December 21, 2013

In Which Nanalie Knows by Instinct

February 23, 1184

The nun who had called at the baron's had described the girl as scrawny and sickly, with bags beneath her eyes and wrists of raw flesh and matted hair one sister had spent an hour combing out--much unlike the vivacious girl Nanalie pictured whenever Garrett had described his niece, who rode with twice the skill and gusto of any of her peers, loved to discuss money sense, and had once eaten almost an entire pie in one sitting. But Renata was the girl's grandmother, and sure enough, just one glance at the sleeping figure with the rattling breath had been enough for her to confirm. "Oh, Rina."

Nanalie shivered. She and Garrett had been summoned to the baron's after the nun had delivered her message, along with Valira and Searle. The nun had advised giving the refugee a day to rest before visiting, so Renata saw fit to fill the time before she could see her granddaughter by discussing the situation with the geographically convenient two of her son-in-law's siblings. For her husband's sake, Nanalie wished he could have been shocked, but both he and his sister were grimly unsurprised.

Not that Garrett had ever had much good to say about his older brother.

The girl stirred--not waking, but Nanalie took a half-step back just in case. They'd opted not to overwhelm the poor child by all calling at once, and had decided instead that only two would go. Renata would of course be the first of them. Nanalie had thought she would have been the last choice for the second, having never met the girl and being the only one not a blood relation, but Searle had pointed out that she alone had a medical background, and that if Rina was in much worse shape than she'd been in the past, he and Garrett and Valira might have been in for more of a shock than they could handle.

Still, she would keep her distance. The sight of a stranger in an intimate setting was rarely a comfort. "I'm sorry, Renata."

"Don't be. It pains me to see her like this, but at least she got away from her arse of a father." Her lips pursed in distaste, not unlike Asalaye's when she had gone through her spitting phase. Nanalie's hand curled to a fist. Any man who could make a lady so elegant as Renata want to spit was not a man she cared to meet. "I always thought there was something off about that man. Pity that Arkon wouldn't listen."

Political convenience. Nanalie had actually heard the story of Renata's eldest daughter's betrothal, one of the few interesting enough to reach the ears of the Naronian gentry. Lord Beretrin had decided that of his first two daughters--twin sisters--one would marry Felron, heir to Tagrien, and the other would marry Marsden, heir to Rexus, but the girls were to decide between themselves who married whom. The story went that they had engaged in some sort of wager for the right to first pick, and the younger twin, Riona, had won. She chose Marsden, leaving her sister Xetrica with Felron.

Most who didn't know the involved had found this baffling; not only was Marsden the heir to a lesser territory and a lesser title, but he was also rather famously ugly. But having married into the nobility, Nanalie now knew from their mutual acquaintances that Marsden was a kind and generous man who thought the world of his wife and doted over their four children, never caring for a second that three of them were daughters rather than sons. Felron... was not. In fact, Valira had mentioned during their conference that Riona had expressed guilt in sticking Xetrica with him, for all she and Felron had loathed each other since childhood.

"If only Tertius could have stopped this." Renata turned to Nanalie after one last glance at her granddaughter, who trembled at the sound of her grandfather's name. "He and Rina are very close. He never would have stood for this had he not been... compromised."

Nanalie bowed her head. She remembered all too well when Garrett had received the news back in November. His father had fallen pray to an apoplexy of the brain. He'd survived, but not without complications. The paralysis of his legs kept him bound to his bed, and his speech had been reduced to unintelligible strings of nonsense. Fearing it wouldn't be long, Garrett had traveled to Dovia for a quick visit; he had seen nothing encouraging.

From what Nanalie knew of Garrett's mother, she was not a pushover, but Felron held her in low regard; if she had protested, it was not inconsistent with her knowledge that he had ignored her. As for Xetrica... well, she didn't want to ask the woman's own mother, or any of her siblings. It would have been a sore issue, and as a midwife, Nanalie knew that leaving was easier said than done. Even if Xetrica had done nothing to stop it--especially if she had lost the will to try--the problems in the household were Felron's fault. "A pity it wasn't Felron."

"Indeed. It may be blasphemy to say so in a house of nuns, but if that bastard goes before I do, I shall return to Dovia to dance on his grave, never mind how old and feeble I'll be." Nanalie doubted that Renata would ever be feeble, but she'd let the woman keep her point. Thank God her own husband would never choose a man like that for any of their girls--and would heed her warnings on the off-chance he almost did. "But once Rina is settled, I suppose all I can do is write to his mother and tell her to deliver my curses for me; I know for a fact that every letter I send him goes straight into the fire."

But Renata did not want to speak of her vile son-in-law--the vein throbbing in her forehead said it all, and the cold glaze in her eyes echoed. She turned back to her granddaughter, her face softening in profile. Still not wanting to get much closer, Nanalie craned her neck for another look at young Rina.

She was clearly ill, but Nanalie knew by instinct that she was not dying. She may have reached that point, had she not claimed sanctuary and had her father marched her back to Dovia without satisfactory rest of nourishment, but her ailment in itself would not be fatal, so that ruled out an inevitable death as a reason for her father's pushing the nunnery, as if her being sent to one so distant hadn't. The nuns knew nothing, and it was probably unfair to expect that they did; Nanalie doubted Rina wanted to talk about it, and of course the man who had called his daughter a useless cunt on his way out of a nunnery would be no help.

Nanalie hoped she would tell Renata eventually. Rina would actually be going home Nanalie herself, as Garrett was next in line for her legal guardianship and Nanalie was the most able to provide the required care, but Tetran Keep was well within daily visiting distance, and Renata would take full advantage of that. And from the way she looked at her granddaughter, there was nothing in the world Rina could say that would make Renata think less of her.

But whatever had happened... well, it didn't take much for a fourteen-year-old to stop thinking much of herself.

"If she's up to riding in the wagon when she wakes, do you mind if I return to your place with you? I know you and Garrett will keep her as comfortable as possible, but I think I need to see it with my own two eyes."



Van said...

It's winter! This pleases me. Fall tends to be a low point for me, and this one was worse than most.

Here's hoping things start to pick up.

Ekho said...

I am really curious what the girl did to make her father send her away - and abandon her. At least in Naroni people will be more understanding (I hope) and she has family there to help her.

Van said...

What happened will come to light some time in April (next post is the last February, then I think only two in March). But yes, I'm thinking the people of Naroni will be much more understanding. Er, those who are in "need to know" territory, that is; it's too personal to be broadcast throughout the kingdom, so it won't be.