It had to be getting near time to go. Or at least, Galahad hoped it was getting near time to go. Their family still had an hour’s ride ahead of them, and the sooner that was started, the better.
He’d had a bit too much champagne at dinner time — all those toasts! — and it was making its way to his head now. And it didn’t matter how much coffee he drank afterwards. Instead of getting the agreeable rushing feeling, the boundless energy, the thoughts racing almost too quickly for him to contemplate, all he got was a little less haze and fuzz. It was like his brain was a carriage stuck behind a slow-moving wagon on a lazy summer’s day. There was no room to pass, and so Galahad was forced to hope that the wagon would turn off the road at some point. In the meantime, however, the bees were droning, the sun was beating down, and the carriage was rocking so agreeably …
Galahad came to himself to a start. Surely, they would have to go soon. Wouldn’t they?
Will certainly seemed anxious and ready to leave soon, but then again, he had a nervous young bride to bring home. Or at least, that’s what everybody was saying — if they hadn’t been, Galahad would have assumed that it was Will who was nervous, since that seemed to be his default state whenever the Princess came into the mixture.
He seemed especially nervous now, nervous enough that the King was openly grinning as he looked down at his hand. That was awfully silly on the King’s part. Will never grew nervous over what he had in his hand when he played poker; Galahad had watched him play too many times to be unsure of that. To be nervous, you had to care — really care — how the game was going, and Will generally didn’t. It was hard to care when you were clever enough not to bet more than you could afford to lose, and not so clever that you stood a better-than-average chance of winning big.
No, by the way Will was fidgeting, and glancing out the window, and at the candles as they burned down, and had to be nudged by their father to even know when his turn was, Galahad could well imagine that poker was about as far from Will’s mind as it could be when cards and chips were on the table before him.
“So,” Sir Mordred was asking as he lined up his cue, “what did your sister want?”
“Not sure, but whatever it was really upset her. Poor thing was sobbing when Kay came and got me. It’s just as well my parents took her home.”
“Delyth didn’t seem too happy.”
“There’ll be other weddings — maybe even ones where the ladies don’t outnumber the men — where she can dance and flirt to her little heart’s content.”
“She could have stayed here with you, you know. The Queen would have offered her a bed, and even if she hadn’t one to spare, you could have brought Delyth and stayed at our keep.”
“Heh.” Why did Lamorak suddenly pull at his collar, as if he was hot? It really wasn’t all that hot in here, considering. “You sure you want me sleeping under the same roof as your sister?”
“Technically, you wouldn’t be under the same roof,” Mordred squinted the better to take the shot, “and if you wanted to be, the stairs to her room are warded. No men.”
“What about the window?”
“It’s a four-story climb up sheer rock. If you’re willing to risk your neck …” Crack! He pushed the cue and the balls rolled away. Mordred straightened and grinned. “It’s your neck.”
Creak. “There you are, Galahad!”
Galahad turned — and the champagne must have been hitting him again, for the blood rushed to his face. “S-Sister Angelique!”
He must have been more meant for the Church than he ever realized, if the mere sight of a habit could make him so excited. His stomach exploded into butterflies and his heart started pounding as she came closer. It was all Galahad could do to keep grinning. He shouldn’t, after all, do anything to make her think he was upset with her — especially when he wasn’t!
She put on hand on her hip, right on the embroidery, and cocked it to one side. Galahad had to gulp — why, he had no idea, he just had to. The habit clung to Angelique and moved when she did, like a particularly sinuous snake. Why didn’t more nuns make their habits like that? Truly, they’d get more attention that way than by walking down the street in their lumpy sackcloth …
But then again, maybe it was fitting that only Angelique dressed like that. If all the other nuns dressed as Angelique did, then Angelique wouldn’t be special. Why Angelique should be special among nuns — who were all meant to look alike, dress alike, speak alike, think alike — was not something that Galahad examined. It did not need to be examined. It was, as he stared at her, self-evident.
Her mouth was opening, but Galahad heard himself blurting out, “You — you look very nice today, Sister Angelique.”
She blinked those enormous dark eyes at him, and just when Galahad was convinced he had said the wrong thing, she smiled. “Why, this old thing!” she gasped. “Galahad, you shouldn’t flatter a girl so. It’ll turn her head.”
Angelique’s head certainly was turning, but Galahad thought that might have more to do with the way she was standing than anything else. If she would face front, like a normal Sim, then she wouldn’t have to turn her head at all.
“Although …” She leaned closer, her breath tickling his ear. Galahad almost squealed — like a little girl! — and jumped away. Almost, though, only almost. “You want to know a secret?” she whispered.
He could smell the faint musk of her perfume coming from her neck, buried in the folds of cloth of her wimple. It was making him dizzier than the champagne could ever hope to. Yet, unlike most other things that made him dizzy, he didn’t want this to stop. He wanted it to go on, and on, and on …
So instead of shaking his head when she asked about that secret, Galahad nodded.
“This isn’t even a habit at all!” She was giggling, but somehow it was Galahad who was breathless. “It’s an old mourning gown I found in the charity bin! I stuck it in my trunk when I packed for Camford and altered it on the sly!” She twirled around on one toe, the bell-like skirt lifting and giving him short, tantalizing views of her pretty feet. “Do you like it?”
Do I like it? It must have been the champagne playing havoc with his mind. Surely Galahad had never been this stupid sober. Had he? He rested his hand on her shoulder. “Aye. I — I do like it.”
“It’s got the same lines as the Princess’s gown — er — the old Princess, not my sister.” She giggled again. “A bit lucky, don’t you think?”
“Oh, Galahad, you’re a sweetheart. You don’t have to keep pretending that you care about all this, you know.”
It wasn’t that he didn’t care — he did care — it was more like he didn’t understand more than one word in two of what she was saying. But since she was saying it, he’d find a way to care. “I care.”
She didn’t even seem to hear. “Look at me! So starved for intelligent conversation, I’m discussing dresses with a man! And not just any man, but you, Galahad!”
Why did that make his stomach drop? Why should he care if Angelique saw him differently than she saw other men? He was different, wasn’t he? He was going into the church, just like she was already there. That made him different. That made her different.
And that made them alike. That thought brought his stomach back up the normal level.
It dropped again when Angelique took a step back. “It’s getting a bit warm in here, don’t you think?”
“We can go outside,” Galahad blurted out, and then regretted it. And then he wondered why he regretted it. After all, if she was hot, why shouldn’t they go outside? They were Sims of the Church, or they would be soon enough. Who cared where they spoke?
Besides, Angelique was smiling at the suggestion, and somehow that smile drove all thoughts of what others might thing flying from his mind. “I’d like that. Let’s go, Galahad.”
In no time at all they had slipped through the castle corridors and out into the cool night air. Galahad instantly looked up at the moons and stars, but unlike most nights, where his gaze would go up there and stay up there, tonight it fell to Angelique’s face.
The moons and her wimple both contrived to hid her expression from him. Her steps, however, were not hard to find and follow at all. She made a beeline for the playing fountain, and Galahad followed her.
She said she wanted to talk, that she was starving for intelligent conversation — the one thing Galahad had that he could offer to her! — but when they got there she did not speak. Instead, she sighed and stared at the fountain.
So Galahad stared too. He was pretty sure it was the same fountain he had played by any number of times with Will and Tom and Kay and Elyan and Aglovale — the same fountain the Princess had once pushed Tom into! — but for some reason it seemed to transfix Angelique, and so it would transfix him until he figured out why.
Finally she sighed. “It’s so sad.”
“What — what is?”
“The water.” She gestured, and for a moment Galahad could only watch the silvery moonlight play on her milky skin. “Look at it, Galahad. It’s trapped. It looks like it’s moving and playing and — and — being, but it’s not really.”
“Water is supposed to be free. It’s — it’s supposed to come down as rain, and then run off into the streams, and into rivers, and eventually all the way to the ocean! And once it goes into the ocean, it can go all around the world! But this … it’s just going up and down a fishy fountain. How is that right, Galahad? How is that just?”
“Um … Sister Angelique?”
“Don’t call me that,” she snapped, and Galahad jumped. “Not when nobody else is around. Call me Angelique.”
“Angelique,” he repeated, and he was sure she could hear his grin.
Maybe she could. He thought he saw a flicker of a smile from her. Just that flicker was enough to make Galahad grin.
“So what were you saying?” she asked, glancing sidelong at him.
“Huh — huh what?”
“You were going to say something, before I — rudely — interrupted you.”
She looked so sparkling, so serene! Galahad’s heart gave an awkward, almost sideways beat. Maybe she would just let him look at her for a little while? If he asked very nicely? It would mean so much to him …
But no, she had been desperate for intelligent conversation, and so intelligent conversation was what he would give her. Drat it, what had he been about to say? “Um … oh! Oh, Angelique, it’s water.” He gestured toward the fountain. “I don’t think it cares.”
Why did Angelique’s face shudder and fall? “You’d think that, wouldn’t you?” she spat, and looked away.
“What — what?”
“‘It’s water, it won’t care.’ ‘They’re whores, they won’t care if we take their children away.’ ‘She’s a girl, she won’t care if I decide her future without consulting her. She wouldn’t even know how to make a decision if she tried.’ You men! You all think alike!” She threw her nose up into the air and refused to look at her. “If it’s not one of you, then you can do whatever you want to it!”
“No, no, Angelique, that’s not true. That’s not true for me! I — I wouldn’t do things like that to women. It’s — wait, who took someone’s children away?”
Angelique stared at her feet. “You wouldn’t care. It was only a whore, after all. No man would care.”
“I — I care.”
Why did his heart beat so when he said that? Why did his palms suddenly break out into a sweat? Why did he gasp when she leaned a little closer?
Angelique studied his face as if she would draw it, even going so far as to move a bit of bangs from his eyes, the better to see into them. “Brother Tuck,” she whispered.
Brother Tuck? What about Brother Tuck? What did he — OH! “Brother Tuck took some woman’s child away? Why?”
“Because she was — well — a lady of the night.”
“So she was mistreating the child?”
“No, no, the child was very well cared for.”
“And — and Brother Tuck took the kid away anyway?” Galahad’s jaw dropped. “That’s — that’s horrible!”
“You — you really think so?”
“But she would raise the child in sin.”
Galahad shrugged. “We’re — we’re all sinners. Who is Brother Tuck to decide that this woman’s sin means she isn’t good enough to raise her child, while this person’s sin is — is more acceptable?”
“Oh, Galahad!” Angelique gasped and grabbed his hands, probably on impulse. “You can’t imagine how glad I am to hear you say that!”
She couldn’t imagine how glad he was to have his hands held in hers.
“You’re not like the rest of them,” she gushed. “You’re really, really not. You — you actually have a heart. You care about how people feel.”
He cared about how people felt? He wasn’t sure about that. For the most part, he thought people spent far too much time feeling and far too little time thinking.
But when she smiled at him like that, Galahad could start to understand why his fellow Sims thought feeling was so important.
“I — I guess,” he stammered, “I just don’t see any reason why you should make other Sims unhappy if you don’t have to. That can’t be right. I mean, so many sins come from hurting other Sims! Why would it be all right hurt some Sims sometimes, but not hurt others other times? It’s not fair. It can’t be right.”
Her attention had drifted midway through his speech — and worse, her hands dropped his. Galahad had never felt his hands to be so empty in his life, when they had been so full but a moment before.
“Huh? Oh, I’m sorry — I guess — I guess I’m still a bit hot.” She fanned herself. “It’s not helping me to think very well, I’m afraid.” She shifted and stared at her feet. “Could you — could you do me a favor?”
“Anything,” Galahad said, and his mind didn’t even register a token protest.
She took the trailing edges of her veil in one hand and lifted them, exposing the back of her wimple. “I’ve — I’ve noticed if I wet the wimple before I put it on, along the back of the neck, it keeps me nice and cool. But it takes ten minutes together to get this disassembled and reassembled, and I can’t reach … could you just sprinkle a bit of water, there, for me? Please?”
“Of — of course.” He took a palmful from the fountain and sprinkled it, and then another palmful, and another palmful. “Oooh, thank you, Galahad,” she moaned, “that feels divine.”
“You’re … you’re welcome.” Now his face was near her ear, not that he could see it behind the yards of white cloth, and his hand rested on her shoulder. He began to pull away.
Her face was so — so — beautiful wasn’t even the word for it. Her eyes had seemed to lay claim and capture all the stars, the better to shine. Her nose was so little and silly. Her cheekbones gave her face the look of a heart, and her lips …
Her lips seemed so soft, in that moment he wanted to do nothing more than touch them …
“Galahad?” she whispered.
He touched her lips with the only part of his mind that could possibly be soft enough not to hurt hers.
He felt her start, and then moan, and them move closer to him. But she didn’t touch him. His hand moved farther down her arm, but that was the only part of his body that moved. His heart, though, his heart —
Galahad understood now why the heart was the organ of love. It reacted, the way no other organ did. And more than that, it made the blood course through the body, and without blood, no Sim could live. Without love, no Sim could live.
Except those Sims who —
Galahad jumped away. “Oh, oh, no! Oh, Angelique! I’m so sorry!”
“A — a bride of Wright!” he stammered and wrung his hands. Lightning was going to come down and strike him any minute now, he knew it! Surely, if he’d been lucky enough to have a girl like Angelique as his bride, and some stupid churl who was thinking with his — with his — Galahad didn’t even know what he was thinking with, but if someone like that had laid their filthy hands and dirty lips on his Angelique, he would attack them with thunder, with lighting, with a sword, with a mace — with his fists and claws, if he had to!
“I’m so sorry, Angelique! I didn’t mean to –”
“Galahad!” Angelique grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “I’m not angry!”
“You’re — you’re not?” But the Lord Wright must have been, he had to be —
“No. I’m not. But I do have one question for you.”
Her arms circled around his back, and even though Galahad was terrified about the lightning that had his name on it striking her too, he inched closer. “What?”
“Did you enjoy that?”
Did he enjoy that? “Do — do –” He looked around. “Do fish swim?”
She grinned. “Good.” Her hand moved down his back, one finger pressing his spine and making him yelp — but it didn’t hurt! It was the opposite of hurt! “Now, shut up and kiss me again.”
She didn’t even give him time to comply with her demands.