The first time I saw her, she stood in the arch of the gate, a black spindle against the open stretch of road. I looked up from where I was kneeling in the garden and couldn’t look away. Head to toe in black, her face veiled. The air smelled like new turned earth, sunlight. When the gates shut behind her, she didn’t flinch.
The abbess was clear: don’t speak to her, don’t speak of her. We followed the first edict, mouselike, but did nothing but flout the second. Whispers in the refectory, in the dormitory, passed beneath straw hats in the garden. Rumors grew in the hushed-night stillness of Matins and the pre-dawn blue of Lauds: she was a great lady, a queen, come to the abbey to atone for a mortal sin, like Guinevere. She had a face so beautiful that knights went to battle, tore the countryside to shreds for one token of her favor. She had a face so hideous it could turn all who looked upon it to stone.
I kept my nose out of it, of course, but my eyes followed her. She was somebody, that was certain, and it wasn’t my wickedness that told me that; it was plain common sense.
One morning just before Prime, walking through the cloister, I heard a voice come out of the air. “Help me,” it said, a high clear tone. The sun had just cleared the walls of the abbey.
Not now, not here, I thought. Stone monsters at the cap of each pillar, tongues lolling; stone saints in the alcoves, all their eyes on me. Then she stepped out of the shadows, a black shape. I bit down on my tongue to stop myself from crying out.
“Wait!” she whispered. “Please! I have to see the sun. I’ll go raving.”
“What do you mean? You’re standing in the sun.”
“Not like this, all bound up in walls. You understand? I want to feel it on my face, I want to see for miles. I can’t bear it. How do you bear it?”
When my wickedness comes, I feel it a long way off, a pressure behind my eyes, like someone staring at the back of your head. I felt it then, starting. I didn’t see any angels yet, but they were coming. I had to hide. “I’m sorry, I—”
“You won’t help me.” She was pacing, black-gloved hands clenching her skirt in fists. “I can’t get anyone to say even two words to me.”
Under her veil, the set of a chin that was used to getting its way. The curve of her shoulders: despair, and defiance. A battle I knew. I hadn’t thought to find it in someone so fine.
“It gets easier, Lady.” I pushed back against the pressure building inside my skull. “Follow me. But you’ll have to hurry.”
I led her out the garden gate and into the apple orchard. The trees were bare still, the twisted trunks like fingers. The branches were dotted with tiny red buds.
“From the top of this one you can see the fields and the road, on a clear day the steeple of Notre-Dame de Tournai. But I’m not sure if you’ll be able to climb it in all that.”
She pushed back her veil. Eyes grey, wide-set. A small pale face.
She was young—no older than me. I felt a shock of disappointment. She looked so ordinary, plain. Then she smiled, a flash of mischief that lit one corner of her mouth.
“Help me, then.” She fumbled at the tiny black buttons that ran down her back from her neck to her waist, and I took over. She stepped out of the dress like stepping out of a bath and left the weight of it in my arms. Underneath she wore a white shift. She moved toward the tree, and the shift pulled around her stomach.
Another shock. I lowered my eyes. The wickedness beat against them, in time with my heart. I knew very little about such things, but I was certain she would have a child before summer was gone. “Should you climb in your condition?”
She laughed down at me from the lower branches. “If I lost it, I can’t think of a single person who’d be sorry. They’ve all been praying for it, no mistake.”
“Please come down, Lady. Surely God would grieve.”
“Would he? I’ve been told he’s quite cross with me.” She pulled herself higher, and the sun caught her face. She sat straddling a branch, with her back against the trunk, and closed her eyes. The sun picked out gold in her eyelashes.
I pressed my hands against my eyes.
“Don’t mind what I say,” she said. “It’s been ages since anyone’s said anything to me but nonsense. I’m sorry. You can go if you like. I’m quite comfortable. I think I shall live in this tree now.”
She sat in the tree with the sun behind her. A bird called, and my wickedness came upon me all at once. The morning sun brighter and brighter, white-hot, the beams solid gold, and she in the center, crowned in fire. A lady in white with dove-gray wings. Her eyes were terrible. Angels twined round her feet, crawled out of the sun and down the branches of the tree. A roaring in my ears. I tried to close my eyes, but the angels, the angels.
When I opened my eyes, I saw her face, plain again, swimming above me. I was lying on the ground. Underneath my head, a pillow stiff and rough—her dress. The bells were ringing, to call us to prayer.
“Thank God,” she said. “I thought you’d had it.”
She reached out a hand to help me, but I pulled away and climbed to my feet. My legs stone-heavy, my throat raw. I started walking. She called to me to wait, but I didn’t look back.
I wanted to forget her, but I couldn’t, because of the angels. They were everywhere: a flash around a corner, a flutter of wings on the stair. When I saw her walking in the cloister, they clustered around her veiled head like ducklings. Of course, I call them angels, but they aren’t; I know that.
“You must call them by their true name,” my mother told me. This was before I came to the abbey, when she caught me hiding in the churchyard, a child laughing into empty air. I saw them dancing between the graves, shining bright and rich as stained glass. I didn’t understand then why I was in trouble.
That winter the priests burned a heretic in the town square. They came to every door in the village: had anyone given her shelter? Spoken to her, heard her ungodly visions? Been healed by her touch? My mother told them none of us had seen her, but it was a lie. I saw her all that week before they came. In the window, in the washpot, in the well, I saw a woman on fire, her hair turned to smoke in the snow.
It only got worse after that. The angels changed, grew sharp and cold, pressed close against me with teeth and edges. They dragged me from my chair at dinner, beat me around my ears when I hid in my room. I fell to the ground and saw strange things: a gold-wrought sky, an apple tree hung with eyes, people turned to beasts turned to people.
My family could speak of nothing else: whispers at first, when they thought I was asleep, then speaking past me as if I wasn’t there. A matter of time before someone found me out. Simpler to scrape together the dowry for the abbey. Cheaper, in the end, than what would happen to them, to their standing in the town, to my older sisters, if it was known they harbored such wickedness.
“You must tell no one,” said my mother. Not the priest who took my confession, nor the abbess, nor any of the other novices and nuns. She told me the abbey would protect me from the angels.
It worked, in a way. I could lose myself in the bells, in the work, in the sameness of the hours: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, Compline. If I saw angels, I looked away; if I felt my wickedness coming on, I hid. Marguerite the mouse, always running off to pray, always walking with her eyes on the ground. No one knew my secret. I was safe.
And now this odd girl, with angels following her everywhere. She wasn’t like me, though. Even when they curled around her shoulders, I knew she couldn’t see them.
“Psst!” She beckoned to me from a doorway as I came back from the garden. “I’ve been looking for you for ages. You’ll never believe what I’ve found.” She caught my hand and ran towards the belltower. I stumbled after her. Her white hand paused for a moment on the door, the other still holding mine. I caught my breath and pulled my hand free. My palms were creased with soil.
She pulled out a key and unlocked the door, then turned her face back to me, all mischief.
“Well, come on then,” she said, and dashed up the stairs.
I followed her up past the long hanging ropes. At the top of the stairs, there was a landing just below the bells. She stood looking out the round cobwebbed window, out of breath.
“The thing I like best,” she said without looking back, “is that there isn’t a need for this. No one comes this high, except to clean the bells or fix them. It’s only beautiful.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The window, silly!” She leaned against the window frame, her face in the sun.
“We’re not supposed to be up here.”
“You’re up here same as me.”
“Only to tell you that we can’t be up here!”
She sat in a huff of dust. “Well, seeing as we’re both here now, we might as well stay a bit. Enjoy the sin before you do the penance, that’s what I say.” She loosened the stays of her dress and rested her hands on her stomach. “Have I shocked you? Please sit down. You know my secret now, and I know yours, so we must be allies. Which is even better than friends.”
I stood in the doorway with my arms locked straight. She couldn’t know—but I do speak, sometimes, when my wickedness comes on, and who knows what she could have heard. In the corner of my eye, an angel crawled up the wall toward the bells.
“Are you alright?” she said. “I would never tell anyone, I swear! Does the abbey not know of your fits?”
“No,” I whispered. If only it were fits.
“Well, they won’t know from me.”
I wanted to ask: why do the angels follow you? But instead I said: “Who are you?”
“Beatrix Gherijtzdochter, of Ghent.” She gave an odd half smile with her name.
“Oh,” I said. A reaction seemed expected.
Beatrix laughed. “That means nothing to you, does it? I told my mother the veil wasn’t necessary. Though I’m sure it’s made for some lovely rumors.” She pulled off her shoes and wiggled her toes in a shaft of sunlight. “Shocking, isn’t it?”
“The state of my ankles. Like sausages on the pan, right before they split.” She made a hissing sound, then clapped her hands together. “What I wouldn’t give for a sausage.” She wrinkled her nose. “Wait, no. The very idea of a sausage makes me want to curl up and die. How can that be? Do you ever feel like meat is just sitting there, watching you, dead? But still a part of you wants it. I’m saying nonsense again. Please sit down. It’s terribly awkward, sitting with you standing there.”
“I can’t. If we’re still here when they ring the bells for Terce, we’ll go deaf.”
“Then you must stay. So you can mind the time and get me out before they ring.”
I couldn’t leave her, and anyway the angels wouldn’t let me. I sat next to her in the dust. My hands twisted in the undyed wool of my skirt. She drew her legs under her, ungainly.
“What do you think is worse: wanting a sausage but not having any, or having a sausage but not being able to eat it because it’s watching you funny?”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never had one.”
“Never had one?”
“I suppose I might have when I was small. We don’t ever have them at the abbey.”
“Not even on feast days? You all eat this slop year round? That is a penance. And to think I once begged them to let me join.”
“You did? But—”
“What, you think I’m not suited? Well. At the time, anything seemed better than where I was. An irony, really, that I ended up here anyway. But it’s just for a few months.”
“You’re not staying?”
“They’ll ship me back as soon as this is over.” She gestured to her stomach.
“What about the—” My tongue tangled around the word.
“If it’s a girl, she’ll stay here, I suppose. If it’s a boy, I don’t know. If I were a man I could take him home and make him my master of horse. Give him my name, if I wanted. But ladies don’t have bastard children. It isn’t done. So you see, this child isn’t mine. Not really.”
I haven’t seen many children made, me being the youngest and my oldest sister just married when I left for the abbey. None of the nuns here have gotten in that condition lately, our abbey being a strict one.
“Can I ask—” I said. “What is it like?”
Beatrix reached for my hand and put it on her stomach, where her white shift poked through under her loosened stays. “Just wait,” she said. I could almost feel her heartbeat, fluttering like wings. Then, a rolling under my palm, the sharp moving ridge of a bone. I snatched my hand back.
Beatrix laughed. “Strange, isn’t it? Like it’s a sea beast in there and no human child at all. Something inside you, part of you, growing, until you can’t contain it. It’s got to come out, one way or another, even if it kills you.”
“Was it true love?”
Beatrix’s smile stilled. “Of course it was. It’s a terribly romantic tale. Even now, my true love is riding here to find me.” She looked at me sideways under her gold-tinted lashes. “I’ll tell you the whole story if you agree to meet me again tomorrow.”
Dust swirled in the patch of sunlight from the window; though the air was warm, I shivered. But the next day, I went back.
The angels loved Beatrix’s stories. When she leaned forward, a story playing around one corner of her mouth, the dust came alive, the tower full of held breaths. Everything else went cold in contrast. When I sat at prayer, long hours of silence, the angels laughed at me from the windows of the chapel. I lost my place, started over again and again from the beginning. I wandered through my thoughts like trees. Behind every tree an angel waited. They winked at me until I lost the path, until I couldn’t bear it, until I went back to the tower to meet her again.
Beatrix made a code: small white stones left in the mouth of a stone lion in the cloister. The number of stones meant the hour. One stone for Prime, two for Terce, and so on, Prime being the earliest hour Beatrix would countenance (“The birds do a perfectly good job of singing up the sun without my help. Besides, there’s no good trying to climb in the dark”). If we climbed the tower just after the bells struck the hour, we could safely stay until just before they struck again.
“My true love has hands as white as snow,” said Beatrix one morning in the tower just after Terce. “Hour by hour, I watched him in the hall. His hands moved over the harp like birds. When he took my hand at last, it was like holding a dove. His heart beat against the tips of my fingers.”
As always when she spoke of her true love, Beatrix sat straight. Light brown hair, braided against her scalp but always wisping out around her face. The light caught the wisps when she moved, lit them gold.
“When he heard that I was gone, I’m told he drew his sword and knelt before the holy cross. Never again, he said, shall my hands touch the strings of my harp, until I hold my beloved in my arms once more.”
“But how will he find you? There are hundreds of abbeys like ours.”
“An excellent question, Marguerite. Perhaps our bird could bear him a message.” She hoisted herself up and went to the window. On the tree outside, full green now, a bird was flitting from branch to branch. Beatrix opened the window and reached her hand out as far as it would go. “Ho, friend! Can you find my true love? Tall fellow, riding a horse? Carrying a red scarf as a token of my favor?”
The bird ignored her.
“I don’t think he’s a messenger bird,” I said.
“Then what’s the use of him?”
“Their dung is good for the vegetables. And we roast them, sometimes, when the bishop visits.”
“Don’t you eat birds?”
“Only silly ones, like chickens. I wouldn’t eat a friend.” Beatrix stretched, put one hand in the small of her back. She was getting bigger. “A fine sight I’ll look on a milk-white steed. You’ll come with us, of course.”
I looked away. “I don’t know.”
“Marguerite!” She took my hand and dragged me to the window. “Just imagine. We’ll eat berries and make our clothes out of leaves.”
“You want me to come with you and your true love? As what, a nursemaid?”
Beatrix laughed. “My child won’t need a nursemaid. It will run naked and wild, like a little forest beastie, and hunt squirrels with its teeth.”
“A chaperone, then?”
“Certainly not! No, I have it—you’ll be a holy woman. Then you can keep your vows, if you like. You’ll live in a cave like the desert fathers, and people will come from miles and miles to hear your miraculous visions.”
From far away, eyes staring at the back of my head. “Beatrix, don’t.”
“They’ll bring you offerings—milk and cheese and bread and sausages. We’ll do whatever we like.”
“I don’t suppose you could see your way clear to doing a miracle or two. Just to keep up our reputation.”
I turned and stumbled toward the door but found it blocked by angels, crawling all over each other.
“Marguerite, I was only teasing! Don’t go.”
“Bells for Sext will ring soon. I have to.”
“It’s ages still before they ring.”
The angels spread their wings. I pressed my knuckles into my burning eyes. “Get out of my way!”
“I’m not in your way, I’m behind you. Who are you talking to?”
She came to stand beside me in the doorway, and the angels parted for her. We walked past them. I could feel Beatrix looking at me, and the angels on the walls, restless, but I kept my eyes on the ground.
Beatrix was sobbing in the orchard. Curled in on herself. She was bigger again, overbalanced. She wasn’t a romantic crier. Her face was streaked and red, her veil in a heap on the ground beside her.
I ran to her. “Someone will see us together,” I whispered. “What’s happened?”
She opened her hands. The bird lay there, eyes closed, one wing bent. “It just fell out of the sky! Something hurt it.”
“A hawk, probably,” I said. A spot of blood on her dress. Wind through the leaves. The walls started whispering. Not here, not now. The orchard was empty, but just over the wall in the garden, I knew there would be sisters working.
“Can’t you do anything?” she said.
I pulled back. “What could I do?”
“I’m not Saint Francis!”
“But the eggs! They’ll die.”
“It’s the way of things.”
“The way of things is horrible! If you find one beautiful thing in the world, they only take it.” She collapsed to the ground with the bird cupped in her hands. It was still alive; I could see its little fluttering heartbeat, and every so often it twitched. I knelt next to her.
“We keep hundreds of birds in the dovecote, Beatrix. I’m not even sure this is the same bird. Did you look for it at the tower window? Perhaps your bird is fine and well.”
This only made her cry harder. “You don’t understand. It will all be for nothing,” she sobbed. “I can’t do this, it will be like it never happened. It’s all for nothing!”
“Stop it,” I said. “Stop it, you’ll hurt yourself.”
“I can hardly breathe. Marguerite!”
A dull pound, in the back of my head. It was coming on me soon, and no question. There were angels all around; not pressing in for once, just watching. I couldn’t leave her like this.
“Not here,” I said. I grabbed her by the elbow and threw the crumpled veil back over her head. “Come on.”
I pushed her through the door of the belltower, stumbled up the stairs. She was breathing in gasps, her body wracked. What was one bird more or less, in the balance of things? When we reached the top she folded to the floor, not a step further.
She took a long shuddering breath. “I’m sorry. You must think I’ve gone raving. Perhaps I have. I just—I can’t bear it right now.”
I pressed one hand against the center of my forehead. Shaking inside, down my arms, into my fingers. I held my other hand out to her. “Give it here.”
Now she looked at me, but her face was growing blurred. “Wait, are you alright? It’s happening again, isn’t it?”
“Just give me the bird!”
She pulled me down to sit with my back against the wall. The bells hung over our heads. The weight of them. I took the bird and held it in my hands. My wickedness rose up inside me, a stillness, a fire. I raised the bird to my lips and kissed the top of its head.
The room went dark. Beatrix was a bird, grey-eyed. She tore at her side with her beak, opened the skin, and blood ran down, red over white. A single tear. Angels changing from one shape to another, claws, wings, tails, eyes. The light, gold. The air cried out. A baby bird opened its mouth for the blood, wide, wide, wide.
I came back to myself, my head in Beatrix’s lap. Her fingers rested on my forehead. She was singing softly:
Ah poor bird, why art thou
Singing in the shadows at this late hour?
I opened my eyes. Beatrix’s hand grew still.
“Are you alright?”
I turned my face away. The bird hopped to the window, flexed his wings. The sun caught the grey-white of his feathers.
“You can’t tell anyone.” Everything before my eyes was grey with angels, everything blurred. My hands were shaking.
“That was extraordinary! Just shook itself and flew off, like nothing was ever wrong. Did you know you could do that?”
“I’ve never done it before.” Never done it, but my fingers had itched to do it, my skin had stretched with the pressure of not doing it. “I’m not supposed to—”
“It’s not ordinary fits, is it? You kept saying my name, over and over. Are they—are they visions?”
“I can never make any sense of it. Please, Beatrix—”
“I can’t believe you’ve been keeping this a secret!”
A shudder went through me and I started to cry, as I hadn’t cried since I came to the abbey and the doors shut behind me. Never tell anyone, never. I promised my mother I wouldn’t. Then something rang through my blood, the pulse of the hours, the bells. I sat upright.
“The bells,” I said. “We’ve stayed too long—”
We were halfway down the stairs when Nones rang. Each bell struck behind my eyes white-cold.
Born in sin, and drawn to it, said the statues in the cloister. They lolled their tongues at me, murmured to each other behind my back. Whispers in the garden, in the walls. You must never tell anyone, ever. It was only a bird: a small thing. Who could notice? Hundreds of birds, living and dying every day. A small life, in the balance. But it cracked something open in me.
When they burned the heretic in the town square, my mother had covered my eyes, but it didn’t matter. I saw everything in red on the backs of my eyelids. The air was full of voices, angels in my throat. Let us out, let us out, they said.
I found six white stones in the lion’s mouth: Vespers.
“There you are,” Beatrix said. “I’ve been waiting for ages. Come sit. You’ll be black, I’ll be white.” A game board chalked in the dust, pieces made of stones and twists of paper. Early evening, hot and still, slanting shadows. Beatrix looked up at me in the door.
“I’ll teach you then. Sit down.”
“I mean, I can’t meet you anymore.”
“Don’t be a goose, Marguerite. What’s happened?” She hoisted herself to her feet, her pale face framed in the window.
“I just can’t.”
“Did you have another vision?”
“Don’t call them that!”
“What else should I call them?”
“They’re wickedness,” I whispered. “I’m going mad.”
“Who told you that? I don’t think there’s a speck of wickedness in you, or madness either. Visions, and miracles—”
“Why are you so convinced you’re a heretic? For all you know, you could be a saint!”
“Have you never listened to the saints’ lives? They only saint you after you’ve died horribly! Much good it does you then.”
“So you’re just going to hide forever? Your entire life?”
“You couldn’t possibly understand! With all your fine words, and your true love.”
“As it happens, I do know a bit about wickedness. More than you, I’d wager. I know what happens when you step out of line. But you can’t just—you can’t let them take everything from you. You have to take something back for yourself, even if it’s only an hour.”
“If you understood at all you wouldn’t be acting this way. You’re making it worse. It’s everywhere, in everything, all watching me. I had it under control before you came!”
“What are you talking about?” She reached for my hand. “Just sit down, tell me what’s wrong.”
“We can’t be friends. Or allies, or anything.”
Her face, red and splotchy. She drew her hand back. “I certainly won’t force you.”
I turned to the door, my heart beating behind my eyes.
She burst out: “You’re being a coward. I don’t know what’s happened, but you’re being a mouse about it. Go if you want.”
I spun around. “What’s your true love’s name?”
“His name? If all you want is to run away, then why wait for him? Why aren’t you long gone? Climb the tree, over the wall, gone tomorrow.”
She stood straight as a spindle against the open window.
“He was never coming, was he?” I said. “It’s just stories.”
“What would you rather? Shall I tell you all the other ways besides love that a girl can get into my kind of trouble? Shall we talk about what will really happen to this child, this part of me that I never wanted and can never keep? Perhaps I should just lie down and let the hours march on, but I won’t. It would be like walking around already dead while I’m yet living.”
For once, the tower was quiet, without even a whisper of wings.
Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, Compline. On my knees: dirt in the garden, stone at prayer. For seven days I tried to remember how to hide. In chapel when the windows whispered, I dreamed of becoming an anchoress. We didn’t have any at the abbey, but I heard there was one at Notre-Dame de Tournai. A holy woman who lives in a little cell above the altar. A room with no doors. They would wall me in, speak the prayers of the dead. I would be safe forever. When the priests next came to take our confessions, I could tell them I’d been called.
The angels were angry with me. Pressing, hissing, a high thin chime that went through my teeth. The sun, white-hot on my skin in the garden. In the orchard, the trees grew heavy with apples, green and hard like closed fists.
I saw Beatrix from afar, a black shape, faceless, in the arch of the cloister. She looked back at me, and looked away. Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, Compline.
The air cried out.
I heard the cry from the garden. The sun was low in the sky, the hour just before Compline. I ran to the apple orchard and stopped at the gate. Fire in my chest. I gasped for pain. The angels tried to warn me.
Two sisters were already there and the abbess was running. Someone was on the ground, and I knew it was Beatrix. I heard voices from far away.
“What happened?” said the abbess.
“She must have fallen,” said one of the sisters.
“We have to get her inside.”
The abbess knelt beside her and loosened her dress. Her palms came away red. “Send for the midwife.”
I stood in the gate. I couldn’t move. Beatrix cried out. They took her by the arms and feet and carried her past me into the abbey.
I pressed my hands against my eyes. Wickedness, or visions: Beatrix crowned in fire, Beatrix winged and bleeding. I’d seen it all along, but I can never sort through what I see until it’s too late. So useless. Like trying to translate birdsong, or sunshine. When I was a child, I hid in the churchyard and found it full of angels. They twined round my ankles and licked my face. Beastlike, but no earthly beast. I laughed. I didn’t know to be afraid. When Beatrix laughed, it felt like that. Like wonder. Like a stolen hour, or found gold. A life. What was one life, in the balance of things? One life, or another.
My legs gave way and I sat inside the gate, knees against my forehead. I had to follow her, had to help her, but my body was heavy, the air around me syrup-thick. Alone in the orchard now. But I wasn’t alone. They were there, as they always are, eyes behind every tree.
“I can’t do this by myself,” I whispered. They crept closer. Their eyes, their tongues. I reached out my hand. “Help me.”
The angels streamed towards me, all joy and teeth and wings. I opened my arms to them as I once did. They burrowed their heads into my neck, lifted me to my feet.
I took one step, and another, then broke into a run. Angels behind me. I weighed nothing. Through the doors of the abbey, down the hall, to the room where I knew Beatrix slept, though I had never been there. It was busy with people: sisters, the abbess, the midwife, and Beatrix on the bed. The door slammed shut behind me. I didn’t flinch.
“The priest must be sent for,” the midwife was saying. “If by a miracle the child comes out living, we’ll need to baptize it quickly.”
“What are you doing here?” said the abbess, to me in the door.
I ran to her and everything else went grey. Her face, small and pale between my hands.
All around me were whispers, whispers; whether it was the sisters talking or the air, I didn’t care.
“What’s wrong with her?” I said. “Is this usual?”
“Do you know her?” said the midwife.
“She’s my friend.”
“I’m sorry. Best if you stay out of the way.”
I smoothed back Beatrix’s hair with my hand. She caught my fingers with hers. I could almost feel her heartbeat weak against my palm. Her eyes were wild.
“Marguerite,” she whispered. “Don’t move. Just above your shoulder, by your ear, I could swear there’s some sort of—”
“Ssh, don’t say it.”
“They’re everywhere, winking in and out! God help me, I’ve gone and done it, really truly raving this time.”
“You’re not mad, Beatrix. You’re just in pain, and you’ve lost blood. I see them too, all the time.”
“You see this all the time? How do you bear it?”
I smiled, a bit wry. “Not particularly well.”
“I’m sorry, the things I said to you. I didn’t know—” She bit off her last words and screamed again. Her hand in mine, gripped so tight I couldn’t feel my fingers. The others were standing back in the shadows. Not dragging me out yet. The midwife had a hand outstretched; perhaps she was stopping them. I held Beatrix’s hand until the screaming stopped.
“It hurts,” she whispered. “Hurts like it’s going to tear me open.”
“You and your child are going to be fine,” I said.
“Tell me another. Wait. Marguerite.” She breathed my name. Her eyes widened. “Everyone is watching.”
Power trembled in my fingertips. All my life I have pushed it back. Afraid of the pain, but even more, afraid of the power. Afraid of what I could do if I let it out. But in the end, it was as easy as opening a window.
“Don’t be a goose, Beatrix,” I said. I kissed the top of her head, where her skin met her hair, and let it out.