Garnet had a lot of nerve.
Mordred crossed his arms and watched her. Yes, indeed, she had a lot of nerve. The King had requested a meeting with her that necessitated a return to Albion from Camford — well and good. She had asked Mordred to allow her to stay with him, and of course he had allowed it. He was not an idiot, after all, nor was he unfeeling, and the fact that Garnet had asked instead of assuming indicated that she knew how she had transgressed. Here, Mordred thought, was one bridge that he could begin to mend.
And then Garnet got here, and she practically ignored him! Avoided him! Found things to do that kept her out of his way, and when he found her, she left the room! Maybe she was avoiding him because she did not want chastisement for how she had acted when their mother. He could understand that. But she avoided Agravaine, too! What was wrong with her?
The icing on the cake was now, when Mordred had finally tracked her down, and had been standing behind her for quite five minutes. She knew he was there, he knew she knew he was there, she knew he knew she knew he was there — but still she said nothing. Deliberately ignoring him. Even Dindrane would have acknowledged his presence by now.
Yet there was nothing for it but to being the conversation himself. He coughed. “You know that could be a fire hazard.”
Garnet stiffened. Thanks to the scandalously low-cut dress she wore, Mordred could see the muscles in her back tense. Then she snorted, but her back grew no more relaxed. “Do you really think I’m that incompetent a witch?”
“That you would burn the whole keep down? No. But there are some rather rare and expensive manuscripts in here. Those might well go up in flames before you got any fire under control.”
“The fire wouldn’t get to them.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I warded the stones, dummy! The fire won’t leave the cauldron!”
“Dummy,” Mordred mused. “How mature of you, dear sister.”
“What’s it to you if I’m mature or if I’m not?”
“Oh, it’s something to me. After all, your conduct reflects on me.”
Garnet’s only answer was another snort as she measured her next ingredient in her hands.
Mordred narrowed his eyes. “And what is that supposed to mean, dearest sister?”
“Just … nothing.”
“I insist, Garnet.”
“You don’t have that right.”
“I don’t have that right? And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?” Mordred snapped.
“You don’t get to insist on anything from me … well,” Garnet shrugged, “anything other than decent behavior in public and in private.”
“And just when did I lose that right?”
“You never had it.”
“Maybe as just your brother I never had it, but I believe I gained it when Father died and I became your guardian.”
Garnet straightened, thoughtful, then she shrugged. “Maybe you did. But you’re not my guardian anymore. I’m eighteen.”
Mordred rolled his eyes. Good lord, was she really that foolish? “A technicality. Father left you nothing, you know — nothing but your dowry, which only goes to you only if you marry with my approval. I think that makes me, effectively, your guardian.”
“So perhaps it might behoove you to be more pleasant to me?”
That did it. Garnet wheeled around. “More pleasant?”
“I believe this is the longest conversation we have had, sister, since … since Father’s passing. And you have not said a single pleasant word to me in it. Furthermore, you have studiously avoided and ignored me since returning home.”
“I’ve been trying to stay out of your way!”
Mordred almost blinked. Was that what it was? She assumed he was angry at her, so she was trying to avoid rousing his ire. She did that by avoiding him entirely. It was not, perhaps, the worst plan in the world … except for …
“And what of Agravaine?” Mordred asked.
“What about Agravaine?”
“You’ve not seen him since Father’s passing, either, and though you have done nothing to him that would make you want to stay out of his way — nothing he would understand, at any rate — and yet you spend less time with him than with me. Why is that?”
Garnet’s eyes shifted sidelong; she hunched her shoulders; her head bowed, and her arms crossed over her chest. “I’m not much for babies.”
She’s not — “Garnet!” Mordred threw his head back and guffawed. “You, who doted on Nimue and Gawaine, expect me to believe that you’re not much for babies!”
Garnet snorted and looked away. “Believe what you want; I don’t care.”
She was lying — and what was worse, she wasn’t even lying particularly well. What the hell was going on with her and Agravaine — with her and him, for that matter? He folded his arms and stared her up and down once, twice, three times. Garnet tensed more and more with each passage of his gaze. “Tell me,” he ordered, “just what the hell your problem is.”
“With me,” he continued in his steeliest, calmest voice, “with Agravaine. With anything. But there is something going on, here, Garnet, something that you are not telling me — something I have every right to know as your brother and as your guardian. Now. What is it?”
“It’s none of your damn business is what it is.”
“Oh, good Lord — we’ve already gone through this. I am your –”
“I’m jealous!” Garnet shouted. “There! Happy? I’ve been jealous of Agravaine since he was born! I used to be the baby, which was all I had in this damn family, and then Agravaine came along and he was the baby! Now that I’ve admitted it, can you go back to running the estate or whatever the hell it is you do with your time and leave me alone?”
Mordred’s eyes narrowed. She was not jealous — or if she was, that wasn’t the reason why she was so carefully avoiding Agravaine. But the way she had said leave me alone, that ringing emphasis —
Mordred smirked. “So you admit something.”
“Yes! That I’m jealous! Now would you –”
“No. No, not that. You’re lying, sister, about that. It’s plausible enough — meant to throw me off the scent, but it’s a lie all the same.”
She gave herself away there; he could see the guilt flash through her eyes. Then her anger clamped over her expressions, a helmet harder than anything a mere blacksmith could produce, and she glared at him.
“So. What is it, I wonder, that you are trying to hide from me?” He stroked his chin. “You might as well tell me. You know I’ll find out eventually.”
Garnet glared at him without a word.
Mordred sighed. “Look, Garnet, despite your insistence on being … difficult, I think most of the kingdom would agree that I’ve been a good brother and guardian to you, aye? I–”
He never got to finish his planned litany of ways he had been a good brother, for Garnet stumbled back from him and shrieked, “Don’t! Don’t! You son of a bitch, don’t!”
Mordred, taken aback himself, could only stare and ask, stupidly, “Don’t what?”
“Don’t finish it! ‘I’ve been a good brother, don’t make me be a bad one’! That’s what you were going to say, aye? Aye?” Before Mordred could protest that no, that hadn’t been — exactly — what he had planned to say, Garnet shrieked, “You’re just like her!”
“Just like who?” Mordred snapped, though he could sense where this was going.
“The way you say it,” Mordred mused, in that utterly calm tone that Garnet, if she had half a brain under all that hair, would realize meant he had crossed over the flaming plain of anger clear into icy rage, “one would think you meant it as an insult.”
“It is! It is! She was a murderess! A bitch! A wh–” She froze, one hand clamped over her mouth, eyes wide with real fear.
“Yes,” Mordred murmured, “yes, you are quite wise to be afraid of saying that in front of me, sister. You, of all people, should know on what treacherous ground you tread.”
“She was a murderess,” Garnet whispered. “She –”
“She was not!”
“She killed Accolon!”
“Oh, for Wright’s sake!” Mordred rolled his eyes. “Her own serf! If she put her lapdog down, you wouldn’t call that murder!”
“Accolon’s not a lapdog! He’s a Sim!”
“Was a Sim. Now he’s –”
“And she would have killed me, if she got the cowplant to work!”
Mordred’s jaw fell. “What?”
“She would have killed me!” Garnet’s lip was quivering like a child’s. “If she had succeeded with that poor little boy, it would have been me next!”
“Garnet …” Was he actually listening to this? He shook his head. “Garnet, I have heard some prize delusions from your mouth, but this –”
“I am not deluded! Leona agreed with me!”
Mordred had barely re-aligned his jaw when it had cause to fall again. “You told somebody else about your — your –”
“I told my friend! Because Lord knows I don’t have a family that would help me!”
“Garnet …” Mordred ran a hand over his face. “I know not even where to begin –”
“She attacked me!”
His hand fell. “Leona?” He knew she was a tough little trollop, ready to give young Elyan a run for his money, but that she would harm another woman —
“No, not Leona! Never Leona! Mother! She attacked me the night that Dindrane and Betsy Pelles found that little boy!”
“Garnet,” Mordred snarled, “I should be very careful what I said –”
She didn’t even let him finish. “She attacked me! She thought I had Thorn! She set a servantus on me. And she — she choked me –” So deep was she in it, her voice sounded choked when she said it, and her eyes had a suspiciously glassy look. “She –”
“Is that your story, Garnet?” Mordred snapped.
She was silenced, and she nodded, her eyes still glassy. Mordred narrowed his eyes and watched her expression. Her lips trembled like a child’s, and there was something desperate in the way her eyes referred to leave his. Good Lord, it was worse than Mordred had thought. She wasn’t lying — she believed every word she said.
He took a deep, calming breath. “Who else have you told about this, Garnet?”
“Just Leona,” she whispered, sounding — pathetic in her relief. “And Morgan, of course.”
Morgan, of course. No wonder she was so firm in her belief. Leona, William du Lac’s sister — Morgan, who had hated her sister with an intensity few mortal frames could bear? They would have only encouraged her. “I see. I see.”
“And you, now.” Garnet’s lips began to twitch upward in half a smile. It was the way she used to smile whenever she had gone crying to their father over some childish slight or another and he promised to make it all better with a new doll or a pony. “And you –”
“No one else?”
The half-smile melted into honest confusion as she shook her head.
“Good. I think …” He would have to be careful, have to be gentle here. Garnet was in no condition to be handled roughly; that much was evident. “I think it would be wisest if we went to Father — no, to Brother Andy in the morning.” He wasn’t biased on their mother, and moreover, he was just out of Camford, and presumably up on the latest medical techniques.
“Brother Andy?” Garnet asked. “Why him?”
“Because he … is completely unbiased,” Mordred selected. “He never met Mother –”
“Better to be with someone who did! Mother Julian, or Father H–”
“Because he … is not the most unbiased person to whom to take your case.”
“My — my case?” Garnet sputtered. Then she gasped. “You think I’m crazy?”
Mordred winced. “Garnet, please do not be irrational –”
“You think I’m crazy!”
“I …” Mordred sighed. “What alternative do I have?”
“You could believe me!”
“Garnet. I knew Mother as long as — longer than! — you did. She never once raised a hand to me, or was anything other than loving and maternal. And you expect me to believe that on the very night of the date my wife and Goodwife Pelles chose for their defamation of Mother’s character, that Mother went unprovoked to Camford and attacked you? I don’t know where this idea came from, Garnet, but it is evident that we need some kind of medical professional –”
“I am not crazy! She attacked me!”
“Did she, now? Well, I would imagine that choking you, attacking you, setting a servantus on you, etc., would cause a bit of noise — be sure to wake the whole house, eh? So, what did all of your friends say when they were rudely roused from their beds?”
“Mother put a sleep spell on them! They –”
“Didn’t hear a thing,” Mordred finished for her, rolling his eyes. “Of course. You know, Garnet, if you dreamed the whole thing, they would not have heard a thing, either.”
“If I dreamed the whole thing, I wouldn’t have woken up with bruises the next morning!”
“And who saw those bruises?”
“Morgan, when I –”
“Who, other than her?”
“Nobody! The bruises were covered by my gown!”
“Ah, that was back before you started dressing like a two-farthing whore?” Mordred quipped, and regretted it instantly. The last thing he needed was to put her on the defensive about her gowns —
Garnet, however, did not start screeching at him about her taste in gowns and his presumed lack thereof. “You know what?” she murmured. “I don’t need this.” She turned and tried to walk to the door.
“Garnet! Garnet, where you going?”
Mordred snarled, then grabbed his hand from his sleeve and flung a ward at the door. Garnet watched the green light shoot past and coat the door in a weird green film in those few fractions of a second before it became invisible to even magical eyes. She glanced at him over her shoulder and snorted.
Then she dematerialized.
“Garnet — damn it, Garnet! Get back here!”
The gold light surrounded her, brightened, and vanished, leaving spots before Mordred’s eyes.
For a moment he hesitated. Why not just let her go? Let her go on a night fly and perhaps work off some steam? Then in the morning, they could discuss this calmly, like the rational Sim he was and the rational Sim she would be once he got her some help. Perhaps he could take her to Glasonland or Reme, or even Camford itself, which housed some of the best medical minds —
Then Mordred remembered that Garnet was not, precisely, rational, and she could go anywhere on that night fly — there were too many places she could go, too many people who would believe her and let her persist in her delusions —
He dematerialized, materializing where he thought Garnet was likely to be — the front of the keep, between the stables where the brooms were kept and the road.
Garnet was just walking along the path. She froze when she saw him.
“Garnet,” Mordred said slowly, calmly, as he would to a frightened hawk or cringing dog, “Garnet, before you go anywhere, I think we should finish discussing this.”
She sneered. “There’s nothing to discuss.”
“You are not well. You are not rational, Garnet. I do not think it wise for you to go out flying at night when you are –”
“I’m perfectly rational, Mordred. You’re the crazy one.”
“I very much doubt I am anything of the kind.”
“You still think she’s innocent, don’t you?” asked Garnet. “After all that evidence? Jessie wrote to me about the trial, you know. Dindrane and Betsy’s story convinced the King and Lord Pellinore long before it convinced a jury. Do you really think they’re crazy and you’re sane?”
“Not crazy, but biased. They both had reasons to want –”
“Uncle Arthur had reasons for wanting his sister dead?”
“They never got along!” Mordred snapped. “Father always kept Mother — Mother quiet, and calm, and happy, but with Father gone? Mother could have — could have –”
“Done something stupid? Like try to kill a little boy and –”
“Shut up! No! Just — made trouble! Arthur may tolerate witches and wizards, but he wants them quiet and well-behaved, or else working for him! And Mother — Mother and Uncle Arthur never did see eye-to-eye on certain matters! She could have pushed back the frontiers of magic, but it might require some — some sacrifices a squeamish soul would –”
“Like a four-year-old boy?”
“No! She never harmed anybody! Other than Accolon!” he groaned, before Garnet could proceed to beat that dead horse again. “She never did harm to anything or anybody other than what was hers to harm! And she might have … her researches may have — but she never would have caused harm to anybody else!”
Garnet glared at him; then, she sighed. “Mordred, if you actually believe that, you are more deluded and more crazy than you think I am.”
“I am –”
“Mordred, listen to me. I want you to take this with you when you to to sleep tonight. Who’s more likely to be right, and who’s more likely to be crazy? All the most brilliant minds in the kingdom — and even if Uncle Arthur, and Morgan, and Lord Pellinore have reasons to hate mother and want to see her dead, Sir William didn’t, and Jessie says he believed Dindrane and Betsy — and Master Ferreira must be very clever, or else he could never have come as far as he has, and Ravenna says that Mistress Emrys is very intelligent, too, and Aglovale … sometimes Aglovale is too smart by half. So who’s more likely to be wrong, Mordred? All of them, or just you?”
Garnet did not even wait for him to respond. Instead, she did the unforgivable. She pushed past him and called her broom.
“Garnet!” Mordred shouted. “And just where to do you think you’re going?”
“I forbid it!”
She shot him a glance that said, clearer than mere words, Try and stop me.
“I mean it! If you ever want a dowry — if you want another penny from me for any reason, you will — Garnet, get off that broom! Garnet! I said — damn it!
But it was too late. She was gone, and Mordred had nothing left to shout at but empty air.