Mordred was still grinning ear-to-ear as he materialized in the front hall of the Orkney keep.
Despite his rather — well-lubricated — state, he forced himself to stop and listen. Not a footfall, not a creak of a floorboard, not so much as a rustle of cloth to indicate that there was a single Sim about. True, there were some associated squeaking and scurrying sounds, but those wouldn’t betray his presence to the sleeping household.
And the household had to be asleep, he was wandering in — weaving in — hours past the time when sensible, hard-working Sims would have gone to their blameless sleep. Hell, his family was far from blameless, and he would have bet half a kingdom that they were all asleep by now. True, his companions at the pub hadn’t been asleep; they were still going strong as he had stumbled out the door, drunk from partaking of the far-too-many rounds he had bought from the bar. He’d had to leave before the bag of silvers he had tossed the barkeep ran out, not because he minded paying for more, but because if he had stayed, the other men would have made him drink more.
Remembering the happy news that had occasioned the buying of so many drinks, Mordred grinned again.
Rosette was safely delivered — which would certainly occasion a few healths to go round and round the bar — but it was what she was safely delivered of that made so many citizens of Albion so very, very happy, and so very, very drunk tonight. A boy, to be sure, but not just that.
TWINS. Twin boys!
They were two weeks old today, and Mordred had only waited this long to really celebrate because they were twins, and born early, and because neither he nor Rosette had been quite certain they were totally healthy until the midwife Kata Thatcher had checked them over today and pronounced them as healthy and hearty a pair as she had ever seen. The tip Mordred had given her in exchange for that happy news ought to buy her and all of her children new clothes for the next year.
Mordred had picked out names for them, Melehan and Melou, names imported from some old ancestors of his mother’s in Glasonland. And if the connection to the Orkney family wasn’t clear enough, he’d picked out a proper surname for them as well: FitzOrk. After all, anyone who could count would know that the twins had been conceived before Mordred and Dindrane were married, and thus the potential insult to her would be lessened. Besides, why shouldn’t he openly acknowledge and support the TWIN boys that Rosette had so generously given him?
Logically, of course, it didn’t matter what the sex of any children Rosette gave to him was, since they wouldn’t be inheriting anything. But Mordred was firmly of the opinion that any man who heard he had fathered TWIN boys and didn’t take it as a compliment to his virility needed his head examined — and probably his virility, too.
Hell, he wasn’t even going to have to listen to any grief for staying out at all hours of the night. He was a young man, he was supposed to be carousing until daybreak. And even if he was with another woman, well, Dindrane had no right to complain. She was expecting her own child, and no fool would endanger developing potential heir with lovemaking. His own father only gave Mordred a knowing grin when he wandered down to breakfast still half-drunk, and if Morgause clucked over his red eyes and Garnet teased him for his haggard appearance, well, that was what mothers and bratty little sisters were supposed to do.
There was only one spot, one potential sticking point in his happiness. It was that, as both Melehan and Melou had inherited their mother’s red hair, green eyes and pale skin … he couldn’t tell them apart.
Rosette could, even this early. She swore that Melou had her father’s nose and that Melehan smiled Mordred’s smile. Mordred just smiled and nodded, played with and cuddled whichever little one was handed to him, and avoided using a proper name unless he heard Rosette name the one he was holding, or else coo the other one’s name to him. Hopefully, once they got a little bigger, he’d be able to tell them apart. If all else failed, he could insist Rosette do their hair differently. Maybe he could say something about how he was afraid they wouldn’t feel enough like individuals if they looked so alike and were dressed alike. She’d be sure to try to differentiate them if he put it like that.
Though of course, now that he thought of Rosette, there was another potential spot on his happiness. Or maybe it was just irony, the irony of knowing that while everyone thought he was with a different girl every name, he was really as chaste as any monk. Rosette was too exhausted to even think about lovemaking, and from what little he understood of the process, there were — other — reasons why it wouldn’t be advisable, just yet. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but given the way that Rosette started looking longingly at the bed as soon as the twins were asleep, and not lustfully, either, he knew better than to bring up the subject.
Which wasn’t to say that they didn’t have their fun in those five minutes in between the twins falling asleep and Rosette passing out behind them. Just not as much fun as he would have liked.
Maybe “chaste as a monk” wasn’t the best way to put it, after all …
Oh, well. It didn’t matter. He broke off his happy reminiscing and began to tiptoe up the stairs to his and Dindrane’s shared bedroom. He could have materialized into the room, but even ordinary Sims tended to sense that and would wake. Besides, this way, if he made any noise as he undrssed and got into bed, she would have been prepared for it by the sound of the door opening and closing and wouldn’t wake up in a panic. He’d tried materializing into the bedroom once when he still lived with Rosette, woken her up when he accidentally dropped his chain mail on his foot, and had learned the hard way not to do that again.
Slowly, slowly, he made his way up … not a sound to indicate that anyone even knew he had just gotten in. Mordred was already grinning and congratulating himself for a job well done when he opened the door to his bedchamber.
That was when he got an unpleasant surprise.
She was prepared for bed, but she wasn’t asleep yet. Far from it, she was sitting up in bed and reading a book. (Then again, when is she awake and not reading? Mordred wondered.) “Good evening, husband.”
“Er — good evening.” He swallowed. “You — you weren’t waiting up for me, were you?”
“Yes and no,” Dindrane replied, turning a page. “Your mother had me take a nap this afternoon, so I wasn’t very sleepy when it came time for bed. And I did want to talk to you. But I had just about given up on you and was going to go to sleep as soon as I finished this chapter.” She looked up with a smile. “It’s a good thing you came in when you did, isn’t it?”
“I … er … what did you wish to speak to me about?”
“Oh, I just wanted to know how the babies were doing.”
Mordred, who had been in the process of pulling off his boot, dropped it. “What?”
“The babies. The twins? Melehan and … Melou?” She made a face. “Who picked out those names?”
“Do you have a problem with them?” Mordred growled.
“Individually, no. But for twins …” She made a face. “Well, I wouldn’t have given them both M names. I’d try to make them feel a little different.”
“Your sisters have similar names.”
“And how exactly do you think I learned not to do that?” She shook her head and turned a page. “If we ever have twins, they will not have names that start with the same letter.”
“And you think that will happen soon? You’re certainly big enough for twins.”
Nine women out of ten would have had some sort of emotional reaction to that. Dindrane was apparently the tenth. “If you have any complaints, log them with your mother. She’s the one who makes me take a three-hour nap if I so much as shift my weight from one foot to the other. It’s no wonder that I’m gaining weight at twice the usual rate.” Before Mordred could come up with a suitable retort, Dindrane added, “But you never answered my question. How are the babies?”
“They’re — well.”
“Good, good. Are they cute yet, or do they still look like wrinkly old men?”
Mordred didn’t want to answer that. “Why does it matter to you?”
“It doesn’t, really. I was just curious. Besides, I thought it would be best if I made some polite conversation before really getting to the heart of the matter.”
“And what would that be?”
Dindrane was silent for a moment, and then she got up, put the book aside and walked — or rather, waddled — over to where Mordred was standing. She put her hand on her chin. “I think,” she began, “that I’ve been awfully lenient when it comes to Rosette, don’t you?”
Hearing his wife’s lips pronounce his mistress’s name made Mordred — well, it made him panic, there was no two ways about it. “Don’t you dare!” he shouted.
“Don’t you even start with her! I have done my duty by you in every way! Every damned way!” He lifted his hand. “I was with her before you and I were even officiallly betrothed! None of — none of what’s between her and I has the least to do with you!”
“Do you have any less pretty dress because of my relationship with her? Do you go without food, without drink? Do I take her out in public and flaunt her while you sit at home alone? No! No, no, no! I’ve been the best husband I can be to you!”
“Are you trying to wake the castle? I really don’t want to have to explain this to your mother.”
“Like I give a damn! The only thing Rosette has taken away from you is my company, some of the time — and given how much you appear to enjoy spending time with me, you should probably be sending her a thank-you note for getting me out of your hair!”
“Well, I doubt that one is in the etiquette books. How exactly does one thank a mistress for relieving one of a husband’s company? How does one word it so that it doesn’t sound sarcastic?”
“You think this is funny?”
“It is rather ridiculous, if you think about it. Here you have the mistress, and you’re the one going off the deep end while I’m trying to keep you calm. Of course, if you would just be quiet and listen for a minute, you’d realize you have nothing to go off the deep end about … well, not really.”
“Not really? You’re about to …” He hesitated, staring at her. “What are you about to do?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Dindrane replied. “I do have one — we’ll call it a request, for you. You do one thing for me, and I swear I’ll never bother you about Rosette again.”
“Oh, and what would that be? Give her up? Cut her off? Throw her and the boys out into the street?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’d never ask you to do that.” Before Mordred could lift his jaw from the floor from that statement, Dindrane topped it with another. “And why would I want you to stop supporting the boys? Whatever I might feel about Rosette, it’s not their fault they were born into the middle of a huge mess.”
“And what do you feel about Rosette?”
“You don’t want to know. Are you ready to hear what I want?”
“My children come first.”
Mordred blinked. “Eh?”
“My children come first. They have first claim on your time, on your skills, and yes — on your money, when the time comes.”
“And what about Rosette’s boys?”
“You can still see them. You can see them as much as you want before my baby is born. Afterward, however …” She shrugged. “Five years from now, I just don’t want to have to explain to little Nimue or Gawaine that their daddy can’t come to their birthday because he’s too busy with his other family.”
“You don’t think I would do my duty toward my own children?”
“Of course you would do your duty. They would have the prettiest clothes and the newest toys, and the best tutors and most attentive nursemaids in the kingdom. Just like I have the best clothes — if that’s what I wanted — and the best lady’s maid and all the books I want to buy. And you put in an appearance in my bedchamber when duty requires, just like you would dutifully appear to them whenever there’s a signficant-enough milestone. But while I might be satisfied with duty, children need more than duty — children need love. And my children are going to get it from you, whether you like it or not.”
Mordred gulped. “And — and if I agree to this, you won’t say a word about Rosette? Ever again?”
“If you agree this, then as long as my needs and my children’s are met, you can be with her every night and you won’t hear a peep from me.”
“Then — then I think we have a deal.” Nervously, he stuck out his hand.
She shook it. “Excellent. Now, if you’ll excuse me …” She turned away. “I have an infant to gestate, and I do need my rest.”
“Er, of course.” Mordred turned to the wardrobe and began to divest himself of a tunic. Before he took it off, though, his hands dropped. “Dindrane?”
“How did you know the twins’ names?”
If he could have seen Dindrane’s face, he would have seen a small, egnimatic smile one it. “That’s for me to know …”
As she pulled the covers down and climbed on the bed, she added below her breath, “And for you not to find out.”