Clatan 27, 1015
“Glenna, I can’t be thankin’ ye enough fer doin’ this.” Kata hugged the younger woman. “Rhoslyn needs as much help as she get get ter learn –”
“Hey!” protested Rhoslyn.
“Shush, ye, I didn’t mean it like that.” Kata pulled away from Glenna, rolling her eyes. “What I meant was, Rhoslyn needs ter practice lookin’ things over on as many women as possible. But ye’d be amazed how few women –”
“Are comfortable with lettin’ a thirteen-year-old stick their fingers up their … ye know?” asked Glenna, laughing a little. But there was no hiding her nerves.
Wright damn it. Kata had been hoping that Glenna would be breezy and unconcerned. Now she had to offer to let her off, and where would she find someone else to let Rhoslyn practice on? Rhoslyn had already done plenty of exams on her, but there was only so much one could learn from the body of a woman past childbearing age, and Kata could hardly be on both ends of herself at once.
“Are ye sure ye want ter be doin’ this?” Kata asked.
“What? Oh, it’s a small enough favor, ain’t it?” asked Glenna, shrugging. “I can’t say I’m lookin’ forward — no offense, Rhoslyn –”
“Thank’ee — but, well, it’s the least I can do after all ye’ve done fer me, ain’t it?”
Kata smiled. “Glenna, I don’t know what ter say ter ye, other than that if everyone thought of ‘the least I can do’ the way ye did, the world would be a brighter place.”
“Aww — thank’ee, Kata!”
Glenna started to flush — then, without warning, she laughed. “O’ course, I can’t be properly modest-like an’ say, ‘No, tain’t so, Kata!’, ’cause ye know, when ye think about it … if we all did the least we could fer each other, the world would be a brighter place.”
“Truer words, Glenna. Truer words.”
“Aye, aye, aye. And on that wonderfully hopeful note — or hopelessly cynical note, I’m not sure which — can we get started?” asked Rhoslyn.
Kata glared sidelong at Rhoslyn. She turned to Kata to apologize for her apprentice’s unseemly over-eagerness, but Glenna spoke first.
“If–if it’s all the same ter ye two, Rhoslyn, Kata, I’d jest as soon start now too. I … well …”
She wants ter get it over with. Kata couldn’t blame her for that. “All right, lass. Let’s head upstairs.”
They went upstairs, and Kata and Rhoslyn waited on the landing while Glenna stripped down to her shift. Rhoslyn tapped her foot and shifted as she waited. “Kata?”
“Why do we have ter wait fer Glenna to change? It’s not like we won’t be seeing everything that’s there to be seen in just a minute.”
“Because we ain’t barbarians. We oughta give her some dignity.”
Rhoslyn’s nose wrinkled. “That still doesn’t make much sense, Kata.”
Kata shrugged. “It’s dignity, Rhoslyn. It don’t have ter make sense.”
With that Rhoslyn would have to content herself — and luckily, her content didn’t have to last very long. “I’m ready, gals!” Glenna called. Kata threw open the door and shooed Rhoslyn in.
“Great! Now, Glenna–” Kata hesitated. “Er … Glenna, ye don’t have a shorter shift?”
Glenna shook her head. “This is the only one I’ve got.”
“Ah.” Kata debated finding a shift for Glenna to borrow, then decided against it. They could make do. “Well, if ye could jest get on the bed, we’d be ready ter start.”
“The bed?” asked Glenna even as she sat down.
“Aye — put yer feet up, lass, don’t mind the cover.”
Glenna’s face was a mask of confusion. So was Rhoslyn’s when Kata glanced at her. “Why the bed, Kata?” Rhoslyn asked.
“Mostly ter make it easier fer ye, lass,” replied Kata. “It’s easier ter see what’s goin’ on down there if ye ain’t havin’ ter bed yerself inter a pretzel ter do it.”
“But then why do you have women sit on the stool, and not on the bed, when they’re birthing?” asked Rhoslyn. “I mean, when you had me looking over Ella for those five minutes–”
“Oh!” Glenna looked up. “Ella had her baby, then?”
“Aye, she did, a little girl. But–if ye’re not mindin’, we can talk more about that when we’re done here. Now — where was I?”
“Why Glenna is on the bed, Kata.”
“Ah! That. Well, there’s a couple of reasons. One, it’s easier ter get blood an’ everythin’ else off that stool than it is ter get it out o’ sheets. Put some straw under the stool an’ ye scarcely even have ter worry about clean-up. Two, sittin’ down is easier on a birthin’ woman.”
“Why?” asked Rhoslyn as she edged closer to Glenna, finally sitting on the bed with her.
“Eh, no sittin’ fer ye yet!” Kata reproved. “Best ter start the examinin’ if ye’re on yer feet.”
“An’ I’ll answer yer question in jest a minute, hold yer horses. Well, here’s the reason why the ma sits down when she’s givin’ birth. First, more women feel that’s more comfortable than layin’ down, believe it or not. Heck, once ye start comin’ with me, ye’ll find women get inter all sorts o’ crazy positions. Glenna, weren’t ye on yer hands an’ knees at one point?”
“Aye, I was,” Glenna laughed. Rhoslyn shot her a quizzical look. “Hey, I don’t know why any better than ye do. It jest felt right then.”
“See?” asked Kata. “The other reason is … everythin’ goes down, right? If ye were ter take that vase — don’t take that vase! — but if ye were, an’ ye were ter let go o’ it …”
“It’d fall …” The light flashed behind Rhoslyn’s eyes. “Ah! You want the baby to fall down, too!”
“Got it in one, lass. Exactly, it’s easier if the baby’s naturally wantin’ ter go down, instead o’ havin’ ter be pushed out all one level. All right, now, Rhoslyn. I want ye ter start by feelin’ around Glenna’s stomach.”
Glenna moved her hands away as Rhoslyn started to poke and prod. “Tell me if I’m hurting you,” Rhoslyn murmured in the soft tone she only took when she was concentrating deeply.
“I’m fine,” replied Glenna. “That don’t hurt at all.”
“Good, good, it shouldn’t. Now, Rhoslyn, if Glenna were with child an’ gettin’ ready ter give birth, ye’d be able ter feel the baby as ye were feelin’ around here.”
“Like I did with Ella.” replied Rhoslyn. She continued to feel.
“Exactly. Keep doin’ that, Rhoslyn. I want ye ter be sure ye know what the belly of a woman who ain’t pregnant, or who is an’ it’s far too soon ter be tellin’, feels like.”
“Why’s that?” asked Rhoslyn. Glenna looked curious too.
Kata sighed. “Because … well … there’s gonna be women what come ter ye, certain they’re with child, when they ain’t. Not too many, mind. Most women don’t fool themselves like that. But ye might run inter one or two.”
“Hmm … I think I read about that in one of the books at the abbey,” Rhoslyn replied. “Hysterical pregnancy, I think it’s called.”
Kata blinked. “How is it that nuns have got books on givin’ birth?”
Rhoslyn was silent for a moment. Then she admitted, “Well … maybe the book … wasn’t on the nunnery side of the abbey.”
Glenna’s eyes bugged out. “What are monks doin’ with books on givin’ birth?”
“Well, it’s probably because Father Hugh trained himself to be a doctor, and Brother Andy studied medicine at Camford,” replied Rhoslyn with a shrug. “They probably both had to learn about — what did the book call it? — ob-stet-rics.”
“Oh, bloody hell, that’s the last thing we need, hoity-toity Camford folks startin’ ter think they know everythin’ there is ter know about laborin’ an’ givin’ birth, as well as everythin’ else,” Kata grumbled.
She watched Rhoslyn and Glenna exchange glances. “Kata, you’ve never said anything bad about Lady Clarice, and she went to Camford,” Rhoslyn replied.
“Oh–well, that’s different,” Kata replied, knowing she sounded a fool saying that. Well, it couldn’t be helped. “She’s a woman, ye see. If women want ter go ter Camford an’ take what they can from that learnin’ an’ help other women, that’s one thing. If men do it, that’s another.”
“Kata, you’re not making sense,” said Rhoslyn.
Kata sighed. “It’s … it’s complicated, Rhoslyn.”
“So? Lots of things are complicated. That’s no reason not to explain them.”
Kata rolled her eyes. She’d wanted an apprentice with spunk, with spark — well, she’d gotten one, all right. She tried to tell herself that Rhoslyn’s spunk would serve her well when she was a full midwife. Hell — how many times had Kata had to keep doggedly asking questions, wearing her patients down until they finally gave up and told her the truth?
“Rhoslyn, ye know that Camford is under the control o’ monks, don’t ye? An’ bein’ always in the company o’ other men … well, sometimes it can do things ter a man’s mind. O’ course, the same thing happens with women if they’re cooped up with a lot o’ women, mind,” Kata added, “but with men … well, most men are told from the time they’re wee baby boys that they’re smart, they’re knowin’, that they can be holdin’ the whole world in the palm of their hands jest ’cause they’re men. We women, we know better than that. So we know ter be humble, ter think before we act an’ speak.”
Rhoslyn turned and stared Kata down. “Kata? Truly? Have you ever been humble a day in your life?”
“Oh, yes. I gotta be. I know jest what I don’t know, Rhoslyn, an’ the answer ter that is: a lot more than what I do know. O’ course, I’ll grant ye, it don’t come off that way when I’m knowin’ more than anyone else in the room,” Kata conceded, “but I do know that even if I’m the best midwife in this kingdom, that ain’t sayin’ much. Most men — all right, most doctor-men — ain’t gonna think that way. They go in with their head twice the size it should be, an’ when they come out, it’s five times that size.”
“Not all men are like that,” Glenna murmured. “Not even all men what’ve been ter Camford. Brother Galahad ain’t like that.”
“Aye, that’s true — and Father Hugh isn’t, either,” Rhoslyn added. “And unlike Brother Galahad, he is a doctor.”
Kata bit her lip. She was losing the two of them. Best to be blunt, then. “All right, lasses, let me be simple about this: the problem with Camford-folks, especially the men doctors, is that they learn from books, not from life. Now, I suppose books might be good fer when ye’re jest startin’ out — jest like now, when Rhoslyn, ye’re practicin’ on Glenna, who ain’t havin’ a baby, so’s ye can get better fer when ye’re on the catchin’ end of a woman who is havin’ a baby. But sooner or later ye’ve got ter be on the catchin’ end, an’, well … let me ask ye, Rhoslyn–no, let me ask ye, Glenna, how many women ye think want a monk pokin’ around yer private bits when a baby starts comin’ out o’ ’em?”
Glenna chuckled. “I’d say none.”
“That’s it exactly, an’ that’s why monks don’t often know — well — their arse from their elbow when it comes ter birthin’. But ye know what, Rhoslyn?”
“That don’t stop ’em from writin’ books like they do know their arse from their elbow.”
Rhoslyn’s jaw dropped as she spun to face Kata. “Seriously?”
“Serious as serious, lass,” replied Kata. “Now — as fascinatin’ as this conversation is bein’, I think we ought ter be tryin’ ter finish it before Glenna decides she can’t take the tension no more an’ says she ain’t gonna be our tester.”
“Guess this is the moment of truth,” Rhoslyn chuckled.
“Oh boy,” Glenna murmured.
“Now, Glenna, I want ye ter relax — lean back,” said Kata. “Put yer legs as far apart as they’ll go. That’ll make ye relax in yer privy parts even if yer mind don’t want ye ter be relaxin’ at all. Rhoslyn, have a seat on the bed an’ get down there.”
Rhoslyn did so. “I think I’m going to have to be tossing this dress up. Do you mind, Glenna?”
“Ye gotta do what ye gotta do,” replied Glenna.
But Kata was pleased. Not fifteen minutes ago Rhoslyn was asking what the point was of letting Glenna change in private, and now here she was, asking permission to move her shift. There was hope for the girl yet.
So Rhoslyn tossed the skirt up, almost to Glenna’s chest, and she peered at what was revealed. Kata began to talk her through what she was seeing, what was normal, and what wasn’t.
Though … she didn’t tell her everything. There were some things that Rhoslyn wasn’t ready for yet. Things like what a woman’s privy parts would look like if they were badly diseased — there would be plenty of time for that later. And mentioning that it was often difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference between a virgin and a non-virgin by a simple visual examination, that could wait too. No use giving the girl ideas, or letting the ideas spread to all the girls through Rhoslyn.
Lastly, Kata had no intention of telling Rhoslyn what the parts would look like after trauma … like rape.
There would never be a good time for that, for all that it would have to be done if Rhoslyn was to do her job properly. But there was such a thing as a bad time, and when Glenna was sitting there, with Rhoslyn prodding about her private parts? That was the definition of a bad time.
When Rhoslyn finished her initial examination, Kata said, “Good job, lass. Glenna, ye still all right?”
“All right. This is the part ye really ain’t gonna like, but I’ll try ter make sure Rhoslyn does it quick. Rhoslyn, I want ye to move yer finger up an’ …”
Kata talked Rhoslyn through the rest of the examination, which went farther than any birth examination would probably go. The reason for that, of course, was that if a woman was giving birth, there would be a baby in between Rhoslyn and what Kata wanted her to feel. But there was more to midwifery than just the delivery of a babe. There was assisting in the making of them, too, and if Rhoslyn didn’t have a sense for how a woman managed to get to that point, she wouldn’t be much good as a midwife.
Through it all Kata made sure not to look at Glenna’s face. She’d examined women like Glenna before herself, and if you looked at their faces — well, the expression was likely to make you try to hurry through, and if you hurried too fast, you were likely to make mistakes. The woman never liked that.
Finally Rhoslyn was done, and Kata shooed her away. Glenna fixed her shift and stayed on the bed for a minute, staring at the ceiling, her knees held tight together.
Then she stood, slowly, and finally spoke. “Kata?”
“D’ye mind … if we don’t do that again, fer a long, long time?”
Kata laughed. Rhoslyn and Glenna stared at her. “Sure thing, Glenna. Trust me — no woman, after goin’ through that, wants ter go through it again anytime soon.”
“Oh–oh?” asked Glenna. She glanced sidelong at Rhoslyn. “That’s true fer … all women?”
“Trust me. I’ve had Rhoslyn practice on me — it ain’t no fun. An’ it ain’t no fun when it’s an experienced hand doin’ it, either.”
“Oh!” Glenna looked relieved. Kata didn’t blame her.
“Now,” she said, shooing Rhoslyn out before her. “We’ll go put the kettle on — ’cause a woman willin’ ter let an apprentice stick her hand up her privates deserves at least a good cuppa — an’ when ye get dressed, we can have a chat an’ a nice tea an’ we won’t talk or think about this no more.”
“Sounds like a good idea!” was the last thing Kata heard Glenna say as she shut the door behind her.
The kettle was already on and Rhoslyn and Kata were seated at the table when Glenna came down. “So!” said Glenna, not waiting for either of them to speak. “Ye’ve got ter tell us about yer daughter’s baby, Kata!”
“Well, that’s one way to change the subject,” snickered Rhoslyn. Kata nudged her and rolled her eyes.
“Aye, aye, well, I did promise.” Kata gestured to the table and Glenna eagerly took a seat. “So–what’s it ye’re wantin’ ter know?”
“We can start with the little girl’s name, fer one,” Glenna started. “Ye never mentioned it, Kata!”
Rhoslyn and Kata exchanged glances. Glenna’s nose wrinkled. “Er … did I say somethin’ wrong?”
“Well, not wrong so much as –” Kata started.
“The baby doesn’t have a name yet!” Rhoslyn blurted out.
“What?” asked Glenna.
“And can you believe it?” Rhoslyn went on. “Ella and Lukas had nine months to try to find a name! And now the baby is two days old already! Can’t they make up their minds?”
“Well, ye know Ella,” Kata chuckled. “She shan’t be givin’ up a chance ter tease Lukas while she’s got it.”
“She’s teasin’ him over the baby’s name?” Glenna asked, one eyebrow going up.
“She keeps sayin’ she wants to name the baby Jeremina!” laughed Rhoslyn. “Can you believe that? Jeremina!”
“That could be a pretty name,” Glenna demurred. “Especially if ye cut it down ter Mina fer short.”
“Maybe, but Glenna — would you ever name your daughter after your father?”
Glenna’s jaw fell. “Er … I’m not sure how I’d manage that …” Her brow wrinkled. “Alastasia?”
“Well, I’m lucky, if my last name’s anything to go by, my father’s name was John — so I’ve got Joan or Joanna. Still! Jeremina!”
“Well, it ain’t no stranger than what Lukas has been suggestin’,” Kata pointed out.
“And what’s that?” asked Glenna.
Kata couldn’t help it; she puffed up with pride. “Katliss,” she answered. “Kat, ye see, fer me — an’ Liss, fer Betsy. ‘Cause o’ Betsy bein’ short fer Elizabeth, ye see. Though I don’t know if they called Betsy Elizabeth even at the font when she was named. Still, the fact remains –”
Someone knocked at the door. “Come in!” Kata called. “Door’s open!”
In stumbled Davy Pelles — pale and drawn and wet, and out of breath besides, as if he had run all the way there. “Widow Thatcher–”
Kata knew she ought to say something encouraging, but you had to breathe to speak, and breathing was something Kata couldn’t do.
“Widow–Widow Thatcher,” Davy went on, “Mama–Ella’s got a fever, an’ Mama sent her to bed already, but she says that Ella’s got a fever an’–an’ ye gotta come quick, she said to run fer ye quick ’cause Ella’s got a fever–”
Did Davy really keep repeating that Ella had a fever? Or was that the litany that kept sounding in Kata’s mind?
Ella’s got a fever …
Ella’s got a fever …
Childbed fever …
Kata didn’t realize until later that the groan she heard came from her.
“Kata! Kata!” That was Rhoslyn, shaking her. “Come on! We’ve got to go!”
There were any number of things that Kata might have said. She could have said that her own mother died of childbed fever, and she had been unable to save her. She could have said that there wasn’t any use in hurrying. There wasn’t any woman she’d known who had survived childbed fever–
She didn’t say any of those things. “But–but the kettle–an’ Billy, he ain’t home yet–”
“Fer Wright’s sake!” That was Glenna, exploding out of her chair with the force of a volcano. “What are ye talkin’ about, Kata? I’ll take care o’ the kettle! An’ I’ll stay here until Billy comes back, or send one o’ the kids! Ye gotta go!”
That woke Kata up. She dashed to the door, not even bothering to grab her cloak, and grabbed her midwifery bag. Then she ran out into the rain, Rhoslyn and poor little Davy at her heels.
Praying that this, this would finally be the time she would be able to make a difference.