Aglovale was a father now. A father. There was a baby back in Albion who was going to depend on Aglovale for clothing and shelter (if not food, at the moment, that was Babette’s job — but he would have to be sure Babette was fed), for education, for learning how to be a man in this world. Learning how to be a man! Aglovale himself wasn’t sure how to be a man yet; how the hell was he supposed to teach that to a baby?
He was so unready for this, and he knew it, and he was pretty sure the baby knew it too. Those blue eyes of the baby — Babette’s eyes — had looked up at him with far more intensity and knowledge than Babette’s ever had. That baby was probably lying in his cradle now, wondering why it was that he had decided to come to earth and place himself in the hands of two supreme dolts like Babette and Aglovale.
Even the name was all wrong. Morien. Morien only made sense if the baby in question was a Smoor. Aglovale had thought of the name as a clever game, a trick, a play on words. The circumstances of the first Morien’s birth and those of the second were not so different. But then the baby had been placed in his arms, and Aglovale had known that the name was all wrong for a baby as pale as he and as red-haired as his mother. It was only the first of a thousand mistakes Aglovale was going to make with his son, he knew it.
But right now, Aglovale’s worst problem wasn’t that he had irrevocably ruined the life of an innocent baby by siring it before he was ready. His problem was that he needed a drink to somehow face that thought — and Elyan was standing right in front of him, and he wouldn’t move, and he wouldn’t shut up. And Elyan thought he had problems.
“He’s entirely too familiar with her!” Elyan whined, probably because Aglovale was the only other person in the house, and was the only person in the house in any case likely to be halfway sympathetic to his plight. Right now, Aglovale wasn’t even sure he’d give Elyan a halfway, but Elyan seemed to think he should. “He’s always hovering over her and touching her and he won’t leave her alone! It’s not proper!”
Aglovale sighed. “Who are we talking about, again?”
“Frederick! With Clarice!”
“Not yet! Not until the contracts are signed, and Father hasn’t yet permitted that!”
No, actually, Elyan was wrong about that. Aglovale was not sure how Freddy and Clarice between them had managed it, but somehow all of the Albionese knew about the ring Freddy had given to her and the engagement. They were betrothed. Betrothal had nothing to do with the contracts between fathers; it was the parties’ agreement to marry that made them legal.
“And do you know what else he did?” Elyan demanded indignantly. “Do you know what else? He gave her a ring! A ring!”
Apparently Elyan did know about that, even if he hadn’t worked out what it meant. “Isn’t it common for betrothed — or, fine, almost betrothed couples — to give each other gifts?” Aglovale snapped.
He had never given any gifts to Babette, at least, not while they were betrothed. But they had only been betrothed for a few days. Maybe that wasn’t as grievous a fault as Aglovale was ready to make it out to be.
“Not expensive jewelry! And anyway, where did he get the money for it?”
“His father?” Aglovale queried. “He has money, after all.” Aglovale was not quite at the point where he would be cruel enough to say, unlike your father, but he made damn sure Elyan heard it all the same.
The tips of Elyan’s ears began to redden. “But he’s still not supposed to give her gifts like that! And Clarice shouldn’t have accepted it!”
“According to what logic?” Aglovale snapped. “Look, I don’t see what the problem is here. He loves her — anybody can see that. She loves him. Not only is the match approved by your parents, they set it up. Where, in all of this, is there anything for anybody to complain about?”
“They’re not betrothed,” Elyan muttered. “He’s being too familiar.”
“According to whom?”
“Father wouldn’t approve.”
Why, because Freddy makes Clarice happy? Aglovale bit his lip. He wouldn’t say that, not to Elyan. It was one thing to say it to Kay or Freddy, but there were some lines that should not be crossed. Instead, he chose an appeal to logic that no eighteen-year-old ought to be able to resist. “So? He’s not here now.”
“Somebody has to act for him,” Elyan mumbled.
“Says who? Seems to me that all of you should be kicking up your heels, glad to be free of him for at least a little while.”
Elyan sighed. “You don’t understand, Aglovale …”
Oh, believe me, I don’t.
“You don’t have sisters. Well, all right, you do, but you’ve got Lamorak to help you be responsible for them. If I don’t watch over my sisters and guard their honor, who will? And Frederick is not making it easy!”
“First of all, I was here for a year before you were, and it struck me that Clarice and Angelique were doing a damn good job guarding their own honor without you. And so was Lynn before them. Ask Kay if you don’t believe me. Secondly, you’re the younger brother. Even if you weren’t …” How to put this so that Elyan was listening? “Even if you weren’t trying to be your father all over again, just when your sisters had gotten a taste of independence, they wouldn’t listen to you just because you’re younger.”
“That’s madness! I’m their brother.”
“Younger than Clarice by three years, younger than Lynn by five. You might have a prayer with Angelique, but that’s only if she’s in a particularly good mood. Face it, Elyan. You’re not going to have power over them. Do you think I’d ever be able to have power over Dindrane?”
Elyan sniffed and fell into the seat beside Aglovale. “She’d probably be better off if you did.”
“Elyan?” Aglovale snapped.
“Don’t even go there.”
“Don’t. Even. Go. There. Look, Elyan, I am only going to say this once: my father and your father are barely on speaking terms because of the way your father treats the women around him. Me, I don’t give a damn about how you treat your sisters. But if you ever talk about my sister like that again, we won’t be on speaking terms.”
Elyan’s jaw fell. “Aglovale!”
“Don’t make me repeat it.”
Elyan stared at Aglovale for a moment, then cradled his head in his hands. Aglovale took advantage of his inattention to get up and grab a drink. Of course, Elyan looked up at the first creak of a board and followed him, duckling-like, watching as Aglovale poured.
“Is that really why your father won’t talk to mine?” Elyan asked, reaching for a tankard without even asking a by-your-leave of Aglovale.
“Because of the way my father treated — treats — my mother and my sisters.”
Elyan stared into the depths of the tankard, swishing the ale experimentally. “I never knew that. I just thought …”
Aglovale, halfway through the process of gulping some down, raised his eyebrows over the rim of the tankard.
“Your father is quite intelligent. So I always just thought … well. Not that it matters.” He swished the ale again. “But my father can be …”
“Can be?” Aglovale prodded. Calling another man’s father a blithering idiot, even if the father in question was blithering in front of them, was crossing the line. But encouraging the son to call out the father? That was just being a good friend. Or so Aglovale would tell himself.
“Well, he … is very firm in his beliefs. A man of conviction. He’ll stick to his principles no matter what. Unfortunately … that’s not always the most practical course.”
That was putting it mildly.
“My father believes in his convictions, too.”
“But he’s practical,” Elyan sighed. “He — if he takes a stand, it’s for something that matters! Not — not just because that’s how things would have been in Glasonland! Or because it’s how the bloody monks of St. Consort say it ought to be! We’d all be so much happy, I’m sure, if Father would let go of some things — but he won’t!”
“Hmm,” Aglovale mused, taking another sip.
“Seems to me that that’s your sisters’ chief complaint about him.”
“Oh, that’s different.” Elyan waved his hand. “They’re women. You have to keep them in line.”
Aglovale nearly spit out his ale. Has he met his sisters?!
“Besides, it’s not like Father has steered them wrong. Gwendolyn is the Crown Princess, Angelique is a holy nun … the only place where he hasn’t been as, er, discerning is with Clarice.”
“By what measure?”
“Any measure! You know, she’s serious about this doctor thing? And Frederick is encouraging her! I heard them talking! He’s setting up a surgery for her in their new home!”
“So?” Aglovale shrugged. “Albion needs doctors.”
“But she’s a noblewoman! She might be forced to marry a commoner –”
“He won’t be a commoner when they marry. My father says that Richard Ferreira is getting that barony by the end of the year.”
“Please! He’s born a commoner! Once a commoner, always a commoner! Anyway –”
“Elyan?” Aglovale snapped.
“Think about what you just said.” Elyan wrinkled his nose, the effort of thinking clearly proving to be too much for him. “And then remember my wife. And my son. What are they, by your logic?” Part of Aglovale’s soul winced to hear him describing what passed for Elyan’s thought processes as logic, but there was no way to truthfully describe them without insulting the little bastard.
“Oh, that’s different!” Elyan laughed. “A woman can easily be ennobled by the status of her husband. Look at our Queen! But it doesn’t work in reverse.”
There was no help for it. Aglovale had no choice but to toss down the rest of his ale and grab another.
“Besides, just because Clarice is being forced to marry a commoner, it doesn’t mean she has to get down in the muck with them. Imagine that — a girl of Clarice’s blood working as a doctor! In the — in the — in the blood and the vomit and — and all the rest of it!” Elyan shuddered.
“But it’ll make her happy, Elyan. Who knows?” Aglovale swished his ale again. “Maybe — maybe if Dindrane had followed a profession, she wouldn’t have been so … so miserable by the end of her marriage. And Dindrane knows a lot about medicine.” However, Aglovale had to admit that the idea of his sister — his chilly, pristine, emotionally-removed sister — as a doctor was a bit laughable. Lord only knew what her bedside manner would be like.
“Still. Put yourself in my shoes, Aglovale! How pleased would you be to see somebody — somebody utterly unworthy of your sister — your little sisters — putting his paws all over her?”
Aglovale swished his ale in his tankard and thought. He thought of Kay, how he had been drawn to Dilys the moment Aglovale turned his back. Aglovale knew Kay. He knew that Kay was a butterfly, flitting from one girl to the next, somehow avoiding leaving a string of completely broken hearts behind him, but —
But shy, sweet Dilys wasn’t like those girls, those girls who could be loved and left by a Prince and still emerge heart-whole. When Dilys loved, she loved with her whole heart. She needed somebody steady, somebody who would give her the love and protection she needed. She didn’t need butterfly Kay.
But … but Aglovale had never seen Kay like that before with a girl, any girl. Oh, he’d seen Kay interested in what girls were saying, conversing with them like an equal — it was his gift — but he’d never seen him hanging off a girl’s every word. He’d seen Kay undress many a tavern maid with his eyes (usually while her back was turned), but he’d never seen Kay look at a girl with worship in his eyes. And he had never, never seen Dilys smile as she had when Kay had leaned close and murmured something to her.
“You see what I mean?” Elyan cried, waking Aglovale up. “You — you see how wrong it is! My sister has the blood of kings in her veins! And that commoner is going to –”
“Is going to what?”
SHIT! “Freddy!” Aglovale yelped, spinning on his heel.
Freddy, unlike his normal puppy-dog self, always ready to wag his tail whenever somebody tossed him a bone, stalked past Aglovale and stepped squarely into Elyan’s space. “I’m going to what, Elyan?”
Elyan, instead of doing the sensible thing and apologizing — feigning madness — pretend he was talking about Angelique, something — tilted his chin and stuck his nose in the air. “I think you know well what you’re going to do, commoner.”
“Elyan –” Aglovale warned.
“You, shut up,” Freddy snapped. Aglovale gasped. Freddy just told him to shut up? Had Freddy ever those words ever before in his life? “And you …” Freddy’s hand started to shake and his body to tremble. “You, you can butt the hell out of Clarice’s and my life!”
“You two don’t have a life yet! You’re not even betrothed!”
“We –” Freddy started, but Aglovale kicked his ankle. If looks could kill, Morien would have been an orphan and Babette a widow — but luckily they couldn’t, and who knew? Maybe Freddy would even thank him later.
“And you have no right to be treating her the way you are! Too familiar! It’s disgusting!”
“Disgusting!” Freddy exploded. “I love her! I’d die to make her happy! You think that’s disgusting?”
“Commoner,” Elyan sniffed, satisfaction lighting in his eye. Aglovale smacked his own forehead. “A true man of good breeding would know how to temper his emotions.”
“Good breeding?” Freddy snapped. “You and your father between you are so inbred you forgot all of your brains two generations ago, and you have the gall to–”
“Inbred!” Elyan gasped. “You dare!”
“I dare? I dare? I make your sister happy, and you dare to call me out for it?”
“Call you out! Oh, you fool! If you had a drop of good blood in your veins, I would call you out for it — and you would lose!”
“Elyan!” Aglovale snapped. “Shut the hell up!” The last thing they — any of them — needed was for Elyan to get himself into a duel with Freddy. If things went wrong, Clarice would stitch Freddy up again in a moment. She might not do that for her brother, not with the way he was treating Freddy.
“I will not shut up! This man dishonors my sister every time he looks at her! He doesn’t know how to treat a lady –”
“I am so fucking sick of you talking about how to treat a lady! You wouldn’t know to treat a lady if the Lord Wright Himself came down from heaven and showed you how!”
“Blasphemer! Do you hear this, Aglovale?”
Yes, Aglovale did hear this — and he was pretty sure that he was more surprised than Elyan. The difference was, of course, that Elyan was shocked by the words and the fact that they were being said to him; Aglovale was shocked by the fact that of all people, it was Freddy who finally lost it and said them. All of Aglovale’s money had been on Leona for this tongue-lashing.
“It bloody well is blasphemy for you and your fucked-up father!” Freddy shouted. Aglovale blinked. He’d never heard Freddy use the word fuck twice in one day, never mind twice in five minutes. “The Lord forbid that somebody should make one of your sisters happy instead of driving them mad!”
“My sisters aren’t mad!”
“But your mother was!”
Aglovale gasped. “Freddy –”
“But that’s no fault with her, because it was your father who made her that way!”
“And I will be dead before I let you and him do the same thing to Clarice!”
“That is absurd! My father did not — did not — well, he didn’t mean to –”
“Like that bloody well matters! He treats all women the same way! Like they’re chattel! Not even people! Well, he won’t do that to Clarice! Not while I’m around, and neither will you!”
“You will not tell me how to treat my own sister, sirrah!”
“Yes! I! WILL!” Freddy snapped, stepping forward — and as much to Aglovale’s shock as to anybody’s, Elyan stepped back. “If you ever so much as think what you were just saying about me, about her, in Clarice’s hearing ever again, I swear to Wright there will be so little left of you by the time I’m done with you!”
“Did you hear that?” Elyan demanded of Aglovale. “Did you hear what he said to me? You’re a magistrate’s son! What do you call that?”
… Justifiable homicide?
“She has never — never — had anybody to stand up for her! And there is a part of her — she is so sad inside! She was when I met her, and a part of her still is now!” Was Freddy’s voice breaking? “I want nothing more to make that sadness go away — and all you and your father will ever do is add to it — and you say I’m not good enough for her!”
How could you argue with logic like that? You didn’t — you took a page out of the de Ganis book and dismissed it. “Pfaugh! As if you had the least idea! We — we are not put on this earth for happiness!”
Wait a moment … that was weak even for Elyan …
“We’re not put on it to make each other bloody miserable, either!”
“You — you see, you don’t have the least idea!” Elyan snapped. “If you did, you — you’d understand! Clarice isn’t sad! She has nothing to be sad about! What you’re seeing is — is — proper gravity and dignity! Which you would understand, if you were worthy of her!”
“I never said I was worthy of her,” Freddy replied. Did the softening of his voice mean that he was calming down — or did it mean the opposite? Damn it, why couldn’t Freddy have lost his temper before this? “I just objected to you — you, of all Sims — claiming that I wasn’t good enough for her. And if you’re going to keep claiming that,” his voice started to rise again, “don’t you dare make it about my blood!”
They were going to be at this all day. Aglovale rolled his eyes.
But still, they didn’t seem too likely to kill each other, just at the moment. They would keep going until one or the other backed down, or until Kay came back from class and was brave enough to break them up, because Aglovale certainly wasn’t. Still … somebody, he supposed, ought to stay in the room and make sure they didn’t kill each other.
He sighed and moved around the back of the bar.
He poured himself a drink. This was going to be a long afternoon. And it was an afternoon best spent well-lubricated.