Juliana prepared herself for the visit she was about to receive from Lorin and a young knight named Alfred they were planning to marry her off to. Lorin had come to her with his wife Larisa just a few days before to talk to her about the young man. Lorin had been frank, Larisa motherly.
Juliana had seen it coming. The King had not been to her bed for some weeks. Larisa during her increasing infrequent visits now that Lady Jocelyn was near her time had probed the former courtesan for reactions to what a marriage to a country knight, a chieftain really would suit her. Juliana had been quiet, demure and noncommittal. But the fact that she was pale and fretful as well did not escape Larisa's notice.
Juliana dressed more modestly than was her custom. She had a servant build up her fire more than was warranted for the weather. She made sure the room was neat and tidy and that some items were hidden away. She practiced tears and other techniques a courtesan learns to master early in her career. When all was prepared, she sat primly on a bench and thought about the preceding several days.
Juliana did not know about Rory and his disappearance. She had heard the other Irishman's sweet and humorous voice as he crooned a Gaelic song as he passed not far from her room. So Shannon was back. What did it mean? All was forgiven? If Lawrence forgave the insult to himself and her then he must have abandoned her absolutely. She was despondent.
One morning while Juliana was rinsing out cloths she used for her monthly bleeding she heard a distant cry. Percy and Jocelyn had chambers in another part of the castle, but a cry that loud on a quiet morning carried. She knew immediately that Jocelyn must have been brought to bed to have her child. She listened as the cries grew more frequent and louder.
In the corridor Percy paced and wrung his hands. Shannon tried to comfort him with song. Lorin sat, stoic, nearby. Even Lawrence came by often to buck up Percy's courage. Lorin reassured him, Larisa was in there with Jocelyn. Everything would be all right.
The hours passed and the cries grew weaker. At one point Larisa came to the door and exchanged a few hushed words with her husband. He nodded and left the corridor for a few minutes. When he returned Percy was at him, insisting on knowing what was amiss.
Lorin said softly, "Nothing is amiss, Percy. Larisa just asked me to check on John."
Lawrence, who happened to be present , looked surprised at Lorin. Who knew the man could be such a good liar? Well, that was what diplomacy was all about, after all. He beckoned Lorin with his eyes to follow him to his counsel room. There he pressed him to reveal what Larisa had said.
Lorin sighed and let worry come to his face. "The lady is growing weak. Larisa asked me to have some herbs boiled and the tea brought up to give Jocelyn some strength."
Lawrence returned the Duke's worried look and put his hand on his shoulder. He had not been present for all of his children's births, but he remembered Donalbain' s all too well.. the fear that he would lose his beloved wife along with the child. And more than that he remembered when Lachrimae had appeared at court and died in terrible agony while delivering his bastard son, Tavish. The men hurried back to be with the young husband.
The tea was brought and taken in. Larisa tried to smile reassuringly at Percy, whose face was white as snow. Before she turned to go back into the lying in chamber, she flashed a look at Lorin. The look was mournful.
Moments later Lawrence heard the rustle of skirts coming down the corridor. He looked up and saw Juliana. His stomach clenched as he saw her, beautiful with her cheeks flushed and a serious look on her face that reminded him too well of... never mind, he told himself. It has been too long. Celibacy was not the King's strong suit, albeit much practiced over the years.
"Juliana, what art thou doing here?" he demanded, to cover his feelings.
She shot him a fiery glance that melted to tenderness the moment his eyes were off her. She said urgently, "Let me go to her, Lawrence. I am a practiced midwife. I can help."
Lawrence hesitated but Percy was on his feet and pleading, "My lord, please. Send her in!"
Lawrence nodded, and Juliana quickly opened the door and rushed in.
In the room she found the ladies scattered about the room, trying to be busy. Larisa sat by the pale woman in the bed, herself pale. She appeared to be praying. Jocelyn herself was almost unrecognizable. She lay on her back with her hair damp and tangled about her face. A contraction came and the poor young woman, writhing, had no strength even to make a sound.
Larisa saw Juliana and a spark of hope touched her. Of course, courtesans had to deal with childbirth all the time. She jumped to her feet as Juliana pushed past her, ordering, "Bring me red raspberry leaves and that red pepper spice the cooks use on game birds. And honey. I need cool water. And someone drag over that chair, the one with the seat made of rushes."
Her tone was confident and authoritative. The other women looked at Larisa, nonetheless, but the Duchess just barked, "Thou didst hear her.. be off with thee!" The women scrambled.
Juliana called after them, "Be careful when you open the door. Do not let the young knight see his wife." She thought to herself, "At least this poor girl has some man who careth that she lives or that she dies.. unlike those women in the brothel who were e'er to be left alone with none but other women. And when this child is born, it will have both mother and father to care for it, not sent to be raised as an orphan." As she went to Jocelyn and started to lift her to a sitting position, she started to form an idea.. and idea that made her hide a smile come across her face.
Larisa herself brought the chair over. Juliana commanded, "Get some manservant to break out the seat." Larisa looked at the woman only slightly her junior. The roles were reversed now. Larisa was the child to Juliana's experience. She set the chair down and went to fetch a manservant. Seconds after Larisa had passed into the corridor Shannon burst in with t he Duchess close at his heels. Juliana gave him an appraising look.
"Don't ye worry, lady. I have been at both ends of a birth, conceiving and relievin', many times. He was taking off his tabard and jerkin and rolling up his sleeves. Juliana nodded and instructed him to break out the seat of the chair. He turned to it and lifted and brought his foot down on the woven rushes. Break not the chair," Juliana snapped. Shannon deftly put his booted foot through the rushes, leaving the wooden frame of the chair undamaged. He set to work pulling the straws out that rimmed the new hole.
Juliana had Jocelyn in a sitting position now. She told one of the women, "Drape a clean sheet over the chair and tear a hole where she will sit. The woman jumped to comply. Shannon himself took out his dagger and cut the hole. He helped Juliana lift the limp girl and seat her, backwards, on the chair. Jocelyn was too weak to notice what was happening to her. Shannon took one of the bed pillows and put it on the back of the chair, gently helping Jocelyn drape her arms and chin over it. Juliana told him, "Take off her clothes."
The other women exchanged looks but Shannon did not hesitate. He stripped the woman who was head to toe in sweat. He gently pulled her damp hair back and braided it. One of the women gave him a cord to tie it with.
Juliana looked at the man appraisingly. "Good sir, I believest I understand thee. Thou art not a philanderer. Thou simply lovest women." The Irishman cast her a smile.
"Aye, and that I do." He said it tenderly, without a hint of licentiousness.
Juliana continued to give orders as the cool water, red raspberry leaves and the red spice were brought in. She instructed Shannon to take a clean cloth and bathe the panting woman carefully. She had the women make a tea of the leaves and a compress of the red spice. She made Jocelyn open her mouth and she put spoonfuls of the honey on her tongue. Larisa looked at her quizzically. "She needs to build up some strength. The honey will revive her but also soothe her." She got the young woman to sip slowly on the tea.
Larisa watched Shannon as he slowly bathed Jocelyn. He was quietly singing to her in Gaelic a sweet smile on his lips. Jocelyn visibly relaxed and the color was coming back into her face, arms and back. Juliana knelt behind her and lifted the sheet to gain access to under the chair. She reached up and put her arms around Juliana's waist. She caressed the woman's distended lower belly. Jocelyn started to tense with a contraction, and Juliana just told her to try to ride the pain. Shannon stroked the girl's hair.
Outside in the corridor the three men had been joined by other courtiers. The King had flashed a look that told them to hang back and keep quiet. Lorin was sitting next to the young husband. The man had his face in his hands and Lorin was talking to him quietly and rubbing his back. Lawrence was watching the door, thinking of what Juliana had said about the talents he had "not known the half of". He tried not to think about the second time she had said that to him.
In the room Juliana had had the women strip the bed and replace the damp and bloody sheets with crisp clean ones. She called for watered wine and Shannon had quipped "Don't mind if I do."
"It's not for thee, fool," Juliana had snapped back. The two looked at each other in recognition of a shared life of uncertainty and loneliness. Shannon gave Juliana the kindest of smiles and Juliana was grateful. He went on crooning to the girl who was in one of her last contractions. Juliana told Larisa, "Get the compress ready in case she bleeds more." The dark-haired courtesan leant to reach under the chair and to receive the child into a clean warm blanket as it slipped into the world more easily than anyone could have hoped.
Heads shot up outside as a thin wail rose from somewhere in the chamber. Percy was on his feet, not knowing whether to scream if the wail was Jocelyn dying or to dance with joy if it was his child. They waited, tense, while the wails continued and happy women's voices came out to them. The door opened and Shannon, tousled and sweating, came out bearing a tiny bundle. He advanced to Percy and pushed a flap of blanket out of the way with a gentle finger so the man could see his child's red and wrinkled face. Shannon said, "You have a daughter, me good friend."
The people in the corridor sighed and started to chatter among themselves. Lorin slapped Percy on the back in a gaiety he rarely displayed. Lawrence came to peer into the little face. "Good sir, she is the spitting image of thee... that is, a few minutes ago!" He smiled warmly into Percy's face.
The young man looked at Shannon. "Jocelyn?" he inquired.
Larisa had come out of the room at that moment and smiled at Percy. "She shall be fine. She is exhausted and needs to rest. But she wants to see you."
Percy glanced around at the encouraging looks the other men and Larisa gave him. He went in. Larisa told Lorin, "I shouldst not have known what to do were it not for Juliana. And Shannon. They both worked magic."
Percy's eyes were on Jocelyn alone when he came into the room where she lay. He did not see the broken chair or the pile of wet and stained sheets the women were clearing away. Jocelyn was tidier, settled into a warm soft bed. Her eyes shone at him. He knell by her side and took her outstretched hand. He could not say a word but only gaze into her green eyes and smile.
"Percy, my love, " came the weak voice from the pillows. "I shouldst have died and thy child with me if not for Juliana. " Percy had not noticed the woman who stood nearby. "And we have been so unkind to her. "
Percy now looked up and into Juliana's tired face. "Thank you, my lady," he said softly. She smiled and nodded.
"Percy," came the voice from the pillows again.
"Aye, my dearest."
"I want to name her Jolie. For my lady Josephine and for Juliana."
Percy looked at his young wife and said, "Is that not 'pretty' in French?" His young wife smiled and nodded. She slowly drifted to sleep.
Juliana smiled sardonically. "Linked again," she thought. "Fate's wild wheel." She passed from the room. In the corridor she walked by the men, not looking at any of them, and went to her own chambers.
Now as she waited to meet the bridegroom that Lawrence planned to toss her carelessly to she leaned her face near the fire to redden it.
The tap came at the door and Lorin and his lady wife entered with a very young man. He was not unhandsome but his clothes were more the clothes of the old tribesman than the continental fashion of the men of court. He looked like one of the young men that fathers brought to courtesans to be introduced to the fine arts of lovemaking. He was eager, nervous.. and there was something about his look that Juliana did not like. He looked less interested in her than with Lorin and what he had offered the fellow to take Juliana to wife.
Larisa noted Juliana's flushed face. She frowned. The girl was quiet and prim. She barely raised her face to the man she was about to be betrothed to. Larisa saw Juliana's face change slightly as though a wave of nausea had gone through her.
She turned to her husband and said, "Lorin, wait."
She went up to the woman and took her hand. "Art thou ill?"
Juliana breathed, "Nay. Aye. I do not know." She seemed weak. She started to stand and swooned. The young man rushed forward to catch her. Larisa directed him to give the girl to Lorin and suggested he might want to go down to the Great Hall and wait. He seemed relieved to be going. Lorin helped Larisa lay the swooning woman on the bed, looked at his wife questioningly, then followed the boy out.
Larisa sat on Juliana's bed stroking her forearms when the girl came to consciousness. She weakly asked, "What happened? Where is that nice young man?"
Larisa looked intently into her face. "Juliana, hast thou had thy bloods?"
Juliana feigned drifting out for a moment , then looked foggily up at the Duchess. "I do not remember. Nay. I do not think so. But I hath been unwell. I have been nauseous and lightheaded. I thought it was just the upset of late."
Larissa asked, "Juliana, tell me the truth. Thou saith thou couldst not conceive. Dost thou remember?"
Juliana skillfully hid her triumph. "Nay, I cannot. I think I cannot. It hath never come to pass in all this time." She looked the woman leaning over her. "Oh, thy Grace, can it be so? Do I carry the King's child?"
At Juliana's tearful look, Larisa leaned and put her face to the girl's, cheek to cheek. "Aye it seems so."
Juliana smiled inwardly. "Oh, my dearest, my dearest, whate'er will happen to me and mine little child?" she wept.
Larisa just held her and murmured soothing words.
Lorin left the King's chamber a short while later. Lawrence stood, grim and ashen. He knew his plans to remove the woman , to take her away and free him from temptation, were dashed. He could not discard her now, no matter the advantage he found for her. At least until the child, his child, was born he would keep Juliana here and see to it she was taken care of and made comfortable. He must. He glanced up at the blank panel of the tapestry and his heart was heavy in his chest.
Next: Rory Tells Bo About Being Hanged
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com