This, Garnet decided, was just what she needed. A creative outlet. A chance to let her insecurities go somewhere else for a while. A chance to make something beautiful with her own two hands. Something restful, and — this was important — something domestic and oh-so-feminine.
Yes, flower arranging met all of these requirements.
Garnet’s reaction to most things feminine was, she was beginning to realize, another unfortunate inheritance from her mother. Morgause had deemed such things as needlework and drawing and other “feminine” arts beneath her. She had loved music, and she had demanded that Garnet be educated in musical performance and theory. Garnet would have liked to have resented her for it out of principle, but the plain and simple fact of the matter was that Garnet loved music, too. Some of the closest statements she had gotten to praise from her mother had been in relation to her playing. She couldn’t sing, but she could play very well, and she took to dancing without much trouble, either.
But music was ephemeral. You could try to freeze it through a written composition, but that worked about as well as trying to keep one’s deceased friends and relations with one through embalming. Sure, the body was still there, and it didn’t stink or decompose too much, but all that was essential to the person was already gone.
Whereas flower-arranging …
Maybe it was just as temporary and ephemeral, when one thought about it. Unless you had a gift for gardening and keeping potted plants alive — which Garnet was not quite sure she had, yet — this particular bit of artistry would only last for a few days, perhaps a week. She would be better off with a painting or a tapestry.
But there were too many obstacles to painting, the first being that Garnet had no real talent for it. When she went to paint even something simple, like an apple on a plate, the results she got were so different from the apple right in front of her that the pursuit caused more frustration than pleasure. She didn’t have the patience to stick at painting long enough to become good at it.
As for needlework … well, she was good, or at any rate good enough, at needlework. Morgause didn’t have any use for the hobby herself, but she had decreed that ladies did needlework, Garnet would someday be a lady, ergo, she must learn how to do needlework. But it was mind-numbing and took far too long to produce any result that could be called artistic. It was, perhaps, a good thing to know how to do in order to enhance one’s wardrobe and to keep one’s hands busy while conversing with friends, but beyond that, Garnet just couldn’t see a point that justified the hours and hours a woman could spend on it.
Whereas with flower-arranging … why, Garnet had barely spent half an hour on these particular cuttings, and she now had a beautiful pot of daisies!
Daisies that were all one color, similarly if not identically shaped, and of similar height …
She could have gotten the exact same results, from the point of view of artistry and aesthetics, but simply stuffing the requisite number of blooms into the pot, adding a bit of water, and calling it a day.
Who the hell was she kidding?
She was bored; that was the problem. The last three years had been so hectic, so full of problems, that now that Garnet had a bit of breathing space, she didn’t know what to do with it. First there was her father’s illness in her freshman year. Then came his death in her sophomore year. Then — then came the hellishness of Morgause’s crime, then her capture, her trial, and finally her death at the end of that sophomore year. She barely had time to catch her breath in her junior year after that death than she had to fight tooth and nail to keep Lamorak. And now that she was betrothed, now that she had time to attend to something other than her studies and whatever the current crisis was — what was she to do with it all?
It was selfish and she knew it, but Garnet wished that Clarice and Leona had not graduated. Or, if not Clarice, who seemed to be happy and content with her new lot in life, then Leona. Then there would be someone fun to be with, someone else who had a certain joie de vivre, as the Gaulish put it, and perhaps could teach it to Garnet.
But all Garnet had now was Heloise — and Kay, of course, but there were limits to what a proper young lady could do with a single man, even her own cousin. Especially her own cousin. Most other kings and princes did not take the dim view of cousin marriage that her uncle did. After all that she had gone through after Morgause’s arrest and her death, Garnet was not brave enough to flout these standards and invite more censure.
Perhaps she ought to ask Heloise to do — something, anything. It was either that or more flower-arranging, or going stark, raving mad. With that in mind, Garnet went to beard the lioness in her den, which was to say, the library.
“Hello, Heloise,” Garnet said in the friendliest voice she could muster.
Garnet barely forbore from rolling her eyes. But she had to be nice — or at any rate, she had to be patient. So she stood in front of Heloise and asked, as offhandedly as she possibly could, “I wonder what you were planning to do this evening? I hear that the Ladies’ Lute Group will be giving a concert. They’re supposed to be quite good.”
“Sounds like fun.”
Garnet blinked. Goodness! If she had know that Heloise would respond so well to simple patience, she would have tried it long ago! “So — so, you’d like to go?”
Heloise looked up in some surprise. “What? Oh, no. I’ve got studying to do.” She turned back to her book. “I meant fun for you.”
Wright damn it! Of course her hopes would so soon be dashed to the ground. Weren’t they always? Still, she had to keep trying somehow or other. “Might you not want to accompany me?” she asked. “Surely you can afford to miss one night of studying.”
“I promised some people I would meet them at the library,” was Heloise’s response. “But you ought to still go, since you like music so much.”
“Don’t you like music, too?” Garnet wheedled. Still, she was a bit surprised that Heloise had noticed that she liked music. In the midst of the music-mad de Ganis girls, Garnet had assumed that her own quieter appreciation had gone quite, quite unnoticed. Especially by Heloise.
Heloise only shrugged. “It has its place.”
“And what is that?”
Heloise shot her a withering look. But Garnet steeled her spine and continued on. “I mean that truly. I’m not — I’m not trying to be unpleasant. Or arguing for argument’s sake.”
Heloise snorted. That remark about arguing for argument’s sake had probably caused Garnet to fall a bit in Heloise’s estimation. Though it wasn’t as if she had very far to fall, when she thought about it.
Still, Heloise sighed and, barely glancing up from her book, answered, “It’s a good application of number in respect to time.”
“Heloise!” Garnet snapped, before she could think better of it.
“What? It is! That’s why it’s included as part of the quadrivium!”
“That is not what music is! It’s not — it’s not an application of anything! It is — itself! It’s emotion, it’s freedom, it’s the voice of the soul crying out into the world–”
“If you’re going to go on like that,” Heloise muttered to her book, “you’d be much better off writing to Princess Lynn. Or to Clarice. Or going off and finding their little sister, the nun.”
As if Garnet could presume to write to Princess Gwendolyn! The marriage connection notwithstanding, she was a princess, and they hadn’t been close enough that Garnet could simply write her without any real reason behind it. Amazing that Heloise had been at Camford for well over three years and still didn’t have any idea about manners —
Except — Garnet would have a reason soon. Or so she hoped and prayed. She had heard rumors, straight from Kay’s ear, that Princess Gwendolyn was increasing again. Of course she couldn’t say anything or presume to write now, before the announcement was official. But once it was, Garnet was certain to be notified by the Queen, or Princess Gwendolyn herself, or maybe even the King. Then — then a letter of formal congratulations would be in order, of course. And tucked into that letter, perhaps a few lines about music, a description of a recent concert or a friendly request for any new recommendations the Princess might have. Princess Gwendolyn would be sure to respond to that. With any luck, they could start quite an agreeable correspondence … perhaps Garnet wouldn’t have to go groveling to Heloise for some sort of Sim companionship …
A very agreeable vista — cut unfortunately short by the unfortunate realization that letters took an awfully long time to travel, and, in comparison, an awfully short time to read and to write. That still left the problem of getting Heloise to do anything.
So Garnet replied, “I’m sure Sister Angelique has much better things to do than — than go to a concert at the last minute.”
“And I don’t?”
“That is to say,” Garnet continued, trying very hard not to grit her teeth, “Sister Angelique doubtless has more pressing duties.”
“Which I’m sure she’d love to get out of. Do recall that I have met Sister Angelique.”
Yes, that was true. She used to come by the house frequently, or frequently enough when Clarice was still here. And before that … Garnet remembered her fellow schoolgirl with her sour moue, who only came alive when she sang, who looked to the future with more dread than youthful hope. No, Angelique had never wanted to join the church. Garnet used to think, back then, that she was surely the most miserable maid in Albion. Perhaps she had been wrong.
But if she and Angelique had one sort of natural kinship in that, they also had another. They had never been particularly trusting of strangers and near-strangers, never all that fond of others who suddenly showed up at their door and asked for friendship. And there was the witchcraft factor to consider as well. Princess Gwendolyn and Clarice seemed to accept it in Garnet, but for Elyan, it was only another reason to sniff at her and look down upon her. Who knew what it might be for Angelique?
Garnet was not ready to take that risk. Not yet.
“Perhaps, but she might not be able to get out of it. Whereas you –”
“Have plans, and am busy,” Heloise snarled. “Look, I don’t understand why you can’t just go to this damned concert by yourself, if you want to go so badly. You’re a witch, and all you’ll be doing is sitting in a chair, listening to music! What could possibly happen that you can’t handle by yourself?”
“It’s not about being able to handle or not handle things!” Garnet snapped. “It’s about — it’s about noblewomen, virtuous noblewomen, not going out at night without some kind of accompaniment!”
“It’s your luting ladies who ought to be worried about accompaniment, not you,” Heloise muttered, “and it’s all about being able to handle things. The best way to get rid of such a silly idea is for young noblewomen to start doing things by themselves and proving that they’re capable. Then ladies like you can go to all the concerts they want and stop bothering women like me.”
“At night? Are you mad?” Garnet gasped. “A lady could be set upon by robbers, by — by — anyone!”
Heloise looked up with another withering stare. “You. Are. A. Witch. What is there on this campus that you couldn’t handle?”
“What is there on this campus that I would dare to fight off with witchcraft, considering wherethat would be likely to get me?”
“I would guess robbers, murderers,et cetera,” Heloise replied in that supremely irritating deadpan way she had, “because I should think they would have just as much to lose as if you, if not more, by reporting you.”
“Assuming they aren’t forgiven all of their sins in repayment for turning in a witch stalking Camford itself.”
“Please. You’re a noble witch. You’re a King’s niece! They wouldn’t be stupid enough to go after you, not if you did something only after being attacked and provoked. It would be more trouble than it was worth. Like this conversation,” Heloise muttered to her book.
“This conversation,” Garnet replied as sweetly as she could muster, “would end so quickly if you would just go with me to the concert.”
Heloise took a long, steady look at Garnet. Then, without a further word, she rose, put her book on the shelf, and turned back to Garnet. “I suggest a compromise.”
“A compromise?” Garnet asked.
“Aye. I go with you to the concert hall –”
“You’ll go with me to the concert?” Garnet asked in a tone of voice that was entirely too similar to a squeal for her own comfort.
Heloise scowled. “I’m not finished. I walk with you to the concert hall. See you there safe and sound,et cetera. Then I go to the library, since apparently common girls are judged capable of holding off robbers by their own wits. At the end of the concert, I come back and we walk home together. There. Happy?”
No. No, Garnet wasn’t. She would still sit alone and mortified in the concert hall, conscious of every eye upon her and wondering who was with her, or who wasn’t with her and why weren’t they. She would feel it even when there were no eyes on her at all, or the eyes were blank and incurious, uncaring. No, this did not make her happy at all.
“Oh, for the love of Wright,” Heloise huffed. “Really? Really? I offer a supreme sacrifice, and you have the gall to stand there like a kicked puppy?”
“I am not standing here like a kicked puppy!”
“Tell that to the expression on your face.”
“Would it kill you to go just go to a concert with me? Just once?”
“I. Have. Plans.”
“Then when don’t you have plans?” Garnet replied. “Tell me! Tell me any night, and — and — I’m sure there will be a concert, or a play, or something going on! Or we could go to the Lion and the Llama with the boys and — and actually enjoy our youth!”
“I am enjoying my youth, thank you very much, even if it’s not in a way you are constitutionally capable of appreciating. Secondly, speaking of the boys, why aren’t you bothering them with this nonsense about concerts and all the rest of it? Ask Kay to take you! He probably would!”
“First of all, Kay has a life –”
“And I don’t?”
“No! Spending your hours with your nose stuck in a book does not count as a life!” Garnet snapped. She would regret that, eventually, but for now, it needed to be said. “And don’t you understand a bloody thing about trying to preserve a reputation?”
“Oh, believe me,” Heloise laughed mirthlessly, “I know more about trying to keep a reputation intact than you will ever imagine.”
“Then if you know, why are you asking? If I go everywhere with Kay, people will start spreading rumors — nasty rumors! Horrible rumors! They’ll say — they’ll say –”
“What the hell do you care what fools and prattlers say?”
“What do I care? They’ve made my life miserable ever since my mother was arrested! Do you think — no, no. You, you’re the one who cares so much about reason, about rationality, about study — in what world would it be rational for me to not care about what other people say, even if they are idiots, since what they say can hurt so much?”
“This one,” replied Heloise, “if only you would bother to be rational. First — it wasn’t the fools who acted like idiots after your mother’s arrest who truly made you miserable. It was your mother. They might not have helped, but they could hardly make things much worse.”
“Are you an–”
“I’m not done yet. Shush. Secondly, what material difference can all of those fools actually make in your life? And I will answer,” Heloise snapped before Garnet could get a word in edgewise, “and the answer is this: none. None whatsoever.”
“I can become even more of a pariah on this campus than I already am!”
“You’ll be leaving it by year’s end. So?”
“They’ll — they’ll call me — they’ll say Kay and I are –”
“Of course they will.” Garnet gaped to hear Heloise’s reply. “But fools will say foolish things. Who –whose opinion actually matters — is going to believe what they say?”
Garnet gaped. “Are you joking? Everyone on campus who doesn’t know me will–”
“Whose. Opinions. Actually. Matter,” Heloise snarled through gritted teeth. “When you come right down to it, who actually has a stake in you being considered a whore or not?”
“And obviously you will not believe that you are a whore, since you have direct knowledge to the contrary. There are only a few people who have direct cause to worry or wonder about your chastity: Lamorak, his father, and the King. Possibly your brother might have cause to worry as well, but you two are barely speaking in any case. And who among those people is enough of an idiot to believe that because you’re going to concerts you are necessarily going to bed with him as well?”
“Heloise! That is so — vulgar!”
“Yes, it is. But I’m representing the opinions of vulgar people and don’t have the patience to be mealy-mouthed with it. Now, would you answer my question, please?”
Garnet saw where this was going. It was just what Morgause used to do. She had her views of the world and how it ought to work, and she could build a whole castle on that logic, usually around Garnet. She would be imprisoned before she could blink.
Neither Heloise nor Morgause could understand that there might be possibility that their logic, those foundations, could be rotten to the core. And there would be no way for Garnet to smash those foundations without the castle crashing down on her head.
So she snarled, “There are some questions that don’t deserve to be answered,” and left before the castle could be finished.
As for Heloise, she watched Garnet’s back sail through the door and heard it slam behind her. She shook her head. “That,” she muttered to herself, even as she went back to the bookshelf to rescue her book, “would be precisely where you’re wrong, Garnet.”