Ververe 23, 1014
Delyth had probably picked one of the worst times of the year to come here. The Agnestide break would start on the first of Hybel, which meant that the exams were all this week. It was Delyth’s first set of Camford exams, too. She probably should have been acting like Cherry and Ravenna and Dilys too, thanks to their examples, spending day and night in the library and re-reading her notes until knowledge dripped out of her ears.
But she couldn’t. She’d already spent too many sleepless nights being the good student. And somewhere in between all the studying and the writing papers and the quizzing the girls and having the girls quiz her and the endless cups of coffee, a thought had crossed her mind:
Why the hell am I doing this?
She had turned nineteen three months ago. She still hadn’t had a course. If she didn’t know what her future was going to be … why was she studying so hard? Why was she turning her brain into a pretzel if she didn’t know what she would be using this knowledge for? If she was fated to spend the rest of her life as a maiden aunt, did she even need a Camford education?
So today, after her exam, she’d hired a carriage from one the Camford stables and had it take her to Apple Keep. She’d told nobody where she was going. She’d come alone.
She had to know.
Of course, getting here was the easy part. Now that she was here … well, Lady Morgan was never one to make things easy for anybody. There were no fewer than three front doors to the house. None was obviously a servants’ entrance, which made a certain amount of sense, since Lady Morgan did not, to the best of Delyth’s knowledge, have servants.
… Well, she probably had servants, but they weren’t Sims.
Delyth finally decided to head toward the double doors, big and imposing, to her right. That seemed more of a guest entrance. And perhaps a professional entrance, too. She wished that she had taken Ravenna up on one of her offers to tea — then at least she’d know this much.
Still, Delyth’s guess must have been right — or at least close enough, since one of the doors opened and out came Lady Morgan …
Delyth stopped at the foot of the stairs. She knew that her mother had wanted her to talk to Clarice — Lady Morgan had been more of Garnet’s idea. But it never happened with all the preparations for Camford, and then Percival’s birth, and then her father … Delyth swallowed and looked at her feet. Lady Morgan hadn’t been able to help her father. Neither had Clarice. And right now, selfish as it might be, she really didn’t want to have to look at Clarice’s protruding stomach while she talked about this.
Maybe she was just wasting her —
“Delyth?” That was Lady Morgan. “Well! This is a pleasant surprise!”
Delyth looked up. It was? She wasn’t Ravenna’s best friend like Dilys was …
At least when Clarice smiled, Delyth knew that was genuine — Clarice had her prickly moments, she had heard all about that from George, but she was always friendly unless you gave her a reason not to be. (Like being her all-but-betrothed when she wasn’t allowed to know you were.) “Delyth! How are you?” she asked as she and Lady Morgan hurried down the steps. “I didn’t think you would all be back until the beginning of Hybel!”
Well, blast. So much for sneaking into the kingdom and then sneaking back out again with no one other than Lady Morgan being the wiser. “Um … well … you see … I’m not really back …”
Lady Morgan had one eyebrow slightly arched. Good Lord, she was seeing right through Delyth already, wasn’t she? Delyth shouldn’t have come here. She’d forgotten how intimidating Lady Morgan could be when she wanted to be … which was all the time. At least Clarice only looked confused … and, as Delyth watched her through her lashes, more and more concerned.
Delyth sighed. There was really no getting around this, so she ought to just spit it out. “I needed to see you, Lady Morgan …” She glanced down and mumbled, “Professionally.”
Clarice gasped, and Delyth could feel the level of concern rising. At least she didn’t seem annoyed that Delyth had gone to Lady Morgan instead of her.
“You see …” Delyth forced out, “it’s all rather … personal …”
“Delyth, of course it is. Nobody comes to see me professionally for something non-personal.” The tone wasn’t unkind — and there was even something in the briskness that was comforting. “Let’s go in. I’m not going to give you an exam out on the lawn.”
“I hope not!” Delyth blurted out, blushing.
“And I can see myself out,” Clarice said.
“Actually …” Lady Morgan looked between Delyth and Clarice. “Clarice, given what we were discussing, and if you have the time — Delyth, would you object to having us both look you over?”
Clarice’s eyes lit up, but what she said to Delyth was, “Don’t feel obligated! You obviously came here for a reason!”
“No, no — that’s fine, Clarice. Lady Morgan.” Delyth sighed and murmured, “I’m probably going to want a second opinion anyway.”
Clarice’s eyes turned as round as saucers, but all Lady Morgan said was, “Thank you. And none of this ‘Lady Morgan’ business. I know I’ll have no choice but to put up with it from Pascal and Chloe’s friends, but I shan’t have it from Ravenna’s. You’re all adults now.”
“Oh–er–thank you …”
“Here — let’s get you inside, honey,” Clarice said, holding out her arm for Delyth to lean on if she needed it. Delyth shook her head with a faint smile and hurried in on Morgan’s heels.
Morgan gestured toward a bench on the far wall. Delyth sat down gingerly. “Do you need me to … undress or …?”
“Not yet,” Morgan replied. “I try to avoid that if at all possible.” She sighed. “I need to build myself a surgery.”
“It helps!” replied Clarice.
“I’m sure it would.” But Morgan turned to Delyth with no more ceremony. “So. What’s wrong, Delyth?”
But now that it was the moment of truth, Delyth could force the words out. “I–um–can you promise me that you won’t bring this up to my mother? Or either of my brothers?”
Clarice’s mouth opened and shut; Morgan was more decisive. “It’s your body. It’s your medical condition — whatever it is. And you’re an adult. Unless I have reason to fear for your life if I don’t bring this up to someone else, I won’t tell anyone else about this. Clarice?”
Clarice took a deep breath and let it out. “Yes. That’s surely the most ethical course of action. Your medical information is safe with us, Delyth.”
“But …” Delyth looked toward the wide-open archways.
“I really need a surgery,” Morgan mumbled before she took out her wand, murmured something, and waved it toward the arch. “No one will hear us now.”
Delyth nodded, swallowed, and spat it out. “I haven’t a monthly course.”
She could see the possibilities flashing through the women’s minds and across their faces, including the obvious one, to judge by the way Clarice put a hand over her belly. So Delyth clarified. “Ever.”
That made the minds of both women stop in their tracks. They exchanged glances. Morgan pursed her lips together and tapped a finger against her chin. “Clarice, why don’t you take the lead here? For the consultation,” she clarified.
Clarice nodded and turned to Delyth. “Delyth … this might sound quite insulting, but are you quite sure? Sometimes early courses can be very light and rather irregular. As much as we women like to complain about our monthly, you might be lucky enough to not be uncomfortable or have heavy bleeding.”
“I’ve been looking every day since Dilys first got hers. When we were thirteen,” Delyth replied. “I don’t think I would have missed it.”
“Hmm.” Clarice and Morgan exchanged glances. Clarice jerked her head toward Delyth; Morgan nodded. Then Clarice turned back to Delyth. “What’s your diet like, Delyth?”
“Sometimes women who don’t get enough to eat don’t get their courses,” Morgan explained. “It’s probably because they couldn’t physically support a pregnancy — and our bodies tend to be smarter than we are about some things. Not much point making a baby if you can barely keep yourself alive.”
“Aye,” Clarice agreed. “So … what do you usually eat, Delyth?”
“The … the usual?” Delyth replied. “Plenty of meat … fish … bread and cheese …”
“Fruits and vegetables?” Morgan asked.
“Not so many …” Those were, after all, peasant foods, for all that Delyth liked fresh fruit as a snack or dessert. She’d gotten quite the taste for it last year, especially, when Dilys used to send a servant to the Plantsim’s stall to get as much fresh fruit as he could carry and the Plantsim and his wife would sell. Who wouldn’t get a taste for it when a Plantsim was providing the fruit? “Would that help?”
“Hmm,” was all Morgan would reply. “How much do you eat a day? How many meals?”
“Two? That’s normal, isn’t it?” Delyth looked from Clarice to Morgan and back. “Lunch and dinner? Maybe a little bit of bread and cheese or fruit in the morning …”
“That all sounds normal,” Clarice said to Morgan.
“Indeed,” Morgan agreed. “And to answer your question about the fruits and vegetables — probably not. When it comes to food and one’s monthly courses, quantity tends to be more important than quality.”
“Though I wouldn’t worry about your diet,” Clarice reassured her. “You seem like you’re eating plenty, and so far we’ve no … well, not a lot of evidence that your humors are imbalanced. Tell me, Delyth, what’s your level of physical activity?”
“Er …” How was she supposed to answer that. “Well … I walk to my classes, and sometimes the girls and I will play a game outside … but I don’t hunt or do a great deal of riding or anything like that.”
“So in other words, you’re normally active for a young woman of your age and station,” Morgan filled in. Delyth wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or annoyed that she hadn’t just said “normal.” And before Delyth could ask after the importance of the question, Morgan added, “Sometimes women who are very physically active don’t get their courses until later — and once they do, they’re quite irregular.”
“Indeed,” Clarice agreed. Delyth wondered if she was thinking of Leona. They had never been close enough for Delyth to know about the state of her monthly, but if there was any young noblewoman in Albion who was going to suffer from late and irregular courses because of physical activity, it was surely Leona. “Delyth, have you had any illnesses that might have resulted in your humors becoming imbalanced?”
“I don’t … think so?”
“For the most part, any illness you would have had that might have slowed things down on your courses … you’d know about,” Morgan answered. She glanced sidelong at Clarice, who was nodding.
“It would have to be a very serious illness,” Clarice replied.
Delyth shook her head with more confidence. Her parents had said that she had been small and sickly when she was a baby, but as far as Delyth could remember, she had always been healthy as a horse.
“Unless …” Delyth watched as Morgan stroked her chin with one hand. She looked to Delyth, then to Clarice, and finally to Delyth again. Then she asked her question. “Delyth, have you ever had sexual intercourse?”
Morgan held up a hand before Delyth could do more than say that. “The most obvious reason for missing a course is pregnancy. If you’d never had one, you could theoretically get pregnant and then never get a course until after you’d had the baby. There are also … diseases …” Morgan rubbed her chin again. “Sometimes they don’t even have any symptoms that you would notice. I’ve never heard of them stopping a woman’s courses, but there’s so much we don’t know …”
“But I haven’t!” Delyth protested.
“You’re sure?” Morgan asked.
“I think I’d remember if I had!”
That apparently was too much for Morgan to argue with; she nodded once. Then she glanced at Clarice. “I think we need to examine her.”
“Oh … maybe we can use a bedroom?”
Morgan shook her head. “No need. Delyth — with your permission, I’d like to cast a spell that will … well, to make things short, it would give me the same kind of information that Clarice’s examination would, only with a great deal less poking and prodding. And no need to take off your clothes.”
“Oh … all right … I guess …”
Morgan nodded and took a step back. She shooed Clarice out of the way and took out her wand. “This won’t hurt a bit.”
There were blue and purple sparks coming out of that wand — pretty sparks, but sparks all the same. Delyth’s eyes widened.
“I mean it, Delyth. The most you might feel is some tingles.”
“All right …”
Morgan smiled at her, then concentrated on her wand. She murmured something. Without warning, a bright blue light zapped toward Delyth. She couldn’t even close her eyes before the light hit.
Then … there were tingles. They zipped all over Delyth’s body, but she could feel them concentrating in her lap and middle. A bright blue light bathed her all over, making it hard to see beyond.
But it was not unpleasant. And even if it was, it was over in a few eye-blinks. It took longer for Delyth to blink away the purple after-spots than it did for the spell to visibly fade.
However, it wasn’t long enough for Morgan to wipe away her surprised expression.
“Morgan?” asked Clarice, taking a hesitating step forward. But Morgan held up her hand and breathed deep, brow furrowed.
What had she found?
“Maybe …” Morgan murmured. “Maybe I’d better do that spell again …”
“Why?” asked Delyth.
“The results were — unexpected. It won’t hurt you for me to try it again, I promise.”
Delyth swallowed. “All right …”
Morgan cast the spell again. Once again there were tingles and bright light surrounding Delyth. Once again, when Delyth blinked away the purple spots, Morgan was wearing an unexpected expression. This time, however, it wasn’t surprise. It was some kind of cross between disappointment, nervousness, determination, and …
Delyth jumped up. “What did you see?”
Morgan glanced at Clarice. Clarice, however, had no wisdom that could be given to her in just a look.
Morgan took a deep breath and turned to Delyth. “Delyth … this is going to sound somewhat strange and … and I’m very sorry. But … your womb …”
“What about it?” Delyth asked, trying to snap.
Morgan took a deep breath. “Delyth, I’m so, so sorry to have to tell you this.”
“But it’s not there.”
Delyth blinked. “Not–not there? What do you mean not there? Where is it?!”
“Morgan …” Clarice murmured. “You — you said there’s no such thing as hysteria.”
“Hysteria?” Delyth shouted. “You tell me that–that my womb’s gone missing and then you accuse me of being hysterical?”
“No,” Morgan replied. “No, that’s not what she means. She means — wandering womb. It’s a ridiculous theory expounded by stupid men to try to explain why the women whom they treat like slow children sometimes get sick of that treatment and snap.” Morgan shook her head. “What I mean … Delyth, wombs are something that wo–most women are born with. You … weren’t.”
Delyth blinked. “I–what? Why?”
“I don’t know, honey. We can’t–”
“But–but what can you do? Can you fix it?” Delyth looked at Clarice. “Give me something? A diet? Something to — to put my humors back in order?”
Clarice was white. “Delyth, I don’t think this is related to your humors.”
“What?” She looked at Morgan. “What–what can you do? I’ll do anything!”
“Oh, sweetie, if I could do something, you know I’d do it,” Morgan replied. Delyth had never heard her speak more gently. “But there’s nothing I can do.”
“Delyth …” Clarice came a little closer. But Delyth backed away. She didn’t want that stomach anywhere near her.
That stomach …
No womb …
No children …
Delyth heard herself hiccup, and then a waterfall of tears gushed out.
She’d never have babies. She’d never get married. Who would take a woman who couldn’t give him babies? Some old geezer who had too many children already? That was it. It was either an old geezer for her or …
But I don’t want to be a nun! And I don’t just want to be an aunt!
She felt an arm drape over her shoulder and she tried to flinch away. But it was Morgan, not Clarice. And she was pushing Delyth’s hair away from her face. Like a mother.
Like the mother Delyth would never be.
“Why did this have to h-h-happen to me?” Delyth finally wailed.
Morgan didn’t answer. And somehow silence said more than any words could.