Tyves 6, 1015
Tuesdays were the days he went fishing with Wulf. Even with everything that had happened in the past few days, Edmond had determined that he would keep his implicit promise to Wulf. If there was anything he had learned in nearly fifty-eight years of living, it was that life went on, whether you wanted it to or not. It was better to go with the inevitable ebb and flow than to try to swim against the current.
And more than that … it felt good to have a bit of normalcy breathed back into his life.
Unfortunately, what Edmond had forgotten was that no change came without leaving a new normal in its wake. “Goodman Chevaux?” asked Wulf.
“Aye, son?” He could get away with that. He’d been calling Wulf “son” or “sonny” for two years now. He called Basil and Felix’s friends “son” and “sonny,” too. Nobody would suspect a thing.
“Can I axe ye somethin’?”
Edmond chuckled. “Wulf, what did I tell ye old folks were for?”
Wulf screwed up his face in concentration as he tried to remember. “Ye … ye said …”
Edmond nodded encouragement.
“Ye said the reason why the Lord lets some folks live ter get old is so they can answer questions fer the young folks.”
“Exactly,” Edmond replied. “So, what d’ye want ter know?”
Wulf didn’t answer at first. He was too busy threading a new worm onto his hook, then making sure his hook was tied tightly to his fishing line. Edmond had taught that boy well.
“Well … d’ye know Davy an’ Bert Pelles?”
Edmond didn’t let his eyes go wide. He didn’t gasp or swallow. He just told the truth, because that was the least you could do for children. “Aye, I do.”
Wulf’s eyes went wide. “Wow!”
“Ye really do know everybody!”
Edmond laughed. “Oh, not quite. I don’t know a lot more folks than I do know.” He hesitated. “But … well, when it comes to folks o’ our sort … the regular folks, the commoners — I do know a lot o’ people. So, aye, I know Davy an’ Bert. What is it ye’re axin’ about them?”
“… Are they gonna be happy again soon?” Wulf asked. He was biting his lip. “They … they’ve been real sad this past week … Davy especially …”
Oh, Lord. Edmond wondered why Wulf was asking him this, and not his mother. Maybe it was proximity. Or maybe it was because Erin–but that didn’t make sense. If Erin still had any contact with her old friends from the brothel, she would have talked to Marigold Thatcher, and Marigold would tell her about her own sister’s death.
“Well … d’ye know why they’re sad?”
“Torben said it’s ’cause their sister who ain’t a real sister died when she had her little baby.” He glanced anxiously at Edmond.
Torben … Edmond wondered. Was that one of the Jager boys? Edmond didn’t know them well, but he’d met Roy Jager once or twice, and he’d seen the whole family at the funeral, paying their respects. The older daughter — Anja? Anna? — had once or twice looked about to cry, but in the end she had stayed composed. If the Jagers’ escape from Glasonland had been anywhere near as harrowing as the Ruskins’, Edmond could well imagine where she got the composure from.
That wasn’t answering Wulf’s question. “Aye, that’s true, Wulf. An’ — an’ the word ye’re lookin’ fer is ‘sister-in-law.'”
“Aye, that’s it!” For a brief moment Wulf smiled. Then it was replaced by a furrowed frown. “Why is it called that?”
Not for the first time, Edmond thanked the Lord for the short attention span of children. If it was to be old folks’ responsibility to show them the way to adulthood and answer thorny questions they were too young to understand, it helped that sometimes the young ones forgot the worst of those questions.
“Well, it’s ’cause … well, like ye yerself know, Ella Pelles weren’t Davy an’ Bert’s blood sister. But because she were married to their big brother Lukas, she’s like a sister ter them — just not all the way.”
“Then why’s it called a sister-in-law, not a sister-in-like?”
Edmond chuckled and trusted his beard to hide his smile. “There are a couple o’ reasons, Wulf. But the first is that–well–accordin’ ter the law, the Church’s law, yer brother’s wife — or yer wife’s sister — is the same ter ye as she would be if she were yer blood kin. Yer sister, in other words.”
“Huh?” asked Wulf. “But if they were blood kin, they couldn’t get married!”
“Well, that’s kind o’ the point o’ it. If a woman is yer wife’s sister, an’ yer wife dies, ye ain’t allowed ter get married ter her. An’ if yer brother dies, ye ain’t allowed ter marry his widow.”
Wulf’s nose wrinkled. “Goodman Edmond?”
“That sounds weird. Why would ye be wantin’ ter marry yer brother’s wife or yer own wife’s sister?”
And that was the sixty-four thousand copper question. Still, it deserved an honest answer. “Well, there are some times …”
“Well … sometimes, maybe, in a small village, there might be no one else ter marry.”
“Oh,” Wulf replied.
“An’ then there’re the nobles,” Edmond continued. “Ye see … nobles, an’ high folk, they don’t get married like we do. Oh, the words is the same, an’–well, if ye axe me, I’m sure nobles, once they get married, have a lot o’ the same types o’ good times an’ bad ones that regular folk do, because bein’ married is bein’ married,” Edmond was quick to add, “but nobles … well, sometimes, two sets o’ parents, one with a little boy an’ one with a little girl, will set up a marriage when one or both o’ the kids is still in the cradle.”
“Money,” Edmond replied. “Ye know that even a girl o’ our sort will get a dowry when she gets married, aye?”
“Aye,” Wulf replied. “Mama says it’s so the family can help their girl get set up in her new house an’ have everythin’ they need.”
“That’s so,” Edmond agreed. “Well, nobles do the same thing. Only, ’cause nobles have so much more than we do, the dowry fer a noble girl is often really big. So that’s one reason a noble family might want ter get everythin’ set real early.”
“Uh … huh.” Wulf still sounded skeptical. Edmond didn’t blame him. There were some things that were hard enough to understand when you were fifty-eight, never mind when you were only eight.
“An’ nobles …. well, they set a lot o’ store by marriages, an’ they stand tergether in their marriage through thick an’ thin, an’ they’re always on the side o’ the folks that their family members have married inter,” Edmond went on. “So, parents might want ter get stuff set up even sooner, so they can start havin’ each other’s backs while their kids are still in the schoolroom — or, if they manage ter be really good friends an’ allies, they might want ter get the marriage set so that they can be sure the — the alliance, they call it, is set always an’ ferever.”
“All … right,” murmured Wulf. “But what’s this got ter do with wantin’ ter marry yer wife’s sister or yer brother’s old wife?”
“Ah. That. Well, ye see, if — if Lord John an’ Lady Jane got married, let’s say, an’ Lady Jane died, well, her parents or Lord John’s parents might want Lord John ter marry Lady Jane’s sister Lady Mary. So’s they can keep the alliance.”
“Oh,” Wulf murmured. “Why would the Church say no?”
“Hmm. Have ye ever heard o’ a family tree, lad?” asked Edmond.
“Aye! We learned about it in school! It’s a big picture showin’ everybody ye’re related ter an’ how ye got ter be that way!” Wulf answered. Then he frowned. “But only nobles have ’em. ‘Cause they’re the only ones what put in writing who all their relatives are.”
“Right, right,” Edmond replied. “Have ye ever seen a drawin’ o’ one?”
“Aye! We saw one o’ St. Robert’s family tree!”
“Excellent,” replied Edmond. “Remember how tangled up an’ twisted that was?”
Wulf giggled. “Aye. It were a little bit.”
“Good. Now … think how much more tangled an’ twisted it were be, if folks were allowed ter marry their brother’s old wives an’ their wives’ sisters.”
Wulf was quiet for a long moment. “Oh boy,” he murmured.
“Aye,” Edmond replied.
“But–but Davy an’ Bert c–hey!”
“Hey?” asked Edmond.
“I think–I think I’m gettin’ a bite!”
“Oh, good, Wulfie! Pull it in like I taught ye!”
Wulf did as Edmond said. Not for the first time, Edmond wondered if he ought to suggest that Erin have a talk with Grady Brogan when Wulf got old enough for folks to start thinking along those lines. Maybe it was playing with fire, putting Wulf and his blood aunt Toinette so close together, but if the boy had a talent —
“Hey, Goodman Chevaux, look here! It’s a–it’s a rainbow trout!”
Eight years old and already pulling up rainbow trouts, a wily fish that sometimes evaded even the canniest of anglers. Truly, the boy had a gift.
“D’ye reckon it’s a keeper, Goodman Chevaux?” asked Wulf as he held his prize up to the light.
By the length of it, it certainly was, especially when one considered that it only had to feed Wulf and his mother. But there was more to the calculation than that. “Depends, Wulf. D’ye think yer mama wants ter cook fish ternight?”
Wulf frowned. “Mama’s gettin’ mighty sick o’ fish on Tuesdays.” He looked up. “D’ye think yer family might want it, Goodman Chevaux?”
“Unfortunately, it’s too small ter be feedin’ all o’ us,” Edmond pointed out. “An’ by the time I get it all back ter Meg, it might be too later fer her ter be cookin’ it up.”
“Right,” Wulf replied. He sighed.
Then he brightened and held his prize up again. “Still–it’s a mighty fine fish, ain’t it?”
“That it is, Wulf.”
Wulf grinned at the flapping and struggling fish — then, with expert care, unhooked it and tossed it back into the stream. “Bye, fishie! Get a little bigger next time, an’ then come back an’ see me!”
Edmond chuckled. Though he had to admit, if Wulf managed to catch himself a jumbo rainbow trout, he’d be advocating for Wulf to keep him, no matter how sick of fish on Tuesdays Erin became.
“Or better yet,” Wulf called, “turn inter a golden trout, an’ lemme catch ye then!”
“Oh boy, lad,” Edmond laughed. “That will be the day.”
“It’ll be a great day!” Wulf agreed. “But … but Goodman Chevaux, ye never answered me first question.”
“Yer first …”
Edmond stopped. Slowly, he put his fishing rod and reel to the side.
“Wulf,” he said, “I think … I think we’d best be havin’ a seat before we have this talk.”
“Uh oh,” murmured Wulf. “Did I do somethin’ wrong?”
“Not at all, not at all. But … well …” Edmond looked at the stream, flowing sure and strong between its banks. “The truth is … there are some things ye can talk about while ye’re fishin’, an’ some things what won’t … won’t be so good ter talk about. Because they’re serious an’ grave, an’ ye want fishin’ ter be more fun than that.”
“But ye say that fishin’ helps ye ter think.”
“So it does, so it does. But all the same — ye don’t want ter be thinkin’ about sad things, or unpleasant things, when ye’re fishin’, otherwise ye might not want ter fish no more.”
That logic seemed to work on Wulf. He slowly put his rod aside and walked with Edmond to one of the tables someone — the caretaker of the square? — had put out by the stream.
Edmond folded his hands on the table. Wulf did the same. For a moment that gave Edmond pause. Was that … was that …
But no, it couldn’t have been something he inherited. Pierre didn’t do that. Wulf must have learned it by watching him, the way children learned so many things. And if anybody knew about his and Wulf’s Tuesday fishing days, they wouldn’t think anything of Wulf copying some of his mannerisms.
Still, the lad had asked a question, and it deserved answered. Edmond took a deep breath. “Wulf … ye’re a lucky lad in some ways, ye know that?”
“I know! Mama says we’ve got a roof over our heads, an’ we’ve always got food in our tummies, an’ we got a big fireplace ter keep us warm in the winter — an’ we got each other, an’ that makes us luckier than lucky.”
Edmond smiled. “Aye. That’s a true thing yer mama says. But … more than that … ye ain’t ever lost someone real close ter ye. Someone ye loved a lot. Ain’t that so?”
Wulf frowned, and for a moment, Edmond’s heart skipped a beat. It couldn’t be — the boy didn’t remember, did he? Remember being ripped from his mother’s arms while he and she both screamed? If that didn’t leave some kind of scar …
But Wulf nodded, and Edmond could breathe again. “Aye. That’s so.”
Edmond managed a small smile before moving on. “Right. If … if ye had — an’ I hope ye don’t, not fer a long time — but if ye had, ye’d know that …” Edmond waved his hand vaguely. “It … changes ye. It makes ye feel like there’s a big ol’ hole in yer heart, an’ that maybe nothin’ will ever fill it again.”
“Oh,” Wulf murmured.
“An’ that kind o’ feelin’ … it’s hard ter bounce back from. Especially …” Edmond hesitated. He couldn’t say he had known Ella Pelles well. But he’d watched Davy growing up from when he was a babe in his mother’s arms, and ever since Lukas and Ella started walking out together, he’d seen how Davy had watched Ella with huge eyes, and listened to every word she said, and followed her sometimes like a little puppy. Ella hadn’t chased him away, either, but she had thought he was the cutest, funniest little thing. That kind of relationship — it changed a little boy. Losing it so suddenly, that changed a little boy too.
The boys hadn’t even been in the house when Ella died. Betsy had thought it best to send them to school, give them a few hours of distraction. And maybe it was for the best. He and Betsy had both been with Basil and Felix when Michel died in the next room, and, well … Edmond couldn’t blame Betsy for wanting to spare her boys that.
“Especially,” Edmond finished, “when ye love someone a whole lot.”
“So — so ye’re sayin’ that Davy an’ Bert … they saw Goodwife Pelles more like a real sister than a sister-in-law?”
“That’d be me guess,” Edmond nodded.
“Oh.” Wulf looked at the table. “They’re gonna miss her a lot.”
“Aye. They will.”
“Can–is there anythin’ I can be doin’ ter make ’em less sad?”
Edmond wished the boy’s mother had been here to hear him say that. It would make any mother’s heart swell and burst with pride, and Edmond expected that Erin would be no exception. “Well … hmm. That’s a hard question ye’re axin’ me, sonny. Because on the one hand — well … there really ain’t much ye can be doin’. What they might want right now is ter be havin’ Ella back, an’, well …”
“Only the Lord can be doin’ that,” Wulf whispered.
“Aye, sonny. That’s the truth.”
Wulf looked at the table again. “It’s too bad that He won’t.”
“Aye. It is.” Edmond knew he ought to have reminded Wulf that the Lord had a plan, that there was a reason for why Ella Pelles had to leave them so young and so sadly. He ought to have bucked up the boy’s faith and told him that everything had to be for the best, because the Lord wouldn’t have it any other way.
But that was reasoning that plenty of adults had a hard time swallowing. When he had lost Cerise, he’d had plenty of harsh words for the Lord. It didn’t matter that he and Cerise had lived longer together as a couple than many got to live at all. He hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to Cerise — that last good-night kiss didn’t count as a goodbye — and that, he thought, was reason a-plenty to doubt the Lord’s plan.
He wouldn’t tell a child that. Not when sometimes he couldn’t believe it himself.
“But all that bein’ said … ye can still be a good friend ter Davy an’ ter Bert. Ye can always be axin’ them ter join in with ye an’ the other boys, even when they’re seemin’ like they don’t want ter be doin’ that. An’ they might not, at first. But someday — hopefully someday soon! — they will. An’ it won’t be nice, fer them, feelin’ ready ter be havin’ fun again, an’ findin’ that nobody is willin’ ter let them join in the games.”
“But that’d be mean!”
“Sure an’ certain it would,” replied Edmond. “That don’t change the fact that it happens sometimes.”
“I see.” Wulf kicked his feet back and forth. “I see. But I don’t have ter be that.”
“No, lad, ye don’t. Ye never have ter be one o’ the mean ones. Ye can always be one o’ the kind ones, an’–an’ though it won’t always be easy — it’ll be worth it in the end, I promise ye.”
Wulf looked at him and smiled.
Edmond smiled back. He tousled the lad’s hair. Then he cast a sidelong glance at the sun’s progress.
Oh, damn. “Well, I hate ter be cuttin’ this lovely talk short — but I’m afraid I have ter be goin’, lad. Me family’s expectin’ me home fer dinner.”
“Awww!” Wulf sighed. “Why don’t ye ever have dinner with us?”
Oh, if only he knew the reasons.
“Maybe someday I will,” was all Edmond would reply. “But until then …” He rose and held his arms open. Wulf ran into them.
“Ye take good care o’ yerself, Wulfie. An’ ye take good care o’ yer friends. ‘Cause they’re gonna be needin’ all the good friends they can get.”
An’ I know ye’ll be one o’ them, Wulf. I don’t know where ye got it from — but ye’ve got a heart o’ gold inside o’ ye, an’ all yer ma has ter do is make sure it don’t tarnish before ye get ter be a man, an’ ye’ll be set fer life.