The Mothers were nothing if not efficient. Twenna found herself packed and ready to go in two days, her gray uniform returned to the laundry and her fine clothes from her former life sold in exchange for four plain dresses, two of cotton and two of wool, and a warm wool cloak; she kept her beautiful underthings, stowed these last spokes in a paper box under her bed. The Captain paid for her to keep her sturdy gray shawl, her Mother's House underthings, her boots, Rikki's clothes, his sling and a supply of diapers. "I will buy you more when we are in Hawksfield, my dear, but this will do for now."
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."
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."
"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.
This segment is NSFW.
Temmin found the man deeply unattractive. Esterill was handsome enough, but Temmin could not be sympathetic to a man who'd deceive a girl into a loveless marriage. Nevertheless, duty required him to find something about Esterill to desire. "There is always something to desire about a person even if it is only his absence," went the Temple saying. He cleared his mind and focused on Esterill's own excitement, making it his. He opened his thin linen trousers and stroked himself, watching the petitioner for cues.
Temmin nodded, thinking. A barren woman would go to the Mother's Temple for sacrifice and if that didn't work to the Sister's Temple to see if something might be done for her medically, but when the man could not perform, the couple came straight to the Lovers' Temple. The Lovers and Beloveds would do what they could, calling in the Sisters for medical advice. If no solution could be found, the senior clergy would sort through the Lovers without charms against children for close physical matches to the husband, choosing at least two men so that no one could be sure of the father. The wife then discreetly visited the petitioning rooms until she conceived, or until it was plain she could not.
His birthday concluded, Temmin reported for duty once again in his role as Lovers' Temple clergy. After a morning spent helping teach Postulants, he went to the petitioning rooms, where Lovers and Beloveds met with worshippers needing private blessings and guidance. Sometimes the petitioners just needed a sympathetic ear or a caring bedmate, but sometimes matters required more delicacy. Such was the assignment Temmin held in his hand. He read it, panicked and tried to calm himself as he walked down the narrow hallways to where he would meet the needy couple.
Temmin opened the door to a tiny room and moved uneasily through it, checking the covering on the low, wide Temple couch, plumping the mound of cushions that served it for a back, making sure the arms would come away if need be. He inspected the room's supplies. Spare towels? Yes. Oil? Yes. Blankets in case of shock? Whose? This is ridiculous. "I can't do this."