I go ter the fair with Vixen an’ she does tricks an’ takes custom away … well, he’ll have ter give me me job back, won’t he? An’ even if he don’t — between me, Vixen, an’ Seumas, we ought ter be fine. An’ I’ll be lookin’ fer better-payin’ work, too.”
Kata pursed her lips together. “An’ … I’ll be lookin’ out fer ye, too,” she replied. “So. I guess ye’ve got it settled, then?”
“Ye told yer sibs?”
Glenna shook her head. But she wasn’t worried about what the littler ones would say. And Seumas … Seumas had stayed with her all last night to make sure she could feed Seona. She would not ask him to do that again. But all the same … she thought he would understand.
“Then why don’t ye get dressed, lass, an’ we’ll go down an’ tell ’em?”
Glenna nodded. She kissed Seona once, then went to the wardrobe and took out her kirtle and gown and leather apron. She was dressed in a jiffy, had her hair brushed and put in its usual ponytail quite soon after that. Then she picked up Seona, nodded to Kata, and followed her downstairs.
Her sibs were sitting around the table — waiting. Glenna knew that. Peadar was the first to see her. “Glenna!”
“Hey, sprout.” Glenna laughed.
“Are ye better?” he asked, slipping out of his chair and smiling his gap-toothed, nervous smile at her.
“Aye, I am. Lots better. An’ this …” Glenna shifted her hold on Seona so she could get a better look at her aunt and uncles — and so her uncles and aunt could get a better look at her. “This is Seona.”
“Seona!” Beatris vaulted out of her chair — very impressive, for her — and galloped over to where Glenna was standing with Seona. “Ooh, hi, Seona! That’s a perfect name, Glenna. It sounds like a princess name!”
“I know,” Glenna replied. It was why she had always liked the name Seona.
She looked at her sibs, wondering how they — all of them — would take this. Peadar and Niven were smiling, both of them, and Beatris was in love with Seona already. Beatris was also just about old enough to give Glenna a hand with some baby-things, watching and playing with Seona if not feeding her or changing her. Yes, they would be fine.
Seumas watched Seona very carefully. He looked drawn and exhausted. No wonder, her poor brother. But hopefully …
He looked up at her and smiled. It wasn’t much of a smile, even for Seumas. But for now …
For now it was more than enough. Seona was accepted. And somehow or other — they would survive.
After all, surviving, Glenna was beginning to think, was what Ruskins did best.