Story for Mother's Day: Sister Mithe
Gaumhin (pronounced Gowan), one of the Captains of the Royal Guard, grew up in in a small orphanage in TussNaTuillin, Westren's westernmost village. He was raised by Sister Mithe, a tender and jovial woman, who became a model mother figure to him. Constantly passed up for adoption, Gaumhin had almost given up hope of finding a family, until the day finally came when he was summoned to be fostered by a family in the east, and while the day was a happy one for him and all those who loved him, it was also a torment to those who had raised him and looked after him as a son.
A dissonance of strident mirth rang out from where Gaumhin and the children sat, and Mithe was gone directly, off to tell the farmer that he was to convey Gaumhin to the east by evening, and then to sob out her beleaguering woes in the privacy of her own little room, where her red eyes and crimsoned cheeks would go unnoticed by the chief of the chuch’s inhabitants, where she might cherish the selfish notions of wishing to keep Gaumhin there with her rather than be forced to endure the bereavement that parting with him must evince. She had a moment’s chariness sending Gaumhin to the east, fearing what loneliness and cruelty might await him there, for while it might be an agreeable place, it was an unknown to her and therefore must be frightening to one who had never been anywhere but the church. TussNaTuillin was small and confined, everyone knew everybody else, everyone was amiable and generous, everyone found solace in the splendid simplicity of a country village life, and if only she could know that Gaumhin would be given the same treatment, all her vexations should be satisfied. Would he make friends, would he be given all the commiseration and kindliness that was his due, would he be recognized in such a house shut up together with five other children, would he be returned after the kingdom’s compensation should be paid, would the children of the house consider him as a brother or as an outsider? were all consternations that accompanied her fidgets as she hastened to ready the children for their lessons. Sweaters and pinafores were donned, a tolerable job was done in brushing hair and cleaning teeth, and while socks and shoes could not be said to be on the right feet, her spirits were somewhat revived as she ushered the older children toward the school room. They claimed their seats and quieted, but when Gaumhin came with the younger children, all fully dressed and smiling, hanging from every limb, attacking his legs and begging him to tell them another story, her heart sunk, assailed by a thousand agonies of impending separation. How could he go, and yet how could he stay? It was a question she could not but ask yet which must remain unanswered. Her head would reason what her heart would refuse to admit: he must go and they were all to welter in sadness without him, and with a faltering voice, she called the class to order, urging her students to open their books and settle down without knowing how she was to proceed for the day. It was a mortifying office, to teach while her beloved child, her one constant, was to leave them, and still more mortifying was it to see Gaumhin standing before her, his eyes tapered and expression scrutinizing as though trying to decipher whether she had spent the last half hour combating some unknown misery in her room.
“Sesster?” said he, approaching her, “Are ye o’right?”
A moment’s pause allowed her to say, “Aye, Gaumhin-son. Just a bit with the flowers Ciran brought in.”
Gaumhin looked askance and rased a brow. “Woodsorrel doesnae bother ye.”
Here she was caught, besieged by Gaumhin’s wretched suspicion and beset by the sensations she was endeavoring to suppress. “No,” said she impressively, “but th’day, Ah thenk they’re a bit strong. Bad with the rime an’ tha’, but time’ll sort them oot.”
Gaumhin could not but be aware of Mithe’s meaning: downcast eyes and a voice oppressed by the struggle for self-possession betrayed her sorrows. He had thought her delighted at his being summoned at last, for when she had put the letter into his hand, she was all mirthful assurance. Here, however, was a very different Mithe than the one he has been used to see, visibly distressed, ever so much more than Gaumhin had conceived possible for one of her usual cheerfulness, forever the model of conviviality and encouragement. It was disheartening to see her in so disconsolate a state, standing before the children, being made to continue with lessons when she might have wished to sit in her room and cry or spend some private time with the boy she was losing. “Would ye need tae come outside with meh for th’ while?” said he quietly.
“No, Gaumhin-son,” said she sweetly, cradling his chin. “Ye’ve got tae gather yur things an’ tha’, an’ Ah should be daein’ the lesson, givin’ ye yur time tae prepare.”
They gave each other a protracted and penetrating look, one one side all restrained disconsolation, and on the other all sincere compassion. It was wrong to rob her of his presence as it was wrong to convince her away from her misery, and while he must leave her with a broken heart, he would not be leaving so soon as she had foreseen. He gave her hand an affectionate press, said a soft “Ah’ll wait till after the lesson to gather mah things,” and took his seat, eager to glean whatever teachings her last lecture to him was to impart.
With a tremulous hand did she open her book, and with agonizing misery did she look up from the page to find Gaumhin returning her gaze, his countenance bespeaking happy anticipation, his blue eyes sparkling with interest, his lips wreathed in pleasant smiles. Thess is the last time my Gaumhin sits in thess chair, was her distressing cogitation, but all she could say was, “Th’day, we’re gonnae learn aboot Cathal and Cine, Frannach’s steads” while turning to a page that had little to do with the lesson she meant to give. Gaumhin’s subrisive and obliging looks ruined her for speech, and she stood for some minutes under the flow of a fluttering heart, unable to brook the rustling of papers, the hems, the fusses, the scuffing of feet without giving way to her unquietness, trying to soothe herself with the consolation that Gaumhin was beloved here and needed there without much success. Releasing children from the church was always a trial to her nerves, regardless of the joy that their being wanted supplied, but none would be so difficult as watching him go. Doant thenk of it now, she chided herself, but before she could reclaim her self-possession, Gaumhin was standing from his chair, was coming to the front of the room, was taking up the book from the lectern and was entreating her to sit that she might recollect herself from whatever it was that might be ailing her.
“Ah’ll give the mornin’ lesson,” was his gentle offer. “You just sit there and doant thenk aboot it.”
And she would not think about it, at least not while one whom she regarded as a son was standing before her, reigning over the room and reading every line of the lesson with all the animation that the happiness of the day could admit.