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.
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–”
“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.”