Sunday, January 2, 2011

This is where I started listing words to make it go by faster. 
After Ignatius had ridden his new gelding back to Collins Hall, after she had resisted the urge to cuddle her son, Sister Benedicta went to None, comforted some patients in the tiny infirmary, attended Vespers and had a silent supper in the refectory. In the darkness, with only the light of the moon, stars and a weak lantern, she walked the cloisters. She was hardly alone, for there were other sisters and some of the monks walking in the square, too, all in contemplative silence.

            Her son. She had tried to not think of him as hers, for it was sinful to hold on to her sin. She had committed a mortal sin, could not take Holy Communion into her body and soul until after the child had been born. Then she had given her life to the church, which expunged her sin. Thinking of the boy as truly hers would have compounded the sin, but she could not always help herself in that regard. Benedicta had watched him grow and taught him things and saw him demonstrate all she taught, from catechism to ceremonies such as feast days or Holy Communion to manners to reading to French. She was proud of her boy and confessed her pride every week she found herself feeling it.
            She was happy to see him today. Clement was right; she'd been as good a mother to Ignatius as any mother would be. 'Twas only that most mothers could be open with their sons. Most mothers were not as educated as she. The vast majority of mothers had not conceived their sons while in novice robes either.
            She did not regret her life in the Church. She had resented it at the time, fourteen years hence, but she now did not regret. She rejoiced. Her life was clearly defined, with purpose.
            If Robert had consented to her leaving her novice vows, what would life be like? Would her marriage be like her sister Cecily's?
            Cecily's marriage to the silversmith was her second. She'd been married at seventeen to a feckless but charming boy, the son of a Routh farmer, and the marriage had barely been blessed before the boy got himself killed in a tavern brawl, leaving Cecily with no money and a pregnant belly. Their sister Anne had married the Johnson boy's brother, having a child, before he had succumbed to a virulent strain of plague. Anne's child been born six months later, a little boy. Benedicta remembered them and Anne's four other children with her second husband in Hull in her prayers, for Anne almost never made the two-hour journey to Scour. When, indeed, was the last time Benedicta had seen her other siblings, besides Robert and Cecily? When had they become her closest family?
            But Cecily had been married to the silversmith, Johnson, because he had become an alderman of this dumpy, nondescript village the year before Robert arranged the marriage. Cecily had been married in the church, already fearful of her husband. He was a brilliant silversmith, with a great eye toward his craft, but he spent his coin on drink. Marrying Cecily did not change that.
            Then the children had come, all in quick succession. Cecily had grown stout, her face lined, hard lines around her mouth.
            All ten of the Collins children, save John and Thomas, had children now. Robert's three daughters were the oldest, born to his first wife, God rest her soul. Bridget had been named for his wife's mother and the girl was only four years younger than Benedicta herself. Elizabeth, named for their Lake grandmother, followed, then Anne, called after their mother, for Mam was ailing at the time. Her sister Anne's little boy, named Charles for his father, had been next, then Cecily's Agnes, both a decade younger than Benedicta.
            Who was next?
            Henry's eldest, yes. The boy was called Arthur, for the late Prince of Wales. Anne's first daughter, Anne, a year later.
            How many nieces did she have named Anne? Four, she recalled, still walking the cloisters. One Agnes. Two Bridgets. A Charles. Three Elizabeths, a Bess, a Hugh, three Richards, three Catherines, two Henrys, an Arthur. Two Williams, a Jack, an Ellen, a Sybilla, a Margaret, and at least two Marys. A Robert. A James. A Mabel. Two Thomases. An Edward and an Edmund. Her Ignatius.
            Was that all of them? No. She was missing some in her litany of family. Her sister Catherine alone had had ten children. One of them was named Alice, after her, but the two had never met.
            Alice recalled her mother as a robust woman, with yeoman stock. She was hardy and of good cheer. She had brown eyes and brown hair. Mam had been devout. She'd not been able to write more than her name and read very poorly, but she was great at disciplining her large brood when necessary, of teaching them hymns, of showing the girls how to stitch and sew and do all the necessary tasks a wife of a farmer would have to know. She'd not expected much for her girls beyond her own life: a wife, a child nearly every year, caring for the house and some land, praying and giving thanks.
            Mam had gladly given her children to the church to be educated, if not necessarily dedicated to the religious life. Robert had been born when Mam was seventeen, ten months into marriage. He'd been born in the year of Henry VI's capture by King Edward, the old king gone insane and into hiding in the north. Robert was called Robert for Papa. Then Henry, said to be named for Henry Tudor, but in truth, named for the old Lancastrian king, had come some two and half years later. Papa had gone as a solider between Robert and Henry.
            Anne had been born, lungs squalling, a year later. Then Richard, named for King Edward's brother, the Duke of Gloucester, who had been made Governor General of the North. Yorkshire loved him, for Richard had lived in Wensleydale as a child and Yorkshire did not forget one of their own.
            Edward had followed, named for the Yorkist King of England, a year after Richard. Cecily, named for Mam's sister and the name of the King's mother, followed, then Catherine, then Thomas, John and Alice. Her parents had likely run out of names for their children at that point.
            Her sister Catherine had ten children, fertile like Mam, but not as robust, from what Alice remembered. Catherine had often caught the sniffles that flew around the orphanage from child to child. She'd been bled as an adolescent for weakness and she could not see long distances away. Had she become a stout countrywoman of great inner strength because of birthing her ten children, or had Catherine turned into a shadow, a ghost, weak and often ill? Benedicta knew women of both varieties in Scour.
            Cecily had seven children, total, but she was naturally healthy in constitution.
            The flame in the lantern puttered out from a strong wind. Benedicta took her disorderly mind inside, then to Compline, where she was able to focus on the psalms, hymns, and prayers, then into chapter, where she listened to the prior speak.
            She had given her life to God.
            

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