Sometimes, Accolon wondered if he still had memories lurking underneath the surface. Like when he gardened.
It wasn’t just the fact that he was good at it — some Sims were born with natural green thumbs. It wasn’t even the excitement he got from a particularly plump and juicy tomato, or a perfectly purple eggplant. That could be explained by devotion to gardening as a hobby. No, there was something more to it than that.
It was in the way that he could close his eyes and know the difference between a proper plant and a weed by touch. It was how his hands would move of their own accord to groom the plants or harvest the peppers just so. It was his unerring knowledge of which bugs were to be squashed between his fingers and which were to be let alone, for they ate the bad bugs. It was how he always knew just when to tilt the watering can, so that his precious plants got neither a drop too much or a drop too little of liquid life.
Once upon a time, gardening — raising plants — had not been a mere pastime for Accolon. It had been the difference between life and death. And even though he could not remember a time when he had gone hungry — even though he was no longer properly alive or properly dead — his hands and feet and arms still remembered those days, and worked hard to keep the blood of unlife flowing in his veins.
He sometimes — often when he was gardening — wondering what life had been life back in Glasonland, to make him so good at his. Or even what life had been in Albion in those early years. Had his family often been close to starvation? Had they had to break their backs just to get the barest life to come from the soil? Or had the soil been willing, but their lord harsh and demanding? He wished he knew.
Accolon held a leaf between his thumb and forefinger, closing his eyes. There was no other feeling quite like the surface of a leaf. Rubbery and silken, smooth and rough, papery and pliant. He should have remembered the first time, in his new life, that he fingered the leaves of a plant. The texture should have jolted him awake and made him start in wonder. But he could not remember that first time, because when he had first felt a plant — even in those early dark days, when all was new and unfamiliar and terrifying — it must have been so familiar, so right that his mind did not even register it.
When Accolon opened his eyes, he was firmly again in his new life.
“Jessica! Good morning! Did you just — er — drop in?” He straightened, dusting off his hands on his tunic.
“Yes, yes, I did — er — I hope you don’t mind?” Her smile was the same shy, hesitant one she’d worn on their first meeting. She’d been just a child then, eight or maybe nine years old. While her brothers had chortled and asked inappropriate questions — like whether he had worms crawling inside him and what it was like to live in a grave — until the King had roared at them, Jessica had grabbed Morgan’s spare hand and only half-smiled up at him.
“Of course not, you’re always welcome here, even if your aunt isn’t training you anymore,” Accolon chuckled. “She’ll be tickled pink to know you took some time from dress fittings and picking out flowers and the rest of it to see poor old us. Er … you do know Ravenna’s at school, don’t you?” Jessica had been shy around him at first, but she’d always loved Ravenna, giggling over her and cuddling her and playing with her as only a cousin eight years her senior could.
“I know — she’s been writing to me all about it. I was hoping I’d maybe get a chance to see her before I went back to Camford.”
“You still going to be in town, come Saturday? Morgan and I were planning on visiting her then. Care to tag along, if you can?”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“Course not, it’ll be a nice surprise for her.” Jessica grinned. “Anyway, where are my manners? Come inside, why don’t you?”
“Thanks,” Jessica replied, leading the way. They barely entered before Accolon was shooing her over to a seat. “It’ll be interesting to see George again.”
At the mention of George’s name, Accolon scowled as only the father of a teenage girl could. “Hmph.”
Jessica snickered. “Oh, come on. Ravenna barely seems able to stand him.”
“And from everything she writes, he seems to like her a lot!”
“They’re kids — let them have their fun.”
“Fun? Fun? Let me tell you, princess, I was once a teenage boy myself, and I –” Accolon faltered. “Well, all right, maybe I don’t quite remember, but I can very well imagine what’s going through his head!”
“He’s only thirteen!”
“So? Being thirteen never stopped anyone from thinking about — that! Hell, I’d say it helped them along!”
“True — but being thirteen, I think, has very often made it difficult for a young boy to turn his thoughts into reality. He’s still trying to get Ravenna’s attention by pulling her hair and standing on his head.”
“And what about when he stops doing that?” Accolon wailed.
“Well … Ravenna’s not going to be little forever, you knew that …”
“I knew that! I don’t want — well, all right I do want — but I don’t need her to stay little forever! I just need her to not be thinking of boys yet!”
One of Jessica’s eyebrows went up. “Oh? And when is she supposed to think of boys?”
He had his answer for this down pat. “Thirty! And not a day before!”
“… Er, if it’s any consolation — I don’t think Ravenna’s quite thinking of George in that way, yet?”
“But he’s thinking of her — and that’s worse!”
Jessica reached forward and patted his hand. “It’ll be all right, Uncle Accolon. I’m sure Aunt Morgan has already taught her the frog spell.”
“That’s right,” Accolon sighed happily. “If he tries anything, he can just croak until he croaks!”
“Accolon, don’t tell me you’re threatening that poor boy with imminent bodily harm — again.”
There were benefits to being thoroughly supernatural. Accolon no longer jumped when the bookcase swung around and Morgan emerged from her workroom. And while Jessica did blink, it was a happy blink followed by a joyful, “Aunt Morgan!”
“Hello, you!” Morgan cried out as her niece catapulted into her arms. “How’s that university treating you?”
“Well! How’s everything treating you?”
“Well as well! Oh! Wait — before I forget — I need to see that ring!”
Oh, brother. Accolon could just imagine the conversation that was about to ensue. It would involve rings. And flowers. And ribbons. And dresses. And weddings.
He stood up and began to sidle toward the door. “Er, well, I can see I’m completely superfluous to this conversation now — no, no, don’t tell me to stay around, I really have to things to do — have to do my homework, make dinner, wash the carriage, feed the dragon …”
He just reached freedom and closed the door behind him when he heard Morgan ask, “Jess, what’s wrong?”
Maybe had hadn’t been as superfluous as he thought he was.
Morgan watched as Jessie bit her lip. She’d had that habit ever since she was a baby — well — ever since she had cut her upper teeth. “You’re going to think I’m mad.”
“Hardly. Sit.” As Jessie obeyed, Morgan took over the seat Accolon had just vacated and followed that up with another one-word command. “Spill.”
“It’s — it’s the wedding. Sort of.”
“The wedding night?” Morgan asked, one eyebrow upraised.
“A little,” Jessie admitted, “but Mum’s talked me through that a hundred times already. I figure at this point, all that’s left are normal Sim nerves that aren’t going to go away until … well, after.”
Morgan nodded. “She told you it’s supposed to be fun, right? Uncomfortable, perhaps, at first, but fun afterward?”
“Well, I don’t suppose you need me to add to that just yet.” Morgan would find a way to bring up her aphrodisiacs after the wedding — probably after the whole newlywed phase worse off, which could take some time. In the meantime, there was no use frightening the virgin.
“Honestly, I think it’s Lynn who would need that talk more than me … I mean,” Jessie shrugged, “her mother … probably isn’t in a position to reassure her that it’s supposed to be pleasurable.”
“Indeed. As far as I know, her mother’s only lain with Sir Bors, and –”
“You’re going to give me nightmares, just thinking of that!”
She had a point. “Well, all the same, let that be a lesson to you, my dear — even the most unpleasant of acts can have pleasant consequences.”
“Lynn, Clarice and the babies.”
“I notice you don’t bring up Angelique or Elyan.”
“Elyan … is his father’s clone, almost.” Jessie shuddered.
Jessie only sighed.
“I take it that means I don’t want to know?”
“Sorry, Aunt Morgan.”
“It’s all right.” Morgan rested her chin on her hands and watched her niece carefully. “So if it isn’t the wedding night that’s bothering you — what is?”
Jessie closed her eyes and sighed.
“When — when I saw my academic advisor last week — right before the break — and, and we were chatting about our plans for it …”
“He congratulated me for getting away! For — for taking care of all these ‘important’ things! Morgan! After I get back to school, finals are only a little while away! Final finals! And — and picking out dresses and ribbons and everything else is supposed to be important, compared to that!”
If Morgan knew her niece, she had probably done well enough in her previous three years of academic life to graduate even if she slept through her “final finals.” Her advisor no doubt knew that as well. And perhaps Jessie even knew that. It was not academic nervousness that made her voice tremble so.
“I’ve been studying for almost four years to get to this point, and even my advisor doesn’t think it’s at all important compared to a wedding! A wedding! Just one day of — of partying and feasting and –”
“And being joined to the man you love for the rest of your life.”
Jessie broke off with a hiccup. “I don’t need a dress and flowers and a party to do that, though. And — and my advisor was acting like that’s what’s more important than finals.”
If Jessie hadn’t been frowning, her lip trembling like a kicked puppy’s, Morgan might have made a joke about how her father would likely save a fortune if she told him that. But now was not the time for those kinds of jokes.
“So your advisor is a bigot who thinks that your wedding is going to be the culminating event of your life — so what? Why does one man’s offhand opinion bother you so much?”
“Doesn’t everyone else think the same way?” Jessie asked her hands.
“Everyone? Will included?”
“Well, then, honey — what do you care? As my father used to say to me before I went off and did something the rest of the court would call incredibly stupid — be yourself, honey, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
Morgan could have sworn she heard that voice in her head the moment after she had first kissed Accolon, when they had pulled apart breathless and panting and staring at each other in mutual desire and terror. It had been that voice that prompted her to kiss him again.
Jessie tried to smile.
Morgan folded her hands and waited for the rest of it.
“But Morgan — what won’t they mind?”
Jessie bowed her head and buried her head in her hands. “Will said he doesn’t care what I do — he just wants me to be me and he wants me to be happy. And to be with him while I do it.”
Once again, Aunt Morgan is right! She blinked away a quick tear. And so is Papa.
“But I don’t even know what’s out there for me to do!” Jessie wailed. “I — I spent four years studying literature because I loved it, but — but — what do I do with that?”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know!” Jessie wailed. “Lady Gwen writes romances, but — but I’m not sure that’s what I want to do. Even if I do love reading them. And — and other than that, there’s Mum, who has her hands full being a queen; and Lady Claire and Lady Eilwen, who are both just … ladies; and let’s not even get into Lady Morgause …”
Indeed, let’s not!
“And there’s you … you used to run the schools …”
“Your father is still looking for a replacement for me on that.”
Jessie’s look of horror told Morgan all she needed to know about that. She had been expecting such a reaction — as good as Jessie could be with cousins in twos and threes, put more than ten or so children under ten in the same room with her and no other responsible adults around and Jessie stared at them as braver Sims than she stared at dragons.
“But at the moment,” Morgan continued, “I’ve set up in the magical healing business. Sort of.”
“Well, I’m still learning, but as it so happens, I know more about magical healing than anyone else in the kingdom, and so I somehow get volunteered to help in cases where the mundane doctors don’t know what to do.”
“There’s always something new to learn with magic …” Jessie whispered, as if she had not even heard the rest. “And I … I haven’t been studying it as I should have, these past few years …” She bit her lip and looked up. “But what would I do with it?”
“What do you want to do?”
Jessie frowned. “Princesses — aren’t supposed to meddle with magic …”
“And bastard sons of kings aren’t supposed to rule, but last I checked, your father was still in charge around these parts.”
Her niece sat back, eyebrow knit and fingertips drumming on the table.
“Maybe …” she whispered. “Maybe I could do something with my magic that would help Dad — and Tommy, someday?” She frowned again. “But you never … never did anything like that …”
“Mostly because I hadn’t the patience to sit at my father’s knee and learn king-craft, or at my mother’s knee and learn graciousness and charm. You had that.”
“You’re the one who can deal with hordes of screaming small children, and you call me patient?”
“Children calm if you give them enough candy — adults are generally harder to please.”
“Do you think that Dad and Tommy would … let me help?”
“They’ll see the advantages to it sooner or later.” There was a hard backbone of pragmatism in every true Pendragon body — Arthur and Tommy both had it, and both would come around.
Morgan watched as Jessie stared at her, violet eyes wide as a tea saucers.
Then, she smiled.
“Oh, Morgan!” Morgan was up and ready when the tackle-hug came for her. “Thank you — thank you so much!”
Morgan squeezed her oldest niece back. “It was my pleasure, honey. It will always be my pleasure.”