Imsdyn 3, 1013
There were any number of men in the kingdom who could have hosted Lamorak’s bachelor party. There was Prince Thomas — Sir William, now that he was returned from Glasonland — Sir Milo — Master Robert Wesleyan — Lanorak’s own brother Aglovale. How odd, Mordred thought as the man of the hour made his entrance and was greeted with a cheer by all of the other assembled men, that it should be him acting as host this evening. Even odder that it should be in his own home.
Mordred took a tankard off one of the full trays and brought it to his lips as Lamorak made laughing rounds through the room. At least there was no chance of disturbing Garnet with their merry-making. No, she had elected to spend her last few days of maidenhood with Morgan. And it would be Accolon who gave her away tomorrow, never mind who was paying her dowry. Rumor also had it — she had not had the courage to tell him directly if this was the case — that Morgan was hosting a party for her on this same night, composed solely of women. Mordred had to chuckle as he wondered what Accolon was expected to do with himself, if this was indeed the case.
“Where’s your brother?” laughed Thomas, patting Lamorak on the back. “Come now, don’t tell me he’s jealous because he didn’t get much of a party?”
“Morien’s got a sniffle, which means that Babette can’t go to Garnet’s party, which means –” Lamorak paled and cast a panicked glance at Wesleyan.
Wesleyan, despite the fact that he was the aforementioned lady’s brother, only smiled and answered laconically, “Babette will be damned if Aglovale gets to go to a party while she’s stuck at home.”
“Something like that,” Lamorak laughed, more than a shade nervously, then grabbed a tankard off another tray. He look a long swallow as he grabbed a place next to Mordred.
He brought the tankard down with a laugh. “So — when are the women of easy virtue coming, eh?” He winked at Mordred.
“Easy virtue?” gasped Sir Milo. “You’re in your bride’s brother’s house!”
“With a bunch of old married men, I may add,” Thomas replied, swirling the wine around in his glass, “more’s the pity. Will, why didn’t we have ladies of easy virtue at our bachelor party?”
“Because you would have killed me if I so much as looked at any of them, and you wouldn’t have been able to look yourself in the mirror the next day if you so much as looked at any of them.”
“Ah! That would be why!” Thomas nodded sagely, then turned to Lamorak. “So remember that, my lad, when you’re remembering this day, what, three years from … who’s the next one of us to get married, eh?”
“Perhaps Sir Elyan?” answered Sir Milo. “He graduates in two years.”
“But apparently he and Lady Leona will not be marrying!” Thomas wagged his finger. “Or so Sir Bors informed me in no uncertain terms when he told me I shouldn’t permit Lady Leona to take her place in the navy, that I ought to … well, that kind of language doesn’t bear repeating in polite company.”
Lamorak’s jaw fell. “Sir Bors used language in front of you that you can’t repeat in front of polite company?”
“Allow me to rephrase.” Thomas leaned languidly in front of the bar, smiling his cat-with-the-canary smile. Mordred observed him over the rim of his tankard, especially as Thomas’s eyes went to Sir William, as they often did. “He said things that I won’t be repeating in front of the lady in question’s brother.”
“Brothers can stand to hear quite a lot about their sisters, especially if they’re true,” Wesleyan laughed.
“Ah, but this isn’t,” Thomas waggled a finger. “Although, to be honest …” He lifted his tankard and held it up to the light, as if examining the workmanship of the object. “I’m not sure which she would find more insulting: the implied insults to her virtue, or the bluntly stated assumptions that she can’t take care of her own bloody virtue.”
As if there had been any doubt on that score — and a quick glance around the room confirmed to Mordred that there hadn’t been — Sir William snorted. “The latter. Definitely the latter.”
“When one’s virtue belongs to Sir Elyan,” Lamorak added, “it does sort of weaken the appeal of staying virtuous.”
“Lamorak!” Sir William snapped.
In-teresting. Mordred would not have been the calculated observer he was if he had not noticed, starting in their teens, Sir William’s dislike for Lamorak. He had correctly divined the cause, too: Lamorak’s half-hearted pursuit of Jessica. In his more rational moods, he could not blame Sir William for it. If any man had so much as looked at Rosette when they were both young and Mordred had not yet been sure of her, Mordred did not think he would have been entirely in control of himself. But that it continued even now, so many years after the fact …
He sat himself onto the other bench, directly across from Sir William and Wesleyan. He really must observe this further.
For that was the second part of his purpose in throwing this party, was it not? The first, of course, was to re-ingratiate himself with Lamorak, if not with the Gwynedds. Lot had perhaps miscalculated when he decided which of his children was to form the initial alliance with the Gwynedds, but he had not miscalculated when it came to the advantages of such an alliance. They were the two families in the west part of Albion, theoretically the most vulnerable, owing to the nearness of the Reman Empire, but also with the best opportunity to snatch any lands that might become available. They also needed to offset the growing closeness of the du Lacs and de Ganises, not that they weren’t close enough already.
Of course, if what Thomas said was true, then it seemed that any wished-for alliance between the du Lacs and de Ganises was destined to come to naught … but still, both families were infernally close to the royal. Mordred needed an alliance to tip the scales further on his side. He’d never win back Pellinore’s approval, that was certain. But he could win Lamorak’s friendship again — easily, it seemed — and, well, Pellinore couldn’t live forever. Lamorak would be a fine pawn to keep in his pocket.
But that was only his first purpose in hosting this party. His second was to start to get a feel for the other young men of power and influence in this kingdom.
Thomas, Sir William, Lamorak — someday, perhaps, Kay, Sir Elyan, and Aglovale — someday they, and Mordred, would have the ruling of this country. Someday these would be the men with whom he would spar and ally with around the Council table and in any of the other myriad places where the business of running the kingdom was done. He had known them all as boys. But then he had gone to Camford, and directly upon his return, they had gone to Camford, and the result was that eight years had passed without them seeing each other very often. When they came back, Mordred had already been a lord in his own right, while they all remained only heirs. These had not been the circumstances under which close friendships are formed. And then, to make matters worse, there had been everything with his mother …
Enough time had passed. He needed to get to know these men better, to understand what made them tick, to extract their very tocks from them and use them to his own advantage.
Especially Sir William.
It irked Mordred even to think this. By rights, it should have been Thomas he was keeping the closer eye on. Thomas, after all, would be king someday. But Sir William was married to Jessica. If Jessica had any suspicions about Mordred’s involvement in the Tarquinii brothers’ deaths, then Sir William would know it. Mordred rather doubted Sir William would be able to entirely hide suspicions of that nature from Mordred.
He found himself hoping quite fervently that he was right, for Sir William did not seem to regard Mordred as an assassin or murderer at all.
But there were more prosaic concerns at work, too. Avilion was a duchy, as was Lothian. Both sets of holdings gave their respective owners a great deal of influence, power, and income. An alliance between the two was out of the question, at least in this generation, for Garnet and Sir William were unable to marry each other, and Mordred doubted he would be brave enough to make an offer to Lady Leona after his annulment was granted. He doubted, too, that she would be disposed to accept his offer — he had no interest in curtailing her freedom the way Sir Elyan did, but at the same time, he doubted they would get along. At all. And the necessary acts in the bedroom? Perish the thought.
Still, if they could not be allies, then they would have to be rivals, each seeking to beat the other in power and influence. That was the way it must ever be. And it was best to know one’s enemies.
… However, it was occurring to Mordred that perhaps a bachelor party was not the best venue in which to get to know one’s enemies.
The trouble was Lamorak, if that was even fair to say — it was his party. But he flitted from one side of the room to the other, cracking off-color jokes and letting out even more colorful commentary with every breath. He was determined to make the party go if no one else would, it seemed. It was a pity that it seemed so necessary. Four out of the five of these young men had shared a dwelling for the better part of four years, and Mordred had been given to understand that Sir Milo spent so much time in said dwelling he may as well have lived there. Surely they ought to be less stiff and unsure of each other than this?
Unless the problem was with Mordred …
Was he the reason why Lamorak seemed so determined to put everyone at their ease, whether the desired to be at ease or not? And was he the reason why Lamorak was downing drink after drink? He’d make himself sick at the rate he was going.
If that was the case, then the least Mordred could do for his brother-in-law-to-be (again) was to do his duty as a host, to provide a lubricant for the situation so Lamorak and his ale didn’t have to be. So Mordred turned to Sir William with a reptilian smile. “Sir William. Allow me to offer you my congratulations for your safe return in person — I do not believe I had a chance to do so earlier. Forgive me.”
Sir William nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
“I hope that both you and my fair cousin are quite recovered from the privations of the journey?”
Wesleyan’s eyes bugged; perhaps to hear Jessica referred to as fair — well, Mordred had to admit that his cousin didn’t quite fit the bill there. But one could hardly say otherwise to her husband. In any case, Sir William was nodding again. “We have, thank you.”
“And I am given to understand that you returned with a third sojourner? I refer, of course, to the Argent cousin you brought with you.”
“We did, sir. Her name is Penelope — Penelope Argent. She’s decided to stay with us, for the time being.”
“In-deed?” Mordred asked, crossing and uncrossing his ankles as he relaxed against the backrest of the bench. “She is a witch, is she not?”
“That’s no secret,” Sir William replied with another nod.
Damn, the boy was hard to read — somewhere behind his eyes there was a wall, and only a fraction of Sir William ever did more than look cautiously beyond it. Mordred would have taken it better if the boy was being cunning, letting Mordred see only what he wanted to see, but no, it couldn’t be that easy. This wasn’t mere cunning, but rather a deep shyness hardened into habitual reserve. You could manage to trick a crafty or cunning man into showing his true colors; a reserved one was showing you his true colors — just not as many of them as you might like.
Still, he would continue this conversation. He would inquire about Penelope — no harm in that, she was his cousin as much as she was Jessica and Morgan’s — he would even tender an invitation for her to come visit with him. He would ask about the situation in Glasonland, masking it as simple curiosity, an impatience to hear those things that doubtless made it into Sir William’s report to the King, but had not yet been shared with the Council. (Indeed, what with the traditional celebrations taking up everyone’s time between Robertmas, the Day of the Dead, and the New Year, and the flurries that had been caused by Kay and Garnet’s return and Garnet’s wedding, the Council hadn’t even met since before Sir William got back.) He would even back off if Sir William seemed reticent … that is to say, more reticent than usual.
And so Mordred did. And when that conversation flagged, he chose other topics. He kept talking, hoping that somehow — someway — he would get to see more of Sir William’s true self.
More importantly, if Sir William suspected anything — if Jessica had shared anything with him, if she knew anything worth sharing — Mordred needed to know that. But he had scarcely scratched Sir William’s surface when he was interrupted.
“Whoa, mate!” Thomas reached out and steadied Lamorak by the shoulders. “How much have you had so far, eh?”
“A few …” Lamorak tried to straighten and ended up stumbling instead. “Perhapsh–perhaps a few too many.”
“Now, Lamorak …” Sir Milo came forward and slung a companionable arm over Lamorak’s shoulder. “You ought to cut back. Don’t want embarrass Garnet by being sick in a bucket throughout the whole ceremony, do you?”
The look of horror that Lamorak shot Sir Milo was so acute that Mordred wondered if he ought to send for a bucket now. He then wondered why he hadn’t had buckets strategically placed around the room to allow for this kind of eventuality. He concluded by realizing that he was the host, and it was his duty to exert some kind of control over the situation.
He stood and grasped Lamorak’s elbow, guiding him forward. “Come, Lamorak. Let’s get you some air.”
“I’m not drunk,” Lamorak protested. “Jush–just a little,” he wobbled, “tipsy.”
“Of course, Lamorak, of course. All the same, you’ll feel better when you’ve got some air in you.” Mordred clapped him on the back and guided him forward.
Lord, this brought back memories — back when Mordred was seventeen, Lamorak thirteen, and Lamorak drunk, truly rip-roaring drunk, for the first time. It had been Mordred who had gotten Lamorak in that fine condition — and it had been Mordred who had to stand by Lamorak and fend off any and all adults while Lamorak puked. If it hadn’t been for the Gwynedd nurse finding them and agreeing to keep things secret, Mordred had no idea how they would have ended the night without getting raked over the coals by both sets of parents.
Well, not both sets … if Mordred knew his mother, Morgause would have looked stern for Lot’s sake, but would have found the whole incident more amusing than mortifying. She would much rather her son was the one getting others drunk than being tricked into drunkenness in his turn.
Mordred missed those days … things had all been so simple back then, and so very happy …
But the past was gone and there was no bringing it back. What Mordred had to do was to focus on the future, namely, how to avoid a future that led to Lamorak spewing all over him.
The cold, early-spring air certainly had some effect — Lamorak reeled when it hit him. “Whoa,” he murmured.
“Come along,” Mordred put his hand on Lamorak’s shoulder and guided him forward. “Let’s get away from the heat.” A wave of his hand shut the door behind them with a thud that echoed through the clear night.
Lamorak stumbled forward to the battlements, which he gripped while he took several long, deep breaths. Mordred took up a post beside him. After a few moments, Lamorak turned to Mordred with a faint grin. “You’re not going to try that sobriety spell on me again, are you?”
“Hmm,” Mordred replied. “If I recall correctly, your father was overjoyed by your behavior … until it wore off.” The sobriety spell had been Mordred’s remedy to Lamorak’s over-indulgence on the second occasion when Mordred had gotten Lamorak drunk.
“Perhaps … but I didn’t feel like myself until it did.”
“You are blessed with a disposition that manages to achieve a certain amount of drunkenness simply from living,” Mordred answered. “Sometimes I envy that.”
Lamorak reeled, this time not from the drink. “Truly? You …” Lamorak gazed at the night sky. “Sometimes I wonder if alcohol ever has any effect on you, or if it just gives up at the sight of … you.”
Mordred snorted. “Hardly that. I simply know my limits, and take good care not to reach them. And I do not get … happy when I am drunk, unless, of course, I was exceedingly happy beforehand. Even then …” Mordred trailed his finger along the cold, rough stone. “It takes very little to push me off the happiness and into melancholy. Or anger.”
“As I said … not all of us are blessed with your disposition.”
Lamorak nodded. He stretched and stared across the distance. “Mordred?” he asked, glancing toward him. Mordred could still smell the traces of ale on his breath. “If I were to ask you something, would you promise to answer it honestly?”
“No,” Mordred replied, honestly enough, or so he thought, “but if I do not want to answer it honestly, I will not answer it at all, how is that for you?”
“I — I guess that will have to do.” Lamorak tapped his fingertips against the battlements. “How — how are you and Garnet, these days?”
If he had not promised to refuse to lie to Lamorak, Mordred would have said, “Well enough, I suppose.” As it was, he turned a sharp look onto Lamorak.
“I — I hate it that you’re — still angry with her. Over everything … it wasn’t her fault.”
“What wasn’t her fault?” Mordred snapped. “She did not visit our mother — not once — in her distress. She told me, before our mother — died — that she would not set foot in Albion while our mother still breathed! Can you imagine a deeper insult to the woman who raised her, Lamorak? Can you?”
“It wasn’t her fault,” Lamorak mumbled.
“Are you telling me that she was physically prevented from coming to see our mother — that the letter she sent to me was a forgery? Because if you are, then I will not believe you. The way she acted afterward, never once apologizing or attempting to explain –“
“It wasn’t her fault! Mordred, look at me!” Lamorak sounded in such distress that Mordred looked. “It wash — was my fault!”
Mordred blinked. “Are you saying that Garnet stayed away on your advice?” Because if that was the case …
“No — no, that’s not what I’m saying. Mordred …” Lamorak rubbed his hand over his face. “Garnet — Garnet had so many problems with her mother, your mother, because of me. That’sh–that’s what I’m trying to say.”
“I fear that I do not follow.”
“Argh! How can I be more clear! Garnet … she … I betrayed her, all right? A long time ago. It was — it was stupid, and I don’t know what I was thinking, but — but I did.”
Mordred closed his eyes and shook his head. “Lamorak, I shall only say this once, so you had best listen closely: however angry I was, and still am, with my sister, I do not want to hear about your dalliances with chambermaids, and barmaids, and whores, and whoever else you chose to … help you scratch certain itches, shall we say.”
“No, no! That’s not what I’m trying to shay–say! It wasn’t a bar wench or a chambermaid or — it was Lady Morgause!”
Mordred blinked. His jaw fell. And he could not have spoken in that moment if someone had offered him the hearts of all his enemies on a silver platter in return for a single word.
“She — I — we …” Lamorak hung his head and buried it in his hands. “That’s — that’s why Garnet is — was — so angry at Lady Morgause — you shee? See?” He pushed his curly hair back with both hands. “Garnet blamed Lady Morgause for everything. She — she was barely even angry at all with me … she said it was Lady Morgause who shedu–seduced me. But … but I had to be at least equally at fault, didn’t I?”
Equally was not the word Mordred would have chosen. Not at all.
“So please — forgive Garnet, won’t you? This wasn’t her fault. None of it was. She didn’t deserve any of this. And — and can you blame her for being angry?”
Mordred slowly shook his head — though in response to what part of all he had heard, he could not say. Not if someone had offered him Lamorak’s heart on a silver platter.
“And you’ll forgive her? Of course you will!” Lamorak clapped Mordred’s shoulder. “You’re a fair man! You won’t be angry for what isn’t her fault.”
“Oh, if I was going to be angry at Garnet,” Mordred replied, not able to meet Lamorak’s gaze, “it certainly wouldn’t be over the things she could not control.”
“I know you wouldn’t. You’re a better man than that, Mordred.” Lamorak was grinning at him, Mordred just knew it. “And Lord! Don’t I feel better! I’ll be heading inshide–inside, if you don’t mind.” He stepped past Mordred. “It’s chilly out here, don’t you think?”
Mordred didn’t think that. Not at all. On the contrary, he had never been hotter in his life.
But the temperature had nothing to do it.