Will was in Glasonland, being a diplomat. Their mother was out. Their father had just been called to a Council meeting. Corentin and Celeste were too young to understand. Galahad supposed that left him.
But he still wished awfully that Leona hadn’t chosen the day his copy of Abbot Peter’s Commentary on Pascal’s Sentences had come to be going on and on about Elyan. At least she didn’t seem to mind the fact that he was reading as she talked.
“Galahad, are you even listening?”
Or maybe she did.
Galahad looked up with a sheepish smile. “Sorry.” As Leona’s scowl — a scowl! At him! She usually only scowled at Elyan! — deepened, Galahad shrunk into his seat. “It’s Abbot Peter’s Commentary on Sentences!”
The scowl vanished, leaving Leona’s pretty, honest face unmarred. “Huh?”
“Sentences — it’s the work of St. Pascal! And now Abbot Peter has written his commentary on it!” Galahad would have waved the book in the air, but that would have meant risking losing his place. “Every Abbot of the Order of St. Pascal writes a commentary on Sentences. It’s tradition! And now Abbot Peter has done his!”
Leona continued to look confused.
“… You can borrow it when I’m done?” Galahad offered, thrusting out an olive branch in the best way he knew how. “It’s very profound, so far.”
That finally got Leona to smile. Of course she followed it up by laughing, and it was more of an “at you” than a “with you” type of laugh. But it was the most laughter Galahad had seen out of her since that disastrous dinner with Elyan.
Still, it wasn’t long before the laugh was replaced by a wistful smile. “But can you just listen? Please?”
Galahad glanced longingly at the deftly illuminated page before him. Truly, this book was a work of mastery. But he supposed it could wait. “Sure.”
And surely Leona wouldn’t mind if he read a sentence or two when she paused for breath, right?
“I just wish,” Leona sighed — Galahad kept his eyes off the page with difficulty — “that I could get through to that prick, just once. Get him to realize that no, he’s not the center of the world and all that’s in it. Get him to realize that he’s not even the center of my world and never will be! I’m a person! I’ve got passions, interests, hobbies! And he’s not one of them, and he never will be! I just wish –”
“Well, that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?” Galahad interrupted.
“That I have interests?”
“No, not that — that Elyan won’t ever be one of them.”
Leona threw her hands heavenward. “But if he wasn’t such a prick, I wouldn’t have to say that!”
Well, no. Not that Elyan wasn’t a prick; prick was actually a bit more of a polite term than Galahad would have used for Elyan on most days. But even if he was a prick, she still didn’t have to say that. Saying that was cruel, in a way, and Leona wasn’t cruel.
Or maybe it didn’t count if she didn’t say it to Elyan. Maybe just saying it to Galahad, so she could let the sentiment out and be done with it, was the kindest thing she could do. It wasn’t as if Galahad would tell. He, too, was not cruel.
“And do you know what the worst — the absolute worst — thing is? I think Elyan’s actually got half a brain inside that thick head. Which is at least twice what Bors has got. He’s obtuse, but he’s not an idiot!”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far …”
“He’s good with money!” Leona exploded. “Kay says so — even Aglovale admits it! That’s more than Bors ever was! And he wants to major in politics, too, instead of being dumb muscle like his father! I think what I hate the most about Elyan is that he has potential, damn it, so I can’t just hate him and be done with it!”
“Leona, that doesn’t even make sense.”
“I know!” she wailed. “I just …” She sighed. “I used to be able to hate him. Back before we went to Camford, I could happily pound him into the dirt each and every day. What changed?”
Back before they went to Camford, Elyan had only been fourteen, thirteen, and younger than that. Leona had been seventeen, sixteen — always three years older. Three years was a lot when one Sim was sixteen and the other thirteen. Three years was even more when the sixteen-year-old Sim was a girl and the other a boy. Galahad saw the difference between the sixteen-year-old girls and the thirteen-year-old boys in his teaching. They may as well have not even been in the same country, let alone the same classroom.
And to have them betrothed? That was cruel even before one began to consider the attitudes Elyan spewed on a regular basis. No wonder Leona couldn’t stand him then. And no wonder, since the distance between twenty-two and nineteen was that much shorter than sixteen and thirteen, that Leona found Elyan to be that much more tolerable now.
“I think the worst of it is,” Leona sighed as she flopped to the bench beside Galahad, “is that I pity him now. Argh!”
Galahad almost closed the book. He settled for staring at his twin instead. “You …” He scratched his head, wincing a little as his nails clipped the bald pate of his head. He’d need to trim them soon. “Well, I guess he is rather pitiable.”
“Or pitiful,” Leona muttered.
“Maybe both.” Shrugging, he added, “They do mean very different things.”
“Aye,” Leona whispered. There was, after all, no way that a daughter of Guinevere du Lac could grow up and not know the difference between pitiful and pitiable.
“But why do you pity him?” Galahad asked. Wouldn’t Leona be the last person to have pity for Elyan? Will he could see pitying Elyan — the Prince (either of the princes) or even Freddy, in a particularly generous mood — but Leona?
“Because …” Leona sat up, groaning. “It’s Bors’s fault, again! He has to go and treat Elyan the same way he treated Lynn, and Clarice, and Angelique! Damn him!”
Galahad’s brows knit. “I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“Bors — Bors always wanted his daughters to be a certain way, aye? Meek and obedient and brainless, if at all possible. And it didn’t matter that Lynn has all that common sense and Clarice has more brains than three Borses put together and that Angelique didn’t want anything to do with any of that shit. That was how Bors wanted them to be and so that was how they were going to be, whether they wanted to or not. And now he’s doing the same thing to Elyan!”
“Yes, you mentioned that.”
“Bors wants Elyan to be him! And it doesn’t matter if that’s not what Elyan wants to be!”
“… By ‘him,’ do you mean Bors or Elyan?”
Brows knit, Galahad considered the reconstructed sentence. Nope — still not getting it. “I give up, Leona.”
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Leona sighed. “Bors wants Elyan to be just like him — a military man, ‘proving himself with his sword,'” Leona’s voice dropped as far as it could, “following in his exact footsteps. He doesn’t even want to let Elyan choose his own Wright-damned course of study! Tell me, Galahad, how is that any different from what Bors does to his daughters?”
“… Is that a trick question?”
“Um, I guess it kind of is.” Leona blushed. “But still! You see my point! I think …” Leona bit her lip. “I think that’s why Dad said that I don’t have to marry Elyan if I don’t want to. I think he’s realized that Bors –”
“Dad said what?” Galahad gasped.
“I know,” Leona murmured.
“Then — then why are we talking? Why didn’t you break it off there and then?”
Leona flushed, her gaze drifting to one of the many bookshelves. Then she murmured, “I’m scared.”
It was Galahad’s turn to blink, and gasp, and stare at his sister as he had so often been stared at: as if she had grown a second head. Then, without a further word, he got up and put his book away.
There were very few things that merited placing Abbot Peter’s Commentary on Sentences away, but a confession of fear from Leona was one of them.
Slowly, Galahad moved back to the bench and stood before Leona. Sitting down was out of the question. He needed to have her face in plain view.
He decided he would start with an easy question, then lead up to the harder ones. “Are you feeling all right?”
“… Are you sure?”
Leona rolled her eyes. “Positive, Galahad.”
“And you want to marry Elyan?”
Her voice grew small and distant, like a child’s. “I don’t know.”
Maybe she wasn’t feeling all right. Maybe she was dreadfully ill and just hadn’t realized it yet. Perhaps he ought to send for Clarice to examine Leona. Because the Leona he thought he knew would have had only one answer for that question: Hell, no!
“At least,” Leona murmured, “I don’t … not want to marry him as badly as I used to. I … I don’t know. I just hate seeing Bors treat him like that. Even Elyan.”
Well, that was a start. So Leona felt pity for him, and didn’t want to … well, Galahad doubted breaking off the betrothal would break Elyan’s heart. Ding his pride, then. That was something that made a moderate amount of sense coming from Leona.
“And if I don’t marry him … what am I going to do, Galahad? I don’t want to spend my life being somebody’s aunt.”
“What will I be,” Leona asked, “if I don’t marry Elyan? I’ll be Will’s sister and yours. And then someday I’ll be Corentin and Celeste’s aunt. At least … at least if I marry Elyan, I’ll be somebody.”
“Never just that.”
Galahad would beg to differ. Wouldn’t marrying Elyan make it harder for Leona to do everything she wanted to do — start a navy, get it running, be the first High Admiral of Albion? Wouldn’t she have to fight him every step of the way on top of having to struggle to get a small, none-too-wealthy kingdom to develop a navy worth remembering?
… Or was that the point?
Did Leona need that fight, that struggle? Did she need to give fuel to her fire and keep her going?
“You know what I think?” asked Galahad.
“I think you’ve been kind of looking forward to going toe-to-toe with Sir Bors, haven’t you? Being able to fight against him and stop him and –”
“No!” Leona exploded. “Are you kidding me? I don’t want to have to live with that man! I don’t care –” Her voice hitched. “I don’t care if I’m the only hope that Lady Claire and Lionel and Evette have! No! No! It’s not my job to keep Bors from breaking them, too!”
Of course it wasn’t her job. Who in their right mind would say it was? Keeping Bors in line — keeping him from doing to Lionel and Evette what he had done to his elder children — Galahad didn’t know whose job that was, but it couldn’t be Leona’s.
“Is that what you’re worried about? Them?” Galahad asked.
“Would … would you blame me if I was?”
“… I guess a little. Like you said, it’s not your job to save them.”
“But who else is going to do it?” Leona whispered.
Galahad frowned. Family stories, long ago told and long ago, Galahad thought, forgotten, crowded his mind. The du Lacs came from a long line of heroes, of men who went out and did the impossible because it needed doing and nobody else was lining up to the do the job. The original Lancelot had, legend had it, rescued a queen from the knight who had kidnapped her. The original Galahad had quested after the cup that had caught St. Robert’s blood from the cross. There was an Ector de Maris who rescued his brother from madness. There was Ban du Lac, their grandfather, who had agreed to foster Bors because his parents were at their wits’ end and knew not what to do with the boy the monks of St. Consort had corrupted, in the spirit if not in the flesh.
And now Leona was trying to step in to rescue Sir Bors’s children and grandchildren.
“Leona, did Dad say when you had to make a decision?”
She shook her head. “He said — he said he wouldn’t hear from Bors any stupidity about moving up the wedding. So I don’t have to worry about that. He told me I could think about it as long as I needed.”
“Then … why don’t you think about it?”
“Galahad, what else do you think I’ve been thinking about?” She leaned forward, huddled into herself. “I don’t need this! I don’t need to be worrying about him of all people now! I’ve got so much to do with the navy!”
Galahad frowned. If she was in this much turmoil … then again, how was she in so much turmoil? How could anyone, let alone someone as forthright and strong-willed as Leona, not know what she wanted?
“There are ships to be built! We’ve got to plan the voyage to the Twikkii Islands! And Prince Tom has been hearing some awful rumors about Glasonland. He’s not saying much, but he’s getting awfully nervous … I’ve got so much to do, I don’t need this!”
“Have you decided whether or not you’re going on the voyage?”
“No,” Leona admitted, shamefaced. “But I’ve got months to do that.”
“You’ve got over a year to decide about Elyan.”
“But … that’s different.”
Leona couldn’t answer that. But she could frown up at him, eyes a shade darker and sadder than Galahad had ever seen them. But why? What about having a choice about her future could possibly make her sad?
She shouldn’t marry Elyan, Galahad realized. Not if just trying to decide made her this sad. She would be better off walking away from him for good, stopping her worry about his sister and his brother and even his mother. They weren’t her problem. They never had been. Why couldn’t anyone see that?
The more distance between her and Elyan, Galahad decided, the better.
In fact …
Galahad’s eyes lit up. “Leona, I think I have it!”
Her eyebrows lifted.
“You should go! Go to the Twikkii Islands! Go and get right away from here, from the de Ganises — from Elyan! And then see how you feel when you get back!”
“Galahad, there’s so much that needs to be done here …”
“Bah! That’s what the Prince is for! And won’t Kay be coming back from Camford at the end of the year?” Galahad pointed out.
Leona blinked. “That’s … true …”
“So let him do some of the things that need to do on land! He’ll have nothing better to do, aye? Then you can go on your voyage, and clear your head, and see what you want to do when you get back.”
“But, Galahad, do you really think there’s an icicle’s chance in hell that Bors would let the marriage go through after I went to sea? With no chaperone? If I left, I –”
“Wouldn’t be responsible if Bors decided to break off the agreement, marry Elyan to somebody else, and keep treating Lady Claire and his little ones as badly as he does, aye? I mean, you were willing to go forward and try to help them. If Bors doesn’t want you to marry Elyan, even though you were willing, that’s not your fault, is it?”
“It’s not that simple, Galahad. If I leave knowing he’ll break it off … how is that different from me just breaking it off myself?”
“No, Leona, it’s exactly that simple. Think about it!” Galahad threw both of his hands in the air. “You be honest with him — with Elyan! You tell them you’re taking time to think about it. And you know what, if they’re not willing to give you that time? Then forget them! They don’t deserve you, if they ever deserved you in the first place.”
“Leona, think of how sad — and angry — and just unhappy Bors and Elyan make you,” Galahad pleaded. “Do they have the right to make you feel that way?”
“Lady Claire –”
“Do they,” Galahad repeated, “have the right to make you feel that way?”
Leona looked away. She closed her eyes. Deep breaths — one, then another, then another.
Her eyes flickered open. “No,” she whispered. “No, damn it, they don’t!”
She leaped from her seat, Galahad stumbling to get out of her way.
“You know what?” She turned to Galahad. “I’ll do it! I’ll go, and to hell with Bors and Elyan. If — if they have anything to say about it, then I’ll tell them the same thing you told me! They don’t have the right to make me feel like that, never, never, never!”
“No, they don’t!” Galahad grinned.
“And they don’t have the right to make anybody else feel like that! Maybe if somebody says that to them, something will sink into their thick skulls!”
Galahad doubted that, but he continued beaming at his sister anyway.
Leona grinned back at him. “Thank you, Galahad. You — you’re the best!” She ducked in and pecked him on the cheek.
“And now I have to go!” she laughed. “I have to — oh! There are so many things I have to do, and get ready, and … oh! I’ll tell Prince Tom first! So he can get Kay ready!” She flung her arms around Galahad’s neck. “Thank you, thank you!”
“Don’t mention –” He never got to finish that sentence. Leona had already let him go and hurried out of the little library. Galahad could hear her pounding down the stairs and out the door.
And Galahad? Well, he did what anyone who knew him would have expected him to do.
He went over to the shelf and got his book, sat down and began to read again.
But this time, he did it with all the satisfaction of a job well done.