It was the first birthday (or close enough) of Morgan’s fae twins. Ravenna was home for the day. Morgan was even having a party for the twins, and the whole royal family plus in-laws, minus Kay, was in attendance.
Morgan wasn’t sure if the party bit was supposed to add to her satisfaction or detract from it, but she had decided not to question that too closely.
The only thing missing, the one thing that would make her happiness complete, was Garnet.
Unlike Kay, Garnet was in the kingdom. She had come home specifically for this party, even though Mordred had offered to let her stay in her old home and Garnet had accepted. She had spent most of her time in Avilion, however, with Jessica. Morgan was not sure why — oh, she understood why Garnet would visit, of course, she had not yet seen Corentin and Celeste. But all that time, only once stopping by for a very strained luncheon with her aunt and uncle? Morgan could not understand it. What was going on?
However, in the meantime, she did have a daughter to chat with, a party to host … and a guest to keep an eye on.
The Crown Princess. Claire had already come to Morgan in tears and half a panic, certain that she had somehow “passed on” her illness to her daughter. That, Morgan had assured her, was impossible — one did not pass on soul-sickness the way one passed a cold or ague around. But when Claire had retorted that if it was not her, then it was surely Bors who had done this, well, Morgan found it hard to argue with that logic.
Lynn, however, was acting completely normally, even seeming relaxed and happy. That was hardly reassuring, however, because Claire had been quite competent at hiding the depth of her sadness for years on end. It was only when it became so acute so as to stop her from functioning that others had caught on and gotten her help. Lynn was not nearly at that stage. With Tommy instead of Bors for a husband and simple chance being on their side, she might never get there.
But … but, but, but. A mind that interpreted the birth of a beautiful, healthy baby girl — a baby girl whom her husband adored and the paternal grandparents were only too happy to dote upon, never mind that she was not an heir — as some sort of failure was not a mind in the most healthy state. Something would happen, sooner or later, and she would be bound to lose her equilibrium. The best course of action would be to shore up the foundations now, when the ground was solid and the winds scarcely a breeze.
But how to do that, when Morgan couldn’t even gain access to the problem?
“Mum?” asked Ravenna in a low voice.
“Can I stay the night?”
“Can –” Morgan started. Usually Ravenna was only too happy to return to school, if for no other reason that it was more pleasant for a girl nearing sixteen to stay up later to fly back than to go have to rise early to have to do the same thing. What was wrong here? “Sure you can, sweetie. You don’t have to ask permission.”
“And … after the party, can we talk?”
“Of course.” Morgan rubbed her daughter’s shoulder, even as the adults at the other table talked and laughed and chattered and Accolon showed what undead fingers could do at the piano. “How is Dilys, by the way?” she asked, meaning for it to be an offhanded comment — but if she remembered anything about her own adolescence, well, it was that fights between girls tended to be the longest-lasting and most damaging, which if Ravenna’s subdued demeanor was any indication …
“Oh, she’s great! She told me –” Ravenna started, then stopped, glancing sidelong at her relatives.
“Well, she’s really been happy recently — her father told her who he wants her to marry, and — would you believe it — it’s Kay!”
“Kay?” Morgan asked.
“She just seems so … happy about it …” Ravenna continued, sounding more and more mystified with every word that came out of her mouth.
“Hmm,” Morgan murmured, trying to keep from sounding mystified herself. Wasn’t Dilys shy practically to the point of silence in social situations? Then again, Kay and Tom were more alike in personality than either would like to admit, and Tom was happy enough with his demure blonde … “Well, I guess he’s more attractive if he’s not your cousin.”
“Or your nephew,” Ravenna giggled. Apparently Morgan had not done as good a job hiding her puzzlement as she had hoped.
“Well, it’s just that … Kay is a bit like your Uncle Arthur was, before he grew up and grew a brain. Imagine having to marry that little sprout there,” she gestured to Pascal and Chloe, “and I’m sure you understand how I feel about that proposition.”
“That’s just wrong on too many levels.”
“Imagine him grown up a bit, then.”
“Why? He’s adorable just the way he is. Aren’t you, Pascal?” Pascal, hearing his name, looked up and shot his big sister a semi-toothed grin. “Don’t you ever grow up!”
Pascal giggled, but Morgan glanced sidelong at Ravenna, eyebrows raised, and replied, “You say that now, dear, but believe me, I will remind you of it when your baby is over a year old and the idea of potty-trained progeny makes you practically weep with joy.”
“I thought you had a spell for washing diapers.”
“I do, and I will teach it to you once you’re at a point to begin worrying about that sort of thing — but let me assure you, there’s no spell known to witchcraft for changing them, and that is not through want of trying.”
Ravenna finally looked suitably chastened. Morgan scarcely held back a chuckle.
And then — her wards. She’d strengthened them during all the nonsense with Morgause, and now they let off a faint tinkle whenever somebody known and friendly approached. Known and friendly — could it be …?
She had not long to wait before an apologetic head poked inside the door. “Hello.” Garnet tried to smile. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
Of course the chorus of welcomes drowned out any chance of that apology being appreciated, not that anybody cared. Morgan was up and grinning fit to split her face; Accolon stopped playing and called out a hearty welcome; and Pascal and Chloe both sat down with diaper-muffled thumps to watch the newcomer. Chloe, since she was facing in the right direction, was the first to recognize her and call out a baby greeting.
But all of that was nothing to Ravenna, who jumped from her seat and sprinted to her cousin. “Garnet! Where have you been? I haven’t seen you since you got home!”
Odd how Jessie was watching the two of them — Garnet especially. Calculation, consideration, and more than a faint tinge of worry. She noticed Morgan watching her and smiled sheepishly.
What is going on here?
“I didn’t want to get you in trouble with your professors, Ravenna. I know what my professors are like whenever anybody dares to interrupt classes, be it for famine, plague or fire.”
“The Emryses wouldn’t mind as long as you didn’t waltz into the middle of class! And they don’t teach for all the daylight hours.”
“Of course not, but I don’t know when teaching hours end.”
“… Oh.” Ravenna pulled back with a grin. “Well, then I’ll make sure I tell you before you leave!”
“Thanks.” Garnet’s grin was mostly genuine. “That’s a lovely gown, by the way. Is it new?”
“What?” Ravenna tried to laugh, carelessly, ineffectually, the way ladies ten or twenty years her senior would laugh. “This old thing?”
Morgan looked around the table to find that, as she had expected, she was not the only lady to view this exchange with a fond, amused smile. Far from it. The menfolk, however, looked more than a little bit confused.
When she turned back, Garnet was fingering one of the trailing strands of Ravenna’s hair with a bemused look. “What are you using to keep your hair curled?”
“Oh, I made a potion!”
Yes, Morgan was sure she had — and done a good job of it, too. Ravenna had her hair: uncurlable, barely manageable even when you let it do what it wanted to. And yet she was able to achieve that curled confection whenever she had a care to dress up. She must have gotten some patience by way of Accolon, for Morgan certainly didn’t have that kind of mental fortitude.
“Hmm,” was all Garnet would say. “You’ll have to give me the recipe sometime.” Before Ravenna could, Morgan assumed, enthusiastically agree, Garnet had turned to Morgan.
Her face fell as she did so. “Can we … talk?”
When Garnet looked that hesitant, that pleading, it was usually a good idea to grant the request and ask questions later. Morgan nodded slightly, but aloud she said, “Garnet, would you mind helping me with the sweetmeats? I just want to put the last batch into the oven.”
“Honey,” Accolon called, “I thought you –”
A well-placed look shut his jaw with a clack. And with a grateful smile, Garnet followed Morgan into the kitchen.
“Wonder what that was about,” Tom said, the last thing Morgan heard before she shut the door.
“So,” Morgan murmured, “what is it that you need, sweetie?”
Garnet looked away — the oven, the candles on the wall, the vase on the counter. Anywhere, in fact, but at Morgan’s face. “Jessie said I should tell you,” Garnet murmured. “She said — she said you would have a better idea of how to help than she would. And she said I would feel better if I told you.” That last was mumbled, as if Garnet did not believe her words but was repeating them for form’s sake. Yet the sideways slant of her eyes practically begged Morgan to relieve whatever it was she was feeling.
“I hope I can,” Morgan replied.
Garnet blinked. “You — hope?”
“I can hardly make promises, sweetie, before I know what the trouble is.”
“Oh,” Garnet murmured.
Morgan kept quiet — waiting. It never did to rush Garnet. You might as well try to rush the sun. You’d be better off trying to rush the sun: the sun would only ignore you at worst. Garnet might run away and not come back again.
“It’s just hard,” Garnet blurted out. “Because I — I lied to you. But not for me!” She pleaded. “I didn’t do it to — to make things easier on me. I promise!”
Morgan could only blink, and that more rapidly than she wanted to.
It must not have sent the right signal. Garnet hung her head. “Well, maybe it was a little bit for me. But only because — I didn’t want to make things worse. But Mother’s dead, now, and so is Father, and Jessie says it shouldn’t matter who I tell, as long as not too many people find out.”
Some other atrocity of Morgause’s, then — and Garnet had covered up for her. Well, why not? Morgause knew how to twist a screw, none better. She especially knew how to twist Garnet’s screws, having installed them all herself. She would have picked just the right one to keep Garnet quiet.
“Sweetie, I think that makes perfect sense,” Morgan replied. “And don’t worry about the lying, too much. You were in an …” Morgan tried to smile, then reached up and rubbed Garnet’s shoulders. “You were in an intolerable situation. You did what you had to to survive.”
“Are you sure you believe that?” Garnet cocked one eyebrow. “I — I haven’t even told you yet.”
“I think I can guess.”
Garnet blanched. “I … I really hope you can’t.”
Good Lord! What did Morgause do?
“But maybe I should — go back. Do you — do you remember that time that I flew over here in the middle of the night and stayed?”
Morgan blinked. “Er …” There really was no polite, affirming, positive way to ask, Which time? So Morgan was quiet and hoped that Garnet would hear the question without her having to ask it.
Garnet heard, and sighed. “The time that I didn’t even wake you up — I spent the night on the couch.”
“Oh, Lord! That time!” Ravenna had found her, Morgan remembered, and Garnet had been even more of a wreck than was usual after her night jaunts. “The night you found out …”
“That Lamorak hadn’t been true. Aye.” Garnet’s voice was flat, uninflected. “I wasn’t perfectly truthful about all of that.”
Garnet gulped. “It — it wasn’t a servant girl he slept with.”
It — wasn’t? Was Morgan going to have to gut that stupid boy? Or was there something —
“It was Mother.”
It took at least a full twenty seconds for that to sink in. Then — then Morgan exploded. “She did WHAT?!”
Silence from the room outside. And Garnet, before her, cringing. “Blast,” Morgan muttered and cast a soundproofing spell on the door. “Garnet, did you just tell me –”
“It gets worse,” Garnet sighed. “Lamorak didn’t tell me until four months after it happened. And — and you remember what happened five months after I came to see you?”
Five months after you came to see me? Garnet had certainly chosen the right words, because only a puzzle could keep Morgan from marching outside, grabbing her broom, and going to see Lady Dindrane. “Garnet, I’m not sure –”
“Agravaine was born.”
Four months before telling, then five months after —
“Son of a bitch! Literally!” Morgan yelped. “Garnet, out of my way!”
“What?” Garnet gasped. “Jessie said you’d understand!”
“Oh, I do understand! I understand perfectly! That’s why –” I’m going to go to Dindrane and get her to bring my sister back so I can kill her properly!
“That’s why,” Garnet snarled, “you won’t be saying anything, right?”
Won’t be saying anything? Don’t you snap at me like that, girl! I was dealing with that bitch of a mother of yours before you were born, and if it wasn’t for you, I would say I should have —
If it wasn’t for Garnet. But it was for Garnet that she would bring Morgause back only to tear her into pieces. And Garnet was standing right here in front of her — alive — needing no abominations to bring her back — and breathing heavily, and trembling slightly, and —
“Honey,” Morgan murmured, “why are you so insistent that I not say a word?”
“Isn’t it obvious? For Lamorak! If anybody found out — if anybody knew Agravaine was his — do you think Mordred …?”
Morgan barely stifled a gasp. Mordred, whose family name had already been dragged by the mud, by those very same Gwynedds? Mordred, who would never forgive Dindrane for merely telling the truth (well, most of it) of what she knew? If he ever had the least idea — he was as much Lot’s son as Morgause’s. He would feel the stain on Lot’s honor as he would on his own.
And if he was incapable of believing Morgause guilty of murder, there would be no way he would pin the blame of whatever happened between Lamorak and Morgause on Morgause. “Oh, Garnet,” Morgan murmured.
And all of that wasn’t even beginning to consider Agravaine, the other innocent unfairly caught in this mess.
“You see?” Garnet said, her lips trembling. “You see why you can’t tell anybody? If Mordred ever — ever found out …”
“Yes. Yes, I see.” What would he do to Lamorak — to Agravaine? To anybody who had known of what Mordred would only be able to see as his shame, but had not told him? Even to Garnet? “Oh, Garnet …”
“And Lamorak already felt terrible enough,” Garnet started. “He –”
“Well, he should,” Morgan muttered.
“No! No! Mother used a love potion!”
“He smelled witch hazel! And forget-me-nots!”
Morgan wanted to say that love potions were not infallible. They could lower inhibitions — drastically lower them — but it was possible to resist them, especially if the victim —
Has no idea that there is such a thing as a love potion? And is being propositioned by a woman who looks like, moves like, and can probably act like the one he loves?
Lamorak hadn’t stood a chance.
Morgan rubbed Garnet’s shoulders again. “Well, maybe knowing he was bespelled would make him feel a bit better.”
“You …” Morgan sighed. “You haven’t told him.”
“I couldn’t! Not when I first found out! And after … I never wanted to talk about it again! I never wanted to think about it again! I didn’t …” Garnet gulped. “She still got him, Morgan. I didn’t want to — think about that. Even if she fought dirty, Mother still won.”
“Your mother won nothing. She lost. She lost everything.”
“That’s why she would have killed me,” Garnet went on. “If she had perfected the potion. She would have killed me so she could get Lamorak. With Father gone, what was there to stop her?”
Maternal instinct. Sensible feeling. Sheer decency.
But Morgause had had none of those things. The only daughter she ever had, instead of appreciating her for the blessing she was, she sought to destroy. And Garnet, young and vulnerable, had fought her for so long alone that she had grown convinced that her own mother would kill her one day and that nothing save an executioner’s axe or a well-placed bottle of poison could stop her.
And Morgan, and Arthur, and even Lot? They had let it happen. They hadn’t seen, or they had refused to see, the danger. Offering Garnet a safe refuge, or indulging her when her mother refused to let her have her way, that wasn’t enough. What would have been enough would have been removing Garnet from Morgause’s influence entirely — but nobody had seen that was necessary until Dindrane had come to see the relationship with fresh, unjaded eyes, and helped Garnet help herself escape.
But they had, somehow, all of them stopped Morgause. They’d stopped her without even fully understanding the evil of which she was capable. Thank the Lord.
That still, however, left Garnet.
Morgan grabbed her niece and crushed her to her bosom. “I would have stopped her,” she replied. “Don’t you doubt that for a second. If Morgause had wanted to get to you, she would have had to do it over my dead body.
“I promise you, Garnet. Nobody is going to get to you who doesn’t go through me — and I mean through me — first. You’re safe now. I promise.”