Imsdyn 23, 1014
If someone had asked Aglovale a year or more ago — or, hell, a fortnight or more ago — how long it would take after his father’s death to see a wide smile gracing his mother’s face, he most assuredly would not have said, “About a week, I believe.”
But, then again, this hypothetical question did not take into account the entrance into the world of the new grandchild.
“It’s a girl!”
Aglovale only hoped that his own smile would pass muster.
“And she’s beautiful,” Eilwen went on, staring at the face of the little pink-wrapped bundle in her arms. “Absolutely beautiful. Look at her! Hello, Elen!”
Elen. That … had been the name that Babette wanted. Up until a week ago, Aglovale had been quite willing to accede to her wishes. He didn’t mind the name itself. He certainly had no problem with naming his daughter after Babette’s mother. But …
He’d had another idea …
“Oh, Aglovale, stop standing there like a ninny! You’d think this was your first,” Eilwen chuckled. “Come see!”
Slowly, stupidly, trying to keep some hold on his mind, Aglovale stumbled forward to say hello to his daughter.
“Hello, baby,” he said, smiling down on the pink little face on top of the … good Lord, where had Babette gotten that blanket?
His mother was right: his daughter, their daughter, was beautiful. Absolutely stunning, even if her face was still scrunched up and red from her recent entry, even if there wasn’t so much of a strand of hair on her head, not counting her eyebrows, which were … blonde. So much for the theory that Gwynedds only produced red-haired babies.
And her eyes were … “Mother, does she have your eyes?” Aglovale asked.
“Oh … well …” Eilwen flushed and looked again at the little girl. “Sometimes new babies’ eyes are a grayish color.” But she was grinning from ear to ear. Women were much better at tracing infant resemblances than mere men. So, as far as Aglovale was concerned, the question of his first daughter’s eyes was resolved.
“And how is Babette?” called Master Wesleyan — Mark. Aglovale winced–he should have asked that sooner. But his head had been in a fog ever since his father fell ill. Today’s events hadn’t helped.
“Babette pulled through wonderfully once again!” Eilwen smiled. “And this little mite wasn’t much trouble, either. Weren’t you a nice easy baby, angel?” she fussed.
Aglovale’s eyebrows went up. Last he checked, several hours of groaning labor, followed by the shouts of the last half-hour or so, did not meet anyone’s definition of “easy.”
“And don’t you look at me like that, my boy,” said Eilwen, somehow able to make herself heard despite the cheering of Lamorak and Mark and Rob Wesleyan. “Five hours of labor is barely a blink!”
Not for the first time, Aglovale found himself thankful that he had not been born a woman.
He stroked the baby’s cheek. She made a face, something between a scowl and a suck. “Is — why is she making that face, Mother? Is she hungry?”
Eilwen glanced down at the baby’s face in surprise. “Oh, darling, she’s probably just a little surprised by all the attention — she was in a nice, dark, warm and comfortable place not so long ago, and now it’s bright out and chillier than what she’s used to, and all these people are poking and prodding her all over. Besides, you remember–” Eilwen bit her lip. “Oh–forgive your mother for being a goose, dear. Of course you wouldn’t remember. You had your schooling when Morien was this age.”
Yes. Yes, Aglovale had. And now that he did not have that schooling … he saw the many sleepless nights ahead of him, the crying, the feeding, the changing … all that he had missed the first time around. He knew not whether to be sorry or glad.
So he seized upon the next best thing: distraction. “Morien?” He looked down to where Morien was playing on the rug. It had been stupid — but with Babette in labor and knowing full well that anything could happen, he had not wanted to be apart from Morien. At least Morien had been too distracted with his toys to notice much of what was going on, though there had been a screaming fit around lunchtime when Mama would not come down to feed him.
“Morien, look –” Aglovale stepped to the side and Eilwen held up the baby so Morien could get a good view. “You’re a big brother now.”
Morien did oblige them by looking up from his xylophone.
He eyed the baby, narrowed his eyes, tilted his head to one side …
And went right back to the xylophone.
Lamorak snorted. “That, my man,” he walked up and tousled Morien’s curls, “would be how your father reacted to being told he was a big brother.”
“I did not,” Aglovale huffed, and hoped he was correct.
“I distinctly recall you not caring, little brother,” Lamorak nudged Aglovale, “not caring in the slightest. You barely blinked upon being told you had two little sisters, not just the one little brother or sister we’d all been preparing for.”
“The one very big little brother or sister,” chuckled Eilwen. “I wish I could have seen your father’s … face …”
The smile dropped away, and the sparkle in Eilwen’s eye died. “Here,” Aglovale said, holding his arms out. “Let me see her.”
Eilwen handed the baby over with something approximating a smile. Aglovale brought the baby up to his shoulder, nuzzling her face, smelling her soft skin.
For, even though Aglovale sensed he was about to learn just how much he did not know about new babies, he remembered very well how this part went. He had about five minutes before the uncles and grandfathers–grandfather swooped in and demanded their fair share of time with the baby. “You’ll have all the time you want with him!” would be the reply if Aglovale protested. “We’re just visiting.”
And eventually the women would come down from downstairs, and then …
Then what? Aglovale asked himself. For he remembered, all of a sudden, who had been there when Morien was born, and who was here now. He was not thinking of the twins, who would surely get their fill of the new baby when they next came home. He was not thinking of Kay, whom he hadn’t even thought to send for after Babette had told him to get Lady Clarice NOW. He was thinking about Helena Wesleyan …
And his father.
“Here,” Lamorak said, muscling forward, “it’s my turn, little brother.”
“You’ve got your own,” Aglovale muttered, holding the baby a little closer.
“Not a little girl,” Lamorak countered. “Here, Elen, come see your favorite uncle.”
“Favorite?” Rob challenged.
It wasn’t the prospect of watching Lamorak and Rob bicker over who would be the baby’s favorite uncle that got Aglovale to hand the baby to Lamorak. He could have done without that argument. No, it was the name. Aglovale gave up the baby, then he turned to his mother. “Mother?”
“Yes, dear?” Eilwen asked.
“Is–is Babette …” He could feel approval radiating from the general direction of the Wesleyans. Good. Hopefully they would forgive Aglovale … assuming he got his way. “Is she well enough for me to see? To speak to?”
Eilwen blinked. “She’s certainly well, but … she’s tired out. And Lady Clarice and the other women might still be helping her get cleaned up.”
“Not–not to be crude, Mother, but that can’t possibly reveal to me anything I haven’t seen before.”
Eilwen laughed. “Oh, you wish, Aglovale! Besides … at this time, women don’t necessarily want even their husbands having a good look at them until they’re cleaned up.”
That, Aglovale supposed, might be true enough. “Well, Mother, if she doesn’t want to see me — then I suppose I shall have to wait. But …” He glanced over his shoulder at the Wesleyans, who were both crowding Lamorak and cooing over the baby. “It’s about the name.”
“The name?” Eilwen asked. Her head tilted to one side, but she kept her voice low. “What’s wrong with Elen?”
“Just … an idea I had,” Aglovale shrugged. And an argument I had no desire to have if the baby ended up being a boy.
Eilwen watched him with eyes narrowed, then, with no warning, she kissed his cheek. “Well, if you have an idea you’d prefer, then you’d best get up there before we all get too used to calling this little lass Elen.” With that she shooed him up the stairs, stairs that Aglovale mounted two at a time.
He hurried down the short corridor and knocked on the door. “Who iiiss it?” called a giddy voice — Babette’s, whose else?
“It’s me,” Aglovale replied.
“Aglovale? What are you doing up here?”
“I’d like to talk to you, Babette. May I come in?”
“Oh …” A giggle. “I suppose! Ladies, I’m not too much a fright, am I?”
Aglovale did not wait for the ladies to answer. He opened the door, slipped inside, and shut it behind him.
The first thing that hit him was the coppery smell of blood — enough that he looked at Babette in some alarm. But Babette looked quite well for a woman who had just given birth. Her hair was wet and curling, the visible skin shining and still damp in places. She must have just been bathed. And the bed, far from being a mess of blood and … other fluids that Aglovale did not even want to think about, was clean and neatly made.
Then Aglovale saw why. In the door, neatly tied, was a bundle of sheets and … Aglovale didn’t even know what else. Over the bundle was a small wooden stool with most of the seat cut out, leaving only a slight U-shape for someone to sit on. It had been scrubbed, he could still see faint water glistening, but there were still some signs of …
Aglovale stopped looking. And it was good, for Lady Clarice had come up to him and was starting to talk in a low voice. “What is it you need, Sir Aglovale?”
“I just–” Aglovale’s eyes suddenly bulged. “What is the dog doing in here?”
“Oh, she came in and I didn’t want her to leave!” Babette answered. A quick glance at Lady Clarice’s face showed just what she thought of this arrangement. “And you were as good as gold, weren’t you, Panna?” The dog barked happily in reply.
“She kept Babette calm and in good spirits,” added Lady Clarice with a clenched jaw that bespoke frustration.
“But–but–” Protests continued to sputter from Aglovale’s lips. “Won’t that bring — bad luck?”
The look Lady Clarice shot him was far more chastening than any mere scolding. “What is it that you need, Sir Aglovale?” she repeated.
“I wish to speak to my wife,” he replied. “In private.” If they were going to get into a fight, he didn’t want an audience — especially since he knew that Garnet and Danielle Wesleyan had to be in here somewhere, since they had been helping attend the birth.
Lady Clarice pursed her lips together. “She should be resting …”
“I want only to talk. That shouldn’t be particularly straining, should it? And with any luck … it won’t take long.” Any luck — given Mark Wesleyan’s drawn and dour face throughout the process, Aglovale supposed he ought to assume that his luck for the day was spent. Possibly his luck for the month was spent. This would probably lead to a huge argument.
“Well …” Lady Clarice looked hesitantly at the bed.
“What do you want to talk about, Aglovale?” Babette asked. Her toes wiggled under the hem of what Aglovale knew was her favorite nightgown.
Lady Clarice took a deep breath. “We’ll be outside if you need anything. Ladies!” she called over her shoulder. “Let’s give Sir Aglovale and Lady Gwynedd a minute, shall we?”
“Only if you promise to not say anything if we insist on calling them Aglovale and Babette,” laughed Danielle Wesleyan. Aglovale heard a snigger that he was fairly certain came from Garnet. As he rounded the other side of the bed, his side, he saw where his and Babette’s sisters-in-law had been hiding: the bench on the far side of the room.
Luckily they were leaving. Unfortunately, the dog had padded over to her basket and looked ready to settle down for a snooze. But … well, it wasn’t like the dog would be able to repeat any part of their conversation.
Aglovale settled himself on the bed, trying to figure out how to begin this conversation.
Babette started it for him. “We got a girl! Just like we prayed for! Oh, Aglovale, isn’t this wonderful?”
“It is wonderful,” Aglovale agreed, “but you prayed for a girl. I prayed for a safe and healthy delivery for the both of you.” He reached over and took her hand. It was still pink and pruny from her bath. “And look — both sets of prayers were answered.”
… He hoped. He knew, sometimes, that women could come through a birth right as rain, then sicken and die within days or weeks. And babies … babies, Aglovale thought, had their lives hanging on a thread, gossamer-thin and broken if breathed on the wrong way. He couldn’t help but think how insistent Lady Morgan — Lady Morgan, the best healer in the kingdom — had been about keeping Percival out of Dyfed Keep when Pellinore had been ill. It scared the hell out of him. And now his baby girl was in that same delicate stage …
He swallowed. He wouldn’t think about it too closely.
“… Aglovale?” asked Babette.
“Are … are you sure the reason that you weren’t praying for a girl is because you wanted a boy?” She pouted. “We’ve already got a boy, but I know that men want an heir and a spare …”
“You know, being a spare myself, I must admit that I never liked that saying,” murmured Aglovale.
Babette ignored him. Or maybe she simply didn’t hear. “And I don’t want to be a disappointment …”
“What? Babette–don’t be silly. I–as long as the Lord continues to send us healthy babies and keeps you safe throughout, I won’t ever be disappointed.” He squeezed her hand. She beamed and squeezed back. “And … and should that not happen, rest assured that I will not be disappointed with you.”
There. Babette was smiling softly at him, which meant that she did not understand what Aglovale had done there. He had told her true things — reassuring things — but not the right thing.
The right thing, of course, was, You could never disappoint me. But although that was surely the right thing to say … it could never in a thousand universes be true.
“And now we have our Elen,” Babette sighed.
“Er …” Aglovale swallowed, then, realizing that he had no idea how long he had until the women came back in and shooed him out, realized it was now or never to say his piece. “That–that is what I wanted to discuss with you, Babette. The … the baby’s name.”
“The baby’s name?” Babette’s brows wrinkled. “We agreed on Elen.”
“Yes, but –”
“You got to name Morien for your family,” Babette sniffed. “Some relative who was just a cousin who lived years and years and years ago, too! Why can’t I name our second baby for my mother? My mother who won’t even get to see Elen?”
“It’s not that I don’t want a child named for your family, Babette, it’s just–”
“Just what? You want to name this baby after the first Aglovale’s Smoorish bride, because it’s not bad enough that you gave our son a Smoorish name?”
… Actually Aglovale doubted that Morien was a Smoorish name — for them, it would have been like naming one’s son “Glasonlander” or “Albionese” or “Gaulish,” wouldn’t it? It must have been the name that Morien picked up after he came to Glasonland. “No, Babette, I don’t. But–but my father won’t be seeing this baby either.”
Babette stared at him. Her eyes went wide. Then she gasped, “I will not let you name our sweet little girl Pellinore!”
“What? No! No, no, no!” Aglovale gasped. “Not Pellinore! Never Pellinore! I think …” Aglovale swallowed. “I think my father might have to–to come back and give me a tongue-lashing if I gave that name to a boy.”
Babette blinked. “He–”
She hated to be interrupted. But Aglovale did it anyway. It would be best to catch her off-guard. “I was actually thinking — Elinor.”
Babette’s nose wrinkled. “That’s just Pellinore without the P!”
“No–at least, I don’t think so,” Aglovale answered. “I … I thought of it very suddenly. And … it’s sort of got Elen in it, you know. So we could name Elinor for both of our parents. Your mother and my father. We can remember them … both.”
Babette tilted her head to one side. “Is … is that name like Elen is to Helena? Or Darius to Dario? Just a different version in a different language?”
Aglovale kicked himself for not having thought of this possibility sooner. Was it too late to simply say, “Yes”?
… Probably, given how he had hesitated. “I — I honestly don’t know. But we could ask Dindrane. If she doesn’t know, she’ll be able to find out.”
And with any luck, Aglovale could beg or bribe Dindrane to not come up with an answer — at least, if the answer was negative — until Elinor was baptized and it was too late to change the name.
“And …” Babette mused. “I could always still call her Elen. As a nickname.”
“You could,” Aglovale agreed. Only a truly foolish general, after all, ordered a risky attack when he was already winning.
“Elinor is a bit of a mouthful for such a little girl, don’t you think?”
No, he didn’t think that at all. It was no more a mouthful than Morien. Or Percival. Or Aglovale. But again, a good general knew when not to jeopardize the victory. “Now that you mention it … it could be. I think she’ll grow into it, though. I grew into my name.”
“You certainly did,” Babette giggled. She shifted nearer to him; Aglovale put an arm around her shoulder and she snuggled next to him. “But she can be Elen for a good long time.”
… He wasn’t going to win this, was he? He’d get a victory on paper, but no more. But … there was nothing to say he couldn’t call their daughter Elinor, her real name, for all that Babette was likely to be Elen-ing her morning, noon, and night. “She can be,” Aglovale agreed.
Babette laughed. “And just think,” she whispered. “We got our girl. Cressida wanted a girl, but we got our girl.”
“We did,” Aglovale agreed, even though Babette’s logic — if there was any logic in there — was faulty to say the least. Aglovale knew that the mind of the Lord was ineffable to mere mortals, but he was fairly certain that He did not apportion out baby boys and girls to fuel some kind of tit-for-tat among the parents. “After everything …we got a healthy baby girl.”
And because he could not quite resist it — because part of him wanted this victory, even though he knew it was immature, even though he knew it risked opening up hostilities once again — he added, “We got our Elinor.”