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Thread: The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God [M - Hannelorian x DuchessLivilla]

  1. #521
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    Arabella listened intently as Alexandra spoke, absorbing each and every word of it. There was something amazing about how quickly the Princess could recall each and every detail of the history of the Hospital and how it was run. There was so much that her sister knew that she did not. It was something of a breath of fresh air. Perhaps for too long Arabella had let her faith blind her, and act as an excuse not to pursue knowledge that could have better prepared her, alas, here she was, at least with the assistance of another.

    "When this is all over, and you become Queen..." To say that Arabella had not imagined this would be a lie. Granted, Arabella never truly wanted the Crown, but now she wore it, and for the first time had an opportunity to do good. "You will be everything I am not. A true paragon." The smile that had rested upon her face slowly faded. "I pray the people will simply remember that I loved them." Just then it felt all the world had faded into nothingness and left the two sisters together, not even the absent minded stare of Jesus to intervene. It was just Arabella and Alexandra, like it was always meant to be.

    "Of course, I shall get no such favor until I fulfil my end of the bargain." Arabella piped up, being brought back to her rather grim reality, the marriage that trapped her, the beast that stalked her, pouncing at every moment deemed convenient for him. "I imagine there are but two things His Majesty prays for on his pilgrimage. That I fall pregnant with a male heir. And that you meet an untimely and gruesome end." Arabella sighed and looked down, her eyes running along the floor, rather filthy as it was. "My beloved husband has made it abundantly clear, I am to give him a son or die in the act."

    The thought, rather dark sat heavy on her mind for a moment. "Unless of course, I can convince him there is no greater show of devotion than to care for these children. Surely God could not see me acting so motherly, so longingly and still deny me the child I am due. I only pray the deed is already done, and I am merely waiting the signs." Another smile as Arabella now rested her hands upon her flat stomach, only a hope and prayer between herself and salvation. "So, that's the plan then. I convince the King to cede control to me, everything. I'll dispose of the current proprietors and let them pray to God for the His mercy."

    The Queen once more cast her eyes over toward the cross and Christ upon it. "I'll put an end to this suffering. But in the mean time, we should take our leave. We've had enough of this tragedy for one day. I do not think our hearts could take much more of this. Shall we ladies?" Arabella stood, now looking to Alice who nodded quietly in agreement. "We shall use the laws against them, and then we will see who is laughing last."
    I loved you completely. And you loved me the same. That's all. The rest is confetti.

  2. #522
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    Alex crossed to her sister and drew her close, leaning in until her forehead touched Bella's, her hands on her arms. "Do not doubt yourself, sister. Ever. The people, the real and true people of this land, not the nobles and courtiers, see us for what we really are, and they love you, for yourself and your goodness. You have won their love easily, and I doubt you shall lose it, no matter what happens. Hold onto that. Preserve, as long as you can, the flowers of the crown."

    She stepped back and squeezed her sister's gloved hand. "Despite what everyone believes, I pray, daily, for that as well, sister. You, more than anyone, deserve the gift of motherhood..." Of course, Bella was already a mother, but only in name and only in the past, as far as her husband was concerned. One day, maybe, she could hold her first-born and be mother but for now, it was too dangerous.

    "But yes, that may be your best course. Appeal to his piety. I cannot, whatever my feelings, disagree that the King certainly has that in abundance. If shall believe you, if you voice that while here, you felt called, by God, to do good works here, in order to be blessed."

    The Princess looked too, at the giant cross with it's sad-eyed Jesus upon it. "I wonder what you, who told us to love all and be kind, would make of this new world?" She thought sadly before turning away to follow her sister out of the grim chapel.

    They found the warden and his little group waiting in the corridor beyond, all looking very pleased with themselves. He came up and beamed. "Ah, Your Majesty, I trust you found peace in your prayers? I thought we might tour some of the girl's classrooms, so you can see our education program at work. I do believe we have trained many young girls who have gone on to serve in perhaps even your own home! We produce only the best of servants, as well as many Sisters of Mercy, and of course, wives and mothers."

    He glanced at his own wife then back, smiling still. "I also thought that Her Highness, especially," he gestured to Alexandra, "Would be most pleased to visit our nursery where our youngest residents stay before they are sent to foster homes in the country, until the age of five."

    Alexandra, as adept as her sister at this 'game', smiled, as if she could think of nothing she would rather do. "Oh, that sounds wonderful. Nothing is more precious than children, I am sure the Queen would agree. They are, after all, our future and must be nurtured with kindness and care."

    "I could not agree more, Your Highness," the warden replied, nodding, entirely missing the irony it seemed.
    "Ye mustn't be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time." - Granny Weatherwax

  3. #523
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    The Warden was too na´ve, or perhaps stupid would have been a more appropriate characterization to recognize when he was being poked fun at. Really Alexandra's comments had been emblematic of their entire visit. The whole place smelled and looked of a hospital, there was no love and no kindness to be found within these walls. In fact, it was arguably the show of kindness that was demonstrated between the two sisters that been as close to warmth as this place had gotten in some time.

    The vile man had made a passing comment about training the girls and how some of them had already likely ended up in her own home. Was this true? Did she now employ women who survived such a tragic upbringing? Had she done so in the past? Which ones? How had that unknowingly coloured her view of them? Did it explain certain ticks or odd behaviors? For a moment, flashing before her eyes was the maid who threw herself from the gallery, high above the stairs. The woman she had forced into suicide. Was that poor soul whose life she had taken been a product of this horrid world?

    "Of course my dear sister is most correct." Arabella concluded as the group began on a rather protracted voyage toward the classrooms, one of which was in session. The instructor, a rather young woman, all of 20-nothing stood by a blackboard that was well worn, the streaks of chalk dust and long erased text becoming something of a familiar background. The woman's eyes opened wide, either she had not believed it when she was forewarned of this visit, or was genuinely surprised. "M...Ma...Majesty." The woman now quick to fall into something of a messy curtsy.

    "Girls!" She called, as the children rose. They sat behind little desks in pairs of two, with similar worn benches behind them, encouraging no doubt one to sit as straight up as they could, lest their knuckles find themselves beneath a yardstick. The children seemed rather unaware, which the Queen supposed was just as well. "We have very special visitors this afternoon. Her Majesty the Queen, and Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales." The instructor caught a glimpse of Alice, but not recognizing her, nor know exactly what to do in this situation simply ignored her, not out of cruelty no, but out of ignorance.

    The girls all in matching near on threadbare uniforms recited a plaintive Good Afternoon in unison. "Now, now my lovelies, no need to stop on our account. Please be seated. Ms...?" Arabella looked questioningly at the woman, waiting for her name to be spoken aloud. "Stephens, ma'am."

    "Ah, yes Ms. Stephens, would you care to tell us a little bit about what we're learning today?" Perhaps she was truly caught off guard by the Queen's interest, perhaps it was something else. Arabella now found herself an admitted rather obtrusive presence walking about the room, a gloved finger tip sliding along a random desk or two, noting the traces of dust returned. A hand gingerly placed on the shoulder of a girl perhaps just reaching the age of five, noting further a hole or two in the fabric. The girls did not wince, but rather melted into the interaction, clearly starved of all affection. "Arithmetic, ma'am." Arabella smiled at the response.

    "You know girls, I was rather rubbish at that myself. Though I'll have you all know that Princess Alexandra over there was quite good at her maths." There was a slight chorus of giggling from the assembled students. "Little one in the front, with the purple ribbons in your hair. What is your name?" The Queen asked, her tone overall was remarkably sweet, it was clear for all to see once again, the woman truly appreciated children.

    "Mary, your Majesty." The girl responded and did her best to curtsy as the Queen returned to position in front of the classroom. "Mary is it?" Arabella smiled brightly and nodded. "Who can tell me of another Mary?" The girls seemed to look at one another, some with furrowed brows desperately wanting to please their guest and come up with an answer. "Now there, that's quite alright. Shall I tell you?" The girls enthusiastically responded as Arabella raised her hands into the air, inviting them to learn more. "Our fair land was once ruled over by a woman if you can believe it. A fine woman, once a curious little girl such as yourselves." There was something of a gasp

    "Her name was Queen Mary, eldest daughter of Henry VIII, an ardent Catholic." This was something different, something that while generally taught would have been quickly glossed over, despite her Catholic zealotry, she was after all, a woman. "So devout was she, that she burned hundreds of non-believers, all to ensure our glorious religion would persevere. Unfortunately, it would be some time before her beliefs were once again widely accepted by our people. So hated was she, she gained the name Bloody Mary."

    Arabella let out a slight chuckle, a gloved hand raising only to cover her mouth just a bit. "Now of course, such punishments are common place. But you must always remember, that even little girls grow up to be mighty women, who can command the people and instill the fear of God in those who doubt. Never forget your power my little ones. May you all be as fierce as Queen Mary."

    Despite the rebirth of the Catholic religion under the reigns of the Stuart monarchs, never restored was Mary's image, though she was but a lamb compared to her successors. "Thank you Ms. Stephens for indulging us in this little interruption. We shall leave you to your work, and the children to their learning." Arabella nodded her head and turned to leave the classroom, the next phase of their tour to take them through the nursery, something she dreaded most heartily. The Warden seemed entirely uncomfortable, and this of course was a great comfort to Arabella, knowing at least she was doing her job.

    Alice couldn't help but wonder how damaged the Queen truly was after the loss of her husband, and for all intents and purposes the loss of her own child as well. A daughter or not, Arabella was still a mother, and seeing all of these poor girls could not have been easy on a woman with surely such a heavy heart.
    I loved you completely. And you loved me the same. That's all. The rest is confetti.

  4. #524
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    Alex did the same as her sister, moving about the room, smiling and pausing at desks, making little comments and asking questions; taking a genuine interest in the girls, something she doubted they had much experience with! She also, with a teasing smile, poked fun at herself and her own problems with lessons at their age, hoping to put herself on their level. She could remember, all too well, feeling worlds apart from adults at their age and praying for some understanding.

    This, naturally, made the little group of girls she was speaking too, giggle then cast nervous glances at their teacher and the warden, who stood by the desk, looking a little lost. He, it was clear, had not expected the two Royal ladies to...well, act like this! Most visitors glanced in, nodded, and carried on! They didn't interact with the children! Why on earth would they wish to do that?!

    But, of course, he could not stop them. Something else Alex knew -as she felt the same- her sister would delight in. How could they not? A woman had few rights in their society, and was beholden to first her father, then husband, or if she remained unmarried, her father, then a brother or uncle or some such. She was never her own person. And here they were, doing as they pleased, and no man could stop them. Well, the King could, but he wasn't here.

    Alexandra, like the girls, fell silent as Bella began to talk to them as a group, of Queen Mary and her deeds. The Princess found herself in two minds, much as she had been as a child when taught the history of great Catholic ladies. On the one hand, Mary had had a terribly grim later-childhood, and adolescence, and it had not improved in her twenties and early thirties either. She had, for a brief time, been the Princess, the heir to her father's throne, with all that entailed...then suddenly, she lost, in quick succession, that title, her mother's contact -and then her entirely when she died- and it seemed the love of her father.

    No wonder she clung to the faith of her mother, no matter the risks.

    And yet, her reign was a list of failures from the start. Yes, she, briefly, restored the 'old faith' to England but it lasted only so long as she did before the vast majority of her subjects, under her sister, became Protestant, and her own actions in displaying the fanatical Catholicism that, even now, pervaded the country, turned many of her own faith against her.

    She made enemies and martyrs of many who may have supported her claim and reign, for the fact she was Henry VIII's legitimate child. And then, to make matters worse, she married a Spaniard, something the insulure English could never accept, and not just a Spaniard, but the son of the man she herself had once been betrothed to, who was young enough to be her son almost, and also in line for his father's great Empire...and so a man who had little time to be with her, nor help her in governing, something she herself admitted she had no taste or skill for.

    Naturally, Prince Philip saw England, and the Queen, as something he could use, but no more. He respected her, but that was it. Mary, desperate both politically and personally for a child, deluded herself, not once, but twice, into thinking she was with child, which, when it was proven false, was a humiliation to her and her government. Her husband swiftly abandoned her, claiming he had duties elsewhere and left her to struggle on herself...

    The culmination of this marriage was the devastating loss of Calais to the French, something that broke the already shattered Queen.

    She died alone, humiliated, abandoned and bereft of all hope, a broken woman at the age of 42.

    Her failures shone ever brighter too, when her brilliant sister came to the throne and succeeded at everything -except marriage and children- that Mary failed at. Elizabeth was remembered as "Gloriana" the champion of her people and the most beloved. The Virgin Queen who was married to England and her people. Mary was remembered as a cruel and vicious failure, derided as 'Bloody Mary'.

    Alexandra felt more pity than anything else for Mary though. She was not suited to being Queen regnant, and would have been much better suited to being a wife and mother only, or else a nun. Fate, and then posterity, was cruel to her. She glanced at her sister. "I wonder how posterity shall remember her, and myself...More kindly, I hope."

    She smiled though as her sister finished and patted the girl nearest her before coming to join the Queen once more. "Yes, you have our gratitude, Ms. Stephens, for teaching these young ladies. I am sure, in time, you shall be repaid for your kindness and skill."

    The two ladies, with Alice, joined the warden as he walked into the corridor, a little flustered. "How wise you are, your Majesty," he said, clearly falling back on flattery when all else had failed him. "I am sure our dear girls shall be...paragons of virtue and learning. Great ladies, as yourself!"

    Of course, he had in mind the girls should be servants only, with no such high ideas for themselves, but he could not disagree with the Queen. He would set the girl's straight later!

    "S-shall we move onto the nursery?" he stammered, perhaps thinking that at least there, neither Lady could give the infants any delusions of grandeur!

    He lead them, making small comments on his plans and the place at large, down several drab and dreary corridors, with their flagged-stone floors and white painted walls, until they reached the door to a large room, equally as drab, containing nothing but white-painted, iron cots. Rows and rows of them, stretching from wall to wall, with little aisles in between, where a few teenage girls -likely older girls from the hospital- as well as one or two nurses, were moving about checking the occupants of the cots.

    Most of which were full. There had to be around a hundred or so babies in the room, ranging from newborns to those of about two or so. That wasn't what shocked the three ladies...It was the silence. There was hardly a sound but for the click of the adult's feet on the floor, or the odd sniff.

    Not a single baby was crying nor even fussing. It was eerie and deeply unsettling.

    The warden, and his staff, seemed unfazed by it however, and he stepped into the room, beaming, "All these infants arrived this month, and shall, one by one, go to foster homes or, if God wills it, to him. Some are, sadly, given to us because they are weak and sickly, and their mother's do not wish to care for such a child. Naturally," he shook his head, "low-class women do not bond with their children as ladies do. They are rather like beasts in that regard and soon forget their offspring."

    Alexandra blinked and stared at him, stunned he could say such aloud. For once she failed to catch herself and she said, her tone clearly shocked, "No mother forgets her child, sir, no matter the circumstances that led her to your doorstep. I assure you, she is out there now and her thoughts turn often to her son or daughter."

    The warden flushed and looked uneasy. "O-of course, your Highness...I...I meant nothing by it. It is just we see such a low-class of woman here, abandoning their children-"

    She raised her hand stopping him, not wishing to hear any more disgusting remarks. This was, of course, her sister's right to do, but she couldn't help it. Bella, she knew, would know how each mother felt and to hear this man, speak of them like that without any feeling, was more than she could bear.

    "Why are they so quiet?" She asked instead, changing the subject.

    The warden, swallowing, and clearly put out, glanced at the Queen then said, "Ah...we use the quietness, to keep order."

    Neither great Lady had heard of such a thing. "The...the quietness?"

    "It's a tonic, designed to quiet infants and let them sleep."

    Alexandra stared at him once more then at her sister, mouth parted a little. They...they were drugging the babies to keep them quiet? What madness was this? Of course, neither Lady was to know but it was very common both in institutions and outwith; the tonic, chilling known as 'The Quietness', made normally with alcohol and laundemun, 'calmed' a fussing baby or child and made them less likely to cry from hunger pains and such. A quiet baby was an easy baby, which was the idea. But, naturally, a baby given more of this and less milk, would slowly starve to death or at the least suffer with malnutrition, followed by diarrhoea and then death.

    It was bought either by the bottle or by the spoonful from any druggist on any corner, for a few pennies or less. If families could not afford that, gin performed the same function.
    "Ye mustn't be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time." - Granny Weatherwax

  5. #525
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    The Warden's words on mothers abandoning their children were cruel, callous and deeply cutting to a vulnerable Queen. A woman who prided herself on her stone face. It made her stomach turn, her eyes well up for just a moment before returning to their ever placid hue. She had to let it pass, and her sister, at least, had spoken a spirited defense, words that were simple and true, and clearly jarring to the Warden. That part at least would make her crack a smile. Few were lucky enough to even know that Arabella had a child in the first place, fewer, were to know she had lost it. Fewest still, knew the child still survived. The pain she felt was catastrophic, it was something shared by the countless mothers who had given their children up to this very stark room.

    "My dear Warden." Arabella began, her eyes opened wide as she began to walk down the aisles of cots, her eyes glancing at the children below. "You must forgive me, I am only a weak and feeble woman." She turned on her heels, looking at her sister, she was in disbelief at what she had seen, at the utter silence, save for the sound of her own shoes clicking along the floor as she strode. "Do you mean to suggest you induce neigh on catatonia in mere children to prevent them from acting as they are by nature?" There was an air of incredulousness in the Queen's tone.

    Upon the conclusion of her question Arabella found herself kneeling down, picking up another such child who by the looks of it hadn't been more a few months old. The tag, handwritten suspended from the cot simply read "78569 - Boy - 24th May" Not even a name to display and comfort him in his time of need. Nothing. He was barely a human. He did have a name, or at least what his mother may or may not have given name, written now on a file, somewhere locked in a drawer or cabinet.

    "Your Majesty." Alice called somewhat timidly, but here would overstep her own bounds in an attempt to quell the Queen. To be to dramatic now, might spoil their opportunity to do real good later. "It's rather common in hospitals such as this, and indeed lower class households across the country." Alice also for a moment betraying her roots, rather exposing them with her knowledge on such things. "It is not to hide the nature of the child, but to allow children such as these who have experienced trauma to recovery mercifully as they cannot be with their mothers."

    The Warden cast his eyes toward Alice, who before now he had barely noticed at all, and felt a sigh of relief sweep over him. "Ah yes. Quite right."

    The Queen meanwhile turned her attention to Alice and her eyes softened, she understood immediately what Alice was trying to do, something her sister and herself could not. Tolerate something that on the surface seemed so unfathomably cruel and awful. Arabella held the child close in her arms and rocked him gently, warmly within her loving embrace.

    Alice had never seen something quite this severe, no children ever drugged to this extent, it was as though they were victims of war, silenced, put out of their misery through the use of drugs, they may as well have been killed outright, for many of them it seemed that death would certainly be likely, sooner rather than later.

    "I do believe we've had our fill of these darlings." Arabella called out, forcing a smile upon her face as she returned the child she held to the awaiting arms of a nurse. "Much to do today."
    I loved you completely. And you loved me the same. That's all. The rest is confetti.

  6. #526
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    Alexandra, who could not bear to touch the children, for fear she might at once bond with them and carry them off, watched, trying very hard not to show her true feelings. She was rather relieved in both cases that the warden was focussed on the Queen, and that Alice spoke to calm things.

    She stayed by the door, eyes glued forward, to the back war, to avoid looking at the nearest cots while the Queen held one of then. She longed to comfort them but she knew herself too well to risk it. Finally, unable to stand it, she said softly, to the warden, "Excuse me, sir, I fear I must step outside a moment, it has been a long day for one in a delicate condition," and, without waiting for a reply, she left, to stand in the corridor.

    The Princess could at least take comfort in the fact that any talk of her behaviour could, and would, be put down to her pregnancy. She paced back and forth in the corridor, a hand over her mouth, as if she was scared she might scream or say something she might regret.

    Finally, the door opened again and the Queen and Alice came out, followed behind by the warden and his gaggle of staff. Alexandra curstied to her sister and said softly, "Apologies, your Majesty, I just needed some air. I find myself suddenly most tired."

    Of course, she knew Bella would expect no such apology but appearances must be kept up. Plus, although she didn't know the Queen had already hinted they were done, it might serve as an excuse to leave...after all, the Princess of Wales was carrying, it was assumed by all, a possible heir to England and her health must be carefully attended to.
    "Ye mustn't be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time." - Granny Weatherwax

  7. #527
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    As the Warden stumbled out of the great hall shortly behind the Queen and Alice he took note of the Princesses' apologies and nodded rather affirmatively, as though he was pleased to see some degree of respect conveyed to such a woman as the Queen. Of course he would wait to speak.

    "Your health is our paramount concern dear sister, no apologies are required." Arabella smiled, but only for a moment as though to express her short temperament, but in reality she too was eager to depart from this wicked place and the things they had seen. "Indeed, we could arrange for the Princess to have a rest?" The Warden asked, though he himself was no more eager to prolong the visit, these two had already been far more intrusive than any of their other patrons or visitor.

    "Dear Warden, please accept our gratitude. This visit has been truly humbling, and we can rest easily know our children are so well cared for. However, you must understand that the only place for the Princess to truly find respite would be at home with her family. Such trying times, pregnancy, no?" There was a small laugh, the batting of eyelashes. Arabella knew her audience, and best to let him think for now that all was well. "It truly takes a toll, especially on those with delicate constitutions." The Queen cast a glance over her shoulder toward Alexandra, again she lied to make a show of it, but never the less, she knew it would ensure a swift exit.

    The Warden raised a hand and motioned for a boy, a nameless one at that to run outside and fetch the carriage that had brought the women forth, to now prepare and take them away. "I trust everything was to your satisfaction?" He asked something disinterested in whatever the answer might actually be.

    "Quite, yes." Another thrown smile and nod of the head. The Warden's wife was eager to see the Royals one last time as they departed. "I shall look forward to continued patronage. For now, if only to make my late mother-in-law proud to see her legacy so well supported."

    As quickly as they came, they went. Once in the safety of their carriage, Arabella let out a hefty exhale and sighed looking up toward the ceiling of the enclosure. "That is what hell looks like. No doubt about it."
    I loved you completely. And you loved me the same. That's all. The rest is confetti.

  8. #528
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    Alexandra climbed into the carriage behind her sister and closed her eyes. "My God, Bella...That...that man is drugging those infants. Not by his own hand but by his orders." She shook her head. "This place was started as a refuge, a place for the needy to be cared for. Mother's would be better off suffocating their infants now, to save the poor children the pain of a slow demise here. And say they survive, what have they before them?"

    She bit her lip and folded her hands over her stomach, as if to protect her own child. "Thank God Arthur did not witness that. I fear he may have done something reckless.

    The Princess then recalled what the warden had said about 'low-class mother's forgetting their children' she reached over to take the Queen's hand, "Are you alright? What he said..." she shook her head, "It was foul. Even more so as I know he believes it. The man should not be in charge of a dairy, let alone children."
    "Ye mustn't be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time." - Granny Weatherwax

  9. #529
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    "What have they before them?" Arabella asked in a low tone, almost, almost under her breath while staring out of the carriage window. "They serve us." Arabella was almost resigned in her attitude, but at the same time the deep sadness she felt was clear. "They survive, they get sold to houses like ours. They serve witless ladies, and crude men. They face abuse, a lifetime of trauma and devaluation." The sting was almost too much to handle. Arabella had treated her own servants in the past incredibly poorly, hence one throwing herself to the sweet salvation of death rather than putting up with the future Queen's cruelty for even one more instant.

    "Or something far worse, they end up like their mothers, with no choice but to surrender a child in order to survive, or hope for a decent chance at life. Or the boys, they end up as stable hands, or on the streets. They are nobodies, our society has no place for the unloved, the unwanted." Arabella lamented. "This is no life for a child, for anyone. So what? They can pray, they know the hail Mary, the our fathers, they listen in masses. They long for something God has no intention has no intention of giving them. At least not God as venerated by our overlords." Here Arabella meant not to comment on the nature of God, but rather of the men who claim to act in accordance with his will.

    "Men like the Warden, they don't bother me, nor do their words... not anymore. To pay them heed, to respond in such kind simply gives them power, to let them know they upset the delicate sensibility of a woman. I shall give him no such victory." Arabella scoffed, clearly now swallowing her own pain. "Besides, he isn't even the greatest sinner in the den. Oh no." The Queen turned to look at Alex, and perhaps Alice from the corner of her eye. "It's her who deserves my hatred more than any." Here of course she referred to the Warden's wife. "How could any woman stand by and watch children suffer? Are we not taught that children are our greatest joy? In fact, that children are more or less our only purpose in this world?" There was a resentment that she had been reduced to such a function.

    "Yet she lords over them, withholding food and affection. Withholding the true word of God. How could any woman do such a thing? But if you look in her eyes, you see what I do every time I look in a mirror." Arabella cast her gaze toward the roof of the marriage, a small smile crossing her face with a puckered lip before lowering her head and almost laughing at her own pathetic state. "You see the pain of a woman who has lost children of her own. Though hers, more so than mine, likely to early death." Perhaps that was the worst bit, that the warden's wife had also lost something so great, and perhaps so abundantly that she lost all sense of compassion. "But that's not all you can see, you can see the glint of cruelty. The careful glaze that comes with calculation. Perhaps we are not so different." The smile dropped.

    "You must be everything I am not, if you want to save the wretched." Arabella nodded and folded her hands delicately upon her lap. "We will put a stop to this. You needn't worry dear sister. I won't let this continue any longer than I have to. At the very least it has given me an additional purpose. If I am good at anything, it is revenge. And vengeance shall be mine, I shall repay." Arabella smiled once more. "Let us return to the palace, take tea, and go to prayer. We've seen enough for one day."
    I loved you completely. And you loved me the same. That's all. The rest is confetti.

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    Alexandra swallowed and looked out of the window as her sister spoke. She had paid the wife little notice, being too focused on watching the warden and his male staff but it made sense. She stretched her mind back to little things she had missed at the time but that her supreme memory had retained even without her knowing.

    There was, she realised, an air of something parts pathetic and parts deeply sad about the woman. Bella was right. She had lost children but...why then be so cruel to those under her care? Was it jealousy? They lived and hers had not? Or had she lost her mind in grief? It was not unheard of. Such was the pressure placed on a woman to have a child, it was common enough that, finally having succeeded only to have the baby or child die, the mother would go insane. Many a great lady was, even now, in some grim asylum, rocking an invisible infant in her arms.

    And then others, like the warden's wife, who had lost one or more children and...lost something else too. They walked, and talked and attended to their lives but there was, forever after, a piece missing.

    Suddenly, a memory came to Alex's mind, unbidden and fully formed. "Do you remember Lady Sarah Dempsey?" she asked, seemingly out of nowhere. "Mother's...cousin, I think? I always thought she was the most beautiful woman I had seen. Anyway, remember that day...she'd been married for about three years and had two children, then...something happened, and we did not see her for weeks then we went to the park with nanny and mother. Mother sat with her, on a bench, and there was a pram before them, her hand rocking it."

    She paused, thinking back. How strange childhood memories were when viewed as a adult.

    "They were talking, well, mother was talking...Lady Sarah had her eyes fixed on that pram and it's occupant. Nanny kept us away but," she smiled a little, "we easily evaded her...And we went to see the baby and the pram was empty. Do you remember? Before mother could shoo us off, Lady Sarah asked us, smiling, so happily, what we thought of the new baby and was he not the sweetest thing? Neither of us knew what to say and it did not matter anyway. Mother shooed us away and Lady Sarah just smiled and carried on rocking that empty pram."

    The Princess swallowed. "We listened at the door that night and...it was worse than we assumed. I think, I know I did anyway, I think we thought the baby had died. Terrible enough but it...it turned out Lady Sarah had drowned both the children, and her father, who was on the council, had managed to hush it up and keep her from being locked away or charged with murder, and now she walked daily in the park, with a nurse, pushing that empty pram."

    "God be praised, I hope I am carrying a boy...The more I see of the world as a groan woman, the more I do not wish to have a daughter who shall experience it." She leant against Alice beside her and closed her eyes. It was rare, but sometimes, just sometimes, Alex's mask slipped, like her sister's, and there was a scared girl revealed who was trying her best to stay afloat in a hostile sea.

    The pressure on both sister's was immense, and growing daily. Each had their own struggles, and each their own consolations, and it would be hard, if all was charted out, to pick which was in the worse position; Bella was Queen, with power and respect, she had the love of the King and was protected in many ways unlike any other woman, and had the power to do things no other Lady could...and yet, she was married to a monster who loved the idea of her, a man who had snatched her from the death-bed of her one true love and cost her her child; on wrong step and she might lose his love, and then where would she be?

    As for Alexandra, she had little power, and less influence being shunned by most of society, the King, font of all justice and law in the land, hated her and wished her dead, she was, at any time, seconds away from the gallows or worse...and yet, she was married to a man who loved and respect her, a man who made her life complete and together they were as happy as two beings could possible be, if only they had more time to enjoy it.

    She opened her eyes and looked at her sister, "God tells man 'Vengeance is mine' and yet he makes no account for ladies. We shall enact our own, and it shall be swift and terrible."
    "Ye mustn't be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time." - Granny Weatherwax

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