Endskel 16, 1013
Edmond hated coming to the cemetery.
Standing on the grassy mound that covered Cerise, he felt like a fake, an imposter. Cerise wasn’t under there. Or at least — nothing that made Cerise Cerise was under there. Underneath the grass and the dirt was a pine box, and in that pine box was …
He didn’t like to think about it, for all that any man with eyes in his head and a thought in his mind could determine just what was in that pine box. But that didn’t mean he wanted to think about it.
Cerise wasn’t there. Cerise was … gone.
But still Edmond came. It was one of those traditions he had carried with him from Glasonland, something that didn’t make much sense, but … you just did. When his grandparents had died, his parents had brought them to the cemetery every now and then to “pay their respects.” When his parents died, he and his brothers and sisters did the same thing, at least until they went to Albion. When they left for Albion, Cerise had had to hide tears: not just for the friends they’d never see again, or the family members, or the places that held all their memories, but for her father, too, who had died only a month before and whose grave Cerise would never be able to visit.
Cerise would never forgive Edmond if he didn’t come to her grave. So he came. But now that he was here … what should he do?
Edmond cleared his throat awkwardly. He’d come here once a month, regularly, since Cerise died, but he always felt like a fool when he first started to speak. “Hello, Cerise.”
He paused. “I–I s’pose ye’ll be wantin’ to know all the family news. Well. Michel’s gettin’ on jest fine. He’s rollin’ around, stickin’ things in his mouth … aw, Cerise, ye ought ter know all this by now. If–if ye can’t see from where ye are — then ye know …”
He was going to say that Cerise, of all people, ought to know what to expect out of a four-month-old grandchild. She’d raised four children and had seen ten grandchildren to that age — thirteen, if you counted Rosette’s kids, whom Cerise hadn’t precisely seen. Fourteen, if you counted Wulf too.
But he couldn’t get past the sticking point: if she couldn’t see. If she couldn’t see it for herself … why should she be able to see him here? If she couldn’t hear the prayer he addressed to her every night, why should she be able to hear him now?
If none of that was true — the Edmond was just making a fool of himself, standing in front of a stone monument and talking to the empty air. It didn’t matter that nobody else would call him a fool. It didn’t matter that if any of the brothers should chance by here, they’d commend him for his faithfulness and offer to pray with him. If he couldn’t believe that Cerise could see and hear him anywhere in his heart … everything else was a sham.
And if he did believe in his heart that she could see and hear him anywhere, this was still a sham and a waste of his time. If nothing else, Cerise’s death had taught him that time was precious. Edmond turned to go.
He’d forgotten he wasn’t the only recently — or not-so-recently, as the neighbors would measure it — bereaved around these parts. “Betsy?”
Betsy looked up. “Edmond!”
She hurried up the stone steps, Edmond met her halfway. He extended a polite hand and raised his eyebrows. “Fancy meetin’ ye around these parts.”
Betsy chuckled. “Indeed. Who’d’ve thought it?”
But even though she laughed, even though she smiled, there was still a sadness in her eyes. She’d taken Martin’s death, almost — as much as it shamed Edmond to think it — harder than he’d taken Cerise’s. On the face of it, it made no sense. They’d both been married a long time, both were getting up in years … death ought to have been around the corner in both of their estimations. Both had lost their spouses suddenly, with no warning. Both had adult children at home to both help them shoulder the burden, and to force them to be a shoulder to cry on when all they wanted to do was cry themselves.
Betsy did have her two little boys, though, boys she’d be raising without a father. That was hard. At least Edmond and Cerise’s children had all flown the nest. And Cerise, too, hadn’t left a sense of … unfinished business behind her, as Martin had. It wasn’t just the children. Martin wasn’t even fifty years old yet. His hair was gray, but he was still hearty and vigorous. He should have had many more years left in him.
“I’m surprised,” Betsy said, breaking into his reverie, “that we don’t … meet here more often.”
Edmond’s mouth opened, and closed, and opened again. “Well … we must be missin’ each other, that’s all. We’re both awful busy folk.”
“That’s true,” agreed Betsy.
“We’re both spendin’ most o’ our days chasin’ after kids an’ grandkiddies, tendin’ ter the garden an’ farm … ‘s a miracle we can get down here as often as we can.”
“I know. I know. But I gotta carve out this time once a week, or …” Betsy sighed. “I don’t know what I’d do with meself.”
Once a week? Betsy came here once a week? There was no reason why she shouldn’t — but Edmond couldn’t help but feel low and small and somehow negligent, knowing that.
“Edmond?” asked Betsy. “I’m sorry. Did I say somethin’ wrong?”
“What?” Edmond asked, his gaze and his attention snapping back to Betsy. “Oh–no. Don’t feel that.” He thought of what he would say to himself if he weren’t himself — if he were some other man, feeling he wasn’t visiting his wife often enough, confronted with the evidence of someone in very similar circumstances who was visiting his spouse much more often. “Everyone grieves in different ways — that’s all.”
“Isn’t that true,” Betsy agreed. “So …”
She didn’t go on. But Edmond could hear the questions lingering, unasked. How’s it going for ye? It’s been over a year now. They say the first year is the worst. Is it getting better?
Was it? Edmond no longer would call for Cerise when he saw something that would amuse her, or he figured that the children would respond better to her discipline than to his, or when he just needed an extra pair of adult-sized hands. He’d gotten reasonably adept at all those child-care things that he used to count Cerise to do for him. He never tricked himself into believing that she was right there — perhaps just gone out to market for a bit, or was merely in another room — and so was greeted with a fresh pang when he remembered she was gone.
Maybe that was better.
“So,” Edmond replied, “how are yer kids doin’?”
“Oh, fine, fine! Lukas is tryin’ — well, he’s tryin’, hard as he can, ter be fillin’ his pa’s shoes on … Sir Mordred’s lands. He ain’t quite filled ’em … but he’s young yet. He’ll manage. An’ Davy is the sweetest boy on the Lord’s green earth — but don’t tell me other boys I told ye that! — an’ we’re gettin’ Bert all ready ter be goin’ ter school once the new year comes, an’ Marty was a year old yesterday.”
“A year old already?” Edmond had said that how many times over the course of his life? But it always sounded fresh and new whenever he said it. And why wouldn’t it? Each child was fresh and new. “My, how time does fly.”
“I know, I know.” Betsy chuckled. “Lukas an’ Ella are already thinkin’ o’ the next one, ye mark me words.” She hesitated. “I … I were jest about ter go an’ tell Martin all about it …”
“Ah, well in that case–”
“I was hopin’ maybe ye’d …” Betsy hesitated. “Ye an’ he always got on right well.”
There was only one answer to give to that. “I’d be honored.”
Without another word, they walked over to Martin’s grave.
The grass hadn’t grown over him quite the same way it had grown over Cerise. Edmond wondered why that had been. It certainly couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Betsy came here once a week and Edmond only once a month. Grass wasn’t that sensitive.
Betsy sighed. “They–they had ter bury Martin twice. The ground — it were too frozen …”
“I’m sorry about that,” Edmond replied. It upset her — of course he was sorry.
“Well–well, Martin,” Betsy said to the gray headstone. “It’s me. I’m here again. I told ye that I’d tell ye all about little Marty’s party, an’ … well, here I am.”
At least, Edmond thought, he wasn’t the only one who felt awkward and silly talking to a patch of dirt and a carved stone, even if Betsy did seem to like and need these visits more than Edmond did.
“It were a small party,” she went on, “’cause he’s so little … jest Kata Thatcher an’ her Billy an’ us.” This was said with a faintly apologetic glance at Edmond — but why the apology?
Oh–of course. Meg. Meg had every right to be at her nephew’s birthday party, and if Meg was invited, then the whole Chevaux family probably ought to be. And if Meg was invited, then Joyce — and her family — ought by rights to be. And probably Roma and Simon and Jeremy ought to be putting in an appearance, too.
Good Lord. It made Edmond’s head spin just to think of it.
“Probably a good thing ye kept it small,” Edmond laughed. “Otherwise ye’d’ve had ter invite half the common folks in the kingdom. Good Lord — between ye an’ me an’ our kids, I think we are related ter half the folks what came over from Glasonland!”
Betsy blinked. “Me–me goodness–I think ye’re right. Let’s see, obviously me Meg made a match o’ it with yer Pierre — an’ me Joyce is married ter Berach Brogan, an’ me Lukas is married ter Kata’s Ella — aye, that’s the Chevauxes, the Pelles, the Brogans an’ the Thatchers linked up right there! An’ if that ain’t enough, yer Toinette is married ter the other Brogan brother an’ yer Simon ter the other Thatcher sister! Our grandkids will be cousins ter half the kingdom–well, the commoner–”
Betsy stopped suddenly. Edmond looked at her quizzically. “Betsy?”
“Sorry–jest a thought.” She hesitated. “Yer–yer grandkids really are cousins ter half the kingdom.”
Edmond blinked — hadn’t she just said that?
Then he understood. It was Rosette — and Rosette’s children — she was talking about.
But that puzzled Edmond. He’d never thought that Betsy would be one to judge. For goodness’s sake, when it came to judgement, he thought Cerise had that corner marked out for her own territory and would let no one else in. When Rosette had won Cerise over, Edmond that thought she’d never have troubles of that sort anymore. Well, it just went to show that you never knew exactly what was going on in someone else’s mind unless they decided to open their mouth and tell you.
Betsy shuddered, and Edmond shot her a surprised look. That he truly hadn’t been expecting! “Everythin’ all right?” he asked, just barely keeping his voice this side of civil.
“How ain’t ye afraid?” Betsy whispered. “I’d be terrified, were it me daughter with … him.”
… Maybe Betsy wasn’t judging after all.
“Because of what his ma–his lady mother did?” Edmond asked.
“No. Not jest … that. Because of …” She looked away. “Him.”
He’d never seen Betsy look so scared, and he’d watched her on the stand, withering under Lady Morgause’s harsh gaze. Good Lord. What was Sir Mordred doing, to frighten her so much? This couldn’t be right.
“Has he said somethin’ ter ye, Betsy? Made threats? ‘Cause o’ …” He hesitated. “His mother, an’ all that … happened?”
“Made threats?” Betsy shot him an incredulous glance. “Edmond, ye … if ye’re axin’ that, ye don’t understand the Orkneys at all. They don’t make threats. They don’t … they don’t give ye that kind o’ warnin’. They jest — they jest look at ye, an’ ye know that if ye don’t look sharp an’ do jest what they say, an’ do it right quick, ye’ll be …” Betsy gulped.
Then she changed the subject. Or seemed to. “When–when they had ter bury Martin proper–I told them I wanted ter see. They didn’t–they thought I was crazy, the grave-diggers. But I told ’em, open it up. I have ter see. An’–it were horrible.” Betsy shuddered, and Edmond laid a hand on her shoulder. “But at least I knew! I knew Martin were still restin’ safe an’ sound. That’s–that’s what scares me so much–that Sir Mordred would do ter Martin what his mother did ter Accolon. An’ I wouldn’t know! Lady Morgan, she didn’t know fer over a year — a year an’ a half — an’ she’s a witch!”
“Wright, Betsy–that’s what ye’re afraid o’?” Edmond gasped.
Betsy blinked — were those tears she was blinking back? She nodded.
“Have–have ye told anyone else about this?”
“Who would I tell?” Betsy shook her head. “I’m half afraid o’ bein’ called mad …” She looked up at him sidelong, eyes questioning. “Ye probably think I’m mad …”
Edmond snorted. “If it hadn’t happened ter yer own brother-in-law, done by Sir Mordred’s own mother? Maybe. But since it did, no, I say that’s a sane thing ter be worryin’ about. Although …” Edmond rested his hand on Betsy’s shoulder. “Ye know it didn’t work out so well fer Lady Morgause. Lady Morgan got the last laugh on that one.” He hesitated. “Several times over, by the way I reckon. Sir Mordred, he’s a lot o’ things, but he ain’t no fool. I don’t think he’d try somethin’ like that, knowin’ how it didn’t work the last time.”
“I ain’t no witch,” Betsy whispered. “It might not work out so well fer me. An’ … an’ I ain’t young, Edmond, an’ I can’t make meself no younger. Even if me an’ Martin did find each other again … I’d leave him, sooner or later, an’ then … we might never see each other again …”
“Don’t ye believe that fer a minute. There’ll be a Judgement Day, mark me words. The Good Book says so. Ye wouldn’t be apart ferever.” Edmond took a deep breath. “But, Betsy–ye shouldn’t be worryin’ yerself sick over this, an’ certainly not all by yerself. Go talk ter someone, someone who can help.
“Lady Morgan?” Betsy asked, her eyes lighting up. “Oh–I should’ve thought o’ that! I’ll go an’ see her–terday! She won’t mind me droppin’ by. Not fer … not fer this.”
“Well …” Edmond tapped his fingers to his lips. “That weren’t what I were thinkin’ …”
Betsy blinked. “It weren’t?”
“N-no.” He hesitated–how much to say? Lady Morgan, he supposed, was a good enough woman. And if Father Hugh, and Brother Galahad, and even Brother Andy and Brother Tuck said there was nothing overtly sinful about being a witch or wizard … he’d believe them. Yes, he would: Rosette herself had said that Sir Mordred had told her that all her children were likely to be magical, so Edmond would believe them if it was the last thing he did. This was the salvation of his grandchildren he was talking about.
But all the same, even if magic came from Wright … it could do such horrible things. Look at Accolon. Look at what Lady Morgause tried to do to Thorn. There may have been good things, too, but as far as Edmond could see, they were never as numerous or as big, for lack of a better word, as the bad. Lady Morgan might have been a better witch, in terms of both skill and morals, than Lady Morgause, but she couldn’t turn Accolon back into what he was.
“I think,” Edmond said finally, “ye ought ter be goin’ ter a monk with this.”
“Aye. After all, if ye’ve got the Lord on yer side — who else d’ye need?” Edmond shrugged.
“Ye think … ye think they’d be willin’ ter help?” Betsy asked.
“If ye axed Father Hugh? Of course he would be willin’ ter help. He’d do anythin’ he could ter make sure yer Martin stays safely restin’.”
Betsy hesitated. “But … what could he do?”
She had Martin there. “Ter be honest — I don’t know, Betsy. But I’m sure he could do somethin’. He’s the holiest man in Albion, by me reckonin’. If he can’t do nothin’ …”
“There’s always Lady Morgan,” Betsy finished for him.
That wasn’t what Edmond had been thinking, but he let it slide. Lady Morgan probably wouldn’t be able to do as much as Father Hugh. But … she could try, and even if she couldn’t stop Sir Mordred, she’d certainly be likely to know if something happened. There couldn’t be any harm in letting her know.
“Aye,” he agreed. “So … what d’ye say we go terday ter talk ter Father Hugh?”
Betsy stared at him. “We?”
“Sure … me family ain’t expectin’ me back fer a while yet. An’ I always feel … well, if there’s somethin’ that ought ter be done, there’s no point puttin’ it off. Might as well get it done as quick as ye can.”
Betsy nodded. “Aye. Aye.” She took a deep breath. “Jest … give me a minute, aye?”
Edmond nodded. He stepped away, giving her some privacy with Martin, at least for a few moments.
It didn’t take Betsy long to say her farewells. She was soon by Edmond’s side, and they walked slowly out of the cemetery.
They didn’t speak until they left the ivy-overhung arch that marked the entrance to the cemetery. Then, without warning, Betsy reached out for Edmond and hugged him. “Thank’ee,” she whispered.
Edmond smiled and patted her back. “Don’t ye worry none about it, Betsy. Now. Let’s go see Father Hugh.”