Imsdyn 24, 1015
The day had only just begun, and already it was going wrong.
“Well, that’s an interestin’ thought,” replied Jessiah to Geoff, with his mouth full of food. How was it that this man was older than she was and still hadn’t gotten a basic grip on table manners? “And what did Brother Galahad say to that?”
“Er … well, Hamrick and I are going to ask him today,” replied Geoff. The tips of his ears were starting to redden. “You see — Mother Julian was the one doing the lecture, and we thought …”
“Aye, best not,” Jessiah replied with a nod.
Pamela ground her teeth together. What was wrong with this man? If you couldn’t ask a question of Mother Julian — a nun, and one of the most broad-minded, reasonable nuns Pamela had ever met! — then you shouldn’t be asking it at all. Hadn’t the man ever heard of blasphemy? Didn’t he know that the Lord heard all thoughts? If you couldn’t bring whatever it was you were thinking into the light of day, then that was your cue to stop thinking it.
And it didn’t matter that Brother Galahad would entertain the question. Brother Galahad might be a monk, and he might even be holier than the common run of monks. But he was a man. Men were all too likely to dance right up to the precipice without realizing just how big a drop awaited their next step. Nuns were women, and there was no woman alive who hadn’t been taught from her cradle that a single foot put wrong could ruin your life forever. Nuns watched where they were going.
“Do we have to talk about this?” asked Henry. If it wasn’t for the fact that Henry was contradicting his elders, Pamela would have clapped.
Then he kept talking. “It’s boring!”
“Boring! Boring, he says! Why, Henry if I didn’t know any better …” Jessiah started. Pamela held her breath.
“… I’d call you a completely normal eleven-year-old boy.” Jessiah winked at Geoff, who snickered.
“Hey! I’m almost twelve!” Henry protested.
“Again — if I didn’t know any better …” Jessiah shook his head. “But all right, squirt, what is it you’re wantin’ to be talking about?”
“I’m not a squirt!”
“Yes, you are!” replied Pippa.
“Hey!” Jessiah pointed his fork at her. “No smart remarks from the peanut gallery, savvy?”
Pippa broke into giggles, as she always did when Jessiah called her the peanut gallery. Pamela rolled her eyes.
And as soon as Pippa’s giggles had slowed, Henry jumped in. “Why don’t you tell us another story about your voyages, Cap’n?”
CapTAIN, thought Pamela, as she always did. It’s CapTAIN!
But she didn’t say that. She knew better.
“Ah, so it’s my time on the good ship Venus you’re wantin’ to hear about then, is it?” Asked Jessiah. He leaned back in a pose that Pamela supposed he thought was happy remembrance. She still couldn’t believe that the grandchildren believed his stories. The adventures and voyages that Jessiah talked about were the stuff of stories. Things like that simply didn’t happen to real people.
“Let’s see, let’s see, let’s see … ah! Have I told you kids about Simberia?”
Geoff blinked. “You’ve been to Simberia, Cap’n?”
“Sure thing, kid! Why, it’s so close to Bledavik, all you’ve got to do is sneeze into your sails and poof! You’re there!”
Pippa shrieked and pressed both hands against her mouth. Jessiah winked at her. “So. If I haven’t told you all about Simberia … hmm … well, which story should I tell first …”
“All of them!” shouted Henry.
“All of them? All of them? Kid, I’ve got save some of those stories for later! Otherwise what will we do when winter comes in? Now, let’s see, let’s see, let’s see … Ah! Did you know that the Simberians hunt bears?”
“Bears?” gasped Pippa.
“Big bears?” asked Henry.
“Of course the big ones! Nobody goes after the little ones. And do you know why?”
“Because the little ones are just little babies, and it would be mean to hunt babies?” asked Pippa.
“Oh, Pippa! You’re too good by half! Hunters don’t think like that. If they think about baby animals at all, they think that baby animals are … well … easier to hunt. But! They still don’t hunt the little ones because they’re babies — only do you kids know why it would be bad to hunt a baby bear?”
Pippa and Henry shook their heads. But Geoff pursed his lips together and glanced sidelong at Jessiah.
“Geoff, you look like you’ve got a thought bouncing around that head of yours,” said Jessiah. “An interestin’ one, too. Care to spit it out?”
“… Would it be because where there’s a baby bear, there’s bound to be a mother bear?” asked Geoff.
“See, kids! This is why you should listen to your brother, even when he’s being borin’,” he winked at Geoff, and Geoff grinned, “and responsible. He’s got a brain underneath all that hair, he has!”
Well, Pamela should hope so. Folks could say lots of things about the Chausseurs and the Parkinsons both, but nobody could ever say that they weren’t sharp.
“Geoff doesn’t have that much hair, though,” Henry pointed out.
“At least not when he’s next to you, Cap’n!” Pippa called.
“Ah, but there’s a reason for that!” Jessiah waved his finger in the air. “It’s not every man who can keep a brain as good as mine under all this hair! And it takes a lot of practice, it does! Why, even clever Geoff would probably get quite dumb if he had this kind of bountiful mane pressing down on his brain every day.”
Henry’s eyes had narrowed. “But, Cap’n … doesn’t it take a long time to grow that kind of hair?”
Jessiah’s eyebrows went up; his jaw fell. Then he grinned. “And you see, here’s more proof that Geoff has the brains in this family. He’s figured out that nobody likes a smart-arse.”
“But, Cap’n! Mama likes you!” Henry replied far too quickly for Pamela’s comfort.
And she knew what would come next. Jessiah would tip his head back and out would come a roar of laughter. Henry would preen. And when Jessiah had finished laughing, he would congratulate Henry for his wit, and say if he kept that tongue sharp and learned just when to let it cut, he’d have all the friends and women he ever wanted.
Pamela had had enough of that kind of encouragement. “Enough!” she interrupted. “Children, you need to have those plates spotless by the time the school wagon comes! And you don’t have much time, now. Chop chop!”
“But, but Grandma!” Pippa protested.
She swallowed and kept speaking. “Geoff and me already cleaned our plates! So can we listen to the Cap’n while Henry cleans his?”
“Certainly not! Pippa, you need to take …” Pamela inwardly sighed as she always did whenever she had to speak of Jessiah in front of the children. “You need to take the Captain’s plate into the kitchen and help your brother get them cleaned.”
“But the Cap’n isn’t finished eating yet!” Pippa called, pointing to Jessiah’s plate.
… Well, damn. “You should still help your brother–”
“That won’t be necessary,” Jessiah interrupted. “I’ll help Henry. In the meantime, Henry–we’d better stuff our faces before your grandmother starts flying her war colors.”
Henry grinned. “Race?”
“Surely not!” Pamela interrupted. “Unless you want to be cleaning up the mess all by yourself, Henry!”
Henry sighed and rolled his eyes, but he quickly scarfed the rest of his pancakes down. Pamela caught her breath and got ready to scold–
Jessiah spoiled it by standing up. “You know what? It’s not worth it to — oh, hello, honey.”
“Have you been getting into trouble, Cap’n?” asked Blanche. There was a teasing light in her eyes. Pamela only just refrained from rolling hers.
“Me? Trouble? Blanche, my darlin’, whatever would make you think that?” asked Jessiah. He sidled past Pamela to give his wife a kiss. “And you’re feelin’ all right?”
“Are you sick, Mama?” asked Pippa. Geoff spun in his chair, and Henry stopped halfway to the kitchen, plates rattling in his hand.
“What? Sick? Of course not!” Blanche laughed.
“But you were late coming down …” Pippa bit her lip.
“Oh, silly! I just had to change the sheets.” Blanche ducked around the table and kissed Pippa’s head. “Now, my dears, don’t you have to get ready for school?”
It never ceased to amaze Pamela how a simple question from Blanche could get her kids moving faster than all of Pamela’s commands. She’d never understand this modern child-rearing, never. But for now, she had another thought to worry over. That’s odd. It’s not Wed–oh.
It wasn’t Wednesday. But it was the fourth week of the month. And that was Blanche’s time of the month. That certainly explained the sheets.
And luckily for Pamela, it meant she wouldn’t have to think about all the other reasons why Blanche might be changing the sheets …
And over the next quarter-hour, as the three adults hurried the three kids out the door and onto their separate school wagons, she didn’t think about that. There was too much else to think about. Getting the kids out the door, making sure the dishes were clean, planning for the day … it was a wonder Pamela could find her own head from moment to moment, it was.
As soon as the children were gone, Pamela ambled to the shop, Jessiah following. Blanche was working on a pair of chausses for a customer, so she and Jessiah would be holding the fort for the morning. And aren’t I looking forward to that.
She looked over her shoulder, to where Jessiah was smiling faintly at her. Like he was laughing, like there was a wonderful joke in his head playing itself out for his entertainment only. Sometimes Pamela wondered what it was that always made him look like that. Most of the time, she wondered why it always felt like the joke was at her expense.
But now she realized — Blanche was in the other room. They wouldn’t have customers for at least a few minutes yet. The children were at school. If she was ever going to have a talk with Jessiah … well, now was the time, wasn’t it?
So she marched up to him. “You know, Jessiah, I have to let you know: I don’t appreciate those stories you make up for the children. If you want to tell them make-believe stories, that’s fine, but don’t let them think that all of these things actually happened to you. That’s not fair to them.”
Jessiah’s jaw fell. He stared at her.
“Thank you for your consideration.” Pamela did her best to smile at him.
Well! That was easy. Pamela grinned. All she had to do was ask, and show that the responsible adult in this household didn’t believe a bit of his nonsense — and look at him! Speechless! That ought to be the end of those stories, then. Hopefully from now on, when Jessiah felt the need to spin a yarn, he’d say that whatever happened happened to a friend of his. That would be a good compromise. He wouldn’t be filling up the children’s heads with silliness, but they’d still get the fun of the stories —
“What did you just call me?”
“Darlin’, then,” Jessiah replied. “I’ve just got one question for you. Have you been slippin’ rum into your tea of a morning?”
“What? Jessiah Andavri! How can you say something like that?”
“Well, first of, nobody would be blamin’ you if you did,” Jessiah pointed out. “Secondly, I think by far it’s the most charitable interpretation I can be givin’ to your question.”
“And what is that supposed to mean, Jessiah Andavri?” Pamela fumed.
“Simple. If you’re drunk, you’ll get sober. Whereas if you really think that what you just said to me …” Jessiah drew his breath in through his teeth in a hiss. “Well, I’m sorry to have to say this, but–I know Lady Morgan is supposed to be a miracle worker in these parts, but I don’t even think she’s got a potion that will fix that.”
“What? Jessiah Andavri! Did you just call me–”
The shop door opened. Pamela bit down on the rest of that sentence. And even if she hadn’t–well, Jessiah wouldn’t have listened.
“Well, hello there, Guardsman Courderc! Don’t tell me you’ve worn another hole in those breeks! If I didn’t know better, I’d say you kept lyin’ just to get the chance to have my wife measure you around the middle, if you know what I mean!”
“It was one hole!” laughed the guard. “And I wasn’t the one who put it there! I tell you, it wasn’t there when I gave it to the laundress, and it was there when I got it back!”
“Aye, sure, sure. I believe you.” Pamela could almost hear Jessiah rolling his eyes. But while any customer she did that to would be snarling and snapping at her, this man laughed and grinned at Jessiah. “But if you’re not here for new underthings, can I be showing you some new padding we just got in? It’s not much to look at, but I think it’ll be be a godsend for anybody wearing armor.”
“Padding? You sell padding now?” asked the guard.
“Sure thing! Anything that doesn’t show — well, too much — that’s what we sell! Now, let me show you …”
Pamela shook her head. Unbelievable. It was always during shop hours that she got most frustrated with Jessiah. He was irreverent, flighty, quite possibly immoral, and all in all, too clever by half. But at the end of the day …
She’d eat her own breeks if he couldn’t sell chausses to a man with no legs!
So the rest of the morning passed in a flurry of selling and restocking and haggling, cashing customers out, fielding complaints (there were always complaints, no matter how well they did), being run ragged generally. And lunch, as always, was a hurried affair, scarfed down by all of them with scarcely a word of conversation. Blanche at least was done with the chausses she had been working on, so Pamela had that to look forward to for the afternoon. The work was always easier when you could split it between three hands.
And four, thought Pamela with a grin when Geoff walked in as soon as the school wagon dropped him off, is even better!
“Geoff!” called Jessiah. Pamela held her breath — was he beating her to the punch? “My good man! How was school? Did you get a chance to talk to Brother Galahad?”
Geoff smiled. “Well–”
Oh, no! Not in front of the customers! Pamela didn’t know what they had to think or say about the sorts of thoughts that Geoff, poor lamb, couldn’t help but think, and that Jessiah had to go and encourage. She swooped over to Geoff. “Geoff, that can wait until supper to discuss, don’t you think? In the meantime, I want you to go around and make sure all the shelves are stocked properly.”
Geoff swallowed. “Of course, Grandma.”
“Good boy. And when you’re don, get the shelves dusted. And then get the broom and start to sweep–”
“Pamela,” Jessiah interrupted. “Are you kidding? If you keep piling on the chores, when’s the kid going to have time to do his studying?”
“There will be plenty of time for that after supper,” replied Pamela, rolling her eyes and not bothering to hide it from Geoff. Honestly, where did that man get off? “Then once you’re done sweeping, you can –”
“For heaven’s sake, Pamela, he can sweep and dust and all the rest after supper! Heck, we can all get that done after supper, and it won’t take ten minutes! If he’s doing this all by himself and dodging customers all the while, it’ll take him the better part of an hour!”
Pamela took a deep breath. Lord, give me strength! “And you’d rather have the shop looking dirty for customers? What kind of business sense is that?”
“If it’s that urgent, I’ll sweep up.”
“What? No! You have more important things to be doing! Whereas Geoff–”
“Also has more important things to be doing,” Jessiah interrupted.
“And what would that be?” Pamela snorted.
“His SCHOOL work! Or do you not remember how much money the Baron is paying so Geoff can go to the school and get a good education?”
“A good education! Ha!” Pamela spat. “I’m sorry to have to say this in front of you, Geoff, but it’ll be a fine education you get if you know all about–poets and astronomers and other nonsense like that, but you can’t run this shop when your mother and I are cold in our graves! That’s why his homework has to wait until after supper,” Pamela added to Jessiah, not bothering to hid the smug certainty. “I don’t know how you and Blanche both got convinced that this education is a fine idea, but Geoff needs to know what will be necessary to put food on the table and keep this roof over his head and his children’s heads.” She put her hands on her hips, eyes glittering, sure she’d played the trump card.
“No, he doesn’t,” Jessiah snorted.
“What? Jessiah Andavri, what are you–”
“Pamela, haven’t you been paying any attention? Do you really think that after paying for all that education, the Baron is going to want Geoff to spend the rest of his days running an underwear shop? I don’t!”
“What? Then who will?” Pamela snorted.
“I don’t know. Henry maybe, or Pippa. Or maybe, if neither of them want it, Blanche and I can sell it once all the kids are settled and taken care of, and we’ll have a fine retirement livin’ off the proceeds.”
“How can you even say such things? That–that is the most wicked nonsense I ever–”
“M-Mother?” interrupted a soft voice.
Blanche! Finally! She would tell that husband of hers what was what, and then she’d get Geoff set out on the straight and narrow–
“The Cap’n’s right,” she said. “Right now, we can’t be overloading Geoff with responsibilities in the shop when his schoolwork should be his first priority. Geoff? Go upstairs and get your studying done.”
“Are–are you sure, Mother? I don’t want to … if you need help …”
“We were managing, the three of us, just fine before you came home.” She glared at Pamela. “We’ll manage until you get your homework done.”
Geoff showed he was a smart lad by not saying anything to anyone; instead, he just smiled at his mother and shot out of the room. Pamela could only stand still and stutter and sputter.
“But–but Blanche–he’s got learn–”
“He’s got to learn a lot, Pamela,” Jessiah interrupted. “And from where I’m standin’, he’s not the only person in this household who could stand to do some learnin’.”
“Cap’n!” Blanche chuckled as she came closer to her husband. “Be good.”
“Good? I’m always good. What I’m not always is nice.”
Blanche laughed, and Jessiah caught her around the waist and pulled her closer.
Pamela groaned. “This isn’t over yet!”
Jessiah stopped halfway into the kiss he was about to give Blanche. “Oh, trust me, Pamela, I know that. With you–it never is.”