Corentin’s eyes went very, very wide as Garnet zoomed closer, smiling and waving. Jessie had to laugh. The baby’s head turned to her in shock, his little face scrunching in the puzzled expression that was his second-favorite. Then, seeing Mama smiling and laughing, Corentin hesitantly smiled too.
“Don’t you see what I was telling you?” Jessie giggled. “He’s just like his papa!”
“I’m still not so sure I see it,” Garnet admitted. “Poor baby’s probably just confused.”
“Dazzled by the pretty lady with the large assets in front of him. Do you think Will would be any less shocked by all this attention?”
Garnet glanced down at her assets, then smirked at the baby. “I think he’s still at the age where he interprets ‘assets’ as ‘lunch.’ Besides, it’s not like he doesn’t see a pretty lady with just-as-exposed assets giving him all this attention every day.”
“I’m his mother. I don’t count.” After a moment of thought, Jessie glanced down at her own bust. No, it couldn’t just be the angle at which she usually had to look at it. “And let’s not pretend that I’ve got a patch on you in the assets department.”
Garnet rolled her eyes. “Tell your mama, Corey, that she has to stop being so down on herself. It’s not every woman who can have twins and be back in the gowns she was wearing before they were but a twinkle in their papa’s eyes and be back in her pre-baby clothes before the year is out.”
There was that, there was that indeed. “That’s the magic,” Jessie demurred.
“I thought Morgan said it could be dangerous to change a figure with magic.”
“Not dangerous, per se. Just inadvisable. But that’s not what I was talking about. I was talking about just … having magic. And using it. It helps you lose weight.”
“It does?” Garnet gasped, her eyes sparkling.
“Garnet, once you stopped growing, when was the last time you gained a pound?”
Garnet wrinkled her nose and pondered that. “Well, I haven’t really …”
Jessie let her raised eyebrows do the talking.
“But I thought that was just because I hadn’t had any babies, yet.”
Jessie laughed and shook her head. “That is part of it — but it’s hardly all.”
“Leona doesn’t have a speck of magic in her, and she never gains weight.”
“Corey, tell your Auntie Garnet that that’s because your Auntie Leona never stops moving long enough for the pounds to settle in one place.” Corentin looked up, as he always did when Jessie said his name, and obligingly giggled. She thought she could see a faint furrow of his brows that was Will all over. The baby couldn’t speak yet, and if he was as like his father as she thought he was, he’d never say it out loud, but he already knew how to tell her, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but you’re so cute when you say it that I have to smile.
Garnet, however, noticed none of that. “Auntie Garnet?” she breathed.
“What else did you think you’d be to these two?” Jessie half-laughed, but watched Garnet’s face closely.
“I don’t know,” Garnet whispered. “Cousin Garnet, I guess.”
“You and Ravenna are the closest things I’ve got to sisters, you know,” Jessie pointed out.
“But there’s Lynn — and Leona — and whoever Kay ends up marrying, if anyone can ever tie him down — and if you tell me that Dannie won’t be Auntie Dannie to these two, I will call you a liar to your face.”
“So?” Jessie asked. “You can never have too many aunties.” As long as they’re aunties like Morgan, and not like Morgause.
“Amen,” murmured Garnet.
Corentin perked up, as the twins always did, even now, when they heard the other one, and so did Garnet. Jessie smiled. “Sounds like somebody’s awake,” she crooned.
That was all the permission Garnet needed to dash over to the other crib and lift out Celeste. “Hello, Celeste!”
Jessie only beamed. One of the best things about having twins for your first babies was that all of the relatives could get their fill of the little ones while still leaving one for you to hold. The arrangement was so convenient, Jessie sometimes wondered why everyone didn’t do it that way — at least, until she remembered the whole pregnancy part.
Celeste burbled, and Garnet cooed at her, and Celeste laughed and Garnet laughed too. What a good baby, Jessie thought, watching her daughter — not that Corentin wasn’t a good baby, too. But Celeste would go to anyone, smile at anyone, reward anyone who gave her the slightest bit of attention with a ringing laugh. Corentin was comfortable enough with people whom he saw every day, or fairly frequently, but the first time Kay had picked him up and tried to give him a sloppy belly-kiss, the poor baby had screamed and kicked and cried until Kay had panicked and shoved him back into Jessie’s arms.
“Am I your favorite auntie already?” Garnet gasped, holding Celeste high over her head and watching her laugh as she tried to swim or fly.
Now would not be the time to mention to Garnet that she did that for everybody. “Oh, come now,” Jessie laughed, patting Corentin’s back as he nuzzled against her neck, “you must be used to that by now.”
“Be used to what?”
“Being the favorite auntie.”
“Oh …” Garnet shrugged. “I doubt any of Mordred’s children will ever see me as their favorite auntie again. If they ever did before.”
“Now, why would you say something like that?”
“I haven’t got much on Dilys and Delyth. They see those two every day. And they’re more fun, or at least Delyth is. You know she’ll play any game with them.”
Actually Jessie had not known that, but she nodded anyway. “That’s understandable, at least, them preferring Delyth — for now — is. They’re kids, Garnet. But you and Nimue were close, weren’t you, before you left for Camford?”
“As close as one can be to a two-year-old.”
“Then you two will be close again once you come home for good and marry Lamorak. You’ll see.” Jessie did not mention that, all things considered, Garnet would probably be even closer to Nimue as Lamorak’s wife than she would have been as Mordred’s sister, even if Morgause had not done what she had done and Mordred and Dindrane had not separated. Mordred and Garnet had never been close, and Garnet would have probably tried to avoid the home of her birth as much as possible as long as Morgause still reigned supreme over it.
Besides, mentioning her marriage to Lamorak brought a smile to Garnet’s face as few other things did.
Then Jessie had to go and blow it. “And let’s not forget Agravaine,” she added.
Garnet stilled. Celeste whimpered at the sudden change. “Agravaine?”
“Aye, Agravaine. You two are so far apart in age, you’ve got to be more like an aunt to him than a sister.”
“Oh …” Garnet murmured. “I don’t know. I doubt I’m … much of anything to him.”
Stupid, unknowing of just where she tread, Jessie babbled on. “Well, you did go to Camford when he was awfully young. But once you come back … you and Mordred will have probably made things up by then, you know. And you can be his favorite auntie, too.”
“I doubt that. I …” Garnet shook her head. Something — something sad and frightened and hurt, like a fox caught in a trap — peeked out of her eyes.
Jessie blinked. “You know,” she murmured, “I think it’s time for these two’s afternoon feed.”
“Oh! I’ll wait in your bedroom, then.”
“Aye, you can go ahead while I call the wet nurses.”
“But I thought …” Garnet stopped, catching her lip between her teeth.
“I sometimes have trouble keeping up with the demand,” was all Jessie would reply to that.
“Oh!” Garnet put Celeste back in her crib and scurried out of the room without another word.
As soon as she was gone, Jessie called the nurses. But it was not for the afternoon feeding. The twins had had that before Garnet had come. And while Jessie had had a bit of trouble keeping up with them in those first few weeks (hence the wet nurse), she was doing most of the feeding herself now. Still, they needed a nurse nearby when they napped, and Jessie … Jessie needed to talk to Garnet. Badly, she suspected.
She hurried back to the bedchamber and eased herself onto the couch. “So — where were we?”
“You think I remember?” Garnet laughed.
“Was it something about Agravaine?” Jessie asked, trying to sound innocent.
Garnet stiffened, and that scared animal came back into her eyes. Still, she stiffened and turned her haughty gaze back to the fire. Not for the first time, Jessie thought Garnet might have made a better princess than she ever had. But that was neither here nor there. “Why would we be discussing Agravaine?”
“I think he came up,” Jessie replied mildly.
Garnet only shrugged and looked away.
And Jessie waited.
Garnet, as Jessie had guessed she might, fidgeted more and more with each passing second. The more she tried to fix her gaze on the fire, the worse it got. “What does Agravaine,” she spat, “have to do with anything?”
“Why don’t you want to talk about him?” Jessie asked quietly.
“Why should I? Do you want to talk about your brothers every waking moment?”
“Certainly not,” Jessie agreed, “but it’s a bit of a different story, don’t you think?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jessie shrugged, turning to the fire. Its merriment as it burned and the wood crackled seemed a direct reproach to her and her cousin. “Well, Agravaine is cuter than either of my brothers — you can’t deny that.”
“And there’s a difference between not wanting to talk about your brothers every waking moment …” Slowly, Jessie glanced sidelong at Garnet. “And not wanting to talk about them at all.”
Garnet huffed and stood without further word.
Jessie said nothing. One did not last long as Morgan’s apprentice without learning the value of silence.
“I don’t see why …” Garnet started, and stopped. She huffed again. Jessie watched the muscles on her back tense and stiffen more every moment. “I don’t suppose I can possibly fool you by claiming to be jealous of him?”
“I wouldn’t bank on it,” Jessie answered.
“Mordred didn’t believe it, either.”
“He’s an intelligent man.” Jessie rose, still watching her cousin’s back. “Fortunately or unfortunately.”
Garnet heard and turned to face her. “Mostly unfortunately.”
Jessie privately agreed, but kept to her general policy of avoiding insults to other people’s brothers. It bothered her when others insulted her brothers, especially when the insults were well-deserved.
“And he’s just like Mother!” Garnet snapped — goading Jessie into a response?
Jessie could only blink. “Agravaine?”
“No — no, not Agravaine. Mordred!”
Another thing with which Jessie could not help but agree. She had neither the chance to agree nor specifically refrain from doing so, though, for Garnet snorted, “But Agravaine probably will end up just like her, once he grows up some.”
“I doubt that. He could take after your father, you know.”
“That will never happen.”
“It’s possible,” Jessie demurred. “He won’t remember Morgause any better than he would your father.” Which was to say, fortunately or unfortunately, at all. “He’ll only know the people who raised him. Now, granted, that will be Mordred mostly … but you can help, you know. You’ve as much a right to it as Mordred. And you saw your mother as she was. If anybody can stop Agravaine from growing up to take after her, it’s you. If anybody can help keep your father’s memory alive …”
“Agravaine will not be helping to keep my father’s memory alive,” Garnet snorted.
You can’t be sure of that, was what Jessie first response. But … Garnet was sure of it. That blasé wave of the hand, the narrowing and rolling of the eyes, that slight shake of her head — there was no room for doubt in Garnet’s mind.
There was something else, too. There was not a hint of sarcasm or irony as Garnet spoke. No. Every word she said, she believed. Why?
So instead Jessie asked, “Why are you so sure of that?”
Garnet’s mouth opened — and shut. “Why do you want to know?”
Because there’s something here — something that you’re hiding. A fox would lick its wound and do everything in its power to keep the rest of its body between the human and that scar or cut. But that was no good for the fox. And the more Jessie watched her cousin, the surer she became that not telling what was bothering her — what was coming between her and Agravaine — was no good for Garnet.
“Would you stop doing that?” Garnet snapped.
“Stare–staring at me like that! Lord! I don’t want to talk about it! What part of that are you incapable of understanding?”
“If you don’t want to talk about it with me,” Jessie replied, “might you want to talk about it with Morgan?”
“I don’t want to talk about it!”
“I understand, Garnet, but what if you need to talk about it?”
“I haven’t needed — I haven’t needed to talk about it in years! And I don’t need to talk about it now! I never want to talk about it, I never want to think about it again!”
Jessie’s eyes narrowed. So … there was something specific. Something that was eating her up from the very inside.
“And stop looking at me like that!” Garnet wailed. “I don’t need you to — Lord! Just stop it! You can’t possibly understand!”
“Like I said, Garnet, if you don’t want to talk about it to me –”
“Stop it! Stop it, stop it, stop it! I don’t need you to pity me on top of everything else! Just because Will would never –”
Will? How did Will come into this?
Garnet seemed to hear what she had said even as Jessie tried to puzzle it out, and without warning she burst into tears.
“Garnet!” Jessie yelped, trying to put an arm around her cousin’s shoulder. Garnet shook her off.
“I don’t need your pity!”
“Honey, I’m not trying to pity you, I just want to know what’s wrong!”
“You will! You will when you know!
“No. No, I won’t. I promise.”
Garnet’s hands dropped, and she turned her gaze to Jessie. The tears were already ruining her cosmetics, but it would take more than tears to mask her defiance. “Agravaine isn’t Father’s! He’s Lamorak’s! There! Are you happy now?”
“He — what?”
And Garnet heard what she had said and retreated back behind her hands with a wail.
“Garnet …” Jessie murmured, creeping up to Garnet and laying her arm across her shoulders, as slowly and gently as she would with her babes.
“Stop it! You said you wouldn’t pity me! You promised!”
“I’m not pitying you, Garnet. I’m … I’m trying to understand.” She pushed Garnet’s hair away from her face, soothing, comforting. “Are you … are you sure you still want to marry him, after that?”
“It wasn’t his fault!”
Oh, honey. Jessie took a deep breath. How in the hell was she supposed to manage this? To point out that men could easily blame drink or lack of thought or sheer stupidity for what was, essentially, a choice of their own free will. Lamorak had had a choice, and even if Morgause had shown up naked in his bedroom, he could have always said —
“He couldn’t say no! Mother used a love potion!”
Garnet, hearing what she had said, cringed. And Jessie? Jessie gasped and clutched her cousin closer.
For if what Garnet had said was true — if Morgause had used a love potion — if she had initiated whatever happened between her and Lamorak — what kind of a mother did such a thing?
And Garnet had sworn that Morgause would kill her if she had the chance. By her own trembling, now, and the way she held Garnet closer, Jessie knew she had never really believed her until this moment.
Morgause, however, was dead, and would so remain that way if Morgan and Jessie had anything to say about it. Now, there was only Garnet to worry about. “Oh, honey,” Jessie murmured, smoothing back her hair again.
“You’re pitying me!”
“I am not pitying you. I’m …” Jessie rubbed Garnet’s shoulder. “You’ve not talked about this with anybody?”
Garnet shook her head. “Just — just Lamorak. Just once or twice. He doesn’t want to — and I don’t want to –”
Understandable. Doubly understandable, for Lamorak. But Garnet … “You can’t shoulder this kind of burden by yourself.”
“Why not? I’ve done fine with it for three — almost four years now!”
“Garnet, look at what it’s doing to you. Look at how you feel now.” Garnet mewed and leaned more heavily on Jessie. Jessie rocked her, just as she would rock Corentin or Celeste when they were wailing, not knowing what they wanted, but needing somebody to hold them and tell them all would be well. “It’s wearing on you, isn’t it?”
“I don’t want people to pity me,” Garnet moaned.
No, of course she didn’t. Garnet was proud. She had to be, Jessie saw now, or else Morgause would have destroyed her, in soul and mind if not quite in body, long ago. And Morgause had clearly never given her the love she needed, the reassurance that sometimes it was all right to break down, to fall to pieces, because somebody would be there to help her put herself back together again. Garnet had to hold herself together, because if she crumbled, how was she to know that she had friends, family, people who loved her, who would help her?
“I know you don’t,” Jessie replied. “And you don’t — no, in fact, you’d better not tell most people.” There were too many innocents mixed up in this. Garnet — Lamorak — even Mordred — and most of all, little Agravaine. If it ever got out who his father was … Jessie barely restrained a shudder. No. Lot was dead now; he was past hurting. Let the secret stay buried. “But, Garnet, you have people who love you and want to help you. We can’t help you if we don’t know what’s wrong.”
“I have Lamorak.”
“He has his own burdens to bear. At least … as far as this is concerned.” And was Jessie glad that Lamorak wasn’t her problem. She could not imagine having to put those pieces back together. “And you say you don’t ever talk about this anyway.”
“But you’ve got me, Garnet, and you’ve got Morgan. We can help you. We want to help you.”
“Morgan doesn’t even know.” Garnet hesitated. “… the whole story.”
Oh, brother. “Then tell her,” Jessie counseled. “She’ll want to help you.”
“No buts.” Jessie pulled her cousin in for a hug. “You’re not alone anymore, Garnet. Your mother — your mother tried to break you. But she failed. And now you have people on your side, people who are going to help you heal.”
As for Garnet, she said nothing — but nor did she let go for a long, long time.