Chapter 17 Part 3 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
"It's not that bad," said a voice at the door. Twenna looked up. It was a woman about her own age, her chestnut hair twisted into a low, simple bun. Her snub nose sat in a face neither pretty nor plain. She wore a lay Mother's uniform, the same as the one in Twenna's bundle: ugly loose gray high-necked dress collared in white; a voluminous unbleached muslin apron tying it closer to the body; and a plain wool shawl still the color of the sheep, its ends crossed over her breast and pinned behind her. In a canvas sling before her slept a baby not much older than Rikki, or so Twenna guessed; all she could see was white-blond fuzz and an obstinate little nose exactly like its mother's.
"I've been here three spokes--since before the baby was born," the woman resumed. "A roof over your head, hot food, and it's not too cold in the rooms. The Mothers try to be kind when they can, and they work as hard as we do. It's not that bad, really, once you get used to it." She eyed the cape and the silk dress. "Though you had further to fall than I did."
The woman came into the room, closed the door and held out her arms. "Here, let me take the little one while you get dressed. We'll get you new boots after, those are ruined."
"He's hungry," faltered Twenna.
"Well then, let's get you settled to feed him and I'll help you put your things away, shall I." The woman took Nerrik from Twenna's arms, shooed her off the bed and set the baby squarely in the middle before she attacked the bundles. "Just take off your nice things and hang them on the pegs for now, we'll get them put away properly in a bit. My name's Meggan Esterill. At least I think it's still Esterill. I'm not sure if Gyors will make me stop using it, the divorce isn't final yet. Just call me Meggan."
Twenna hung up her blue velvet cape and her periwinkle silk dress on the pegs; she tucked her gloves into the cloak's inside pocket and let her fingers linger a moment on the cloak's soft ermine lining. All gone, all her finery gone. "Take off those petticoats," advised Meggan. "Put them away with your good things. There are petticoats in your bundle--oh, good heavens, take all those underthings off and save them for better times, the laundresses will ruin them! Let me play ladies maid for you. Ugh, I think your babe needs changing."
Soon they had Nerrik clean if unhappy, and Twenna re-dressed in a plain linen chemise, plain canvas maternity stays, two wool petticoats, thick black woolen stockings and the ugly gray wool dress. "See, here's how it opens to let you nurse your babe, and I see you're going to need these nursing pads. Tuck these against your nipples when you're done feeding him, it'll keep you from staining your chemise. Sit down, now," said Meggan, guiding Twenna into the rocker. She draped a heavy woolen shawl over Twenna's shoulders and handed her the agitated baby, tucking the bed's pillow under Twenna's elbow.
Twenna fumbled with the unfamiliar dress fastenings ahead of Nerrik's impending scream and guided the freed nipple into his hungry mouth. Her milk began to flow; the tension inside her ebbed, and exhaustion flooded in to take its place. "Thank you, Meggan. My name is Twenna Shelstone."
"I know who you are, Miss Shelstone. We were never introduced, but we attended several of the same gatherings over the course of my last season. Your last season too, apparently."
"Please call me Twenna." The baby in the sling began to fuss; Meggan used the remaining bundle on the bed to bolster herself into the corner, where she sat crosslegged as she nursed her own child. "What's your baby's name?" said Twenna.
"I still haven't decided. She hasn't a last name either. My husband turned me away, my lover turned me away, my father turned me away. I'm just Meggan now. I'll probably take formal vows at some point and become Mother Meggan. I don't know what else I can do--well I suppose I could remarry, but then I'd have to leave poor little no-name here and I won't, will I, little bunny?" she crooned to the tiny blond bit. "That's what I should name you--Connia. Connia. I hadn't thought of it before, I rather like it. It means 'little rabbit' in the old Kellish tongue, or so my great-gran always said. She called me that when I was little. Connia. Connie. Hm! What's your baby's name?"