Everyone was looking at her.
It was something Garnet knew, instinctively, as she tried to focus on the pages of the book in before her. It didn’t matter that most of them were so busily staring at their notes or their books whenever she dared to look up. They were all, the minute she looked down again, going to begin staring at her again.
They all knew.
Of that there was no doubt in Garnet’s mind. The whole campus had been buzzing with the news since the King’s courier had ridden up to the fraternity house, sealed letter containing the verdict and sentence in hand. It didn’t matter that Kay had read it, left and hurried to break the news to her gently, before somebody else could do so less gently. It didn’t matter that Kay had ordered to the courier to keep his news to himself until after Kay got back. News like that came into the campus as surely as the dust from the courtier’s boots did. He only had to set foot beyond the gates for everybody to know.
But nobody would say anything about it. At least — not to her face.
Behind her back … there were whispers, and stares, and rumors, and fear. She knew it. She knew it because all conversation ceased whenever she entered a classroom. She knew it from the silent stares that stalked her all over campus. Couldn’t somebody just call her the daughter of a baby-killer and get it over with? Then she could be angry …
It would be nice to be angry. Or it would be nice to have a deserving target for all the anger that had been bubbling inside of her for months — for years, really. Because even though she wanted to yell and scream and snap at somebody, she couldn’t do it to Leona or Clarice, who were the only ones still talking to her at this point. (Heloise wasn’t talking to her much, but Heloise generally never did talk to the peons if she could avoid it.) They would be hurt. And they’d say they weren’t hurt, that it was understandable, that —
That girl, the one in the dusty purple, was staring at her.
Her heart pounding, Garnet forced herself to turn back to her book. Under her breath she whispered a spell to heighten her senses — sight, hearing, even touch and taste and smell. She used to think it was unbearable, the way everything assailed her at once — the rustlings of cloth that turned into ocean roars, the candles that became miniature suns, the bad smells that became nauseating and the good ones that became cloying — but now? Now it was her defense.
If anybody said anything — if anybody even thought of trying anything — she would be ready.
Because at the end of the day, even if she was a noblewoman, a King’s niece, she was still a witch. Camford was crowded with the nobility of Glasonland and Reme. Glasonland wasn’t as rabidly anti-witch as Reme, probably because there had been an uneasy alliance between those with magical power and those with temporal power that dated back to before St. Robert had arrived. But even in Glasonland, there were Rules. Witches could be left alone if they were well-born, if they were discreet, and — this was most important of all — if they behaved.
Morgause hadn’t behaved. And true to her form, she was leaving Garnet to deal with the consequences. Garnet let the hatred burn raw and red at that thought. She always let the hatred burn as hot and long as it could. Because if she couldn’t hate Morgause …
The girl was getting up.
Garnet found herself praying — which she usually didn’t do when she was working magic, just in case — that she just needed to get another book, go to her next class, grab a bite to eat. Because even when she wished that somebody would call her mother a baby-killer and be done with it, she never wanted it to happen in public. Or at least, not when she was by herself — or with only another girl. If Kay — or even Aglovale or Frederick — was around, that would be another matter. They could defend her, chase the tormenters away. She couldn’t defend herself, if it came to that.
Or she could — but she would need magic. And the Lord knew she didn’t want to know what would happen if the daughter of a witch baby-killer used magic on a good and faithful Wrightian within the very bounds of Camford.
The girl was walking behind Garnet — but not to the bookshelf — to a young man sitting to the right of Leona. She tapped him on the shoulder and half-pulled him to his feet.
Garnet stopped pretending to read and watched.
“Garnet?” Leona hissed. “What’s wrong?”
The words pounded against the poor heated metal of her skull, but Garnet ignored them. She concentrated on the whispering couple.
Maybe they were betrothed — bedfellows — deadly enemies about to kill each other, Garnet didn’t care, just as long as they weren’t talking about her.
But the problem with her spell was, though it heightened all the senses, it didn’t always make the interpretation of what they told her any easier. A heightened whisper in a big room full of the turning of vellum pages, quills scratching against parchment, scraping of chairs, and the dropping of books wasn’t any easier to pick out than a soft whisper in a big room full of the turning of vellum pages, quills scratching against parchment, scraping of chairs, dropping of books. Unfortunately for Garnet, she’d not yet mastered the skill of blocking the rest out to concentrate on what she wanted to know.
They were laughing!
Every last braying guffaw was a dagger sharpened to pierce Garnet’s ears. If she’d been thinking, perhaps, a bit more clearly, she would have wondered what about her story, her history, was so damn funny. As it was, all she could see was the boy casting a sidelong glance at her —
And her mind was made up.
She jumped up from the chair, the laces of her dress, usually comfortable enough, cutting into her skin with the unexpected movement. Or maybe that was just the spell. Certainly what ought to be an innocent scrape of wood as she pushed the chair in turned into an unholy demon’s scream. Garnet swore below her breath and took the spell off.
She had, after all, heard quite enough.
“Garnet? What is it?” asked Leona.
Garnet lacked the courage to look around and see if anybody had caught her name and begun to stare. There weren’t too many “Garnets” around, after all. Most mothers didn’t name their only daughters after jewels, inanimate things. Most mothers named their only daughters for other Sims.
But even if she wanted to run out from the library to the nearest deserted field, summon her broom and fly until she fell off, Garnet was a lady. Ladies were polite. They put their books away, they straightened their notes — well, Garnet would have straightened her notes if she had had any — they blew out the candle and put the lid back on the inkpot. They certainly did not run out of the library as if the very cow demons of hell were chasing after them.
Or at least — they didn’t run until after they were safely out of the library doors.
“Garnet! Wait up!”
That was probably Garnet’s mistake.
She could have kept going, but the trouble with that was that Leona on her worst day was faster than Garnet was on her best day. And even if Leona couldn’t tell a fashionable gown from a hole in the ground, she knew how to dress so she could move. Garnet’s vanity put mobility slightly lower down on the list of priorities than, say, looking good. So, in the end, it was easier to stop and face the inevitable than to continue to run from it.
At any rate, she’d be less out of breath.
“What?” she snapped.
Leona didn’t rise to the bait. It never failed to amaze Garnet how the girl who could always be relied upon to try to pound Elyan into the dust if he said the least little thing could be so patient with her. “Is something the matter?” she asked, sounding almost … concerned.
Then again, Leona probably was concerned. It was one of her more irksome traits. Couldn’t she — couldn’t they all — see that all Garnet wanted was to be left alone?
No. No, maybe being left alone wasn’t what she wanted. But it was better than what the other girls saw as the alternative: forcing Garnet to talk. They’d never understand, so Garnet didn’t want to bother.
But in the meantime, Leona had to have some kind of answer, otherwise she would continue to stand there like a kicked puppy that nonetheless whined for a pat.
So Garnet looked around for listeners, and seeing one, leaned closer and hissed, “In case you’ve forgotten, my father’s not been — gone a year, and a week ago my mother was sentenced to death for trying to kidnap some poor kid and turn him into skin lotion. So, goodness, do you think something’s the matter?”
Leona only blinked. “You’re finally admitting it?”
Son of a bitch! She’d done her best never to bring it up. Hell, she hadn’t even told the girls; Kay had. She tossed her heavy curls over a shoulder. “Yes. I’m admitting it.”
“Would you to talk about it?”
“No!” Garnet hissed. “For the love of Wright –”
She wanted to snarl that even dim Leona couldn’t be so dense as to notice how carefully she had avoided mentioning so much as a word of what was happening. She wanted to shout that the first person she would want to speak to — assuming she wanted to speak at all — could hardly be the sister of the man who had prosecuted her and the daughter of one of the jury members who found her guilty. Above all she wanted to scream the only words that might win her some peace — leave me alone!
But Leona was standing there, looking so mild and patient and ready to listen, so unlike her normal self. In that moment, she didn’t even rate as feline, let alone leonine.
Garnet sighed and surveyed her nails, taking refuge in haughtiness when honesty just wouldn’t do. “No. I don’t think it would be proper.”
“You know what?” Leona asked, apparently not even listening. “I think you could use a walk.”
“Come on, you’re not Heloise, who seems to think that any energy she uses working her legs will make her brain shrivel up and die. Or something. You want to keep that nice, girlish figure, don’t you?” Leona wheedled.
Witches did generally like to keep their nice, girlish figures — who didn’t? (well, other than men) — but witches didn’t have to resort to nonsense like walks and jogs and exercise in order to do it. Garnet’s lips parted to say as much —
“Come on,” Leona said, grabbing her arm and pulling her forward. “Let’s at least get away from the main entrance.”
And so the lion came out. For no Garnet had no more hope of escaping that grip — without magic, at least — than the gazelle had of escaping the lioness’s jaws. She followed.
“We’re just walking around the side of the building,” she growled as their destination became more and more apparent.
“It’s not the front entrance.”
“It’s right next to the street. I fail to see how it is in any way significantly different.
“Not as many people.”
“Aye, not as much of an avenue to escape, either.”
Leona’s nose wrinkled as she turned to Garnet. “… Anybody could hop the fence.”
“You could. I couldn’t.”
“Sure you could. You could probably just sit on it and swing your legs over –”
“Leona!” Garnet snapped, grabbing Leona and spinning her around to face her. Then she put her hands on her hips “I’m a normal girl, in case you haven’t noticed! I can’t do those things you can do!”
Leona only smiled, glancing sidelong at Garnet’s arms. “Most girls couldn’t have done that.”
“Move me when I didn’t want to be moved.”
Garnet started to tremble.
“I’m serious,” Leona continued. “Watch Heloise or Clarice try it sometime. I won’t move. You, my darling girl, are stronger than you–”
“Don’t call me that!”
It was stupid — so stupid — to say that. Stupid and unnecessarily hurtful, as Garnet realized when Leona gasped and started backwards. Because Leona didn’t even call her “my darling girl” as Morgause would have. Leona’s words tripped gaily off her tongue and sounded more like a peasant flirting with his girl than Morgause’s drawling croon. Leona, Leona couldn’t croon even if you gave her an instruction manual and a private tutor to show her how to do it.
Leona’s big brown eyes were blinking at her, something watery shining suspiciously from their depths. Garnet looked away. “She used to call me … things like that.”
“Oh,” Leona murmured. “Oh, Garnet, I’m sorry –”
“Don’t bother. She never meant it.”
Leona only raised her eyebrows, a mute invitation to continue.
A mute invitation that Garnet had no desire to take. “For the love of Wright! You’ve met her! Can you honestly believe that she ever called someone ‘darling’ or ‘dear’ or anything else and meant it?”
“Well, maybe she did–does lay the pet names on a bit thick …”
Garnet could stop there. She could just let Leona think that. Maybe then, this conversation would finally be over and she could go home and hide in her bedchamber.
“… but she had to have meant them sometimes.”
Garnet forced herself to only roll her eyes, because if she said anything —
“I know you didn’t always get along with her, Garnet, but she’s your mother. She must love you. She must have been happy to finally have a little girl. My own mother …”
Lord, preserve me from having to listen to this! Was Leona really enough of a fool to think that Morgause and Guinevere had anything in common when it came to mothering? All right, so maybe both of them had three children, two boys and a girl, but there the similarities ended.
“… must have wanted an ally against all those darn boys –”
“Are you joking?” Garnet spat. “Have you even met my mother?”
“Of course –”
“Then if you’d been paying the least bit of attention, you might have noticed that she hates other women. We’re not allies. We’re competition,” Garnet spat.
Leona smiled a little ruefully. “Well, I guess I never really rated as another woman, then.”
No. No, Leona wouldn’t. Any girl who would come back twice as mud-splattered as the boys, who had good features but lacked a clue of how to use them, who wore gowns loose enough to attempt athletic feats in, or that only showed her figure to be spare and athletic, would not be competition for Morgause. And thus she would be beneath her notice.
Garnet’s stomach turned as those thoughts followed, one after the other, in neat marching orders. How was it that she could understand that — that bitch’s thoughts so well? Was she really that bad herself?
“But you’re her daughter,” Leona pressed. “You wouldn’t have been competition! You’d be — you’d be — the heir apparent! The one she taught all her tricks to, so when she couldn’t use them anymore–”
“Your brother prosecuted the damn case. Do you really believe that?”
Leona blinked. “But, surely –”
“She never intended to get old. She never intended to die. She was going to make herself a never-ending supply of Elixir of Life. You don’t need an heir if you’re not going to die.”
“She can’t have possibly thought that always –”
“She never wanted to get old and wrinkly and dead. Don’t you get it? She didn’t want an heir! She wanted to be — the one and only!”
“But you’re her daughter. Of course she –”
“She hates me!” Garnet spat.
The words echoed across the quiet campus. Garnet half-expected heads to poke out of doors, for sashes to go up and bodies half hang out. Surely — surely everyone would want to hear, wouldn’t they?
It wasn’t that Garnet hadn’t said them before. After the age of twelve or so, she could be counted upon to say them once a week, at least. But … but she’d never really meant them before. They’d be the reflexive cry of a child who wasn’t getting what she wanted. Somewhere, down in her soul, she’d been sure that her mother loved her, really.
And then there had been Lamorak. And then there had been her mother’s automatic assumption that she’d been the one to spirit the little boy away. And her mother had barged into her room in the middle of the night, claiming to have been a good mother and swearing that Garnet didn’t want to see her be a bad one.
“She despises me, all right? I’m surprised she didn’t kill me! And you know what? If she’d succeeded — if she had managed to get her experiments with that poor kid to work — do you know who would have been next? Me!”
She waited for Leona to protest, to assure her that that couldn’t possibly be so. That a mother could never harm her own daughter. Clarice would have protested. Heloise would have protested. Jessie or Lynn or even Dannie would have protested. Morgan would have found a way to protest, too, even if she had to lie to do it.
Leona didn’t protest. She just asked a question: “Why do you think you would be next?”
“… Because she hates me,” Garnet whimpered. Because I stand between her and Lamorak. Because she as good as told me that night that she could take me out of this world. Because I’m the only one who knew enough to expose her!
“She tried to kill me that night!” Garnet shrieked. “The night she found the little boy missing! She thought I took him! The only reason she didn’t kill me was because she wanted him back and thought I was the only one who could bring him back to her!”
And again Leona didn’t protest. She only gasped.
So she — believed it.
And Garnet realized that what she wanted to hear was the protest. The refusal to believe. The instinctual, “No!” But if Leona believed …
Then that meant there was someone else, other than Morgause, who could see how Garnet was so broken and ill-formed that her own mother could hate her and try to kill her.
Garnet turned around and tried to hurry away.
“Garnet?” Leona murmured.
“Have you … told anybody else about this?”
“Just Morgan,” she murmured. She hadn’t told Morgan all the details, either — just enough to figure out what Morgause after. And she’d never told Morgan her own conclusion, that if Morgause succeeded in milking the Elixir of Life from a little boy, that she herself would be next.
“Well, what did she say?”
“She just … she just told me that she wouldn’t let her hurt me.” But it was too late for that. The bruises she’d gotten from the servantus were nothing. Those healed. The other scars Morgause had left her with would be red and raw for the rest of her life.
Garnet felt her lips start to tremble. Then she heard soft slippers padding on the grass as Leona came up to her. A hesitant arm came over her shoulder.
Garnet burst into tears. “What the hell is wrong with me?” she gasped. “My own mother hates me enough to want me dead!”
“Oh, Garnet, sweetie,” Leona murmured, “there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re all right. Everything that’s wrong, it’s wrong with her.”
But how could the daughter of a mother like that ever be all right?