Training. It was one of the things Milo had missed when he was on the run. Getting up at dawn to go down to the fields and punch the stuffing out of some poor unfortunate dummy. It built strength, built character. Hell, shortly after coming to Camford, he had discovered the reason why an even temper was considered such an essential asset to a knight and gentleman. It had nothing to do with essential nobility or virtue or even the sense of keeping one’s head calm and cool while others’ were dangerously overheating. It was because any man who after several hours of venting his earthly frustrations on a training dummy still had any anger to spare for his fellow Sims must be a raging psychopath.
Unfortunately, that did leave Milo with the unfortunate conclusion that many of his fellow knights, particularly those who liked to beat their servants and yell at their wives and kick the dogs were, in fact, raging psychopaths. Some of them, however, were knights only in name, more concerned with getting their farmland to grow and their peasants to pay their taxes than with sword and shield. The others … well, they probably just were raging psychopaths who had managed to somehow find an occupation that functioned as a cover for their malady. After all, if a King could be a criminal, as Christopher insisted, why not a knight a madman?
None of those men were Albionese. Part of that had something to do with King Arthur — but it was only a small part, Milo thought. The other part … well, all noblemen not dedicated to the Church were knights, technically, and there were only nine of those in the kingdom, or twelve if you counted the royal family. There were even fewer actively-serving knights. That did bring the chances of having a madman among the fold down by quite a lot.
Another thing that Milo liked about the training was the companionship. Nobody trained alone. Even with Albion’s few knights, there were always the guards, the men-at-arms, the city militia around. Furthermore, even with Albion’s few knights, those who were active knights often made plans to train together. It made the time go by more swiftly.
At least, it usually did. Today … today Lamorak was unusually silent. “Something on your mind?” asked Milo.
“Eh?” Lamorak looked up, startled. Then he flushed.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Milo chortled.
“Just trying to work up the courage to ask a favor of you, buddy.”
“Work up the courage? I’m right here. Ask away!”
“… It’s not … that sort of favor. It’s not like I’m asking you to exercise my horse or feed my dog while I go on a trip.”
“… Don’t you have servants for that kind of thing?” Milo asked.
“Well, yes, of course, but — but this isn’t that kind of thing. If that makes sense?”
No, not really, thought Milo, but to Lamorak he only nodded. Whatever was eating at Lamorak had to be big. He would get to it when he was ready.
But by the look on Lamorak’s face, it would be a while before that happened.
“Besides,” Lamorak murmured, “I don’t want to talk about it … out here.”
“Well — somebody could hear.”
Milo paused in his pummeling of the dummy to look around. “Who?” Even for a training ground in Albion, the place was deserted. Milo could only see two other men, the training master and a guard, and they were half a field away.
Lamorak cringed. “It’s about my sister.”
“Ah.” Enough said, then. Paranoia was only to be expected when one’s sisters were involved. Milo felt that familiar pang when he thought of his own sisters. How were they doing? He hadn’t dared to write back home. Aye, the news of where he was had probably already reached Glasonland by now, but the last thing he wanted was bring more attention onto the people who couldn’t defend themselves. Brianna had already almost been killed or worse thanks to him.
As for Lamorak, well, he had even more reasons to be paranoid. The whole kingdom was still whispering about Lady Dindrane, half scandalized that she had dared to leave her husband and seek a separation — and, rumor insisted, she would be seeking an annulment as soon as she was able — the other half in awe of her courage. There was also probably a half in the middle that was both.
Milo wondered what the favor might be, if Lamorak was still working up the courage to ask it. Milo didn’t know Lady Dindrane very well; from what he had seen of her demeanor, he sometimes wondered if anybody did. But anybody could see that she was a lady in distress, and what were knights to do if not assist ladies in distress?
Then again, there was Sir Mordred to consider. Milo had thus far avoided getting on the knight’s bad side, and he would rather like to stay as far away as possible. The older knight had a steely-eyed, calculating gaze that reminded Milo of no one so much as Vortigern in a thoughtful mood.
Lamorak suddenly let out a shaking breath, and Milo left off his pummeling. “Courage up?”
“As up as it’s going to get.”
“As the octogenarian said to the whore.”
Lamorak snickered. “Something like that. Steam room?”
“Sure,” Milo said, leading the way out the gate and into the bath house, “if you want, but is there a reason why you want me hot and bothered for this conversation?”
“… If I said yes, would you call me out?”
“Not until I found out why you wanted me hot and bothered. But if it makes you feel better, Lamorak, I’d probably just punch you in the face and not bother with the duel bit.”
Lamorak chuckled as he pushed open the door to the bathhouse. “I really hope you won’t want to punch me in the face.”
“Hmm. If you’ve got reason for hope, it probably means I won’t have to punch you.”
“I’ll hold you to that.”
“I said probably, mate, probably.”
They found some of the squires on hand to help them out of their armor and to safely store their clothing. Theft wasn’t much of a problem, since the bath house was only open to knights and their servants, but the last thing you wanted to lose were the only clothes you’d brought with you. Then, dressed only in loincloths, they headed into the nearest open steam room. Milo felt his hair dampen and lengthen the minute the first drop of steam hit his face.
They both sat, letting the hot air wash over them, feeling the impurities and dirt seep from their skin. Bathhouses were a bit more of a Reman thing than a Glasonlander one — it was a hell of a lot cheaper to heat a bathhouse in sunny Reme than snowy Ludenwic — but Milo had yet to meet the knight who didn’t love the idea of leaving the training grounds as fresh and clean as he had been when he arrived.
Lamorak took a deep breath as soon as the door was shut and they were both settled. “It’s like this, mate. You’ve met my sisters, aye?”
“Aye,” Milo replied.
“And … well, you can imagine, given how much of a … limited field we’re working with, here, how it might have been a bit of trouble to get them all safely married off.”
“And with everything with Dindrane …” Lamorak bowed his head and sighed again.
Lamorak was not. He was not. He could not be asking Milo to consider marrying Lady Dindrane! She wasn’t even free to remarry yet! She might never be, until Sir Mordred died! And even if the Church granted her an annulment and permission to remarry, Milo did not want to have to look Sir Mordred in the face while sharing a home and hearth and bed with the woman who used to be Sir Mordred’s wife!
And all of that? All of that wasn’t even the biggest reason why he couldn’t even consider it. Not while Nicole lived and breathed.
“It’s going to be even harder to find good husbands for the twins,” Lamorak said.
The twins? What — Then Milo realized that this was a continuation of his previous comment: with everything going on with Dindrane, it would be even harder to find husbands for the twins. Well, that was the truth. Not many men would necessarily want to marry the sister of a woman who sought a separation from her husband for what many men would see as the slight sin of keeping a mistress.
Well, there was also the business of Lady Morgause and how Lady Dindrane hadn’t wanted her children in the same house with that woman — and who could blame her? — and then there was her husband’s reaction to that, and … it was a mess, to be sure. But most men would remember only the part about the mistress.
Lamorak, however, was looking at Milo pleadingly, so Milo managed to nod. “Aye.”
Lamorak managed a small smile. “And to make things even more … interesting, it’s not Dilys we’ll be searching high and low for a husband for, but Delyth.”
“Delyth,” Milo repeated. Delyth was the bubbly redhead, Dilys the shy blond. When one only saw the sisters at occasional dinners with the Gwynedds — and then they were only fifteen! — that was generally all a friend of their older brother needed or was frankly encouraged to know.
“We thought, you see, that she’d be marrying Prince Kay.”
“Prince Kay?” Milo repeated. Prince Kay, it was true, did have a tendency to flirt with anything that wore a skirt, but Milo had always thought that he tended to flirt longer with the quiet types. And blonds drew him like honey drew a bear.
“Aye. But it turns out that it’s Dilys who likes Prince Kay, and Delyth apparently doesn’t like the idea of being a princess. Figures the only girl in the kingdom who doesn’t want to marry a prince is my sister!” laughed Lamorak, bitterly.
“Has anybody asked the Prince’s opinion on the matter?” asked Milo.
“Father has talked to the King, and the King is writing to the Prince. But it doesn’t really matter to the King, you see, so he’ll be happy with whatever Kay and the girls decide between them.”
“Oh, really?” Milo asked with a waggle of his eyebrows. “Anything?”
“Cut it out!” Lamorak laughed and smacked Milo’s arm. “Although it is my father who’d have more reason to be upset with … anything.”
Milo snickered, but let the subject drop.
“Anyway, since I can guarantee you that my father won’t be up foranything … that leaves us with Delyth.”
And Milo suddenly saw where this conversation was going, and all of the mirth left him much as the sweat was leaving him now. “Lamorak …”
“Just — just hear me out, aye?” he asked. “It would be a good match for you. I know she’s young — and I know Father won’t hear of her marrying before Camford — but the way I see it, that just gives both of you more time to get used to the idea, get to know each other, grow fond of each other.”
“Lamorak …” Milo wiped the sweat from his brow, sweat that hadn’t been bothering him a moment ago. “Does your father know you’re asking me this?”
Lamorak glared. “You know, just because we’re not all fortunate enough to be our own man …”
“It has nothing to do with you being your own man or not, Lamorak. I’m just trying to figure out how many men I’ll be handing out a deathly insult to when I say no.”
“When? When? Milo, you haven’t even thought about it yet!”
That’s because I don’t need to. Not while Nicole lived and breathed.
“Look, I –”
“No, hear me out first. Please, Milo? Can’t you just do that?” Lamorak bent his head, scratching at his head and sending his hair flying every which way. “It’s a good match. She’ll get a dowry equal to Dilys’s, you know, and that’s fit for a prince.”
Milo sighed. “Lam–”
“And she’s a good girl. High-spirited, but what man doesn’t like a high-spirited girl? Well, other than Kay, I guess. And maybe Tom. But you know what I mean!” Lamorak pleaded.
“And if it’s children you’re worrying about, well, my mother had five babies — including twins! — without any problems, so I’m sure it’ll be the same for Delyth. Dindrane, Dindrane’s had three healthy babies, too, and would have had more if — if –”
“Lamorak, there’s someone else.”
There — it was out there — he had said it. But Lamorak almost did not seem to hear.
Almost. “Someone else? Who? Good Lord, it’s not Leona, is it?”
“Le–Leona? What the hell makes you think it’s Leona?”
“Well, you two were awfully chummy at our graduation party.”
“Lamorak! That was a year and a half ago! I haven’t seen her since!”
“Well, how was I to know that?” Lamorak shrugged. “But if not her, then who?”
“Come on. Tell Papa Lamorak.”
Milo’s gaze slowly swiveled to Lamorak, his eyebrow arching up. But there was no escaping it, was there? He’d keep asking until he got an answer. Milo sighed. “Her name is Nicole. She works in a tavern.”
Then he was up and out, for he had had enough of steaming — to say nothing of the grilling he knew was going to come.
If he was hoping mere discretion would keep Lamorak from asking him more questions, he was wrong. Milo was barely out the door before Lamorak was following him. “A tavern girl?” he asked as the two of them climbed into the calidarium, as they called it in Reme.
“You can’t possibly be serious.”
“I’m quite serious about her.”
“Milo! This is the real world! You can’t be thinking about — about marrying a tavern girl! A man of your blood!”
Your brother, a man with the same blood as you, married a horse-trader’s daughter, Milo thought, but did not say. That would just be cruel to bring up. Instead, he replied, “My mother was a carpenter’s daughter. If it hadn’t been for the King putting his foot down and insisting that King Vortigern give my mother a good dowry, I would have been brought up a carpenter’s bastard grandson. I don’t see much difference between our blood.”
“But …” Lamorak blinked as he took that in. “All right, you’re right there. But Milo! You can’t think to build a name for yourself, a noble house here in Albion by marrying a tavern girl!”
“You’re telling the carpenter’s grandson how to build a house?”
“You know what I mean.”
Milo did not answer that directly. He folded his hands behind his head and stared into the middle distance. “My mother always said that it took a heart to build a home.”
“I’m sure you’d like Delyth if you gave her a chance.”
“Milo! You won’t even consider it?”
“Would you consider anyone other than Lady Garnet?”
Lamorak narrowed his eyes. “It’s not at all the same thing, Milo.”
“You got the King to step in and let you marry her. I don’t know, Lamorak, that sounds like the actions of a man who’s found the woman he loves and won’t let her go for the world to me.”
“Garnet — look, Milo, you wouldn’t understand. Garnet is … perfect. Perfect for me in every way. Every way. Even if your tavern girl is what you’re looking for in a personality, in looks, in charms, she doesn’t have blood, she doesn’t have connections, and she can’t have much of a dowry. Milo, you can do better than that.”
Milo shook his head. What he had felt for Lady Erica had been affection, fondness, something that could grow into love if properly cared for and tended. What he felt for Nicole? His heart had been hers within a month of getting to know her. Having known real love, wild love, the kind that grew up after a single rain and wouldn’t let go, how could he ever go back to a hothouse imitation?
“I’m not asking you to marry her tomorrow,” Lamorak continued. “Just to — think about it. If you care for your tavern girl, you’d have plenty of time to let her down gently. It’s really something you should consider, Milo. You can’t plan to build your future with a tavern girl.”
“First of all, she has a name, and secondly …” Milo took a deep breath. “Lamorak, considering what your older sister went through with a man who loved a woman he couldn’t marry, but wouldn’t give up, is this really something you want for the younger?”
Lamorak stared at him open-mouthed. “That is not fair, Milo.”
“Maybe. But it’s honest. That’s more than Sir Mordred was with you.”
“It’s not the same thing. Sir Mordred — Sir Mordred –” Lamorak hung his head. “He’s not that bad a man, Milo. I know everybody in the bloody kingdom thinks he is, but he could be much worse. He didn’t treat my sister well; I won’t deny it — but I don’t think Dindrane ever really minded. Even now, when she can say anything she wants about him and nobody will cross her, she doesn’t complain about how he treated her. She only complains about how he treated — treats — the children.”
“Maybe,” Milo replied. But Lamorak, whose life had been easy, did not know much about pride, apparently. Pride was what kept you going when everything else gave way. It had been pride that kept Milo going from Glasonland to Gaul and then again to Albion. It was pride, Milo thought, that kept Nicole going after whatever catastrophe had overtaken her and brought her into Albion.
“But tell me this, Lamorak,” Milo added. “Maybe Lady Dindrane was all right with having a man’s hand but not his heart. Would your sister Delyth be?”
Milo might have asked Lamorak to tell him that, but he had no intention of hearing the answer. He left Lamorak sitting slack-jawed in the calidarium and beat a hasty retreat to the frigidarium.
He had not long to swim alone: Lamorak soon joined him. This time, though, Lamorak was thoughtful, and they swam in silence.
But when Milo climbed out, Lamorak called after him. “Wait!”
Milo cringed but waited, trying to prepare for the next onslaught.
He never got that far. Lamorak sighed, but the words he spoke were the last Milo was expecting. “I’m sorry. I won’t — I won’t ask again.” He scratched the back of his head and smiled sheepishly at Milo. “And I should thank you, for being honest. The Lord knows none of us want Delyth to go through what Dindrane went through.” He stuck out his hand with a hopeful expression.
Milo took it. “You’re welcome.”
Lamorak grinned and pumped the hand enthusiastically. “But if — Lord forbid! — things don’t work out with you and your … your girl, well, Delyth is awfully young and we won’t have to have things worked out for a long time. So … so, if things don’t work out …?”
Milo sighed inwardly, but this much, perhaps, he could promise his friend. Especially since things would work out between him and Nicole if Milo had any say in the matter. “Aye. Aye, if things don’t work out — and they will, but if they don’t — aye, I’ll think about Delyth.”
That was all that Lamorak would get out of Milo today.