Thou Hast But Taken Thy Lamp and Gone to Bed

Tyves 2, 1015

Everything that could be done, had been done.

Ella had drunk nothing but yarrow tea since the moment her mother arrived. When the Pelleses had run out of yarrow, Rhoslyn had been sent to Ash Thatcher’s tree house to beg some off him. And when Ella began to sweat more drinking Ash’s tea, Kata had kicked herself and swore up and down that she should have gotten Ash’s from the first. Ash’s was the best.

But it hadn’t helped.

Nor had wrapping Ella in sheets soaked in cold water. Nor had putting cold, wet stockings on her. Nothing helped. Every time they thought they were seeing a break in the fever, it had come roaring back with a vengeance. When Ella had started to grow delirious, then Rhoslyn thought she saw Kata start to lose hope.

Or was it really hope she was losing? If Rhoslyn was any judge of her mistress’s face, then hope wasn’t something Kata had had much of when they walked into this. But there had been a determination there, stronger than steel, harder than stone. Rhoslyn had been the one to first see it crack.

Now it was gone. All of it. After five days of working around the clock to try to save Ella, there was nothing to do but sit, nothing to see but a prone, fever-wracked figure on a bed, nothing to hear but Ella’s every rasping breath.

They could only wait.

Rhoslyn wasn’t even sure how to do that. She’d never sat in at a death before. The nunnery had been rather short on them. She was the only one, though. Martin Pelles may have died cold and alone and far from home, but his parents had died snug in their beds. Roma had watched her own daughter breathe her last. And Kata?

Rhoslyn knew that Kata didn’t like to talk about it, but this wasn’t the first death from childbed fever that she had witnessed. Rhoslyn had even heard Roma praying that her sister wouldn’t die as her grandmother had, for all that Roma had never met that grandmother.

Rhoslyn tried not to shudder. She couldn’t imagine. Kata was the cleverest, most knowledgeable woman she knew. Even Mother Julian with all her book learning couldn’t hold a candle to Kata. But now — Kata was powerless. She knew more about childbirth and healing from it than any other woman in the kingdom, and she couldn’t save her own daughter.

That just wasn’t fair.

She couldn’t look long at Kata. She glanced hurriedly at Betsy Pelles and Lukas.

Lukas didn’t seem to know what to do with himself. He kept twisting his hands to and fro, especially his wedding ring, staring from those hands to the bed and then staring back at anything that would hold his gaze. Sometimes he paced back and forth; sometimes he stood in one place and rocked from side to side. He couldn’t sit down. When he tried, he popped back up again and started to pace. The longest he had remained in one place was when he sat on the end of the bed and held Ella’s hand.

Even that he couldn’t take for long. Not when Ella couldn’t hold his hand back. She’d slipped into a deep sleep already by that point. Rhoslyn supposed that was for the best. Dying so young — especially when you were like Ella, always laughing and full of life — was bad enough without having to be awake through it all.

And somehow — some way — being here, watching it … it felt wrong. It was bad enough that Ella had to go out this way. She didn’t deserve to have someone that was nearly a stranger, for all that Ella had been friendly from the first, watching the whole thing. Rhoslyn swallowed.

“Kata?” she asked.

It was the first word that had been spoken in a long time. It shattered the silence like a stone cast through a glass window.

Kata looked up.

“I’m — I’m going to check on Billy and the kids, all right?” she asked.

Kata blinked, then she nodded.

Rhoslyn nodded to everyone else in the room — even once at Ella — then, grateful, she slipped into the hallway.

The cool air rushed into her lungs, and Rhoslyn hurried to shut the door behind her. She leaned against it a moment, eyes closed, just breathing. Ella’s fever must have grown so high that it leeched from her body to fill the whole room. Rhoslyn couldn’t imagine any other reason why the outside would be so, so much cooler.

When she got her breath back, when she felt the last bit of fever rush out of her cheeks, when her hands finally stopped trembling, Rhoslyn started down the twisting stairs to the main floor of the cottage.

And if death ruled upstairs, downstairs was a different story.

“Where’s Marty? I can’t see Marty!”

You’d almost think nothing was wrong. And for two-thirds of the room’s occupants — well, half, if one counted Rhoslyn has being in the room — nothing was wrong.

Marty wouldn’t understand what had happened to his mother for a long, long time.

Rhoslyn slowly lowered herself down to sit on one of the stairs, her feet twisting to rest two steps down. She didn’t want to go all the way down, not just yet. She had said she would check on Billy and the kids, and she would. Just … not yet.

She wasn’t ready to step back into living. She didn’t want to acknowledge that as soon as you stepped over the threshold, there was the big world out there. People out there were laughing, fighting, drinking, eating, working, playing — going about their business like everything was normal. Somewhere a mother was nursing her newborn baby, counting her ten fingers and ten perfect toes, thanking the Lord and the stars and whoever would listen that both of them were alive and well after their harrowing ordeal. Somewhere a young couple was making love. Somewhere children were playing and laughing like they hadn’t a care in the world.

“Unca Billy! I’m here!”

Somewhere was right here.

Rhoslyn hurried down the rest of the stairs and went to finish her obligation. The baby would be sleeping in a little crib by the sofa.

She still didn’t have a name.

She was a cute little mite, though. Her face was ruddy still; Rhoslyn wondered if it would always be so. The brows she had were brown, darker than her brother’s, and her eyes, when she opened them, were Ella’s blue.

Rhoslyn had no talent for reading the features of a newborn baby. She had wondered aloud once to Kata if that was something that one grew better at; Kata had only laughed. “Eh, lass, there’s a reason why that is: think about where that newborn has jest come out of! That little face is all smushed ter heck an’ back; it’s no wonder ye can’t trace out a resemblance!”

When Rhoslyn had pointed out that mothers, aunts and grandmothers of newborns tended to have no problem finding resemblances, Kata had shrugged and said that Sims were capable of any amount of self-delusion. And when Rhoslyn had further pointed out that Kata had done that with her own grandchildren, Kata had raised one eyebrow at her and pointed out that she, too, was a Sim.

“Though,” she’d added, “ye’ll notice I’m careful about that. When I say, ‘Aw, the baby has so-an’-so’s eyes,’ I’m talkin’ about the color, which anybody can be seein’.”

This baby had Ella’s coloring all over her.

Maybe they ought to name her Ella.

But even as the thought surfaced, Rhoslyn recoiled from it. Being named for your dead mother — who died as a result of you being born — was hardly a good way to kick off a life. And just because Rhoslyn knew it was done didn’t make it any better. Being named for a dead relative — even a recently dead relative, like little Marty had been — was one thing. At least nobody could conceivably claim that little Marty had anything to do with big Martin’s death. This little girl …

Sorry you had to be born into all this, kiddo, thought Rhoslyn, reaching down to stroke the baby’s cheek. The baby’s lips moved like she was trying to suckle. Rhoslyn wondered if she ought to get Roma, who had been nursing the baby when Ella no longer could. But no — that was a natural response for babies, she remembered.

“It’ll get better,” Rhoslyn murmured to the baby. “It got better for me — and I got dumped at a nunnery door when I was only a day old. You’ve at least got two grandmothers and a dad who will take good care of you. So don’t worry. You’ll be –”

“Is there somethin’ ye’re needin’?”

Rhoslyn looked up. Billy was still playing with Marty. But he had to have been the one who spoke. Other than her and Marty and the baby, there was nobody else to speak.

Besides, it had been Billy’s voice.

Rhoslyn wandered over to where he and Marty were sitting. “D’you want me to be fixing you something?” asked Rhoslyn. “When’s the last time you ate?”

Billy shrugged, which was probably the way he got away with not admitting that he didn’t know when he had last eaten. “I’m not hungry.”

“Marty, tell your uncle to quit lying. The only time Billy’s not hungry is when he’s finally passed out after eating too much.”

Marty looked between the two of them and started to laugh. He looked a lot like his mother when he did that. Rhoslyn hoped that Lukas would notice it, and she hoped, too, that it would make him happy when he did.

“I’m not hungry,” Billy muttered again. “And even if I was, ye can’t cook fer sh–” He looked sidelong at Marty, who blinked wide innocent eyes up at him. “Sugar.”

Rhoslyn snickered. “You should have just said it. It’s never a bad thing for little kids to learn new words.”

“Ye say that. Ye wouldn’t have ter deal with yer ma whackin’ ye with her thimble, or yer sister–” Billy stopped.

Rhoslyn swallowed. “I think Ella would–would have laughed. Or blamed Lukas before she blamed you.”

“Shut up,” Billy said to his boots.

There seemed to be little she could do but comply.

But not for very long. The silence was too heavy and oppressing. Ella’s fever must have been creeping down the stairs. “Well, even if I’m a rotten cook, I can still–”

“I still ain’t hungry.”

“You should eat anyway,” Rhoslyn replied. “You don’t want to–”

Billy jumped up in a single, fluid motion that would probably serve him well if he ever came up against real thieves and not just rogue bucketeers. “What are ye, me ma? I said I weren’t hungry!”

Marty jumped, then, without warning, he scampered off to play with some of his other toys.

Rhoslyn, meanwhile, raised an eyebrow at Billy. “And I heard you. I’m just saying you should eat something. Because–”

“Because why? So’s I can throw it up an’ give everybody else somethin’ else ter worry about? No, thank’ee!”

Rhoslyn narrowed her eyes. Was that a sign? A sign that Ella’s fever was catching? Billy had been in the room with her, had touched her hand and her face, had even kissed her before he came down to watch the little ones. Had he …

But he didn’t look sick, or flushed, or feverish. Just pissed.

“If the choices are you throwing up or you fainting from lack of food, I’d much prefer you took throwing up,” Rhoslyn replied. “I can clean up after you if you puke. If you faint, I’m going to have to get your ma, and that’s the last thing she needs right now — isn’t it?”

“Wright damn it,” Billy muttered. “Can’t ye jest leave me alone? I don’t … I don’t want ter …”

“Want to what?” asked Rhoslyn.

“Eat,” Billy finally muttered. “An’ I don’t want ter talk. An’ I don’t want ter think. Wright–this was bad enough when Marie …” Billy swallowed and looked to the side. “At least — at least I had someone ter be angry with then.”

Huh? thought Rhoslyn. How could you possibly be mad at anybody when an infant died? Well, except the Lord Wright, but you weren’t supposed to be angry with Him anyway, even if it was all His fault. It was all part of the divine plan or something.

But if Billy didn’t have anybody to be mad at … Rhoslyn glanced over her shoulder, to where the baby still slept. Then that meant that at least he wasn’t mad at–

“D’ye really think I’m that mean-hearted?” asked Billy.

Rhoslyn looked up. “What?”

“The baby? Ye think that’s who I’m gonna be mad at? I saw where ye were lookin’!”

He could read her thoughts in a glance? Rhoslyn pitied the first thief or ne’er-do-well he interrogated. They wouldn’t know what hit them. “You wouldn’t be the first. Or last.”

“Fu–flippin’ moron?”

Rhoslyn snorted. “You definitely won’t be the first or last of those.”

Billy stared at her. Then he started to chuckle.

Rhoslyn grinned.

When Billy saw her grin, the chuckles died away. “That … that ain’t right,” he murmured. “Laughin’. It ain’t.”

Rhoslyn’s jaw dropped. “Really?”

“Ye think it is? What’s wrong with ye?”

“Oh, I just met your sister, is all. If there is anybody who isn’t going to mind a little bit of laughing –”

“That’s ’cause Ella’s always been … well … flighty …”

“Goodness gracious, will you listen to yourself? You sound like you’re about sixty! Look, Ella is the last person who would be mad at you for getting a bit of laughter in, all right? And I say her opinion counts most around these parts. Anybody else who minds can go ha–” Rhoslyn looked nervously at Marty and the baby. “Stuff themselves.”

“That ain’t fair ter ’em, Rhoslyn.”

“Well, they can’t hear anyway, so who cares?” Rhoslyn challenged.

Billy sighed, shrugged, and looked away.

And Rhoslyn could take it no more. “Oh — come here, you big flipping moron.” She was sure not to give him any time to run away before she launched herself and hugged him.

“Rhoslyn — what –”

“You look like you could use a hug.”

“But–”

“Just shut your hole and go with it, will you?”

“Hole!” called Marty.

Rhoslyn and Billy looked at Marty. They looked at each other. Then they looked at Marty again. “Well,” Rhoslyn started, “there’s nothing wrong with the word ‘hole’ … if that’s the worst he’s learned from us today …”

“Still … ye can pair a lot o’ things with ‘hole’ that’ll get a little kid in trouble …”

“No, the little kid won’t get in trouble, we will if we let those words slip. So we’d best be on our best behavior from here on out.”

Billy chuckled.

Rhoslyn smiled. “Feel better?” she asked.

Billy smiled. Billy nodded. Billy lied.

The smile and the nod didn’t reach his eyes.

“Guess not.” Rhoslyn adjusted her hold and leaned closer to Billy.

“What–what are ye –”

“I’m not letting you go until you feel better. Or until my arms start to go numb.” Rhoslyn hugged him a little tighter. “And my arms can go a long, long time without going numb.”

This time Billy didn’t chuckle. He sighed. But he leaned a little closer to her. And for now, Rhoslyn supposed that would have to be enough.

They were still hugging when the stairs started to creak.

They were still hugging when Marty called out, “Papa!”

They were still hugging when Lukas came down.

And so Rhoslyn was made a liar. She didn’t think that Billy felt better, not by a long shot. And he was about to feel a lot worse. But she let go anyway.

There were some things that everyone had to face on his or her own.

Lukas stood and stared at the two of them for a long, long moment. Then, he croaked, “She–she’s gone.”

Just that. No drawn-out speeches. No cries of agony or wild protestations of grief. Just three — well, two really — simple words.

Lukas stood and stared at the two of them.

“They–they gotta clean her up,” Lukas stammered. Rhoslyn wasn’t sure who he was speaking to, or why he was speaking. “The women. Even though–she had a full bath not a week ago, when …”

Lukas looked over his shoulder, at the baby. “When Mina was born …”

Mina? Rhoslyn wondered. So he was calling the baby Jeremina?

Well … it’s better than Ella. No offense, Ella, if you can hear this. Nothing wrong with your name. But … in the circumstances …

Rhoslyn watched as Lukas walked to the cradle and lifted Jeremina from it. He brought the baby to his shoulder and began to whisper into her ear.

Sorry, Ella. Right now, giving the baby your name … it just wouldn’t be right.

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6 thoughts on “Thou Hast But Taken Thy Lamp and Gone to Bed

  1. Can I just hide your random death function? Just like hack your computer and take that option out of Excel? You never do anything good with it anyway. πŸ˜›

    The poor Pelleses and the poor Thatchers. Poor Lukas, poor Kata. I hoped that she wouldn’t have to see this.

    Marty was cute. And Mina will be too. Hopefully she’ll have a lot of Ella’s sparkle, but not so much that it hurts them. Hmmm…

    I wonder what Rosette will think when she hears…

    Yeah, I don’t got a lot. Just *sniff* mostly.

    • *scowls* Okay, if you’re going to keep killing off the nice character like this, then you have to give us at least one bad character (and anybody who isn’t Mordred doesn’t count) who goes out in a nice, excruciating big-fiery-ball-visible-from-space manner to make up for it all. Soon. I mean, like seriously. πŸ˜›

      This was so very sad. Poor Pelleses, and poor Thatchers. And poor, poor Lucas! πŸ˜₯ Like Van said, I really hope he doesn’t blame himself for this. And of course, poor Kata – I hope she doesn’t blame herself, either. Poor everybody!

      • …and I have no idea why that ended up as a reply here. πŸ˜• I wasn’t scowling at you, Andravi, I promise!

        But while I have you on the line, so to speak. πŸ™‚ I heard about this really nasty virus a while back; it encrypts most of the data on your hard drive, and then you have to pay the creators a ransom to get the key to decrypt it (the encryption is extremely sophisticated, so it’s nigh unbreakable otherwise). I suggest we do something similar to Morgaine’s computer, and don’t unlock it until she promises us the next death will be Mordred. πŸ˜›

    • Sorry, Andavri. The random death function is here to stay. Otherwise the only people who wouldn’t die of a ripe old age would be villains a la Mordred and Morgause, and while that might be make for a happier story, it wouldn’t make for a very realistic one.

      But yeah. Poor everybody. 😦

      I don’t know what Mina is going to turn out to be (other than having curly, Depth Charge hair, like her mother). But hopefully she will get some of her mother’s personality, just enough to remind them without, as you said, hurting them.

      And Rosette will probably be sad. She did like Ella, even if the two of them grew apart. Heck, even Mordred won’t be happy to hear about Ella’s death, because as much as he wants Betsy to suffer, he also wants lots of strong peasants to make him rich for another generation.

      As for a certain bad character who you want to see dead, Nix — trust me, it’s coming. I’m going to hide behind Van’s excuse for Ietrin’s continued existence and say that he has EXACTLY as much time as I need him to have, and no more. I already shaved a lot of years off his random death date. πŸ˜‰

      Unfortunately, he won’t be the next one to go. But it’ll be soon all the same. I promise.

      And if you lock up my computer with a nasty virus, how am I going to continue to write to the point where the next death will be Mordred’s, hmmm? πŸ˜‰

      Thanks Nix; thanks Andavri!

  2. In regards to the random death function… could I possibly request that whatever nice, likeable character is slotted to go next, that their death date be switched with Mordred’s? Unless of course he’s actually slotted to go before them, in which case keep them as they are…

    (Okay, seriously, I know you wouldn’t do that; I have my own random death dates, after all, and I try not to interfere unless I have to for plot reasons, which can go the harsh way just as easily as the merciful way. Still, a girl can dream.)

    Poor Ella. 😦 And her poor family too. It was probably difficult for Kata when her daughters started having children, knowing how dangerous childbirth and the days after can be, but I’m sure that even she didn’t expect to outlive either of them. And Lucas! I’d imagine it would be pretty easy for a loving husband to blame himself if his wife dies of anything birth/pregnancy-related. I hope he knows better than be angry with himself. He can just be angry with the Lord Wright for a while… or with Mordred. I know Mordred had nothing to do with this, but he’s the only deserving target Lucas has a connection to (hey, maybe he could justify it as something environmental in the new house that wasn’t present in the old one).

    At least we know that the kids will never lack for love, what with their grandmothers and their aunts and uncles and of course their father. Still, Marty will barely remember his mother, and poor Mina won’t remember her at all. 😦

    Still shipping Billy/Rhoslyn. But a pity that their cuteness was brought about by Ella’s much-to-early death. 😦

    • Like I said to Nix, the next character to go won’t be Mordred, and I can’t switch the death dates at this point without throwing all my plans into confusion. But it will be soon, I promise. As soon as I can make it. πŸ˜‰

      And yeah, it’s hard not interfering with the randomness … there are characters who I wished I could have given more time to (like Ella). But I think this will make for a better story in the end.

      The Pelleses and Thatchers aren’t going to have an easy time of it in the near or not-so-near future, that’s for darn sure. 😦 And there’s a lot of people who can feel guilty about what happened. But … death in childbirth unfortunately happens, and Ella got the best medical care that was available to her at the time. At least this wasn’t like a certain death on Downton Abbey, which I will not be giving details of for fear of spoilers — but you all who know the show know exactly what I mean.

      However, there’s nothing wrong with being angry at the Lord or with Mordred!

      And yeah, it is sad how this works out, with neither of Ella’s kids able to remember her. Still, they have a lot of aunts and uncles and their father and their grandmothers who can help Ella come alive for the kids. She won’t be forgotten, not by a long shot.

      Thanks, Van! πŸ™‚

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