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fic: The Time Will Bring On Summer

An unexpected All's Well That Ends Well fic, for [personal profile] kalypso; 722 words, rated G. Fill for the "Futurefic" square on my trope_bingo card.

The Countess of Roussillon watches her daughter-in-law’s belly grow big with the child she thought she’d never live to see. She knows that this will be her only grandchild: a gift tricked out of her unloving son in an act of disguise, like the end of an old tale.

More and more she thinks the boy should never have married. The thought is disloyal and she puts it from her; his father’s line must be continued, even though Bertram himself has proved unworthy of her wishes for him. Be thou blest, Bertram, and succeed thy father in manners, as in shape! He’s the image of her late husband, but the resemblance ends there.

She prays for a grandson, of course, though adding Thy will be done at every prayer’s end. She will say nothing in reproach should Helena be delivered of a daughter; this child was hard to get, and the Countess will love it as she loves its mother, with her whole heart.

Helena, her jewel, her herb of grace: the daughter she’d always wanted. If she had partaken of my flesh, and cost me the dearest groans of a mother, I could not have owed her a more rooted love, she’d told the lord Lafeu, and it was true.

A hard birth, Bertram’s; she wishes Helena a kinder one. The physicians had warned the Countess that she could not risk another childbed, and the Count, for a wonder, kept himself apart from her from that day on. Few husbands would have done as much. We have our son, he’d say, and what do we need more?

She’d longed for a daughter, all the same; a companion to soften her boy’s harsh nature. In Helena, she thought she’d found her, only to lose her again to Bertram’s cruelty. Remembering the bitter words he wrote to his unwanted bride still makes the Countess’s blood run cold: When thou canst get the ring upon my finger which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband: but in such a 'then' I write a 'never.'

Some say it’s not possible to die of a broken heart, but the Countess has never believed them. She thanks God that her heart is tough, and so, it seems, is Helena’s.

Night after night she relives it in her mind, that impossible scene of restoration; the strange young woman from Florence called Diana Capilet, wearing Bertram’s ring and taunting them all with her riddling speech, claiming that Bertram had shared her bed and yet got his wife with child:

Dead though she be, she feels her young one kick,
So there’s my riddle: one that’s dead is quick.
And now behold the meaning!

The Countess had wanted to slap the stranger’s impudent face, till she saw what the girl had brought her, the riddle’s unbelievable answer. Then everything fell away but the one word: Helena.

The king and his courtiers stood and gaped as if turned to stone by the miracle of it. And Bertram? Bertram looked as if he was going to be sick; could barely force out a promise so flat and hollow that it made his mother’s scalp crawl with rage for the woman who loved him, still unvalued and unwanted.

Helena’s cry still echoes in her head: Oh my dear mother, do I see you living? Helena, running to her, throwing herself on her knees and burying her head in the Countess’s lap. Helena’s hair, warm and real under her fingers: she clutched at it, as if she would never let her go.

The Countess had told herself to let time work its magic, tried to believe that the approach of his child’s birth would bring some tenderness from Bertram towards its mother; but she knew there was no change. He’d be off to the wars again as soon as occasion offered, even without that braggart Parolles to fill his head with lies.

In her youth, the Countess had learned to sew: reluctantly, till her nurse scolded her and threatened a whipping. No escape from the common path of a woman’s life, even for a lady. Now she embroiders a pattern of leaves and berries on a kerchief for her grandchild, a world of hope and love in every stitch.


Title from Helena's speech in All's Well That Ends Well, Act IV Scene 4:

But with the word the time will bring on summer,
When briers shall have leaves as well as thorns,
And be as sweet as sharp.

Also posted at http://fengirl88.dreamwidth.org/135607.html with comment count unavailable comments.


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