“I’m glad you could make it.”
Jessamyn nodded and shared a stunted embrace with her secret mother-in-law, feeling embarrassed that she had not been able to read the summons Mae had sent her, and nearly missed the event. The letter she had received came without warning, passing on the knowledge that Mae had finally moved into the house down the road. The house was enormous, with two front towers made of white stone; it hadn’t been hard to find.
“I wasn’t expecting an invitation,” Jess said carefully. “To be honest, I thought you didn’t approve of me.”
Mae laughed then, throwing her brown hair over her shoulder. “I didn’t approve of your methods, but I think everything has turned out for the best.”
Not everything, Jess thought to herself. Maiolaine’s baby daughter had lived long enough to die of starvation, after the babe refused to nurse. Since then the days had gone on colourless, with the sky appearing somehow grey and dull. Even the summer heat had no effect on the mood, and Jess had remained in a depressed state.
“Did you hear about Maiolaine?” Jess asked, following Mae to be seated.
“Yes, how is she coping?”
They were sitting in a tower room, which was decorated with colourful curtains and exotic seating. Felyx had mentioned Mae’s intention to retire soon, and the house appeared beyond the comforts of any commonfolk.
Jess shrugged, “She’s spending a lot of time with the twins, but seems okay.”
“Does her reaction surprise you?” Mae must have noticed the face she made, because she leaned forward with a frown. “You don’t appear impressed.”
“I’ve never lost a child,” Jess replied, shaking her head. “I couldn’t imagine –”
Mae cut her off “You’re right, you haven’t lost a child.”
Feeling somewhat scolded, Jess looked down at her sweating hands. She couldn’t help but feel a spark of anger at herself, and Maiolaine. Aenya Gwynham – the most respected nurse and midwife in Marlowe – had stated the cause of the early birth was Maiolaine’s own fault.
“Aenya said it was Maiolaine’s thoughts that made the baby come early,” she said quietly. “That she never wanted the baby,” she looked up and made held eye contact with the older woman.
“Did Aenya also tell you that Maiolaine was raped?”
Jess frowned, “Raped?”
She’d heard the word before, and she knew what it meant, but she had always assumed it was uncommon.
“Aenya is good at what she does, but her heart is too big.” Mae told her, “She has a foolhardy belief that all women who have fallen pregnant are irrevocably responsible for that child thereafter. But there are always unseen circumstances.”
Jess bit her lip and looked away, once again she felt a pang of anger – this time toward Mae. “I could never understand that. Throwing away your own baby – it’s wrong.”
“Is that how you see me?”
“What?” Shocked, Jess instinctively shook her head.
Mae smiled, “Padric told me you knew. I don’t know how you found out – nor do I want to, but I trust you’ve decided to keep it to yourself?”
Jess nodded instinctively, feeling suddenly like a child. “I didn’t mean to offend you by what I said,” she whined defensively.
“Taking offence would accomplish nothing,” the older woman dismissed. “I would like to look at this with positivity, as an open, productive agreement between the two of us.” She looked at Jess with sincerity, “First by offering you a position at The Golden Talisman.”
“What?!” Jess was taken aback, The Golden Talisman was the very pride of Mae’s family. “Me?”
Mae was smiling as she nodded, “I’m pulling away from the business, Felyx needs to step into my shoes but I wouldn’t want him without an extra pair of eyes on him.”
Jess clutched at her chest and tried to hide the blush in her cheeks, and the small smile forming on her lips.