Lamorak stared at the door to his father’s study, the old rough wood, the handle worn smooth under the hands of all of the Gwynedds. How many times had he merrily knocked and poked his head in to ask an offhand question, or shuffled inside, head bowed, to ask a question that wasn’t at all offhand? His stomach had roiled before, and he’d been embarrassed and ashamed and unsure about some of the things he had wanted to talk about, but once he had decided to bring the matter to his father, he had never hesitated at the door like this. Pellinore always told all of his children that they could talk to him about anything.
But he had never promised he would give them everything they desired, or even just that one thing they desired the most. He never promised that he would put aside his vision of what was the best for the family in order to make one of his children happy. And he had never said he would take on the Orkneys for any reason whatsoever.
However, if Lamorak didn’t ask now, he might never ask. He knocked.
“Enter,” called Pellinore.
Lamorak turned the knob.
Pellinore sat, as ever, behind his desk, frowning and muttering over the papers in front of him. He glanced up. “Lamorak?”
Lamorak gulped. “Have a — minute, Father?”
“Of course! Have a seat, son. What do you need?”
He should have known it would be that easy. Pellinore always was there if his children wanted to talk, even if the question was trivial and silly. Who was Lamorak kidding? Pellinore was a lawyer and a judge. Talking was what he did.
Lamorak, however, was only a knight. He’d only be able to serve his king with his sword, never his words or his mind. Right now, though, he’d be glad to just know how in the world he was to begin to broach the topic of Garnet with his father, let alone convince him to let Lamorak marry her.
Nonetheless, his hand trembled as he reached for the chair, the chain maille on his shoulders rattling. Pellinore narrowed his eyes and cocked his head, concerned. “Is something wrong?”
Lamorak flopped to the chair and stared at his father. Then he blurted it out: “I want to talk about Garnet.”
“… Oh.” Without a further word, Pellinore put his pen away, closed the ink bottle, set aside the sand for blotting and turned over what Lamorak guessed was a confidential paper. Then Pellinore folded his hands before him and waited.
He’s really going to make me start this conversation, isn’t he? He had almost hoped that his father would state that any discussions were out of the question, or that a marriage would never be countenanced. He thought he would have had a better chance as the defendant rather than the plaintiff. The plaintiff, after all, had the burden of proof.
Lacking any other ideas, Lamorak decided to start by playing dumb. It wasn’t much of an act, anyway. “She’s eighteen now. We can get the betrothal set.”
Pellinore did not reply, at least, not in words. He sighed and raised his eyebrows.
“It’s not like she tried to kill anybody, Father,” Lamorak muttered. “Or mistreated Dindrane, or … anything! Dindrane even likes her.”
“Lamorak, of course I don’t have any objections to Lady Garnet personally. She’s a lovely young woman. But given her family circumstances …”
“None of that was Garnet’s fault! She didn’t cause any of it!”
“Of course she didn’t, Lamorak — and if Lady Morgan is to be believed, she may be as much a victim of Lady Morgause’s … hurtful actions as anybody. I don’t blame her for any of this, you know that.”
“But you’re punishing her all the same.”
“I am not doing anything of the kind. I am simply –”
“Ruining her life because her mother was a murderess, or the next best thing to it –”
“Given Accolon’s current state and Lady Morgause’s,” Pellinore murmured drily, “I think we can safely call Lady Morgause a murderess.”
“Whatever! You’re punishing her because of her mother and her brother! Everything you and Lord Lot discussed and planned, everything that Garnet and I wanted, you’re throwing it all away — and not because of anything Garnet did or could help!”
“I have already explained …” Pellinore sighed and looked to the side of Lamorak’s head. “Lamorak … I simply do not think it prudent, at this time, to pursue further connections with the Orkneys. Surely I do not have to explain why.”
“I think you should,” Lamorak replied, swallowing in the hope that it would relieve the dryness of his mouth. If he could put his father on the defensive — or if he could just put himself into a place where he could poke holes in his father’s arguments — he would be better off, he thought. He knew his own arguments tended to be as holey as Lotharian cheese.
“Very well. Item: Sir Mordred and your sister are now legally separated. I wish I could say that the arrangement was reached without ill feelings on either side — or even with your sister having most of the ill feelings! — but that is not at all the case. Sir Mordred is furious with your sister, and by extension, all of us.”
“He’s furious with Garnet, too,” Lamorak muttered. “I doubt my asking for her hand would make him more angry. Or less.”
Pellinore blinked and cocked his head to one side. “He’s angry with Lady Garnet?”
Lamorak sighed. “She refused to see Lady Morgause before … she died. Refused to do anything at all to help. Sir Mordred … hasn’t taken it very well.”
“You and Lady Garnet are still in correspondence.” It was not a question.
“Lamorak, you know it’s not … prudent to write to a woman who is not a relative and to whom you are not –”
“Father! Her parents are dead, her brother is furious with her, and while yes, she has an aunt and an uncle and cousins — I’m not going to stop writing to her because you think it’s imprudent! The last thing she needs to have another lifeline cut from her!”
“It might be construed as leading her on, son,” Pellinore said, so gently that Lamorak felt his blood start to boil within him.
“I am not leading her on! I have every intention of marrying her, even if you don’t like it!”
“Lamorak,” Pellinore continued in that same soft, gentle tone, “I do not think this is a road either of us wants to go down. It will just end in shouting and both of us will say things we will later come to regret. If we can discuss this calmly and rationally, on the other hand –”
“I’m being rational! You’re the one who isn’t being rational! Garnet is a good girl — you said that yourself! — she’s of good blood, she’s the King’s niece! A year ago you would have already had all the arrangements made!”
“I know. But it has been a tumultuous year. And I know,” he held up a hand to forestall Lamorak’s protest, “that none of it was Lady Garnet’s fault. But this is bigger than you, bigger than her, bigger than your relationship. Lamorak, I doubt very much that her brother would approve any marriage between you and Lady Garnet.”
“So you’re not even going to try?” Lamorak retorted.
“I am endeavoring to show you how this is bigger than you and she.”
Lamorak slowly huffed, his nostrils flaring. But he said nothing. If he said anything, his father would find an argument against it. Let him try to defend himself.
And Pellinore did — give the man an angry silence and he would try to fill it, try to show that he was right and his opponent illogical or misinformed. Pellinore sat back, waving his hand in the air as if asking the spirits to give him an answer. “Lamorak … Sir Mordred is not a forgiving man. If you were to ask him now for Lady Garnet’s hand, he would dig in his heels and refuse merely for … I hesitate to say it, but merely for spite. He would not countenance –”
“Wait,” Lamorak interrupted. “Wait. Father, are you — are you just telling me to wait? Wait for Mordred to calm down, and then pursue this betrothal? We won’t marry until she graduates anyway.”
All that was technically needed for a betrothal was a promise to marry before two witnesses and a consummation. If he had his father’s approval — tacit, but his approval — then he could make his promise to Garnet, consummate it, and approach Mordred when he was likely to agree. They had two years. Garnet would be happy, he would be happy, everything would be set —
“Ye-es,” Pellinore said. But slowly, hesitantly. And he wouldn’t meet Lamorak’s eyes when he said it.
“That’s not what you’re trying to say,” Lamorak whispered.
“Lamorak –” Pellinore steepled his fingers together and glanced at the ceiling, gathering his thoughts. “That was not … what I originally intended to say, but now that you bring up the idea, I cannot help but think it is what is most prudent.”
“Wait and see?” Lamorak almost spat. “That’s your advice? That’s always your advice! Never commit to anything until you’re sure it’s the best thing to do! And never mind the people dying while you’re waiting!”
“Lamorak, this is hardly a life-and-death situ–”
“It’s the rest of her life! My life! Father! Why can’t you understand that? She’s on tenterhooks, and I’m just trying to keep sane and keep her sane!”
“You would not be able to marry for two years anyway –”
“Do you want us to marry, or don’t you? Yes or no!”
Pellinore was silent at first, as Lamorak knew he would be. His father never liked yes or no questions. You couldn’t wiggle out from them. You could lie, yes, but you couldn’t wiggle.
Pellinore sighed and stared at the papers on his desk. “No.”
Lamorak didn’t wait — didn’t want to hear the reasons — he threw his chair back and stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
Pellinore didn’t understand. He’d never understand. He didn’t know what it was to have a love who was just this far from falling apart, who only needed so little to help hold her together, and he had never gone through hell to try to get his love. The only time Pellinore had faced serious competition for Eilwen, he’d run from it and —
“Lamorak? What’s the matter?”
And think of the devil — not that he would call his mother the devil — but there she was.
She was hurrying toward him, and before Lamorak could even say anything, her hand was on his forehead, feeling for a temperature. “What happened? You look terrible!”
She was already shaking her handkerchief from her sleeve!
“It’s Father,” he blurted out, whether to ward off the handkerchief or any need for it was anybody’s guess. “He — he wouldn’t — and Garnet –”
“What about Garnet?” Eilwen asked soothingly.
“He doesn’t want me to marry her …”
Eilwen gasped. “Whyever — no, don’t ask. I think we both know why.”
“He says he has nothing against her personally!” Lamorak wailed.
“He doesn’t. Your father won’t lie to you about that.”
“But then why? She can’t help being related to Mordred and Lady Morgause!”
“If she could help it, she would have a long time ago!”
“She went to Camford early to get away from them!”
“Then why doesn’t Father?” Lamorak exploded. “If you know, why doesn’t he?” Lamorak pointed to the door. “He — he — he’s usually a good judge of Sims!”
Had Lamorak only known, his mother’s faint smile and the fainter twinkle in her eyes hid the thought, Nice save. But what she said aloud was, “Your father knows all of that. He’s simply refusing to consider it.”
“Because … your father has never been very good at listening to his heart, dear. I’m afraid he’s all head. And his head is telling him that this marriage is a bad idea. And you have to admit –”
“You agree with him!” Lamorak cried, although he wasn’t sure why he was surprised. How many times had Eilwen disagreed with Pellinore in his life, at least on the big, important things? They’d been a united front when Dindrane’s marriage was arranged, why would it be different for his?
“I didn’t say that, dear. What I was going to say was that, on paper, this marriage doesn’t look like a good idea, at least not to a head like your father’s. But, sweetie …” Eilwen laid her hand on Lamorak’s cheek and smiled at him. “Your father can be wrong sometimes, you know.”
Lamorak could only blink.
“Now, dear, why don’t you go for a ride, or play with your nephew or your niece, and I’ll see if I can talk some … some sensibility into your father. He’s already got more sense than is good for him at times.”
“But, Mother –”
“Just let me have a turn.” She kissed his cheek. “Then you can try again, if that doesn’t work. Please? Do this favor for your mother?”
“I … certainly, Mother.” Later, Lamorak would be certain that the only reason he agreed was … well, anybody who didn’t agree had clearly never had a mother.
It was the only explanation he could come up with, at any rate.
Eilwen waited only for Lamorak’s boot-tramping to be well out of earshot before she threw open the door to her husband’s study and stormed in. “I thought we had an agreement!”
“Eilwen!” Pellinore yelped, jumping.
If her feelings weren’t absolutely clear by her entrance, Eilwen marched a pace into the room and slammed the door shut with her heel. “No punishing our other children for the way Mordred and Dindrane’s marriage turned out and Aglovale’s mistake!”
Pellinore’s shoulders slumped. “Eilwen …” he sighed.
Her arms were crossed over her chest, her eyebrow raised, her whole posture screaming, I’m waiting!
Pellinore ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s hardly about punishing Lamorak. You know that.”
“And clamping down on the twins, spoiling their fun, wasn’t about punishing them, either! But that’s what it amounted to!”
“Lamorak is our heir. He will understand, I think, that as such, he has certain responsibilities –“
“All of which he has upheld! He’s not asking you to let him marry the scullery maid, he’s asking you to let him marry our King’s niece!”
“And the sister to the man who treated his sister abominably. And the daughter of –“
“You don’t actually hold any of that against her, and you know it!”
Pellinore sighed. “Just because I don’t hold it against her, dear, doesn’t mean that I want her becoming part of the family.”
“She’s already part of the family! Your grandchildren’s family! Pellinore, it might be one thing if refusing this marriage meant we would never more have contact with — with Sir Mordred, aye, I’ll say it, but we have our grandchildren! We’ll never be rid of Sir Mordred while either he or we live! What difference does it make, adding another connection?”
“It could make a great deal of difference. Eilwen, you are right, of course, that we will always have Sir Mordred. But we are old. Who knows how much longer we have? And when we are gone … well, if Lamorak wasn’t married to Garnet, he could contrive to severely limit his contact with Sir Mordred. We cannot untangle ourselves from that family in our own lifetimes, but Lamorak could do it within his if he –“
“He won’t,” Eilwen pointed out. “This is Lamorak! He would be friends with everyone in the kingdom if he could! He’ll be trying to patch things up with Mordred as soon as Mordred gives him half an opening!”
“Perhaps. But that will be Lamorak’s free choice, unspurred by any other considerations –“
“Pellinore. Listen to yourself! Unspurred by any other considerations? He wants to marry Mordred’s sister!”
“Dear, you’re contra–” Eilwen’s glare told him loud and clear not to finish that sentence. She watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down with a certain grim satisfaction. He exhaled forcefully. “Well, he’d do that if even he wasn’t trying to marry Lady Garnet, and I think we can both admit that. But if he was married to Lady Garnet, he would feel compelled to patch things up with Sir Mordred — and Eilwen, I cannot help but hope that Lamorak, once he matures further and grows wiser, will realize that Sir Mordred is not a good ally or friend to have.”
“The King’s nephew?”
“I didn’t say useful, my dear. I said good.”
Eilwen felt her arms fall, and she glanced at her husband sidelong, eyes narrowed and curious. He began to fiddle with his inkpot — a sure sign that he was not going to explain his remark.
“Well …” Eilwen murmured. “She’s got other relatives, you know. She’s on good terms with the King and Queen, her cousins, one of whom will be King someday –”
“And who will be either Delyth or Dilys’s brother-in-law, Lord willing,” Pellinore pointed out.
“Lady Morgan?” Eilwen crossed her arms again. “From what I’ve heard, she’s not as close to Prince Kay as she is to Garnet.”
“She’s already an ally, I think –”
“No, no, you don’t think that. Pellinore, you advised Arthur not to prosecute when Morgause killed Accolon all those years –”
“Who knows whether we would have won?” Pellinore exclaimed. “There would be no way we could convince a jury –”
“Do you think she cares? Pellinore, if she ever found out that it was you — found out beyond a reasonable doubt — she wouldn’t forgive you for that. Still less, given what Morgause did after! It’s a miracle that little boy didn’t die! She helped you because it was right, not because it was you who she was helping! But if Garnet married Lamorak, she would truly be an ally. If we’ve well and truly made an enemy of Sir Mordred, I for one would like to get all the other witches and wizards of Albion on our side! Allowing Lamorak to marry Garnet would bring us closer to making that happen!”
“Or it would just put the snake in striking distance,” Pellinore retorted.
“It would also make your son and his lady very happy, while anything else would only break their hearts — for no good reason, by the way. The snake’s already in striking distance. Nimue, Gawaine, and Gareth guarantee that.”
“Eilwen …” Pellinore rested his head in his hands. “I cannot agree to it. No. It is foolhardy; it is imprudent. I cannot think of a single reason for the marriage that outweighs those two against.”
“One reason singly, or many reasons in concert?”
Eilwen shook her head. “Then if you won’t listen, I shall have to go to a higher authority.”
“A higher — Eilwen! You don’t mean the King!”
“Higher,” Eilwen replied. Pellinore looked confused, but as comprehension began to dawn, she continued, “The Queen. And even Lady Morgan, if I have to.”
She’d leave him to stew over that for a while. Then they would see if he would listen to reason.