1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 45
Sophie smiled. “My surname, of course.”
Cautiously now, Leonora! “What is strange about it?”
“That it is still affixed to my person. You know, of course, that I was married.”
“Y-yes.” It would not do to let Sophie know how very much Leonora knew of this. Her very personal curiosity could easily be misunderstood as mere nosiness. “Your husband died in the Baltic War, did he not?”
“Yes, he did. So I am familiar with the many ways in which mourning can become a burden more trying than the grief that may underlie it. Or not.”
Suddenly, Leonora was unsure that she wanted to hear Sophie’s unuttered truth. But she was also aware that there was no way to stop it now. To flinch away from it, to smother it before it could leave Sophie’s lips, would be to show herself a coward, to be unworthy of trust, and so, to be unworthy of further shared revelations. And so Leonora took what she knew to be a fateful step: “I am unsure how best to understand that statement, dear Sophie.”
Who smiled. “That was well and delicately put, Leonora. I thank you for being so patient with me. This is difficult to speak of. Not the least because I fear it will make you — your sister, too, but particularly you — think ill of me.”
Leonora did not know what to say: she simply shook her head.
Sophie drew in a deep breath. “I was married to Laurids Ulfeldt in October of 1631, had our child in June of the following year, and lost that child soon after. But by that time he had been sent to serve under Anders Bille on the island of Osel. Which is where he died, early in 1633, trying to intercept a boat of Swedish couriers. Which only occurred because Gustav did not die at Lützen, which in turn led to your father’s eventual war against him. So, in point of fact, Laurids died when he did because the up-timers arrived and changed history.”
Sophie turned to face Leonora directly. “You are not the only one to spend much of your life transported to other places and other times in the pages of a book. As is true for so many of us, I became curious about what had happened to me in the up-timers’ world. Last year, I finally had the chance to peruse their collected histories.” She smiled. “It was a humbling thing, to see what little mention there was of me at all, other than that I was a ‘rich heiress’ who had married Laurids Ulfeldt. Who, I discovered, was to have lived much longer. And with whom I was to have had four children.”
Leonora felt tears rise into her eyes, but did not blink, did not let them escape. At the age of seven, harshly treated by the parental surrogates who had raised her while she was away from her father’s court, she had resolved never to shed tears again.
Sophie’s eyes widened. She reached out and touched Leonora’s cheek. “No. Do not weep. Not for me. And most of all, not for what you think is my grief.”
“What?” Leonora croaked.
“My dear friend, you know what the Ulfeldt family is like. Laurids was the best of them, true, but they are not . . . not warm men. Nor sensitive, nor compassionate. He was more physically vital than most of them, but not what one would call vigorous. He spent most of the few days we had together immersed in his books, pursuing his ‘historical projects,’ as he called them.”
Sophie laughed, shook her head. “That was to have been the great bond between us, you see: books. Except that he used them as a means of making things smaller, as a way to fit all life — what had come before and what was transpiring around him — into neat compartments and categories, whereas I used them to rove far and wide, to the ends of this earth and beyond.” Her rueful smile faded. “I suppose one could say nothing defined the differences between us so sharply and so sadly as the reasons for which we embraced books. Which was the majority of the embracing that occurred in our marriage.”
For the first time since Leonora had met Sophie, the young woman averted her eyes. “So you see, Leonora, I know what it is like to mourn and yet not feel grief. I am not saying that this is what is occurring behind the hard facade that Edel Mund shows to the world. Frankly, I think something different afflicts her. But I know what it is like to wear black, and step slowly and heavily because it is what is expected of a mourning wife, but to feel nothing but relief within. And in that relief, feel oneself base and monstrous.”
“But how? And for what?” Leonora blurted out. “For being rid of a man you did not love, never wished to marry? Because, Sophie, it was no secret that your mother engineered that marriage, in no small part to secure allies who would protect her from my father’s wrath. What would you feel but relief in escaping from such a union? And why, therefore, should you feel such guilt?”
“Because my guilt does not arise from escaping my marriage to Laurids,” Sophie explained hollowly, “but from dancing away to my freedom upon the ghost bodies of three more little children to whom I never gave birth. And for living past my time.”
Leonora did not breathe. “What do you mean?”
Sophie’s eyes rose back to Leonora’s. “One of the other things the histories revealed about me was my date of death: May, 1635. Just as we were preparing to leave for the New World, I had, in that other history, left the world entirely.”
Leonora went from horrified to confused in the space of a single second. “But then, how did you have four children–?”
Sophie shook her head. “In that other history, Laurids was only briefly on Osel. With Gustav dead, the Baltic War never occurred, the tensions were brief, and he returned. But here, he never returned from Osel and so, did not father three more children. For which I am unspeakably grateful. And for which I must certainly be damned.”
“How can I not be, Leonora? I wake every morning and breathe a sigh of relief that I am no longer married to Laurids Ulfeldt. And then I remember, in the next breath, that my freedom comes at the expense of his life and that of three unborn children. How does that not damn one?”