Clatan 11, 1014
“It’s about bloody time you got an afternoon to yourself!” Jack cried out. “My Lord! What is your ma’s problem? Did she forget that you’re supposed to be allowed to have fun?”
Billy laughed, or tried to. He saw how it looked from Jack’s perspective, he really did. But he also knew how it was from his mother’s perspective. She was trying to keep an eye on Goodwife Porter and Goodwife Brogan (Berach’s wife) and Goodwife Tower — and just this morning a very fine handwritten note had arrived from Lady Clarice, asking Kata to come by at her earliest convenience (or some noble dressed-up words like that) for a “consultation.” Which could only mean one thing: the doctor for the noble ladies, Kata’s saving salvation, was now in the family way herself … and you couldn’t play pusher and catcher at the same time.
And then … there was the matter of Rhoslyn.
Billy did not mind having Rhoslyn around. He really didn’t. He was trying to look on her as something like a younger sister. Which meant, as he was finding, that she was loud-mouthed, acerbic (if funny), and frequently annoying. He had consulted with Jack already on the subject of younger sisters, and he had found that Jack largely agreed with his estimate. … Maybe he’d protested that Banana wouldn’t know acerbity if it hit her on the behind with a ship’s mast, and that she hadn’t learned how to be funny yet, but in terms of being annoyed, he had wholeheartedly agreed.
But what was really bothersome about Rhoslyn was that Kata had to put a lot of time into training her and teaching her. That was the point of an apprentice, after all. Which meant that there were chores and such that she couldn’t do … leaving them to Billy. That explained the lack of free time recently. Kata swore that things would get easier once Rhoslyn learned the ropes, but Billy was firmly taking a “wait and see” position on that.
He couldn’t say any of this, though. Not with Rhoslyn standing right there … just like an annoying little sister.
“Anyway,” Billy said, “Sir Lancelot don’t need me terday, an’ Ma says she wants an afternoon o’ peace an’ quiet — so we’ve got time ter do what we want.”
“She also wants us to pick up some flower for her, Billy,” Rhoslyn added. Billy did his best not to wince.
But he should have known better than to be embarrassed in front of Jack. Jack just laughed. “Aye, that’s mothers for you! They give you a day pass out of prison, and then they give you a list of things they want you to bring back for them!”
“Sounds about right,” Billy laughed. But he looked sidelong at Rhoslyn. She’d never known her mother — she wasn’t getting offended, was she?
She didn’t seem to be. She was only smiling, maybe chuckling a little. Either she wasn’t bothered, or she was doing a damned good job of hiding it.
“Ah, but it’s too bad you weren’t here fifteen minutes ago! The dancing girl was tryin’ out a new move! And, oh, the way those hips moved–”
Billy’s eyes widened, watching Jack — and then he looked at the dancing girl. She was close enough to hear them, and sent him a saucy wink. Billy gulped and hoped he wasn’t blushing, not visibly at least.
“Uh, Jack,” Billy muttered, “she can hear you …”
“Sure she can! And she knows just what a horrible job I’m doing, don’t you, Trudie?”
Trudie — apparently the dancing girl had a name now — laughed. “Oh, Jack Andavri, if ye’re ever thrown inter the streets — sing fer yer supper, me boy. Don’t dance! Ye’ll be gettin’ rotten tomatoes, not coin thrown at ye!”
“Betcha the tomatoes hurt less!” Jack countered.
“Only to the body!”
Trudie laughed and went back to her dance.
“I already threw a copper in her hat, so we’re all set,” Jack grinned. “But you really should have been here, Billy! There was one old man standing here, and I swear, as he watched …”
Jack leaned back–no, wait–he was putting his hips forward — meaning … Billy started to flush, but at least he could be confident in the knowledge that Rhoslyn wouldn’t understand.
Then she broke out laughing. “He did not! You’re a dirty liar, Jack Andavri!”
Oh shit! “Rhoslyn! How d’ye know what he’s — no, ye can’t know what he’s talkin’ about!”
“I wasn’t born under a rock, Billy,” snorted Rhoslyn. “And I wasn’t born yesterday, either.”
“Aww, cheer up, Billy.” Jack wrapped an arm around Billy’s shoulder. “My ma always says that girls understand more of the dirty stuff than boys — they’re just better at pretending they don’t.”
“Women, maybe, but not girls! Rhoslyn — ye can’t let me ma know what Jack was jest sayin’. If ye do, she’ll — she’ll –”
“Not do a thing, of course.” Rhoslyn rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Billy, she’s teaching me to be a midwife. She’s already told me where babies come from. How dumb do you think she thinks I am?”
Billy had no idea. He just knew that he didn’t want to get blamed for exposing Rhoslyn to the corrupting influence of his friends.
“What about Mother Julian?” Billy retorted. “Ain’t she still checkin’ up on ye?”
“And she sent me off to become a midwife. Honestly, Billy, do you think she expects me to stay as innocent as the day I left the convent?” Rhoslyn rolled her eyes.
“I don’t know,” Billy muttered. “Ye–”
“You know what, Rhoslyn,” Jack interrupted, winking at Billy, “I wouldn’t talk too loud about leaving the convent if I were you. You’re Kata Thatcher’s apprentice, so of course you already know that most men are pigs –”
“Hey!” Billy protested.
“Excepting her son and her son’s friends, of course,” Jack went on, even though that hadn’t been what Billy was protesting. His ma wouldn’t say something like that — not out loud, anyway, and certainly not to Rhoslyn, who might repeat it to entirely the wrong people. She knew too well which side her bread was buttered on for that. “Anyway, you know that — and you know you’ll get the attention of some real curly-tailed gems if you keep talking about leaving the convent. You know?”
No, Billy really, really hoped she didn’t know. But Rhoslyn laughed and answered, “Do I!”
Billy slapped his palm against his face. Why???
Or … did she know? Did she really know … or was she just speaking with all the confidence and bravado of twelve? Billy vaguely remembered being twelve. He hadn’t known a damn thing at the time — but he on some deep level, he’d been convinced he had it all figured out. He’d been sure, for one thing, that he had Simon’s measure, and that there was anything he could do to stop him from being a bloody git.
Billy wasn’t so sure about that now. But he definitely still knew that Simon was a bloody git.
He also knew that in the time he had spent woolgathering, Jack and Rhoslyn had already started off. Billy trotted to catch up. “Is a walk all right with you, Billy?” Jack asked.
“Sure thing,” Billy replied. Walks were free, and anything that was free and didn’t require him to show off his lack of cash was a good thing in Billy’s book. Jack seemed to know that, too, and so usually suggested free things.
“And once we’ve had a look down the stalls,” Jack continued, “we’ll go down the beach and teach this one,” he jerked his thumb at Rhoslyn, “how to shy a stone.”
“Huh?” Billy asked.
“Should be fun, shouldn’t it? Bet you never tried that before, did you, Rhoslyn?” Jack asked.
But … you couldn’t skip stones down at the beach. You needed a flat body of water for that, and the beach was anything but. Didn’t Jack know–
Of course he knew that. He just wanted a little fun with Rhoslyn. Billy could see that in the way he turned to wink at him.
“Hey!” Rhoslyn said — she had seen the wink too. “What’s that all about? Are you two–Jack, watch–”
Too late. Jack had already barreled right into the girl in brown eyeing the shoes. “Oof!”
“Oh!” Jack jumped back. “Sorry, miss. Didn’t see you there. You’re not hurt, are you?”
“Oof,” the girl huffed — then she turned and Billy recognized her. Katie Brogan! The girl who …
She rubbed her arm. “You could watch where you’re going,” she muttered. Then she sent up a rueful smile. “But no harm done.” She tilted her head up at Jack. “And who would you be, kind sir?”
“Why — my dear! Are you tellin’ me there’s a girl in this shire who hasn’t heard of the mighty Jack Andavri?”
“Ooh boy,” Billy murmured, tilting his head back and sighing.
“What’s wrong?” asked Rhoslyn.
Billy almost started, but not before he glanced at Jack and Katie and saw that they were both too occupied in introducing themselves to be paying much attention to him. Good. “She’s Katie Brogan,” Billy muttered.
Rhoslyn blinked at him. “And …?”
“Come on, Rhoslyn. Ye remember me ma talkin’ about her, don’t ye?” When Rhoslyn shook her head, Billy added, “The girl what got the job me ma wanted fer Glenna?”
Rhoslyn tilted her head to one side and watched Jack and Katie talk. “I thought your ma was annoyed at … T-something Brogan.”
… Well, that was true enough. “Toinette Brogan. That’s Katie’s ma.”
“She didn’t say much about Katie, though, did she?” Rhoslyn asked. “Your ma, I mean.”
“Well … I guess not.” She’d barely even mentioned which of the Brogan siblings had stolen the job right out from under Glenna’s nose — at least to hear Kata tell it. Billy had only assumed it was Katie because he couldn’t imagine Paddy wanting to work in a dress shop and because Nora and Sean were far too young.
“So I don’t see why this would be a problem,” Rhoslyn shrugged. “Besides, it’s Jack who’s gone and lost his head to her, not you. Your ma isn’t in charge of Jack.”
That was a — wait. Jack had lost his head?
That couldn’t possibly be possible. Jack was the one who knew girls, understood them! He was always giving Billy advice when Billy was eating his heart out over Greta or Mirabelle or some other girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day thanks to Ash and Marigold. He couldn’t possibly have fallen for someone …
And Katie Brogan? She had the face of a pug and a personality to suit!
But she was laughing and grinning at Jack. She usually wasn’t this nice to … anyone, really. Certainly not people who had almost knocked her over. She had gotten a lot better in Billy’s eyes over the past few years, but … still …
Curious, he started listening closer to what Jack and Katie were saying.
“I live in Camelot,” Katie was saying. “Well, sort of. On the outskirts. My family used to live in Dyfedshire, but then my da bought us out from Lord Pellinore an’ opened up a fish shop.”
Nothing curious or odd there.
“That would explain why I’ve never seen you before,” Jack replied. “I’d have noticed a pretty face like yours.”
… That was laying it on a bit thick, even for Jack. Especially when Katie Brogan was on the receiving end of it!
“He bought himself out?” whispered Rhoslyn.
Billy looked up. “Huh?”
“Master Brogan,” Rhoslyn whispered. Billy wondered if she even had to bother — Katie and Jack probably wouldn’t have heard a three-wagon pile-up five feet away.
“Well … aye …”
“I wonder how you do that …” Rhoslyn murmured, tilting her head and staring hard at Katie — like that would give her the answer to all her questions.
“Um … well …” Billy said. “I think he opened a little shop on his da’s property — sold the stuff from his garden an’ farm — an’ were able ter raise enough money ter let himself out o’ his indenture. An’ with enough left over ter buy a nice house an’ a little shop.”
“Interesting,” Rhoslyn murmured, rubbing her chin.
“Why?” Billy asked, stupidly.
Rhoslyn tossed him a disbelieving glance — the kind girls trotted out when they couldn’t believe how stupid the boys in their lives were being. Billy already knew it was part of the stock-in-trade of older sisters; apparently younger sisters had it, too. “Come on, Billy. You don’t want to on being someone else’s peasant your whole life, do you?”
“Uh …” Was he supposed to answer that?
“At least, I don’t,” Rhoslyn went on. “And I can’t imagine why anyone else would.”
“Aw, come on, Rhoslyn. Ye’ve been indentured fer what, two months? It ain’t that bad. An’ even if it were, ye wouldn’t know it that yet, would ye?”
“Says you,” retorted Rhoslyn. “I don’t want to live my life under someone else’s thumb.”
Billy stared at her. What was she saying?
“And don’t look at me like that, Billy Thatcher. I’ve been raised in a convent. I know all about dancing every last step to someone else’s tune.” Did she sound … bitter? How? She was twelve! Twelve-year-olds didn’t know how to be bitter! They didn’t teach you that until you were at least thirteen! “And I don’t care what the rules of St. Coral’s say. As soon as I can, I’m getting out of this indenture and living for myself.”
“Rhoslyn …” Billy didn’t know how to go on. “Rhoslyn, nobody gets ter live fer ‘imself. Or ‘erself. We’re all connected.”
“Your ma,” Rhoslyn retorted. “If she hadn’t married your da –”
“I’m not going to say anything bad. Just — she was a gypsy. And a midwife. She could go where she wanted, do what she wanted — nobody could stop her. And wherever she went, she could earn her keep once she got there. That’s what I want. And look at Katie and Jack!”
“Katie was able to walk right into that job, the one that made your ma so mad, because she was–”
“The owner’s niece?” Billy retorted.
“That matters a lot, Rhoslyn,” Billy interrupted. “Ye may not understand, not havin’ kin o’ yer own –”
Rhoslyn cut him off with a glare. “Don’t go there, Billy Thatcher. Maybe it’s not blood kin, but me and Nyasha are closer than sisters could ever be. And Jean, too. … And sometimes Jade, when she’s not being annoying.”
“Well, then maybe ye will understand, once Nyasha an’ … the rest o’ ’em get married an’ have some babies. Ye’ll do things fer those babies that ye wouldn’t do fer jest about anythin’ else. I’d do a lot fer Jeremy an’ Marty.”
“Hmm. But it isn’t just because she was what’s-her-name’s kin,” Rhoslyn went on. Billy would bet serious coin that that was what it had come down to in the end, but trying to make that argument to Rhoslyn without at least hearing her own would be rude … and probably an exercise in futility. “It’s because she’s free, and because she’s free, she gets to learn how to do things to keep herself free. Like be good in a shop.”
“I really don’t think that’s what it is, Rhoslyn,” Billy replied.
“Well, maybe you don’t, but that doesn’t mean you’re right,” Rhoslyn shrugged. “I think it makes more sense to teach free people that kind of thing — if all you know is how to dig a ditch and plant crops –”
“Well, if that’s all you know, you’re not likely to run off, are you? Because where can you run to? But people like Katie … and Jack … it makes sense for them to learn, to be taught, how to do things, because there’s nobody trying to keep them in one place.”
Billy shook his head. She was oversimplifying. But what was twelve for, if not to make things simpler than they were — or, for that matter, ought to be? “Ye’re gonna be a midwife. Tell me, if that were how people really thought, why would Sir Lancelot an’ Sir William be lettin’ ye train ter be a midwife after indenturin’ ye? Midwives can find work anywhere.”
“I don’t know. Maybe because they like your ma, and your ma wanted me as an apprentice. Maybe because they think that I’ll just stay here when I’m done with my apprenticeship, because I’m a good convent-bred girl.”
Billy stared at her. “Ye … ye wouldn’t.”
Billy grabbed her arm. “Because it would be wrong, that’s why!”
“Says who?” retorted Rhoslyn, tossing her hair like a filly and looking at him with all the brassy boldness of twelve.
And … of something else.
Because Billy recognized that devil-may-care attitude. He recognized that And who are you to make me? stare. He didn’t know many of the women Marigold … worked with very well. Marigold usually tried to keep that part of her life separate. But there was one of the women who made an impression whether you were in her company for five years or five minutes.
Rhoslyn knit her brows and cocked her head to the side. “Something wrong, Billy? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Uh …” Billy could only stare at Rhoslyn, not knowing what — if anything — to say. That was how he was able to hear Jack.
“Well, it was nice meetin’ you, Katie!” Billy glanced at his friend to see him shaking Katie’s hand. Well, that was good. At least he wasn’t kissing it yet.
“Nice meetin’ you too, Jack,” replied Katie. She grinned at him. “I’ll be seein’ you around soon, I hope. You know that I work for my auntie on school days.”
“I do,” Jack grinned and nodded.
“And if you ever need any cloth …”
“I will be there.”
Katie grinned, then, with one last shake of Jack’s hand and a polite-enough nod to Billy and Rhoslyn, she skipped off. Jack watched her go.
And all of a sudden, Jack switched off and started walking away. “You know,” he remarked, “I think she likes me!”
“You certainly made a good impression,” agreed Rhoslyn.
And Billy? He didn’t say anything.
He had more important things to be thinking about.