Lamorak stood outside the archway that led to the Orkney keep, somehow keeping his hands from shaking. He could hear them now — even through the thick stone walls, he could hear them — his family, Garnet’s family, the bloody royal family, all inside, all laughing, all talking, all pretending to have the time of their Wright-damned lives.
You can still run, Lamorak’s common sense told him. There’s still time. The servants won’t tell you were here — and if they do, nobody will believe them. Write them tomorrow and say that Triss threw a shoe on the way here, and by the time I got him to a blacksmith’s, and the blacksmith got the shoe fixed, it was so late that I had to turn around and go home again.
You could get away with that.
Lamorak gulped. Yes, he could get away with that — for now. But having been a coward once, it would be that much easier to be a coward a second time, and a third, and a fourth … he could keep being a coward until kingdom came. Or until Garnet gave up on his stupidity and obvious guilt whenever he was near her and threw him over for good.
No. Best to get this over with now. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, his nostrils flaring. Then he jumped.
Witch hazel! He smelled witch hazel!
He almost turned tail and ran — but to do so he had to open his eyes —
And see a clump of the actual plant growing just to the left of the door.
You’re a fool, Lamorak, he told himself. Then, squaring his shoulders, he went in.
He entered instantly into chaos. The young ones of the Gwynedd, Orkney and Pendragon clans seemed to have picked the vestibule to be their gathering place. Dilys and Delyth were playing some sort of game of pretend in the corner, while Prince Kay and Aglovale … well, he couldn’t tell just what they were doing, but he would bet his next month’s allowance that it was the same sort of thing he and Mordred were doing when they were around the Prince’s and Aglovale’s ages.
Dilys was the first to catch sight of him. Her eyes lit up, and a rare full smile bloomed on her face. “Lamorak!” Not a hint of a stutter escaped her as she ran across the room to him — and, wonder of wonders, her voice was loud enough that Aglovale and Prince Kay looked up. “When did you get here?” she asked as she hugged him.
“Just now,” Lamorak replied, hugging her back, some part of him glad that there was someone in this keep who would be glad to see him. “Have you seen Garnet?”
“Not since we got here,” Delyth said as Dilys shook her head. “Don’t you want to see Nimue? She’s really cute! And it is her birthday,” she added as an afterthought.
“Aye, Lamorak, why don’t you pay some attention to your family instead of to your piece of tail?” Aglovale asked with a smirk.
Kay glared at him and slammed his elbow into Aglovale’s side. “Ow! Wright’s thumbs! What was that for?”
“That’s my cousin you’re calling his tail!”
“So? Doesn’t make it any less true!”
Before Lamorak could say something — anything — Dilys asked, “Aglovale, why are you saying that Garnet has a tail?”
Kay started snickering, Aglovale’s face fell, and Lamorak muttered, “Great. Just great. You’re explaining that to Mum and Dad.”
“Aw, come on, they’re not babies, they were going to hear the expression sooner or later …”
Lamorak rolled his eyes, tousled Dilys’s hair, and left his brother and the Prince to the unenviable task of explaining to two eleven-year-olds just what “tail” meant in this context.
Or maybe it was only to one eleven-year-old. Lamorak could just hear Delyth saying in her most scornful voice, “They’re not saying that she has a tail. It’s just a really rude way of saying they’re going to get married someday.”
If only, Delyth. If only.
His next stop was the music room, where he found Dindrane, the Queen, and … Lady Morgause. It took all of Lamorak’s courage just to walk into the room, and not run screaming from the castle. Wright knew with what he would face Garnet if he had to stay here very long.
He greeted them, and to keep from having to look into Lady Morgause’s smirking eyes, he glanced at Dindrane instead. It would take someone who knew her well to see it — very well indeed — but unless Lamorak was mistaken, it was taking all of her willpower to keep from running to the dining hall and finding a fork to stick into her eye. But why? It couldn’t be because of the Queen; Lamorak had always thought her a very pleasant lady, despite her ability to strike cold-blooded terror into the most powerful man in the kingdom (King Arthur) and the man who would soon be the second-most powerful man in the kingdom (Tom). And surely Dindrane must be used to … her mother-in-law.
Then Lady Morgause laughed, the throaty laugh she had turned on him when — when — he wouldn’t think about it. Not until he had to. “What luck this is,” Lady Morgause said, turning to the Queen. “Do you know, I’m in my fourth month already, and I can still fit into this gown?”
Fourth month? Fourth month of what? “I’d be worried if were in your position,” the Queen replied, actually sounding as worried as she claimed to be.
“Nonsense. There’s nothing wrong with a small baby. Smaller it is, the easier it comes out!” And Lady Morgause laughed again.
Small baby? What baby? Is she having a baby? But surely she’s too old —
Did she say she was four months along?
He and Lady Morgause had — had — been together but four months earlier.
He staggered back a full step, staring at her. “What’s the matter, Sir Lamorak?” Lady Morgause asked, chuckling. “Does the mere discussion of childbirth make you feel light-headed?”
“Lady Morgause!” If the Queen had been anyone other than the Queen, Lamorak would have sworn that the look she sent his way was meant to convey something along the lines of, Please forgive my sister-in-law, she knows not what she does. “Of course he’s uncomfortable. Really, this isn’t a conversation for mixed company …”
The Queen kept speaking, probably changing the subject, but through the depths of his haze, Lamorak felt Dindrane’s eyes on him. She was probably giving him that look, the one that could bore a hole straight through his skull and lay bare all his secrets. He glanced at her, tried to smile, and mouthed only, Garnet?
Dindrane shrugged. But she had some mercy on him, in that she remarked, “Why don’t you go see Nimue? Mother and Father are in with her.” And by the brief blink Dindrane gave, Lamorak guessed she would have given a great deal to be in there with them. “I’m sure she’d love to see her favorite uncle.”
If he had just received news any less momentous, he would have wondered at Nimue being able to express an opinion on that score. He might have even made a face at being forced to dance attendance on a toddler when he had much more important things to do, with his nerve deserting him at every moment. As it was, he nodded and stumbled into the nursery, barely remembering to take a polite leave of the ladies.
He found his parents and Nimue just where they had been advertised to be, Pellinore and Eilwen grinning at each other like fools while Nimue squealed and giggled as she rode on a rocking horse. Lamorak guessed the horse was new, and he guessed that his parents had been the purchasers. Of course he had to greet them, and catch up with them, and try to give Nimue a kiss (which she squirmed away from, reaching her arms out to Eilwen) before he could be allowed to escape.
He wandered through the corridors of the castle, following the sounds of laughter and conversation, hoping and dreading that each corner he turned would have Garnet on the other side. He was doomed to disappointment, though — or was it relief? — for the next group of people he found consisted of the King, Lord Lot, and Sir Mordred.
They were all drinking, of course, and talking — discussing affairs of the kingdom, no doubt, the army, the cavalry, the latest news from Reme or Glasonland. The kinds of conversations that he was always chased away from when he was younger, and always wished he could take part in. Now — now when he could have conceivably stuck around, played a part, become one of the power-brokers — he didn’t give a damn.
Or maybe now he was too afraid. For now, seeing Lord Lot and Mordred … and knowing that Lady Morgause was — was — he wouldn’t think about it. His thoughts led only to bad places.
He stayed with the other men long enough to pay his respects to the King and replenish his courage with a liquid supplement before disappearing again in search of Garnet.
She wasn’t in the dancing hall. She wasn’t in any of the stillrooms. She wasn’t in the great hall or even the kitchen, or one of the solars, or in the room with a hot spring that Lamorak somehow managed to stumble upon. Where was she?
The answer was in the next room he checked, the room he almost skipped because of the silence emanating from it. The library.
She was bent over a large tome, her back to the door. Lamorak gulped as he watched her finger slowly trace its way along one of the lines. “Do you want something?” she asked.
She knew it was him.
“G-Garnet.” Lamorak gulped, forced all thoughts from his mind but those of her, and how he was going to get through the next half-hour or so. He slowly walked up to her, watching the way the late afternoon sunlight brought out the warm tones in her skin.
She didn’t say anything. The scent of her perfume — forget-me-nots — told him everything he needed to know.
But he couldn’t walk away, not now. Now when he’d finally found her. “Can we — talk?” he heard himself ask.
“You can talk.”
“Somewhere — private?”
She turned a leisurely glare on him, one eyebrow rising and just as slowly falling. “You ignore my letters for six months and now you want to talk in private?”
“I –” I didn’t ignore her letters for six months, it was only four … Saying that would get him nowhere, though. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’d say that I could explain, but … I really can’t.”
Garnet stared at her book, then turned to stare at him. “What?”
“There isn’t an excuse — just — I’m sorry, Garnet. I’m — I’m truly sorry.” He closed his eyes. “Can we — please — can we talk?”
She stared at him, then tossed her hair over her shoulder. He watched the shining, silken strands as they flew through the air. They weren’t anything like a — different — set of hair that he’d had reason to watch. He would take solace in that.
Garnet sighed. “Fine. Come with me.”
She led, and he followed. She led him straight to her bedchamber. “I can bespell the lock,” she said, “and even Mother can’t get in.” She didn’t notice how he shuddered when she said that — or if she did, she didn’t comment. She turned around as soon as the bespelling was done, her hands on her hips. “Well?”
Lamorak’s mouth opened, but no words came. He tried to swallow and almost choked. “Maybe — maybe you should sit down.”
Garnet stared at him, then flounced over to the chair by the desk, turned it around, and sat. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him.
Lamorak rubbed the back of his neck and shut his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
“It deserves to be mentioned again.” He took a deep breath. “Look — this is — difficult … I just — I love you, Garnet. Do — do you understand that?”
She didn’t say anything.
“I know — I know I don’t show it very well — and — and I know I — I hurt you. And — Wright — but I’m sorry for it. I swear. I never, never meant for you to be hurt. Never. I don’t — I don’t even know why I did what I did –”
“This — this isn’t about ignoring my letters, is it?” Garnet whispered.
He could see her face crumbling, the fear that she normally so easily held at bay beginning to creep into her eyes. Her beautiful eyes. He had to get this over with quickly — no, he couldn’t do that! Just spring it on her, with no warning?
He’d ease into it. “Garnet, there was — that is, I — there was another woman,” he heard himself say all in a rush.
And before Lamorak knew it, she was on her feet, shouting at him. “Wright damn it, Lamorak! I don’t want to know about whatever whores you’ve been seeing! It’s bad enough knowing that you don’t care enough about me to send a letter, but don’t tell me about whoever — whoever you’ve been –”
“Garnet!” Lamorak crouched before her, trying to look into her eyes. “It wasn’t — it isn’t — it has nothing to do with whores! I swear, I wouldn’t tell you that!”
The color left her face. “Then — who? Another girl at the university?” Her hands started to shake. “Did — did you — does she want you to marry her? Is that it? Is that why you haven’t been writing?”
“No, no! Marriage — marriage has nothing to do with it. Garnet, I swear, I don’t care about anyone but you!”
“Then why are you telling me this?” she shouted. “If she doesn’t matter, then why are you even telling me? Why do you think I’d want to know?”
“Because she does matter,” Lamorak whispered.
Garnet stopped shouting. “What? How? You said –”
“I love you, Garnet; I care about you. But she — because of who she is — I can’t — I can’t pretend this doesn’t matter …”
“Who is she?”
“Please, Garnet, sit down.”
“No. No!” She grabbed his arms; he could feel her nails digging through his chain mail. “Tell me!”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“It was — she was –” He gulped. “Your mother.”
Garnet’s hands dropped to her side. Her head tilted, ever so slightly, to one side. And then her face began to crumple.
“Aw, Garnet! Don’t cry–”
“Don’t cry?” She looked up; Lamorak was shocked that the fury burning from her eyes didn’t boil away her tears. “You just told me you — you — you were with her — and you tell me not to cry? Damn you, Lamorak!”
“Damn you! I hope you rot in hell! What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know! I swear I don’t know! Something just — just came –”
” — I saw her and she smelled like — like witch hazel and forget-me-nots –”
“What the hell –” shestarted to say, then, suddenly, her tears and her shouting stopped. She stared at him. “Witch hazel?”
He nodded, not sure why he nodded — but he nodded.
“And — and …?”
“My favorite flower,” Garnet whispered. “My — my p-p-perfume …” She started to shake.
“Garnet! Oh, Wright, Garnet, I’m sorry –”
She pushed past him, faster than he could blink, and ran from the room.
Stupidly, Lamorak stood there, staring at the open doorway, staring at the space where her back had been — then he ran after her.
She was fast, he would give her that. And she knew where she was going, whereas he was lost after the first few turnings. But he could hear her sobbing, and he followed that, until he finally caught up with her as they emerged into the cold, star-filled night.
“Garnet! Garnet, wait!” Lamorak shouted, as he almost bowled Aglovale over.
“I can’t stay here!”
She wheeled around and stared at him. “Don’t you get it?” she shrieked. “I can’t stay here with her!”
“Not after –” she broke off and stared at Aglovale, who was staring just as openly at her. “Not after what she did!”
“I can’t stay here!” she screamed again, and took off running. Lamorak followed.
He heard her shouting something, saw her hand jerking forward — he didn’t realize for what until he saw her broom come whizzing out from the castle and landed in her outstretched hand. The other hand. “Garnet! Please! I can explain!”
“No!” Her hands shaking, she hopped up onto the broom. “Don’t you get it? I can’t stay here!”
“Garnet! Wait!” Lamorak reached for her shoulder, but his fingers barely brushed the velvet of her dress before she kicked off the ground and was gone.
“Garnet!” he shouted, watching her disappear into the night.