Chapter 18 Part 1 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
The 40th day of Spring's Beginning, 992 KY
Meggan Esterill entered Twenna's tiny room with a perfunctory knock. "He's come again."
"Hush, Rikki just fell asleep," said Twenna, her foot rocking the baby's cradle. "Who's come?"
Meggan dropped her voice. "You know very well who. Captain Marr." She sat down beside Twenna on the bed.
Twenna tried to avoid her pointed look. "Oh…oh. He's serious, isn't he."
"Not to be put off, I'd say. This is his sixth visit in two weeks. Come, he's waiting for you in an alcove."
"Rikki just fell asleep," Twenna repeated in a weak voice.
Meggan patted her shoulder. "I'll watch him. Connia's at the nursery. They know where I am. If she needs me they'll come get me and I'll take Rikki with me. He won't die if you're not with him every single moment."
Twenna thought she might die without him, but she rose from the bed and put her apron back on, dawdling like a child trying to put off chores.
"Oh, come now. He's really a very nice man," tutted Meggan. "Good-looking enough, steady job in the Guards, and he'd marry you. The last two only wanted to keep you."
"I don't know if he'll let me take Rikki, and I'm not leaving without him."
"You'll never know if you don't go down to the alcove to see the man," insisted Meggan, shooing her toward the door.
Twenna dragged her feet down the five staircases from her room to the main hall. Captain Marr waited for her in the last alcove to the left of the dining hall door. The Mothers had no time to play chaperone; instead the open alcoves gave a bare amount of privacy while still allowing the occupants to be seen if not heard by the multitudes constantly coming and going past them.
Captain Marr nervously groomed the bottle-brush mustache growing into thick chops framing his broad, pleasant face, a style in fashion two years ago called the Heir after Prince Temmin, though Twenna remembered older men wearing their facial hair like that in her childhood. How much older was Captain Marr than she? Twenna estimated perhaps ten years at most--early thirties. There had always been something familiar about him, something protective and reassuring.
The Captain stood at Twenna's approach, dropped a glove and fumbled, trying to decide whether to pick it up or make his bow. He chose the bow. "Good day, Miss Shelstone, thank you so very much for honoring me with your company!"
"Oh, the honor is mine, Captain," she murmured, blushing.
"Please! Please, sit," he said, gesturing at a straight-backed wooden chair. "Or--is it--that's not correct, is it? This is your house, not mine, and…I'm afraid I am a Guardsman, ma'am, my manners are not perhaps as genteel as they might be." He sat down in the second chair and smiled, all muffled nerves and excitement.
Meggan was right. He seemed a kind man.
"He is thirty-one, widowed three years ago," Twenna told Meggan that night just before lights out. "He's being transferred to Hawksfield in Barle next week as commander of the garrison there, he has a ten-year-old girl named Mellit, he admires me greatly and thinks we should do very well together. Then he requested the honor of tying the marriage cord round my wrist."
"Will you give it to him?"
Twenna was silent for a moment. "I told him Rikki must come with me--he was reluctant and somewhat surprised, but I told him that was my bride price. He said he'd think on it and tell me later this week."
She was sweeping the main hall floor early the next morning after breakfast, Rikki in his sling, when Captain Marr returned. He'd shaved so closely that his chin shone; his beefy frame filled out his best uniform. Twenna winced, recognizing its lines: her father's special pattern, still in use at his old tailoring concern. Captain Marr apparently had money enough to bespeak the best; whatever else could be said about the late Elbig Shelstone, he'd been an excellent tailor.
"May I have a word, Miss Shelstone?" asked the Captain. Twenna looked to the raw-boned Mother supervising the cleaning crew; the smiling priestess nodded toward an empty alcove. Once inside, Marr dispensed with sitting and took her hands. "I will raise your son as my own. I will love you both. Please--Twenna--let me take you from this dismal place. Do me the honor of being my wife."
The Captain's warm, thick-fingered hands clasped hers in awkward sincerity. Rikki stirred and gave a faint squeak in his sling, his blue eyes blinking awake before flashing the gummy grin of a two-spokes-old at her. She looked around the main hall, at the gray, drawn women and barefoot children coming and going, as cheerful as they could be in a cold and sterile place. Life in Barle married to a stranger? Or life here among the ghostlike surplus women, unwanted children and overworked Mothers to watch her son grow up to an uncertain future? "The honor is mine," she faltered; with greater strength she added, "I accept you, Captain Marr."
"Lorrenz, please, my name is Lorrenz," he said, the bottle-brush on his upper lip quivering. He kissed her hands; the mustache tickled her knuckles, but not unpleasantly. "Oh, Twenna, you make me very happy, very happy indeed, and I shall do everything in my power to make you happy as well!"