On the day of her son’s wedding, Morgause Orkney was killing time before the ceremony started by doing what she did best: social-climbing. To be specific, she was having a conversation with her sister-in-law, the Queen.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t enjoying the experience in the least.
Morgause cocked her head politely to one side as the Queen continued her inane comments; what they were Morgause couldn’t say. To know would require her to listen, and she made a habit of avoiding that whenever possible.
It was only the knowledge that scowls caused wrinkles and that the Queen would doubtless misinterpret her expression that kept one from alighting on Morgause’s face. Truly, Arthur may have only been bastard royalty back in Glasonland, where his marriage took place, but couldn’t he have done better for herself? Better than some jumped-up’s merchant’s daughter? Oh, then-Mistress Alison had been the equal of any nobleman’s daughter in dress, manners and education, and the superior of many. Morgause had been shocked, upon first meeting her, at just how presentable she was. But blood would tell, it always did. Every year Morgause grew more and more shocked that the Queen had managed to get through another twelvemonth without Arthur ruing the day he married her.
The thought that Arthur loved his Queen dearly, and thus would require a good deal of disappointment before he even considered regretting the marriage, never crossed Morgause’s mind. Marriage, noble and royal marriage at least, had nothing to do with love. Look at her boy. He didn’t care two figs for Lady Dindrane, but he was up there at the altar, ready to do his duty. Because he knew what marriage was about: land, alliances, and heirs, in that order. Love, or more accurately lust, could be satisfied elsewhere — as her Mordred also knew.
Morgause smiled. Yes, her boy knew what was what … she bit back a sigh. If only she could say the same for her daughter.
Garnet … Morgause valiantly restrained herself from shooting a glare over her shoulder. Garnet had no sense of her place. Somehow or other (Morgause blamed her sister) the girl’s head had been filled with all these silly notions about desire and love and the applicability of both to marriage — and she wanted to act on these notions! And worst of all, Lot was indulging her!
Morgause might have forgiven Garnet — might — if her fancy had alighted on someone suitable. Someone like Elyan de Ganis or William du Lac — heir to an estate, and from a family that the Orkneys did not already have an alliance with. But Lamorak Gwynedd? He was a handsome young man; Morgause had to give her daughter credit for taste — but still, even with his good looks, what was the point?
The Queen’s expression suddenly changed, and Morgause’s attention snapped back to her. But the expression was a soft smile. “You must feel so fortunate,” the Queen said.
“Oh, of course,” Morgause replied. “Mordred’s match is brilliant, the Lady Dindrane is young and healthy, we’ll have heirs in no time.”
One of the Queen’s eyebrows arched. “I’m sure,” she said — and was it Morgause’s imagination, or did she detect a hint of coolness in that merchant’s daughter’s voice? “But I was referring to your daughter’s future.”
Her hackles rising, she spun around, only to observe Garnet seated by Lady Eilwen’s side … chatting like the best of friends!
This time Morgause couldn’t prevent the scowl — and Garnet, seeming to sense it, turned around to see it. But instead of quailing, as any proper daughter would, Garnet grinned and turned back to Lady Eilwen.
Before Morgause could do anything foolish — such as drag her daughter forcefully from the woman who would not, if Morgause had anything to say about it, become her mother-in-law — the Queen began to speak. “It’s such a relief, knowing that one’s daughter is going to a kind mother-in-law, isn’t it? I mean, they make such a difference in the happiness of a young woman …” The Queen laughed. “Not that I had anything to complain of there, your mother was always a perfectly lovely woman.”
With difficulty, Morgause forced herself to adopt a pleasant expression. “She was. But I assure you, there are no plans for Garnet in … that direction, as of yet.”
“Indeed.” Whatever the Queen thought of that, her face said nothing. “She is so young,” the Queen added.
“She is,” Morgause forced herself to agree — though by the time she was Garnet’s age, her step-father King Uther had arranged two betrothals for her, both of which had fallen through (the first of which because of the death of her betrothed, and the second because the family had sheared off at the last minute).
Before the Queen could reply, Brother Tuck appeared at the head of the church and coughed once. The assembled guests took this as their cue to find their seats before the bride made her entrance.
Morgause slid into the pew beside Lot, not bothering to hide her sigh. Lot smiled at her and patted her hand. “Courage, love, the dull part will be over soon.”
“Oh, that isn’t it.” Glancing around to make certain that the Queen wasn’t in earshot — she had gone off to, as it happens, greet her twins, home from Camford for their cousin’s wedding and late to boot — Morgause murmured, “Insufferable woman.”
Lot raised one eyebrow.
“She had the gall,” she hissed, “to talk about Garnet’s relationship with Lady Eilwen as if it would ever matter!”
“For Wright’s sake, Morgause, don’t start.”
“Don’t tell me not to start,” she snapped. “You know quite well that the idea of a marriage is a mistake. We could do much better if you would stop indulging the girl and look around a bit–”
“There aren’t any other options in Albion — at least none that you would find satisfactory,” Lot retorted. “Galahad du Lac is the only other unattached young man not related to the Gwynedds — but you would never settle for a second son for Garnet.”
“Who says that she has to stay in Albion?”
“Morgause!” Lot hissed — even with his attempt to keep his voice down, half the church still turned to stare at him. “I’m not sending my girl out of the country — and that’s final!” He sighed and stared into the distance. “Besides, you act as if it were a crime to want to see your child happy.”
“If you’re so concerned about your childrens’ happiness, why isn’t Mordred marrying that peasant girl?”
Lot rolled his eyes. “Because he can have the peasant girl without marrying her. Obviously. Now enough is enough. This is supposed to be a joyous day.”
Morgause sniffed, but then the music started, signaling Dindrane’s entrance, and Morgause perforce held her peace.
To say that the ceremony was short or simple would be a lie — Brother Tuck, seizing his moment with half the royal family and half the nobles present, made it as long and complex as possible — but there was a certain stark quality to the vows. There were no histrionics, no impassioned promises. Both Mordred and Dindrane said their parts with a minimum of drama, dutifully naming each of the responsibilities they were prepared to take on. If love was mentioned, it was as a formality, with the tacit understanding that a failure to live up to this part of the bargain would be on no means be a reason for an annulment.
The kiss, supposed to be so climactic, was but a chaste peck on the lips. Though both bride and groom smiled, and though all of the guests knew that they were expected to applaud, only one person needed to dab at her eyes with a handkerchief. And Morgause guessed that Lady Eilwen was not weeping so much out of sentiment as because her daughter was now no-longer part of her family, and that good-byes were in order.
The wedding party repaired to the cellar, which Brother Tuck, in his efforts to do everything he could for the nobility of Albion, had graciously offered the use of for the wedding feast. Though the situation was somewhat gloomy, the guests, knowing that there was to be free food and free spirits, were determined to make the best of it and then some.
Garnet was the first to get into the swing of the party, bewitching the disused harp in the corner of the cellar to play music on its own. Morgause scowled; she had planned to have Garnet playing it herself and thus be kept out of trouble for the duration of the party. But no, she had to find a way to subvert her mother’s desires — and to add insult to injury, Garnet was one of the first to start the dancing.
To add further insult, the elder Gwynedds swiftly followed her lead, dancing together in such a way as to make Morgause doubt if their marriage had been formed with the laudable goals of wealth and advancement in mind.
And to add yet another insult, Lamorak (who had also come home from Camford for the wedding) managed to wend his way to the dance floor and start dancing by Garnet’s side. He wasn’t dancing with her — not quite — but Morgause sensed that he would be, if no one was watching.
(Author’s note: Pretend they’re dancing medieval-style! ;))
Knowing that any attempt to protest would only backfire on her, Morgause turned her nose into the air and made her way to the feasting table, to preside over it as was certainly her right.
Eventually the bride and groom, after one stiff and excruciatingly formal dance, sat down, as did Lot. (So did some uppity merchant’s daughter whom Princess Jessica had brought with her, but Morgause ignored the upstart.) “So, Dindrane,” Morgause crooned, “how does it feel to be wed?”
“Quite well, thank you, madam.”
“Ah, Morgause, that’s not a fair question …” Lot squeezed her thigh under the table. “You know that she won’t be officially married until tomorrow morning.” And he winked.
“Nonsense, Lot, the question is perfectly fair … the only difference between how she feels now and how she’ll feel tomorrow morning is a certain amount of soreness in the nether-regions.” And Morgause let her eyebrows arch.
“True, true, my lady.” Lot smiled. “Now, Mordred, if she’s walking easily tomorrow morning–“
“Then it will be far more convenient to get to the hunting lodge, won’t it?” Dindrane said with a bright, cheery innocence. Morgause stared hard at the girl, wondering if she could really be that dumb … and Dindrane stared right back.
Mordred patted Dindrane’s hand for a fraction of second. “Never fear, Dindrane, I shan’t do … er … too much to cause you discomfort.”
Dindrane transferred her gaze to Mordred. “Would you?”
A sudden silence — the specter of Mordred’s peasant girl rose before the table — but that was foolish, there was no way Dindrane could know about that. Morgause knew her boy; he would have done everything possible to ensure that his mistress and his fiancée’s paths never crossed. And certainly the peasant girl knew that any contact with Dindrane would only do her harm.
“A toast!” Lot called out, too loud, raising his glass. “To the loveliest bride in Albion!”
Three glasses were raised (the merchant girl left without a word). “May your joy only grow from this day forward,” Lot said, bringing his glass to his lips.
And Dindrane just smiled and replied, “Indeed, my lord, I don’t see how anything else is possible.”