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Nerrik pulled off the nipple with a gasping sigh of sleepy delight and Twenna chuckled in spite of herself. "Nerrik. I call him Rikki."
"Oh, a Neya's Day babe?"
"He--he has to be," said Twenna, her own sleepy relaxation retreating. "I was at the Spectacle last year. I don't remember what happened--as far as I know I was never with anyone other than Harsin, I swear it."
"It's all right, you're not on trial here. If you told me who it was I'd never tell anyway. I didn't have to tell my husband, he was there when it happened in a way."
"I beg your pardon?"
Meggan fixed her with a hard, questioning eye. "Are you easily shocked? No? ...My husband doesn't like women."
"What's so shocking about that? I don't think my father likes--liked--women all that much. He never remarried after my mama died, and I'm their only child."
"No, but he did manage to get you on her. Gyors couldn't bear to touch me at all, but he was the oldest son. It was his duty to have children, or renounce his inheritance. He couldn't bear to do that--what gentleman wishes to earn his living? Oh, I knew he preferred men, but you hear about married men and their lovers all the time, don't you, and they have children. He said he loved me, and I just thought…" She absently shook her baby's tiny hand as it clutched her finger. "I didn't think. It never occurred to me that he couldn't spare at least a little love for me. The man I knew was his particular friend has children by his wife. Several. Gyors went to great lengths to prove he loved me before we married, but once the cord was tied it all changed. He didn't love me at all, not even a little. He only had sex with me once, and that was in the Lovers' Temple with another man. A sweet man, the current Supplicant. The Heir, actually. How funny to think I've seen the Heir half-naked. I still think about him now and again, how kind he was to me. That was the only time Gyors could manage it."
Twenna found this extremely personal, candid talk on such indelicate topics uncomfortable, but then, coming to a Mother's House was usually the result of indelicate topics; perhaps shared experience made for less restraint in conversation here. "Then how…?"
"Oh, once we'd gone to the Temple, I decided to do as he asked and let his particular friend into our bed. The time at the Lovers' Temple didn't take, you see, so we tried again, this time with Pollus. My husband still couldn't perform. But later that week, Pollus came to me while Gyors was at his club…"
"'And we,'" said Meggan, her smile crooked, sad and somewhat defiant. "'And we' for a whole spoke or more, almost every day, until I got with child. Gyors knew it couldn't be his, and so here I am with little no-name--Connia. I think I really like that name."
"You never told him who the father is?"
"He said he didn't believe me, and Pollus denied it. Gyors doesn't want to know because he loves Pollus...but he knows. It's just a matter of time before they end it."
Nerrik let out a tiny snore and Twenna fumbled the unfamiliar fastenings of her bodice closed. The tears in her eyes made it more difficult than it should have been, even one-handed. "Harsin swears he's not the father, but there's never been anyone else." She thought about the golden young man whose face she could not see, but whose body she remembered against her, inside her, all around her. "Except sometimes I try to remember what happened at the Neya's Day Spectacle and maybe…I don't know!"
"A girl as beautiful as you could leave the baby here and re-marry," said Meggan, fastening up her own dress as the newly-named Connia slept in her sling. "Men come here all the time from the other duchies looking for wives--widowers looking for a free nanny and housekeeper, mostly. They try Mother's Houses far from home to avoid anyone knowing the wives they bring back, though everyone knows she must be a beggar, an orphan, a bastard or worse. As long as she behaves no one mentions it. They'll make you leave your child behind, but they'll provide for you. You'd be respectable again and mistress of your own house. You might even come here and see the baby from time to time. They encourage it, if you settle nearby and your new husband will allow it. Most women take the chance."
Twenna shook her head. "My mother is dead, my father is dead, my love has abandoned me--I have no one and nothing but Nerrik." She looked over at the beautiful clothes of her former life, hanging on the pegs; she looked down at her new rough gray wool skirts. She wanted to cry, but she couldn't wake the baby. "I shall learn to bear it here rather than be parted from him." She rocked and rocked and gave in to her tears, but the baby didn't wake up. "I'm not terribly clever, but I shall learn."
Son in Sorrow will end its serialization July 15, 2013.
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