Leona knew she was not the sharpest of all the knives in the drawer. When you grew up with two brainiacs for brothers, you learned very quickly just where you were in the intelligence pecking order. She’d always had to work just a little harder in her schooling to get similar results, and there were some concepts and ideas that Will and Galahad took too like ducks to water that she could only walk away, shaking her head, rather than trying to understand. She knew all of this. She was all right with all of this. However, at the same, she knew she was no dolt. Which was why this was so frustrating, and frankly embarrassing.
Even when she had first started playing chess, she’d never been so utterly stumped after just three moves. Even against the formidable Heloise, this was unacceptable. She loved her father dearly, but she did not want to be known as the only one of the family who got his brains.
“It’s your move,” Heloise remarked.
“If you’d like to concede …”
Leona glared. “Du Lacs don’t concede. They conquer or die.”
“Any last words, then?” Heloise replied with a snort.
Leona stuck her tongue out and moved an abbot at random. She crossed her arms over her chest, one eyebrow raised as if to ask, There. What do you think of that?
“In-teresting,” Heloise murmured. “Very interesting. Are you trying to use a Contrary Defense?”
“I don’t use defenses from books,” Leona replied, crossing her arms before her chest and grinning. What do you think of that, Heloise? Huh? Huh?
“I see,” she murmured. “I see.
“Of course,” Heloise continued, “you’d have been wiser to use a Contrary Defense. I’d have had to use some ingenuity to defeat that. As things are, however, you’ve put me into a perfect position to swipe your knight.”
Leona looked down at the board and saw that to be true. “Shit.”
Then again, there were benefits to playing against Heloise, as opposed to one of the other girls in the house. Clarice would have turned at least three shades of red to hear Leona say that. (She was getting better; it used to be six.) Garnet, on the off-chance she could get off her high horse (broom?) and share a game, would have glared and sniffed at the ill-breeding.
Heloise, on the other hand, nodded and said, “Precisely,” as she captured said knight.
“Games have been won with only one knight,” Leona retorted.
“Of course they have. They’ve also been lost. Particularly if the knight is lost early in the game.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Statistically speaking, it’s practically certain.”
“It’s certain that games have been lost after the knight is lost early, aye! But it’s far from certain that …” Leona stopped. Was she seeing what she thought she was seeing — was her abbot really in a position to capture Heloise’s queen?
“Oh my goodness! Is that a spider on the wall behind you?”
“Spider?” Leona squealed and turned. “Where? Where?”
“Oh …” Heloise murmured. “I’m sorry. That was just a speck of dust.”
“Oh. Geez, Heloise! Don’t scare me like that!” Leona turned back room. “Where were we?”
“Right! Now …” Leona grinned and picked up her abbot. “Gar–”
Except that wasn’t a queen lying directly before her abbot. It was a rook.
Leona replaced the abbot. How in the world did I mix that up? Queens and —
Wait a minute.
She looked up, one eyebrow raised. “Heloise,” she said in her sweetest voice, the one she used to use to get her father to sneak them all treats before supper, “I thought that was a queen there.”
“Did you?” She sounded bored and vaguely insulted — not at the insinuation, but at the fact that she was being asked such a trifling question. It was pure Heloise. It was almost enough to make Leona believe she’d been mistaken. Almost.
“Yes, I did. And my eyesight isn’t so poor to mistake a queen for –”
“I’ll get it.” Even that was masterfully done — no hint of desiring to escape, nothing but completely natural helpfulness. And if Heloise wasn’t normally that helpful, well, Clarice was out, Garnet had complained of a headache and was napping in her room, and that only left she and Leona. And Leona had rank.
All the same … they had a maid …
Leona glanced again at the chess board. Was it cheating if you moved pieces back to where they were originally? But where had the rook been? Common sense would dictate that Heloise had merely switched the pieces, but that wasn’t Heloise. If Heloise was going to cheat, she’d cheat thoroughly. Better to put the queen someplace where it would be of the most use to her than to waste her attempt, and better to grab the rook from anywhere if it was just going to get sacrificed.
Damn, damn, damn —
“Oh, of the love of Wright! You can’t be away from Garnet for more than a few weeks before you start bothering us again?”
Leona looked up, the game momentarily forgotten.
Lamorak edged his way inside — not difficult, Heloise was hardly a heavyweight, and said only, “I need to see her. It’s important.”
“Well, you can’t,” Heloise replied.
“She at class?”
“No,” Heloise admitted. Did she have to sound so disgruntled? “She’s not feeling well. She’s upstairs, lying down. And no, you can’t go up there.”
Who died and made you the guardian of our honor? Leona scooted out of her chair and meandered into the foyer.
“Heloise, please, for once in your life, could you be helpful? I need to talk to her.”
“Ooh, no,” Heloise snapped, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Not unless you’re willing to hold the basin when she starts puking. I’ve done that once before, and shan’t be doing it again, thank you!”
“Is she that sick?” Lamorak squawked.
“It’s just a headache,” Leona added before he could panic more. “But if she doesn’t rest she –” She had to stop; she thought she might be running for a basin for Lamorak, by the way he paled and swayed. Either that or a pillow to slip under his head when he hit the floor, if she and Heloise couldn’t haul him onto the couch.
“She gets those kinds of headaches too?” Lamorak gasped. “Like — like her father?”
Leona could only shrug, but Heloise narrowed her eyes. “What’s her father got to do with anything?”
Lamorak’s bright blue eyes darted between the two of them. He sighed. “He’s dying.”
Silence, thick and oppressive as the air outside. Silence until Heloise broke it with a single syllable, a single cool drop of rain —
And silence again.
Leona swallowed. “Is — is he …?”
“Is he …?” Lamorak motioned for her to continue.
“Is there a chance Garnet might — might be able to see him?”
“Aye, if we hurry.”
“Then I’ll go get her.”
“Bring the basin,” Heloise muttered as Leona made her way up the stairs.
Leona shook her head. How could she be so insensitive? If it had been Clarice — that, that she could have almost understood. But Heloise had never said anything bad about her father, or their relationship. Indeed, for Heloise, she spoke of her father almost fondly.
Maybe it was just Heloise. After all, she didn’t seem to have much use for other Sims, period. Leona thought she herself was a bit prickly, at least compared to the saintly de Ganis girls (except Angelique) and patient Jess, but she had nothing on Heloise’s needles. No — rather, if Leona had needles, Heloise had broadswords sticking up from her spine and all her extremities.
Damn it, why couldn’t Jess be here now? Leona’s steps slowed as she neared the door. Jess was better at this sort of thing than she ever would be. She always knew just what to say, just how to soothe. Especially with Garnet. Garnet had practically lived at their house after her father’s spell, and somehow, when Leona could just sit with her in the drawing-room, waiting for Jess to get back, Jess could walk through the door, take one look into the parlor, and be able to calm the floods of tears that Garnet let loose once Jessie was around.
And now Leona was going to destroy Garnet’s world. It wasn’t fair. Garnet was every bit as broadsword-y as Heloise, when you came right down to it, but unlike Heloise, she talked about her family, a great deal. Especially her father. It was always “my daddy” this, “my papa” that — even after his illness. Garnet was her father’s princess, anybody with eyes and half a brain could see that.
Now, Leona was going to kill the princess’s king.
She gulped and knocked at the door.
No answer. She tried the handle and the door swung open with scarcely a touch.
Garnet lay softly on her side, her breath rising and falling as steadily as a child’s. Her knees curled up underneath her. Leona’s hand hung on the doorknob. Maybe she should just leave — Heloise was right, Garnet needed her rest —
But would Leona want to be sleeping when her father was dying, if there was any way it could be prevented?
She coughed. “Garnet?” Her voice was soft — too soft. She had to wake her up, damn it! “Garnet? I need to talk to you.”
She saw Garnet start, her eyes fly open, and then narrow, seeing Leona. “What?”
She started to rise, rubbing her eyes with one hand. “What?”
“You should probably –” Leona started, but Garnet was already up and glaring at her. “Are you feeling any better?” she asked weakly instead.
Garnet marched up to her. If Leona hadn’t mastered the trick herself, she would not have understood how such soft slippers could make such a loud thumping noise. “Am I feeling better? Aye, I was, until you busted in here and woke me up! You know I have to rest when I get my headaches!”
“Aye, I know. I’m sorry. But this — this is som–this is very important.”
“Important as all that?”
“Yes. Garnet …” Leona swallowed. “Maybe you’d best sit down.”
“If I sit down, I’m going to fall asleep — ooh …”
“Garnet?” Leona squealed. “Do you need the basin? I’ll go get the basin!”
“No! Don’t you move! If you just get on with it, I can go back to bed and I shan’t need the basin!”
Leona’s mouth froze, hanging slightly open.
“Garnet,” Leona swallowed, and tried to lay a hand on the younger woman’s arm. Garnet shook it off. She didn’t speak again — she didn’t need to — her pout and her narrowed eyes said more clearly than any mere words just what she was thinking.
“Garnet, I’m — I’m very sorry to say this — but it’s about your father.” Leona only just barely dared to look up with that.
The pout fell away. The narrow eyes widened. Leona had never before seen such a terrified look, not even on a hare as the dogs came for it from all directions. “My father?”
“I’m so sorry –”
“Shut up! Don’t say you’re sorry! Say what it’s about!”
“Maybe you should –”
“He — he’s dying, Garnet.” Leona felt her calf muscles stretching, limbering, ready to spring forward to catch Garnet if she started to fall, or run for the basin if Garnet should seem to need it.
Garnet threw her hands before her face and Leona suspected the worst. All that came out, though, was a strangled, “No.”
“I’m sorry, Garnet. I’m so sorry –”
“Shut up! I don’t want your fucking sympathy! Give me that when it’s your father that’s — that’s –” Her mouth screwed up entirely the wrong way, and her breath started to come in too-quick pants.
Do you need the basin? Leona wanted to ask, because it was safe — and if the answer was yes, then she could escape for a moment or two to grab it, and after she had it, she could busy herself with holding Garnet’s hair back and trying to comfort her by patting her back and murmuring soothing sounds that didn’t mean much of anything in the end. And maybe she could yell for Lamorak and get him to take Garnet off her hands.
But that was the cowards’ way, and du Lacs were never cowards. Leona swallowed. “I won’t — I won’t insult you by trying to say I know how you feel — but I love my dad too, and –”
“Oh! Oh, Garnet! Oh, don’t — don’t –” She edged closer. Don’t what, Leona?
Slowly, Leona put her arm around Garnet.
It was amazing. Garnet, brash Garnet, Garnet who could take off her armor for Jessie, maybe, but no one else — not even the de Ganis girls — was creeping closer to her. Brushing against her, even. And instead of needles or broadswords or whatever other sharp things Garnet kept buried just beneath her skin, to keep others away, the only thing that Leona could feel that wasn’t completely smooth was the brocaded band of linen that made up Garnet’s neckline.
Leona was not the brains in the du Lac family, but at least she refrained from saying anything stupid in that moment. She didn’t say, “Everything is going to be all right,” or “Don’t cry, Garnet,” or even, “I’m so sorry” again. She just held Garnet, and rubbed her shoulder, and kept a close eye to see if her heaving shoulders forecasted that anything else might be heaving momentarily.
And Garnet, for her part, did not try to speak either. Even beyond her crying, she trembled under Leona’s arm. However, when Leona shook a handkerchief out of her other sleeve and offered it to her, Garnet did take it.
Leona felt the wail — the bigger one, bigger than all the sobbing that had gone before — begin to rise and swell long before it met Garnet’s lips. “And I won’t even get to see him! Papa!”
“You — you might,” Leona said as soon as she could get a word in edgewise. “Lamorak’s here –”
Garnet went silent, and Leona felt her calves tense up again. All that issued from Garnet’s mouth, however, was a whisper. “Lamorak?”
“Aye. Aye, he’s here to take you home, to see if you can get back in –”
“Yes, Garnet, Lam–”
At least she was enough of a du Lac not to jump away when Garnet shrieked like that. And Heloise was clearly not enough of a warrior to keep Lamorak separated from Garnet when they probably heard her screaming in the fraternity house across the way. Nobody who grew up in a house sandwiched between two brothers could possibly mistake the sound of heavy male boots running up a set of stairs.
Lamorak burst through the door. “Garnet –”
“Lamorak!” She launched herself into his arms. “Lamorak!”
“Hush, hush, love,” Lamorak held her, resting her head on his shoulder. “It’s all right. It’s all going to be all right.”
It was strange — Leona never considered herself to be much good at womanly tasks — never saw much of a need for them. She’d always thought that the men who ruled the world apportioned the world’s tasks into two separate camps, the useful and interesting ones, and the necessary but completely uninteresting ones, and handed the latter off to the women, just because they could. Leona had no use for things that were uninteresting.
But then — just then — she wished she was better. Perhaps there was some interest, something more than utility in being able to hold another Sim and somehow take some of their pain away.
Then Leona’s gaze fell on the tall chest of drawers, and she moved closer to it and started grabbing dresses — darker-hued dresses — and laying them out on the bed.
If she couldn’t comfort Garnet in any real, tangible way, then at least she could try to make her life a little easier for her.