Jaban 4, 1014
Glenna couldn’t believe her baby was a year old already. It was a horrible cliche, but the time had sped by like it was tied to a runaway horse and Glenna could only cling to its mane. And now, here they were — a whole year later, and Seona wasn’t a baby any more, not really.
“Come on, Seona,” Seumas said to her, “say Uncle Seumas. I know ye can do it.”
Seona tilted her little head to one side and narrowed her pretty dark eyes at her uncle. Glenna knew she ought to be attending to her guests — she’d decided to throw a little party to celebrate Seona’s birthday — but she couldn’t help but chuckle, watching.
“Ye’re already callin’ Beatris ‘Bea,'” Seumas went on, “an’ Niven is ‘Ni,’ and Peadar is ‘Pee’ –”
“Peadar’s what?” Brother Galahad gasped. Apparently Seona wasn’t the only one eavesdropping.
Glenna wet her suddenly-dry lips, swallowed a couple of times, and tried to find the words to say that as unconventional as it might sound, it was really very funny when you thought about it, and while Peadar varied in how much he liked it, Niven and Beatris both found it hilarious —
Then Brother Galahad blurted out, “That’s the funniest thing I ever heard!” and Glenna relaxed again.
Kata, sitting to Glenna’s right, chuckled and rolled her eyes. “Brother Galahad, I hope ye don’t mind an’ old woman like me speakin’ her mind every now an’ again — but sometimes, I wonder if ye men ever really grow up.”
“We probably don’t,” Brother Galahad said with that easy matter-of-factness that Glenna loved about him. Well, not loved … love wasn’t the kind of word you used about a monk …
Glenna shifted and tried not to squirm and especially tried not to blush — though there was no reason for her to blush! — as Kata continued the conversation. “Well, some o’ ye don’t, at any rate,” she hedged. “Then there’s the ones what grow up too fast.”
Brother Galahad cocked his head to one side, blinking like a confused bird. But … what would he know about boys who grew up too fast? Or girls, for that matter? Glenna’s stomach started to sink. What was she raising, between Seumas and Beatris and Niven and Peadar, but a group of children who were growing up too fast? If there was anything that Glenna could find the energy to still pray for — after praying for a continued roof over their heads and food on the table and please, Lord, no more catastrophes — it was that Seona wouldn’t have to grow up as fast as her aunt and uncles.
Then Brother Galahad pursed his lips together, put one finger to those lips, and spoke. “I … I suppose … children who … lose one or both parents at a young age …?”
“Aye,” Kata replied. “That’s — that’s part o’ what’ll do it. I think it’s losin’ security, though, that’ll do it more than jest — well, I don’t want ter say jest, but ye know what I mean — than losin’ a parent.” She sighed. “It’s sad.”
“Aye, it is,” Glenna agreed. “So why are we talkin’ about it? Today’s a happy day!”
Kata laughed, and Brother Galahad — Glenna was trying hard not to watch him from the corner of her eye, but she watched anyway — knit his brows together and half-cringed, half-shrugged. “Aye, that it is! Good Lord! I can still hardly believe Seona’s gotten as big as she has!”
“It’s been a busy year fer all o’ us,” Glenna agreed. She was still working at the fairs, doing tricks with Vixen as she’d promised to do the day Seona was born. She’d been able to make it last and keep making money much longer than she had thought, but there was still a faint worry in her mind. Fall was coming, sooner than Glenna might have wanted, and after fall came winter … and there were no fairs in the winter.
Plus there was Seona herself to worry about. Glenna had brought Seona with her, keeping her in a series of progressively bigger baskets as the year went on. It worked splendidly when Seona was still little and only needed changing and nursing — and if she really wanted affection, Glenna could bounce her on her knee a bit. But now that Seona was too big to swaddle and too mobile to trust to stay in a basket … what was Glenna going to do?
“No!” Seona chose that moment to reply to Seumas, as if Glenna hadn’t already been worrying about how she’d keep a toddler happy at the fair while keeping her safe, too.
“Glenna, why does she know that word already?” Seumas groaned.
Glenna opened her mouth to say that she didn’t know — but if she would venture a guess, it was probably because “no” was the word that an inquisitive, exploring little one heard the most often — but Kata beat her to it. “‘Cause it’s a contrary-word, an’ there’s nothin’ a little one likes more than bein’ contrary!” she laughed.
Before Glenna could wonder whether Kata was joking or serious, Brother Galahad replied, “Celeste learned ‘no’ really quickly, too.”
And for a moment, Glenna forgot her question — was too lost in a different sort of wonder. How was it that the granddaughter of a king was being discussed in her living room as easily as the weather?
But that, Glenna thought, was Brother Galahad’s genius. He looked at a king and he didn’t see the crown. Then he turned those eyes onto a peasant girl grown big-bellied without a man to put a ring on her finger and he didn’t see the shame. How did he do it, she wondered. He missed so much … but somehow missing all those things led him to see the truth beneath …
Brother Galahad was smiling at her, and Glenna wondered if he could see …
She felt herself get up and wander away almost before she was aware of the urge, no, the need to move. To get away from those thoughts, hopefully leave them moldering on the chair behind her, and then never sit there again. “I should check on the cake,” she remembered to mutter as she managed to set a course for the stove.
What in the name of Wright was wrong with her?
She tried to think of something, anything else as she walked, as she bent, as she pulled the oven door open and looked at the cake inside. Almost ready. If Glenna was careful about how she timed things, she could get the glaze done just before pulling it out of the oven.
She put a bit of butter into a pan and held it over the stove until the butter melted. She added a generous helping of sugar and rich cream, then the chocolate shavings. Sugar and cream and chocolate shavings — she could hardly believe she had such luxuries for her baby’s birthday. But somehow word of this little party had reached the Duchess’s ears, and a birthday remembrance had come from her for Seona in the form of ingredients to make a delectable cake and glaze. Chocolate cake, too!
As she stirred and stirred and allowed the different parts of the glaze to melt together, she tried through labor to chase the horrible, wrong thoughts away.
“Everythin’ all right, Glenna?” came a soft voice from behind her. Kata. Glenna poured the melted mixture into a bowl for better stirring and turned to Kata.
“Everythin’s fine,” she lied.
Kata did not seem convinced.
But what was Glenna supposed to say? She stared back down at the glaze. That her heart beat fast whenever Brother Galahad stepped into the room — or, worse, into church? That she found herself hanging off his every word? That she laughed too loudly when he made a joke (or, worse, when he wasn’t joking at all), smiled too wide, blushed too hard when she didn’t catch herself and try to think of something else?
She wasn’t a green, callow girl. She’d loved, or felt something close to love, before. She still missed Lock sometimes. Not every day … too much time had passed, she’d gone through too much, for her to be missing him every day. But sometimes, when it rained and she barely got anything in her hat at the fair, or when she was bone-weary and there were still six or eight more things to do before she could go to bed, knowing that morning would come sooner than she would like, she missed him. She missed his strong arms and the way he’d drape one over her shoulders, the way he’d laugh with her.
Mostly she missed how he’d wave off her troubles with a languid hand and say, “Aw, don’t worry, lass — I’ll take care o’ ye.“ She’d been infuriated each and every time he did it, but now — Lord, wouldn’t it be nice to hear someone say that he’d take care of her, and mean it?
Thankfully Kata didn’t press. “So. How’s the job hunt comin’?”
Sad, how having to confess failure in that aspect was nonetheless a more pleasant topic. “Nothin’, so far,” she sighed. “Most o’ the shops around here ain’t hirin’ nobody. An’ when they start axin’ a few questions … well …” Glenna shook her head.
“Blast an’ bother,” Kata huffed. “Ye’d think with all the new buildins goin’ up, an’ the new people comin’ in, there’d be jobs on offer left an’ right.”
“Well, there’s plenty fer big, strong men,” Glenna shrugged. “An’ plenty fer gals with some real skills. But fer skinny lasses who only know farmin’ an’ who got a baby an’ no weddin’ ring ter show fer it? Not so many.”
Kata put her hands on her hips and clucked her tongue, as if she could change the world to suit her tastes merely by disapproving of it. Then she murmured, “Ye know, it’s been a few months since we talked ter Rosette Chevaux –”
“Glenna, I ain’t heard nothin’ but good about the shop an’ how it’s doin’. There’s plenty o’ women who are seein’ what her little girl Aimée is wearin’ an’ want a copy o’ the patter fer their own daughters, an’ that’s jest –”
“No.” Glenna dug the spoon into the bowl with more force than was strictly necessary. “I got me pride, Kata.”
She glanced sidelong at Seumas and the kiddies, the kiddies having come in and Seumas having gotten up when Glenna had her back turned. She looked at Seona, playing on the floor. “I ain’t — I ain’t alone enough ter say that me pride is all I got left. But some days, it’s close. Real close.”
Kata sighed and nodded. “I jest … well, I thought, here’s one woman what can’t judge.”
Glenna stared at the thickening glaze. Yes, that was true; Rosette Chevaux couldn’t look at her and Seona and sniff with superiority. But there was part of Glenna that snarled and fought at the notion. Maybe it was because she’d been foolish enough to confide in her disappointment about that job to Brother Galahad, and he had looked at her with that bird-stare of his and asked, “But Glenna … who does have the right to judge you?”
Thinking of him … Glenna peeked through her lashes, expecting to catch a glimpse of a bald pate right where she’d left it. But he wasn’t there. Where was–
A giggle that Glenna knew better than her own told her where Brother Galahad was. Of course. Once released from adult supervision, where else would he go?
“Ga!” called Seona, reaching her little hands for the hems of his sleeves.
“I can’t believe she knows my name already!” Brother Galahad cried out, plopping to the ground. “And she won’t say poor Seumas’s!”
“Bah — that’s because ‘poor Seumas,'” Kata answered, “insists on her gettin’ out a mouthful that’s jest too big fer her right now — but ye, Brother, are happy with what little she can say.”
“Perhaps she’ll get a nickname out for Uncle Seumas sooner rather than later,” Brother Galahad replied. “Won’t you try, sweetie?”
Glenna chuckled. “She’ll probably do anythin’ if Brother Galahad axes her nice enough.”
“Doubt there’s a child on this earth who wouldn’t,” Kata answered. “Though …”
Glenna looked up, trying to school her face into impassivity, or at worst harmless, polite curiosity.
“Bless me,” laughed Kata, “I can’t be sure whether that’s because Brother Galahad’s got the surest map ter a child’s heart that I ever did see — or because he’d never axe a child ter do somethin’ he wouldn’t be likin’ ter do!”
Glenna smiled. “Aye, ’tisn’t hard ter be convincin’ a child ter have all the candy — no, really, have it.”
“Indeed,” Kata agreed. She looked to Galahad, a tiny frown crossing her face. “Ye know … sometimes …”
Glenna strained forward to hear, and it wasn’t only because Kata had lowered her voice.
“I think — sometimes — it’s a right shame that the Lord picked Brother Galahad ter be servin’ him, an’ never havin’ no children o’ his own. ‘Cause ye know, no matter what some other brothers might be like … that wouldn’t be Brother Galahad.”
Glenna nodded. Her heart didn’t even sink — not too much, anyway. She’d known that even before her heart started fluttering whenever he spoke to her.
“An’ other times,” Kata went on, “I think, it’s a good thing the Lord picked out Brother Galahad — ’cause as much as his kids would be lovin’ him, goodness, he’d drive their ma half ter distraction!”
She paused, waiting for Glenna to laugh. Glenna didn’t. She couldn’t.
All she could think, looking at Brother Galahad — watching him holding both his hands over his face, calling out, “Where’s Seona! I can’t see her? Se-o-na …” was, Any woman what didn’t know how lucky she were ter get a man like that wouldn’t deserve ‘im by half.
It was only after a good minute’s silence that Glenna realized she ought to be saying something. She looked up, trying to summon up a chuckle, even a rueful smile, a shrug, anything —
She found Kata watching her with a look that all too knowing.
Glenna almost dropped the bowl. But Kata winked. “Don’t be worryin’, lass. Remember …” She looked again at Brother Galahad, and dropped her voice. “It’s only the good Lord that can be judgin’ ye.”
“Says ye,” Glenna hissed. She stirred even more fiercely, though the glaze was almost done. “What–what’s wrong with me? He’s a monk!” she whispered.
“There’s nothin’ wrong with ye, Glenna. In fact … I think this might be a good sign.” Glenna stared at her, but Kata only shook her head and smiled.
“A good sign,” Glenna muttered. “If it’s anythin’, it’s a sign that I’m good an’ –” She couldn’t say it. She couldn’t say damned. The last time she had been certain she was damned, or would be if she didn’t get herself shriven in a hurry, Brother Galahad had been the one to step in and tell her she wasn’t. If she told him what she was thinking, what she was feeling now, he wouldn’t be able to say that. Would he even want to? “In trouble,” she finally finished, lamely.
“I doubt it. The monks tells us that the Lord is a good Lord, an’ if they’re right …” Kata shrugged. “I think He’ll be judgin’ us by what we do in this life, not by what we feel an’ can’t help, nor by what’s done ter us.”
“I’m thinkin’, Kata Thatcher,” Glenna answered, “that that’s somethin’ that’s real easy ter say where ye’re standin’, an’ that ain’t so easy fer me ter believe where I’m standin’.”
Kata watched her with her head cocked slightly. Glenna refused to melt under the scrutiny. Her nose told her that the cake was ready, so she took it out, let it sit just long enough for it to cool, and started to pour the glaze over. When she was about half done, Kata finally spoke.
“Well, maybe ye’re right about that,” she admitted. “But the way I see it, Glenna — which might not be the way ye’re seein’ it from where ye’re standin’, I’ll grant ye that — is that at the end o’ the day, all ye can do is yer best. So jest — do yer best. Don’t worry so much about what ye’re feelin’, or even thinkin’, that ye can’t be doin’ much about. Jest … do what’s good, an’ the rest will take care o’ itself.”
“Ye don’t believe that,” Glenna replied.
“Well, if we’re only talkin’ about things what will happen in this world … aye, ye’re right, I don’t,” Kata shrugged. “But the next? Who bloody well knows, Glenna. I know I like ter hope fer the best, plan fer the worst in this world — but in the next, I’ll jest be hopin’ fer the best.”
When Kata put it like that … Glenna was unsure that she had ever heard better advice. So she shrugged, and smiled, and called to the kids, “The cake’s ready!” and proceeded to go about serving it.
As for her, well … she’d fret. And worry. And she’d probably spend a lot of time in the near future wishing she could feel this way about somebody, anybody else. Because that was who she was. Her ability to simply hope for the best had been killed, like so many else, on her last day back at home in Glasonland. Sometimes Glenna thought she had forgotten what the best was, so busy was she planning for the worst.
But speaking of the worst … well, this wasn’t it, not by a long shot. So she would eat her cake, and joke with the kids, and for just one afternoon feel bloody proud of herself that she had made it this far with her family intact (more or less) and her sanity still in one piece (so to speak).
And the future … she’d worry about the future when the future came.