The following story takes place in between the events of Broken Patterns and Starting Chains. Lenore, heavy with her twin girls, is missing her brothers. The city of Septa is preparing for the winter holiday, Darkest Night. It’s celebrated with friends and families by praying to The Creator to thank Her for the days that Her Female face shines longer. People give each other gifts and enjoy days of feasting and parties by the fireside. Lenore, however, is not feeling much of the holiday spirit. And so she’s going to visit her common friends, Maggie, Sally, and Emily.
It was just past the noon hour when Lenore reached Maggie’s pub. The dining area was empty at the early hour, save for Maggie herself and their friend, Sally. They were sitting at one of the freshly scrubbed tables, sipping tea and nibbling on biscuits that were so warm that steam was rising from them.
“Hey, there,” Maggie said, “Where’s Victor?”
“At the palace, having a meeting with Mamma,” Lenore said, as her bodyguard, Anthony, came into the bar behind her.
“I bet he’s thrilled,” Maggie snorted.
“He’s happier about it than she is, actually,” Lenore chuckled.
She sat down at the table, setting her basket down and pulling out a loaf of brown bread.
“Anthony, do you want to join us?” Sally asked.
“Thank you, no, Miss,” Anthony said, taking up a position next to the door.
“Anthony doesn’t believe he should socialize with me,” Lenore said, pouring herself some tea.
“Well, look what happened when your last bodyguard did,” Maggie chuckled, “That’s how you wound up pregnant.”
“And married,” Lenore said.
“Both situations I’d like to avoid,” Sally said, cutting herself a slice of the bread Lenore brought. “Did Ramona make this?”
Before Lenore could answer, the door opened again and Emily came in. Her eyes were red, but she had a smile on her face. “It is cold out there, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Three days before Darkest Night, it ought to be,” Sally said, but she was giving her friend a searching look.
As Emily put a plate of cold sausages on the table, likely freshly made from her butcher shop, Lenore said, “Have you got a cold?”
“No, Princess,” Emily said, “Why?”
“Because your eyes are red and you sound stuffy. I actually believe you’ve been crying, but I thought I’d rule out cold first,” Lenore said. “What happened?”
Emily sighed and sat down next to Sally. “I’d just as soon not talk about it, to be honest.”
“Your meeting with your father went poorly,” Maggie said.
Emily’s head snapped up. “When I said I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn’t mean that I wanted other people to talk about it.”
“I didn’t know you were talking to your father,” Lenore said.
“She’s not,” Sally said, “Not on the regular, anyway.”
“Are none of you going to listen to me?” Emily cried.
“No,” Maggie said, “Not when you’re acting ashamed over something your papa should be ashamed of.”
Emily turned to Lenore imploringly. “It’s nothing, really,” she said.
“Truly,” Lenore said, “it’s nothing that’s got your eyes red with crying? I won’t press you if you don’t want to talk about it. But don’t insult my intelligence by lying to me, please. It’s insulting.”
“You’d better just tell her, or I will,” Maggie said, and Sally nodded in agreement.
“Fine,” Emily said, sighing. “I wanted to ask him if Tom could have our family name. He’s about to be blessed into the church, and I didn’t want him to be a Grace.”
Grace, Lenore knew, was the last name given a bastard child not recognized by their father’s family.
“He had to give his consent, or the church can’t bless him under your family name,” Lenore said.
“Aye,” Emily said, “But he won’t allow it.”
She was tearing up again. Lenore pulled out one of her handkerchiefs, embroidered in her own glowing light thread. Emily took it and dabbed under her eyes. “It shouldn’t matter,” she said, “but d’you know what he said to me? He said that he ought to be glad he hasn’t disowned me. That Mamma’s got to go to social events with Eugene’s wife, and that’s a humiliation. That a man they were really keen on marrying Liza won’t even make an offer, because of Tom. Here I’ve been, working in that butcher shop until my fingers bled until Master Owen’s wanted to retire and sold the place to me. I made my own life, bought my own house, own my own shop. I’ve never asked Papa for a single oct, but I asked him for our name. And all he can say is how I’ve embarrassed the family.”
Maggie moved closer to put an arm around Emily. “Anyone with sense would be proud to have you as a daughter, you know,” she said, “Just shows what a fool he is.”
Lenore leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knee. “I’m so sorry, Emily,” she said, “Isn’t there anything Elder Brother John can do?”
“I don’t think so,” Emily said. “And anyway, I’d hate to ask him. Monica, she’s one of the daughters-,”
“Monica and I know each other,” Lenore said, nodding.
“Well, she and I grew up close. She said Elder Brother John brought Papa and Eugene into his office and gave them a loud talking to. Said a man who couldn’t be a good papa wasn’t a good man. I don’t know what he expected that would do, but it didn’t do anything.”
“I expect they both told him the same thing,” Sally said, “They’ve got other children to think of. They can’t darken their prospects for a whore daughter and a bastard son.”
When the other women looked at her, she shrugged. “I don’t have to like or agree with the minds of wicked men to understand how they think.”
If Lenore had hoped that her visit with the girls would brighten her spirits, she was wrong. She went back to the palace, feeling lower than she had when she left.
She found Victor and her father, King Samuel, in the games room brooding over a chess board. Both men looked up when she and Anthony came in.
“Bug,” Samuel said, smiling at her. “Did you have a good time with your friends?”
“Not really,” Lenore said, taking a seat next to Victor.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, putting an arm around her waist. “Are the girls alright?”
“No,” Lenore said, “They’re not. Emily’s son is about to have his blessing, and he’s going to be a Grace. She wanted her father to let him have their family name, and he wouldn’t.”
She looked at her father and reached across the table for his hand. “This girl, she did the same thing I did, you know. The only difference was that the man didn’t want to marry her.”
“It’s hard, to see someone treated so unfairly,” the king said, nodding.
Then, his face brightened. “But, dear, you know that she doesn’t have to give her son her father’s name. Women can inherit now. She can give her own name to him.”
“What do you mean?” Lenore asked, “She doesn’t have any other name to give him. She has her father’s name, and he’s the patriarch of their family.”
“Well,” Samuel said, “maybe there’s something we can do about that.”
The day before Darkest Night, Lenore again made her way down to Maggie’s pub. She carried a basket full of gifts for the girls and their families. Victor was with her, sitting by her side.
When they arrived at the pub, Maggie and her husband <?> were there, with his daughter, Rosie. Sally was there, with her father Otis. Emily and Tom were there as well. Tom and Rosie were running around the bar, shouting for each other. They didn’t even notice when the prince and princess walked in.
“Look at them,” Victor said, warmly. “Soon our little girls will be running around with them.”
“Yes,” Lenore said, smiling.
“Hello,” Maggie said, coming to give them both hugs. “A peaceful Darkest Night to you both.”
“And you,” Lenore said, giving her a tight hug. “Shall we start with the presents?”
“I think the children would like that, yes,” Maggie said, laughing, as both children in question stopped in their tracks at the word presents.
“You must both sit down at the table and be quiet, though,” Lenore said. They both scrambled to get into a chair.
The adults took out wrapped gifts for the children first. Both children received a rubber ball, a jump rope, and a wooden soldier. They thanked each adult politely, then fell to playing in earnest.
Lenore let Maggie, Sally, and Emily give out their gifts first.
Maggie had a bottle of sweet wine for each of them.
Emily gave them all jars of garlic stuffed olives that made Lenore’s mouth water when she opened hers.
Sally gave everyone thick leather date books that looked very much like her own.
Finally, it was Lenore’s turn.
“For Maggie,” Lenore said, reaching into her basket, “I’ve made you a shawl.” She handed her friend a soft knitted shawl that shone softly with her magical yarn.
“Oh, it’s so lovely, Lenore,” Maggie said, putting it over her shoulders.
“For Sally,” Lenore said, “A set of silver candlestick holders, to commemorate you taking over the business.”
“And they’ll look quite handsome on my desk, thank you,” Sally said, taking the holders with a smile.
“And Emily,” Lenore said, reaching into the basket. “Oh, but it’s empty.”
“Lenore, you did not even forget Emily’s gift,” Maggie gasped.
“Wait, no,” Lenore said, “I have it. It just didn’t fit in a basket.”
She stood up. “Emily, as princess heir, it is my privilege to give titles to citizens that have earned them through good or brave works. When you had your son, you could have given him up to the church and gone back to a life of comfort as a wealthy man’s daughter. But instead, you committed yourself to him and creating a life that was all your own. For that, I’d like to give you your own family name, Fleischer. This is your own, and your son’s. No one can ever take it from you.”
Emily’s eyes widened. “Wait, d’you mean it? Can you do that?”
“I can,” Lenore said, “and I should.”
“Oh,” Emily said, “this is the best gift I’ve ever gotten, Lenore, thank you!”
“That’s hardly a gift, it’s something you’ve earned,” Sally said, putting a hand on Emily’s shoulder. “Personally, I think Lenore still owes you a present.”