Accolon le Fay was just washing up from an afternoon in the vegatable garden when he heard the front door open. “Ravenna? Is that you?”
Accolon froze — maybe he was a bit spoiled, but he generally got a more enthusiastic response. Was his little girl growing up already? He stuck his head out from the bathroom. “Ravenna? Something wrong?”
“No?” Accolon asked — because his cheerful, perhaps even a bit hyper Ravenna never wore that little frown when nothing was wrong. Some people (like his wife) had mastered a certain glare, a certain expression designed to force even the most recalcitrant child to spill her secrets … but Accolon never had. So even though he looked at Ravenna invitingly, she didn’t answer — didn’t even seem to notice — instead she flopped onto the floor and began her homework.
“Hey,” Accolon said; she looked up. “Why don’t you let me get cleaned up, and then you can beat your old man at chess?”
She frowned. “But Mum’s rule is homework before play.”
Accolon’s eyes nearly fell out of his head, and if he had somehow missed that something was very wrong before, oh, he knew now. His fun-loving Ravenna turning down a game — any game — for homework? “I’ll deal with your mother,” he promised. “Besides, you’ve got her brains, you probably don’t need to do the homework anyway.”
Ravenna smiled and obligingly put the assignment neatly on the table before walking to the chessboard and beginning to set it up.
Accolon’s eyebrows inched nearer to his hairline, but if he was going to cheer his girl up he needed to get cleaned up first. So back to the washbasin he turned.
The board was ready and Ravenna had left the white pieces to him. “You sure you want me to go first?” Accolon asked, waggling his eyebrows. “We might be here for a while as I perfect my foolproof strategy.”
“Or you’ll just move the leftmost pawn like you always do,” Ravenna said with a small smile.
Accolon stuck out his tongue. “I could surprise you.”
Accolon moved the rightmost pawn instead.
“Daddy! That’s not a real difference!”
“Maybe not … or maybe it’s the key to winning the game!”
“We’ll see about that.”
They played for a few turns, until, as usual, Ravenna had him stuck. Not that any move he made would result in instant checkmate — the situation wasn’t that dire yet — but he couldn’t make any move that wouldn’t result in something getting captured. Which wasn’t what he wanted within the first three turns of the game. That Ravenna would win was a foregone conclusion — she was a granddaughter of a king, for all that neither of them had ever met old Uther (or at least Accolon didn’t think he had), this sort of thing was in her blood — but did she have to start trouncing him so damn early?
Well, of course, there was only one solution to this dilemma. The zombie solution.
“Hey Ravenna, is that a unicorn outside the window?”
“A UNICORN?!” Ravenna shrieked. “Where? Where?!”
“Keep looking, sweetie,” Accolon said as he deftly switched two pieces. Heh, heh, heh.
Or so he thought.
“DADDY!” Ravenna said as she turned around, too soon. “How could you?”
Damn! “Sorry, honey. I’ll put them back,” he said with a sigh.
But Ravenna, who normally preferred to laugh at him for getting caught, wasn’t having any of it today. “That’s no fair!”
Before Accolon could point out that he knew that, that, in fact, the lack of fairness was the reason why his actions were called cheating, Ravenna blurted out, “Even you don’t like me anymore!”
Accolon dropped the piece he was attempting to put back. “What?”
Ravenna’s eyes dropped. “Nothing.”
“No, I don’t think that was nothing, young lady — what happened?”
“Nothing! It was nothing!”
“And I’m the Emperor of Reme. Come on,” he said, impatiently sweeping the chess pieces into the built-in storage compartment. “Let’s talk about this.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“I think there is. Come on.” He put an arm around her shoulders and guided her over to the bench. “Now what’s the matter?”
Ravenna stared at her feet.
“Hmm …” Accolon said. “Well, from your remark, I’d guess you had a falling-out with one of your friends … would that be right?”
“No.” Before Accolon could lose his temper — not wanting to talk was one thing, lying was another — Ravenna muttered in a tone that almost managed to be under her breath, “I’d have to have friends for that.”
And away went Accolon’s anger.
“No friends? That can’t be true … you bring home a different little girl every day on the school wagon.”
“I used to.”
“Used to?” Accolon had heard that girls of Ravenna’s age — well, a little older than Ravenna, but Ravenna was a bit mature for her age — tended to be dramatic, but surely a lack of a friend for one day couldn’t make Ravenna claim that she didn’t have any friends? There was no way his — or hell, Morgan’s — daughter could be that foolish, was there?
Ravenna looked back at her skirt. “Amelia and Mirabelle told me that they weren’t going to talk to me anymore.”
“They what? Why?”
“Don’t give me that. You know why. Tell me.”
“Because I’m a bastard –“
“You most certainly are not!”
“But you and Mummy weren’t married when I was born, were you?”
“Er … well, no …”
“So doesn’t that make me a bastard?”
“Er …” How the hell to explain the complex status of the bastardy laws and the degrees of illegitimacy to a ten-year-old? Especially when he wasn’t sure if Morgan had gotten around to telling said ten-year-old exactly how illegitimate babies (or legitimate ones, for that matter) came about … “Well, it’s all a bit complicated. If the parents aren’t married when a baby is born, then yes, the baby is technically a bastard — but if they get married afterward, then they can get the baby made legitimate.”
“Um …” Accolon sighed; he’d been up to elbows in this process for years and still wasn’t sure exactly how the whole thing worked. He did know, however, what was generally expected from his (or rather Morgan’s end). “Basically, you have to pay the King and the church a lot of money.”
“Don’t ask me why, sweetheart, it’s very complex, and, well, it’s made to be hard … but go on.” He added after a moment’s consideration, “You know, though, if those girls say anything to you, you can tell them that the King himself says you’re legitimate.” And see what they have to say about that!
“That wasn’t the only reason why they don’t want to talk to me anymore,” Ravenna muttered.
“And the others would be?”
Ravenna kicked her legs out impatiently. “Well, Mirabelle said that because Mummy’s a witch …”
“There’s nothing wrong with your mother’s powers.” Now, as for your aunt’s powers …
“I know. But Mirabelle and Amelia don’t care.”
Figures! “Is that all?”
Ravenna said nothing, merely shrinking into herself.
“They said something worse?” Accolon yelped before he could stop himself.
“Well, what?” Ravenna stayed silent; Accolon wondered for a moment whether he was going to have to give her blanket permission to use curse words in the next couple sentences … until he considered another reason why Ravenna might not be talking. “Sweetheart, did they say something about me?”
“What? Come now,” he jostled her amiably, “I can take it, I’ve got a thick skin … well, when it’s not sloughing off.”
She smiled and almost giggled. “Now out with it,” Accolon prompted.
The smile disappeared. “They called you a freak,” Ravenna whispered.
“A freak, eh?” Accolon whistled. “Creative. Haven’t heard that one before.”
“It’s not funny, Daddy.”
“Oh, I know it’s not funny …” He sighed. “It would be much easier if it was funnier.” He glanced at Ravenna and held his arm out. “Come here.”
She snuggled against him obligingly, smiling the whole time. “Now, you listen to me, I’m a lot older than you are and have learned a thing or two about friends … and enemies, too, for that matter.” Too bad I can’t remember most of it!
“Like what, Daddy?”
“Like, for starters, friends who call you a bastard, your mother a witch, and your father a freak aren’t much better than enemies. Heck, I’d take enemies any day, at least you expect them to stab you in the back …” Ravenna frowned and Accolon held her a little bit closer. “But let me tell you something else … tomorrow, or the day after, or even the day after that, you’ll find out who your real friends are … because they’ll be the ones who stick by you when the little bi — brats like Amelia and Mirabelle try to tear you down.”
“But Amelia and Mirabelle said no one wanted to be my friend anymore!”
“Well, they lied,” Accolon replied. “I know there’s going to be at least one person who will stand by you. Just you watch.” And he did know there would be one person who would stand by Ravenna, actually two at least, though he wasn’t sure they would count as friends, being her cousins and all.
Then again … remembering Morgan’s relationship with her sister, he had to suppose that if your family could be your enemies, then by rights your family ought to be your friends too.
“You sure?” She frowned. “And you mean someone other than you and Mummy?”
“I’m positive,” Accolon replied. “Just you wait and see.”
Ravenna felt better after their conversation, so much better that Morgan didn’t even notice anything amiss once she got home. So Accolon had to tell her the whole story that night, after Ravenna was asleep and they were preparing for bed.
To say Morgan was upset would be an understatement … but what made her mad was Accolon’s revelation of how he had reassured Ravenna. “Accolon! What if no one does stand by her?”
“Of course someone will stand by her, don’t be a fool,” Accolon replied. “I was going ask you to write to Princess Jessica tomorrow, she’ll be sure to show she still cares about Ravenna somehow.”
Morgan smiled. “That might help, but I think Ravenna will be looking for … er … something a bit nearer to home.”
“Naturally. I was going to tell Garnet the story tomorrow.”
“Garnet! You can’t tell Garnet!” Morgan stared at him. “She’ll turn those little brats into toads!”
Accolon lifted one eyebrow. “Well, yes, dear, that was rather the point …”
“Accolon! Do you have any idea the kind of trouble she’d get in if she did that?!”
“Only if she got caught …”
“Oh, Accolon.” Morgan sighed and nestled her head against his shoulder. “I’ll take care of Garnet and Jessie.”
“No buts.” She laid a finger against his lips. “Cruel as those girls were, they don’t deserve to be turned into toads and tossed in the nearest pond …”
“So you’re going to let them get away with doing that to our little girl?”
Morgan raised one eyebrow. “Who said anything about letting them get away with it?”
Accolon grinned. “That’s my lovely lady.” He kissed her cheek.
After a few moments, he asked, “Morgan? Can you do me a favor?”
“Can you let Garnet do something to those little brats?”
Morgan sighed. “Oh … I suppose.”
But by the look in her eyes, Accolon guessed that she had been planning that all along.
Note: Mirabelle and Amelia aren’t characters but townies. I figure if they’re going to clog up my game, I ought to get some use out of their names at least!