"I see," Eleanor, said, though in truth she did not. Nor would she. Although tempted, she would not explain to Sister Ruth the need to balance God's work with prayers to God, nor would she chastise her in public for rude and arrogant behavior to a religious superior. It was Christina who needed counseling on maintaining balance and Ruth who required delicate diplomacy if Eleanor was ever going to win her allegiance. Embarrassing this woman in front of the other nuns, as appealing as that course was now, would not accomplish that.
Eleanor glanced up at the rough beam rafters above her. I may not be your elected choice, she thought as she looked back at the nuns sitting on the stone seats surrounding the chapter house wall, but chosen I was and there is naught any of us can do about that. Let us only pray that God will grant me sufficient wit to guide you well despite all the misgivings we share.
"We shall delay the start of Chapter for a few minutes more." Eleanor nodded at her charges, then took a deep breath.
There were over forty women to whom she must attach names and a few salient facts about familial background as well as position within the priory. While they waited for the absent sister, she could use the time to put faces to names. That would keep her temper cool. To call a sister by her name without hesitation and ask after her kin helped create an aura of authority she desperately needed. Brother Rupert had given her a succinct summary and description of most of the nuns last night. She had quickly memorized it, but if she did not apply that information to the actual person, she would soon forget the details. She looked to the woman on her far right and began a mental recitation.
The nun on the last seat was easy to remember. She was the tallest in the convent. Sister Anne had come to Tyndal in her late twenties after several years of marriage, Eleanor recited in her head. She and her husband had left their apothecary shop and the world together, he to the Fontevraud brothers at Tyndal and she to the sisters here.
Now which brother was he? She hesitated. No, Brother Rupert hadn't mentioned his name, but then he hadn't had time to tell her about all her charges at the priory. She made a mental note to ask him later.
Eleanor glanced up at the nun, then quickly lowered her eyes to avoid the discourtesy of staring. According to Brother Rupert, Sister Anne seemed content enough in her vocation and served competently as assistant to the infirmarian. There was, however, a sadness about the woman, evident in her bent shoulders and in the manner she held her bowed head. The observation was, she felt, worth further thought.
The seat next to Sister Anne was empty. That would belong to Sister Christina, the infirmarian, a plump and youthful nun who spent much of her time in chapel praying while Anne actually ran the hospital. Eleanor was beginning to suspect that habitual tardiness to everything except prayer, and perhaps meals, was another salient fact about this young woman.
Eleanor heard a muffled cough and looked at the door, hoping to see the tardy nun arrive. She hadn't. Eleanor closed her eyes and offered a quick prayer for patience in dealing with Sister Christina, but in truth, she had never felt charitable toward the unreliable.
With a suppressed groan, she opened her eyes. The nuns were sitting with great patience, hands tucked into their sleeves and eyes demurely lowered as if continuing their prayers from chapel. Indeed some were thinking godly thoughts. And some were not. Two of the latter were on the left of Christina's seat.
Sister Edith and Sister Matilda were actually blood sisters, children of a minor lord, who had come to the convent together because they apparently could not bear to live apart. Yet the two bickered constantly. Even now the thinner sister jostled the stouter one for space while muttering what Eleanor suspected were less than Christian sentiments.
Copyright Priscilla Royal 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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