Clatan 29, 1014
It was well past Jemmy’s bedtime, but he was still awake. He should have been throwing a screaming fit by now — he was the sort of child who was a terror to get up in the mornings if he hadn’t had enough sleep, and who let you know in no uncertain terms when naptime was overdue — but perhaps he was relishing the novelty of this late night. He pounded his little horse that Edmond had carved for him on the floor, and laughed, and pounded it some more.
At least he was enjoying himself. No one could say the same for Roma.
She wasn’t supposed to be home yet. But there had been a pounding rainstorm in Avilion, the kind that swept in off the sea and chased the people into their homes. Nobody was going out tonight. The rainstorm had cleared up eventually — just after Roma and the other waitresses had finished drying off in front of the hot stove — but Master O’Neill had looked outside, saw how the roads had turned to mud, shaken his head, and sent everyone home. There was no point in burning down candles and keeping the stove nice and hot when nobody was going to pay for the candles and the wood by buying food or drink.
So she had gotten home a few hours early. And once she was there — Simon wasn’t.
Where the hell are ye, Simon?
There had been an old woman watching Jemmy. That alone gave Roma hope that Simon wasn’t in trouble. If he was able to engage someone to watch Jemmy, that meant that he had known he was going out ahead of time. It meant he hadn’t been taken by the law — or rival smugglers — or —
Roma didn’t want to think about that. She started to pace. She should have been exhausted, after her full day, walk through the pounding rain, and trek through the mud home, but she was too full of nerves to contemplate sitting down — let alone lying down and trying to sleep.
Besides, she had already decided. If whatever led Simon to be leaving the house in the middle of the night — without telling her he would be gone — hadn’t killed him, she might damn well do it herself when he walked in that door.
He was not supposed to do this. Roma did not like the idea of him having to take off at all hours of the night to get shipments from Glasonland or take them over the border to Reme. (Oddly enough, the war hadn’t interrupted shipments from Glasonland. True, the war was just about over now, but Roma would have guessed that it would have made trouble for Simon when it was still going on.) But it would lead to his freedom, her freedom, Jemmy’s freedom. It was worth it for that price alone. But he was not supposed to take shipments — he had promised — on the nights when she was working.
He doubly wasn’t supposed to do it without telling her first!
Roma whirled around. Jemmy had dropped his horse. He was frowning up at her. “Where Papa?”
Oh, Lord …
“Papa is … Papa is …”
Roma gave up, swooped down and clutched Jemmy to her breast. “Papa will be home soon.”
She didn’t want Jemmy to see her face, but he must have heard something in her voice or felt it in the way she held him. He clung to her neck for dear life. Roma buried her face into his shoulder, against his baby-soft skin, and tried to take deep breaths so she wouldn’t start to cry. Or scream.
“Where Papa?” Jemmy asked again.
Roma swallowed. “Papa’s working.” Jemmy understood work, didn’t he? It was so hard to tell just what little ones understood and what they didn’t. But he knew that when Mama or Papa wasn’t around, it was because they had to work — and even if he didn’t know what work was, at least he understood that it was something they had to do.
“But Mama home.”
“Aye, Mama’s home.”
“An’ no lady.”
No … Roma stiffened. Jemmy — was he old enough to pick up on who that old woman was? Or … had she been here before?
She hesitated. There was a part of her that felt that it was wrong — it must be wrong — to question a child that young in order to figure out a transgression on the part of the father. But … if Jemmy recognized that lady … if she had been here before … how many times had Simon done this?
The latch of the door clicked, Roma gasped and held Jemmy closer — and in walked Simon.
“Papa!” called Jemmy. He reached out and squirmed — Roma clutched at him so he wouldn’t go jumping out of her arms. Jemmy was usually content enough to be sedately carried, but when he wanted something (or someone), he wanted them.
“Scamp!” Simon called. He laughed. He held out his arms —
Then he got another glance at Roma and paled.
Roma felt her teeth grinding. That was normally the sort of thing that happened overnight, when her worries came back to bite her and she woke up in the morning with a sore head and an aching jaw. If she was doing it when she was awake …
But she would keep calm. She would put Jemmy down. She would let him go a few steps away, trying to run on feet that were still unsteady to his smiling papa. And then —
“Where the hell were ye, Simon Chevaux?”
Jemmy paused in mid-run. He fell to his rear with the muffled thud of a napkined behind. Simon stared at Roma.
“An’ how long have ye been gone?” Roma challenged. “An’ when were ye gonna tell me? An’ –”
“Roma …” Simon interrupted, or tried to, sheepishly.
“An’ who was that woman ye left our son with?” Roma finally shouted.
Simon flinched. “She’s reliable! I been usin’ her fer — heck, I used with Ma–”
He stopped. He never could quite say that name, could he? Marie’s name. Their daughter’s name. Their firstborn child’s name.
But … if that was what he was going to say …
“Ye what?” Roma roared.
“Say it, Simon Chevaux! Say it! Say her name!”
Simon scowled. “I used ter use her with Marie — all right? Like I said, she–”
“So ye’ve been sneakin’ out behind me back fer how long now?”
“Oh, fer Wright’s sake! What are ye, me mother?”
“I’m yer wife!” Roma fired back. “An’ I got every right to know where ye’re goin’! Especially when you leave in the middle o’ the night an’ leave our baby — our babies — with Lord-knows-who!”
“Argh!” Simon groaned. “Ye’re impossible! I had ter go out, all right? I had ter get a — shipment. An’–”
“Ye promised ye wouldn’t do none of that on nights when I had ter work! Ye promised, Simon!”
“Well, then I lied!”
Roma gasped and recoiled. He — he didn’t even sound like he cared — let alone that he might be sorry …
“An’ no, it weren’t right, but — damn it, Roma! This ain’t waitressin’! I ain’t got no Master O’Neill who makes up a schedule fer which girls come in when an’ does the same blasted thing every week ’cause he’s too lazy ter rethink it! When a shipment comes in, I gotta go get it! An’ when it’s gotta go out — I gotta take it out. That’s the way it is, an’ ye should have known that when ye married me!”
Roma glared at him. Yes, that had been what it was like when they were first married. Simon could be called out any time, day or night, and Roma had hated it but learned to live with it. But it was different, once Marie and then Jemmy were in the picture. It had to be different.
And if it couldn’t very well be different, then Simon should have told her that from the beginning!
“That ain’t good enough, Simon Chevaux,” Roma snapped. “It’s bad enough that ye say ye gotta leave all the time –”
“I ain’t jest sayin’ –”
“I ain’t finished!” Roma could hear her voice shaking on every syllable. She let it rise anyway. Simon needed to hear this — and she didn’t care if the whole damn shire heard it, too. “We got a kid now, in case ye ain’t noticed!”
“What? Ye barely noticed with Marie!” Roma shouted. She knew she’d made her mark by the way he recoiled and paled. Oh, yes — he thought she hadn’t realized just how little attention he’d paid to Marie, did he? He thought that because she hadn’t brought it up, it meant she had forgotten? Of course she remembered. Before Marie had gotten sick, how Simon treated — or didn’t treat — her had been Roma’s main worry. And the one hope she had clung to was on those nights when Roma had to work, Simon would perforce have to pay attention, and maybe they would bond …
But now she found out even that hadn’t happened!
“An’,” Roma continued, “if ye think fer a second — a second — that I’m gonna let ye get away with this with Jemmy –”
That did it. Jemmy started to wail at the sound of his name.
“Jemmy!” Simon called out and dove for him. He bounced Jemmy up and down, shooting glares at Roma all the while. “Shush, scamp, don’t cry — Papa’s right here, Papa ain’t gonna let nothin’ bad happen ter ye …” Another glare Roma’s way. “Papa’s gonna notice ye …”
And then came the kicker. As Jemmy started to calm down, clinging to Simon’s neck, Simon said with a sneer, “Ye should have put him ter bed ages ago. No wonder he’s so cranky an’ overtired.”
If he hadn’t been holding the baby, Roma might have hit him.
But Simon didn’t stick around long enough to see what she would do. He kissed Jemmy’s head and hurried him up the ladder to the nursery. Roma listened to every footstep up the ladder and onto the creaking floorboards above. She heard Simon talking to Jemmy. The words were too soft to make out, but there was a snatch of song — there was the normal sing-song of talking to a toddler — there was Jemmy’s cries turned into hesitant laughs.
He didn’t go right to the crib. She could tell that by the way his feet moved. He went first to the — changing table? Yes, that had to be it. And she could hear the slight creaks as his weight shifted one way or another. He must have been checking Jemmy’s diaper — and changing it, too!
Damn him! He was just set on proving her wrong!
Well, she wasn’t going to be put off that easily. Not when his fathering skills weren’t what she was mostly angry about. He was better with Jemmy — so much better with Jemmy than he had been with Marie. Roma would give him that any day of the week. But that didn’t give him the right to disappear in the middle of the night. That certainly didn’t give him the right to foist Jemmy off on some horrible old woman and go sneaking off to collect “shipments” without telling Roma or even letting her have a hand in who would watch Jemmy.
And that was all going to end tonight.
So when Simon’s feet creaked back to the ladder — when she could see his boots, then his hosen, and then his tunic and finally his shoulders and head come down — the Roma took a deep breath and prepared what she was going to say.
At least it was simple. “Simon, I want ye ter quit the smugglin’.”
Simon stopped dead. He stared at her.
Roma took a deep breath and came closer. “Enough’s enough. I don’t like that ye’re sneakin’ around behind me back. An’ that’s not even thinkin’ about how dangerous it all is ter start with. Ye — ye’ve made some good money, Simon, an’ we’ve made a good start, an’ I think it’s time fer ye ter stop.” Roma put one hand on her hip, tilted her chin up, and held her breath to hear what he would say to that.
Simon blinked at her. He took a deep breath. Then —
“Are ye MAD?”
“Am I–” Roma started.
“Ye want me ter jest — jest — stop? Jest like that?” He snapped his fingers. Then he laughed. “It don’t work like that, Roma!”
“Ye can make it work that way! Jest say ye don’t want ter do it anymore! Or — or stop slow, or — or whatever ye have ter do ter make it work! Jest stop!”
“No!” Simon shook his head, spasming like a terrier shaking out his fur. “This what keeps the food on our table! An’ the roof over our head! An’ ye jest want me ter stop? An’ do what, Roma? Answer me that!”
“The pigs! The bloody pigs! We could raise more–”
“Ye are kiddin’ me,” Simon snorted, rolling his eyes.
“Aye! Buy more! Buy a bigger farm! Raise more! Start sellin’ the meat ourselves, in a nice shop! We could get into the Guild that way, an’ rise up if that’s what ye want so much–”
“Bloody hell, Roma, those pigs don’t make money! They’re jest there ter explain the money I make through–” Simon gulped and swallowed the word down. “Smugglin’!”
“They could if we bothered ter do it right!” Roma fired back. “Not jest a few haunches an’ joints at the market, but–”
“We could never raise enough pigs ter be runnin’ a full butcher’s shop! That ain’t gonna happen, Roma!” Simon scowled.
“Then we can buy meat off other folks, butcher it–”
“How? Ye know how ter use a meat cleaver, Roma? ‘Cause I sure as hell don’t!”
“We could figure it out! It can’t be that hard! We can–we can figure it all out!”
“Unbelievable,” Simon scowled. “An’ what next will ye be thinkin’ up?”
“Stop it! Stop makin’ fun o’ me every idea! Who was it what thought o’ the pigs, Simon? Huh? Was that yer great idea, or –”
“The pigs that never made us no money! The pigs that practically–”
“Because ye ain’t doin’ it right, Simon!” Roma shouted. “Ye can’t jest half-arse it! Ye–”
“If it’s gotta be done right, why are ye still workin’ at the Onion instead o’ stayin’ home an’ doin’ it right?” Simon growled.
“Because I can’t do it by meself! Because –” Because even though Simon made good money when he made money, there were lean times as well as fat times. There were times when he would go days or weeks without bringing in anything at all. Roma wouldn’t say this to him, but she knew they damn well needed her steady if small stream of coppers to keep them afloat when things weren’t going so well for him.
“An’ let me axe ye this, Roma,” Simon snapped. “What money are we gonna use ter be doin’ all this?”
“The silver in the backyard!” Roma snapped.
“Don’t think I’m an idiot, Simon Chevaux! I know darn well what ye’ve go back there!” Roma’s hand started to shake as she pointed it at him. “It ain’t the cats that dig holes like that!”
“The pigs –”
“Aren’t truffle-diggin’ pigs! Ye can fool everyone else inter thinkin’ they are, but ye can’t fool me, Simon!” She took a deep breath while Simon stared at her with the blood draining out of his face with every heartbeat. “How much money is back there, Simon?”
“That ain’t none o’ yer business!”
“I’m yer wife — or ain’t ye noticed that?” Roma growled. Simon’s snarl explained better than words what he thought of that jab. “If it ain’t me business, whose business is it?”
“Oh, stop! I ain’t bein’ fooled by that!”
“I ain’t foolin’!” shouted Simon. “Sir Bors don’t know it’s there! If he did — if he did –”
Simon shuddered, and for a moment Roma wondered if she might have gone too far. “All that silver that no one knows about — that meas that’s tax money I ain’t been payin’! D’ye know what that means? I could hang if they found out how much I got back there!”
“An’ that money is fer our freedom, once I figure out how ter explain ter Sir Bors –”
“We don’t need freedom!” Roma shouted.
“We don’t need it! We might want it, but we don’t need it!” Roma repeated. “We need ye alive an’ in one piece! An’ if ye got so much money that ye don’t know what ter do with it all — that ye’re hidin’ it in the back rather than tell anyone — then why the hell are ye addin’ ter the pile? Stop! Jest stop!”
“Our. Freedom,” Simon replied, as if she was a bloody imbecile and needed to be told these things twice. “That’s why. If we get free, it ain’t gonna matter–”
“Free people pay taxes too!”
“Not as much!” Simon snapped. “An’ they don’t have ter report every last clipped copper ter a money-grubbin’ lord! No! That money is fer our freedom, an’ that’s final!”
“Ye don’t get ter say that, Simon Chevaux! We make these decisions together! An’ I say –”
“I don’t care!” Without another word, Simon stomped off to the bedroom. “It’s too damn late fer this fight! An’ I ain’t usin’ that money fer anythin’ but our freedom, an’ that’s an end of it!
“It is not!”
“It is!” Simon roared. “Now I am goin’ ter bed! Good night, Roma!”
“An’ where the hell am I supposed ter sleep?” Roma fired back.
“Bed sleeps two!” replied Simon. Then he went into the bedroom, slamming the door behind him so hard that plaster and dust slowly fell from the walls.
And Roma stood and fumed.
That’s what he wanted? To call every last shot in this fight — and then go off to bed? And tell her, in essence, that she was welcome to join him?
He wasn’t goin gto get that. Not if her life depended on it. Not tonight of all nights.
Roma pounded over to the couch and sat down on it.
They would keep fighting in the morning. And maybe Roma could get Simon to see sense. But she wouldn’t sleep in the same bed as him.
She’d sleep on the couch — and compared to what it would mean to crawl into bed with Simon tonight …
She would like it.