Nothing for her again. Garnet sighed as she materialized in the Orkney keep’s inner courtyard. Once again, she had met the daily messenger at the front gate, eager for any and all messages he might have to convey to her — hopefully from Lamorak — and once again, she was disappointed.
The messenger was far from empty-handed, but he was still toiling up the hundred-odd steps that led to the main entrance of the Orkney keep. He could deliver his doubtless important letters and missives when he got upstairs. In the meantime, Garnet had to go to her bedroom and mope.
She sighed as she walked toward the parlor. Why wouldn’t Lamorak write? First there had been the weeks and weeks of unanswered letters — then that one day, about a month ago, when he’d just shown up at the Keep, only to gallop away the second he saw her — and now, again, nothing.
She knew Lamorak wasn’t the best correspondent; when he had written, it had generally been just a few lines, maybe half a sheet, in response to her pages and pages of letters. But she hadn’t minded that nearly as much as she minded him not writing at all. Was it so much to ask just for a single sentence — Greetings, sorry for not answering your letters, but I’m in the middle of exams — something to let her know that he had at least received her letters?
And if he didn’t want to be with her anymore — couldn’t he at least tell her? Her father was deep in the middle of negotiations with his father … if he wanted to call everything off …
But, no, that couldn’t be it. It couldn’t be.
Garnet took a deep breath as she stepped into the parlor. She needed to calm down. No use getting into a panic over what was probably just thoughtlessness and procrastination on Lamorak’s part. His mother, Garnet told herself, probably didn’t get any more letters from Lamorak than she did.
Though, when she’d last seen Lady Eilwen, she’d been questioning Garnet rather closely, asking if something had gone wrong between her and Lamorak … maybe Lady Eilwen was getting letters … but would Lamorak really tell his mother that he didn’t want anything to do with her, before he’d tell her? Could he really be that cruel? Could anyone?
She was just about to slide down the spiral of horrible thoughts when an incongruous sound awoke her from her misery.
It was chuckling. Smothered chuckling. She looked around and saw her father standing with his ear to the door to the privy, holding his stomach and clearly having very little luck holding in his mirth.
“Papa?” she asked. “What’s going on?”
Lot turned around and beckoned her closer. “Listen,” he whispered, gesturing for her to put her ear to the wood. Garnet did so, then pulled away with a frown. “Hear that?” he asked, chuckling again.
“It sounds like somebody being sick …” Garnet said slowly, wondering what the joke was supposed to be.
“Aye. Your mother.” Lot’s grin would split his face if he wasn’t careful.
“Mother?” Garnet looked at the door. “Is — is she all right?” Realizing just how stupid that question sounded, she asked instead, “Should we send for a doctor?”
“Doubt a doctor would be much help.” And Lot laughed again.
Garnet frowned. She and her mother might not get along — at all — at the best of times — but, still … “Papa, I don’t think this is very funny. If Mother is really sick …”
“Don’t worry, poppet, it’s not an illness that will do her too much harm. Strictly speaking, it’s not an illness at all.”
One of Garnet’s eyebrows lifted. “What else makes you sick like that? Did she eat some bad food?”
“No, no. If it was just that, she’d be either much worse or over it by now.” Lot smiled. “What else makes a woman — a woman — sick for days on end, and only at certain times of the day?”
Garnet tilted her head to one side, frowning.
“What was sending our Dindrane rushing to the privy multiple times a day, oh … about a year and half ago now?”
At the mention of her name, Dindrane — sitting at the other end of the room — actually looked up from her book. However, she said nothing.
“But that was only because she was pregnant with …” Garnet’s jaw dropped. “No!” she said, shocked.
“What’s the matter, Garnet? Wouldn’t you like a new little brother or sister?” Lot asked, pretending to pout.
“It’s not that …” Actually she wouldn’t mind another baby around to kiss and cuddle. Babies were adorable, particularly when you could hand them back to the nurse when they started to cry. And so what if it would be a little brother or sister, and not a niece or nephew — she was fourteen, for Wright’s sake, far too old for “sibling rivalry” or any such nonsense. “But, Papa! You’re — she’s — aren’t you both too old for …?”
“And … and … don’t you …” Garnet’s face fell. “Oh, gross!”
“Er — well I can see why you might think the whole process is a bit gross, but I assure you, most women find it’s worth it in the end …”
“No, not that!” Though, now that her father mentioned it, the whole process of childbirth was disgusting, and she was glad she wouldn’t have to go through it anytime soon. “But Papa! You mean — you and she still …?”
“Make love?” Lot asked, the amused light coming back into his eyes.
Dindrane, listening to their conversation, did something unprecedented. She didn’t actually interrupt — no, the shock emanating from that would surely level the Orkney keep down to its foundations. But she did put her book to the side and look from Garnet to Lot and back again, frowning as she clearly followed the conversation.
Lot, however, was finding it very hard not to laugh. “I assure you, my dear, when you’re the age of your mother and I, you shan’t find anything gross about it.”
“But — but — you’re parents! You’re grandparents! You shouldn’t –”
“If the ability is there, why not?” Lot asked. “And as for the will, well, that never goes away –”
“Ugh! Papa! Just — ugh!” And Garnet ran from the room — probably to be sick herself, Lot wouldn’t wonder.
He chuckled and shook his head. Children. Why did they think that an aged body would somehow be immune to the same urges that flowed through theirs? He sat on the chair next to the privy door, still chuckling as he waited for Morgause to emerge.
“Lot?” a soft voice asked. Lot almost jumped out of his skin.
“Dindrane — my apologies, my dear, I’d forgotten you were here,” he said, realizing the second the words left his mouth that they could be taken as offensive. But damn it all, it wasn’t that hard to do — the lady was so quiet, so retired in her corner with her book. There was barely ever peep out of her. So who could be blamed for not noticing she was in the room?
If Dindrane was offended, she didn’t show it. Instead, she just gave a faint, enigmatic smile — which wasn’t help at all, since nearly all of the smiles she gave were faint and enigmatic, unless Nimue was involved — and put her book to the side, got up and walked over to Lot.
Lot shifted slightly, but only slightly. He was an old soldier, yes, but even old soldiers still had some fighting instinct left in them. “I hope, Dindrane, you don’t mind Morgause and I stealing what should be yours and Mordred’s thunder.”
“Not at all. What goes on between you and Morgause is entirely your business. Besides,” and here she gave another faint smile, rendered less enigmatic by the twinkle in her eye, “unlike Garnet, I’m not at all uncomfortable with the fact that certain urges do not lesson with age — and that parents will often act on those urges, despite what their offspring might wish.”
“As the eldest of five, I imagine you would indeed have come to that conclusion,” Lot chuckled. “Besides, Morgause and I aren’t your parents.”
“Indeed, you’re not.” Shortly after she said this, however, the smile dropped from her face. “Lot …”
“Aren’t you worried?”
“Worried?” he repeated.
“Aye. There are reasons why women Morgause’s age don’t often become with child — much less are able to bear said children.”
“Ah,” Lot replied, nodding. “Well — to be honest, no, Dindrane, I’m not.”
Seeing his daughter-in-law’s surprised expression, he went on, “This,” he nodded to the door, “has been going on for about a fortnight. The fact that it’s still going on indicates — to me, at least — that Morgause isn’t worried. If she was worried … well, it would have stopped back when I thought she’d just had some spoiled meat or bad ale.”
“She knows how to induce a miscarriage?” Dindrane asked. Lot nodded. “Hmm. The Church would hardly approve.”
“Aye, but at her age, what’s the Church to say to her? For all that they would know, the miscarriage would be perfectly natural.”
“But, now that you mention it …” Lot frowned. “It couldn’t hurt to have a midwife up here to look Morgause over. What was the name of the woman you used, when Nimue was born?”
“Thatcher, Kata Thatcher.”
Lot nodded. “When the day’s messenger gets here, I’ll send him to her, have him set up an appointment. After all, it can’t hurt to be too careful.”
“No, Lot, it can’t.”
Idiot, Morgause thought, as she knelt by the close stool, vomiting up the remains of her lunch, breakfast, and probably last night’s dinner, why weren’t you more careful?
Of course, she had the answer for that in an instant: she thought she was past all risk of this. True, her courses had still come, but they’d been growing more irregular, with longer and longer spaces between each one. When she’d set out to seduce Lamorak, of all the possible negative fallout she’d considered, this hadn’t even given her a second of disquiet.
For the babe’s had to be Lamorak’s, of that she had no doubt. She knew, as any witch — particularly one who followed the Path of Darkness — did, the ways to prevent children from occurring, or to get rid of unwanted ones before a would-be father (or grandfather) had reason to suspect that anything was amiss. But that knowledge did not explain why she only had two children, with such a large age gap between them. She’d never once gotten rid of an unwanted babe, if only because she’d always taken steps to prevent a child from being conceived in the first place, if its presence was unwelcome. And as for her steps at prevention … they would have explained a three-year gap between Garnet and Mordred’s ages, but not a nine-year one. She knew her duty quite well, thank you, and was only too happy to give sons to Lot. Her only sin — if it could even be called that — was not wanting to give Lot a squalling brat a year, ruining her figure and her health in the process. So, for the first two years after Mordred’s birth, she’d prevented further children from coming. She hadn’t told Lot, but she hadn’t figured that she needed to. When Lot was willing to carry a growing infant in his stomach for nine months on end, then he could determine the proper timing between children; until that point, she’d be in charge, thank you very much.
On Mordred’s second birthday, however, Morgause had opened herself up to further children. But though Lot was as amorous as ever, there was nothing — not so much as a skipped course for six-and-a-half years after her discontinuing the herbal mixture. She’d been afraid, for a while, that she’s somehow mismade the mixture and rendered herself sterile. Garnet’s conception, when it had finally come, had been a relief.
But not for long. Her pregnancy with Garnet had been hell on earth, by the last month, the midwife Kata Thatcher had told her to keep to her bed to preserve what she could of hers and the baby’s health. Girl was nothing but trouble even before she was born. If Garnet had been a boy, it all would have been worth it. As it was … well, she couldn’t help but meet her daughter with a feeling of anticlimax, and a disappointed, I went through all of that for a girl?
After Garnet’s birth, however, she hadn’t needed to resort to her herbal mixture. Lot didn’t go near her for over a year; apparently, nearly losing both of them had spooked him. Yet, even without any other interference, in the thirteen years between resuming sexual relations with him and now, there’d been nothing. And now, one month after she’d invited another man into her bed … this.
That told Morgause two things: 1) the child probably wasn’t Lot’s, and 2) the reason that she and Lot had only two children, and so far apart, had nothing to do with her.
Oh, well, at least Lot wasn’t likely to suspect anything. Despite their frequent quarrels over his coddling of Garnet — coddling that had, now that Morgause thought about it, began soon after she was born and Morgause couldn’t look at the baby without disappointment and resentment — their relationship in the bedroom was still good.
It was good in other places, too …
But all of that was beside the point, the point being, what was she to do now?
Her retching seemed to be over, so Morgause took a deep breath and sat back on her heels. Should she continue the pregnancy?
Lot had already begun to notice her sickness, and had made several telling comments — and the twinkle in his eye was unmistakable. Poor man, so puffed up with pride as he thought he’d fathered a child in his old age. Hopefully he’d never be undeceived. But at the same time, though he was a harsh man in other ways, she didn’t think he’d reproach her if nothing came of this pregnancy. First of all, he knew her age as well as she did, and for all he would know, any miscarriage that occurred could easily be natural. Secondly, he surely remembered the months before Garnet’s birth as well as she did. So that was all right, and probably her safest option.
But was it the one she wanted to pursue? Lot was an old man, chances were, he’d die before the babe was old enough for a resemblance to be traced. So, perhaps, if it looked a little too much like Lamorak, Lot wouldn’t be around to notice. If he did notice, and take issue with it … well, Lot would never suffer such an insult to his honor to go unavenged, and that would be the end of Lot, put plainly. He’d surely challenge Lamorak to a duel, and just as surely lose.
Though, if he won, that would be one way to prevent that stupid boy from marrying Garnet …
Even if he won, it would likely be the end of Lot. Pellinore would never forgive Lot for killing his eldest, cherished son. If there were any crimes meriting the death penalty lurking in Lot’s past, Pellinore would find them and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. And Arthur would back him up. For some reason, he was still sore over the whole debacle with Morgan and Accolon.
No, Lot wouldn’t survive Lamorak for long. And, much as Lot was a pleasant enough husband — she was even fond of him, in a moderate way — well, widowhood wasn’t that disagreeable.
There would, of course, be difficulties with Mordred, probably, and as for Dindrane, who knew what that girl would think, or how she would react if her brother was killed … and of course Garnet would never forgive her … but on the whole, even if the worst happened, Morgause was certain she and the babe would be all right. However angry Lot got, he wouldn’t hurt them — he’d be in the same state as Accolon if he tried. As for Mordred and Garnet, Mordred, angry though he might be, wouldn’t raise a hand against her; she’d raised her boy better than that. Garnet might be angry enough to try something, but Morgause knew she could best her daughter in any magical duel. And while the child couldn’t, or at any rate wouldn’t be able to right off the bat, Garnet would never attack a defenseless babe. Too much time with my sister. Too soft-hearted.
The thought of Dindrane being able to retaliate against her in any meaningful way was so laughable that Morgause didn’t even consider it.
So even the worst … isn’t that bad. Assuming my health holds. And if things started to go bad — well, there did come a point when her herbal remedy wouldn’t work, but surely she’d get some warning that things weren’t going well before that point hit. She could take care of the problem from there.
Realizing her decision was made, Morgause slowly got up and wiped the spittle and stray vomit from her mouth.
Now all she had to do was clean herself up and put a happy face on things.
And who knew — perhaps, when all the trouble and bother was over, she’d have another son for all of her troubles.