Mordred and I were welcomed by my family with no questions, and I sent Mordred off to play with Devin’s children. Apparently his father had arranged a marriage for him after I had left, and his wife was a little younger than I.
They told me everything that had happened since I’d left. Aunt Mary had died in childbirth about a year after I’d taken my vows, and the baby had died with her. Leslie had given birth to three children, two daughters and a son by Gavin, before dying of some illness that had swept through that part of the countryside.
Kellan had given birth to two sons as well, and had five miscarriages. Since then she had seemingly been unable to conceive and Cyric had been so disappointed by the most recent miscarriage, she had decided to come and visit her family’s land.
Their brothers had finished their training as knights and been awarded land by their respective overlords. They too had married and had children, though neither Kellan nor Devin had seen them for a while.
Then they told me the worst of the news. An illness, the sweating sickness they called it, had come to Uncle’s lands. It killed both sets of twins, Rose, Linette and Uncle the summer it struck. Caedmon, who had been five when I left, had been paralyzed by the illness, but still lived.
“He’s turned bitter,” Kellan said, looking like the weight of the world rested on her shoulders. “He resented not being able to train to be a knight, and now he refuses to go to a monastery, where he could possibly pass the time with the liturgy.”
I sighed heavily and downed a bit more of my tea. Several hours had passed since we had arrived, and I had grown lazy as they had told me of these sad tidings, sitting in my chair by the fire.
“And what of you, Morgan?” Devin asked me. “How has it come to be that you have a child?”
“Well,” I said, setting the cup aside. “His mother came to the abbey the night before my twenty-fifth birthday. She didn’t seem well at all, and she was already giving birth when they found her. I was one of the sisters who attended her, and I was the one to sit with her throughout the night, after she’d given birth. She died in the early morning.” I smiled bitterly.
“I gained a child because I couldn’t save his mother,” I continued. “I owe it to him.” Kellan looked surprised by how upset I was, while Devin nodded thoughtfully.
“You must care for him deeply,” he said. “To leave the abbey for him.”
“I do,” I said, looking at my cousin. He had aged greatly over the last fifteen years, but he looked dignified despite the grey in his hair and the fine lines that had formed around his eyes.
“Where do you plan on staying with him?” Kellan asked, changing the subject.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I was going to see if I could live here, or maybe with either you or Leslie, Kel. I would rather seek out a home with my family first.”
“I can almost promise you that Cyric won’t permit you to live with us,” Kellan said, a sad look on her face. “He hasn’t been very fond of me recently, or even of my family, not since I haven’t been able to give him anymore children. And I can’t say I blame him. I’m getting old, after all.”
“Oh?” I asked, surprised. Kellan sighed.
“He may be older now, but he’s still good looking,” she said, slightly upset. “He’s proven himself to Camelot again and again, particularly after Uther died.”
“What?” I asked, stunned. I had just picked up my tea cup again for a sip, but it fell from my fingers and smashed on the floor. “Oh, no.”
“Don’t worry about it, Morgan,” Devin’s wife said, placing a hand on my shoulder as I knelt to clean it up. She knelt with me, and began to do the same. I felt Kellan and Devin staring at me, and I knew I didn’t want to hear what they had to say.
“Tell her, sister,” Devin ordered, sounding stiff.
“Morgan,” Kellan said, sounding uncomfortable. I felt my back stiffen, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. “In the sweating sickness, five years ago, your father died. Cyric was one of the knights of his court, you know, and he was there for the coronation of the new king. You have a brother, Morgan.”
“I have a half-brother,” I corrected, my voice crisp as I turned to face them. Kellan and Devin exchanged looks, Kel looking desperate and miserable.
“King Arthur is really quite different from your father,” Devin said. “Of course, he wasn’t raised by Uther. Another family had raised him upon the request of a druid.”
“How old is he?” I asked, a steely note in my tone. I felt so numb. It seemed impossible that my father could have died. He was so strong and vigorous in my memories of him. Then again, those memories were almost twenty years old.
“Eighteen,” Kellan said, looking extremely unhappy. “Or thereabouts. No one’s completely sure, but we think that’s his age.” I pursed my lips, thinking.
“He’s a good king,” Devin said gently. “Very fair and just. My only complaint with him is that he’s young and lusty. He had many female admirers, but that should be fixed with age and marriage.”
“Very well,” I said, my tone still cold. I studied the faces of my cousins, suddenly tired. Devin’s wife, who had turned the task of cleaning up my teacup over to a maid noticed my change in mood, and she swept forward.
“You must be exhausted,” she said. “Come. You can sleep in the guest room for tonight. I had our governess put your son to sleep in the nursery.”
“Thank you,” I said, allowing her to lead me out of the room.
“Your old chambers will be tidied up and ready for your use by tomorrow night,” Devin called after me. I turned and curtsied stiffly, unused to the motion after so many years without using it.
“Thank you,” I said again as I rose unsteadily. “Good night.”
“Good night,” Devin and Kellan echoed, taking their seats again. Devin’s wife led me to the guest room, which had a lovely fire going in the hearth.
“When you arrived I had the servants light it,” she said, noticing where I was looking. “It was so drafty in here before.”
“Of course,” I said, looking around the small room. “Thank you very much.” She blushed slightly and curtsied.
“Sleep well,” she said before leaving me.
I collapsed into the bed after removing my outer gown. Within minutes I was asleep, and dreams came to me stealthily.
Unfortunately for me they were all nightmares, and my sleep was decidedly not restful. I woke up the next morning to the sounds of a maid freshening up the fire. With a sigh I rolled out of the bed, wondering what the time was. There were no bells to toll the hour here.
“You could have left that for me to do,” I told the maid. She jumped slightly, surprised that I was awake.
“Did I wake you, miss?” she asked, sounding like she was terrified. I smiled at her, noting that she couldn’t be much older than twelve or thirteen. “Terribly sorry, miss.”
“No,” I said. “You didn’t wake me. Haven’t you ever heard that the sisters rise early and go to bed late so that they can use every possible moment of the day to serve the Lord to the best of their ability?”
“Yes,” she said hesitantly.
“It’s true,” I said, smiling at her warmly.
“You don’t look like a sister, miss,” she said as she finished tidying up the room.
“I don’t?” I asked, taking a seat at the vanity table, watching her.”
“No, miss,” she said. “You’re too pretty.”
“Pretty?” I asked, the concept foreign to me. We kept no mirrors in the abbey, so I hadn’t seen my reflection often.
“Yes, miss,” she said. “Even though you’re so thin, you’re pale and your coloring is enviable.”
“Oh?” I asked, surprised. I knew that the common conception of beauty had been edging slightly towards those with larger girths, as it was a symbol of wealth, before I had left for the abbey.
“Yes, miss,” she said. Silence fell for several minutes, and she gathered her cleaning supplies. I rose without thinking to get the door for her. Her gaze fell to my hands.
They were slightly chapped, from the last time I had scrubbed the infirmary down, and I knew that the skin on my fingertips and palms were toughened by years of hard work. I had calluses on the middle finger of my right hand, from where the quill I’d used for copying out the scriptures had rested. Scars marked where I’d nicked or scraped myself over the years.
“These are the hands of a sister,” I said to her quietly, aware that my hands were not pleasing to look at, despite the long and tapered fingers. She blushed, ashamed that she’d been caught looking, and left the room in silence.
I returned to the vanity table and looked into the mirror. Looking back at me was a slim, pale woman, with large black eyes and pale, thin, pink lips. A healthy flush colored my cheeks naturally.
My face was more angular that most- much like my father’s, as much as I hated to admit it- and I had a small nose like mother. Gracefully arching eyebrows added a decisive air to my appearance, and my long lashes framed my eyes well.
She’s right, I thought, studying myself. I am pretty. Pretty with hideous hands.