“Can you believe this?” Dannie squealed. Even when she had been of an age where girlish squeals were permitted, even to be expected, she had prided herself on being above that sort of thing. But today was a special occasion.
After all, it wasn’t every day that one was invited to court to watch one’s father become a Baron.
She grabbed Rob’s arm and squeezed it. Rob glanced at her with a grin. As soon as Dannie let go of his arm, she knew, it would be snaked around her waist, pulling her closer and not giving a damn what the nobs on the other side of the court thought about it. Let them sniff and sneer. They were part of the club now! There would be no keeping the Ferreiras out again.
The only dark spot on the day was the emptiness at Dannie’s left elbow. Maude should have been there, laughing and joking with Dannie, making funny faces when the noble folks’ backs were turned for her grandchildren’s benefit. She had worked as hard to see this day as Richard or Bianca had. She should have borne the fruit of it, too.
But it wasn’t to be. And Dannie had to fill in for her grandmother all by herself. It was almost enough to make her sigh instead of smile. Almost, for Maude wouldn’t have wanted her to be despairing, not this day of all days.
Besides, if Maude wasn’t here, that meant somebody had to keep an eye on the two idiots generally known as Dannie’s brothers — and that somebody meant Dannie. They seemed to be behaving themselves for the moment, talking and laughing and catching up. Dannie was half amazed that George had the patience for moony Freddy, but maybe it was because Freddy was talking about Camford just now, and Dannie had yet to meet a fifteen-year-old not interested in tales of drunken debauchery.
“They’re fine,” Rob murmured, catching her gaze.
“Hey! Somebody’s got to be responsible for those two hooligans.”
“Responsible?” Rob raised his eyebrows at her. “Dannie, Freddy is the most responsible of the three of you.”
“You’re really saying that to the mother of your child?”
“It’s true,” replied Rob. “That doesn’t mean you’re not responsible. Just … you don’t have a patch on Freddy, I’m sorry to say.” He paused and pondered that. “Though, I will grant that it might well take the two of you to restrain George.”
“Oh boy,” Dannie murmured. Put like that, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be the responsible one anymore. At least the King had cut down on the length of the ceremony — in Glasonland, Dannie had heard, it would take hours, with an elaborate church service, and speeches, and all sorts of other nonsense. The King had cut the nonsense and headed straight for the feast. Dannie liked this man.
Maybe somebody had told him about George.
“Besides,” Rob murmured, “your brother — Freddy — is a bit distracted at the moment.” Rob jerked his head to the other side of the hall.
Dannie looked. “Ah.”
The de Ganises, or at least the parents and the elder two daughters, were arranged in a winning tableau. Dannie knew how Clarice had managed to come back for this when she hadn’t been able to make it for Maude’s funeral: the Ferreiras had, of course, sent a carriage for Freddy, and Clarice had packed her bags for a short stay and hopped in with him. She’d insisted on keeping the curtains open for all to see that there was nothing untoward occurring, and so she and Freddy had sat on opposite sides of the carriage and shivered the whole way down. At least Lynn was paying for a separate carriage to take Clarice back to Camford for the end of the academic year, so she and poor Freddy wouldn’t have to freeze again.
Clarice had very nearly had to stay with Lynn and the royal family for the duration of her trip. Lynn had whispered to Dannie that Clarice had threatened to do just that when Bors erupted at her unannounced and “unplanned” visit home. Apparently the fact that she was willing to walk back out the door again, not even listening to his whole tirade, had chastened him, and he’d shut up. Dannie didn’t know from whence Clarice had gotten the backbone, but she approved.
Except insofar as it left her brother to freeze in a cold carriage. “Rob?” Dannie asked musingly, unconsciously framing the whole “happy” family with her hands.
She glanced sidelong at Freddy, who didn’t seem to be paying her the least mind, but lowered her voice anyway. “Would you have ridden up in a freezing-cold carriage all the way from Camford just because I asked you to?”
“If you had a father like Sir Bors?” Rob asked, once again showing that uncanny ability to read her thoughts almost before she’d finished thinking them. “Aye.”
“And with the father I’ve got?”
“I’d tell you to close the curtains and let people think what they wanted, assuming you even thought to keep them open in the first place.” Rob turned to her with a grin. “And if we were already betrothed, we’d find ways of keeping warm.” Then his face became stern. “But you know that idiot across the hall doesn’t know they are, Dannie. Cut your brother some slack.”
“The problem with you, Dannie, is that you don’t have a romantic bone in your body.”
“Not romantic! I protest! Why, remember what my ‘just because’ surprise was for you, just last week?”
“Dannie …” Rob grabbed her arm and hustled her closer. Into her ear he whispered, “There’s a difference between sexual and romantic.”
Drat. And here she had thought that the trail of rose petals leading up to her bed — and her, sans clothes, on top of it — had set the right mood. A romantic mood, not a “Stevie is finally sleeping through the night, so let’s do it!” mood.
Then again, maybe the cat’s yowling had ruined that romantic mood. She’d had to shut Pepé up in the spare room to keep him from ruining the petal trail. He had not been happy about that.
Still, Dannie shook her head, sighed, and examined her fingertips. “I didn’t catch you complaining.”
“Who said anything about complaining?”
She couldn’t help it. She had to snicker. “When Freddy and Clarice get married,” she said, “I dare you to tell them all about that night. Preferably when Sir Boorish is listening in.”
“Not at the wedding, then. Or the feast after.”
“What? Why not? What would he be able to do about it?”
“Drag Clarice home by her hair and sue for an annulment on the basis of non-consummation?”
Unfortunately, Rob had a point. Maybe it would be best for them to keep their mouths shut. At least until after the marriage was safely consummated and all Bors could do would be to quietly have apoplexy off in his corner.
But with that realization came sobriety, and with sobriety came a disinclination to talk. She glanced to the dais, wondering when the King would give the signal to begin — assuming there was a signal to begin. What was taking so long, anyway?
They weren’t waiting on anybody. The de Ganises were here, though whether it was only because of Clarice’s presence or because they had always planned to come was anybody’s guess. The du Lacs wouldn’t be able to make it, but Bianca had already received a prettily-worded and warm note from Lady Guinevere, congratulating her and Richard for their ennoblement and inviting them to supper at any mutually agreeable time. As for the Gwynedds, Lord Pellinore was already here, probably preparing the finishing touches to the letters patent on the other side of the hall, while his wife looked fondly on.
The young knights wouldn’t be coming. Sir Lamorak, Sir William, Sir Milo — they all had other things to be doing, such as running the army or the judiciary in the absence of their elders. Nobody other than Clarice and Freddy had come home from Camford, so there was no use wondering about them. Lady Morgan and Lord Accolon were not coming, either, and George was going to be the only young person in the room, since everybody else had schooling to worry about. The only missing person, unaccounted-for person, was Lady Dindrane …
And she had more than excellent reasons to stay away.
So what could they possibly be waiting on? When the King had nixed the church service, they had reportedly decided to veto the ceremony entirely … or at least that was what the rumor was. From what Dannie knew of Father Hugh and Mother Julian, they didn’t seem the boycotting types. But if the younger ones had school, then Mother Julian and Sister Margery were running the school, and surely Father Hugh and the other monks, Brother Andy the doctor especially, had better things to be doing with their day. Brother Tuck was probably the only one to get into a snit about it, and no doubt the only one who would have bothered coming in the first place, and thus the only person in a position to “boycott” the investiture. So what could they be —
A flash of red — how, in this red room, was beyond Dannie’s ken — caught her eye, and she turned to look. But it was soon negated by a flash of blue, as the double doors on the other side of the hall slowly drew open.
The wimple around Bianca’s face stretched and strained under the force of her grin. Richard only straightened his belt once and walked in, calm and unconcerned as if he were walking from one end of the warehouse to the other.
Bianca had made his tunic herself, rich and gorgeous in purple silk and gold brocade. She had even had shoes dyed to match. She was a noblewoman now, or she would be in the next half an hour or so, but she still had an eye fro her profits. With any luck, she’d get an order in from half the noblemen in this room, at least the older ones. It was too bad that Brother Tuck hadn’t shown up — the design could easily be adapted into the fancy vestments that were coming into vogue into some of the wealthier areas of Glasonland and Reme. Brother Tuck wouldn’t have been able to resist.
As for Bianca’s dress, Dannie had made that and surprised Bianca with it last night. It was every bit as brocaded and gorgeous as her husband’s tunic — or so Dannie thought. Bianca had seemed to share that opinion, for she had cried when she had opened the parcel and hugged Dannie, calling the gown the fourth-best gift she’d ever been given. As for Dannie, she was perhaps a bit disappointed that Bianca’s wimple obscured some of the details around the neck, but the way the present noblewomen sat up and paid attention presaged good results for the gown in any case.
Both Richard and Bianca kept their composure for most of the walk up the short aisle, at least until Richard passed the children. Then he openly winked and gestured to them. Good to know they weren’t losing their father and gaining a chilly Baron in his place.
They walked up the red marble path to the dais, where both dropped. Richard knelt and Bianca curtsied. Bianca bobbed up again after a respectful twenty seconds; Richard remained kneeling. And no wonder — the knees weren’t meant to stay bent in curtsy-shape for very long. Kneeling was much easier to manage, and the King was supposed to help Richard up at the end of all of this, anyway.
Bianca beamed as she stood, nodding to the Queen, to Prince Tom, and finally to the King. The Queen and the Prince both smiled back. The King remained relatively grave, but there was a suspicious twitching at the corner of his lip.
Then he stood and came down the stairs. His footsteps echoed in the vaulting hall. If anybody dared to breathe, it certainly wasn’t Dannie.
He reached the bottom of the steps and let the echoes die away.
“Richard Ferreira!” The words rang off the cloth-hung walls and golden thrones. “For what cause do you come here today?”
“To be invested a Baron of Finessa, my liege.”
It was a really good thing they had rehearsed this part, because Dannie couldn’t imagine anything more infuriating than being told one was to be rewarded for all of one’s hard work by being made a baron, and told where and when to show up for the ceremony, and do everything one was told, and then be asked what the hell one was doing in the middle of the King’s hall.
The next part, however, had not been rehearsed — or at least, Richard had said, had not been rehearsed other than the King saying, “And then I’ll make a speech. I’ll try to keep it short.” He had sounded almost apologetic as he had said it, too. If Dannie hadn’t met this King’s children, she wouldn’t have believed it possible.
“Call it rather Port Finessa,” the King replied, “for it is by your own efforts it is a port, a port whose name is spoken in all tongues, wherever men sail the seas and bring with them learning, and silks, and spices, and other fine and costly goods — and those goods which are neither fine nor costly, but good all the same.
“And let us not forget those things that come to us in raw form: the rare woods, the raw silks, the thread as yet unspun into cloth. Let us remember, too, in what shape they leave our shores. They leave as fine-spun fabrics; they leave as furnishings and wares for others’ homes. They leave, in other words, enriched by the time they spent here, and by leaving so enriched, they enrich us. And for that Albion has you to thank, Richard Ferreira.”
The King looked up, for the first time addressing his audience. “There are some, unfortunately, who believe that the only way a man can serve his country is by his sword. They are wrong.” Dannie could not have been imagining that she saw Sir Bors’s jaw drop, but she would have to confirm it with Rob after the ceremony. “Do not mistake my meaning: there is no greater sacrifice a man can make for his country than by laying down his life for it. But that is not the only way to serve. A life is not the only gift to give. When enemies do not pound on our doors and seek to destroy us, how can a man better serve his country than by giving freely of his talents, his time, his sweat and his tears? How can he better serve his country than by seeking to enrich it, to help all in it grow fat and contented?”
He paused, letting that sink in. “Albion, now, is fortunate. We have no need to send our young men out to water our soil with their blood. There may yet come a day — may it be long in coming! — that that is necessary, but that is not today. So today, it is meet that we set time aside to celebrate those who have given all they have — all of their talent, all of their time, all of their courage — to help our country grow, and prosper, and be the great land that we know it for today.
“Make no mistake, my friends, I said courage. I know there are some — I pray there are none among us today — who think that courage can only be proven with steel. Who think that the only battle that tries a man’s very soul occur on land, when army meets army. But this is not so. A thousand small details in life take courage. We should remember that, and help each man along with his courage fails. But there are larger battles, too, and they take courage, and we should honor and recognize men who have fought and won those battles, even if they did not take place on the fields of honor and valor.
“My friend Richard and I, you see, have spoken often about the sea.” Dannie blinked to hear the King already referring to her father as his friend, and that they had conversations! Richard had never mentioned that! But by his blinking, he seemed no more to remember those conversations than Dannie remembered having heard of it. “If any man here thinks that an opposing army, its war-cries echoing into the dawn and its steel glinting in the weak sunlight, is the sight of all on earth most to be feared, let him think again. Let him think of the sea as Richard has described it. Let him think of the clouds amassing, the waves growing and doffing their white caps for all to sea. Let him feel the driving rain soak him through, and let him hear the creaking and groaning of those thin boards that are all that separate him from certain death.
“Let me be clear: for men of rank, as we here all are, there is hope when facing an opposing army, no matter how big, no matter how well-armed, no matter how ruthless and disciplined. For opposing armies are made only of men, and men are rational. We men in this room all know our ransom, down to the last farthing.” Dannie glanced at Rob, who mouthed, Not a clipped copper for me to her. “We know that while the men on the other side of that field can think and calculate, they would like to keep us all as alive as possible, and so fill their purses. We know, when we walk onto that battlefield, that we have a prayer of returning home to our wives and families.” The King glanced specifically at Sir Bors as he said this.
“But the sea takes no prisoners, my lords. You either escape her — or you do not. Your ship holds, or it does not. If the wave catches you at the wrong time, then you die, and not even all the gold in Reme’s coffers will save him then. You have nothing to trust in but the Lord Wright and your own skills, as well as those of your men. This is the danger that Richard Ferreira, soon to be Baron of Port Finessa, has faced time and time again. This is how he has proven his courage and his right to leave the estate of his birth an ascend to a higher one. Let any who would point to Richard Ferreira’s unbloodied sword and attest his ‘unworthiness’ remember this.
“And if there is any here who would protest that Richard Ferreira did these things not for his country, but for his own self, let him think of this. For what do men fight, if not for themselves? Oh, there are some, the brave few, motivated by pure goodwill and honor. But even the most honorable of knights will think of his wife and babes at home, or his mother and sisters if he has not yet a wife and babes. He prepares to lay down his life for them, not for something as abstract as a country. There are some, too, who fight only for honor and glory, not for people, and certainly not for a country. And there are some who fight for motives wholly base: for the money they are paid, for the promise of loot ripped from the hands of another man’s screaming widow and crying orphans.
“So!” The King made his voice rise to the rafters, grip them and somersault them a few times, echoing along the walls. “If there is any man here who, knowing this, and understanding this, thinks that Richard Ferreira has not amply proven his courage and his fitness, has not truly earned the Barony of Port Finessa, then speak! Let him speak now, let him utter his objections for all to hear. Let all be done in sunlight, as befits great matters, and let all know what the peers of Albion think.”
For a moment Dannie’s heart leapt into her throat. He couldn’t possibly mean — he wasn’t going to allow — not after Richard had worked so hard? Not after all he had done? Sir Mordred was here! And Sir Bors! And she’d heard that even Lord Pellinore was stuffy and old-fashioned —
But nobody spoke. The only noise was the rustle of Sir Mordred’s doublet and sleeves — he shifted, looked out the window, as if to gauge the angle of the sun’s rays, or to see if he could catch sight of a sundial.
“Then let it be entered in the record! Richard Ferreira is thus accepted by the peers of Albion!”
Scratch, scratch, scratch went Lord Pellinore’s quill. Dannie had to wonder if that was only for effect, of if he honestly had waited to write thing until after the ceremony was nearly over.
“And Richard Ferreira, arise. You knelt as Master, arise as Baron — Baron of Port Finessa, and holder of all the rights, duties, obligations, etc., thereto.” The King extended his hand, and Richard grasped it, and King helped commoner — Baron — Ferreira to his feet. Then he kissed him, formally, on both cheeks.
And the side of the hall to the King’s left? They were polite. They applauded. Plenty even smiled. Clarice’s grin almost rivaled Bianca’s, even when the King went to kiss Bianca’s hand and murmur something to her. Even Lady Claire was smiling.
But the right side of the hall?
Well, they celebrated as only Ferreiras could.