“Well, at least she’s not cursing you out,” Kay pointed out in what he thought was a completely reasonable tone. “It could always be worse, my friend.”
Aglovale only scowled. Kay kept smiling. It was either that or sigh, roll his eyes, something. He’d tagged along today to keep Aglovale company, be sure that he had someone on his side, but Aglovale was not making it easy to fulfill that self-appointed mission.
It was Aglovale’s nervous glances at the stairs, and presumably his thoughts on the woman at the top of them, that kept Kay patient. He’d not had the pleasure of keeping a father-to-be calm before, since he had managed to miss the births of all of his nieces and nephews. He had written to Tom and pestered him as to the best practices, but Tom’s reply had not been helpful. Tom had only suggested applying alcohol in copious quantities, preferably via the lips, but other orifices could work in a pinch. Sage as that advice might be, it was not likely to work today. Not with the cushions stacked in the bay window providing seats for stern Lord Pellinore, grumpy Master Wesleyan, and the completely unhelpful Lamorak.
Well, maybe Lamorak would be more helpful in slightly better circumstances, but not while his father and Master Wesleyan were sitting there, radiating their disapproval and awkwardness and just plain worry. Kay wished they would just get over it — not the worry, because he could understand that, but the disapproval. Aglovale and Babette had been married for months. No, the circumstances weren’t what anyone would hope for, but there was no fixing them now. Why not just be happy for the new baby? The whole affair was as under control as it was going to get.
If it weren’t for Lord Pellinore and Master Wesleyan, Kay would have the perfect job for Lamorak: buying drinks. Kay had already scouted out what Babette kept on hand (under the pretext of needing to wash his hands in the kitchen). She only had small ale, cider, and cooking wine. Cooking wine! Hadn’t the daft girl known that she was soon going to be hosting a bevy of very worried men who would be sitting on their duffs, useless, needing liquid calm to get them through the next few hours?
However, as much as Kay would have liked to blame the men exclusively for the depressing situation in which they all found themselves, there was another reason for sobriety sitting in the other window, all alone, huddled into herself and seemingly wishing she were anywhere else. She didn’t even have her twin at her side, for Delyth had somehow convinced father and mother and sister-in-law to let her be at Babette’s side for the birth.
With Dilys looking so awkward and forlorn, it was far, far easier to blame the old men for why he could not just open Aglovale’s mouth and pour some whiskey down his throat.
“You know, Kay,” Aglovale muttered, “I really don’t need reminding on how it could be worse, thanks.”
It was only through sheer grit that Kay kept from looking over his shoulder at Master Wesleyan. There had to be a reason why he was the only representative from the Wesleyan family here today, notwithstanding Mistress Wesleyan upstairs. Oh, they could say and probably would say that it was because neither Rob nor Joshua could be spared from the shop, but it was probably because neither of them could face the possibility of something going wrong, not after what had happened to Joshua’s wife.
“Sorry. Just trying to be helpful.”
“Got anything better?” Aglovale asked.
“Not precisely at the moment, but give me a few minutes and perhaps I’ll have something.” Kay scratched the back of his neck. “Have you, er, thought about names?”
“Morien for a boy,” Aglovale replied. “Elen for a girl.”
“Elen?” asked Master Wesleyan.
“Aye …” Aglovale smiled a little sickly, casting an awkward glance at his father. “Since Morien is a family name, I thought it was only fair that Babette pick out the name for a girl.”
“Won’t really work for twins, though,” Kay mused, causing Aglovale to stare at him with an expression best described as horrified. “What? Will and Jess had their names all picked out, and then Jess went and had twins, and they had to chuck those names and start all over again! And twins run in your family, mate! Best be prepared, that’s all I’m saying.”
“I think it is the mother’s family that matters more in these things,” Lord Pellinore instantly soothed, “and I do not believe there is any evidence of twins in your family. Is there, Master Wesleyan?”
“Not — not that I’m aware of,” Master Wesleyan replied, looking a little sickly himself at the possibility. “However, I — can’t say for certain about Helena’s family. It’s been so long, you see.”
“Great,” muttered Aglovale below his breath, glaring at Kay as if somehow the possibility of him having twins was all Kay’s fault.
But it wasn’t Kay’s family that twins ran–all right, twins did run in Kay’s family, but that wasn’t the issue here. They ran in Aglovale’s. It was a possibility. And if Aglovale was so blessed with twins, well, now he had a few hours’ forewarning to try out possible alternate names.
“Aglovale?” Master Wesleyan said, bringing both of their attention back to him. “Babette tells her mother everything the midwife tells her, and Helena … tells me what I’d find important or useful. She hasn’t said anything about a possibility of twins. So I wouldn’t get my hopes up, if I were you.” A wry smile lit the corner of his lip. “Or worry.”
Aglovale glared. “Of course I would worry! Twins are — are twice as dangerous for the mother, aren’t they?”
Kay’s eyebrows had to arch a bit. If that was genuine, all to the good. And if that was a save, well, it was a very clever one. But what was Aglovale if not clever?
“Besides,” he added, “I don’t think I have to pretend that I’m in any position to — support twins.” He walked over to Babette’s spinning wheel, appropriated the stool from it, and plunked down on it. “It’s going to be enough of a struggle to support one baby.”
Lord Pellinore did not answer his son directly; instead he turned to Master Wesleyan. “But we will help all we can. Rest assured. Your grandchild and daughter will want for nothing.”
“Generous,” remarked Master Wesleyan with another wry smile. “Especially since I hear you’re setting your other daughter up in her own establishment.”
Lord Pellinore’s eyes widened slightly. “In-deed. You heard that?”
“Wasn’t aware it was a secret.”
“Er …” Lord Pellinore stroked his beard. “Well, perhaps it was foolish of me to assume that my news would remain private. One cannot build a house in secrecy, after all.”
“Precisely,” Master Wesleyan grinned.
Kay watched them with a head cocked to one side. It seemed that a dour father, a dourer father-in-law, and a brother who looked increasingly panicked at the turn of the conversation were doing a better job of calming the expectant father than a best friend. Aglovale was leaning forward on his stool, chin propped on his hand, watching the exchange with no small degree of interest. So if Kay’s self-appointed duty was being fulfilled by people other than him …
Well, what kind of knight and prince would let a lady languish all by herself? Slowly, he shuffled over to the other window seat, and when the attention of the men was all safely elsewhere, he gingerly hopped onto it. “This seat taken?”
Dilys turned to him and gasped, her flame-blue eyes opening wide. “Oh, no! Of c-course not!” She smiled, slowly, the effect transforming her face like a bud slowly opening to full bloom. She had such a gorgeous smile. She ought to show it more.
Kay winced and stared at his knees. He had promised himself at his brother and sister’s wedding (Lord, if that didn’t sound wrong) that he would not push her or pursue her any further. Better to let somebody her own age, somebody who wasn’t a prince have the luck of courting her. Somebody who she could be comfortable with, somebody who wouldn’t pressure her by virtue of who he was.
Then came the second shock: that wedding had been over a year and a half ago.And he was still thinking about Dilys.
His eyes flickered upward, to find her — staring at him? She blushed and looked away. But she had been looking at him …
He must be insane, or a lecher, or both. She wasfifteen! What was wrong with him?
“Y-you know,” Dilys said, not quite daring to look at him, “there’s a — a family legend about Morien.”
“You mean the guy your brother wants to name his son after? Well, if it’s a boy.”
Dilys nodded. “Do — do you want to hear it? I mean, you might think it’s boring …”
“Never,” Kay replied, surprising himself with his sincerity.
She dared to look at him, and what was better, she dared to smile. “Well, they say — the legend says — that Aglovale — er, my … oh, dear. I’m not sure how many greats it is, but it’s a lot of them. He was a great-uncle of some kind.”
“He went to Smooria on a quest — he was looking for another knight that had gone missing. He met a beautiful Smoorish maiden, and they promised to wed, but he wouldn’t do that before he finished his quest. So they were betrothed, and they were — together,” Dilys blushed again, “and then he left. And she had a baby, whom she called Morien.”
“Morien!” Dilys agreed. “But after she had Morien, her father was very angry, and he disinherited her, even though she was betrothed when she had him. So she and her son had to go and live in great poverty. Meanwhile, Aglovale found the knight he was looking for and returned to the court in Ludenwic.”
“How gallant of him,” Kay remarked.
Dilys made a pretty little pout. “He doesn’t come off very well in this story, does he?”
“I don’t know. You haven’t finished telling it — have you?”
“Oh, no! No, not yet. Morien grew up, and he was very, very strong. So strong that if somebody threw a spear at him, he could bat it out of the air like you or I would bat away a fly! And he trained as a knight. And when he came of age, he swore he would find his father, make him fulfill his promise, and get his mother her lands back.”
“Really?” Kay asked before he could stop himself.
Dilys blinked, her mouth falling open in a small O. “You — you don’t believe me?”
“Yes — I mean no — I mean, well, it’s not you I don’t believe, it’s the … the story.”
Dilys turned her head a little to one side, willing him to go on.
“It’s …” Kay rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s like this. I’m a young man, aye? Trained as a knight and all that rot. And if some bloke promised to marry my mother, then got her with child — me — and then split, when I grew up … well, I wouldn’t be going to have a nice, civilized conversation with him and then ask him politely to marry my mother. The only thing he’d be talking with would be the point of my sword.”
When he was done, he expected her to look startled, shocked, aghast. Surely someone as gentle and romantic as Dilys would not take the tearing apart of the pretty story very well. Instead, she looked thoughtful. “I guess that might make a bit more sense,” she admitted. “It’s not as pretty a story, though.”
“Well, no,” Kay agreed.
“But it might be truer,” Dilys went on, almost as if she hadn’t heard him. And now her eyes had not only the color of the heart of a flame, but something of its intensity.
Kay almost had to lean away from the flames presented therein. “Oh?”
Dilys seemed to realize what she had just said then and turned a magnificent shade of rose. “Oh! Oh, I’m sorry, I’m going off –”
“No,” Kay interrupted, “no, don’t be sorry. Go on. Truer how?”
“But the story …”
“Never mind the story, I can probably guess how it ends.”
Dilys smiled a little. “Oh? C-can you?”
“Aye … hmm. Well, if he didn’t find his father, or his father’s family, somehow, you wouldn’t have a legend, so he must have tracked them down. I’m guessing he found his father?”
“And you seemed surprised when I suggested that Morien might not harbor altogether positive feelings toward his father, so I’m guessing that when they finally met, he didn’t skewer him?”
“No,” Dilys giggled, “he didn’t.”
“So they … probably went back to Smooria, and Aglovale married Morien’s mother, and everybody lived happily ever after?”
“Something like that,” Dilys grinned. “There were lots of adventures on the way, though.”
“There usually are. Now, you were saying about truer tales, lo–my lady?”
She didn’t seem to notice the slip, thank the Lord. Instead, her brows puckered and her face grew thoughtful. “Everybody seems to think that — that the way you make stories, things pretty is by whitewashing them. If — if you look at the murals in a church, like a street scene, you never see dirt or trash or pigs roaming about or anything — but that would all be there in a real street scene!”
She was so pretty when she was thoughtful. Her eyes focused on something in the distance, and Kay leaned back, out of their range. Maybe if she forgot he was there, she would keep going.
“And I just think … that, that if you want to show the world, you have to show it how it is, not — how you want it to be. That’s not art. Not really. Isn’t — isn’t art supposed to hold a mirror up to nature?”
He nodded, not quite daring to speak out loud.
“And how can you do that if you’re not willing to show — everything? A mirror doesn’t judge. It just reflects. And if you don’t have a good mirror, how do you know when you — you — you’ve got a bit of spinach stuck in your teeth?”
Kay tried — he truly tried — but he could not help the little chortle that escaped from him. And with that chortle, Dilys seemed to remember he was there. “Oh!” she gasped. “Oh, I — I’m sorry, I thought — I don’t know what I –” She jumped up, her hands wringing together.
“What?” Kay laughed, trying to put her at her ease. “That you were talking to somebody bright enough to follow the brilliant things you’re saying?”
“You are smart–” she started, then stopped, her eyes blazing even as her jaw fell. “B-brilliant?”
“Well, what else would you call it, love? I think you’ve got some great ideas.”
“You — you do?” Dilys gasped, coloring.
“Well, if you think that art … and I’m guessing you’re putting stories under art?” She nodded. “If art’s job, then, is to show the world itself, it shouldn’t edit out those bits that the artist doesn’t like, eh?”
She grinned, then looked crestfallen. “What?” Kay asked. “What is it?”
“Oh … Mother Julian just … well, she d-doesn’t think the same …”
“I wanted to do a p-painting,” she babbled. “Of — of Aglovale’s betrothed. Er, not Babette, I mean the Smoorish maiden. I wanted to show her with child, sitting in a window, just — waiting. Waiting and hoping he would come back. You know? Because the story just s-sort of ignores her, and I wanted to … to tell her story.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Kay replied.
“But Mother Julian didn’t think it was appropriate,” Dilys sighed.
And, unfortunately, that sounded reasonable too. Dilys was only fifteen! You didn’t want gently-reared fifteen-year-old girls painting that. It might send entirely the wrong kind of message. You didn’t want to advertise that fifteen-year-old, gently-reared girls knew those kinds of stories.
But how could Dilys not know? She was living that story, or at least witnessing it being lived. Her brother Aglovale had married his betrothed, aye, before she gave birth — but what about what she was watching with Lady Dindrane? She had watched Lady Dindrane go through her whole pregnancy with no father in the picture. Maybe the circumstances were different — but maybe they weren’t. Maybe what the world needed to see was that these women existed, and even gently-reared girls knew about them, and that perhaps something ought to be done to ensure that their lives weren’t any harder than they needed to be.
“I think you should paint it,” said Kay.
Dilys blinked. “You — you do?”
“But M-Mother Julian –”
“You don’t have to show it to her, if she won’t approve. Er — why were you showing it to her in the first place?”
“It was for school. I begged her to let me do a painting instead of an embroidered book cover.” Dilys sighed. “But she didn’t like the idea, s-so, book cover it is.”
“Well, you can paint it at home, can’t you? If that’s what you really want to paint?”
Dilys considered that. “Yes …”
“Then why don’t you? What’s stopping you?”
She looked guiltily over her shoulder, and Kay could well imagine what was stopping her. Lord Pellinore probably wouldn’t like admitting that his daughter knew of such things any better than Mother Julian liked admitting her student knew of such things.
But then again … “Well, why not? Your sister is witnessing the miracle of life in all its glory, isn’t she? I mean Delyth,” he added after a moment’s consideration.
Dilys blushed. “I still can’t believe that she managed that.”
Kay wasn’t sure he could, either, but no traumatized Delyth had rushed out of the house screaming, so she must have managed to hold herself together somehow. Or was Dilys referring to the feat of convincing their parents to go along with the idea?
“But if Delyth gets to be there for that …” Kay leaned closer, winking conspiratorially. “I don’t see why you can’t paint a picture of an expecting woman looking out a window.”
Dilys giggled. “Not even! I m-made some sketches — and it’s just Ravenna with a pillow stuffed up her skirt!”
“Ravenna? Tsk, tsk. I don’t know whether I should be upset with you for corrupting my poor impressionable cousin …” As Dilys’s eyes went wide, he followed that with, “or take the more likely idea, which is that my aunt is the one corrupting my poor innocent …”
Damn. What was she to him, anyway? Not what he wanted — what she was?
“Friend,” Kay could only finish, lamely.
But far from looking crestfallen, she grinned up at him. “Friend.”
That was all she wanted from him? Damn, now he had to avoid feeling crestfallen. “Aye, of course. What else are we, Dilys, if not … friends?”
Did she even hear what he was saying? She was fifteen. That was more than old enough to be … thinking about things, even if Kay at twenty knew he shouldn’t be pursuing them. “You could be friends with anybody,” she replied.
“Maybe. Not so sure about that, myself. I doubt I’d get on with your average mass-murderer.”
She giggled. “You know what I mean!”
Aye, but do you know what I mean? “Point still stands, love. But tell me … if I can be friends with anybody, why on earth would it be surprising that I’d want to be friends with you?”
He would never get her answer to that, though he would have dearly loved to have heard it. He got a glimmering of what it might be in the way her eyes widened and lit up. He was almost brave enough to reach to touch her hand —
But a sudden lusty infant wail forestalled all thought of that. And before long, the shocked silence that had reigned after that was broken by clattering footsteps hurrying down the stair.
“It’s a boy!” yelped Delyth, coming to a halt at the bottom of the stairs, the poor baby in her arms looking more than a little surprised. “You hear that, Aglovale? You’re a daddy!”