Lenona 25, 1014
The gifts had been a hit. Lynn felt herself begin to relax, although, really, she didn’t know why she had been so tense. If there was any self-appointed “Crown Princess” mission that was likely to go over well, surely it was delivering toys to orphans.
The girls were sprawled on the floor, some devoting themselves to the dolls, others to the wooden horses, and one little girl with adorable brown pigtails hugging a stuffed bear like she would never let it go. Watching her with that bear reminded Lynn of her own childhood, when she had a bear her mother had made for her when she was just a baby. That bear, whom Lynn had imaginatively called “Bear,” had been her constant companion until she started her schooling, and it had a place of pride in her bedroom until she went to Camford. Now it was on a shelf in Elise’s nursery, too fragile for a three-year-old to put it through its paces, but in good enough condition to keep watch.
Her eyes still on the little girl with the bear, Lynn decided that she would devote some of her charity budget to giving every orphan a stuffed bear when he or she entered the orphanage. She would have to discuss strategy with Garnet as soon as the latter had a minute.
“I — I have to say, your highness,” Mother Julian said, drawing Lynn from her reverie, “I–I was not expecting so much generosity. When the Crown Prince remembered the boy orphans on his birthday, that was wonderful, but this as well …” She shook her head. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
Garnet snorted, probably because Mother Julian had spoken of Tommy “remembering” the boy orphans. That had been Lynn’s idea, put into practice by Lynn and Garnet — Tommy just got the credit, since he had paid for it. Lynn pretended she hadn’t heard that.
“Well …” Lynn replied, hoping that candor was the best tactic to take. “I’m hoping to make a tradition of this. Only, when Elise and Wa–Arthur get old enough, and when my new baby gets old enough,” Lynn rubbed her belly, “I was hoping to change the birthday remembrances to their birthdays, if that’s convenient for you.”
“Convenient?” Mother Julian gasped. “Princess, if you want to show up with a bag of toys at midnight, I don’t think anybody will be complaining!”
“Midnight toys?” That was the little brown-haired girl. “Oh, Mother Julian, that sounds fun!”
Mother Julian shot Lynn a now-look-what-you-did look. But there was a wink at the end of it, and Lynn chuckled. “I don’t think I’ll be coming at midnight anytime soon, dear,” Lynn replied. “I need my rest as much as you do!”
“Indeed!” tittered Babette. Lynn was still not certain how it was that Babette had managed to become part of this expedition, but how could she deny anyone asking to come along and help with charity? “You don’t think the Princess will be this lovely if she stays up to all hours, do you? She needs her beauty sleep!”
“I think she looks this pretty because she’s going to have a baby,” replied the little girl.
“Tara!” Mother Julian gasped.
“No, no!” Lynn protested. “It’s fine! Tara …” Lynn smiled at the cheeky girl. “How did you know that I was going to have a baby?”
Mother Julian stared at her with wide eyes and was faintly shaking her head. But what was the worst that Tara could say?
Tara grinned. “Because your tummy is sticking out!”
Mother Julian winced, but Lynn laughed. “It is! How clever of you to notice that!”
Mother Julian looked even more panicked, if that were possible, so Lynn hastened to add, “However — you should be very careful about saying things like that to ladies who have a bit of a tummy. Sometimes they don’t have a baby on the way, and that can be very embarrassing to them and to you.”
“However,” Angelique muttered, just loud enough for Lynn to hear, “if there’s an announcement in front of the entire church that said lady is expecting, you’re pretty safe in mentioning it.”
Lynn felt her stomach start to sink. Angelique could be every bit as acerbic as Garnet when the mood took her, but the mood seemed to be taking Angelique more and more and Garnet less and less. And, with a bit of guilt, Lynn remembered her second reason for wanting to increase her charity to the orphan girls. It wasn’t just about the children. It wasn’t even about keeping an eye on the Church, as Tommy had asked her to do.
It was about Angelique, too.
Lynn swallowed, but before she could map out her plan of attack, Mother Julian was speaking again. “Truly, your highness, if — if you plan to make such a regular thing of this charity — how can we ever thank you?”
Babette jumped in before Lynn could answer. “Well, you can pray for Princess Gwendolyn’s health and the baby’s health! Surely the Lord will listen to you over us!”
Mother Julian wore the pursed smile of someone only doing it out of obligation. “That would be a given, even if the royal family only gave their tithes and no more.”
“And doubtless,” Garnet replied — Lynn could sense where this was going — “praying for the success of Albion in all her enterprises is just as much a given?” One eyebrow arched. Yes, this was what Tommy had wanted to find out — not so much what Mother Julian said, but how she said it.
Tommy would certainly be interested in the way she hesitated just a fraction of a second and almost winced. “Yes — yes, of course,” Mother Julian replied. “Naturally.”
Lynn would save her, or at least help her save face. “However …” She swallowed, “There is — there is something I would like to request of you now.”
Babette happily gasped; Garnet blinked. This hadn’t been what they discussed, but, well, Lynn hadn’t thought of it until she got here. Besides, it was nothing political.
“Yes, of course, what?”
Lynn smiled and shrugged. “I’d just like a conversation with Sister Angelique, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble. Privately. You see …” Lynn did her best to look innocent and wistful. It came far too easily. “She–she’s a Sister of St. Coral now, but she was my sister first.”
“Oh!” Mother Julian laughed. “Of course! My goodness, feel free to stop by whenever you like for a chat — and tell Lady Clarice the same thing. I would hate to cut Sister Angelique off entirely from her blood.”
“Thank you,” replied Lynn.
“In fact …” Mother Julian glanced over her shoulder at Angelique. “Sister Angelique? Would you like to bring Princess Gwendolyn to your bedchamber for a chat?” She looked back at Lynn. “If now would be a convenient time?”
“It would be most convenient,” replied Lynn. She got to her feet, tried to ignore the way she knew Garnet was glaring daggers into the back of her head for leaving her alone with Babette, and followed Angelique out of the small library.
“Bother,” Angelique muttered as soon as they were out of earshot. “You’ve made Mother Julian’s month, you know?” She glanced at Lynn. “Not with the toys — thank you for those, by the way — but by saying you wanted to talk to me …” One eyebrow went up and she tilted her head to the side in a way that made her wimple half-collapse and her veil swish across her back. “Jessie told you …?”
“Aye,” Lynn answered. “But — but this isn’t about that. This has nothing to do that.”
Angelique snorted and looked ahead again. Lynn could only fret at the back of her head. She knew that there was politics all tied up in this visit, given what Mother Julian was trying ham-handedly to do — but that had nothing to do with why she had come here. Nothing.
Pay it forward. That had been one bit of Morgan’s advice when Lynn was worrying about the blessings that had been heaped on her head and how she could possibly pay them back. In Morgan’s view, you couldn’t pay them back — so you paid it forward.
Giving to the orphans, to children who had so little, had been Lynn’s only original thought of paying it forward. But now that she saw Angelique … who better to pay forward the blessing of having friends and relatives who loved her, who saw that she was unhappy, and who tried to help her, than her own sister?
They entered the nuns’ bedchamber, and Lynn hesitated, unsure where she was to sit — there was only one desk with one chair in the room, and while there was plenty of room on the beds, which bed was Angelique’s? Angelique solved that query by fetching the chair and placing it in front of the bed. “You should probably have a chair, given … well, you know. That.” She nodded toward Lynn’s stomach.
“Thank you,” Lynn replied, since, well, the backaches with this pregnancy had been worse — given how far along she was — than they had been with Elise or Wart.
She had no sooner sat down than a thought struck her. “Angelique …” She bit her lip. “This–this doesn’t bother you, does it?”
“Me …” Lynn started to flush, but given Angelique’s comments, it was a perfectly legitimate question to ask, wasn’t it? “Being with child …”
“Why on earth would that bother me?” Angelique seemed genuinely mystified.
“Well …” Lynn shifted, just barely avoiding it turning into a squirm. “You … you won’t have any children of your own …”
“Oh, please! As if that would bother me!” Angelique scoffed. “I’ll never have to worry about swollen feet, or looking like I have a sack of potatoes stuffed up my dress, or having to shove another person out of my privy parts! And,” Angelique went on, “if I should have happened to want lots of children in my life — well, I’ve got that. We’ve got children in every corner here!”
“But you’re not happy,” Lynn answered. There. She’d said it.
“Who is?” Angelique shrugged.
Lynn’s eyes went wide. This — this was bad. Surely this was worse than she had ever been! She’d wondered why she wasn’t happy, what was wrong with her to make her so miserable when any other woman on the planet would kill to be in her shoes — but she had never, never fallen so far down the well of despair that she doubted whether anybody was happy.
“Even you’re not, Lynn, not really,” Angelique shrugged, “and you–you’ve got the life you dreamed of since you were, what, five?” She leaned back on her palms, craning her neck. She shook her head until her veil stopped clinging to her back and instead hung down straight and free, like hair would. “If not even people like you can be happy, what’s that leave for the rest of us?”
Good Lord, where to start? “I–I think I’m happy,” Lynn replied. Surely she was happy, if only in comparison to what she had been when she was this far along with Wart, or even Elise. But that wasn’t how to think about it. “I am happy,” Lynn amended. “I have a family I love, friends I enjoy, and — and work, a place in society, that lets me do a great deal of good in the world. Everything isn’t perfect, and — and it never will be,” Lynn went on, “and I have no doubt that I’ll have some bad times as well as the good. But — but I’m happy.”
“You’re content is what you are,” Angelique shrugged.
“Is that so bad?” Lynn asked.
“If all you are is content …” Angelique stared out the window. Or she would have, had the window not been made of stained glass that completely blocked the view. “Then — then what are you striving for? What–what is out there that’s more?”
There was a reply begging to be made to that, a logic waiting to be pointed out. It was certainly impractical, probably overly greedy and selfish, for a princess to be constantly asking for more when she already had so much. But Lynn did not make it. Perhaps it was because she sensed that Angelique was not thinking about it in a material sense. And perhaps it was because it didn’t matter.
“Being content is better than being miserable and hating yourself every minute for it,” Lynn answered. “I would know that.”
Angelique blinked and stared at Lynn. “Are–are you saying that I have your problem?”
“Because I don’t,” Angelique snorted. “I may not have been privy to — to everything that was happening with you, but trust me, I am not –”
“Going mad?” Lynn filled in.
Angelique stopped in her tracks. She gasped. “I would never say that!”
She wouldn’t. Lynn could see that now. She winced. “I’m — I’m sorry, Angelique. I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth. But … well, I thought, given what they said about Mother … and what I went through was very similar to Mother –”
“It was not!” Angelique interrupted. Lynn stared at her. “Well–maybe what you were feeling in your heart — but not from the outside! You never had a breakdown. You never had to go to the nunnery for ‘rest.’ It’s not at all the same.”
The only reply Lynn judged it politic to make was, “There but for the grace of the Lord go I.”
“Oh, please.” Angelique rolled her eyes. “You never would have ended up as bad as Mother. You–nobody tried to help Mother until it got so bad that they couldn’t ignore it anymore. You … you’ve got too many people who love you …” Angelique trailed off, her shoulders slumping.
“So do you,” Lynn answered.
Angelique started and stared sharply at Lynn.
“You–you’re not alone, you know,” Lynn stumbled. “Clarice and I — you know we’re always on your side, don’t you? We’ll always help you. And I’m sure if I asked her, Morgan would–”
“I do not have your and Mother’s problem!” Angelique snapped.
Lynn did not wince, or shift, or bite her lip. She ignored the way her stomach plummeted. Denying that there was a problem was, after all, part of the problem. And did it really matter whether Angelique had Lynn and Claire’s exact issue? The underlying cause was still the same. “You’re not happy. No — you’re unhappy.”
Angelique’s lips parted. She swallowed. “So?”
“So …” Lynn swallowed. “Angelique — you — you don’t have to feel that way. You don’t have to be miserable! You can –”
“Do nothing about it.”
“No, no, Angelique! That’s exactly what I’m saying! You — you can do so much for yourself –”
“No. I can’t.” Angelique’s tone was flat. “Listen, Lynn. When Father determined all our fates, he didn’t do it for us. He did it for him. You were supposed to bolster his, the de Ganises’, reputation. Clarice helped shore up his fortune. And me? I’m his ticket to heaven.” Angelique snorted out a bitter laugh. “Poor Evette. Father’s already got all the boxes ticked off. What’s she going to do?”
“But, Angelique … you can’t live your life just to … fulfill Father’s wishes,” Lynn protested. If she had learned nothing else from her own troubles, she hoped she had learned that! “You — you have to find something in yourself that gives you a reason to live, to keep on going, to — to make yourself happy.”
“And you’ve found that?” Angelique challenged. “You, the consummate St. Brandi with her husband and her babies and not wanting or needing anything else?”
It was the habit of a cornered, wounded animal to try to scratch and bite even the hand that reached in to help it. Lynn forced herself to remember that. How long had Angelique been the wounded animal, the bird with the broken wing? Surely it was since they were children and since Bors had tried to mold Angelique into the perfect nun, as he had tried to mold Lynn and Clarice into the perfect wives and Elyan into the perfect son and, someday, lord.
So Lynn took a deep breath. “I … I want to, when I leave this earth, see to it that at least part of it was better than when I came here.” She gestured vaguely. “It’s — it’s hard to explain — but I’ve been so blessed …” Lynn closed her eyes and breathed in and out. “I want to help other people be blessed, too. And — and there are so many ways I can do that …”
“It doesn’t sound like you’re living for yourself, then,” Angelique shrugged.
“I never said I was,” Lynn replied. “But that purpose — it came from in me. Nobody else put it there. Not Father. Not Tommy. Not even my children. Just — just me. There — there has to be something you love. Something you can live for, too. Something that can help you be happy.”
“There’s only ever been the music, Lynn. I think we both know that. And maybe …” She stopped and left that thought as the path not taken. “You can’t live for music.”
“There would be much less beautiful music in the world if that were the case, Angelique,” Lynn replied. “You can’t make something that’s truly great without … without living for it, on some level. That’s what–what Dannie says about her husband. And I think–I think we’ve all seen that with somebody.”
“Oh, have we,” Angelique huffed. She stared again at the window. Lynn wondered just whom she was thinking of.
But right now, that was neither here nor there. “And — and, Angelique … if you want to make your music more of your life — we can do that! We can find a way!”
“And what way is that?” asked Angelique.
That, perhaps, was the question.
But just because it was a question now did not mean that it would always be a question. Lynn forced the deep, cleansing breaths in and out. “Angelique, I don’t know just now. But I do know that we are both intelligent women, whatever Father might have to say about the matter. And I know … I know Mother Julian wants influence. We could find out some other things she wants, too. And — and if we peel away her resistance, and if we find a way to make sure that … that the things you have to do instead of concentrate on your music are done, then I don’t see why you can’t have your happiness.”
Angelique stared at her with her jaw hanging open. “You’d — you’d do that for me?”
“Yes,” Lynn replied. It would be a job, giving Mother Julian her influence and her sense of accomplishment without actually interfering in what Tommy and the King wanted done, but Lynn would find a way to manage it somehow. It would even be good practice. “Angelique …” She stood up and held her arms open. Angelique half-fell into them. “You’re my baby sister. And even if Evette is more of a baby than you are, you were the baby sister for longer. Who else would I try to help if not you?”