“Thank you for doing this with me, my dear,” Lot Orkney said to his daughter-in-law. “And thank you for all your patience.”
“You forgot whose turn it was again, didn’t you?” Dindrane asked, unable to hide her smile.
“Er — yes. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right,” Dindrane replied. “I was the one keeping my father calm during … these times. He could never remember when it was his turn, either.”
As if to insist that this time was different than other times, a burst of swearing emerging from Morgause’s bedchamber.
Dindrane bit her lower lip. She remembered well when Aglovale was born and when the twins Dilys and Delyth were born. Both times, she had been able to hear her mother screaming, and both times she had been more than a bit frightened, even as she tried to keep calm for her father’s and siblings sakes. But there had been no swearing that she could remember.
Then again, she couldn’t remember her mother ever using uncouth language in her hearing — once, Dindrane thought, she had seen Eilwen stub her toe and mouth some words that were not suitable for children’s hearing — but that didn’t count as hearing. And Dindrane knew, also, that Eilwen simply didn’t see her children the same way as Morgause did. Dindrane remembered the announcements of both Aglovale and the twins’ imminent arrivals as well, and both times, Eilwen had been grinning fit to split her face, with her only possible worry being how her current children would react to the new arrival.
Morgause screamed again. Dindrane took a deep breath. Given the size of the Orkney Keep and the thickness of its walls, none of them should have been able to hear this. She barely restrained herself from going to check on Nimue. If the screams were audible in the parlor — if Morgause wanted her displeasure to be known that badly — then there was every chance that they would be audible in the nursery. If that was the case, then Nimue, like any sensible one-year-old, would be terrified.
As if to reproach her for directing her thoughts inappropriately, Nimue’s brother or sister sent up a wave of nausea. Dindrane rubbed her stomach. Hush, sweet, she told the infant. I know you can hear this, but you’re too young to pay much note — besides, you’d better get used to it, since you’ll be hearing a great deal more in the way of screaming before you get out of there.
She wondered when Mordred would finally get off his rear and announce the pregnancy. She’d told him, of course, as soon as she had been certain that she was pregnant and not just late. But she had left the telling of the family to him. If anyone was to steal Morgause and Lot’s thunder, let it be their son and not their daughter-in-law.
Maybe he was just waiting for his younger brother or sister to be born — if so, it was a good thing that he wouldn’t have to wait much longer. Dindrane was shocked that no one had managed to divine the cause of her frequent runs to the privy yet. Or maybe everyone had, and they were just too polite to bring up the obvious until she was ready to make her announcement.
What would they think, she wondered, if they knew they were waiting on Mordred, and not her?
She heard a heavy sigh from behind her — Mordred. “Isn’t this supposed to take less time the third time around?”
“If you need to get down to the practice grounds, you’re more than welcome to go,” Lot said, oddly enough without any rancor or even sarcasm. “A watched pot never boils, they say.”
“Nonsense, I shan’t be abandoning Mother at this juncture.” With a hint of a brotherly tease in his tone — only a hint, because when Lamorak or Aglovale teased, their words were never this sharp-edged — he added, “Besides, if Garnet can tear herself away from her precious books for this long, I suppose I can leave the quintain to itself for a day or two.”
Garnet. Dindrane glanced beyond her father-in-law to where her sister-in-law sat, half-slumped in her seat, staring at her lap. What had happened to the vivacious girl who had welcomed her into her home after Dindrane’s wedding? Where had the bright eyes, the infectious laugh, gone? What had happened to her devil-may-care attitude in relation to all things scholastic, and from whence had her steely determination, present whenever she opened a book, come?
Even her hair was somehow subdued, made less … Dindrane had seen Garnet in her night attire several times by now, and knew that the younger woman’s hair was naturally far bouncier and curlier. Why did she feel so compelled to hide her true self?
Though she wasn’t entirely compelled to hide. “Shut up, Mordred,” she snapped, not once removing her gaze from her lap.
“What’s wrong? Missing your books so much that the mere mention of them sends your heart pitter-pattering with longing? Can you not bear to be apart from them for so long? Are you writing love-letters to them in your mind?”
“Shut UP, Mordred!” Garnet shifted so that she faced the wall.
“Now, now, little sister, what would Mother say if she could see your posture?”
Garnet looked up, and the look in her eyes — Dindrane almost recoiled, and the rage in those eyes only brushed her in passing. “I swear to Wright, Mordred,” she snarled, “if you don’t shut your mouth –”
“Now that’s enough, both of you! Wright!” Lot snapped. “Aren’t you supposed to have outgrown this by now?”
“Nonsense, Father,” Mordred replied, leaning back with a smirk. “Garnet has only just grown into an almost-worthy opponent. Why should I refrain from –”
“I think it’s about time to start placing bets on the baby’s sex,” Lot said before his elder children could go for each other’s throats. “Dindrane? Have you any guesses?”
Dindrane shrugged. “I’ll say a girl.”
“A boy. Mother was certain that it would be a boy — and Mother is very rarely wrong,” Mordred replied, leaning back, his fingers threaded together behind his head. “Father?”
“Mmm — I should have to say a girl,” Lot said. “She was certain Garnet was going to be a boy — and we all saw how that worked out!” He shook his head. “Garnet? What do you say?”
Garnet shrugged. “What does it matter? We’re going to find out soon enough anyway.” Another shriek ripped through the room. “Though perhaps not soon enough for Mother.”
Dindrane felt herself nodding, but Lot was … chuckling? “Lot?”
“Hmm? Oh — sorry. Just remembering something Morgause mentioned about a week ago,” Lot replied. “When she said she couldn’t wait for the child to be born –”
“She’s probably eating those words now,” Mordred remarked.
“Yes, Mordred. Anyway, she wanted to see if it would bear a resemblance to her father.”
Dindrane cocked her head to one side. “Her father?”
“I thought Mother’s father died before she was born?”
“Aye, Mordred, he did,” Lot replied. “But she’s heard about him. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, apparently. She was wondering if this child might end up looking like him — apparently the two of you were disappointments in that what features she didn’t recognize as coming from her and mother came from me.” Lot wagged his finger in mock-scolding. “Anyway, we’ll see soon enough either way — won’t we, Garnet?”
Dindrane looked at Garnet automatically, awaiting her reply, only to see that the younger woman was pale, her hands shaking, eyes frighteningly wide. “B-blonde — and b-b-blue-eyed?”
“Garnet, what’s –” Dindrane began. But she never got a chance to finish, for Garnet jumped up from her seat and ran out of the room.
“Hmm,” Mordred remarked. “Guess she couldn’t leave her poor books alone all this time after all.”
Garnet was never certain just how long she spent slumped on the floor in her bedroom.
Just sitting there. Rocking back and forth. Letting the cold, never far away even with the umber stones of the castle between her and it, seep into her bones. Better to be cold than warm now, anyway. If she tried to keep the cold away, she would grow warm — and if she grew warm, Wright only knew what she might do.
She choked on a sob — though why was she holding the sob back? It wasn’t like anyone would be hearing her, not with all the racket her mother was making–
Having Lamorak’s baby …
Wright, could this situation be any more messed-up?
Why didn’t he tell me? she wondered. Give me a fucking warning? Wright, what did he think was going to happen — what was he going to do if that kid came out looking just like him? Did he really think I wouldn’t notice?
But maybe — maybe the baby wasn’t Lamorak’s. Maybe her mother really did just want the baby to look like her father. And maybe Garnet’s grandfather had been blonde and blue-eyed. It was perfectly possible. And would it be so unnatural to want to get a glimpse of the father you’d never met in your child?
And Lot — Garnet’s father had no inkling that there was even a possibility that the baby wasn’t his. And Lot was no dummy. Surely, if there was even a chance — he would have guessed it by now.
But she couldn’t go on like this.
She couldn’t go on — in this agony of not knowing. Earlier — after her father had taken her home from Morgan and Accolon’s house — she hadn’t wanted to know anything more than she did. She’d written to Lamorak, told him that she would forgive him — but on the condition that they never mentioned what had happened, ever again.
Well, if anyone was allowed to change their mind on the subject, Garnet thought, she was.
Slowly, she climbed into her desk chair — somehow she found parchment, a quill, ink, sand for blotting — and somehow, she steeled her hand to write.
But what to say? She couldn’t exactly put her thoughts onto paper here … what if the letter fell into the wrong hands?
Garnet swallowed and began to write.
I know I said that there were some things I didn’t want to talk about. I’ve changed my mind. I need to see you. I need to talk to you. I have questions.
Garnet paused, her quill dripping a spot of ink onto the clean parchment. A spot of salty water followed.
Wright fucking damn you, Lamorak! was Garnet’s last thought as she put her head on the page and wept. How could you do this to me?
Because she had to get herself cleaned up and re-write the letter, as well as put it in the pile for the messenger to take in the morning, it took some time for the servants to find Garnet and inform her that her mother had given birth to a healthy boy.
She briefly debated telling the woman who finally found her where to stick it — but refrained at the last moment. The last thing she needed was for the whole keep to think she was a spoiled brat indulging in an unreasonable amount of sibling rivalry. Though, really, if anyone had a right to pitch a fit over this baby — if what Garnet suspected was true — it was her.
… And Papa …
That decided her, really. If she wanted to keep Lamorak and her father from killing each other — she had to play her part.
“Where are they?” Garnet asked. “Does she want to see anyone?”
“Lord Lot and Lady Morgause are in her bedchamber, with the babe,” the maid said. “And I’m sure, my lady, that they would love to see you.”
Garnet nodded once, then went in search of her parents and the new baby.
It must have been a banner day for Morgause, since she was letting Lot sit on her witch’s throne. She liked to claim, Garnet knew, that the throne was cursed and would incinerate anyone other than her who sat in it. Apparently not. “Garnet,” Morgause cooed. “You finally made an appearance.”
“Hello, Mother.” She was wearing a lacy white nightgown that Garnet would bet money she hadn’t given birth in. Then again, was that really such a bad thing — did Garnet really want to see the gown Morgause was wearing when she gave birth?
“Your father had this given to me as soon as your brother was born,” Morgause added, fingering the nightgown’s sleeve. “Isn’t it nice?”
Lot would have only given her that nightgown — and some sort of gold or silver thank-you gift, Garnet was certain — because he thought she had just given birth to his child. Garnet thought she might be sick.
She looked away from her mother and the nightgown. “Can I see the baby?”
“Of course, of course,” Lot said, rising and making his way toward the crib. “He’s a stout, healthy little fellow — I swear the only reason he feels light is because we’re all used to lugging Nimue around!”
“Heh,” Garnet tried to laugh.
“We called him Agravaine,” Lot continued, carefully lifting the child from the blankets and cushions, “for my father.”
She was going to spew all over the room, she knew it.
But maybe it’s Papa’s — maybe that baby has every right to that name —
“And here he is!” Lot said, turning around and showing her the baby. “Already has your mother’s hair — but that’s no surprise, since both you and your brother got it. Anyway, Agravaine, this is somebody very important. This is your big sister Garnet, and she’s going to be one of your favorite people in the world, I just know it.” And Lot turned a huge smile at Garnet.
“H-hello,” Garnet said to the baby. “Hello, Agravaine. I’m …”
Oh. Oh, no.
Garnet swallowed. “I’m — I’m Garnet.”
She looked up at her father and tried to smile. “What — what pretty blue eyes he has …”