1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 06
PART I: THE VIRTUE OF TEMPERANCE
A due restraint upon affections and passions
Castello del Valentino, near Turin in Savoy
Terrye Jo Tillman had spent at least an hour sitting at the writing desk, leaning back in the chair and looking out across the beautiful mountain view outside her window. The blank letter paper lay stacked, the quill sharpened and the ink mixed, ready for her to start the letter; but it was hard to find the right way to begin.
Uncle Frank’s letter was nearby. She still wasn’t sure how he’d found out where to send it, but it had arrived that morning and was delivered to her apartment by a liveried footman on a silver platter as if she were royalty, or at least nobility. She’d managed a gracious thank you. Her French and Italian was much improved from when she’d arrived a year ago with the team hired to build Duke Victor Amadeus’ radio tower. It had to improve: the rest of the group had gone home or elsewhere, turning down the duke’s invitation to stay, but she’d remained to operate the shiny new up-time technology for Victor Amadeus.
For her part, Terrye Jo didn’t want to go back to Grantville, and didn’t really have anyplace else to go.
The letter’s not going to write itself, girl, she thought. Mooning out the window doesn’t help.
She hated it when she was right.
She sat up straight in the chair and pulled back her sleeves. It was a new blouse and it wouldn’t do to get ink-stains all over it. Then, with a sigh, she pulled a sheet of paper off the stack, took the quill and dipped it in the ink, and began to write.
I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to write to you. I want to say it’s because it’s been so busy here, setting up the radio tower and getting everything settled, but you know it’s not a good enough excuse. I was angry when I left, and so were you, and maybe it’s time for that to end. I left you to take care of Mom without me — but you’d had to do that when I was in the army, and she didn’t recognize me anymore. There was nothing left to do but kiss you goodbye. Uncle Frank’s letter told me that she died in the spring. When I come home I’ll visit the grave with you, if you want.
She paused and put the quill down. For a moment she thought about crumpling up the paper and tossing it out the window. That was a terrible way to begin. It was worse than just being unable to find the words — it was as if there weren’t any right words.
Her mother was dead. Her doctor had called it Huntington’s chorea — the same thing that had taken her Aunt Gloria two years after the Ring of Fire. Both Mom and Gloria had been messed up even before the Ring, but there were medications and treatments. Dad and Uncle Jim took turns driving them up to Wheeling and they were both better for a while afterward.
Then Wheeling disappeared, along with the rest of the twenty-first century. They did the best they could after that, which wasn’t very good. Her aunt was already gone by the time Terrye Jo graduated. Dad came alone to see it, because Mom was having a bad week. He’d only gotten to eighth grade, and had been so proud of his daughter who made it through even though it happened back here in the seventeenth century.
By the time she came home to work for VOA, her mother didn’t even know her own daughter. That was when she knew it was time to leave. The invitation from the duke of Savoy came at just the right time.
Just a year or two, she’d thought. Then she’d come home with enough to live well. But she didn’t go home.
I’m living in the Castello del Valentino, which is the ducal palace. I have a room about the size of our old house and a workshop downstairs. The duke and duchess have been very kind to me. Duke Victor Amadeus is about your age and very handsome — he’s got one of those pointed beards and has turned-up moustaches, and has a huge wardrobe. Every day I see him wearing something new. His wife Christine — the duchess — is much younger. She’s the sister of the king of France, and has a temper worse than Gramma Dorothy. She mostly uses it on the servants — I think the duke told her not to scare the up-timer away. She did come to me before a ball and told me that my jeans and flannel shirts were quite unsuitable, and had her dressmaker fit me for a beautiful pale blue gown. The court artist did sketches of all the ladies. You wouldn’t be able to tell I was an infantry grunt in disguise.
A few weeks ago the court took a trip to a monastery, Hautemont Abbey, which is on a tall hill overlooking a lake. It’s a gorgeous place, like something out of a fairytale movie. A few dozen of the duke’s ancestors are buried there, and he and his wife expect that they’ll go there too, but hopefully not any time soon. They took all of their children along. They have three and the duchess is pregnant with another. She’s already lost two others — one stillborn, another when he was just six. They want to bring in an up-time doctor, and they hoped I was trained for that too. Even with nothing more than field medic training they’re glad to have me nearby.
She almost threw this sheet out the window too. Nice going. Focus on death — the place where the dukes of Savoy get buried and the number of kids the duchess has lost.
She set that thought aside and plowed ahead.
I want you to know that this is a great situation for me, even though it’s far from home. I miss you, and Uncle Frank and Aunt Lana and Uncle Jim and my grandmothers and Grampa Fogle too. But I can’t come home now, even though you want me to. I need —
She stopped and scratched out I need. She didn’t need anything. It was her Dad who needed what she was going to ask. She was almost to the bottom of a page, so she set the current one aside and started with a new sheet.
When Aunt Gloria died, you cursed the Ring of Fire, and you cursed fate, and a whole lot of other things. There was no medicine, no up-time clinic, nothing to help her get better. I’m pretty sure you did the same when Mom died. It’s all true, but even up-time neither of them were getting better — they were mostly staying the same, and not a lot of that. You can blame God and curse fate all you want, but not the Ring of Fire. They didn’t die because we’re back here. They died because there was something that killed them. In the Guard we lost people — up-timers — who survived coming back to this time only to be killed. It didn’t make sense, it wasn’t fair, but it happened all the same. I don’t know why we’re here in this time, but we’re here and we’re not going back.
Because of that, I need to ask you something important. I need to ask you to move on: from Mom, from the Ring of Fire, from wanting me to be in reach to lean on. Even Uncle Frank told me that I have to find my own way in this world and that I’ll be a better daughter because of it.
I hope you will love me anyway and that you’ll write back
With love, your daughter