“But Grandpapa, why won’t the baby come now?”
How ironic, thought Pellinore, smiling at his granddaughter, that the youth, who had all the time in the world, should have so little patience while the aged had so much. It could not just be the wisdom of experience. Mere experience was never quite that wise.
“The baby will come when the baby is ready to come,” Pellinore replied as calmly as he could. He had thought waiting on news of one’s daughter’s labor was difficult when he could not be there, on the spot, to wait for it. It was nothing compared to its difficulty when she was only a floor or so above his head. He hoped his anxiety would not be perceptible to Nimue, even though he knew he had never been able to hide his anxiety from Dindrane, Lamorak and even Aglovale.
Nimue sniffed, and Pellinore braced himself. For what he did not know at first – and then he realized what he was waiting for. He was waiting for Nimue to appeal to a different authority. His granddaughter had all of her mother’s brains and had realized very quickly that this house of doting grandparents and aunts and uncle contained many adults who could be played off each other to gain what she wanted. It was adorable, when it wasn’t utterly infuriating. At least Dilys, Delyth and Lamorak had been forbidden to offer candy before noon.
But that appeal never came, and Pellinore almost gulped when he realized why. It was because the only other adult in the room was Mordred.
He glanced sidelong at his son-in-law – still his son-in-law, technically – and wondered. Did it bother Mordred that his eldest daughter was pestering, pestering, pestering Pellinore but had barely addressed a word to her father other than a dutiful greeting when he appeared? It would have broken Pellinore’s heart to see Dindrane act so … at least, act so with a grandfather whom she saw every day, while she only saw Pellinore once or twice a week.
But what could Pellinore do? Sympathy aside, there was no denying that his nerves were twice as raw thanks to Mordred’s presence. The tremor in his own voice when he had asked – begged, rather – Lady Morgan to attend the birth told him how little he trusted his son-in-law. If things between his daughter and her husband had been as they should, Pellinore might have steered Nimue to Mordred with some of her questions. Then again, if things had been as they should, Mordred may have only been too happy to let Pellinore take the brunt of keeping Nimue occupied, as Pellinore himself had been only too happy when Lamorak and Dilys suggested taking Gawaine out for a ride.
“But why does it take so long, Grandpapa?” Nimue wheedled.
Pellinore hesitated and was glad for the chance. Such a normal thing to hesitate over, how much to explain to a small child! And over such a comparatively innocent topic, too. At least, in comparison to some of the other things he and the other adults had been struggling to explain to Nimue of late. “Well …”
He saw Mordred sit up, something in his eyes – amusement? This was his own daughter to whom Pellinore could possibly be revealing too much, too soon, and he was amused? But perhaps Mordred was only amused in the way in which all adults were amused when one of them was asked an impossible question by a young child. Oh yes, said the look in his eyes, and how do you plan to get out of this one? It was closely followed by a dose of, Better you than I!
However, Pellinore was about to have his own stroke of luck and perhaps amusement. The butler poked his head into the door of the sitting room. “I beg your pardon, m’lord, but Goodman Brogan – er, Goodman Grady Brogan – is here to see you.”
Grady? What on earth – And Pellinore winced. That was today, wasn’t it? The man was insisting that he had somehow or other come up with the money to buy out his indenture and wanted to get the paperwork done as soon as possible. Well, it would have to be put off, that was all.
“I shall be there in a moment,” Pellinore replied to the butler, then to Nimue, “Have a seat, my dear, and I shall explain to you as soon as I see to Goodman Brogan.” Nimue sat herself down on the bench that Pellinore was vacating, and Pellinore tried to tell himself that he was imagining the sense of flame-blue eyes burning a desperate hole in his back as he walked away.
Grady was waiting in the vestibule in what Pellinore suspected were his very best clothes. If he needed anything else to spur him onto guilt these days, it was the set of the young man’s shoulders, nervous and hopeful at the same time. If it had merely been a matter of signing paperwork and handing over money, Pellinore would have considered doing it and sending the young man free and on his way. But it would never be that simple. There was something else going on here – Pellinore was quite sure of it – and he did not intend to loosen any indentures until he knew what it was.
At the same time, today was not the day to find out. “My apologies, Grady,” Pellinore began, “but I am afraid we cannot have our meeting today. It shall have to be another time.”
Grady blinked. “M’lord?” His speech was, as ever, slow and rough.
“I … have other pressing duties today,” he replied, hoping he was convincing. Because he really wasn’t doing anything, was he? Yet on the other hand, to concentrate – as he would have to on Grady’s request – would be impossible, utterly impossible. “Shall we perhaps make an appointment for three days’ time?”
Grady’s eyes narrowed. “Three days’ time?”
“That should be … sufficient.” If things went well, it would be more than sufficient. If things went poorly … well, if things went poorly, Grady would be sufficiently humane to accept another extension.
“An’ if somethin’ comes up in three days’ time?” asked Grady, blinking guilelessly at him, though Pellinore thought he could see a faintly sullen cast to the shoulders. “Fergive me, m’lord, but … well, it do seem like stallin’, it do. ‘Specially since ye’re the one who wanted ter talk afore signin’ anythin’.”
Oh, Lord. It did look like that, didn’t it? Even Pellinore could see it. There must have been lords out there who would resort to such stalls and delays: putting off meeting after meeting after meeting, holding onto peasants for another month or season or year by refusing to meet and sign the paperwork. He could see Sir Bors doing it any day of the week.
He sighed. Perhaps on another day he might have come up with a more tactful way of telling Grady, but his nerves were already down to their last fray. “Grady, believe me, I wish I could meet with you today. However, I expect at any moment to receive news of my latest grandchild, so I fear it is impossible for my mind to discipline itself to the task at hand this afternoon. You understand?”
He could see Grady’s lips moving in time to his words, watch his eyes light up. “Oh! Oh! Oh, I’m sorry, m’lord.”
“I thought,” came a flash of humor that Pellinore only indulged when he was strained and raw, “that it was a matter for congratulations, not commiseration?”
“Well – well, aye, congratulations too! I’m sorry fer disturbin’ ye, m’lord.”
“No trouble,” lied Pellinore. “I shall see you in three days?”
“Aye, m’lord, o’ course. Best o’ luck,” Grady replied, shuffling toward the door.
“Thank you.” Pellinore half watched him go … then he felt his eyes turn inexorably up the stairs. How odd it was, that men should claim for themselves the great business of the world – war, peace, justice, the ruling of kingdoms – yet at this, the greatest drama of life and death, they should be utterly excluded (unless they were in the process of being born). Was it perhaps a just revenge on the part of the women? Or was it only prudence and common sense? There were some things even a seasoned warrior could not stomach.
The voice jolted Pellinore from his reverie. “Master Wesleyan?” What on earth …
Pellinore had always pegged Master Wesleyan as a more jovial soul than otherwise, even if he was always subdued and calm around Pellinore. There was something in the way the man could be seen joking with his equals and subordinates before a great lord would appear on the scene that told Pellinore that this was, at heart, a Sim who liked to laugh and to make others laugh. But today Master Wesleyan was not laughing.
“My lord, we need to talk.”
“I am afraid I am not able to undertake any business today. Please come again … in three days’ time?” Pellinore hedged.
“It can’t wait, sir.”
“Oh, come now,” Pellinore tried to laugh. “I am dealing with some very important family matters today. In three days’ time, however –“
“So am I,” snarled Master Wesleyan. “But what I’m dealing with concerns …” He glanced around the hall, saw nobody, but lowered his voice anyway. “My daughter, your son, and a mutual grandchild.”
Pellinore’s jaw fell.
“Oh … oh.”
Master Wesleyan stepped back, arms crossed over his chest, one eyebrow raised. There would be no getting out of this one for Pellinore. Or for Lamorak, once Pellinore got hold of him.
“Perhaps,” Pellinore heard his voice reach a higher register than it had since he was twelve, “we might best take this into my study?”
“That sounds like an excellent idea.”
“I’ll lead the way …” Or at least, Pellinore got out the “I’ll lead.” He was never quite sure what happened to “the way.” His mind was too busy considering what he was going to do, and the ways he was going to eviscerate Lamorak when this was done, and what evil genius had led him to acquiesce so easily to him and Dilys taking Gawaine out.
Nimue’s eyes brightened as he came into the room – it briefly occurred to Pellinore to wonder if a word had passed between her and her father since he left – but Pellinore could only smile at her as he ushered Master Wesleyan into his study.
“Will you have a seat?” asked Pellinore as he entered the study. At some point the servants must have slipped in to light the candles, a guard against the darkening sky. In the meantime, however, Master Wesleyan sat. Pellinore sat. The two of them stared at each other.
How in the world did you go about placating an angry father? Unfortunately Pellinore’s youth had been so uneventful and pedestrian that he never gained any firsthand experience in what was swiftly becoming an essential skill. Arguing in court was nothing compared to this. In court, little was personal, at least for the lawyer. But now …
“So,” Pellinore croaked, “what … exactly … happened?”
Master Wesleyan sighed. “The usual, I’m thinking.”
“Er. Yes. Of course. I do imagine it happened the … usual way. I suppose … I don’t suppose anything. Forgive me, this news is a bit shocking to me. I thought — I thought that my son’s sowing of his wild oats had not reached this level.”
To be sure, Pellinore had thought that Lamorak was only sowing his oats in the common field, so to speak. Whores and such. It was not something he encouraged — but Lamorak was young, and the only young lady who had turned his head was far away. What was he to expect?
But to seduce the daughter of a good family like the Wesleyans … what had Lamorak been thinking? Truly, he knew his heir was not the sharpest knife in the family, but he didn’t think the boy would be that foolish!
Then again … Lamorak, a heartless seducer? No, that image did not fit. Perhaps the girl had played more than a supporting role in her own seduction. Perhaps Lamorak had been the one seduced, the girl hoping to get a lord for a husband out of it. It wouldn’t be the first time. It wouldn’t be the last, even if this girl would fail.
Master Wesleyan snorted, dragging Pellinore back to the real world. “Forgive me, my lord, but imagine our shock when we found out.”
“You bring up an unanswerable point,” Pellinore sighed. “Please, though, tell me — what happened?”
Master Wesleyan took a deep breath. “I didn’t ask for too many details. He didn’t force her, that’s what Babette and Helena both say — and if they were going to lie, surely it would be in the other direction, don’t you think?”
“Babette is …?”
“Mother to what will be your newest grandchild.”
Babette. Pellinore racked his brains. She’d been in school with Dilys and Delyth, hadn’t she? Not at Camford with Lamorak. Neither of his daughters had voiced much of an opinion of Babette, but she was, as far as Pellinore could determine, older, and so fancied herself somewhat above them, while at the same time being nothing of the kind, as this episode so richly proved. Still, how was it that Lamorak could have come into contact with her?
“But Babette did say that he promised her marriage. And I hope to hold him to that promise.”
“Out of the question,” replied Pellinore’s mouth, without bothering to ask his mind for leave.
“What? Out of the question? This is my daughter!” exploded Master Wesleyan.
“Sir, surely you understand –”
“No, I don’t! Certainly not how you can claim out of the question without hearing anything else! He’s not betrothed, so far as I know –”
“Well, not technically —
“– and he’s not your heir!”
Pellinore blinked. “What?”
“Sir Aglovale! He’s not your heir. The whole kingdom knows that!”
“Wait — it was Aglovale who … who fathered this child?”
“That’s what Babette said,” replied Master Wesleyan staunchly. “And I believe her.” The look in his eyes dared Pellinore to do otherwise.
“Aglovale,” murmured Pellinore. “That’s … different.” Aglovale? He’d barely been in the country since the beginning of last year! Except … except for …
Oh, Lord. “How — this is a delicate question, but how far along is she?”
“Her mother says she’s missed two courses.”
So right about the time Aglovale was home. Good Lord.
Pellinore rubbed his forehead, took a deep breath, and looked up to face Master Wesleyan. “I … I shall have to talk to my son before I say anything definite. Hear his side of the story.” Master Wesleyan’s eyes narrowed. “Please, sir, I respect that you believe your daughter. At least give me the opportunity to believe my son.”
“I … suppose that’s fair.”
“I …” What was Pellinore supposed to say? He had never thought this would be Aglovale. He thought Aglovale would be — he winced as the thought crossed his mind — too careful for this. If Lamorak had the presence of mind to relieve his urges only with women who were already irretrievably ruined, why wouldn’t Aglovale do the same?
But then again, this was no young woman with whom one merely “relieved an urge.” This was a young woman of good family. Perhaps Aglovale had feelings for her? He was fastidious and cautious, but he was young. The young did foolish things, especially when they fancied themselves in love. “Do — do you know anything about their relationship?” he asked.
Master Wesleyan shook his head.
“Then I suppose … if he denies it, a relationship, entirely, I do not know what I will tell you,” Pellinore hedged. “I have to believe my son.”
Master Wesleyan looked none too impressed with that.
“I — I can guarantee you, however, that I will support bringing them together, with us. Perhaps between all of us older, wiser heads, we may be able to determine the truth. If, that is, he denies it. If he admits that the child might be his …”
“Babette’s not the type of girl to go giving her favors to more than one man!”
Pellinore doubted that — once stained, what was to stop a girl from getting more stains? — but held his peace. The timing of the conception was too uncanny for him to assume that the girl was automatically lying. And if she had been promised marriage … there were many good girls who would give up all if they thought themselves betrothed, or the next best thing to it. Especially if they were in love.
“I hope so, sir,” replied Pellinore. “If Aglovale admits that he is, in all probability, the father, then …” Pellinore sighed. “You wish for marriage?”
“It’s his babe,” Master Wesleyan shrugged. “He ought to care for it.”
It was probably as close as either of them would come to saying, He broke it, he bought it.
“Understood.” Pellinore rubbed his temple. “I should like for my son to continue his education.”
“When will his schooling be completed?”
Pellinore sighed. “In three years. Obviously, if there is to be a wedding, it will have to take place before he graduates. Well before he graduates. But would you object to him continuing to study?”
“Seems a bit shabby, getting a girl with child and leaving her with her parents while he stays at school and has the time of his life,” Master Wesleyan snorted.
“Perhaps a separate establishment for your daughter, then? Are you … in a position to help set this up? I — you understand, I did not suppose I should have to make a settlement on Aglovale for some years yet.”
“I’ve got a bit of a dowry put by for her. We can tighten our belts and do some more to get her and the babe set up.”
“But who would support her? I can’t imagine you’d want your daughter-in-law working, my lord.”
“No, no! Goodness, no! Her support would be my responsibility, at least until Aglovale graduated. At which point, of course …”
“Of course,” Master Wesleyan nodded.
“Although,” Pellinore rubbed his head again, “any help you would be willing to give …”
“I’m sure my wife would be more than happy to sew baby dresses. And perhaps my sons and I could help her out if she needed it.”
“Thank goodness,” Pellinore sighed.
Master Wesleyan cocked his head to one side. “You know, my lord … I’ve got to hand it to you. You’ve taken this a lot better than I thought you might.”
“Sir, with all due respect, you have no idea how I’m handling it.”
“You haven’t thrown me off the property or told me to stop spreading slander about your son.”
Well, there was that. Pellinore managed a rueful smile. He did take an inordinate amount of pride in being a reasonable man. “Well, sir –”
The door flew open, and given the day he had had, Pellinore supposed him lucky to have escaped an attack of apoplexy. “Papa!” Delyth squealed. “It’s a boy! A healthy little boy!”
What, already? How on earth — No, no. This was Dindrane’s child. Dindrane’s legitimate child, gotten in lawful marriage.
… By a man who never cared for her, and may well hate her now.
Perhaps, if Babette and Aglovale had truly acted as they were said to have acted, there were benefits to doing it their way.
“Dindrane wants to name him Gareth! And he’s so cute! Another redhead,” Delyth flipped her own red hair over her shoulder, “and he’s got — oh!” She seemed to notice Master Wesleyan for the first time.
Pellinore slowly got to his feet. “That’s wonderful, my dear. And how is Dindrane?”
“Oh, she’s fine! She fed him and everything!”
“Excellent. Excellent, my dear.” He glanced at Master Wesleyan. “Master Wesleyan, you will excuse me?”
“Of course. You will talk to your son?”
“… Give me a day or so to get acquainted with my grandchild?” Master Wesleyan nodded.
“Papa?” Delyth asked, her nose crinkling.
“Don’t worry, my dear.” He kissed her on the cheek. “Let’s go meet Gareth, shall we?”
And I hope you enjoy this new baby, because with the way your brothers’ and sister’s marriages and potential marriages are shaping up, suddenly sending you and your sister to a nunnery actually looks attractive!