A quiet Friday afternoon. The windows of the boys of Albion’s home were thrown open, letting in crisp breezes and the smells of apples, grains and pumpkins ready for harvesting, and the sounds of laughing students, creaking wagons, and birds who had not yet left for the winter.
Will sat by himself in the library, studying. Tom and Milo both had class at this hour; Rob didn’t, but he usually spent Friday afternoons in one of the art studios, getting his work done the better to party during the weekend. And Lamorak, who had somehow managed to arrange his schedule so that he didn’t have any classes on Fridays (lucky bastard), had ridden off to the Albion for the day. He’d been cagey about what, exactly, his plans were, so perhaps Will could be forgiven for assuming that Lamorak wasn’t going to visit his mother. Oh, well, it wasn’t any of his business anyway, and truth to tell Will had put Lamorak clear out of his head as soon as the other had left the breakfast room to saddle his horse.
The only thing, in fact, that brought Lamorak back to Will’s mind was the clattering of hoofbeats in the courtyard.
He ignored them. If it was a guest, he or she would knock at the door, their daily cleaning woman would answer it, and she would get Will. If it wasn’t a guest, but one of the other boys, then he’d let himself in and call for Will, or somebody, if he wanted to talk; if not, he’d go quickly to his own devices. Either way, Will would be sought if he needed.
What he wasn’t able to ignore was the slam of the door — hard enough to shake the very foundations of the keep, Will was sure — and, soon after, the crash of pewter hitting the floor.
Will looked up. He knew the voice that was swearing — Lamorak’s — but the swearing didn’t continue for long. There was silence for a moment, then another burst of swearing, then the tinkle of breaking glass. Then silence again.
Will frowned, put his book down, and wandered into the main hall. “Lamorak? Is that –”
He found Lamorak in the main hall, where he’d expected to find him — and by the bar, where he’d expected to find him. What he hadn’t expected to find was a tankard left lying on the floor. That wasn’t what worried him, though.
What worried him was Lamorak, who was drinking straight from one of the bottles of expensive imported scotch, the sort of stuff that was meant to be drunk in tiny glasses so you could order a couple refills before you were under the table.
What worried him more was that Lamorak hadn’t opened in the bottle in the usual way, either, by uncorking, but had broken the glass of the neck and was drinking straight from that, shards of broken glass and all. Will could smell some of the scotch that had spilled out during the breaking of it.
Will coughed once — if he startled Lamorak, he’d probably have a bloody mess on his hands — but Lamorak didn’t stop drinking. He saw Will, though, of that Will was certain. But he took his sweet time in finishing up his swallow before slamming the bottle on the surface of the bar. “What?”
“I –” Will began, but looking at the other man, he hesitated. The alcohol couldn’t have hit Lamorak — not yet — but he was holding himself … oddly. Like he’d a blow to the head, something that had stunned him to the point where he could barely stand. And his hand wasn’t so much resting on the bar as holding onto it for dear life. It was shaking, too.
“What?” Lamorak repeated. Was it just Will, or was his voice creaking, shaking even?
“Are … are you all right?” Will asked. He glanced out the window, trying to see Lamorak’s horse, if that would give any clues. Maybe he’d had a fall?
Their stable boy, however, had already led the horse away. And as Will looked at Lamorak again, he noted that his clothes weren’t torn, bloody or dirty. Nothing suggested that anything untoward had happened to Lamorak … except, of course, the look on his face.
Added to that was the response Lamorak gave. He stared at Will for a moment, then laughed — Will almost jumped, he’d never heard a laugh that bitter from Lamorak — and asked, “Do I look all right?” He grabbed the bottle again.
“Um, Lamorak …” Will removed the bottle from his hand (which wasn’t nearly as hard as it ought to have been) and asked quietly, “Why don’t you switch to something a little, um, milder?”
“Because that’s what I need,” Lamorak replied, trying to reach for the bottle. It wasn’t hard to keep him from grabbing it, however; if anything it was too easy. At least, it wasn’t physically difficult.
But when a grown man looked about to cry when his alcohol was removed — well, that Will found more difficult to resist. “Or — here — you shouldn’t drink right from the bottle — um — here.” He grabbed one of the short glasses and poured a good measure in. “Here, drink from this.”
Lamorak tossed it back in a single swallow and held the glass out for more.
Oh, Wright. “Um …” He poured a much smaller measure in this time, which Lamorak finished off just as quickly. He held the glass out again.
Will looked at the bottle, which was far more empty than he would like, and shook his head “Why don’t we lay off that for a moment, and you can tell me what’s the matter?”
“I could use another.”
“Why don’t you wait for the … er … few you’ve had to sink in a bit, and then see if you want another?”
Now, Will had never thought he possessed magical powers — so far as he knew, none in his family did — but by the way Lamorak staggered, as if all the drink had rushed to his head at once, made Will seriously wonder if he did, in fact, possess some sort of predictive ability.
The good news was that Lamorak didn’t seem the least interested in another drink after that. The bad news, however, was that he started to weep.
Oh, Wright! “Lamorak? I — oh, dear — look, Lamorak, whatever it is can’t be that bad …” He tried to pat the other man on the back, but Lamorak edged out of the way. It took some fumbling, but Will finally found a handkerchief, which, after waving it front of Lamorak’s face for a couple moments, he did take.
Lamorak didn’t show the least inclination to stop crying, however, and all Will could do was stand there and watch as his handkerchief grew wetter and wetter. Lamorak was saying something, however, between sobs, and after a moment Will was able to make out a few phrases. Things like, “Oh, Wright, what have I done?” and “Never forgive me.”
But most prominent among them was a name: Garnet.
Good Wright, what did he do? But only a fool would think that Lamorak needed someone to upbraid him now, so Will was only able to pat his back. This time Lamorak let him make contact. “Look here — mate — women aren’t all that unforgiving, I’m sure she’ll let you make it up to her …”
Lamorak looked up, tears still standing in his reddened eyes, and a long drip of mucus hanging from his nose. “You think so?”
“Um — sure. If — if she really loves you — if you really love her –” Will tried to remember what Jess had told him about Garnet — how she was single-mindedly focused on Lamorak, how she was practically obsessed with him, how Jessie frankly worried about the strength of her affection for him. “I don’t know what would be worse,” she had told Will, “that he breaks her heart, or that she — well — grows up a little and changes her mind and picks someone else. If it’s the second, she’ll look like an idiot for insisting she’d have him no matter what, and if the former …” And Jessie had stopped speaking there, shifting to stare into the distance.
If he broke her heart …
But Lamorak, for all that Will wasn’t — well — impressed with him, wasn’t a bad sort. Was he? And whenever he spoke of Garnet, it was in the tenderest of terms. He’d never hurt her deliberately, would he?
“But how?” Lamorak was asking, dragging Will back to the present. “We — she already practically hates her mother — if she finds out that we …” And he broke off, cringing into himself like a little child.
“If Garnet finds out what?”
Lamorak stared at Will for a long moment, then gulped — so loudly that Will could hear it, hell, the maid in the kitchen could probably hear it — and told him.
Will wasn’t certain who needed a drink more after that revelation.
But alcohol — as he forced himself to remember — wasn’t going to help the situation at all. At all. And it certainly wouldn’t help Lamorak, who, upon seeing the expression on Will’s face, had broken down all over again. Somehow Will got Lamorak into one of the chairs, and somehow he remained on his own feet long enough to collapse in a different chair. And somehow, he was able to take in the broken sentences and disjointed phrases that came out of Lamorak.
He sat and listened to it all, and — if he’d been less shocked — he would have noticed a few things. Things like how the affair seemed … suspicious, somehow. Lamorak swore, up and down, that he had no idea what he had been thinking, that he had seen Morgause and had been unable to control himself. Now, perhaps, a man might say that to himself after the fact, to console a wounded conscience, but when Lamorak said it, it sounded almost … true.
And there were other things, the timing, for one. Lamorak had, to hear him tell it, no sooner woken up next to Morgause than he’d regretted everything and gone running out of the keep as if demons were chasing him. If he’d gotten drunk, sobered up and realized what he’d done — yes, that would explain it. But there wasn’t time enough. Lamorak hadn’t had anything to drink with his breakfast, and he was too good a horseman to try to imbibe and ride. And with the journey there and the journey back, there wasn’t time for Morgause to have gotten him drunk, or Lamorak to have gotten himself drunk, to the point where he would do that. And even if there had been time for that, Lamorak couldn’t possibly be here and relatively sober now if that had been the case — he’d probably still be in Morgause’s bed, sleeping it off.
He wasn’t able to notice these things now, not on a conscious level, not when his consciousness was still reeling from the fact that Lamorak, who he hadn’t pegged at being that bad a sort, had gone and slept with his betrothed’s mother, but perhaps he noticed them on a subconscious level. He must have, for when these conclusions presented themselves to him later, they were utterly unsurprising and seemed to make perfect logical sense.
And maybe some sort of subconscious processing was the reason that the first thing that Will could think to say was, “Lamorak, you’ve got to tell her.”
Lamorak’s head snapped up. “What?”
“Garnet. You — you’ve got to tell her what happened. Otherwise …”
“She won’t leave me and get her heart broken?”
“No — well, maybe — but — Wright Almighty, Lamorak, you think you can be happy with her with this weighing on your mind?” Will asked with a shrug.
Lamorak’s eyes wandered to the bar. “There are ways to forget about it …”
If Will had been Tom, or Milo, or even Rob, he would have had made some caustic comment about Lamorak had a fine way of showing a girl he loved her — first, sleeping with her mother, and second, not being able to handle the guilt sober and thus saddling her with a drunkard for a husband. But he wasn’t Tom, or Milo, or even Rob. He couldn’t get rid of the sentiment, however, but he could alter the delivery. “I don’t think there’s enough drink in the world for that, Lamorak.”
“And there’d be enough drink to console me when she leaves me?”
Excellent point. “Maybe she won’t.”
“You don’t know much about women if you could think that. No woman worth anything would put up with a man who … who …” And Lamorak looked ready to break down again.
“I — I’ll be honest, I don’t know about that. Maybe she would stay with you … maybe she wouldn’t. But …” Will frowned. “You think you could keep this a secret for the rest of your lives together?”
“If it’s that or lose her …”
“But it wouldn’t be,” Will pointed out.
“You keep it a secret until the wedding — and she couldn’t leave you,” Will pointed out. “She’d be stuck with you, for better or for worse, unless her father was savvy enough to put something in the contract giving her the right to leave you — and why would he do that? She loves you, doesn’t she? Why would she want to separate from you?”
Lamorak looked away. “Aye … aye …”
“And then, if you ever told her — or if she found out — she’d spend the rest of her life — or yours — locked in a living hell.”
“No — no, I’d do anything to make it up to her — I wouldn’t — I’d think of something …”
“I don’t think you could, Lamorak,” Will said softly. “I’m sorry — but if you trapped her into a marriage, knowing what you did, don’t you think she’d hate you? For that, if for nothing else?”
Lamorak shuddered and rested his head on his hands.
“And what,” Will asked softly, so softly that it was a wonder Lamorak could hear him, “would you think of a man who did something like that to the woman whom he claimed to love?”
Slowly, Lamorak turned to face him. “If I tell her … she might never forgive me. She’ll leave me.”
“But if I don’t tell her … and she finds out … we’ll both be miserable for the rest of our lives.”
Lamorak stared at his lap. “Those aren’t good choices.”
“No. They’re not.”
“Either way, I lose.”
“But if I tell her,” he said, slowly, as if forcing every word from his mouth, “then she — she might not be quite so miserable. In the long run.”
“In the long run.”
“So the question is,” Lamorak whispered, “do I love her enough to not make her miserable?”