Freddy Ferreira rubbed the back of his neck to ward away the crick he knew was coming. Somehow, in all of his imaginings as to what Camford would be like, the library had never figured very largely in his mental pictures. He had imagined he would spend most of his time doing some of the things that Dannie had mentioned in all of her letters home: going to pubs and parties, pulling pranks on dorm-mates, staying up late into the night bullshitting with his friends. Of course, there would be classes and coursework, but somehow he had never pictured them as the defining moments of his college experience.
Stupid of him, really. He should have realized that classes would take up the majority of his time — but that it would be the boring part, the part nobody every bothered to write home about.
Or maybe it was just the company he kept. Sir Galahad du Lac, while he seemed to have good intentions, was most definitely at Camford for the opportunity to study. Freddy hung around with him mainly because he was the only other young man in the dorms who hailed from Albion, and because his older brother, Sir William, had asked him to.
At first Freddy had thought, when Sir William had taken him aside after that first meeting with the other young men of Albion, that this was part of the “initiation rituals” the Prince (dear sweet Wright, he could not believe that in a matter of months — if all went well — he would be living under the same roof as the CROWN PRINCE of Albion) had been hinting at. Even though the older man had seemed diffident and almost shy, shuffling his feet and biting his lip — it could have been an act. Freddy had never even met Sir William before, and Dannie hadn’t written anything about him that he could remember, other than that he was betrothed to the Princess. So how was Freddy to know?
“Look,” Sir William had said after a few moments of hemming and hawing, “this is going to sound really odd, but — I don’t suppose you could keep an eye on my brother for me?”
“I don’t mean to, er, babysit him or anything like that,” Sir William had said in a rush. “It’s just — look — if I know my brother, he’ll spend this whole first semester locked in his room with a pile of books, only leaving to go to class and use the privy. And maybe eat. And — well — he’d be happy as a clam, I know, but that can’t be healthy. I’ll check up on him myself, of course, but between classes and these hooligans,” he gestured to the other boys, “and everything else — I don’t know. But could you just …”
“Be his friend?” Freddy hazarded. “Is — is that what you’re asking?”
“Aye,” Sir William had said, looking relieved. “I know it’s asking a lot,” he’d added, apologetic.
“Um … no, not really.”
Sir William’s eyebrows had slowly gone up. Then he said simply, “You don’t know Galahad.”
Sir William had been very, very right about that.
It wasn’t just that Galahad — as he insisted Freddy call him — preferred the company of a book to a Sim. That Freddy could understand. It was that, when you finally got Galahad away from the book and into the company of people, he was decidedly odd. Take last evening, for instance, at dinner. Two theology students were arguing about the moral status of witches. One student held that magic was innately evil and corrupted the souls of witches, from the moment they were born, to the point where it was impossible for them to achieve salvation. The other held that witches weren’t born evil, but rather that those who were inclined toward to evil in the first place were the ones who sought magic. That witches were evil was not in dispute: both of them somehow or other in the course of their arguments managed to cite the fact that, in their respective countries (Reme and Glasonland), witches were always associated with the scum, the lowlifes, the thieves and murderers and prostitutes and other outlaws.
Freddy’s response to the whole argument had been to keep his head down, eat quickly and pray that his thoughts about George didn’t show on his face. Galahad had a different approach. “Or maybe,” he had said into a lull in the other two boys’ conversations, “witches hang around the outlaws and lowlifes because magic is illegal in your countries, and so they don’t have any other choice if they want to stay alive.”
The two boys had stared at Galahad. “And why,” asked the Reman one, sneering, “would magic not be illegal?”
“Because it’s not good or bad, inherently — it’s just a tool, and whether it has good effects or bad effects depends on how it’s used. Look,” he said, picking up his knife, “look at this knife. If I use it to stab somebody, obviously, that’s bad. But if somebody had an infection, or a growth of some kind, I could use it to cut out the infection — and that would be good. But in either case it’s not the knife that’s good or bad, it’s the person using it.”
Galahad had beamed at the end of his explanation, but Freddy had to drag him out of there before either the Reman or the Glasonlander decided to find out whether using a kitchen knife to stab a heretic was a good or bad use of that particular tool.
Really, Freddy should be glad that, when he’d checked in on Galahad this afternoon and asked him if he wanted to do anything, that Galahad had suggested the library. People didn’t talk in the library.
But at the same time, they had been there for two hours, and if Freddy read one more line of this particular scribe’s atrocious handwriting, his head was going to explode. So he looked up. He would people-watch for a bit, it wasn’t like Galahad would notice or care.
So he looked around. Students were milling about, whispering to friends, turning pages. A couple had even face-planted into their books and would probably wake up with ink on their faces. His gaze traveled to the table next to theirs —
She doth teach the torches to burn bright, whispered the voice of quotation.
The torches? More like the sun! Soft, wavy black hair; high cheekbones, a perfect rosebud mouth. Skin becomingly pale, a figure — what he could see of it (Freddy mentally cursed the girl sitting between him and his vision, she was blocking the view) — graceful, with just the kind of curves he liked. He could tell that her skin was freckled, but what might have been considered a flaw on another woman, on her, was adorable. It lent a human element to her, whereas otherwise, she might have had the damnable perfection of a marble statue — beautiful to look at, maybe, but too cold to touch. Whereas this girl was warm, touchable, he could feel it–
As Freddy watched, she reached up to brush a bit of wavy bangs away from her eyes, and Freddy thought his heart might just stop beating.
In the next instant, the other girl — the one blocking the view — looked up from her reading to see him watching. She raised one eyebrow in an obvious challenge. Freddy looked away.
But before he looked away — he noticed something.
Freddy had a good memory for faces; it was the only thing, he thought, that fit him to follow in his parents’ entrepreneurial footsteps. Now, there was nothing he could remember seeing before in his angel’s face — and even if his memory for faces had been horrible, he would have remembered her! — but there was something familiar about the other girls’ face. Not as if he had seen her in one of his classes or wandering about the campus, but in a way that reminded him of Albion.
Both girls were of the nobility — he was certain of that, by the quality of their clothing — which meant …
Freddy glanced at his companion.
“Psst — psst, Galahad.”
“Could you look up for a second?” He did so. “Do you know those girls?”
“… Which girls?”
“The ones at the other table. The black-haired ones in blue. The pretty one and her friend.”
Galahad looked. “Is my sister supposed to be the pretty one?”
His SISTER? Oh, Wright, what if she is the pretty one?
… What if she’s not?
“Um — is she the one with the white sleeves?”
“Nope, that’s Clarice,” Galahad said with a slight smile, before turning back to his book.
Clarice. Ten seconds ago, Freddy would have sworn that no sound on earth could be beautiful enough to match the face of that angel. Clearly, he was wrong. Clarice. It was like music; a sweet, soft melody hummed under a lover’s breath. Clarice.
“Clarice de Ganis?” Freddy hissed.
“Well, I don’t know any other Clarices,” Galahad replied, clearly mystified.
Oh, Wright. He was supposed to marry that goddess dropped to earth? That wasn’t possible. His parents — her parents — both sets of parents must be out of their collective minds to think it possible. Girls like that didn’t marry glorified shopboys like him. They married earls, dukes, princes, kings. They lived in sophisticated courts, surrounded themselves with hoards of would-be lovers, each of them willing to die for one chaste kiss from her lips. The best musicians and artists called women like that their muses; they imitated and thus immortalized their beauty for the ages. Women like that had bloody poems dedicated to them!
Freddy looked at her again.
“Galahad,” he whispered, “you have to introduce me to her.”
“Please, Galahad! I–” I saved your life last night, please, can’t you do this for me? “I’ll do anything! I’ll come to the library with you every day for the next three months! Please, just introduce me!”
“Freddy, are you feeling all right?”
NO! “I’m fine,” he lied. “Just — please. I’ve got to talk to her.”
“But … you don’t even know her?”
Galahad stared at him for what felt like a full minute, his head cocked to one side. Then he sighed and shook his head. “And everyone else thinks I’m mad. Well, come on, if it means so much to you.” He got up and walked over to the other table.
Wait, what, NOW? Luckily Freddy’s feet were smarter than his head, for they got up and followed Galahad while his head was still reeling, not even quite aware enough to panic.
“Hi, Leona,” Galahad said to the woman who wasn’t Clarice — presumably his sister.
“Hi, Galahad. Cause any international incidents lately?” In the ten seconds Freddy spent looking at Leona’s face — out of politeness only — he saw an amused light spark in her eyes. Then his gaze to Clarice.
Galahad pouted. “Why do you keep saying that? Just because I told the Reman in the carriage that their emperor was mad …”
Clarice hadn’t even looked up. Her book must have been quite engrossing. Freddy tried to catch sight of the title, so he could check it out — if the library had an extra copy — and read it, so he and Clarice would have something to discuss the next time they met.
… Maybe Galahad had a point about him being mad …
“I had to kick him in the — you-know-where to keep him from trying to strangle you!”
“But it was true!”
“Oh, Galahad,” Leona shook her head. “Anyway, what did you need?”
“Nothing from you, actually. But my friend wanted me to introduce him to Clarice.”
At the sound of her name, Clarice looked up.
Freddy gasped. She was looking — looking at him! But before he could turn beet-red, her gaze flickered from him to Galahad, and from Galahad to Leona, clearly confused.
Leona sounded almost as confused. “Um … all right.”
“He said something about her being the pretty one, so I’m guessing that’s why he wants to talk to her.”
Freddy began to pray for an earthquake, a sudden spell of quicksand, a bolt of lightning — anything to get him away from the humiliation.
“Anyway, Clarice, this is Freddy. Freddy, Clarice.”
Galahad, Leona, Clarice — they were all staring at him. He had to say something!
“Frederick,” he corrected, “Frederick Ferreira.” Remembering his manners, he hastily bowed and added, “At your service.”
Clarice rose and curtsied. “Lady Clarice de Ganis.”
“I — I know. I mean –” He took a quick step closer to her. “I mean, Sir Galahad mentioned your name before …” Shut up while you’re ahead, Freddy!
Why was she standing like that? One hand on her arm, leaning away from him — if he hadn’t known better, he would think she was nervous. But what could she have to be nervous about, especially faced with him?
… Except for the fact that they were supposed to get married someday.
Damn it, what the hell were you supposed to say to the woman who was meant to be your wife? Other than, “I love you, where’s the nearest church?” Or else, “I’m sorry, this whole betrothal is a horrible mistake. Clearly, I am nowhere near good enough for you. I’m sorry for wasting your time.” At the moment, he wasn’t sure which was more applicable.
But he couldn’t keep staring at her like this, not saying anything. It was horribly disrespectful. And they ought to get to know each other, really. Freddy cleared his throat and prayed that whatever he was about to say wouldn’t come out sounding like George’s not-quite-broken voice. “So — um, what are you studying? In general, I mean. Not necessarily — uh — right now.”
She shrugged. He had never thought a shrug could be lovely before. “I haven’t quite decided yet.”
” … Oh.” Well, that was one way to end that line of conversation. “Er … do you have any brothers and sisters?”
Stupid, stupid question! Of course he knew that she had a sister. The whole bloody kingdom knew she had a sister!
“I have,” she replied. “Two sisters, one brother.”
“Um — older or younger?” Another stupid question! He knew one of the sisters was older.
“One older sister, Gwendolyn. A younger sister, Angelique. And a younger brother, Elyan.”
“So — so we’re both the second-born.” A ridiculous grin lit his face. They had something in common!
Clarice shrugged again. “I suppose.” She stared at her feet. “I’ve already met your sister — I presume Mistress Danielle is your sister?”
“We’re not all as bad as her,” Freddy heard himself saying in a rush.
She raised one eyebrow. “Bad?”
“Well, she can be a bit — much, sometimes, can’t she?” Surely a nobly, gently reared lady like Clarice would think that Dannie, with her boldness and her boistrousness, was a bit much … hell, sometimes Freddy, caught in between Dannie’s free spirit and George’s mischief, thought it was all a bit much!
“Honestly, from what I’ve seen of her so far — she seems to be quite a bit like Leona.” If the coolness of her voice wasn’t of a hint that she was displeased, the next words were. “My best friend.”
Oh, no! No, no, no! “I — I didn’t mean to insult anyone,” he said quickly. “What I meant was — well –” What the hell did you mean, Freddy? “If — if you grow up with someone like that — and my younger brother, too — and you’re sort of caught in the middle — and sometimes you feel like you’re the only sane one …”
“I assure you, I have never felt myself to be ‘the only sane one.'”
“… Oh.” Freddy rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, that’s good. It’s not a nice feeling to have.”
What to say, what to say … “That dress is quite becoming on you.”
He took a deep breath. “Look,” he began, deciding there was enough beating around the bush, “I know that –”
“I’m very sorry,” she interrupted, “but we have to go. Leona? Are you ready?”
“Sure thing.” Leona jumped up and hooked her arm through Clarice’s. “See you later, Galahad. It was nice meeting you, Frederick.”
“Same to you,” Freddy heard himself murmured. Clarice curtsied and he remembered to bow. Then the girls moved toward the exit.
Freddy watched them leave, his heart following Clarice every step of the way.
“Well?” Galahad asked him in an irritatingly cheerful voice. “Happy?”
“I think she hates me,” Freddy whispered.
“Clarice? She doesn’t even hate Elyan. There’s no way she could hate you.”
Not even hearing him, Freddy murmured, “It’s unfortunate, really.”
“Because I think I’m in love with her.”
“In love with her? You just met her!”
Galahad stared at him for a moment, then, sighing, threw his hands up in the air. “And people think I’m mad!”