Radenth 19, 1014
Geoff had read a great deal since starting at the cathedral school in the beginning of the year. He’d delved into poetry, not just religious, mystical poetry, but epic and lyric and every other type of -ic poetry there was. Including romantic poetry.
They had much to say about weddings. About love. About the fidelity between two people that could last a lifetime, or beyond.
None of them ever said much about second weddings.
Not that the wedding had started yet. Many of the guests had taken their seats, but most of the women — Aunt Cressida, Geoff’s grandmother, Dannie, Aunt Bianca, Sorcha Andavri — were still helping Geoff’s mother get ready. Nothing could start until they had come down. To say nothing about his mother. After all, a bride couldn’t be late for her wedding day. Nothing could start without her.
And, perhaps Geoff. Geoff was giving his mother away.
The Cap’n and Geoff’s mother had both asked him, Blanche almost shyly, about a month after the Cap’n had proposed, when the plans were in full swing. Of course Geoff had said yes. He hadn’t wanted to say no. But now that the day was here … he couldn’t help but wonder …
What was his father thinking, looking down on them from Heaven? Seeing this huge party planned — the guests not important Guild members, people meant to be impressed, as had been the case at his wedding, but none other than the couple’s nearest and dearest? What would he think, maybe spying on the room where the women were getting ready, with Blanche all smiles and Pamela all frowns? What would he feel, knowing that Blanche hadn’t been nearly this happy on his, on their wedding day?
Maybe Geoff wasn’t supposed to know this … it wasn’t like he had been born yet … but he wasn’t an idiot. He had ears. And Aunt Cressida had a voice that could carry when she was trying to make a point. “Be happy!” she’d been saying to Blanche ever since she and the Cap’n had first started to become more than friends. “You only live once! And who cares if Mother doesn’t like him? You married once to please her and not you; that’s more than enough.”
Sometimes, when Geoff wasn’t being logical, rational about it … that stung. Aunt Cressida would have been hurt if she’d known that … so Geoff never told her. Besides, that would mean admitting to eavesdropping.
He watched the kids — Pippa and Banana, Henry and Benji — playing. Pippa and Banana had giggled to no end when they stood next to each other and realized that their dresses were in the same style and their hair done the same way. The Cap’n had laughed, too. He called it a good omen.
Geoff glanced sidelong to where the Cap’n was talking with his eldest granddaughter, Cherry. He didn’t know Cherry very well. But with any luck, if he sidled over there … he could slip into the conversation as a listener. It was the role he played best.
He started to walk.
But Geoff was a good listener. It was his talent and his curse. He heard the door to the house open and close. He turned — was it somebody coming to get him, were they–
His eyes went wide.
She stopped at the foot of the stairs. Color splashed over her cheeks. She looked over her shoulder, then back at Geoff. Her hair was loose today, spilling over her shoulders. She started to twist a few strands around her fingers.
“H-hi, Geoff,” she said, staring at the ground.
He trotted up to her. “I didn’t know you were invited!” Was his grin too obvious? He could feel it stretching little-used muscles in his face. His mother had said that he could invite any friends he wanted … but then Pamela had squawked and asked how many people she thought she was going to have at this wedding, and with one thing and another, Geoff thought it best to keep the peace by not inviting anybody.
He wouldn’t have even been brave enough to invite Nyasha. But here she was anyway …
“I, er, wasn’t really invited.”
Geoff stopped short. “You–weren’t?” Then … what was she doing here?
“I’m, uh, here to work.” Nyasha stared at the grass. Her shoe scuffed a few blades of it, then the dirt below. “With Delia.”
“… Huh?” Geoff asked.
“Delia is doing the cooking …”
“… Oh.” Geoff swallowed. Of course. He knew that Nyasha was a nunnery orphan. And that she worked for Uncle Richard. And that Uncle Richard and Aunt Bianca were providing the food, because (as Uncle Richard had muttered in Geoff’s hearing), that was the only way that Bianca would get to have a good party for her wedding, and it would keep Pamela quiet.
Well, he hadn’t put it quite like that …
Still. That was neither here nor there. What was here was that Geoff was an absolute bloody moron for not having put everything together sooner.
“Oh … well …” Geoff tried to smile. “I hope you’re at least getting good pay for having to do … all this …”
Nyasha smiled slightly, then looked down. “I’m an apprentice …”
“Oh. Right.” Geoff swallowed. Apprentices weren’t paid. They were given free room and board, a new suit of clothes every year, and a craft they could take with them wherever they went. “Well — at least you get a good meal?” he tried to joke.
Nyasha looked up. Then she giggled. “Aye. That’s true!” She was so much prettier when she smiled. Geoff hadn’t thought was possible — but that just showed how much imagination he had. “Delia and I had to make a few test cakes, too …” She winked.
“Of course you did,” Geoff agreed. “You couldn’t serve a substandard cake.”
“Never! And of course, we have to taste-test everything before we send it out. Make sure it’s fresh.” Nyasha winked. Then the smile faded, she turned shy again, and mumbled, “Er … that’s what Delia always says …”
“It’s funny!” Geoff reassured her. “Maybe I should tell that to my brother.” He jerked his thumb toward Henry.
“… He cooks?” Nyasha looked at Henry.
“Well, no. But he’s always trying to sneak food before the rest of us get to eat.”
Nyasha chuckled. “That’s — that’s what boys do, isn’t it?”
Geoff was about to give a commonplace, inconsequential remark — then he realized that she was asking. Truly asking. She didn’t know?
Of course she doesn’t. She had been raised in the nunnery, hadn’t she? No boys around. And from what little Geoff understood about the orphan boys who lived with the monastery, they were all much younger than Nyasha. Plus, if the Ferreiras only kept up a small kitchen staff … how would she know?
“If they’re annoying like Henry, aye,” Geoff agreed. Though Geoff would be the first to admit that sometimes the time between lunch and dinner was inordinately long and quite possibly designed to torture the appetite of growing young men, still. That was what the good Lord made pocket money and roadside stalls selling everything from fresh bread to fresh fruit were for. “Some of us … well, we wait.”
Nyasha stood on tip-toe to see over Geoff’s shoulder. “How old is he?”
“Eleven. Almost twelve,” Geoff answered.
“Eleven,” Nyasha repeated. She bit her lip. Geoff found himself watching it before he remembered himself and looked somewhere — anywhere — else.
“I don’t think that’s such a bad age …” Nyasha murmured.
“Oh. Well, um …” It hadn’t been that long ago that Geoff himself was eleven. Still … “I think it depends on the person. Some people are … older elevens. And some are young elevens.”
“Old elevens and young elevens,” Nyasha repeated. She smiled in a way that made her eyes look far away, almost dreaming. Dreaming while still awake — what an enviable state of mind. “I like that. It’s kind of … poetic …”
Geoff felt his chest puff up, though since this style of doublet made Geoff look much more powerful in the chest and shoulders than he was in actuality, whether Nyasha would be able to notice was debatable. “Thanks!”
“But — but even if he is a young eleven …” Nyasha narrowed her eyes. “He seems to be very good with that little boy …”
Geoff looked over his shoulder. “Benji? Aye, he’s the Cap’n’s grandson. Henry is pretty patient with him.” Maybe he had learned it from all his time with Ned.
“Benji … he looks familiar …”
“He goes to the cathedral school, too,” Geoff filled in. “All the Cap’n’s grandchildren do. Well, except Cherry …” Geoff gestured toward Cherry, hoping that a glance at her would explain why.
It certainly seemed to. “She … she goes to Camford, doesn’t she?”
Geoff smiled and nodded.
“Oh … how lucky for her.”
Geoff blinked and turned his head to one side. In Geoff’s experience, people didn’t call others lucky with those kinds of sighs unless there was something else going on underneath.
“Would … would you want to go to Camford, too?” Geoff heard himself asking.
Nyasha looked up, blinking. “Me? Camford?”
“Why — why not? You’re clever …” Geoff felt his ears start to burn, even though he was giving the compliment and not receiving it. “You could ask Uncle Richard …”
“The Baron?” The blood seemed to drain from Nyasha’s face.
“Why not? He –”
“Oh, no, no! He … he was already kind enough to take me on …” Nyasha shook her head. “I couldn’t — and I’m indentured to him — and –”
“So?” Geoff asked. “I mean — I know Uncle Richard … he wants to make clever people cleverer. And then have them work for him.” Uncle Richard had made that much clear, and when Geoff had protested that he didn’t know what he could do that would be of value to him, Uncle Richard had just winked and told him that anybody who couldn’t find a use for a Camford-educated man’s talents didn’t deserve the fortune that allowed him to bankroll said education. Surely the same would go for a woman — one who was indentured to him already? Maybe other men would have laughed at the idea, but not Uncle Richard.
But Nyasha was shaking her head violently. “No — no, no, no … You … you don’t understand, Geoff … Camford’s not for girls like me …”
“You mean …?”
“Bastards,” Nyasha replied, and blushed.
That was wrong. Perhaps not factually incorrect, but wrong all the same. Girls who couldn’t even say the word “bastard” without a blush didn’t deserve to be tarred with the same brush as those who made bastards. Even if those people were their mothers. And fathers.
So he felt called upon to protest. “My Aunt Cressida says that Sir Milo — her friend’s husband — went to Camford. And he … well, his parents weren’t married.”
Nyasha blinked. Then her eyes narrowed. “Is this Sir Milo the King’s nephew? Master Frederick’s friend?”
“Er … yes,” Geoff admitted, though it felt weird to hear anybody refer to Freddy as “Master Frederick.”
“He’s a king’s son,” Nyasha whispered. “That’s different.”
How different, Geoff wondered, could it be? Wasn’t a sin a sin no matter who you were? If anything, people who were higher up on the social ladder, people who ought to know better, ought to be those judged more harshly than those at the bottom. Geoff was no idiot. He knew who Nyasha’s mother likely was, or rather, what she likely was. Why should the women who earned their living like that be judged more harshly than the men who freely gave them coin?
Nyasha, Geoff sensed, would never ask that. But maybe … maybe next time in class that the conversation turned to sexual morality, Geoff would ask that. For Nyasha. And they’d see what Mother Julian would say.
… Then again, the more Geoff thought about it, maybe asking Brother Galahad would be a better idea.
“Well … the way I see it …” He glanced over his shoulder at the Cap’n. He smiled. “Somebody — somebody a lot smarter than I am once asked me … why not?”
Nyasha’s nose wrinkled and she turned her head to one side. “Why not? Why not what?”
“Why not — try? Why not ask? Why not …” Geoff scratched the back of his neck and tried to find the words. “Dream? And — reach for your dreams? Because … because you only live once, Nyasha …”
He gestured vaguely toward her. “And … I think … I think you’d rather be happy than hemmed in by what everyone else thinks you could do, could be … and I think you could …”
“You think I could …” Nyasha asked. Geoff couldn’t help but notice how close she was to him, how she was leaning forward, one lip caught between her teeth, eyes wide, her breathing quick and shallow. Geoff swallowed. She really was awfully close …
And he needed to stop those thoughts in their tracks, before he found himself tempted to do something, or say something, that he really didn’t want an audience for.
“I think you could be something — someone — amazing, Nyasha. And I think you could reach for your dreams. Instead of having to live out somebody else’s dream for you.”
“That’s — that’s so nice!” Nyasha was blushing, her eyes were wide — if Geoff didn’t know, he’d guess that she didn’t believe what she was hearing. But why? “Nobody’s — nobody’s ever said anything that nice to me before …”
Why not? wondered Geoff.
But her cheeks were pink, and her eyes were bright, and Geoff was sure he’d never seen Nyasha smiling that brightly before — ever. “Thank — thank you, Geoff. For saying that. It’s — it’s nice to hear –”
“Geoff! Geoff, where are you, boy? Come on!”
Noooo! Why did his grandmother have to come out right now?
But Nyasha’s eyes had gone wide. “I need to get back inside!” she gasped. “See — see you later, Geoff! Thank you!” She bobbed a quick curtsey — at him? — and dashed back up the stairs, pausing only to curtsey to Pamela before dashing inside.
Pamela’s suspicious eyes followed Nyasha, then they turned to Geoff, trudging up the stairs. “Why were you talking to her?”
“I know her from school, Grandma.”
“From school?” Pamela’s eyes widened. “Well! And here I thought your uncle was paying all that money to get you into a good school!”
Geoff didn’t glare at his grandmother. He chose instead to ignore her, push his way past the women — Aunt Cressida, Sorcha Andavri, Dannie, and Aunt Bianca — all making their way out the door. Geoff knew he’d have to wait for them — and Pamela too — to get into their seats before he could lead his mother out.
But all the same, when he got in — he wasn’t expecting what he saw.
She was in a dress of yellow and blue — yellow and blue, Geoff realized, that exactly matched the Cap’n’s tunic. Somebody had lent her a white circlet, and her lips were dyed a deep red while cosmetics had added sparkle and shine to her eyes. Somebody had brushed her hair, too, and somehow arranged it to lay like water across her shoulders and down her back.
If it wasn’t for the way she was twisting her hands together in that old nervous gesture that the two of them shared, Geoff wasn’t sure he would have recognized his own mother.
“You — you — you look great, Mum,” Geoff finally stumbled into saying.
“Oh — oh, Geoff.” Blanche leaned back, her hands coming to her chest, her cheeks suffused in a blush. “That’s so sweet of you to say!”
He hoped it wasn’t that sweet. “It’s just the truth, Mum.”
She smiled and cupped his cheek in one hand. “You’re too kind.”
Geoff shrugged and smiled.
Blanche looked up. “Is — is everybody ready yet? Do you know?”
“Um …” He pulled the chair out from behind one of the spinning wheels and climbed onto it to get a good look out the tiny window. “Seems like it.”
“Oh. Oh my.” Blanche tried to laugh, but it came out more like a gasp. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life!”
Then she looked at Geoff’s face — and looked away.
“You … you weren’t this nervous with Dad?” asked Geoff.
“Oh, Geoff, honey …”
“It’s — it’s all right,” Geoff interrupted. He found, after saying that, that it was all right. “I mean … that was then. And this is now.” It was just scratching at the surface of all that was different about the first time Blanche had married compared to now, but maybe … maybe it was all that needed to be said.
“And — and Mum?” Geoff asked as he leaned up to kiss his mother’s cheek. “I think — I think if Dad could see you now — he’d be really happy for you.”
Blanche leaned back with one eyebrow raised and a bit of a smirk. “Really?”
Geoff thought about what he had just said and had to laugh — well, chuckle. “Well … all right, maybe that came out silly-sounding, but, Mum … I think Dad would be happy that you’re happy.”
Blanche patted Geoff’s arm and took a deep breath. “Your — your father was a good man, Geoff. Always a good man.” She swallowed. “I like to think he would be happy for me, too.”
“He would be,” Geoff repeated. He extended his arm to his mother. “So? Shall we go?”
Blanche put her arm into his. “Aye. We should.”
And together they went out into the light of a new beginning.