Tyves 17, 1013
“… and then my father said to me, ‘Social climbing? Vanessa, whatever gave you that idea? I don’t want you to marry a lord so you can be a lady and I can be a lady’s father and all that nonsense. I want you to marry a lord so you can live in a castle, and then I can hold animal races in the dungeon!'”
Lynn blinked. Twice. Thrice. Four … she soon lost count.
“Er … Vanessa,” she asked, “you … are jesting, aren’t you?”
“Not at all, your highness!” grinned Vanessa.
“Then … your father? He was jesting?”
The smile became rueful. “Unfortunately, no.”
Lynn shook her head. It did not surprise her that a father would have social-climbing aspirations for his daughter. Hadn’t her own father intended for her to marry a duke’s son (Will) before she somehow caught the heart of a prince? But animal races? In the dungeon? Who on earth would have thought …
“Did I say something wrong, your highness?” asked Vanessa, brows furrowing in concern.
“What? Oh, goodness! No, no, of course not!”
“But … you usually laugh when I bring up my father …”
Well, yes, Lynn usually did. Who wouldn’t laugh at a man who once bred rabbits in the barkeeper’s closet? Or who made a habit of rearranging the titles of books on his lord’s shelf so that the first letters spelled naughty words? Or who often walked around the house in nothing but his underclothing?
But … but this … this mention of a father wanting his daughter to marry well, not to do her duty or to enrich him, but for … for the silliest of reasons …
She shook her head. “Vanessa … I …”
She couldn’t explain. Not yet. Vanessa had been her maid since the beginning of the year, when her family had come over from Glasonland (easily let into the country thanks to the free papers her mother was careful to carry with them — it paid to be a steward’s wife), and Lynn liked her a great deal. But there were some things she could not bring herself to explain.
She hadn’t even told Vanessa why they had to visit Morgan’s home once a week and why Vanessa was never allowed in the room with them. In most other circumstances, Vanessa was only asked to leave the room when Lynn had something private she needed to discuss. She supposed her conversations with Morgan were private. And she knew she never would have been able to speak her mind, as Morgan insisted she must, with Vanessa sitting there. It was, perhaps, foolish to want to impress one’s maid, but there were some things Lynn simply did not want Vanessa to know.
She set her shoulders, took a deep breath, and started along the path across the little stream and up the stairs to the courtyard. “We should — we shouldn’t tarry.”
“No, your highness,” Vanessa replied. Lynn winced. The poor young woman probably thought she had done wrong. And there was nothing Lynn could think to say that would convince her otherwise.
They walked up the mossy steps in a silence that was only broken by a child’s giggling.
Vanessa laughed; Lynn sighed with relief to hear it. At least one of them had moved past the non-conversation. “Looks like somebody is having fun.”
Pascal pushed his toy along until he had turned around. He grinned. “Hi, Pwincess! Hi, Nessa!”
Lynn smiled. She had long grown used to Morgan twins’ friendliness, and she had even stopped using it as a reason to fret about Elise. They were only a few months older than Elise; surely it had been natural to watch them and check Elise’s progress against theirs as each baby reached his milestones? And so Lynn had started to worry when they grew out of their stage of being shy around strangers and started to become more outgoing while Elise had not. But she no longer worried about that. She had watched Corentin and Celeste, too, and noted that while Celeste was out of her shy-with-strangers stage in record time, Corentin was not. Jessie would laugh and say that Corentin was just like his father. And so Lynn learned to be calm and assume that Elise was, in some ways, like her.
Her final reassurance was coming with Wart, for if Wart’s sister was shy, he himself certainly was not — rather like his father in that regard.
Another blue-skinned young one toddled out from behind the wall. “Pwincess!”
Lynn smiled and crouched down. “Hello, Chloe!”
“Elise?” she asked, looking around Lynn’s skirts.
“No, sweetheart, Elise isn’t here today.”
“No Elise, I’m sorry.”
Chloe crossed her arms over her chest and pouted. “Want Elise!”
“Now, now,” came a third voice — an adult voice. “You know that Elise can’t come all the time. Why don’t you go say hello to Vanessa? I’m sure she’s feeling awfully neglected, standing over there all by herself.”
Lynn looked up to see Morgan standing a little ways back, her own arms loosely crossed before her, smilingly archly. Well, of course Morgan would be right here — who left two not-quite-three-year-olds to play outside by themselves? But was Lynn such a bad person for hoping for a few minutes to play with the little ones and forget her troubles?
She probably was. The whole point of the visits was so that she could sort her troubles out. But someday — someday soon — she was going to arrange a visit with Morgan that did not involve talking about her troubles, and she was going to bring Elise and Wart, and she was going to watch all the children play together and have the best of times.
But even those thoughts were chased away when Morgan stepped closer and Lynn blinked her into focus. “Morgan! The dress!”
“Yes,” Morgan laughed, kissing her on the cheek, “Dannie Wesleyan finished it yesterday. I have to thank you again, Lynn. This really was too much.”
“Not — not at all. It was the least I could do.” And perhaps the gift was not as much from the kindness of her heart as Morgan was making it out to be. Was she merely being polite, or had she forgotten her own advice to Lynn?
Morgan had told Lynn to remember something: she was a princess now. She had power that most people could scarcely dream of. She ought to start using it, and perhaps the more she acted like a princess, the more she forced herself to remember that there was more to her role than bearing and raising sons, the more she would believe it. Lynn had not been sure how to go about doing that, but a few days later, when she and Dannie were looking through fabrics for some new clothes for Wart, Lynn had seen the dark blue and the lace and thought instantly of Morgan. And then she realized — well, why not? Couldn’t the Crown Princess have the power to commission a dress for someone she esteemed, who was a great help to her? And if she didn’t have that power, then what was the point?
It was a small step, a baby step. But even baby steps had to be worth taking.
While Lynn thought, Morgan had already greeted Vanessa and made some trifling small talk. Now was the time for what could only be called the kicker. “And would you mind, Vanessa,” Morgan asked, “watching Chloe and Pascal while Lynn and I chat?”
“Of course not, my lady,” replied Vanessa, because that was what a good servant said. But Lynn knew that Vanessa was not overfond of children. She really was a treasure, given the amount of baby-sitting she had to do in between caring for Lynn’s gowns and her person and being her companion generally.
“Thank you, Vanessa. Lynn — shall we?” Morgan asked.
Lynn nodded, and they both walked into the house.
As soon as they stepped out of the warm spring sunshine and into the cool blue interior of the house, Lynn felt the mood change. There would be no more lighthearted banter now. No tales of small animals holding races in dungeons. Now it was time to get down to business.
Still, Lynn cleared her throat as the two of them sat on the couch that was always the home for their sessions. “I — I must say, Morgan, that gown does look very well on you.”
Morgan laughed, waggled her hips — it was a move that would have worked much better if she was standing — and sent a would-be saucy wink at Lynn. “Thanks, dear. Good to know I still have it at my age.”
“And you,” Morgan added, “ought to tell Dannie Wesleyan that she is a genius. First of all, I’ve never seen a woman be able to talk so much while holding half-a-dozen pins in her mouth. That alone takes talent. And secondly …” Morgan smoothed the sides of the gown. “Well, I think her handiwork speaks for itself.”
Lynn looked at her own gown, another of Dannie’s creations. Practically every young woman of note in the kingdom was dressed by Dannie. “I will tell her. But I think …” Lynn caught her lower lip between her teeth.
“You think?” Morgan prodded.
“I think, in a way … she knows.”
“She ought to,” Morgan replied. “She’s got a great deal of talent, and it shows with every gown she makes. Everybody ought to know when they’re good at something. And it wouldn’t surprise me if Dannie Wesleyan knew just how talented she was.”
The conversation was turning, as slow and steady as the tide, to Lynn’s own problems. She ought not to be nervous about this. She had been having these conversations once a week for months now. But still her stomach twisted, and Lynn could feel flush coming on. Still, she tried to smile. “Well … it helps to be good at something. I mean,” she added, before Morgan could ask her, point-blank, whether she truly thought she was good at nothing, “to have a talent that’s …” She gestured to Morgan’s dress. “Unmistakable.”
“I’ve seen you dance, Lynn,” was Morgan’s reply.
“Oh — that!” Lynn tried to laugh. “That’s … that’s nothing, really. I mean … hardly useful …”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Morgan answered. “You have a true gift, you know, one that can bring joy to a lot of people, watching you. And, you know, you’re quite calm and methodical, too. You’ve got a knack for planning things. Put the two together, and you can create some masques and balls that will be the talk of generations.”
“Court … court entertainment,” Lynn replied. Tommy had been suggesting that she try her hand at that. He only wanted to see her happy … and it would probably make her happy. “But that seems so … frivolous.”
What she meant, but had not the courage to say, was, My father would never approve. And in her head, if not outwardly, wasn’t it her father whose approval she was still seeking?
“Frivolous?” Morgan asked. “Well, I suppose it can be, if you look at it like that. I don’t. Lynn … did you ever wonder why courts spend so much time on entertainments and masques? My father’s court certainly did, and I know you never had the chance to meet him when you were old enough to remember him, but I assure you that he was not a frivolous man.”
“But — but Uther was a good king — not that the King isn’t!” Lynn added. “I mean — I mean, nobody on earth would have begrudged him the chance to relax and be entertained!”
“And you think people would begrudge Arthur that? Or Tommy?” asked Morgan, one eyebrow arching.
“Of … of course not,” Lynn answered. “But …”
Morgan tilted her head to one side, a mute invitation for Lynn to continue.
She sighed. “I don’t know.”
Morgan didn’t press her for an answer, didn’t cajole her into putting her inarticulate and frankly irrational urges into words. Not this time. Instead, Morgan said, “Lynn, courts spend so much time and energy on entertainment to prove … to prove that they can. Think about it. If half the court is planning for an ambitious masque, doesn’t that just show that there’s no pressing emergency, no war, no economic meltdown that needs to be dealt with?”
Lynn did not insult Morgan’s intelligence, or for that matter her own, with a puling, “Yes, but …” Instead, she spoke the truth as she saw it. “Morgan, there always is something far more important than a masque that needs to be attended to. We’re … we’re so small, and there’s always so much to do …” And Lynn felt that she was barely helping at all with all the pressing things that needed to be done. She’d provided an heir for the throne, but now that she had done that … well, now what? She was growing, in her more rational moments, to hate the fact that her father’s philosophy that a woman should be pregnant and caring for babies as often as possible did have an advantage — it took up a lot of time, and it diverted Lynn’s attention from the sneaking suspicion that she might not be good for much else. She might not be what the kingdom needed in a princess, and someday, a queen.
“Appearances are important. Yes, yes, I know I’m the last person you ever thought would say this,” Morgan waved her hand, “but I’m talking about politics, not real life.” She glanced sidelong at Lynn, one eyebrow raised. “Didn’t you and some of your ladies plan a short masque for when the Robertian envoys came?”
Her ladies — it seemed so odd to hear them called that, when the ladies in question were Clarice, Jessie, Garnet, and the Gwynedd girls. (Leona had been originally in the group, too, but when Garnet had returned home from her wedding trip before the envoys arrived, Leona had gladly handed her part off to Garnet and escaped.) They were her friends, not anybody’s ladies. “Yes, but we never got to perform it …”
“Yes, well, that happens when the King throws off negotiations by blowing his stack. Don’t blame yourself for it. But do you know what message that would have sent, if my brother hadn’t already told the Robertians in so many words that he had their bal–well, that he could hit them where it hurt and he wasn’t afraid to do so?”
“That we were honored by their presence and strove to make their stay a pleasant one?” Lynn asked. That was the message she herself had wanted to send.
“A nice bit of diplomatic lying, that, but that wasn’t what I meant. The message it would have also sent was that we’re small, but we’re sophisticated. We’re worldly. And we’re wealthy.”
“We’re — we’re not that wealthy …” Lynn murmured, out of habitual modesty more than anything else. But something — something in the back of her mind was niggling at her. The pressure was growing, so she gave into it. Morgan wouldn’t mind.
She thought of the richness of her surroundings at the palace — the marbles and fine woods, the silks and velvets, the carefully-worked plaster and the intricately carved furnishings. She remembered Jessie’s descriptions of the great palace at Ludenwic. It was bigger than the palace at Camelot by far, but the walls were bare stone. Furs, not velvet, decorated the floors and furnishings. The main sources of color came not from tapestries or paintings, but pots and jars of flowers and plants.
And however pretty flowers were … flowers were free.
And she thought of the people. There were poor people in Albion, of course. But Lynn also knew that there were very few people in Albion actively starving. She had charitable resources; so did the Queen. They were in close contact with the nuns. Their largess went to any who were in need. If people were starving, wouldn’t they have known it? Of course they would have.
She thought of Dannie — a woman, not of noble blood, with a college eduction. And Heloise too! And there might be more! In fact, practically every–no, not practically, every young woman of noble blood in Albion who was of an age to go to Camford had gone to Camford. The same went for the young men. In Glasonland, she knew, there were knights who could only afford to send their eldest sons to Camford, and plenty of knights who could not even afford that.
“We … we are wealthy,” Lynn corrected herself.
“For our size, we’re filthy rich,” Morgan agreed.
“Then …” Lynn rested a finger on her chin. “Then there is no reason for me not to put on …”
“Masques? No reason in the world,” Morgan finished for her. But Lynn did not nod, did not show that she agreed. Morgan raised one eyebrow. “… Right?”
“Well,” Lynn flushed, “it — it helps to have willing performers. It … it was one thing for the Robertian envoys, but …”
Morgan bobbed her head from side to side, digesting that. “… Perhaps you have a point,” she replied.
“Jessie’s willing to do a few as a favor to me, but she’s got her researches,” Lynn ticked her off on one finger. “Clarice obviously has far more important things to do than masques. The Gwynedd girls will soon be at Camford. Garnet … Garnet is always willing to help, but she and I can hardly play every role by ourselves!” Though there were other women, Lynn remembered — Lady Babette Gwynedd, and Lady Nicole Carpenter. But Lady Carpenter was increasing at the moment, and Lady Gwynedd … well, Garnet and Lady Gwynedd did not get along. At all. Lynn would cling to that excuse, the better not to feel disloyal to Dannie.
“You can’t do everything yourselves, of course not,” Morgan agreed. “But why don’t you and Garnet put your heads together? She’s a smart girl. You and she can surely figure out how to put together all the masques you want.”
All the masques I want …
Lynn closed her eyes. She could see it now: the fine costumes sparkling in the candlelight. Painted backdrops turning the hall at Camelot into any number of exotic locales — she could commission them from Rob Wesleyan. Surely he’d be willing, if she paid him? She could beg Guinevere to write some speeches for the masques. When Angelique came back from Camford, she could sing. Her mother could write the music and play some of it. There would be dances …
And it would all cost money.
But — but Tommy had control of the purse-strings, now, not her father, and surely she and Garnet could work out a reasonable budget. Lynn took a deep breath. “I — I would have to talk to Tommy. And the King.”
“Of course,” Morgan agreed. “You’re representing the country. But Lynn, do you think they’d say no?”
Lynn swallowed. She was unsure what the King would say. He was a kind man, but when it came to all things political, he was a very hard man to read. But she knew what Tommy would say. Tommy would say yes, in a heartbeat, simply because she was asking and because they both knew that work like this was the best antidote to the clamoring voice of Bors in her head. In a way, that was the scariest prospect at all.
But it was also the most exciting.
Lynn gulped, trying to hold back tears. “Thank — thank you. I … I never would have thought of this on my own …”
“Lynn, I’m happy to help–oh, don’t look like that.” She stood up and gestured for Lynn to stand up too. Lynn did — and she completed the next logical step, too, falling into Morgan’s arms. “You’re the one making you happy, you know,” Morgan said, holding her tight. “I’m just nudging you along.”
“Still. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Morgan gave her one last squeeze, then stepped back. “However, I think one breakthrough is enough for one day — and I’m sure you want to talk about this with Tommy, and then Garnet, and then plan something to amaze us all. Don’t you?”
Lynn grinned and nodded.
“Then you go off and do that, Lynn. Same time next week?”
Morgan smiled, and arm-in-arm, they walked out into the warm sunshine.
They found Vanessa playing with Pascal while Chloe took her turn on the spinning toy. Lynn would have to ask where Morgan had found that — some other time. A time, perhaps, when she could be reasonably certain that Wart would be table to go on it without hurting himself, for she was sure Wart would have more interest in such a toy than Elise.
“Did you have a nice visit, your highness?” asked Vanessa.
“Very nice,” Lynn answered, as she did every week, only this week, she meant it.
“And what about you, Vanessa?” asked Morgan, taking Pascal from her. “Did these two hooligans give you any trouble?”
“No trouble at all, my lady.”
Morgan chuckled. “You’ve got a good poker face, Vanessa. Thank you for watching these two. Pascal, Chloe — say goodbye to Vanessa and Lynn!”
The twins said their goodbyes, and so did Morgan, Vanessa, and Lynn. As Lynn and Vanessa were walking down the stairs, Morgan waving behind them, Lynn pondered the visit.
“… Vanessa?” she asked.
“Yes, my lady?”
Lynn hesitated. Someday, she decided, she would tell Vanessa why she needed to see Morgan once a week. But that day would not be today. Today, she would focus on something that made her happy.
“How would you like,” she asked Vanessa, “to help plan a masque?”