Oh, for heaven’s sake, Heloise thought, shaking her head. There has to be a better way to spend a day. Just because Garnet’s mother went and got herself arrested does not mean we all have to give up our day to stand around Garnet and try to make her feel better!
It would be one thing if something had happened to Leona’s mother or to Clarice’s. Then there might be a point in all this attempted comfort. Leona or Clarice would have at least known how to respond if Sims took time out of their study schedules to say some worn platitudes to her. Neither of them would have just sat there, every bit as lifeless as the proverbial lump on the log, and every bit as rough around the edges and uncomfortable to be around, let alone sat on.
And besides, if it was Leona or Clarice, whoever’s mother wasn’t affected would know exactly what to say to the other one to make her feel better. They wouldn’t both be sitting on either side of the affected girl and sending out attempts at conversation that floated a bit, like smoke from a warm home hearth, but dispersed at the first cold breeze that Garnet’s stony silence.
“Garnet,” Clarice was saying with the gentle tone Heloise’s own mother was always trotting out around Josh, even these days. Heloise hated that tone. “Garnet, maybe it isn’t … isn’t as bad as it looks.”
“She’s accused of kidnapping and attempted murder,” Garnet replied dully.
“But nothing’s been proven yet!” Leona answered.
Garnet a hard, barely-blinking gaze onto Leona. “Yes, and whose brother is it who is trying his best to change that particular fact?”
“She can’t help that.”
Garnet snorted. “Well, you would know about not being able to help the brother you have, Clarice.”
“Hey, don’t start on her with that!”
Garnet’s head swiveled, slow and sure as an owl’s, to turn that disconcerting glare back onto Leona. “Are you telling me that you — you — are defending Elyan, Leona?”
“Well, she was defending your mother a minute ago,” Heloise pointed out, “and as far as I can tell, Elyan never tried to kill a four-year-old and boil him for perfume.”
“Excuse me?” Garnet hissed.
Heloise left her post by the fireplace and sauntered up to the couch and the other girls. “Well, that’s what she’s accused of doing, isn’t it? I mean, once you sweep away the legalese. She tried to kill a little kid to make herself more pretty. But don’t worry. It’s not like any thinking Sim would blame you for it.”
“Absolutely. Heloise is quite right,” Clarice started. “Nobody –”
But Heloise wasn’t done speaking yet. “Really, it’s the system that’s to blame.”
Clarice’s precious pretty lips parted. Garnet narrowed her eyes. Leona looked between the three other girls. “All right, I give up,” she said, even as the other two noble girls continued to stare in shock. “I’m going to regret this, but … what system?”
“The system. The one that runs the whole world!”
“L-Lord Wright?” Clarice asked.
“No, not Him. The system that the Sims made. The one that says that people who have the right ancestors can do whatever they want, while the rest of us poor schmucks have to do what those Sims want. And then you exacerbate matters by deciding that the ‘right’ ancestors have to be people who are only distinguishable from mass murderers in who they kill and how they kill them.”
“Exacerbate what?” Leona asked.
“Matters. Or to be more specific, the chances that a homicidal maniac like Garnet’s mother will work her way out of the woodwork.”
“I beg your pardon?” Garnet hissed.
“Well, she’s killed one person and did her damnedest to kill another, didn’t she?” Heloise replied. “And we don’t know who else she might have gone after.”
Garnet flinched and looked away.
“But like I said, it’s hardly your fault that your mother turned out that way. Or even your mother’s fault. Like I said, it’s the system. Professor Baxter and I were talking about it just the other day.”
“… You willingly spoke to Backstabber?” Leona gasped.
Heloise glared. “He is not a backstabber. He’s brilliant. Anyway. We were talking about the Mysimaeans.”
“And who, O Wise Heloise, were they?” Garnet simpered.
“Good Lord, don’t you know your history? They were the ancient inhabitants of Mysimae.”
“Ah! Ancient inhabitants of Mysimae. That clears everything up,” Garnet scoffed, rolling her eyes.
“Garnet …” Clarice murmured.
Even Heloise couldn’t miss Garnet’s sarcasm, though she was more than happy to ignore Clarice’s attempt to soothe. “For heaven’s sake, it’s a city in the Reman Empire. One of the … well, not one of the first they conquered. They went for smaller, easier fry first. But they were a powerful neighbor, and the Remans based their res publica off of the Mysimaean’s demokratia.”
“Heloise, what in the seven levels of hell ever led you to believe that I would know or care a damn thing about the Remans or whoever they happened to conquer?”
“I’d think someone with half as big a head as you would want to fill the space inside with something other than fluff. I mean, look at just Clarice and Leona! They don’t have big heads, yet theirs are filled with so many useful things.”
“Heloise, really, I think that’s enough,” Leona tried to interpose.
Garnet ignored her. “Usefulness is in the eye of the beholder.”
“I’ll believe that if you can tell me one useful residing thing in that big head of yours.”
“How about the spell to turn you into a toad?”
“Garnet!” Clarice gasped.
“That doesn’t count. That’s a survival skill. Even the biggest, emptiest noble heads have them.”
“Survival?” Garnet hissed.
“Well, any fool can see that you have a worse relationship with your mother than I have with mine, and that’s saying something. Because you see, even though sometimes I despair of my mother having the brains necessary to light a candle, I happen to love her. If something like this had happened to her, I wouldn’t be sitting here, doing nothing. I’d be back home — pardon my Gaulish, ladies — raising hell. And yet you are not. Which says to me that you don’t love her very much.”
“Heloise! That can’t be true!” Leona gasped, trying to lay a hand on Garnet’s shoulder. Garnet shook her off.
“Your point?” Garnet hissed.
“I’m right, aren’t I?” Heloise preened.
“I repeat — your point?”
“Well, Garnet, like I said, you have a big head. Nine times out of ten, if somebody decides that you’re anything less than perfect, you decide that they’re beneath your notice. And whenever you speak of your mother … well. All I hear is pure venom.”
“I repeat,” Garnet repeated, some of that venom slithering into her voice, “your point?”
“Your ‘love’ for your mother has gone out clear the other end, into its opposite. Hatred.”
“Heloise!” Clarice gasped. Leona didn’t say anything, but her mouth did gape like a beached fish’s.
Garnet, however, didn’t even flinch.
“And from everything I hear of Lady Morgause … well, how do you think she’d react to being hated?”
Clarice and Leona’s sudden increase in paleness told Heloise everything she wanted to know. “Precisely. Ergo, if Garnet knows how to turn someone into a toad … that’s survival.”
“Your point?” Garnet hissed again.
“My point is –” The door creaked open and Heloise glanced over her shoulder to see a pair of broad shoulders and an unusually large chest squeezing through an opening that should have been far too small.
“Oh, thank the Lord!” Leona sighed.
“Praise St. Robert!” Clarice added.
Garnet seemed not to react at all.
And Heloise … Heloise raised her eyebrow. “Prince Kay?”
“Hallo, ladies,” he said with that grin that he clearly thought was so disarming and charming. Unfortunately for Heloise, most of the ladies seemed to agree with the Prince’s assessment of his own grin. “Ah, there’s Garnet! Glad to see you ladies are all working so hard to cheer her up. Why, she’s smiling like her old self!”
He really is thick, isn’t he? Heloise thought, not even seeing the smiles Clarice and Leona had to bite back.
“How are you, Garnet?” the Prince asked, folding his hands together in that way he no doubt thought was so winning.
Garnet only shrugged. “Been better.”
“Aye, I’m sure you have,” Kay replied with something like seriousness. But the Prince didn’t seem to have a serious bone in his body — unlike his brother, whose jokes and offhand remarks were sometimes edged with a sharpness that seemed to belie his jesting exterior — so it must have been something else. “But it might not be as bad as it looks.”
To anyone else, Garnet would have pointed out that things could very well be worse than they now appeared. To Kay, she only snorted.
“… Garnet, the boy’s still alive. There’s always that to remember.”
“It only makes things worse for my mother. He can say it was her.” Garnet did not add, if it was her.
“It might make them better, too,” Kay pointed out, though how he was going to beat Garnet’s logic, Heloise had no idea. “With Father …”
Garnet only looked away.
“But! Enough of this nonsense. I think, ladies, that I have a suggestion that might turn some of those glum faces into merry ones. I suggest …” He paused as if in anticipation. “A night out!”
A night out? He thinks that’ll make things better?
“You see, tonight’s the opening night for the Mercantilism majors’ play on the Life of St. Goneril. The playbill says it’ll be an inspiring and uplifting tale of faith. And coming from the Merc majors, we know what that means.”
Leona sniggered. “Remember how The Simspanish Tragedy went?” she murmured, nudging Garnet.
Heloise remembered. The laughter on opening — and closing, as it so turned out — night had been audible as far away as the library.
“So … if we’re going to see their latest foray into theatrical brilliance, I think we had best go on opening night. In case another tragedy strikes, like last year.” Kay batted his eyelashes at Garnet. If he had the least idea how much he looked like an idiot girl — such as, say, Babette — trying to attract an equally idiotic boy, Heloise was sure he would have crawled into the ground and died.
Garnet, however, seemed to see the humor in his oblivious ridiculousness, for she sat up with a smile. “Or a comedy — like last year.”
“Indeed,” Kay grinned. “And after the show, we can go to the Lion and Llama and get into some trouble.”
“Trouble? Us?” Garnet gasped.
“I know, you wouldn’t believe it …”
“Right.” Heloise couldn’t imagine why the thought of going to a play that was sure to be bad, and then to a dirty, noisy, smelly pub would make Garnet grin like that. But it did. “I think that sounds like a plan.”
“I thought so too,” Kay smirked. “So, we’ll see you all around seven?”
Wait — ALL?
Wright damn it, Heloise thought as she stared into the flames, he really did mean all.
It wasn’t that Heloise begrudged Garnet, Leona and Clarice — or even the frat boys — a night’s entertainment. Quite the opposite, in fact. Every night that her sorority sisters spent entertaining themselves gave her a nice, quiet house to study in. And it put her that much more ahead of them in their studies. She just objected to being dragged along.
First there was the play. It was exactly what you would expect of a piece of drama written by Sims who were far more comfortable with the numbers on a balance sheet than the words on a page and performed by those who cried crocodile tears readily but real tears only seldom. It was, in other words, awful. And her fellow countrymen and -women knew this.
But why were they so amused by it? Even Clarice and Freddy, who were sweethearts in more than one sense of the word, eventually lost themselves so much as to be screaming with laughter and having to hold onto each other to keep from falling over. Heloise wished Galahad had been there. He certainly would have understood —
“If we were to have a brandy every time Aglovale won a hand, how long do you think it would be until we were completely drunk?”
In the meantime, Heloise realized as she pushed herself into a sitting position, his sister would have to do.
“For you … two brandies.”
“And for you?”
“I’d stop drinking after you were far gone enough to stop caring.”
Leona sighed. “You’re no fun, Heloise.” But it was a teasing sigh. Indulgent. Affectionate. How was it that Leona could be so fearsome at times, and so playful at others?
Heloise turned back to the fire. “I fail to see what is ‘fun’ about drinking oneself into silliness or a stupor, and then into a headache the next day.”
“Well, the headache isn’t much fun,” Leona agreed. “But no matter what you’re doing, if you’re doing it drunk, it’s that much more fun!”
“Even puking and passing out?”
“I rest my case.”
Leona glanced over her shoulder. “The drinks Kay got for Garnet seem to be helping her …”
Heloise looked over her shoulder. Garnet certainly seemed about ten times more voluble than she was on an average night. And probably about twenty times happier than Heloise would have expected this afternoon.
“She’s lucky,” Heloise murmured without quite realizing it.
Heloise started, only to see Leona smiling at her with that unnervingly frank grin. Heloise looked away. “Not — not everybody who feels bad when they start drinking feels better midway into it.”
She peeked to the side through her lashes — but even with that half-glance, Leona’s expression of mild interest and mute sympathy was impossible to miss.
Heloise didn’t have to say anything she didn’t want to say. Leona was a noblewoman and a lady, but by that token even she was too polite to press if Heloise didn’t want to talk. She should just sit quietly, her hands on her lap, stare into the fire, and wait for Leona to change the subject.
She didn’t. “Josh,” Heloise finally spat. She even looked at Leona, to make it abundantly clear how this conversation would not be continuing. “The night Isabel … his wife was buried. We thought he’d gone to bed, but I found him in Fa–my father’s study with a half-empty bottle of whiskey, sobbing like a baby.”
“Oh, Heloise! I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“Hear what?” Heloise snapped. “You already knew about Isabel. And you’re bright enough, I think, to realize that even though you don’t seem to like your betrothed, it’s not the same for other Sims.”
“Heloise …” Leona sighed. “I can’t … it must have been hard, finding your big brother like that, mustn’t it? I can’t imagine — I mean, Wright forbid — but if Will …”
Was Leona trying to cast herself into the starring role of this drama? How rude. Heloise looked away. “Yes, well, it wasn’t your brother, so you might as well be grateful for that.”
Listening to Leona would get her nowhere. Heloise fixed her gaze onto the fire and willed her attention to the boys and their cards behind her.
But even though Heloise did not have much fondness for proverbial wisdom, she was forced, in that moment, to admit a certain wisdom in those proverbs that pontificated about the fate of eavesdroppers. “Say, Aglovale,” asked one of the players, “you’re from Albion, aren’t you?”
“Aye …” Aglovale replied.
“Is it true what they’re saying about it?” Heloise heard something like a stack of chips slowly falling one on top of the other. “I mean, what they’re saying about the King having his own sister arrested?”
Aglovale was silent for a moment. Then he admitted, “Lady Morgause was arrested, yes.”
“And is it true what they’re saying she was arrested for?” the player pressed.
“What are they saying?”
“That she tried to kidnapped a gypsy boy and was going to feed him to her demon benefactors.”
“… She was accused of kidnapping a gypsy boy, and trying to kill him, aye.”
“And she was arrested? Good Lord! Your King really does have things back-asswards, doesn’t he?” laughed the player. “First he makes magic legal, then the first person he arrests for using it ‘wrongly’ is his own sister! Good Lord! And the child she kidnapped was a gypsy boy, no less!”
Heloise thought of Garnet, of the Princess, of Dannie’s little brother George. All of them had magic, but Heloise couldn’t imagine any of them — even Garnet! — doing what Lady Morgause was accused of doing. Should she say something? No, that would be …
… unnecessary. “‘Scuse me a moment, Garnet,” Heloise heard Kay say, “I’ve got a bit of business to take care of.”
If Heloise had any half-formed idea that Kay’s business could be something as innocent as a pretty girl to flirt with, or a drink to get, or even a quick stop in the privy, it was quickly dispelled. “Sir?” Kay asked from somewhere behind Heloise. “Care to say that again?”
Heloise couldn’t help it. Now, she had to look.
She saw the red-haired player look up and point to himself. “Are you speaking to me?”
“Aye, I am.”
“Sir Cavalon,” Aglovale hissed, “I really wouldn’t –”
Sir Cavalon, if that was the red-haired knight, stood up. “The King of Albion is running his kingdom in the most back-asswards way I can imagine. First he makes witchcraft legal. Then he’s surprised when the witches do horrific things while under the sway of those vile demons. And to top it off, instead of starting his crackdown with the mere peddling magicians on the bottom and working his way up, he arrests his own sister for kidnapping a gypsy child! Now, sir, have you anything to say to that?”
“Yes,” Kay replied with an enormous grin. “I don’t appreciate you calling my father ‘back-asswards.'”
Oh, Heloise was glad she was looking! The look on Sir Cavalon’s face made her wish for a painter of instant portraits, if only to capture that image for posterity.
Then he smiled and stuck his chest out. “My apologies, good sir. I wasn’t aware that the King of Albion had any illegitimate sons at Camford at this time.”
“He doesn’t,” Kay replied with his usual puppy-dog. “At least, none that I’m aware of.”
“A bastard without bastards? Impossible.”
Then Kay’s eyes narrowed. “Take that back.”
“No. Your King and father is a bastard, both in the technical and in the non-technical –”
Kay’s fist flew out and hit the knight in the chain-maille-encrusted stomach. The knight, perhaps more out of surprise than pain, staggered back. “Take that back!”
“WOO! KAY!” Garnet cheered.
“Kay!” Aglovale gasped.
The knight rubbed his stomach one more time before he slowly unbent and stood upright. “There’s a reason, sirrah, why such blows are called sucker punches.”
“Aye, because only suckers find themselves in a position to receive them!”
“Is that what you call me, sirrah? Why, I’ll –” He started forward —
And before Heloise could blink, the knight was bouncing arse-first onto the ground.
“And if you want to stop being a sucker, sir,” Kay called out, “I suggest you refrain from insulting the royal house of Albion in front of its prince!