A honeymoon. From everything Mordred had heard, it was supposed to be a time of bliss. Of heady, stars-in-your-eyes love. Of lovemaking any hour of the day or life. It was, in other words, supposed to be the best part of one’s marriage.
Well, if his honeymoon was supposed to be the best part of his marriage to Dindrane, Mordred dreaded to see what the worst was going to be like.
He stood in the kitchen/dining/living area of the hunting cabin Lord Pellinore had bought for the two of them. If the company had been better, Mordred might have enjoyed this trip. Crisp, cool weather. Obliging servants (perhaps too obliging). Excellent hunting, while the light lasted.
That was the difficulty. While the light lasted. Because as soon as it got dark, he was expected to return to the cabin. To the cabin and his “lovely” bride, who was supposed to be filling his days with bliss.
Well, if he was going to be honest … Dindrane wasn’t bad looking. Mordred surveyed her as she sat on the sofa before the fireplace, reading. (She was always reading — not even light, pleasant romances, like his mother or Garnet peeked into from time to time, but huge, dusty tomes, the likes of which he hadn’t consulted since the earliest days of his magical training.) She could be a lot worse looking, that was certain.
Out of a feeling of forced fairness to the woman he was, for good or for ill, stuck with, Mordred focused on her good qualities first. She had a pleasant shape, good enough to show off in a figure-hugging dress (other than that, the dress didn’t have much to recommend it, being woefully simple and plain). Good skin, pale and creamy. A few freckles, but that was to be expected, with the red hair. Her face … could be worse. It would never be beautiful, that was certain. It might, on a good day, manage pretty. But Mordred couldn’t even be sure of that; her nose would have to be a good two sizes smaller before he would ever admit to seeing anything truly pleasant in her face.
And then there was her hair. Mordred barely restrained a sigh. If she had been any other woman than the one he was forced to marry, he would have called her hair lovely. Red hair was a turn-on for him, he’d admit it frankly. Why, Rosette …
He winced. Rosette. That was the sticking point, really. What with the red hair and all, he couldn’t help but make comparisons. And of course in any comparison Dindrane came out the worse — even in the damn hair. Rosette’s hair had been soft, abundant, flowing around her face with just a bit of a wave, smelling faintly of the rose-soap Mordred had bought for her. Dindrane’s … well, Dindrane never let her hair down physically any more than she did metaphorically, but from the few times Mordred had felt her hair in the course of performing his marital duties, it had been thin and coarse. And too dark for his taste.
And he ought to know, after three straight months of those marital duties (with only breaks for those times when Dindrane was “indisposed”) … Mordred shuddered. Throughout the whole process Dindrane lay stiff and still as a stone, her eyes focused on the ceiling beyond his head. Amazing he could even work up the necessary passion to do the deed, with such a responsive partner.
Not at all like Rosette …
Mordred shook himself. He needed to stop thinking about Rosette. Because thinking about her only intensified the fact of her absence. He hadn’t seen her in three months — since two days before the wedding — not had a line of writing from her either. To be fair, he’d told her not to write, barring some sort of emergency. Dindrane, from what he could tell, didn’t seem like a jealous type, but he doubted any new bride would want to find out that her groom was getting letters from his mistress while they were on their honeymoon. And Mordred was certain that he didn’t want to deal with the obligatory drama that would ensue if she did.
Still, not hearing a word from Rosette … that hurt, hurt in ways he’d never dreamed possible. Not for the first time he wished he had told a close friend back in Albion to watch over Rosette, check in on her from time time. The difficulty was that he didn’t have any friends he could entrust with such a task. Lamorak, maybe, if Mordred had been married to anyone else … but Lamorak wasn’t even in Albion. And while he had been friendly with Joshua Wesleyan while they were in Camford, being friendly with one of your few compatriots was different from asking said compatriot to watch over your mistress while you were on your honeymoon.
But he would see her — soon, Mordred promised. Soon.
As soon as he got Dindrane pregnant.
Just the thought — not so much of a pregnancy from Dindrane, but what it would take to bring it about — made his mood foul all over again. He flopped himself onto the sofa beside Dindrane. Her perfectly straight posture, compared to his more relaxed slouch, managed to irritate him even more. “Don’t you ever doing anything other than read?” he snapped.
She turned to look at him in that slow, measured, and utterly infuriating way she had. “I beg your pardon?”
“You. Read. Do you do anything other than that?” he repeated.
“Occasionally,” Dindrane replied, turning back to her book, “I write.”
Mordred stared at her, unable to determine if she was joking or not.
“Is that it?” Mordred asked, finally, after a few minutes of only the crackling of the logs in the grate and the flipping of pages to break the silence.
“Well, I also eat, sleep, and perform all other normal Sim functions,” Dindrane answered, not taking her eyes from the book. She flipped a page. “But I assumed you had noticed that.”
“Of course I …” he began, then stopped, sputtering. “So that’s it? That’s how you spend the whole day, while I’m gone? What are you reading, anyway?” He shifted, trying to get a better view, but Dindrane snatched the book from his sight.
Not before he caught a few key words, however, words that made his wrinkle his nose. “Alchemy? Magicians have been trying that schlock for years. It’s bunk. Besides, what would you need endless supplies of gold for?”
Dindrane glared at him. “For your information, all of alchemy isn’t ‘bunk’ … the old alchemists made many important discoveries in their quest for the Philosopher’s Stone. And Mortimer the Goth did discover the Elixer of Life.”
“You believe that myth? And Mortimer the Goth wasn’t even a mage! How would he discover the Elixer of Life if he wasn’t even a mage?”
“Because the Elixer of Life has nothing to do with magic,” Dindrane said very slowly, as if she was speaking to an idiot. “And you mustn’t forget the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii.”
Mordred stared at her. “You think that was real?”
“Of course. The growing of one is perfectly possible, under the correct circumstances.”
“Rubbish. No mage has ever been able to do it.”
“Perhaps,” Dindrane said, actually looking up, “that says more about mages than it does about the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Mordred snapped.
“It means that mages are used to bending the laws of the universe to their will … instead of observing those laws, studying them, and working within them to achieve whatever ends they desire.”
Mordred snorted and turned away. “Well, if you’re going to study the ‘laws of the universe,’ why don’t you study some useful ones?”
“Ones that will increase fertility.”
Dindrane froze and actually shut her book. “I beg your pardon?”
“Fertility. Yours. It could do with some increasing.”
Dindrane’s eyebrow slowly rose … then, without a word, she stood and went to put the book away.
Mordred wasn’t having any of it. He got up, grabbed her shoulder, and spun her around. “Did you even hear me?”
“I did,” Dindrane admitted, “but since you do not seem in a mood to be rational, I saw no point in replying.”
“Rational? Rational? I’ve been stuck in a cabin with a woman who believes in cowplants for three bloody months — and she expects me to be rational!”
“If being ‘stuck,’ as you put it, with me is such a hardship, then why do you not have us return to Albion?”
“Because you have to get pregnant! Because — ” But Mordred stopped, for it would be too humiliating to admit how short a leash his father had him on — to admit that Lot had more-or-less told him that he didn’t want to see Mordred’s face unless his wife came back big-bellied. Oh, he’d peppered the order with soothing words, saying that he knew Mordred would be busy as soon as he got home, that he wanted this to be a vacation for him, a break from the stresses of studying and then the stresses of wedding planning …
Better than saying the truth, which was that — evidently — Lot didn’t think his son had brains enough to do his duty.
Dindrane’s other eyebrow lifted. “I have to get pregnant?”
“And you think …” She paused. “What if the problem is with you? Assuming there is a problem. It’s only been three months since we were wed.”
“The problem can’t be with me! I –” He had to choke this back, too; no use letting the wife know that the mistress was pregnant — particularly when she didn’t know there was a mistress. “The problem isn’t with me,” he repeated. “So study some fertility laws, because I’ve about had it with this cabin.”
Dindrane snorted. “I think you could do with more studying of fertility than I could.” Before Mordred could reply, Dindrane added, “After all, when was the last time we couldn’t didn’t share a bed?”
“We’ve shared a bed every bloody night since–”
“Not every night.”
“Fine, every night that you weren’t — indisposed.”
“And how long ago was the last time that happened?”
“How the bloody hell should I know? It isn’t my job to keep track of such things!”
“Oh, come now. Surely you can remember. Just how many weeks. Two? Three? Four?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, it was longer than that …” Frustrated, he counted back. More than four weeks, more like …
His jaw fell open.
“It’s been eight weeks,” he murmured.
“You’re — you’re pregnant? How — how …”
“The normal way, I’m assuming,” Dindrane replied. “But if you’re going to ask how far along, I should say about six weeks.”
“I was going to tell you tomorrow morning,” Dindrane replied. “Perhaps I should have mentioned it sooner. But I wanted to be sure.”
Slowly, Mordred nodded.
“So, are you happy now?”
“Aye,” he said. “Aye … quite happy.” He swallowed. “I’ll tell the servants to prepare for our return to Albion.”
Dindrane nodded. “As you wish, my lord.”