“You are a lucky man, Sir Mordred,” Pellinore Gwynedd said as he shook his future son-in-law’s hand. “My Dindrane is one in a thousand.”
“I don’t doubt it, my lord,” Mordred replied with a smooth, urbane smile — a smile rather like his mother’s, Pellinore thought. He did his best to restrain a shudder. Sister to the king though she was, Morgause Orkney always gave him the creeps.
“Have my parents arrived?” Mordred asked, glancing around the vestibule. Pellinore shook his head.
“No, not yet … I daresay they’ve been held up by your younger sister,” Pellinore chuckled. “You know what girls of that age are like.” But then Pellinore bit his tongue, perhaps Mordred didn’t know what girls of that age were like — Garnet had after all only hit “that age” after Mordred had left for university. “Besides, dinner shan’t be ready for at least another hour, and signing the papers won’t take that long.”
“Very true, my lord.”
“And don’t call me ‘my lord,'” Pellinore said with a wide grin. “We’re going to be family soon enough. Call me Pellinore.”
“If you wish.”
“I do wish it. Now … Dindrane is in the parlor with her mother, I’m sure you’ll wish to speak to her, let me show you–”
But before he could finish the sentence, a loud knock resounded from the door and the butler hurried to open it and admit the guests. Sure enough, the Orkney family — Lord Lot, his wife Morgause, and their adolescent daughter Garnet — stood on the threshold. Cries of welcome echoed through the two-story foyer, Eilwen (Pellinore’s wife) and Dindrane were sent for, and for a few moments any hope of intelligent conversation was lost in the general din, not the least of which was Morgause’s fussing over her son.
The group repaired to Pellinore’s study, Eilwen hooking her arm through his and whispering “Forty-five minutes,” meaning the amount of time before dinner was ready to serve. Pellinore nodded.
The betrothal papers were the only thing on Pellinore’s usually-messy desk, neatly stacked and ready to sign. Pellinore had perhaps gone a little overboard on them, ordering the finest vellum, the most meticulous scribe, even a gold-leaf border around the edges. All in all those papers had cost about the same amount as a normal set of betrothal papers, which, considering that Pellinore was Albion’s Chief Magistrate and had drawn them up himself (thus saving on the cost of a lawyer), was saying something. But Dindrane was his eldest, his girl, and he wanted this to be special for her. Seeing the soft smile she gave him, Pellinore knew that she understood, even if everyone else in the room thought he was mad.
Since they had time to kill, Pellinore decided to use it by explaining the terms of the betrothal in detail to Mordred and Dindrane, whose signatures would make the whole thing legal. Mordred listened politely, but Pellinore knew only his daughter was really paying attention, nodding at important intervals and clearly taking mental notes. Good,Pellinore thought, I’ve trained her well. Everyone else must have been bored out of their skulls, but were too polite to say anything. Even Garnet, who should have been sent out of the room to amuse herself with the younger Gwynedd children (as Pellinore realized when it was too late to do anything about it), was the picture of attention. She didn’t sigh, didn’t fidget, didn’t yawn, and only looked like she was about to be sick when Pellinore covered (in a hurry, he didn’t like to think of it too closely either) the part about conjugal duties. The only sign that she wasn’t entirely happy with her situation were the quick, frequent glances she sent towards the door.
But it was all finished soon enough, first Mordred signed his name, then Dindrane, lastly the parents as witnesses, and Eilwen was just adding the final flourish to the last “d” of her name when the butler opened up the door and announced in a stentorian voice, “Dinner is served.”
It was a family dinner, suitable, considering that it was celebrating the joining of two families and the creation of a third. Lamorak, Pellinore’s oldest son and his heir, had made his way out of hiding, and even Dilys and Delyth, twins and the youngest of the family, had been allowed to the formal occasion.
Eilwen smiled to look around the room and see her whole family gathered around the table … then sighed, realizing it wasn’t the whole family. “I’m so sorry that Aglovale,” referring to Pellinore and Eilwen’s second son, “couldn’t join us,” she said by way of apology. “I believe he would have much enjoyed speaking to you, Lord Lot.”
“Oh?” asked Lot, mostly out of politeness.
“He’s very interested in the military … tactics, weapons, that sort of thing … his father and I,” Eilwen glanced over at Pellinore and he smiled encouragement, “well, his father and I were hoping that one day, King Arthur might put him in charge of the new barracks he’s planning to build … I mean, since Aglovale won’t be receiving any lands of his own, it would be such a comfort. But of course that’s years in the future.”
“The new barracks?” Morgause asked. “He would prefer a career in the infantry — not a knighthood?”
“Now Morgause, there’s nothing wrong with the infantry … in case you’ve forgotten, dear, that’s where I made my career,” Lot pointed out. He turned back to Eilwen and Pellinore. “It’s a wise place for him to go, if he’s truly interested in arms and tactics. The knights may be deadly, but generally they’re not consulted as to the big picture, the flow of the battle. They–”
“Are supposed to kill as many people as possible and be quick about it?”
“Garnet!” Morgause scolded, but Lot only laughed.
“Is that why you want to be a knight, Lamorak?” Dilys asked. “To kill as many people as possible?”
“Dilys!” Eilwen gasped, horrified.
“Now see what you’ve done,” Morgause hissed to her daughter. Garnet rolled her eyes.
“That’s not why he wants to be a knight — it’s because he hasn’t the brains to be a general or a magistrate like Papa,” Delyth answered sagely.
“Don’t scold her, Mum,” Lamorak said with a chuckle, “she’s right.”
“What a pity,” Garnet whispered, inclining her head toward his. “But I’m certain that you have plenty of … other qualities that more than make up for it.”
Lamorak’s eyes met hers, and an unmistakable spark passed between them. “Indeed?” he asked, his hand creeping along the table toward hers. “Like what?”
Garnet smirked. “I’ll tell you later.”
In the meantime, the adults, not noticing the private conversation Garnet and Lamorak had begun, were continuing their earlier discussion. “But as I was saying — if Aglovale wants to consider a career in the infantry, it would be a very wise choice. He’ll be bound to be promoted quickly, and once he’s a general he’ll gain the King’s ear that way far more quickly than if he were but one knight among many. Has he started his training yet?”
“Oh yes,” Eilwen replied, “he was quite eager to begin as soon as he was old enough to do so.”
“Excellent, excellent,” Lot replied. “I’ll be sure to look him up — see how he’s doing.”
Pellinore grinned hugely. It wasn’t a promise by Lot to aid Aglovale in his career — it was a bit soon for that, after all, the ink on the betrothal papers was still drying — but it was a hint that he would be willing to do so, should Aglovale prove satisfactory. It was more than Pellinore had dared to hope for this quickly.
“So where is Aglovale?” Morgause asked before she re-addressed herself to the cook’s excellent lobster.
“Another symptom of his dedication,” Pellinore chuckled. “Sir Bors invited him to his house for dinner tonight — wanted to discuss tactics with the lad. I told Aglovale he shouldn’t let this opportunity slip away.”
“And Sir Bors would probably never forgive Aglovale if he passed on the opportunity to look over Sir Bors’s daughters — he has two more to get rid of, doesn’t he?” Mordred asked with a twinkle in his eye.
Pellinore sighed. “Perhaps.” And as he spoke, he had no idea that he was telling anything other than the complete truth.
Dinner in all of its courses was soon over, and with the end of dinner came bedtime for the twins. Eilwen herself saw them to bed, but she was quick about it, and quick to resume her hostess’s duties. She brought the ladies to the parlor, where they sat around discussing gossip, dress patterns, and whatever else ladies would speak of when they wished to bore the menfolk into going away. Not for the first time, Pellinore thanked his lucky stars that he had been born a man. The last thing he was able to hear before he left the room was an eager discussion of wedding plans.
He brought Lot into his study — the younger lads, Mordred and Lamorak (who had, as it happened, been close friends before Mordred went off to university), having wandered off somewhere else. The servants had made their way into the study while the family was at dinner and had enclosed the betrothal papers in a lovely leather case (one that Pellinore had ordered specially for the occasion).
Pellinore, of course, offered Lot some liquid refreshment, and Lot was only too happy to accept. The two lords were only silent long enough to properly appreciate the fine brandy before Lot began to speak. “So, Pellinore, have you considered my proposal?”
Pellinore barely held back a wince. “I have,” he admitted, “but I’m still not certain … with the large difference in age … it would be years before Lamorak and Garnet could wed.”
“It would be years before Lamorak could wed in any case,” Lot pointed out. “After all, I can’t see you letting your son enter adulthood without a proper education.”
“Indeed,” Pellinore replied, managing a slight smile. “But all the same … he’s going to enter a risky occupation. I’d prefer he were wedded, with an heir provided for, as soon as possible.”
“I understand, but consider it this way — what are your, and Lamorak’s, other options?”
“The de Ganis girls, for one. And …” But here Pellinore had to stop, for, as he well realized, the de Ganis girls were pretty much his only other option. The de Ganises and du Lacs were dead set on marrying Lady Leona du Lac to the de Ganis heir, Elyan, and the only other young lady of proper breeding, Princess Jessica, was rumored to be quite attached to William du Lac.
“The eldest of which is going to marry Prince Thomas,” Lot pointed out. “The younger two … Lamorak would be waiting quite a few years for Lady Clarice, longer from Lady Angelique.”
“But not as long as he’d wait for Garnet,” Pellinore replied.
“True, true. But do you really want to see Sir Bors sitting in this chair?” Lot asked with a clever smile.
Pellinore decided not to answer that. Much as he hated to think ill of anyone without just cause, Sir Bors put his back up. It probably had something to do with the first time they had come into prolonged contact with one another. Sir Bors had come into his office, with an exhausted wife and (as it happened) a three-day-old babe in tow, all but demanding that Pellinore draw up a legal agreement “gifting” the girl (Sir Bors’s words) to the church as soon as she came of age. Pellinore had refused, if betrothals were illegal before the parties came of age, then this certainly was, and to say that Sir Bors had been furious would be an understatement. In fact … despite the joking remarks at dinner, Pellinore wasn’t even certain if Sir Bors would be willing to consider marrying one of his daughters to one of Pellinore’s sons, even all these years later.
“And if I might …” Lot continued, bringing Pellinore back to the present, “I will add that you have the luxury of a second son, my lord. Even if — heaven forbid — something should happen to Lamorak before he is able to procure an heir, your line will continue.”
Pellinore flushed. “That is true …”
“Besides, if it would ease your mind, it would be quite possible for Garnet to forgo university and marry Lamorak as soon as she comes of age.”
“No!” Pellinore answered, quite startling Lot with a display of more vehemence than he displayed in the whole time of their acquaintanceship combined. “Absolutely not. A university education conveys lifelong benefits quite independent of the materials learned in class. I won’t have any young lady deprived of those benefits for my sake or my son’s!”
“All right, all right … please, my lord, calm down,” Lot said, his eyes rather wide and his tone hurried. “I shan’t mention it again. I didn’t think that you–well, never mind what I did or didn’t think, but if you want my daughter to be university-educated before she marries your son, she shall be. I pledge it on my word of honor.”
“Good,” Pellinore snapped.
“But,” continued the wily Lot, “if I make that pledge, will you at least further consider a union between Lamorak and Garnet … bring it up to your wife, your son?”
Pellinore set his jaw, then sighed. “I suppose,” he replied, “that that is only fair.”
While Lot and Pellinore were debating the idea of a second match to unite the Gwynedd and Orkney clans, one of the subjects of their conversation was playing a game of darts with Mordred.
“So,” Lamorak said jocusely, “I suppose this is the time when I inform you that if you break my sister’s heart, I’ll have to break your neck.”
Much to his surprise, Mordred shot him a quick, sharp look–but the look was soon replaced with a slippery smile. “And I suppose this is the time to inform you of the same thing.”
Lamorak nearly jumped out of his skin. “You–you knew? She told you?”
“Not in so many words,” Mordred replied. Then he laughed. “In fact, not with any words at all … but anyone with eyes to see could tell the way you felt about each other.”
“Oh, Lord,” Lamorak murmured. “We didn’t want anyone to know …”
“Mmm–and why not?”
“Well–because!” Lamorak stammered. “Because I’ll be going to university in a year–and because neither of us thought that our parents would agree to a betrothal in the meantime …”
“I see,” Mordred murmured.
“Well, why do you think we didn’t want anyone to know?”
“For the general reasons that young men prefer not to let the parents of the paramours know the true relationship.”
“No!” Lamorak protested. “No, it isn’t like that! We just–we don’t think–damn it, Mordred, haven’t you ever been in love?”
Was it Lamorak’s imagination, or did Mordred hesitate before throwing his next dart? It must have been his imagination. “I have,” Mordred said softly. “But more importantly — I can tell that Garnet is in love. Which is why I want to tell you, that if you do anything to break her heart or dishonor her name … there will be no mercy. Is that understood?”
“Of course,” Mordred continued, sizing up his next shot, “if you really are in love, you’ll have no problem agreeing to this … because no man truly in love would do anything to hurt or dishonor his beloved … don’t you agree?”
“I … well, I suppose …”
“So then we agree that I’m just throwing around ultimately empty threats, and being an overprotective big brother — because of course you would never hurt my sister.”
“No, Mordred, I wouldn’t dream of it …”
Mordred turned to him with another smile. “Good … then we are in accord.” Then he laughed. “Goodness, Lamorak … you’re white as a sheet — don’t you know how to take a joke?”
“It was good talking with you.” Mordred patted Lamorak’s shoulder. “Try to keep my sister happy, won’t you?”
“I–of course …” But as Lamorak watched the older man walk down the corridor, he couldn’t help but let a shiver snake down his spine.