“And he didn’t say what he wanted?” Delyth asked Dilys for what had to be the tenth time.
“No,” Dilys squeaked. “I …”
“Well, I didn’t ask, not really. He just said he wanted to see us, and … well … Mother will be there, too,” she replied.
Delyth barely bit back a snort.Great. Both of their parents had teamed up on them. That could hardly bode well.
Should she try to hunt down Lamorak and pump him for information? No — that would take too much time, especially since their father had wanted to see them directly after dinner. And Lamorak probably wouldn’t know, either. Lamorak was usually not consulted when it came to decisions their parents made over the siblings.
It was probably about George — or maybe not, since Dilys was being called in, too. Or maybe it was. Misdirection, that was it. Bring in both girls so that they didn’t suspect anything, then a subtle line of questioning, then everything would come out …
“I don’t think we’re in trouble.” Dilys tried to smile. “Papa didn’t sound mad or anything.”
Of course he wouldn’t sound mad to Dilys — what had Dilys done recently? But Delyth hadn’t done anything, either! Oh, sure, she made a point of getting permission to go to the Tricross only on those nights when George was going to be there, but that was just strategy. If George was going to be there, then so was Ravenna, and Dilys would have somebody to hang out with. That was all there was to it, really.
Besides, she and George hadn’t done anything! They’d only kissed! And if there had been some tongue involved, well, what then? That was no breach of anybody’s honor. And if George’s hand had strayed near her breast … and if Delyth had stopped swatting it away … well, it didn’t get into her dress, so where was the harm? She was pretty sure, too, that her parents would have no way of knowing how many exploratory swipes her own hand had made under George’s collar, trying to get a feel for the firmness of his abdomen and chest. (She usually never managed to go any lower than the collarbone in any case.) Even if they did, well, boys didn’t have honor to protect, so again, where was the harm?
Forget it! she thought. This speculation was getting her nowhere. “You know what? I’m going in.” She turned on one heel and knocked at the door.
“Delyth!” Dilys squeaked.
Not waiting for an answer, Delyth pushed the door open. “Papa? Mama? You wanted to see us?”
“Indeed we did,” replied Pellinore. “Please come in, dears.”
Delyth sauntered in, Dilys scurrying in her wake.
Pellinore was smiling, and so was Eilwen. Delyth felt herself relax. Their parents might not let an erring child know she was in trouble right away, but they never failed to be stern when it came time to speak to him or her about what it was that he or she had done. They didn’t pretend that everything was peachy when it wasn’t.
However, Delyth was starting to notice, both of them were wearing decidedly nervous smiles.
“Dilys, dear,” asked Eilwen, “could you please shut the door? We’d much prefer for this conversation to be private.”
Dilys only nodded, and just as the door shut with a click, Delyth’s rump hit the chair with a thump. Private? Nothing good could come of a private, closed-door conversation.
“Well!” said Pellinore with that kind of forced joviality that never failed to forecast trouble. “You’re probably wondering what is your mother and I wanted to see you about.”
“Maybe a l-little,” Dilys replied with her smallest smile. Both parents replied by grinning very foolishly back at her.
Oooh boy. Delyth folded her hands in her lap, perfectly still, composed and demure. If that wasn’t enough sign that she was nervous, her foot beat an anxious tap-tap-tap-tap against the floorboards.
“Well,” Pellinore took a deep breath. “Well, my girls, as — as your mother is constantly reminding me these days, neither of you are little girls anymore. Both of you are, truly, young ladies.” The way Pellinore so obviously smiled at Delyth, even extending his right hand and circling it around, shooing her into an imaginary circle, told her that he knew that she wasn’t quite a young lady yet. At least, she wasn’t a young lady in the way Dilys was, with her monthly visitor and all. “And that being said … your mother and I thought it would be best if we started to have some discussions regarding your future.”
“Our future?” asked Delyth, while Dilys wore the smile of the confused and too afraid to show it.
“Each of your futures, we should have said,” put in Eilwen. “Forgive us, girls, but we thought it would be best to have the first discussion together, owing to some … matters that your father will get to in a minute. But you know you’re both going to have your own individual futures, and we won’t make you do things together if you don’t want to.”
Dilys and Delyth exchanged glances. Their parents had been doing that since they were ten or so. Before that point, they had been “the twins,” “Dilys and Delyth,” a unit in family discussions. And then, suddenly, came this insistence on treating them as individuals and different people, when Delyth and Dilys already knew quite well that they were different people. The differences started with the red hair versus the blond and only increased as you composed the blason.
Dilys, however, was threading her finger in and out, in and out of each other. “Papa,” she asked, “weren’t we supposed to go to Camford?”
“Of course, my dear, of course,” Pellinore said hastily. “But … but as your mother keeps reminding me …” He glanced sidelong as Eilwen. “You two are, well, you are young ladies. And you may find it easier to navigate your way through the world if you have some idea of what your mother and I have planned for you.”
Young ladies … easier to navigate through the world … what your mother and I have planned … Did he mean — did he already have their future, their futures, planned? All of it?
That’s not fair! We’re not sixteen yet!
“What do you mean, Papa?” Delyth asked, her voice ice-hard.
“Well …” Pellinore took a deep breath and smiled. “How about if I be brief, girls? You’re both getting old enough to understand politics, yes?”
Delyth and Dilys exchanged glances. So much for brief! But they nodded.
“And it cannot have escaped your attention that there are four noble families in this kingdom, and that two of them have already managed to tie themselves closer to the royal family by bonds of marriage, and of the two remaining, one is already closely related to the royals, and the other is, well, ourselves?” Pellinore asked.
“No …” Delyth murmured, and Dilys shook her head.
“That being said, it is the King’s fondest wish, and mine, that there be a marriage to more closely connect the Gwynedds to the royal family. And as the King has one remaining son, and I two lovely young daughters …”
“Oh, Pellinore,” Eilwen laughed, “spell it out! Girls, we thought, your father and I and, aye, the King, that it would be best if one of you were to marry Prince Kay.”
Prince Kay? Married to one of US? Delyth’s eyes flew wider.
“The most compatible pair, of course,” Pellinore said hurriedly. “After all, you — you know very well how much we, your mother and I, want to see all of you happy.” Pellinore wore a slightly trembling smile at that — probably because of Dindrane, who had married as he bid her and had hardly gotten happiness out of the bargain. “So we thought, perhaps, that you may both wish to be considering this in the days and months to come. Especially when your paths and those of Prince Kay should cross.”
Delyth glanced sidelong at Dilys, wondering what she was thinking of this. She had wilted against the back of the chair, eyes huge, but face expressionless other than that. Probably as shocked as Delyth, then. Perhaps as terrified by the thought as well.
“And, Delyth,” added Eilwen, smiling at Delyth — though Pellinore watched Dilys — “I don’t think we should keep this a secret from you, so let me say that we thought that you and the Prince might make the most compatible pair.”
Delyth’s mouth fell open and a curse picked up at the Tricross nearly came tumbling out. Her, married to a prince? Were they mad? She didn’t want have to spend the rest of her life being careful and tongue-tied and polite and royal! What if — Lord forbid — Prince Thomas should die without an heir? Then Prince Kay would be King, and she would have to be Queen! That would be terrible!
“Dilys?” Pellinore yelped in some alarm. “Dilys, is something the matter?”
Delyth’s gaze snapped to her twin. Dilys was even whiter than she had been a moment ago, which, given that Dilys didn’t have much in the way of skin color to begin with, was certainly a cause for alarm. She was staring at her father, mouth twisted, helpless. “Papa …”
“Honey?” asked Eilwen. “What is it? You can tell us.”
“Indeed, Dilys, if you have — have something you wish to share, this is not the time to keep silent,” Pellinore urged. “We didn’t call you in here to just tell us your plans, we called you in here to discuss them with you.”
Delyth watched as Dilys stared panicked from one parent to the next, then turned to Delyth, looking — guilty? Delyth can only blink.
“But I like Kay!” she finally wailed, hiding her face behind her hands.
Eilwen gasped, Pellinore blinked, and Delyth shouted, “You do? Oh, thank the Lord!”
Dilys’s hands fell away from her face, and the shocked gazes of their parents turned to Delyth.
Pellinore was the first to smile. “And I take it, my dear, that you don’t?”
“Not in that way! If –” Delyth stopped. If Dilys wants him, she can have him! did sound a bit flippant, given the circumstances. “If — if Dilys truly cares for him, I wouldn’t stand in the way.”
“You wouldn’t?” Dilys asked, gratefulness and relief flooding her face. But that was Dilys all over. When they were little, Dilys had always loved strawberries, and Delyth … didn’t. So when their dessert came with strawberries, Delyth would always scrape hers off and onto Dilys’s plate. And she would always look so grateful! But was absurd. To whom else, other than her twin, would Delyth give those things that Dilys loved and Delyth didn’t?
“But, Dilys,” Eilwen asked slowly, “are you sure — do you know for certain that Prince Kay feels similarly for you? The last thing we want is to make either of you unhappy, you know, and — and there’s nothing worse than being married to a man whose heart is set on another.”
Delyth could think of a lot of things that were worse, actually, but with Dindrane’s presence so palpable in the room — never mind that she was probably actually singing Gawaine or Gareth a lullaby or telling Nimue a bedtime story — it didn’t seem like a good time to bring that up. Especially since Dilys looked so crestfallen. Then she perked up. “He kissed me once!”
Pellinore’s jaw fell — Eilwen’s eyes widened — and Delyth gasped, “Dilys! You never told me that!”
Dilys slumped in the chair again, what color she had regained disappearing as rapidly as it had come in.
“Dilys,” Pellinore asked slowly, “when — when was this?”
“The — the …” At least Dilys was starting to turn red again. That was probably a good sign, right? “The royal wedding,” she admitted.
“A year and a half ago? Dilys!” Delyth wailed. I told you as soon as George kissed me!
“Delyth,” Pellinore warned.
Dilys, however, did not seem to hear. She hunched into herself, talking more to her lap than to anybody in the room. “He apologized right after. He — he said he hadn’t meant to take advantage of me …”
“He took advantage of you?” Eilwen yelped.
“No! No! He didn’t! At least — I –” Dilys was turning even redder now.
“Dilys,” Pellinore said gently, “you know it’s perfectly natural for a … a young lady of your age to have … feelings. To be — attracted.” Now he was starting to turn as red as Dilys. “There’s no shame in it. You don’t have to be afraid to admit it.”
Dilys slowly started to smile. “He — he didn’t take advantage of me.” Then her face fell again. “But … but he thought … because I’m so much younger … that he had …”
Pellinore leaned back, stroking his chin, casting a glance at Eilwen, who was still staring at her daughter with blinking gray eyes. “My dear, forgive me for asking this, but … I could not help but notice that you and the Prince were having quite an earnest conversation the other day, when Morien was born. Might I ask what you were discussing?”
Dilys blinked. “We … we talked about the story of the first Morien … and then about my art, and, and, it was just ch-chattering, really …”
Pellinore’s fingers steepled together as he watched Dilys. “Was it?”
“I … I thought it was …” She glanced at Delyth as if begging for confirmation. But Delyth was not there, and had not been told, and could confirm nothing.
“Hmm,” Pellinore murmured. “Your brother mentioned to me — your brother Lamorak — that it looked almost as if the young man was flirting with you.”
Dilys’s eyes grew so huge and hopeful that Delyth had to smile in spite of herself. Eilwen, however, yelped, “He said what?”
“He said –”
“You never told me!”
“My dear, there are some conversations a father has with his son that it is not necessary to inform the lad’s mother about.”
“Not if they’re about her daughter!” Eilwen replied — but even as she rolled her eyes, she smiled. And Pellinore smiled fondly back at her, one of those old-married-couple smiles that said more than mere speech ever could.
Pellinore glanced again at Dilys. “Dilys, if you will take some impertinent advice from your old father, I would highly advise you, next time you and the Prince should meet, to seek for some clarification from him on the depth and nature of his feelings, and –”
“Pellinore!” Eilwen laughed. “For heaven’s sake, she’s not sixteen! Fifteen-year-olds don’t ‘seek for clarification’ on young men’s feelings!” She shook her head and turned to Dilys. “Dilys, what your father means is that you hereby have our permission to flirt with the young Prince as much as you like, and perhaps act on your attraction if it’s appropriate, but don’t let him play you for a fool if you think that’s what he’s trying to do. And of course, I hope you’ll feel free to talk to your father and me if you’re ever feeling confused or don’t know what to do or how to respond.”
Dilys smiled hugely, and the sight of her happiness was almost enough for Delyth to forgive her. Almost. In the meantime, however, she turned to her parents asked, “So what about me?”
Pellinore and Eilwen exchanged glances. “That, my dear,” Pellinore answered, “was the next thing that your mother and I wished to discuss.”
Some time later, when that discussion was over and Delyth and Dilys were almost prepared for bed … that, Delyth thought, was the perfect time to have their next discussion. “So … Dilys?”
“Hmm?” Dilys looked up … then saw Delyth’s expression. She nervously tugged on one braid.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Delyth asked, unable to quite keep the quaver out of her voice.
Dilys’s shoulders slumped. “I didn’t think he liked me that much.”
“But still! He kissed you! And you didn’t tell me! You didn’t tell me about –” Delyth stopped. “It was your first kiss, right?”
“Of course!” Dilys gasped.
“And — and how many have you had in the meantime?”
“How many — Delyth! Just the one!” Dilys replied. “And …” She tugged again on her braid. “Well, it’s not like I want to kiss any boys other than Kay — Prince Kay.”
“You don’t?” Delyth gasped.
Dilys blinked, then she, too, gasped. “You do? Want to kiss boys other than George, I mean?”
“Of course! There are hundreds — thousands! — of boys out there who might be worth kissing!”
“Delyth!” Dilys gasped.
“What? Papa said that feelings like that are normal and natural for girls our age!”
“I don’t think he wants you kissing hundreds of boys!”
“Well, I never said I would,” Delyth admitted. “Or even that I wanted to. Just — just that there are other boys out there, and I’m keeping my options open.”
“Really?” Dilys asked, head turned to one side, mystified. “Don’t — don’t you love George?”
Delyth’s brows knit together. “I … I don’t know. Maybe? He’s fun.”
“But — but we always go to the Tricross so you can see him …”
“Well, aye! He’s fun! But …”
“I don’t know.” Delyth shrugged. “I don’t know if I want to marry him or anything. He’s a bit silly sometimes. Fun, but silly. Why? Do you really want to marry Prince Kay?”
“Yes!” Dilys replied, eyes bugging at her sister.
“Really? You’re sure?”
Delyth watched her sister, blinking. “Well,” then she said slowly, “then I guess it’s good that Mama and Papa want you to marry Prince Kay — and they told me I can find any boy I like!”
“They did not say that,” Dilys smiled, shaking her head.
“Well, any boy within reason, which is pretty much the same thing.” Delyth shrugged. “It’s permission to look around, court a few boys, make a choice! Don’t you see how great that is, Dilys?”
Dilys nodded in that way she had — that way that said, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’ll pretend to agree so as to not hurt your feelings.
Delyth sighed. “Anyway, it’s not like Mama and Papa want us married tomorrow. We’ve got ages and ages before that happens. So maybe I’ll just find my,” she put a hand on her forehead and pretended to swoon, “one true love a little later. Not all of us can be lucky enough to find him when we’re thirteen, you know.”
“I guess …”
Poor thing, she was getting let down — almost as let down as Delyth had been when she realized that Dilys hadn’t told her about the kiss. “But hey!” Delyth patted her sister’s shoulder. “Think about it this way — you two are bound to have adorable babies!”
Dilys gasped. “You — you think so?”
“Sure! But they’re all going to have red hair.”
Dilys blinked. “What?”
“It’s family tradition! Dindrane’s … well, her kids all have red hair, and look at Aglovale and Babette! They’re both blond, but Morien has red hair! Face it, Dilys, you’re going to be raising a red-haired brood just like the rest of us Gwynedds.”
“We’ll have to see what happens with Lamorak and Garnet’s babies,” Dilys giggled.
“Oh, they’ll all have red hair, too! You watch!”
They giggled about that for a little longer, but then it was well and truly time for bed. Still, as Delyth turned down her covers, she couldn’t help but wonder a couple of things.
The first was — how many other things had Dilys not told her?
And the second — could it be that she and her twin were actually growing apart?