It was a rare day in the du Lac household. Lancelot had no tournaments to attend or train for, Guinevere had taken the day off to work on her latest romance, the children were at school, and the servants were cleaning the upstairs or laboring in the kitchen. After a leisurely lunch, Lancelot had graciously decided to forgo more profitable ventures in order to help his wife with … research.
At least, that was what Guinevere was planning to call it in the unlikely event that anyone asked her how she had spent her day.
“You know,” Guinevere whispered into Lancelot’s ear, “I can’t actually put any of this into the book.”
“Bah,” he whispered back. “Use it for character–character–what do you call it?”
“That.” With that he kissed her neck and Guinevere squealed like she was a girl of twenty again, not a staid matron with three teenagers, the oldest of which was due to head off to university next year.
They stayed there for quite a time, flirting and giggling like a pair of newlyweds. They should, perhaps, have taken it out of the main hall, but they were having such fun … it had been so long since they felt they had the castle to themselves …
But of Lancelot and Guinevere’s many combined talents, the talent for keeping track of time was not present — at least not when they were together. The hour marched forward, but no hand reached forward to turn the glass, and before they knew it, the time had come for the school wagon to drop off their three offspring.
Indeed, it was literally before they knew it, for the first renewed indication that they had offspring was the enormous door flying open, and their daughter Leona’s frustrated shout, “If you think I’m marrying Elyan, you’re out of your minds!”
Too surprised to even spring guiltily apart (and what did they have to be guilty about, anyway?), Lancelot and Guinevere stared at their fuming daughter. “He’s a prat!” she shouted, slamming the door behind her. The boom echoed through the castle. “A sorry excuse for a human being! Hell, I’m not even sure he’s human!”
“Leona!” Lancelot scolded — what for, exactly, Guinevere was not sure, Lancelot could certainly take his pick of things to scold for.
“Well, I’m not sure! And I’m not marrying him! Not if he was the last man on earth! I’ll starve in the streets first! Just you watch!” Running out of the foyer and towards the cellar steps, she called over her shoulder, “And get a room, you two!”
Guinevere and Lancelot barely had time to exchange surprised glances before the door opened again.
Will, their eldest, stood panting at the threshold. “Sorry,” he started, “I tried to calm her down before–ACK! MUM! DAD!”
“What?” Lancelot asked, genuinely bemused.
“Do you have–to–” He gestured vaguely toward their clasped arms, Guinevere still on Lancelot’s lap.
“Yes,” Guinevere replied, polishing off her mother-death-glare for yet another good use. “You were saying, William dear?”
Will went brick red under his tan and fixed his gaze on the floor, the bookshelf, the candles — anywhere but on his parents. “I–I tried to calm her down before she came in here, but she wasn’t having any of it … how mad was she?”
“ARGH!!” The battle-cry came from the cellar, followed by the unmistakable thwack of flesh hitting the leather punching bag.
“At least she didn’t go for the swords,” Lancelot murmured, mostly to himself, as neither his wife nor his son was listening.
Guinevere sighed. “What did he do this time, Will?”
Knowing instantly which “he” she was referring to, Will sighed. “Elyan was being a prat. He was getting onto the wagon when he dropped his homework. Leona was close, talking with Clarice and Lynn, so he told her to pick it up.”
“That’s not very polite,” Lancelot murmured, while Guinevere repeated, “He told her?”
Will nodded; unfortunately in his nod he caught sight of the still-intertwined Lancelot and Guinevere and the blush that had began to recede returned in full force. “Um … well, Leona of course told him to pick it up himself. And then Elyan …” He winced.
“What–did–he–say?” Guinevere hissed through clenched teeth.
Will gulped, and he wasn’t even the one in trouble. “He told her that since she was going to be his wife soon and would have to obey him, she ought to get used to it now … I was barely able to pull her away before she clocked him.”
By the expression on Guinevere’s face, it was quite clear that the only thing stopping her from marching over to Chateau Benoic and clocking Elyan herself was Lancelot’s arms, still wrapped around her waist.
“What happened next?” Lancelot asked.
“Well, um, Tom and Jess were–uh–nearby,” by Will’s blush, it was quite clear that Princess Jessica was near to him, “and they took him down a peg.”
Guinevere and Lancelot shuddered; they were not yet out of their teens, but the combined wrath of the Pendragon twins was still something to be feared. “Is that it?” Guinevere asked.
Will nodded. “Do you want me to try to calm her down?” he asked, nodding toward the cellar as another battle-cry exploded under their feet.
“No need,” Guinevere said. “Get your homework done, sweet. Your father will handle this.”
“Thanks Mum,” Will said with a grateful smile as he practically bolted from the room.
“I’ll handle this?” Lancelot asked, but before his wife could answer, the door opened for a third time.
Galahad, the last of the du Lac children (and Leona’s twin) entered, his eyes already tracing over his homework. “Good afternoon, Galahad,” Guinevere called.
He started. “Oh … hello Mother … Father.”
“How was school?” Guinevere asked.
“All right,” Galahad replied. “Leona and Elyan got into a tiff … I’m not sure what about, though. You’ll have to ask Will, he was holding Leona back as usual … can’t you just tell Will to let Leona thrash him for once, I think it would do Elyan some good.”
“We’ll take it under consideration,” Guinevere replied.
They sat and stood there in silence for a few moments, Galahad seeming more and more bemused. “Well?” Lancelot said. “Don’t you have anything to say?”
Galahad tilted his head a little to one side.
“You know … ‘get a room, can’t you do that somewhere else, do you have to do it at all’ … how else did our dear children put it, Gwen?”
“Huh?” Galahad asked. “Oh! You mean …” He gestured vaguely toward the couch. “That.”
“Yes, Galahad dear,” Guinevere replied. “That.”
Galahad pondered the question for a moment, then shook his head. “No … it’s your home, I suppose you can do that wherever you want to … is that all you wanted?”
“Yes. You can go now.”
“Thanks, Mother.” With the sort of sweet smile that would send all the girls’ hearts pitter-pattering if it ever occurred to Galahad to turn it on them, he left the room. As soon as he was gone, Guinevere shot Lancelot a baleful stare.
“He doesn’t get it from my side of the family.” With a sigh, she disentangled herself from Lancelot.
“Hey,” Lancelot murmured. “I thought–we just got rid of the kids …”
“Oh, no,” Guinevere replied. “You have to go down there and give your daughter a good reason not to glue Elyan’s portrait to that punching bag. And to sign those betrothal papers, once she comes of age.”
“But–but Gwen, you know I’m horrible at these things …”
“And you know how I feel about this match,” Guinevere replied, crossing her arms over her chest. “You want my daughter to marry your cousin’s horrible son … fine … I understand your reasons and on paper it’s all well and good … but you’re responsible for making it happen. Besides,” Guinevere added, “Ihave a manuscript to get back to.” With that she rose and left the room.
All alone on a couch that was suddenly quite cold, Lancelot sighed. “Why does this always happen?”
He winced. “Well … duty calls.”
Pow! Slam! THWACK!
“Leona–Leona, sweetheart, could we speak for a moment?”
Leona glared over her shoulder at her father. “Are you calling off the betrothal to Elyan?”
“Then no.” She pulled back for another punch–
And found her hand unable to move, captured in a much stronger grip. It was a gentle, but firm — and Leona knew from experience that no matter how hard she tried, her hand would never escape that grip until the grip was good and ready to let it go. “Dad!”
“Talk to me, Leona. Tell Daddy what he can do to make it better.”
“Call it off!” Leona shouted. “But no, you won’t, because you’re too scared of Sir Bors!”
It took a truly brave man to not even flinch when faced with an accusation of cowardice. “I am not afraid of Sir Bors,” he said. “But I am afraid for him.”
Like the beans in her favorite punching bag would spill all over the floor if someone cut a whole in it, the fight rushed out of Leona. “Huh?”
Lancelot sighed and put an arm over Leona’s shoulder. “Come on, sweetheart … let’s go upstairs. We’ll sit down and I’ll explain everything.”
They found a couch upstairs and sat, Leona looking at Lancelot expectantly. Lancelot sighed. “You’re friends with the de Ganis girls, aren’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” Leona replied, clearly wondering where this was heading.
“Do they ever talk to you about their home life? Their troubles?”
Leona shook her head. “They never say anything … sometimes one or the other will start to say something, but one of the others will shush her.”
“Like …” Leona flushed a little. “Like when I wore my new dress to school — the one you got me for my birthday? — Angelique was oohing over it, and she said …”
“Well, she started to say that she wished she could have one like it, but her father … and that’s as far as she got before Clarice sort of shot her a look, you know? I thought at first that Sir Bors wouldn’t approve of it because he thought it wasn’t modest … but then I realized that was silly, Lynn and Clarice wear things of the same sort of style all the time.”
Lancelot nodded. “Right. He’s having money troubles.”
Leona’s eyes went wide. “No!” she gasped.
“Yes,” Lancelot sighed. “He was struggling even before Prince Thomas cast his eye on Lynn … now getting a dowry together for her will bring him to the edge of bankruptcy. He might need a loan just to make a donation to the convent when Angelique takes her vows.”
“But–but the king has plenty of money! He wouldn’t expect Sir Bors to pay more than he could afford!”
Lancelot laughed. “Oh, aye, that’s true enough, but think about it. This is Bors.”
“He’d never admit he was having trouble. Not when his daughter was going to be a Queen.”
Leona frowned. “But what’s all this got to do with me?”
Lancelot sighed. “Two things … first of all, your dowry — or even just the assurance that it’s coming — is all that’s holding the de Ganises from the brink of financial catastrophe.”
“But–but–if all they need is money …” Leona sighed and flopped back on the couch. “Sir Bors would never take money if you just wanted to give it to him.”
“No, he wouldn’t.”
“What’s the other thing?”
“Well … between the financial situation, which isn’t nearly as secret as Bors would like it to be, and … other things … you are quite literally the only option Bors has for Elyan.”
Leona blinked. “What?”
“Other than you, there are five other women suitable for Elyan,” Lancelot replied. “Garnet Orkney; Dindrane, Delyth and Dilys Gwynedd; and Princess Jessica. Of them … well, Lord Lot wouldn’t consent to marry his daughter into a house that seemed to be falling, rather than rising; Pellinore and Bors haven’t been on speaking terms for years; and as for the princess … well …”
“Oh, Will would kill Elyan if he so much as looked at Jessie like that.”
Lancelot frowned, he normally didn’t think of his eldest as homicidal — he was practically a pacificist compared to, say, Leona — but the more he thought of it, where Princess Jessica was concerned … “Let’s not think about that too hard, sweetheart … but because you’re Elyan’s only option, and Bors knows it, he’s willing to concede an awful lot.”
“Well, after the marriage, any money you earn or otherwise receive — such as from a legacy from your mother or I — is indisputably yours. Bors and Elyan cannot touch it.”
Leona’s eyes went wide, even in relatively liberal Albion, such an arrangement was practically unheard of. Common law assumed that all money brought into the family fell under the control of the head of household. Even if the actual nitty-gritty of finances differed from family to family, according to the law, the head of household had the right to dispose of all money as he saw fit.
“And …” Lancelot began, Leona’s eyes, if it were possible, went wider, there was more? “You have the right of separation from him.”
“You mean …?”
“I mean, if things get–bad–so bad that you no longer want to remain living under the same roof with him, you will have the right to set up your own household. He will be forced to return your dowry so you can do this. And, furthermore, you would have joint custody of any children with him — meaning they would spend half of their time with you, half with him.”
Leona gasped. “You–wow–thank you, Dad. I thought–I thought you didn’t care about me at all, but … all this …”
Lancelot smiled. “Don’t thank me, thank your mother … she thought of most of it. But I wasn’t about to let you go without making sure you were protected, believe me.”
Leona gave a small smile, but her brow was contracted in thought. “I guess … wow … I’m not going to get a deal this good with anyone else, am I?”
Lancelot shook his head.
“Then I guess I ought to marry Elyan … and who knows, maybe knowing that I can walk away with my dowry and half the kids whenever I want will make him behave himself … but, Dad?”
“Next time he’s a prat — I am still going to hit him. He deserves it.” Leona frowned. “Now if I could only get Will to stop holding me back …”
Lancelot chuckled and hugged her. “You do whatever makes you feel better, sweetheart. He probably does deserve it.”
That evening, with Leona in a better mood and their parents, thank heaven, were dealing with whatever need for amusement they had in the bedroom, Will and Galahad sat down to a game of chess.
“Will? Can I ask you a question?”
“You just did, but go ahead.”
“When we got home … you know how Mother and Father were on the couch …”
Will shuddered. “Don’t–I just succeeded in getting that image out from my brain …”
“Why?” Will stared at his younger brother. “That’s what I wanted to ask you–Mother and Father seemed to expect me to be upset about it–why? I mean,” Galahad continued, looking at the board again, “It’s not like, logically, we wouldn’t know that they do those things.”
“Galahad …” Will began, passing his hands over his eyes.
“At the very least they must have done them sometime in the past,” Galahad continued. “We’re here, aren’t we?”
“Well? Can you explain?”
Will opened his mouth–then shut it. “No. If you don’t understand it intuitively–then there’s no way I could get you to understand.”
“Darn,” Galahad murmured to the board. “I was hoping someone could explain.”
“I know you were, Galahad. I know you were.”