Oh, Pellinore, Eilwen thought as she opened the door in response to her husband’s invitation, when did we get so old?
Pellinore’s hair had gone white in the past year; Eilwen knew hers was slowly lightening. When Pellinore walked, there was a slump in his shoulders and a shuffle in his step; Eilwen too was slowing down. Both of their faces were growing more and more lined with each passing season; the skin of their bodies growing slack and wiggly. And while they still enjoyed bedroom activities on a semi-regular basis, things were growing mechanically more and more difficult.
Was this what was meant by growing old together — to watch one another slowly but surely continue that firm march to the grave?
Oh, but she was being melancholy today! And what cause had she for sadness? For Pellinore was still smiling his old smile at her, and his voice was much the same as ever as he asked, “Yes, dear?”
So Eilwen smiled, and knew in her heart that she was smiling at the silver-tongued young man who had, once upon a time, won her by showing her the stars and telling her their stories — for that young man, she knew, still lived within this crumbling shell. “I have news for you.”
Pellinore’s smile faltered. “Good news, I hope?”
“News that cannot possibly be construed as bad — bittersweet, at the very worst.” Eilwen turned her head a little to one side. “Have you had a lot of bad news?”
He sighed. “I don’t want to worry you.”
Pellinore never wanted to worry her. Eilwen sat before his desk, her hands neatly folded on her lap, ready to listen if he wanted to talk, ready to nod and change the subject if he did not.
“Part of it is Council business, dear.”
Eilwen only nodded. Pellinore preferred to keep his Council business with the Council, and she was content to let it be so.
“So what is your news?”
“Well!” Eilwen grinned — it was good news, to her, even if Pellinore might not see it that way. But fathers were different from mothers in that way. “Our Dilys became a woman today!”
For a moment Pellinore stared at her, then his jaw fell as he slowly comprehended. “Became a — a woman? You mean she started her — her monthly …?”
“But — but she’s only thirteen!”
Eilwen laughed. “Oh, Pellinore! Dindrane was only twelve!”
She chortled to herself, watching Pellinore digest that news. He’d had to wipe away a tear or two, surreptitiously, when she had shared this news about Dindrane. She’d wondered, ever since that day, how he would take it when it came time for the twins to become women. Of course, the twins had been but babes in arms at the time, but she’d wondered.
“That’s still too young …” he murmured.
“Dearest, don’t worry. It’s not like we’re in Glasonland, where we’d be expected to marry her off next week. This doesn’t need to change anything.”
Pellinore almost managed to smile, though his upper lip was quivering. “We would have to marry her off, if we were still in Glasonland, wouldn’t we?”
“You know we would.”
He nodded. The age at which marriage became legal in Glasonland was twelve for girls, fifteen for boys. Of course, few girls were married at twelve — there was no point in marrying a young woman whose fertility, as seen by her monthly courses, had not yet been proven. But among the noble classes, particularly in the more minor offshoots of greater families, it was common to arrange betrothals when the girl was but a child, and to wed as soon as the young lady’s fertility was proven. Depending on the ages of the parties involved, the couple may or may not begin to live together as man and wife until both were older, but it was still common to seal the alliance as soon as possible.
And the worst of it was, though Eilwen knew she and her husband would prefer to wait, especially since Pellinore cherished the idea of his daughters getting a Camford education, as his wife had been lucky enough to get, they may not have been allowed to wait. In Glasonland, Pellinore was but a second son of a second son, a boy who had only escaped the monastery because his elders had realized his extraordinary intelligence would be put to better use serving them than the Church. In Glasonland, they would have been expected to dance to the tune set by the elder Gwynedds, particularly Pellinore’s uncle Dimilioc, or rather, now, his cousin Alain. Doubtless Alain would have had plans for an alliance — a minor alliance — that Dilys’s marriage could seal. Why, Dimilioc and Alain had been putting pressure on Pellinore to throw Eilwen — his own wife! — into Vortigern’s bed to secure them lands and titles and offices — who was to say how they would have pressured Pellinore to marry off his younger daughter?
“She let you know?” Pellinore asked, changing the subject as he seemed to search among his desk papers for something — it was probably a ruse so that she would not notice the tears standing in his eyes.
“Er … not exactly.”
“She wasn’t feeling very well, dear.”
“Not feeling well? Is she all right? Does she need –”
“Pellinore, Pellinore, don’t worry!” Eilwen said, trying to chuckle. “I assure you, it’s perfectly normal for a young woman to feel … uncomfortable at these times. And if it makes you feel better, I asked Dilys exactly how she was feeling, and everything she told me was normal.”
“If you’re sure …”
“Dear, not only am I sure, I had one of the maids make her a nice ginger tea, and Dilys felt so much better afterward.”
Pellinore let out a sigh of relief. “You probably think I’m overreacting, but …”
“No parent wants to see their child in pain, love — I know that, even if the pain is normal and expected.”
“Hence the ginger tea?”
“Hence the ginger tea,” Eilwen laughed. “Anyway, speaking of the maids, it was one of the maids who noticed that Dilys was unwell, and who came and got me — of course I hadn’t the faintest idea what it was at the time, so you can imagine I was worried.”
“Of course you were.”
“So, naturally, I asked her what was wrong, and by the time she described her symptoms, I had a … good enough idea to ask a few other, key questions. Otherwise …” Well, otherwise, I doubt I would have determined what was wrong before the maid who collects her linen told me what she found.
“So, she told you, then?”
“Aye, and burst into tears right afterward, poor thing.”
“Eilwen! You said she was all right!”
“I did, I did, dear,” Eilwen replied. “It’s just — you must understand, this time is … confusing and scary for a girl, sometimes. And that’s normal, too.”
“You’re sure?” Pellinore asked, chewing his lower lip.
What mysteries men were! Her own man in particular, for all that they had spent over a quarter of a century together. Her Pellinore could find shades of life and meaning in the driest and dustiest of tomes; he could take the wherefores and being thats and therefores of a legal text and transform them into plain Simlish; he could advise the King himself on the weightiest of matters. Yet, presented with the normal and expected emotions of a teenage girl — his own daughter! — he turned almost as helpless as a child.
And yet, and yet, no parent wanted to see their child in pain, whatever the cause.
“I’m very sure, my dear. I cried, too, when my first one came.”
Pellinore smiled. “Perhaps because you were expecting to be married the next week?”
“Nonsense.” It was true, too. Eilwen knew she wasn’t to be married the minute she became a woman, for her godmother, a dowager duchess whose dower alone had left her with a tidier fortune than many nobleman saw in their entire lives, had left her a large dowry in exchange for the promise from her father that she would be university-educated. She had also conveniently left funds to pay for that education. Eilwen’s father, who was but a poor knight, the second noble generation in his family, had been only too happy to see his daughter get a good education in exchange for the large dowry and the opportunities for family advancement that it brought.
“Anyway,” Eilwen said, smoothing her dress, “Dilys and I had a nice, long talk with her ginger tea, and she was feeling much better by the end of it.”
“I do hope so.”
“She was, dear, she was.”
“She …” Pellinore pressed his finger against his lip. “She, she knew what it was she was … experiencing, did she not?”
“Oh, of course! Goodness, I gave all the girls that talk when they were ten!”
“Thank goodness,” Pellinore sighed. “I — I can’t imagine, if she didn’t know …”
“It would be quite frightening,” Eilwen answered. “Believe me, I understand how terrifying that might be, if you didn’t know it was normal and to be expected.”
“And she’s feeling quite all right now?”
“She’s feeling fine, and if she isn’t, she now knows to ask for ginger tea.” Eilwen sighed. “Delyth, on the other hand …”
“Delyth? What’s the matter with Delyth?”
Eilwen put her finger against her lip. “Well, dear,” she replied, “you know — you know how the dynamic between those girls is.”
“I do … but I don’t see how that would lead … oh,” Pellinore answered.
Eilwen nodded. Dilys was the older twin, and, when they were babies, she had been the bigger twin. Delyth had been smaller and, for the first few months of life, sicklier, for after they passed the six-month mark or so, both girls had been quite robust and healthy. It had been Dilys they were sure of, after she was born, and Delyth whom they had been afraid might not make it.
Dilys had reached many of her milestones — rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking — before Delyth. Yet the two were raised in the same nursery, and Eilwen had always fancied that Delyth watched her sister, jealous of her early successes, and had done all she could to match or surpass her sister. By the time the twins were talking, it was Delyth who was in the lead — Delyth, who learned and jabbered so many words in the course of an afternoon that poor Dilys couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
Once the two had become toddlers, Delyth had been the more socially successful. All of her girls, Eilwen knew, were bright, and all of them had passion, and all of them would make wonderful wives and helpmeets and whatever else they wanted to do. But it was always Delyth who put herself forward, who chattered with friends and visitors, who surrounded herself with dozens of friends while Dilys only had a few close ones. The family had laughed and joked over the girls’ heads, swearing that Delyth was “making up for last time,” that she wouldn’t “be caught behind her sister” ever again.
It had only been harmless joking, or so Eilwen had thought. Surely no one, least of all the girls, took it seriously! They simply had different personalities, and that was that. And though they were twins, any fool could tell that they were not identical. Nobody expected them, now that they were old enough to put thought into what they did and choose where they wanted to work hard and excel and where they wanted to coast in life, to run according to exactly the same schedule!
And yet, today …
“What happened, Eilwen?”
“I found her in her room … not crying or anything like that, but I could tell she was sad and disappointed.”
“Because she didn’t get hers first?”
“I don’t know, Pellinore. That might have been part of it … of course you have to remember, she’s only thirteen … girls that age … take things seriously that we would consider very, very silly.”
“Like which sister gets her monthly course first?” Pellinore asked. Then he frowned. “Wait a moment — did she know before you did?”
“Yes, Pellinore, she did.”
“How on earth did she manage that?”
Eilwen chuckled. “I didn’t ask — but Pellinore, for all that Delyth and Dilys are different as night and day, they’re still twin sisters. It would not surprise in the least if Dilys told Delyth before she got found out by me.”
“I see,” Pellinore murmured.
“Don’t worry about it, dear — I think it’s good for girls to have sisters, close sisters. I always wonder … well, I wonder if Dindrane might have been a bit different, if she’d had a sister closer to her in age, with whom she was able to really talk and be close to.”
“You mean a sister not twelve years younger than she?”
“Precisely,” Eilwen chuckled.
“Though what’s wrong with Dindrane?”
“Nothing — except, of course, you know that she is not exactly warm and fuzzy and open, and even if having a sister might not have made her more open, it might have given her someone to share things with, as opposed to … well, as opposed to nobody, really.”
“Hmm,” Pellinore murmured. “Well, she knows she always has us.”
“That she does.”
“So you talked to Delyth?”
“Indeed I did,” Eilwen replied. “I did my best to make her understand that, well … she certainly wasn’t being left behind or anything like that. I told her that every girl’s body was different, that her time would come sooner or later, and that she had nothing to worry about.”
“Did that help matters?”
“I think it did. At least, if she’s jealous, she won’t bother her sister about it.”
Pellinore shook his head. “I know, dear, that you said that girls their age will take it into their heads to be jealous about the silliest of things — and I know that, consciously or not, we have set these girls up to compete from the moment we knew — well — that there was a competition to be had, but still … perhaps I am just being a man, but from everything I understand of these monthly courses, I do not understand why any girl would be eager to get them! Much less jealous of a friend or sister who has them before she does! I would rather assume that most young ladies would be grateful their turn had not come yet!”
Eilwen chuckled. “Pellinore, dear — that’s pretty much what I told Delyth.”
“Is it? Then perhaps I am not as much the ‘foolish old man’ in these matters as I thought I was!”
“Pellinore — you may not be as young as you used to be, but you will never be a foolish old man in my eyes.”
Pellinore grinned. “I shall hold you to that, when I am half-senile and am dribbling my soup into my beard at every meal.”
“Darling, if you’re half-senile, how do you plan on holding me to that?”
“As I said — I shall be half senile. I shall contrive to retain the memory of this conversation in the part of my mind that remains to me.”
“Oh, Pellinore! You’re too much!”
“And you, my dear, are a saint to put up with me these twenty-five years and more.” He rose, extending his hand to Eilwen. “But in the meantime, my lady, I believe it is time for supper.”
“Goodness! It is! And with three teenagers in the house — we mustn’t keep them waiting!”
“Indeed not!” Pellinore laughed. He led Eilwen from his study, into the drawing-room.
It was in the drawing-room that they saw Dilys, on her way into the dining room. She saw them and smiled. Pellinore stopped, and Eilwen disengaged her arm from his, giving him a little shove forward.
By Dilys’s blush and Pellinore’s wringing of his hands, they both knew what was coming. Nonetheless, Pellinore found it within him to speak.
“My Dilys,” he said, “I shan’t embarrass us both by being specific — but your mother told me what happened today, and I want you to know that I am pleased for you and proud of you.”
He reached forward and embraced her. “And I also want you to know,” he said into her hair, “that no matter how your body might insist otherwise, in my heart you will always be my girl.”