She could feel their stares, accusing, disapproving. Why? What had she done? Grassina swallowed, and her hand flew to her belly, as if the baby, too, could feel the weight of the glares and needed its mother's protection.
"What did Haywood say?" Chartreuse asked, pursing her lips. Grassina met her eyes, refusing to back down, refusing to let her older sister make her feel small.
"He's happy," said Grassina. "Why wouldn't he be?"
"It just seems a bit late, that's all." Chartreuse was not backing down either. "I know I'm older than you, but Emma was born seventeen years ago." Emma shrank back against Eadric. Grassina felt fury surge through her. How dare Chartreuse bring Emma into this?
"Well, Haywood was an otter seventeen years ago," Grassina snapped. Olivine flinched.
"If you wanted to raise a family, you had plenty of opportunities!" Chartreuse's voice grew shriller.
Grassina's vision blurred. She stared at Chartreuse for a moment, choking with rage. Then she turned and fled, before sobs overwhelmed her.
Grassina sniffled, looking up as the temperature suddenly dropped. It was Aldrid. He hovered slightly above the step where she was sitting, placing a ghostly arm around her shoulders.
"I am happy for you, my dear," he said.
Grassina lifted her hand to wipe tears from her cheeks. "Thank you, Father," she whispered.
"Give Chartreuse time," he advised. "She is surprised. It will take awhile for her to accept this."
"She doesn't approve," said Grassina. "Her—and everyone else."
"Haywood is happy, right?" asked Aldrid.
Grassina smiled weakly. "Yes."
"And you are also?"
"Yes," Grassina breathed. Her hand once more came to rest on her stomach.
"Then what do the opinions of others matter?"
"You're right." Grassina straightened up. She would have liked to give her father a hug, but that was impossible since he was a ghost. "Thank you," she said instead.
A smile crept over Aldrid's transparent features. "You're welcome, my dear."
Grassina took a deep breath, walking back into the Great Hall. Chartreuse was alone now, her thin frame held ramrod straight at the sight of Grassina.
"I know you are not happy," said Grassina, before Chartreuse could speak. "But you will not make me regret this." She turned on her heel and walked away.
Eight months later, Francis was born.