The Ghosts of Childhood

Tyves 11, 1015

Sandra wished she knew why Mother Julian had requested to speak with her.

She hoped it wasn’t about how Coralie and Jason were doing in school. They were good children, they really were. But Coralie, she knew, could be easily bored and once bored, was easily distracted. Jason could stay focused for longer, but he was an active little boy and needed a good deal of running-around time if he was to be able to sit still long enough to learn anything.

But they’re respectful, both of them, Sandra tried to remind herself, and if the worst they do is get bored or antsy every now and then — surely that’s not enough to merit a visit from the chancellor of the school?

If only she knew what this was about!

She passed her husband and two of the guards as she hurried toward the small prison chapel, where Mother Julian had said she would meet her. “Mornin’, Mistress Tower!” said Guardsman Cameron, smartly saluting as he headed toward the doors. He would be just coming off shift now, if Sandra remembered the schedule correctly.

Christopher seemed to startle as he turned around. “Ah — Sandra!” He tried to smile. Guardsman Hood, whom he had been speaking to, saluted Sandra and even clicked his boots together.

Sandra smiled. If there was one thing that had made the move to Albion so much easier, it was the fact that here, Sandra had never been anything other than Master Tower’s wife, and so deserving of nothing other than the highest respect.

But she had more important things to do now than count her blessings, thing like relieve the confusion growing on her husband’s face. “Is there something you need?”

“No, dear. I’m just going to see Mother Julian. Remember?”

“Ah–yes, of course!” Christopher wore the relieved look of a husband who had forgotten something and realized that it wasn’t something important, like his wife’s birthday or their anniversary. “She’s in the chapel. Alone,” he added.

He was always careful to keep her — and especially the children — away from the prisoners as much as possible. “Thank you.” She came close enough to just touch him on the arm. Maybe it was overly cautious, but after some impulsive displays of affection back in Glasonland had earned her nothing but sniggering and crude remarks whispered behind her back, she’d learned not to be too demonstrative in front of the men. At least Christopher didn’t seem to mind.

Christopher gave her a quick one-armed embrace around the shoulders before letting her go. And Sandra hurried the rest of the way to the chapel.

Maybe the chapel was the reason behind her nerves.

Not that there was anything wrong with the prison chapel — quite the opposite, in fact. The whole Tower family attended services here every other week, when Mother Julian led them for the prisoners. They sat down here, with the guards who were on duty, while the prisoners who could be trusted to leave their cells sat above. Someday, Sandra knew, there would be enough prisoners to fill both levels, and then she and Christopher would have to figure out what they wanted to do if they wanted to keep the children and the prisoners apart as much as possible. But that day was not today.

It was a bright chapel, an airy chapel, all things considered, and above all, it was a clean chapel. Sandra supervised the hired maids in here once a week. And sometimes, when it was quiet and she had something in her heart she wanted to bring to the Lord, she came here to pray.

Still. There was a pit of dread at the bottom of her stomach, and she thought she knew its source: she’d been called into the chapel by Mother Superior herself. It didn’t matter that this was a different chapel, or for that matter, a different Mother Superior. There were some things that, when experienced in childhood, were etched into the soul. If you were called into the chapel by Mother Superior, then you had done something very bad indeed. Sandra couldn’t shake that feeling now.

However, she could noticed that the chapel was noticeably short on a Mother Superior. “Mother Julian?” she called.

“Down here!”

Down …

Oh, dear. The crypt.

Sandra hesitated. She couldn’t even rest a hand on the railing, since the builder had gone for the same spiky model he’d chosen elsewhere. She just hoped that Mother Julian didn’t want her to join her down there … Sandra never went down to the crypt if she could help it.

She had nothing against crypts or even the bones and ashes they contained. But she still held something against Lady Morgause, and the other occupants of the crypt weren’t much better. She had told Christopher in no uncertain terms that she did not want to be buried there when her time came, and Christopher had thankfully agreed.

“Do–do you want me to come down?” she called anyway, because that was what you did when Mother Superior wanted you to come to the chapel. You were accommodating.

“No need.” Mother Julian’s voice already sounded somewhat closer. “I’ll be up in a moment.”

And so she would be.

When she reached the top of the stairs, she was wiping dust from her knees. Sandra winced. “I–I’m sorry for the state of things … down there. I’ll make sure to have it cleaned at the first–”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” replied Mother Julian. “It’s a crypt. A little bit of dust and dirt is only to be expected.” She continued to bat at her skirt. “The only trouble is that black will show the dust. But that’s the price one pays when one decides to be a nun.”

“Yes, Mother Julian.”

“Besides, I expect I’m the only Sim who is down there for any amount of time.”

Sandra hesitated. But … well, if there was a sin worse than neglecting to pray for the dead, it had to be lying to a nun. In a chapel to boot. “I think you may be.”

But far from scolding Sandra for neglecting her duty toward the dead, Mother Julian only nodded. “Thought so. Well, praying for the … forgotten dead isn’t a particularly rewarding or pleasant task, but someone has to do it.”

Sandra looked to the crypt. There was no one, she thought, who could push all the hidden buttons of guilt in your soul better than a nun. She’d heard that mothers had that talent, too, but she’d always found the effect stronger with nuns. “I’ll try to remember them in my prayers more often.”

“That would be good of you.”

“… And …” Sandra swallowed, but she was a woman grown now, and she’d learned through the years that she had a talent for administration, for efficiency. “Perhaps, Mother Julian — please don’t take the suggestion amiss — but perhaps, when you hold services here, you might add a prayer for the … forgotten dead to the service?”

Mother Julian blinked. “Well! That would do it, wouldn’t it? A prayer for the forgotten dead, from the …” She didn’t finish. But her eyes went to the gallery.

From the future forgotten dead.

Sandra hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as that. Sometimes the men — they were mostly men — held in the prison received their punishment, were sent on their way, and learned their lesson. They never returned. And hopefully, when they died, it was in the bosom of families and friends, and they were remembered fondly for years to come.

But many of them would find that the punishment for their crimes was death, and they would never leave. There was more truth in what Mother Julian wouldn’t say than, Sandra suspected, either of them wanted to face.

But none of that would get them anywhere. “But–you wanted to see me, Mother Julian? What can I be doing for you?”

“Well, as it so happens …” Mother Julian smiled and extended her hands to Sandra. “I want to have a … chat with you. And then … I have a favor to ask.”

A … favor? Sandra’s brows knit. Well, if Mother Julian was asking a favor …

Then it can’t be that my kids are making trouble in school!

“Oh — certainly,” replied Sandra. “Shall we sit?”

“That would be nice.” Mother Julian began to rub her knee again, for all that Sandra couldn’t see much dust left. “These knees aren’t what they used to be.”

Ah. Yes, of course. Sandra let Mother Julian lead the way to a pew, then she sat down beside her.

As soon as they were seated, it was Sandra’s turn to start obsessively rubbing her knees — smoothing her skirts, really — and making sure her back was perfectly straight, her shoulders held high, her high enough to indicate good posture but not so high that she looked like she was forgetting her humility in the house of the Lord. Yes, there were some habits that one never managed to grow out of.

“So …” Mother Julian put a finger to her lips. “Sandra … you mentioned once that you and your husband met when you worked as a daily maid for the Tower in Ludenwic …”

Sandra blinked. “Er, yes …”

“How–how was it that you came to get that job?”

Well, that was … not what I was expecting … Still, it was a simple enough question to answer. “The nuns — the Coralites of Ludenwic — they found it for me.”

“Ah.” Mother Julian nodded. “Do you know why they chose that?”

“Well …” Sandra bit her lip. There were some things that an orphan girl simply didn’t ask. But you found things out. “I suppose … because the work paid well, for starters. And the Tower was willing to take on scullery girls and maids with little to no experience.”

“It paid well and they were willing to take girls with no experience?”

“It was the Tower,” Sandra shrugged. “Most young women didn’t want to work there. Most men didn’t want to work there. Also — they only accepted daily maids. They wouldn’t give their maids room and board, so they had to pay them more to make up for it.”

“And there was a great call for maids in the Tower? I … well, even here, one can’t help but notice …”

“I know,” replied Sandra. “The prisoners’ quarters aren’t the cleanest. I insist that the cells be cleaned in between prisoners, but sometimes — well, there’s only so much time you have, and sometimes, replacing the straw and maybe mopping the floor is all you can do.”

She took a deep breath. “But in the Tower it was … different. For starters, here we have no important prisoners. At the moment,” she added belatedly, but since there had only been on prisoner Sandra could call important in the time she’d been here, it was easy to forget to qualify the term. “In the Tower … there were always some prisoners who were well-born, or wealthy, or both.”

“Ah,” Mother Julian replied.

“And we had to see — well — they, or their families or friends, were paying to have their comfort seen to. Even when they were awaiting execution. You couldn’t … you couldn’t just leave them to sit in their own squalor until they were executed. So — so for the well-born, wealthy ones, we maids would go into their quarters and clean and tidy up at least once a day.”

“They sent you in to those quarters alone? With noblemen who had nothing left to lose?” Mother Julian’s eyes bugged.

“Oh, never alone.” Not that the girls’ safety — and most of the maids were only girls, for as soon as they were women, they took their experience and went to work elsewhere — had any part in the calculation. That had been made very clear to Sandra the first time she was sent into the room of one of gentry, as they were called in the prison. The guards were more worried about the prisoners trying to smuggle out messages or win the girls’ affections and escape that way. So a young maid was never left alone with a gentry prisoner.

And as for the other prisoners, the masses of common prisoners eking out their pitiful existence in the bowels of the Tower? The maids never went near them at all.

“No, no,” Sandra continued, “there was always a guard in the room with us. For … security reasons.”

“Ah,” said Mother Julian, and Sandra knew that she understood.

“And … when you worked there,” Mother Julian continued, “did you find it … unpleasant?”

“Well, some parts were more pleasant than others …”

“Such as?” asked Mother Julian.

Sandra shrugged. “Well … you have to understand, the Tower was much bigger than this prison. It was almost like a city unto itself. And there was more than just the prison that we were responsible for. For one thing, there were the courts — the actual courts where the prisoners were tried. Those took a lot of cleaning.” Sandra tried not to roll her eyes. The day she’d married Christopher, she’d privately decided that if she never swept up another hazelnut shell, it would be too soon. “And there were offices for the judges, and some of the lawyers, and — well, most of the time we were kept busy with all of that.”

“You could clean all of that during the day?” asked Mother Julian, blinking.

Sandra smiled. “When a lawyer or a judge was trying a case — what better time was there to clean his office?”

“Ah — yes,” replied Mother Julian. And she smiled. Sandra knew that she understood.

“And–well, for … important prisoners, for lack of a better term, we were never allowed to clean their rooms twice. Or at least, not twice in a row, or not twice in a week or fortnight.” Sandra didn’t sigh, but as Christopher’s wife, she’d seen some of the more … esoteric commands that came from the palace. And she had understood that while the Crown might have plenty of reason to not want a certain prisoner to see the same personnel day in and day out, the Crown really had no understanding of how impossible it would be to ensure that those prisoners never saw anybody more than once when the Crown insisted on leaving those prisoners to rot for months at a time.

“I see. I see,” replied Mother Julian. “I understand that the prison here pays well?”

“Of course,” replied Sandra. “It’s the same problem, Mother Julian. We won’t get help if we don’t pay well. And, of course, we don’t let the maids board here.” Even if Christopher thought it might be more efficient, Sandra wouldn’t hear of it. She’d sleep better if she knew that the maids who came in were sleeping safe in their own beds at night.

“I see.” Mother Julian nodded. “And perhaps … since you were once a Coral’s child … maybe you might be willing to take on a girl or two, once they get old enough?”

Sandra blinked. “What–what?”

“I mean,” said Mother Julian, “surely you understand that it can be … difficult to procure places for the girls. Especially since plenty of people insist on holding the sin that went into their making against them. They–well–people can be quite unreasonable–”

“No.”

“And I wish they would–what?”

“No. I’m sorry, Mother Julian, but the answer is no.”

Mother Julian blinked. Her lips pursed. “Sandra … Sandra, you always struck me as a kind person, certainly one who would understand that … that sometimes people need a bit of help, a bit of a push, if they’re to succeed and get on in this world …”

“I understand that, Mother Julian. I do, truly. And should any of Coral’s children come to me as an adult and need a job, I shall certainly find a way to give her one. But I won’t have children working here.”

Mother Julian sighed. “I know we Coralites start the girls working young, but you understand, it’s necessary if we’re to –”

“I understand that, Mother Julian. I’m not by any means saying you shouldn’t do that. But I won’t have them here. I won’t have anyone working here who didn’t freely choose it. It’s not fair, and it’s not right.”

Mother Julian took a deep breath. “Do you really think a twelve-year-old girl is capable of choosing what’s in her best interests? What will best set her for life?”

“No, I do not. I’m not trying to criticize the Coralites’ way of doing things, Mother Julian. I understand why the Order operates as it does, and I will admit that I can’t think of a better way to do it myself. But I won’t change my mind. Girls shouldn’t be working in a prison, and while I’m the warden’s wife here, they won’t.”

“Now, Sandra.” Mother Julian tried to smile. “You yourself worked in a prison, and it seemed to have worked out fairly well for you.”

There were many ways that Sandra could have answered that, starting with a tart assertion that yes, it had worked out well for her, but the warden was married now. She did not choose that way. “Did I ever tell you how Chris and I met? The specific story?”

“I … well, you said you were a maid –”

“As a maid, I would have never had anything to do with him,” Sandra replied. “We didn’t even clean the warden’s family quarters. Chris had an old housekeeper, Widow Jenkins, who took care of all that. At least until–well, never mind. The point is …” Sandra took a deep breath. “I was sixteen. I’d been working at the prison for four years by that point. And I was sent in to clean the quarters of an … important prisoner. A very important prisoner; he was given a suite, not just a room. The guard who was supposed to be with me … let’s say he was a bit slack in his duties that morning. I cleaned the main room of the suite, and he stayed behind while I went to clean the bedchamber.”

Sandra took a deep breath. Nine years had passed — happy ones! — and still she didn’t like to discuss this moment. “I found the prisoner there. His head–drowned. In a butt of malmsey wine.”

“Oh–oh my,” murmured Mother Julian.

“I had … hysterics,” continued Sandra. Yes, that was the best word for it. “I was still shaking when Chris — he was Warden then — came to see for himself. He saw me, and …” Sandra looked at her skirt. She could still hear Christopher bellowing at the guard, demanding to know how it was a young girl had been left to make that discovery alone. “You don’t leave the young women alone with important prisoners!” Christopher had shouted. “That’s a recipe for rape if I ever heard one!”

“I started cleaning in his quarters from that day forward,” Sandra said simply. “And things … well, it might not have been the most auspicious of beginnings, but they grew from that day forward.”

“I see,” murmured Mother Julian. “I do see.”

Sandra folded her hands in her lap. “I don’t think any young girl should be exposed to that. Even if it worked out … well enough, for me, in the end.”

Mother Julian nodded. “I see.”

They said nothing, for Sandra had been trained from her toddling days to be quiet while the Mother Superior was thinking. “I think …” Mother Julian said finally, “I think … perhaps your decision is wise.”

Sandra nodded. “I think so, too.”

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20 thoughts on “The Ghosts of Childhood

  1. I think that’s pretty wise on the part of Sandra. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the bruising to the girls’ psyches either. And no matter how hard they try, they can’t make sure that all prisoners are respectful and all guards are never slack.

    It is kinda odd, though. Considering the last time I remember we saw Sandra for much of anything she was basically browbeating the YMC into helping more with the Coralites and now she’s saying “Nope, sorry. Won’t do it.” Not to say she doesn’t have good reason, just it’s an interesting that this is what she’s saying now.

    And there is also, you have all of the things that Sandra won’t do, like show Christopher much affection in front of the men, even if the girls did eventually find somebody worth having in the guards like Sandra did, they might be facing the same thing.

    Ugh. Not so great memories that lead up to this, though. Are we ever gonna have something happy happen? :-/

    • Exactly — Sandra can’t make sure that those girls are supervised every second of every day, and that they never see something that they shouldn’t see. (She worries enough about how to keep her kids from seeing something they shouldn’t see.) So that’s why she has her rule: the only people who work for the prison are adults. And Chris goes along with it, because he’s paying the same either way, and it’s probably better for everybody if they have adults anyway.

      Yeah, it is interesting that Sandra won’t help the Coralites in this way … but I think, in her mind, she’s doing more good for the orphan girls by not letting them into the prison until they are old enough to handle it and old enough to freely choose it. She was forced into that life (essentially — I don’t think Sandra complained when the nuns told her that was what her job would be, but I don’t think she realized she could complain). She doesn’t want to do that to anybody else.

      But if one of those girls comes as an adult and says, “You know, I think the extra money you’re paying will be worth the crappy working conditions,” Sandra will be singing an entirely different tune.

      And that’s another good point, about dealing with the guards. If Sandra were to show more open affection to Chris, I don’t think she would get the same treatment in Albion that she got in Glasonland. (If anything, Chris would be the one getting teased/ribbed, because he’s got a hot young wife who’s all over him, the lucky dog.) But with the orphan girls it could be a different story. Plus, look at the crap that Nicole gets/has gotten from Babette.

      Something happy should happen … eventually? At least I’ve got a scene with Guinevere and Tamsin and Jessie come up, that should be moderately nice? Oh, and before that, the CAP’N will be in a post!

      Thanks, Andavri!

  2. Ugh. 😦 We knew Sandra had a hard life before she married Chris, but that story is horrific. Never mind just the young girs–no one should have to make that discovery. Sadly, though… well, suicide’s been around for a long time and I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

    Luckily, though… it looks like it’ll be a few years before Mother Julian needs to find something for another of the orphans. I know you were planning on sending any orphans fathered by noblemen to their fathers’ houses, but it looks like the only noble-born orphan currently is Tor, who wouldn’t be Mother Julian’s responsibility. But hey–the Pendragons, du Lacs, Carpenters, le Fays, and Trentsons don’t have any orphans in their gene pools, so maybe they’d be willing to take in the lower-born ones (I left out the de Ganises and the Orkneys, because think of the children and all). And with all the empty spaces in the main Gwynedd home right now, maybe they can take in Jean as well as Tor?

    And hey–even some of the wealthier merchant families might be able to afford a live-in orphan servant, and would treat the kid well.

    It is good of Mother Julian to pray for the neglected dead, even if some of them were beyond deserving it. Still, it’s nice that someone’s thinking of them.

    • 😦 Unfortunately … I don’t think what Sandra discovered was suicide. That might have been what it was called officially, for the records, but I don’t think that was what it was.

      Yeah, it’ll be a while before Jean needs to find a place, so Mother Julian has some time to find her one. And there are plenty of choices, as you noted! Plus, even if none of the above noble families want/need another live-in servant, there’s always the Wesleyans or maybe even the Andavris. Or hey, one of the peasant families might want an apprentice. You never know!

      And yeah … somebody should be praying for those souls, because some of those souls *coughcoughMORGAUSEcoughcough* need all the prayers they can get. And … most of the people in that crypt don’t deserve to be utterly forgotten, or only thought of negatively. They deserve a few prayers, too.

      At the same time, I don’t blame Sandra for not wanting to go down there.

      Thanks, Van! πŸ™‚

  3. I think Sandra’s decision is wise, too, and I’m glad Mother Julian agreed in the end and didn’t try to browbeat or guilt trip her into changing it. I like Mother Julian, most of the time anyway. πŸ™‚

    But poor Sandra, what a horrific thing to have to see! 😦 But drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine… the prisoner wasn’t called George, by any chance? πŸ˜‰

    • Yeah, I think when Mother Julian heard what Sandra saw when she was very young, Mother Julian realized that the last thing she wanted was for any of her girls to witness that. And even if the circumstances aren’t going to be identical, her girls could end up seeing something equally scarring. 😦 And they’d have no guarantee of an ultimately happy ending, either.

      The prisoner in question may have been named George … and he may have been from Clarence lately, and from York originally. πŸ˜‰

      Thanks, Nix!

  4. And while I have all of your attention, I have a bit of an announcement to make. It’s sort of a good news/bad news(ish) thing, so bear with me.

    The good news:

    I GOT A JOB!!! After six months on this horrible job market, I finally got one! I start tomorrow! Yay!!

    The bad news:

    I’m suddenly going to have a lot less time for Albion. And with Christmas and all of THAT insanity coming up really soon … yeah, these might be an interesting couple of weeks. I’ll be cutting back on updates for sure, shooting for two a week.

    So … bear with me, folks, as we go through these exciting changes?

    • Congratulations! πŸ™‚

      And no worries. It’s more important that you have money to keep a roof over your head and feed yourself… and to keep your computer well-maintained for Albions… than it is to post super frequently. Even twice a week is very frequent for a Sims story anyway.

    • Congratulations! That’s great! πŸ˜€

      But absolutely no worries where updates are concerned. Real Life takes precedence over online life. πŸ™‚ And like Van said, twice a week is frequent. So don’t worry about us, and the very best of luck with your new job! πŸ˜€

    • Congratulations on the job! That’s entirely good news! I hope your first day went well πŸ˜€

      As Van said, the roof/food/well-maintained Albion machine are the important things. Twice a week is still insanely often to post quality chapters (which yours always are.) And there’s plenty to look back on if anyone needs a quick Albion fix.

  5. Sandra was in the right here. Working in a prison isn’t for young girls, especially if they have no say in the matter. The only things that assignment can teach anyone that another can’t are things someone shouldn’t have to learn until they’re older. Not all hard, character-building work is the same. Sending them to the prison wouldn’t be nearly the same as farming them out to Kata, for example. Sandra can’t be supervising a cleaning girl all day, imparting only the correct amount of knowledge. It would be nice if there was something Sandra could do to help out the Coralites, but this isn’t it.

    And if Mother Julian thinks prison would help any of her girls, she should just send them to Sister Vyn. She will frighten them more than any hardened criminal or executioner could!

  6. Even if you can’t put pictures, can you please still write it? I read everything in about three days, and I’m dying for more. Please? πŸ˜€

  7. Hey Morgaine, I don’t know if you’re still planning on updating but done with the story for good but just wanted to check in on the off chance you were still reading comments. I’ve recently begun rereading again – amazing how much I’d forgotten! This story is still fantastic and I hope you put something else out someday. If not, well I hope you check in anyway.

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