Frevisse was awake. Somewhere the last faint tendrils of a dream drifted and faded from a far corner of her mind, leaving no memory of what it had been. The hour was past Matins but still far from dawn, she thought. She raised her head a little, looking for the small window in the high pitch of the dormitory’s gable end. By St. Benedict’s Holy Rule all who lived in nunnery or monastery should sleep together in a single room, the dorter. But the Rule had slackened in the nine hundred years since St. Benedict had taken his hand from it. St. Frideswide’s was not the only place where the prioress slept in a room of her own, and the dorter had been divided with board walls into small separate rooms that faced one another along the length of the dorter. Each cell belonged to one nun, and sometimes each had a door or, as at St. Frideswide’s, curtains at the open end.
There, in a privacy St. Benedict had never intended, each nun had her own bed, a chest for belongings, often even a carpet, and assuredly more small comforts than the Rule even at its laxest allowed. In Frevisse’s, one wall was hung with a tapestry come from her grandmother’s mother, its figures stiff, their clothing strange, but the colors rich and the picture a rose garden with the Lover seeking his Holy Love. Across from it, beside her bed, there was a small but silver crucifix her father had brought from Rome.
It was all lost in near-darkness now. Through each night the only light for all the dorter was a single small-burning lamp at the head of the stairs down to the church, and sometimes moonlight slanting through the gable window.
As a novice, Frevisse had slept badly. She had been uncomfortable with the hard mattress and with sleeping in her undergown as the Rule required, had been disturbed by the water gurgling through the necessarium at the dorter’s other end, and at being roused at midnight to go to the church for Matins and Lauds.
Finally, over the years, she had learned to use her lying awake for prayer, or meditation, or remembering, or simply thinking. Now, waking in the night was no longer a burden but a gift for which she was often grateful.
With the last whisper of the dream drifted out of her mind, she lay looking at the high gable window, trying to judge the time, but there was no familiar star or any moonlight, only the rich darkness of sky, so different in its satin gleam from the dead black of the dorter’s night. She pulled herself more closely into her blankets’ warmth, settling into her mattress’s familiar lumps. And found she could not settle. Whatever hour of the night it was, not only sleep but quietness had left her.
She stirred restlessly, realizing she was fully awake. Why? She roamed through her mind and found she was wanting – for no good reason – to go and see how Lady Ermentrude was doing. And Thomasine. (more…)