It wasn’t their first night at Camford University, but the strained silence (broken only by the sound of other dorm-mates getting into arguments) hadn’t improved a bit since then. Tommy barely restrained himself from a frustrated sigh. Really, Albion wasn’t a large kingdom, you’d think they would all know each other by now.
But looking around the table, Tommy reminded himself that of course it wasn’t that simple. Even though Albion was small enough that pretty much all the students of a certain social standing (i.e., high enough to consider a university education) went to the same school, social differences were still social differences. And they were still rigidly enforced, by the students if by no one else. So was it any surprise that it took until now, when they were all thrown together with no other options for socializing (other than the mad dorm-mates), for any of them to try to get acquainted?
Well, not any of them … he’d known Will since the two of them were in napkins. Inevitable, really, with their fathers being best friends from childhood. And of course, with such prolonged forced contact, it was equally inevitable that one of two things would happen: either they’d hate each other’s guts, or become best friends for life.
Tommy and Will had chosen the latter route, their friendship even surviving Will’s courting of Tommy’s sister. (Not that Will had gotten very far in that without being informed that if there was any funny business with Jessie’s heart, he’d find his face broken for him in record time. Will had taken the threat with surprisingly good grace, and had yet to try any funny business with Jessie’s heart.) And Tommy wasn’t looking to change that. But while Will was perfectly content with having only a few, rather close friends, Tommy … wasn’t.
So he set down his spoon, looked at Lamorak and Rob, and announced into the quiet that surrounded the four of them. “Hello, my name’s Tom Pendragon, I’m heir to the throne of Albion, and my favorite color is red.” He nudged Will. “Your turn.”
Will’s spoon froze midway on its journey to his mouth. “To?”
“Introduce yourself, mate.”
Tommy held his breath for a second — if anyone was going to point out the absurdity of introductions, it would be Will; the whole “heir to the throne of Albion” thing did tend to keep people from being frank with him, but not Will. However, Will only raised one eyebrow before announcing, “Hello, my name is Will du Lac, I’m heir to the du Lac estate, and my favorite color is blue.”
“Your turn,” Tommy said, nodding at Lamorak.
Lamorak smiled. “I’m Lamorak Gwynedd, heir to the Gwynedd estate, and my favorite color is orange.” He turned to Robert. “I guess that means you’re next.”
The amused grin that had come to Robert’s face didn’t leave. “I’m Rob Wesleyan,” he replied, “and my favorite color is green.”
“And?” Lamorak asked. “Your prospects?”
One of Robert’s — or Rob’s, as Tommy supposed the other young man wanted to be called — eyebrows went up. “Whatever I can make for myself,” he replied. “Second son, you know.” He stared back at his soup, letting the three heirs look at each other in some confusion, wondering what to do with this odd duck who insisted on being a self-made man or some such nonsense. Rob let the tension stretch before tossing out off-handedly, “Though Dad did promise me the pet shop when I graduate.”
A mental sigh of relief — and silence again. Tommy tried not to scowl. Do I have to do everything? Apparently so. “So, Rob,” he said, “any pets?”
“Yes,” Rob replied.
Tommy waited for more information … and none was forthcoming. “How many?”
Rob frowned. “That depends,” he replied, “on how you want to define ‘pet.'”
“An animal you own?” Lamorak ventured. “Or your family owns.”
“And I’d have to give two different answers to that,” Rob answered, the corner of his lip twitching upward. “To the former, none … and to the latter, well … my father owns the livery stables, and the pet shop, and we breed dogs at home …” He turned back to his soup. “I think, though, the answer that you want would be two … our breeding dogs, Abelard and Sophia … possibly four or six, depending upon how many puppies Sophia’s whelped, and whether or not we’ve sold the pups yet.” Not skipping a beat, he asked, “And what about you, your highness?”
“Just Tom, thanks,” Tommy answered. “At least while we’re here.” After all, if he wanted to forge friendships with these two, it simply wouldn’t do to stand on formality with them when if Will called him “your highness,” he probably wouldn’t even think to turn around. Or else he’d panic, thinking his father was on the premises. “Anyway,” Tommy continued, getting back to the topic at hand, “we’ve got two dogs too, Cavall and Prydwyn, and Prydwyn did have pups, but we gave them to the Gwynedds and the de Ganises.” Glancing at Lamorak, he added, “And how is Charity doing?”
“Great. She adores the twins, and they adore her right back … well, when she’s not chewing on their dolls.” He turned to Rob. “My sisters,” he said by way of clarification. “Dilys and Delyth. They’re ten. You have siblings?”
“An older brother, obviously,” Rob replied, “and two younger sisters. Heloise and Babette. Heloise is fifteen and Babette is thirteen. And Josh just graduated and got married.”
For some reason Lamorak didn’t seem to attend the last part of this speech, furrowing his brow as if he was trying to remember something. “And you, Will?” Rob asked. “Any sibs? Or pets?”
“No pets, two sibs. Galahad and Leona. They’re twins, too. Sixteen.”
Rob’s eyebrows went up. “Leona — you mean the Leona who …?”
“Threatens to thrash Elyan de Ganis on a daily basis? Yes, that Leona.” Will frowned. “Hopefully she hasn’t beaten him to a pulp yet …”
“You think she’d be able to?” Lamorak asked, frowning. “I mean, I’ve sparred with Elyan, he’s as good a fighting man as any …”
Will snorted and Tommy laughed aloud. “See, there’s his trouble,” Tommy answered. “He’s a fighting man … while Leona is a fighting woman … infinitely more deadly, my friend.”
“Girls don’t care about fighting dirty,” spoke Rob with the voice of experience.
“Exactly. And with one twin brother, one older brother, and one older brother’s obnoxious friend to practice on, she’s learned every dirty trick in the book.”
Lamorak’s eyes went wide. “You–you mean you? You let a girl …?”
“I wouldn’t say let, my friend … let implies I had any sort of choice in the matter, which really wasn’t the case. You see, once I completed whatever obnoxious deed I had set my mind to, I would find myself on the ground, being pummeled within an inch of my life.”
Lamorak’s jaw was somewhere in the vicinity of his knees. Will apparently felt obliged to spare him, for he said, “It only happened once … and Tom deserved it, he threw Leona’s favorite doll into the tree … after he tried to stick a frog down her back.”
“Some friend you are, ruining a good story.”
“Some friend I am, because she probably would have broken your nose and destroyed your ability to, uh, produce an heir if I hadn’t pulled her off you.”
“Aye, true.” Tommy nodded toward Will. “He’s the only one who can keep her from doing damage when she gets riled.”
Lamorak and Rob stared between the two of them, their heads volleying back and forth like the spectators of a particularly good duel, clearly unsure whether this was a true story or an elaborate joke.
Tommy tried not to smile. “Anyway, enough about siblings, there’s a reason why we left them being in Albion … well … those of us whose siblings didn’t follow us here … anyway, Rob, what are you planning on studying while you’re here?”
Over the next few weeks the boys from Albion grew, if not precisely closer, then at least more of a team. Tommy and Lamorak were the most obvious examples of this — when their assignments were done they could often be found playing cards in the dormitory’s basement, intent on relieving the other dorm-mates of as much of their scholarship money as possible. (Women, wine and song, after all, didn’t come cheap.)
Not, of course, that cards were the only way of scoring up a little cash for a night on the town … Tommy was rather fond of billiards, a game from Glasonland, in order to reach this end. It was while he was playing billiards, with a small gentlemen’s wager on the outcome, that he met on of the first dorm-mates he was to befriend. Or at least, he thought he was befriending the other boy.
The boy’s name was Milo, Milo Carpenter, and though Tommy often wondered how a carpenter’s son both managed to win himself a knighthood and find his way to Camford, he never asked. Milo was a gregarious soul, always chattering about something or other, or at least he was until he found out that the young redhead who had introduced himself as simply “Tom” was, in fact, Crown Prince Thomas Pendragon of Albion. Then Milo had scowled and stormed away. The only thing about his background Tommy had managed to get from the other boy was that he from Glasonland.
But strangely enough, everything changed the next day — Milo, far from being still-recalcitrant, had been apologetic in the extreme, even offering to do Tommy’s term paper for him in exchange for the slight. Tommy figured Milo had realized that a chance to toady up to a genuine prince trumped national pride. All the same, he took Milo up on his offer, reasoning that (as his father had said on many an occasion), no one learned how to be king from a book, particularly not a philosophy book that said king-to-be couldn’t make head nor tail of.
Not, of course, that he escaped some consequences for his actions … Will, upon hearing of this, had sighed and shaken his head. He didn’t need to do more than that to make his disapproval known. Of course, it was different for Will, Will wanted to be a magistrate and would actually need this stuff, and it wasn’t as if Tommy was slacking off in all his classes, just the unimportant ones … most of the time, in fact, he used his not-inconsiderable powers of persuasion for wholly good ends. Such as convincing the dorm-mates to bathe.
But all in all, things at Camford University were — for the Albion boys at least — looking up. Friendships were forming, fun was being had, classes were not being flunked. The dorm-mates could be rather barbaric at times, but all of them were crossing their fingers for improvement.
Yet from time to time, Tommy’s thoughts went to his sister at the dormitory down the road, and he wondered how she and the other ladies were doing …
Authors note: No, the semi-transparent dormie in the last pic is not a ghost, it is a glitch. One of many on this lot. I think I need a new boys’ dormitory, pronto.