“Papa, Papa, wait! You’re running too fast!”
“Come along, Garnet, we’ve got to keep going!”
Somewhere in the waking world, Garnet shuddered, sniffled and turned over. Meanwhile, in the dream world …
Short, stubby legs — legs of a four- or five-year-old — pumped underneath her. Wild grasses whipped and cut her. Meanwhile, her father, the low sunlight glinting off his red hair, danced and ran just out of her reach.
“Keep coming, Garnet!”
“PAPA, I can’t!”
“I know you can! Who’s Papa’s fastest girl?”
“Come along …”
Still running. A branch, a rock — something — caught under her foot —
Sprawling. Whip-like grass blowing back and forth over her skin. Dirt clenched between her fingers.
“Get up, Garnet.”
“Get up, Garnet! Keep coming!”
Garnet’s eyes popped open.
No more summertime meadow. No more running. No more failing to catch up, except for her breath, which somehow still had a bit of catching up to do.
No more Papa, strong and well and young again …
Garnet turned around, her mind still caught in the throes of sleep.
“Mama!” Of course. Of course her mama was here. She’d just had a nightmare. Weren’t mamas supposed to comfort their children after they’d had a nightmares? How many nights had Dindrane sat up with Nimue or —
Fingers as long and sinuous as a snake and white as the freshest snow touched her sleeve. Then they locked around it.
An arm much stronger than she had ever believed it was pulled, dragged Garnet from the bed, and sent her sprawling before two small feet encased in black-dyed slippers. One foot was tapping.
“I said,” came Morgause’s voice from on high, “get. Up.”
And Garnet remembered.
This was her mother.
“What the hell –”
“If you’re going to start screaming, I suggest you get it over with quickly,” came the cutting voice from above. Garnet scrambled to her feet, meaning to snatch her wand, but Morgause leapt in front of it. “And I wouldn’t try that, if I were you.”
Garnet opened her mouth to shriek.
“Oh. Did I mention that I put a sleeping spell on the house? You can scream all you like, Garnet, and they’ll never hear you.”
Garnet’s mouth clacked shut.
“Good girl,” Morgause crooned. “Now. Tell Mommy.” Her eyes narrowed and she hissed, “Where is it?”
“You know. What you stole from me!”
Garnet drew in breath to protest that she had stolen nothing —
“I don’t know how you got in, or moved it — but let me tell you — just because something is left lying on your bed, that does not mean it is yours.” Morgause stepped closer, her breath hissing over Garnet’s face. “I thought I raised you better than that, young lady.”
“You raised me? You never raised me! Papa raised me! The servants raised me! Morgan –”
A flash of white, then an explosion of pain on her cheek. Garnet howled.
Morgause watched her bent over, rubbing her cheek, with scarcely a blink. “Don’t even mention that name to me,” she hissed. “Not tonight. And if I find out that you told her about it, or brought it to her …”
She edged closer, grabbed Garnet’s arm and hauled her upright. “You will wish that I had taken that potion.”
“What — what potion?” Garnet asked stupidly.
“The one that would have rid me of you when the worst you did was cause me a little bit of stomach upset in the mornings.”
The slap had stung more. Garnet didn’t even bother to blink back tears. There were none to blink back. “But you didn’t. And now you’re stuck with me.”
“For how long, though,” Morgause crooned, “depends on you. Now. Where is it, Garnet?”
Her mouth opened. The words that lined up, single file, ready to come out, were simple and sensible: I have no idea what you’re talking about. I haven’t been home since Papa’s funeral. And the only things on my bed then were sheets and blankets. If you’re missing them, I suggest you talk to the maids. I didn’t touch them.
Nothing came out.
“Well?” Morgause asked.
Garnet narrowed her eyes.
“I will never tell you! I’d rather die!”
“That can be arranged,” murmured Morgause.
Garnet barked a laugh. “Oh, please! As if you’d get away with it! I know what Uncle Arthur said to you!”
Morgause caught her breath.
“No more deaths! That’s what he said! Any more deaths and you’d –”
“Be silent, girl! You know not of which you speak!”
Morgause aimed another slap, but Garnet was waking up now, and she was quicker this time. She darted out of the way. “Nice try, but you’ll have to be faster next time!”
“Don’t tempt me,” Morgause snarled, her eyes narrowed as she watched Garnet limber up, ready to run this way or that.
“If you tried anything against me,” Garnet continued, unable to keep back the mad grin, “Uncle Arthur would have your head.”
Snake-like, Morgause bared her fangs. “So it it to be blackmail, then?”
“Why should I blackmail you?” Garnet asked.
Morgause snorted. “Why? Why do you think, stupid girl? You have something. A secret. A secret that could … could make things very unpleasant for me,” Morgause selected. “And I want it back. So. You might think you’re in a position to force some kind of bargain.” Suddenly, she chuckled. “Actually … actually, I wish you would try. That could be amusing.”
Garnet giggled. “Nope!”
“Tonight, my darling daughter,” Morgause growled, “is not the night to play games with me –”
“I’m not playing games!”
And it was the truth! And what a liberating truth! She’d spent her whole life running on a five-year-old’s stumpy legs after her mother. Trying to walk like her, talk like her, be like her. That was why her betrayal with Lamorak had hurt so much. Not because Lamorak was untrue, but because it underlined in red ink just how far Garnet had to go before she could be as beautiful, as alluring as her mother.
And now? Now Garnet could stand straight and look her mother in the eye.
“You see, Mother,” Garnet continued, “I’ve no reason to blackmail you. You’ve got nothing I want.”
Nothing I want. Nothing I want! Now Garnet saw the path her mother trod, and saw it was not one she wanted to follow. Now, in the chancy moonlight, she saw her mother clearly for the first time.
And she wanted no part of it.
Garnet smirked Morgause’s smirk back at her and tossed her heavy curls over her shoulder. Well? How do you like that?
“Not even the love of Lamorak?” Morgause asked, eyebrow lifting slightly.
“You never had that.”
“I had his virginity. You’ll never have that.”
“It’s not the same as his love.”
“Is it?” Morgause asked, her eyebrow lifting and falling again. “Child, do you know so little of magic as all that?”
Garnet’s heart dropped. No — no — Morgan said — Lamorak said —
“He loves me! Not you! Never you!”
“Not so sure now, are you?” Morgause chuckled.
“M–you can’t make love with magic.” Yes. That was what Morgan had said, so many times. Her famous aphrodisiacs notwithstanding, magic, even good magic, could not create love. Magic was stronger than death, sometimes, but it could not create or break love. “Just look at Accolon and me,” Morgan had said hundreds of times.
“You’re still a romantic at heart, aren’t you, Garnet? I tried so hard to stamp that out of you …” Morgause sighed. “But you don’t understand. The sort of love that sends knights questing for years on end to get an apple for their fair lady? The sort of love that keeps fair maidens true no matter how their other suitors might press and plead?”
Morgause leaned closer, and like the rabbit transfixed by the glare of the snake’s unblinking eyes, Garnet could not look away.
“It doesn’t exist. There is only lust — and that, my dear, magic can make any day of the week.”
“You’re wrong!” Garnet shouted, and shoved her away.
Morgause narrowed her eyes. “You know, my dear, all things considered, I’ve been a good mother to you. A very, very good mother.”
She leaned in closer, and once again Garnet could not lean away. “Don’t make me be a bad one.”
“A good mother? When were you a good mother? When you wanted to cast me out of your womb? When you ignored me when I was a baby? When you banished me out of your presence when I was a little girl? When you hounded and humiliated me when I was a maiden? When you –”
“When you lay with Lamorak? When you betrayed me — and Papa? When you made poor Lamorak think he was going crazy and feel so awful and guilty, when all the while he couldn’t help himself? When –”
Morgause’s hand went up again. Garnet watched it, waiting for the right moment to dart away —
It hung in midair.
Then it latched around Garnet’s throat.
“Now, now,” Morgause cooed as Garnet kicked and squirmed. She slammed Garnet against her. “Be a good girl. Hold still.”
Garnet stamped and stomped, trying to to send her heel crashing down on her mother’s instep. Morgause tightened her grip on Garnet’s throat. “Don’t try to hurt Mommy, now,” Morgause laughed. “It will go very ill with you, if you try to hurt Mommy.”
Garnet dug her elbow into Morgause’s middle.
“Oof!” But Morgause did not let go. Once again, her grip on Garnet’s windpipe tightened. Garnet gasped; her feet scrabbled on the furry carpet for purchase enough to get away —
And yet Morgause’s grip grew only tighter —
Black spots danced before Garnet’s eyes —
Then, as suddenly as it tightened, Morgause’s hand, the one on Garnet’s throat, let go. Garnet gasped in air —
And cried out the back of her head slammed into the wardrobe.
“Now, Garnet,” Morgause murmured, “I know you’re confused. I know you’re scared. I know. Mommy knows, you see.” Her knee was shoved between Garnet’s knees, pinning her to the wardrobe by means of her nightgown. Her right hand locked on Garnet’s shoulder and shoved her against the hard wood. And her left hand …
Her left hand stroked Garnet’s hair.
“Mommy,” Morgause whispered, “knows everything. Except for one thing. One little thing you can tell Mommy.”
Morgause leaned forward, her breath softly touching Garnet’s cheek. If Morgause had been a good mother, it would have done that many times before. If she had been a good mother, she would have leaned her cheek against Garnet’s before now — she would have whispered in her ear before now …
“Tell me where it is.”
Garnet closed her eyes. Now a tear chose to escape and trail down her cheek.
“No?” Morgause asked. “Remember, dear, I brought you into this world …”
She leaned close and whispered again. “And I can take you out.”
“I — I don’t care. I won’t tell you.”
“Have it your way,” Morgause shrugged. Then she threw Garnet away from the wardrobe, sending her stumbling toward the bedside table.
The bedside table! Her wand!
“Now,” Morgause murmured, her slanting green eyes transfixing Garnet’s before she could move, “what am I to do with such a … disobedient daughter?”
If perhaps she edged a little to her right, she could —
Morgause grinned. “I know.”
Morgause’s wand flew out of her sleeve. She slashed it in the air, sending green sparks showering over the room. Then she pointed it at Garnet.
She began to spin it, murmuring a spell — green sparks exploded from the tip —
Garnet ran, pausing only to grab her wand in passing.
And the door wasn’t locked! Imagine! Morgause had been in here for who even knew how long, and she hadn’t even thought to lock the door! What a piece of luck was that!
Green light flashed through the corridor, broken only by her shadow. Morgause had cast her spell, cast her spell and missed! Garnet could easily run downstairs to her broom, mount it, and be halfway to Morgan’s before her mother stopped cursing her ill luck —
Whooping, she dove for the stairs —
There was a wall of pure force there. Garnet slammed into it and bounced back. It was half a miracle that she did not lose her wand.
She scrambled to her feet, thinking. She could dematerialize! Yes, why hadn’t she —
She tried. There was a block there, one that smelled like her mother, and hit her with enough force to set her ears ringing.
Garnet forced her mind to stop buzzing and think. She could run into a spare bedroom — there was a tall tree growing just outside the window of the bedroom behind her, she could climb onto one of the branches and down —
But that would leave her vulnerable to anything for far too long —
The door of her bedroom was opening.
Garnet held her wand before her with a shaking hand, mind crowded with every defensive spell she knew —
Her mother did not come out that door.
Something else did.
“Oh, shit,” Garnet whispered. She hated these things —
The servantus was invisible. It should have been incorporeal, too, but unfortunately it was all too solid. But all the same … something that had no mouth should not have been able to grin at her.
Garnet backed away, wand arm out. “Servant–servantus ban–”
The servantus pounced.
The last thing Garnet heard before her universe exploded into pain was her mother calling out, “Mind that you don’t hit her anywhere it will show!”
The servantus didn’t. But everywhere else — every place that would be covered by a gown?
That was all fair game.
Garnet screeched as blows rained down on her from all sides at once. Her back, her stomach, her knee kicked out from beneath her — the tops of her thighs pinched and the skin twisted — sensitive spots she didn’t know she had suddenly exploding in pain.
Though she struggled and punched and kicked, somehow — even when the force of a blow was falling on her — she could never get a purchase or make contact with anything that could get this thing off of her —
Until she felt a kick to her rear, and she went sprawling, splay-legged on the ground before her mother.
And her mother was laughing.
“Oh, well done, my pretty, well done!” Morgause crowed. Garnet felt a faint breeze behind her, presumably the — creature — bowing to its mistress. “She’ll be feeling that in the morning, won’t she?”
If the daggers thrown by an eye could be as powerful as a spell … Morgause would have lain dead at her feet as Garnet struggled to stand. Morgause saw this, and laughed.
“Oh, go now, my pretty,” she said to the servantus. “Go and rest. I daresay I’ll have need of you ere long. I don’t think this one has learned her lesson yet.”
An invisible hand grabbed Garnet’s hair and snapped her head back. Garnet whimpered in spite of herself.
“No, no, not now. Later. It always hurts worse in the morning, you know.” Morgause let her teeth flash white in the moonlight in some horrible imitation of a smile. “Let’s have her experience that first, shall we?”
The hand let go, Garnet’s head fell forward, and then — nothing. Or rather, a sense of nothing at her back. The servantus must have vanished.
“Well?” Morgause asked, stepping closer. “Are you ready to be reasonable?”
Morgause sighed. “I thought as much. Tell you what … I’ll give you a week.” She smiled. “One week ought to be plenty of time to get over the worst of the bruising, shouldn’t it? And to begin to heal. And after you’ve started that … well, you’d hate to have to go through all of this again, wouldn’t you?”
She stepped toward the stairs and waved her hand. Garnet knew without having to touch that the walls of force were gone. Figured.
“I’ll see you in a week, darling. I hope you’ll have some answers for me by then.” Then Morgause tapped herself once with her wand, and slowly began to vanish before Garnet’s eyes.
As Morgause went, two thoughts surfaced uppermost in Garnet’s mind:
One was how, before she went to bed again — before her bruises had time to seize up and leave her in agony — she would ward this house so well that if her mother came within fifty yards, the wards would set off such a din that the whole campus would be up and running, thinking there was a fire.
And the second was a mental vow to find whatever it was that Morgause had lost, whatever it was that made her so panicked — and give it, whatever it was, to to the King.