The surprise on Prince Kay’s face as he opened the door told Pellinore how little he was expected. “My lord!”
“Prince,” Pellinore replied with a hint of a smile. Given his mission, a hint was all he could muster. “Forgive my abruptness, but — is Aglovale here?”
“Aye, he’s upstairs. Here — come on in.” The prince stepped back and Pellinore stepped inside. “Do you want me to go get Aglovale?”
“Do you expect him down soon?” asked Pellinore.
“Oh, aye, any minute now.”
“Then there’s no need.” Pellinore sighed. “The news will keep a few more minutes.” And Lord help me, but I still have to work up the courage to deliver it. The carriage ride here had not been nearly enough time, as it turned out.
“O-oh?” Kay asked, hesitantly, his eyebrows going up slightly. But his nose wrinkled with worry. Pellinore wondered what he had to worry about —
And then he remembered, and kicked himself for ever wondering. Of course, he would be wondering about Dindrane — for Garnet’s sake, if for no other. Pellinore was no fool; he did his best to determine what type of man his future son-in-law would be. The Prince had a warm heart underneath his ever-joking manner.
“Lady Dindrane was safely delivered of a son yesterday,” Pellinore replied. “Healthy little chap. She named him Gareth.”
“Oh!” The Prince grinned. “Congratulations are in order, then.”
“Thank you.” Pellinore managed a small smile. It had been a long time since a newborn had wailed in the walls of the Gwynedd keep — not since Prince Kay’s not-quite-betrothed had been doing the wailing. Yet all the same, he was not sure if it was the wailing or his worry that had kept him awake most of the night.
“Is everything all right, my lord?” asked the Prince.
“I …” Pellinore sighed. “No, my lord. But it’s nothing –”
Pellinore looked up to see his son skidding down the stairs.
“Aglovale,” sighed Pellinore.
Aglovale rounded the corner at dangerous speed, pounded down the last four stairs — and froze. “Dindrane?”
“Had a son yesterday,” Pellinore replied. “Gareth. They’re both doing splendidly.”
Aglovale grinned and came to pummel his father. Prince Kay must have been rubbing off on him — or else he was just happy that all the stress of the last few months had not harmed his sister or her child. If Pellinore had not had to journey to speak to Aglovale, he himself would have been spending the three days he had given himself after the birth to spend in a drunken stupor of joy and alcohol.
“However …” Pellinore replied as Aglovale pulled away, “that wasn’t all I came here to … discuss.”
Aglovale narrowed his eyes. “Father?”
“Is there somewhere we could speak in private?”
“You could go to the library,” piped the Prince. “Now that Galahad’s moved out, it’s usually pretty empty.”
Aglovale winced, and well he might. Pellinore did not presume to judge how a King raised his sons, but Aglovale knew damned well how important his education was, and how little toleration there would be for wasting it. Especially in light of how quickly he would be needing to make good with it.
“Or rather,” Aglovale murmured, “Freddy is out, and obviously I’m here and Kay’s right there.”
“Aww, Aglovale, where’s the fun in saying that?”
Aglovale said nothing, but turned to his father. “Father?”
“Lead the way … son.” It was all Pellinore could do not to sigh again.
No sooner had they crossed into the blue library and shut the door behind them than Aglovale turned to him. “Is everything all right, Father? You don’t look well … is it Sir Mordred? Did he …?”
“He acknowledged the babe,” Pellinore replied. “And behaved himself during the birth and after. Beyond that … we are taking things one day at a time. No, Aglovale, my purpose here is with you and you alone.”
It was Pellinore’s judge’s gaze and not his father’s gaze that came to rest on Aglovale. He knew it, and he could not bring himself to regret it. But all the same, Aglovale seemed to stare at him with the frank gaze of the truly innocent and uncomprehending, not innocence falsified for the sake of the questioner. He must have had no idea. Pellinore was not certain if that made what he would have to do easier or harder.
But it made him start gently. “Aglovale, do you know Babette Wesleyan?”
The genuine innocence melted away, replaced by its counterfeit. “What about her, Father?”
“Answer the first question, please. Do you know her?”
He was debating whether or not to lie. That could be the only meaning of those faintly-narrowed eyes. “Aye …”
“In what sense?”
“Please be honest with me, Aglovale.”
The eyes narrowed without pretending to do otherwise. “Why do you ask?”
Pellinore sighed. “She is with child. She’s named you as the father.”
There could be no doubt. If Aglovale had never touched her, there would be this shock, yes, but also indignation. There would not be this blind panic, this terror. Whether Aglovale was the father or not was anybody’s guess at this point — Mark Wesleyan believed his daughter, but Pellinore was under no obligation to do the same without even having met the girl — but he knew for himself that the possibility existed.
“With — child?” Aglovale gasped.
Pellinore forced himself to be sympathetic. How terrified had he been, all those years and years ago, when Eilwen had snuggled up to him in bed and whispered that she was with child? And he had been lawfully married to her! Fatherhood was designed to inspire terror, even when it was wished for, welcomed, sought! How much more so when it came unsought?
“Is this possible, Aglovale?” Pellinore asked as gently as he could.
“How should I know? I haven’t seen her since –”
“Aglovale,” Pellinore interrupted, “I am not asking if you are the father. I am asking you if it is possible that you might be. For what it is worth, Miss Wesleyan and her mother reckon between them that the babe was conceived when you were home for Lady Morgause’s trial.”
“Oh, Lord,” Aglovale whimpered.
“… Yes,” he admitted.
“I see.” Pellinore crossed his arms over his chest, stared at the ground. At least Aglovale told the truth. He could have lied. He might have even thought he could get away with it. Of all of Pellinore’s children, Aglovale was far and away the best at dissembling. He could not fool his father, but he could get closer to it than any of his siblings.
Pellinore looked up. “And what do you think you will do about it?” he asked.
“What — Father!”
“If the child is likely yours …”
“You didn’t ask if it was likely! You asked if it was possible!”
“Is it not likely, then? And before you answer,” Pellinore pointed out, “remember that this young … woman’s entire reputation, and her hopes, indeed, of a happy life are at stake. There is also an innocent child involved.”
Aglovale blinked several times before he broke contact with Pellinore’s gaze. “It’s likely,” he whispered.
“Very likely? Slightly likely? Nearly certain?”
“Practically certain, all right?” he exploded.
“Very well. Thank you. So for all intents and purposes, we shall assume that you are the father of the babe. Now, son, what do you think you will do about it?”
Aglovale put a hand to his head. “I don’t … I haven’t the least idea.”
Pellinore tamped down on his mounting frustration. How else was Aglovale supposed to react? He had received life-altering news but five minutes ago. It was only natural that he stay in his panic for at least a few moments longer.
Pellinore had promised himself in the carriage that he would not question Aglovale too closely about the circumstances of his child’s conception. There were some things even a father did not deserve to know. But all the same, he had not promised himself that he would not ask other questions, telling questions, and draw what inferences he could from the answers. There were some things that a father had to know.
“What do you think you owe her, and the child?” Pellinore nudged.
“Is this a riddle?” Aglovale mumbled.
“No, no. An honest question. What do you think you owe to her and the child?”
Aglovale bit his lip. “Help — help with her dowry, certainly.”
“Mm,” Pellinore murmured.
“And … and I would owe it to the babe to see that it … advanced in the world.”
“Only that?” Pellinore asked. “This is your firstborn child.” At least I firmly hope it is your firstborn — or if it is not, please, Lord Wright, make it that any other children are those of base women!
“If Bab–Miss Wesleyan is married to someone else, he’d hardly appreciate me butting in to play with the baby, now, would he?” Aglovale muttered, crossing his arms and staring at his boots.
Did he seem saddened by that? Or only annoyed at the foolishness of the questioned? If he was saddened … but if he wasn’t …
Pellinore took a deep breath. This next question — this was the one that would answer all. If Aglovale seemed hopeful, happy after Pellinore asked it, then Pellinore would know that his son had only made a foolish mistake in the first flush of youth and headiness of love. Everyone made such mistakes — perhaps not that exact mistake, but similar ones. It meant that his son was still a moral and upright man underneath his youthful foolishness.
But if he was distraught, dismayed …
Pellinore gulped and asked. “Have you considered marrying her yourself?”
He was neither hopeful nor distraught.
Aglovale waved a hand. “That’s impossible,” he dismissed.
And that, Pellinore knew, was all the thought Aglovale would put into the question. He could see his son already leaping onto the next possible solution, and from there to the next, and the next, and the next. The thought of marrying the girl he had (hopefully) deflowered and (probably) impregnated was already gone from his mind.
But it would not be gone for long. “Impossible? Why?”
Aglovale blinked and knit his brows. “She’s a commoner, Father.”
“Our own Queen is of common blood.”
“That’s — that’s different.”
“The — the King was — bastard royalty,” Aglovale replied.
“All the more reason for him to marry high.”
“The Queen was the sole heiress to a fortune worth at least a barony! Two baronies!”
“Miss Wesleyan, so I am given to understand, has a not-insubstantial dowry.”
“She — she’s practically a peasant!”
Pellinore blinked. “Practically a peasant?”
“Of course! She’s a commoner! And not a — not just waiting for the crown to bestow a title, either! Her father would never get a title!”
“But the girl is of good family.”
“Her father runs a stable!”
“One of the most successful businesses in the kingdom.”
“But a stable! Father, she has no title, no fortune — I can’t marry her! She’s common as mud!”
Pellinore blinked. “Common as mud?”
“Well, you can see that she’s clearly not a lady, given the — the trouble she’s in!”
And that was where Pellinore lost his temper. “The trouble she’s in? The trouble you, sirrah, put her in!”
Aglovale stopped and stared. Pellinore watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down, his mouth open and close like a guppy’s. Watching it was worse than watching a lying denial.
“And it was your idea, wasn’t it?” Pellinore asked savagely, though he had promised himself he would not. “Admit it! She was not trying to worm her way into your bed, was she — you were worming your way into hers!”
“Aglovale,” Pellinore snapped, “if she seduced you, if she hunted you with wiles until you couldn’t resist, tell me now and I’ll stop. But may the Lord forgive you if you lie — because I never will!”
Aglovale gulped. “I … I didn’t seduce her …”
“Did she seduce you?”
He had to shake his head.
“So you got her into this mess. Ah-ah!” he snarled as Aglovale’s mouth opened to protest. “You, sir, are a knight and a nobleman! You’ve learned chivalry since you were still in napkins! Even if it was mutual, even if there was no seduction on either side, it was your duty not to stain her honor — and stain it, sir, you have!”
“But nothing! You should have known better! I raised you better than that! To seduce — or at any rate take advantage of a young lady, and then throw her in the mud! It is conduct unbecoming a knight, a lord, and my son!”
“She’s not that innocent!”
“But she is not a seductress. Tell me, son, was she sure to lie with you until she got with child, the better to trap you?”
Aglovale mumbled something that Pellinore couldn’t quite catch, but he was fairly certain that “once” figured somewhere in it. “So she did not?” Pellinore snarled.
“… No …”
“Then she did not seduce you! Then she is a good girl, whose honor you have stayed — and to whom you owe a great deal!”
“So I have to be chained to her for life?” Aglovale protested. “I made a mistake, and that’s my punishment?”
“Your punishment? This young lady is carrying your child, faces a future of disgrace and ruin for her and her babe, and you have the gall to speak of your punishment?”
“She could have said no! She could have said no and I would have stopped! I’m not a monster!”
“A monster? Aglovale, I accused you of no such thing! The Lord help you if I ever have cause to suspect you of such depravity!” Pellinore spat. “No, I know very well what you are — a young man who wanted something, found someone willing or willing enough to give it, and took it without thought for the consequences! Not for you, and what is worse, not for her! It is conduct unbecoming a knight, a lord and a gentleman, sir!”
“But I — I never meant any harm!”
“Oh, for the love of — you took her maidenhead and you never meant harm? And what’s more, she said that you promised her marriage!”
“What? No! I never said any such thing!” snapped Aglovale.
“Aglovale, do not –” Pellinore stopped. He narrowed his eyes.
Aglovale was not lying. No. He never had promised this young woman marriage. So that meant … she was lying? Perhaps as a way to placate her parents? It was certainly —
No. No, there had been too much frustration in Aglovale’s voice. He may not have promised her marriage, but …
“But let me guess,” Pellinore sighed. “Somehow or other, she got the idea that you would marry her anyway?”
“I tried to disabuse her of it!”
“How? By telling her that marriage between you two was an impossibility, that it would never and could never happen?”
Pellinore let his raised eyebrows do the talking.
“I — she would –”
“She would have stopped seeing you if that were the case.” He did not make it a question.
“So you seduced her.”
“I — I didn’t seduce her!”
“You lured her into your bed under pretenses you knew were false, sirrah! If that is not seduction, I don’t know what is!”
“But that’s not why I didn’t want her stop seeing me! I — I cared …” He clammed up, as if he had just admitted something shameful.
Oh, Aglovale. Where did I go wrong? Could he not see that there were many things — so many things — more shameful than going too far with a girl for whom one cared? That sort of shame could be mitigated by right deeds afterward. What could possibly make up for the shame of heartlessly seducing a girl of good family and then tossing her by the wayside?
“Then why is the thought of marrying her so terrible to you, son? If you care for her?”
Aglovale’s shoulders slumped. “I’ll be a laughingstock.”
“There will doubtless be some scandal, but I very much fear she will be getting the brunt of it.”
“I’ll never advance with a common wife like that!” Aglovale snapped. “Don’t you want –”
“You won’t advance?” Pellinore yelled. “You have nearly ruined a young woman’s life, and you have the gall to worry about your advancement?”
“Your advancement, sir, is the least of your concerns! What you ought to be concerning yourself with is how you will be caring for your new wife and child!”
“Father! You won’t make me marry her!”
“Legally, I cannot make you marry her — but if you want to remain at Camford, if you want to continue to receive my help and support, you will marry her all the same!”
Aglovale’s jaw slackened and fell.
“You are, in fact, in luck, sir! Because not only is her father gracious enough to make no objection to you continuing your studies, I am willing to pay for you to continue your studies — if you marry her, that is. And if you wish to advance, you know well that you had best stay at Camford!”
“Furthermore, I am willing to support all three of you until you graduate! Four or five, even, if it comes to that! Granted, it’s with your allowance –”
” — but as a knight, a lord and a gentleman, you would be sending that to your lady wife and child anyway, would you not?”
Aglovale sighed and his shoulders slumped in defeat. “Yes, Father.”
“Now you speak sense! Now, if you will excuse me, I must return home to arrange a wedding, a settlement, and some sort of house for your bride-to-be! I trust you have no more protests to lodge?”
“I shall give your love to your mother and siblings. Good day, sir!” Without another word, he stormed past his son and out the library door.
The Prince stood on the landing to the steps, clearly on his way down. “My lord? Are you –”
“Good day, your Highness. I will give your love to your parents when I see them.”
“But — Aglovale!” Kay called, pounding down the stairs to his friend. “What –”
Pellinore didn’t listen. He simply stormed away.
At least he had the carriage ride in which to calm down before he had to explain this to Eilwen.