“Dad!” Jessie called out, practically flying (not really flying, she’d need her broom for that) through the common room when the maid let Arthur in. “How are you? How was your ride?”
“Neither too long nor too uncomfortable,” Arthur replied with a smile. He pulled Jessie in for a tight hug. “And how is my girl?”
“I’m fine, Dad.”
“Studies going well?” Arthur asked, pulling away to survey her closely. “Still getting along with your friends?”
“Turn anyone into a toad recently?”
“Dad!” Jessie laughed and rolled her eyes. “No one’s deserved it.” Although that Martha … But she shook her head and affixed a smile back on her face. There were better ways to get revenge on Martha than turning her into a frog and tossing her into the pond. Dannie had come up with plenty of them, and they’d already implemented the first three plans to great success. The fourth … well, they would see.
Though it is a pity that Martha won’t be rejoining her own kind.
“I always knew I could trust you,” Arthur chuckled. “If only I could say the same for your brothers …”
“How is Kay, by the way?” Jessie asked. “And Mum?”
Was it Jessie’s imagination, or did a flash of guilt appear on her father’s face? “I made my escape just as your mother was laying into Kay …”
“Uh oh. What for?”
“Sliding down the banister, I take it.”
Jessie winced. “Isn’t he too old to be doing that?”
“Apparently, Kay doesn’t think so.”
As Jessie and her father exchanged pleasantries, Dannie and Lynn stood at the entry to the common room. Lynn smiled serenely, Dannie … Dannie watched the proceedings with her jaw somewhere in the vicinity of her knees.
“Lynn,” she whispered — they’d finally graduated to nicknames in the midst of their plotting sessions — nudging Lynn’s side. “Lynn!”
“Huh? What?” Lynn asked, jumping.
“Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?”
“Um — what do you think you’re seeing?”
“The King, standing in our common room.”
“Oh … well, he is …”
Dannie stared at her. “What?” Lynn asked, anxiously straightening her skirt.
“The King is standing in our common room.”
“Er … yes?”
“And you’re just standing there?”
” … Yes?”
“And would these be your friends, Jessie?” Arthur was asking, putting the kibosh on Dannie and Lynn’s conversation. Not that he necessarily intended that to happen, but Lynn was too well-bred to speak while the King seemed at all inclined to speak to them, and Dannie … well, Dannie could have no more spoken when the King turned his eyes on her than she could have sprouted wings and flown to her next class.
“Lady Gwendolyn, of course, I know,” Arthur began. “How do you do?”
Lynn curtsied. “Quite well, Majesty, and yourself?”
“The same, the same. I saw your parents yesterday, I’m happy to tell you that they’re both quite well.”
“Thank you, Majesty.” Lynn straightened with a soft smile.
“And this is Dannie, Dad. Mistress Danielle Ferreira,” Jessie hastily corrected. “Dannie — um — my father.”
“Hi,” Dannie squeaked. Then — remembering her manners — she curtsied, or tried to. The result was nowhere near as polished or smooth as Lynn’s.
Arthur’s only reaction was to raise one eyebrow at Jessie, as if to ask, This is the Dannie you wrote so much about? Jessie could only shrug.
He smiled. “I am most pleased to make your acquaintance, Mistress Ferreira.”
Dannie looked up. “Thanks?”
Arthur’s smile seemed to undergo a slight metamorphosis; his lips seemed to quiver as if he was holding in laughter. Or at least they did until Jessie nudged his side and shot him a look akin to the one her mother generally used to great effect. Arthur shivered and cleared his throat. “Er. Well. Shall we sit, ladies?”
The other two girls seemed a bit surprised, but they obligingly made their way over to a couch while he and Jessie took the other couch. Arthur cleared his throat again. “Not to beat around the bush …”
“Because we all know how much you hate to do that,” Jessie interrupted.
“If I didn’t know better, young lady, I’d suspect you’d listened at the door at Council meetings,” Arthur remarked, glancing sidelong at her.
“Good thing you do know better, then, isn’t it?”
Arthur chuckled and patted her knee. “Anyway. As I was attempting to say — I’m sure that all of you girls are aware that there will be two new students — two new young ladies, I should say — from Albion coming to join you in a month or so. Lady Gwendolyn, I am quite sure you know this, at least.”
Lynn smiled. “Father and Clarice wrote to confirm it last week, Majesty.”
So his finances are that uncertain, Arthur noted. Bors was particularly close-lipped about the state of his wallet — and no wonder, considering the nature of the negotiations he and Arthur were undergoing — but of course it was an open secret among the upper echelons of Albion that all was not well with the de Ganises. Their lands, Arthur knew for a fact, were bad — which was not his fault, since Bors had picked out the plot himself — and unlike Lord Lot or old Lord Ban, both of whom could spin gold out of straw, practically, Bors hadn’t a speck of business sense. And even if he’d had one, his sense of his honor as a nobleman wouldn’t allow him to use it. He would consider it beneath his dignity, and would never trouble himself to find some way of finding extra cash that didn’t make him look like a “money-grubbing merchant.”
Oh well, it wasn’t Arthur’s problem: if Bors refused to ask for help or advice, then he would receive neither. And if he wanted to stretch himself to the limit in order to provide a good — and entirely unnecessary, really, Arthur was the king — dowry for Lynn, that was Bors’s problem too. Arthur felt sorry for Lady Claire, and for the younger children, all three of whom would feel the pinch, but there was nothing Arthur could really do about it.
“Indeed,” Arthur replied. “I suppose they wanted to know a place for her to stay?”
Lynn flushed. “I — well, I was wondering about that. I — I would like to stay in the same dormitory as Clarice, but there isn’t room in this one. I was wondering if — if perhaps — if I could move out, and Lady Leona take my place, and Clarice and I can live in a different dormitory.” Lynn sighed. “But the university doesn’t let students change dormitories, only move to a house on campus …”
“Which is a foolish rule, if you ask me,” Jessie put in, “especially since Lynn would only be moving to be closer to her sister.”
Arthur smiled. “I think I might have a solution for that problem,” he said. “I’m certain you’re all aware of the house the young men — I hesitate to say own, since I’m not certain I’d trust any of them with real property as of yet — but are currently living in?”
“Of course, Majesty,” Lynn said. “It’s very nice! Er — I mean, from Prince Thomas’s and Princess Jessica’s descriptions, it sounds very nice.” And she flushed.
I take it Sir Bors forbid her from going there … why didn’t I think to do that with Jessie? He glanced at her out of the corner of her eye. Ah, that’s right — because, unlike Bors, I do not even harbor the delusion that she would listen.
Aloud, all he said was, “It’s still nice?” to Jessie.
“I know. I keep walking in expecting it to be completely destroyed, but no, it’s still quite lovely. I think their maid deserves a medal.”
“The Order of St. Kaylynn, perhaps?”
Jessie snickered. “That ought to do it. Anyway, you were saying, Dad?”
“I was saying,” he continued with a smile, “that since the royal treasury of Albion enabled the young men to procure themselves a house — under the condition than any young man of Albion be allowed to stay in that house for the duration of his time at Camford — is it not only fair that the young women be granted the same privilege?”
Whether or not the young ladies thought it was fair, Arthur couldn’t tell. He heard three sharp intakes of breath, saw Dannie’s jaw drop, Lynn’s eyes go wide and her hand fly to cover her mouth, and Jessie swallow even as her eyes lit up. But none of this told him whether the young ladies thought this was fair.
“Are you serious?” Jessie whispered.
“Naturally,” Arthur replied. “The house,” he continued, “would sleep about eight — since that’s the current university rules, am I correct?”
Dannie and Jessie shrugged, but Lynn nodded.
“Thank you. Anyway, the house would sleep eight young ladies, and it would have all the usual amenities — a kitchen, a dining room, a music room and dancing hall — I thought it was only fair, since the young man had a fencing hall — and of course a library and other facilities to aid your in your studies. What do you think?”
“It sounds wonderful, Dad! But how would we get it ready in a month? We have finals coming up …”
“Actually, when I contacted the university authorities to see what properties were available, they informed me that there was already a house available — and furnished, as well …”
The three girls exchanged glances that could only be described as knowing. “I take it,” Arthur remarked, “that you already knew about this house?”
“You could say that,” Jessie said. Arthur glanced at her with a raised eyebrow. “Well — um — there was a sorority recently that lost its charter — and when it lost its charter, it lost its house, too …”
“Ah,” Arthur replied. “I don’t suppose you knew any of these young ladies?”
“Oh, no, your Majesty!” Lynn said, clearly shocked. “But …”
“The whole campus has been talking about it,” Jessie said. “And only it, for the past fortnight. Besides, we, er, knew them by reputation beforehand.”
Arthur’s eyebrows slowly rose. “Do I want to know?”
“No, Dad, you really don’t.”
“Fair enough,” Arthur said. “Well, are you ladies amenable to taking this house, despite its — er — less-than-ideal reputation?”
Jessie glanced at the other two girls only to see vigorous nodding. “I think so,” she remarked to Arthur.
“Excellent. Now, if you would care to accompany me — the university authorities assured me it was in a livable condition, but–”
A sudden screech ripped through the dormitory.
Arthur was on his feet before he had any idea of how he got there, but — as he realized — instead of having three panicking young women on his hands, he had, instead, three young ladies trying very hard to hold in their giggles. “I don’t suppose,” he remarked, “that you would happen to know what that sound was?”
Jessie had her hand covering her mouth and was bending over, holding her stomach to keep the laughter in, but she was able nod.
“Would anyone care to share?”
“Certainly, your Majesty,” Dannie replied, surprising Arthur almost as much as the scream had. “That’s the sound of sweet revenge.”