Jaban 17, 1014
This had been going on for far too long.
Delyth had been in the doldrums for … what … months? And if it was just stemming from her father’s death … well, that would have been one thing. Cherry could imagine only too well. How many stormy nights had she shivered in her bedroom back in Bledavik, convinced that this would be the storm that would make it so her parents never came home again?
But whatever it was that was getting Delyth down, it wasn’t her father. Her father had died in Imsdyn. Delyth and Dilys both had been heartbroken, but they’d both been recovering. Dilys still was recovering. But Delyth had crashed in Ververe, and she hadn’t pulled herself up yet. Sometimes it was all Cherry, Dilys, and Ravenna combined could do to get her out of bed and into class, to say nothing of doing enough work outside to keep her afloat. And eating regularly and sleeping neither too much or not enough were their own battles.
Luckily, Cherry had a solution, or at least a way to bring a smile to Delyth’s face.
She knocked on the door to the room Dilys and Delyth shared. Ravenna and Dilys had already gone out to meet George at the Lion and Llama, and Cherry had checked every other room in the house, so Delyth had to be here.
No answer. Shrugging, Cherry pushed the door open.
Just as she suspected.
Delyth sighed, her arm listlessly coming up to rest on her forehead. “What?”
There were times for tough love. For shaking sense into people until their brains rattled in their skulls. For pulling them up by the hair if they wouldn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps. For dragging them into a better place if they wouldn’t get up and walk there themselves.
This wasn’t one of those times.
“I’ve got something for you,” Cherry said.
Delyth blinked. She looked up. “Huh?”
“A surprise,” Cherry continued.
Delyth wrinkled her nose. “What … kind of surprise?”
Cherry didn’t answer. She winked and walked out of the room.
Then … One … two … three …
Nothing. But Cherry was not willing to give up. Not yet. If there was one feature that defined the Delyth she knew, or thought she knew, it was her curiosity. Surely she’d decide that she had to know what the surprise was, even if it meant getting out of bed.
Six … seven …
If Cherry got up to ten, she decided, she was going to get worried. Ravenna had already talked about bringing her mother up to talk to Delyth. Cherry wasn’t sure what good that would do, but Dilys seemed to understand and view the proposal with a mix of hope and trepidation. Maybe next time, Cherry would back Ravenna up.
There was a faint creak from the other room, the creak a bed might make when relieved of the pressure of a body. Cherry continued her nonchalant saunter to her room, only making sure she was slow enough that Delyth saw her when she finally poked her head out of her room.
Delyth emerged and followed Cherry into her bedroom. “Look,” she sighed, “it’s nice of you to try to cheer me up, but … well …”
“This isn’t going to just cheer you up. This is going to make your life.”
A pause. “You’re insane, Cherry.” But there was something else there. Something like … hope?
Cherry took that as her cue to fling open the doors to the wardrobe.
She had hung up a mirror on one of the doors. Her only purpose had been to have someplace to fix her hair and make sure her gown wasn’t slipping too much to one side or the other. But today, it was coming in quite handy for watching Delyth’s face … especially when Cherry edged over to let Delyth catch a glimpse of the two identical red dresses that she had managed to acquire.
First Delyth looked confused. Then her eyes widened. Her jaw fell. “Cherry, are those what I think …?”
Cherry smirked. “You bet they are.”
“But … but what are they for?”
“Well,” Cherry replied, “I was thinking you and I could wear them.”
“And then go out. Like, say …” She cast a glance over her shoulder, grinning. “To the Llama?”
Delyth’s jaw fell again. “That’s insane!”
“You bet your ass it’s insane. You in?”
“Delyth, what is college for if not for doing crazy shit you’ll be denying for the rest of your life? When are you ever going to get another chance?”
Delyth’s face quivered like the waters of a still pond disturbed by a sudden breeze. Thoughts moved underneath, quick and silvery as fish. Then they stopped.
“Hell yeah! Let’s do this!”
Music to my ears.
“And you should have been there, Dilys,” George was saying. Dilys smiled weakly. She knew Ravenna loved George, but sometimes she found him a bit … much. “Elyan screamed like a girl!”
Dilys glanced around George at Ravenna, who grinned and rolled her eyes at the same time. “G-George … I know Elyan can be …”
“Lower than the dirt on a beggar’s boot? Liable to drown in the rain since his nose is up so bloody high in the air? An unmitigated ass?”
“Er … I was going to say annoying …”
“That too,” George agreed, folding his hands behind his head and leaning back.
“But … don’t you think it’s a bit … cruel to have turned his …” Dilys started to blush. “His chausses into snakes?”
“At least I didn’t do it while he was wearing them,” George shrugged. Then he glared at Ravenna, though the force of it was muted by the way he waggled his eyebrows up and down. “Though I wanted to …”
“And I reminded you that you want to keep a maid, and you won’t keep a maid if constantly make Elyan shit himself, literally, which she’ll have to clean up.”
“But you can summon a servantus …” George wheedled.
“I am not cleaning your house by magic.”
“But Ravenna …”
Dilys hid a smile and averted her eyes. George could be cute when he tried to sweet-talk Ravenna, especially when they both knew from the outset that he wouldn’t be getting what he wanted. But somehow it felt wrong to watch, like she was a peeping Tom. So she settled back and let her eyes wander around the room.
They fell on the just-opened door.
They went wide.
“Oh my goodness!”
“Dilys?” Ravenna asked, alarmed.
“What’s the matter?” George echoed. He looked around, and, if Dilys saw clearly through the spaces of her fingers, reached for his wand.
Dilys mewed and sunk down in her seat. It was nothing that needed George’s wand to handle. But all the same, it was nothing that she could say out loud.
Because at the end of the day … even when it was be-wimpled and done up in the habit of a Sister of St. Agnes … there was something that a twin’s eyes could always recognize.
The face of her twin.
Delyth couldn’t remember the last time she had felt this happy.
Or maybe happy wasn’t the word for it. Happy was, in her experience, a calmer feeling. Happy didn’t bubble up in her like overexcited champagne threatening to explode from the bottle. Happy rocked her like a boat on a gentle lake, lulling her into believing that somehow, everything would be all right. Whereas this feeling …
Everything might not be all right. Delyth was pretty sure that dressing up as a nun — especially an Agnesite — when you hadn’t the right was some kind of blasphemy. It might even be grounds for expulsion, if whatever proctor caught you was in a foul enough mood. And Delyth couldn’t have cared less.
“Come on — let’s get a drink, Sister,” said Cherry.
“Certainly, Sister!” replied Delyth, skipping after her.
The bartender’s eyes were wide and frozen, like a deer caught downwind of the hunter with no escape in sight. “S-s-sisters,” she stammered, “what–what can I be doin’ –”
She stopped as Cherry hopped onto the barstool. “Cherry?” she hissed.
“Two frosty walruses, both on the rocks, make mine a double, Emi,” replied Cherry.
“Have ye lost yer mind?” Emi whispered. She looked around the bar fearfully, the hand that habitually wiped the sticky surface of the bar down moving at three times its normal speed. “Ye know what could happen ter ye if ye got caught?”
“Nope,” replied Cherry. “Do you?”
Emi’s mouth fell open, and her teeth clacked as she stared and just as quickly ending about five responses. “It’d be bad!” Emi promised.
“Only if we get caught,” Cherry shrugged. “And this one,” Cherry nudged Delyth in the ribs, “needed cheering up. So. The walruses?”
Emi’s mouth continued to open and close. She looked from Cherry to Delyth and back again. Finally she sighed, slammed her towel on the counter, and marked back to the bar. “If this is what ye call cheerin’ folks up …” was all Delyth could make out of her muttering.
“You know,” Delyth remarked as soon as Emi was out of earshot, or at least not as close, “I think I’m ready for doubles now.”
“Frosty walruses? No, you’re not.”
“Why not? It’s not like I’m a child …”
“A child? Certainly not. But you’re a southlander.” Cherry winked. “Southlanders are lucky if they can take frosty walruses once a month — doubles? Forget about it!”
“I am not that much of a lightweight,” Delyth replied, trying to force herself to laugh. When was the last time she had bothered to laugh in reply to what anybody else had said? Surely it was before she had gone to see Morgan …
Whenever she thought of that visit, she wondered if she ever might laugh — really laugh — again.
At least Emi brought the drinks quickly. Delyth tossed hers down like a true Bledavickian. She slammed it down on the counter (also like a true Bledavickian) to find Cherry watching her. “You’re doing it again.”
“Doing what?” Delyth asked.
Cherry poked her in the ribs. “You’re not allowed to go dark tonight.”
“Why not?” Delyth asked. The champagne was losing its bubbles already. Soon it would be flat and listless, stripped of the one thing that could be said to make it what it was. What was champagne without bubbles? What was a woman–
Cherry poked Delyth. “You’re. Not. Allowed,” she repeated, punctuating each word with a poke.
“You never asked my question.”
“I don’t have to. I’m Mother Superior tonight, and you have to obey me.” Cherry leaned her cheek on her hand, batting her eyelashes.
Cherry as Mother Superior — of the Agnesites? That did it. Delyth burst out laughing.
“That’s better,” Cherry replied. “So. How many guys are checking us out?”
“What? We’re nuns!”
“I know,” Cherry replied. “But we’re also us.”
Delyth’s mouth opened. She looked around. Every man whose eyes she met looked away as soon as their gazes crossed. Was it because of the wimple and the habit? Or was it because …
All right, Delyth, now you’re being an idiot. If you couldn’t tell before Morgan told you, how would they be able to tell?
“I think they’re too afraid of the penance we could give them to check us out,” Delyth replied.
“Ooh! Penance!” Cherry put her finger to her lips and looked around. “See you any sinners here, Sister?” she asked, much more loudly. “Seeing as we’re in their natural habitat and all?”
Delyth had no idea how to reply — but she would play along. “Oh, yes, Sister!” She pretended to look around again. “The place is crawling with them!”
“Excellent! — Er, I mean, how terrible!” Cherry looked about ready to start giggling. If she kept up that not-quite-straight face, Delyth was going to lose it. But what was she planning? “I think we ought to give them some penance!”
“What?” Delyth hissed, and then added, more loudly, “Oh, penance! What kind of penance?”
“The best kind,” Cherry slipped off her barstool, grabbed Delyth’s arm and pulled her forward. “Come on. Let’s show these sinners what-for!”
Oh boy! Delyth thought. She barely had time to put — more like throw — her tankard back on the bar before having to jog to keep up with Cherry.
She almost had to be dragged when she saw where Cherry was heading. The stage? “Cherry!” Delyth hissed.
“You know the words to ‘As I Roved Out‘?” Cherry asked from the corner of her mouth.
“Good! We’ll be singing it as a duet.” They ran up to the stage, and Cherry popped the cork on one of the wine bottles conveniently left up there — to wet the performers’ whistles, of course, no more. “You take the woman’s part, I’ll take the man’s, we’ll both do the chorus?”
“Cherry! Are you insane?”
“I’m sorry, is that a rhetorical question?” Cherry blinked up at her innocently. Then she cleared her throat and called out to the bar. “Excuse me! Excuse me! It has come to my good Sister’s and my attention that you are all sinners. Grievous sinners! Therefore, for your penance, you must listen to us sing. Please attend! Your salvation is at stake!” Cherry cleared her throat, even as jaws fell all around the bar — and started.
“Who are you, my pretty fair maid,
Who are you, me honey?
And who are you, my pretty fair maid,
And who are you, me honey?
She answered me quite modestly …”
Cherry handed it off to Delyth with a wave of her hand. Delyth barely came in on time.
“I am me mother’s darling.”
Delyth had to hand it to Cherry: she was good. Maybe she wasn’t the world’s best singer. But there was passion, and feeling behind it, passion that was all the more real for being obviously fake. But it Delyth was the only one who knew that. Across the bar, jaws were falling and drinks were being dropped as patrons watched one nun sing her heart out to the other — especially as Cherry hammed up every word with feeling that wasn’t strictly there in the song.
It was time for the chorus, which was just “Too-ry-ay Fol-de-diddle-day Di-re fol-de-diddle Dai-rie oh,” and Delyth came in with Cherry. Both of their voices were too high to make it a proper duet; Delyth’s, reedy and unsure, scraped the ceiling in what room was left by Cherry’s. But then the chorus ended — and with the beginning of the second verse, from the woman’s perspective, Delyth was on her own.
She gave it her best shot.
“And will you come to me mother’s house,
When the moon is shining clearly?
And will you come to me mother’s house
When the moon is shining clearly?
I’ll open the door and I’ll let you in
And divil ‘o one will hear us.“
She could scarcely carry the tune on her own. And she wasn’t as good with her playacting and her puppy eyes as Cherry was. The mischief dancing in Delyth’s eyes was also much more obvious than that dancing in Cherry’s eyes — especially when Cherry mooned all over her and swooned like this was a love song.
Another chorus, and it was Cherry’s turn again:
“So I went to her house in the middle of the night
When the moon was shining clearly
So I went to her house in the middle of the night
When the moon was shining clearly
She opened the door and she let me in and divil the one did hear us.“
One more chorus. It was still Cherry’s part.
“She took me horse by the bridle and the bit
And led him to the stable
She took me horse by the bridle and the bit
And led him to the stable
Delyth squeaked in, “There’s plenty of oats for a soldier’s horse,
To eat it if he’s able.”
Cherry grinned, and Delyth could hear chuckles beginning from the bar. Everybody else must have known where this was going. But after the chorus, it was Cherry’s turn again:
“Then she took me by the lily-white hand
Led me to the table
Then she took me by the lily-white hand
Led me to the table
Delyth sang, “There’s plenty of wine for a soldier boy,
To drink if he is able.“
The hoots and hollers were starting with this chorus. Delyth tried not to giggle. Cherry succeeded and began to sing again.
“Then I got up and I made the bed
I made it nice and aisy
Then I got up and I made the bed
I made it nice and aisy
The I got up and I laid her down
Saying ‘Lassie, are you able?‘“
Cherry tossed her hair — wimple, technically — and spun in place. Their chorus rang out over the bar, as triumphant as a man finally tupping maid who’d caught his eye:
“With me — Too-ry-ay Fol-de-diddle-day Di-re fol-de-diddle Dai-rie oh!“
Delyth was going to break down in giggles if this didn’t end soon. At least this was the second-to-last verse, and it was Cherry’s.
“And there we lay till the break of day
Divil the one did hear us
And there we lay till the break of day
And divil the one did hear us
Then I arose and put on me clothes
Saying, ‘Lassie, I must leave you.’“
Everyone in the bar saw that one coming. Delyth decided to try to playact a bit, pouting as best she could while roaring out the chorus.
The last verse started with Delyth:
“And when will you return again
When will we get married?
And when will you return again
When will we get married?“
But it ended with Cherry:
“When broken shells make Christmas bells
We might then get married!“
And when they sang the chorus, the whole bar joined in — including the only one who had been brave enough to come running up to the front.
“With me — Too-ry-ay Fol-de-diddle-day Di-re fol-de-diddle Dai-rie OH!”
Author’s Note: The version of the song I used is the one from Loreena McKennit’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley. I don’t know why the page is in French, because I told it I wanted English, but that’s the Internet for you. Anyway, I like the song, and check out the album if you’re into that kind of thing!