The apostate's tale
encourage it by saying much.
    “Early days yet,” Ela said. “Even when she was here before, pretending to be a nun, she was never anything but trouble. That her own boy she brought with her?”
    Starting to leave, Frevisse answered even more quellingly, “Yes.”
    Behind her, Ela sniffed.
    That, at least, Frevisse could let go unanswered and did, but she took Ela’s “pretending to be a nun” away with her.
    She had been trying to put off thinking more than need be about Sister Cecely until Easter was done, but some thoughts would not stay away, and Ela’s words were a prod to them. Sister Cecely could never have been deeply rooted in her nunhood or she would not have fled from it. That being true, Frevisse could not help wondering how truly ready was she now to take on the full burden of penance for her apostasy.
    But why else would she have returned if she was unready for that penance?
    Why else indeed?
    Because if it was not for penance she was come back…then for what?

Chapter 7
    E very memory Cecely had willingly put away from her over the years had been returning on her like heavy vengeance ever since she had walked through the cloister door. She had begun to choke on them even before she knelt again in front of the altar or put on the heavy dreariness of the black gown. Now she was finding that among the worst of the things she had forgotten was time’s terrible tediousness here, and there were no days more tedious than these at Lent’s end, when the prayers went on forever—hours of praying every day and for what seemed more than half of every night.
    How did these women keep from going mad?
    Or had they already all gone mad, and that was how they could bear it?
    And how long would it take for her to go mad, trapped in this narrow world among these narrow women all horribly alike in their Benedictine black gowns and Benedictine black veils, their faces tightly surrounded by their white wimples as if they needed one more thing to bind them from the world. How did they bear being tied and bound and in-held against everything their womanhood should demand was theirs? How could they bring themselves to forget so much of what it was like to be alive?
    Even Johane, her own cousin, in those first moments in the cloister walk had stood staring at her as if she was a ghost or, at best, a stranger never seen before. But then Cecely had hardly known her either, she was so changed—not just older but looking as if she had gone flat, gone stale, with nothing left of her except the part that could be called “nun.” Cecily had more than half-hoped to find Johane an ally, but the little fool was keeping even more widely away from her than the others did. They all acted as if she had a disease and they might take it from her; all of them too stupid to see they were the diseased ones, with Johane as diseased as the rest and no use to her at all.
    Still, and despite her own old sickness at this death-in-life that was worse with every hour she was here, she thought she was doing well enough. Maundy Thursday was past, anyway, and she had not broken into laughter when she had been sat down with the others along the cloister garth’s wall, and Domina Elisabeth had knelt in front of them, one by one, and washed their feet as Christ had washed the Apostles’ feet. She had even washed Cecely’s feet and that had been when Cecely had had to fight to hold in laughter, wanting to dabble her bare toes in the basin and flick water at the woman who had surely been hating every moment of that humiliation.
    She had had altogether another urge when Father Henry—saints in heaven, even the same dull-witted priest was still here—had told her he would not give her Communion. She should have foreseen that, but she had not. This was the one time in the year when someone besides the priests were given Christ’s Body and Blood—the one time —and she was refused it because Father Henry was unwilling, he said, to “take on the

Similar Books

The Quiet Room

Lori Schiller, Amanda Bennett

Sorcerer's Apprentice

Charles Johnson

Something to Tell You

Hanif Kureishi

One Night Stand

Parker Kincade

Under the Jeweled Sky

Alison McQueen

Hostage Heart

Lindsay McKenna