Seryl 8, 1013
With the benefit of hindsight, Dindrane would realize that she should not have assumed that because the morning began quietly, her day would remain quiet and calm.
But at the time, no such thoughts went through her mind. She had woken up in good spirits, gotten Gawaine and Nimue off to school, worked on her sewing while Gareth played on the rug before her. Then she had seen him down for his afternoon nap, enjoyed some luncheon, and — foolishly — assumed that because the morning had passed without incident, so would the afternoon.
She had made this sort of mistake before — specifically, in the whole debacle with Morgause. She had made one rare thing happen: growing a Laganaphyllis Simnovorii in the garden. She had assumed, therefore, that having a second rare thing (Morgause managing to manipulate the plant enough to be able to put it to harmful use) was doubly unlikely. That was incorrect; the probability of Morgause being able to put cuttings of a Laganaphyllis Simnovorii to ill use was the same as it had been before Dindrane made one grow in the backyard. Her mistake had been akin to one a gambler might make, betting more heavily on a coin coming up as heads because it had come up as tails before. Of course the world didn’t actually work that way.
Indeed, as much as Dindrane enjoyed her researches, she sometimes wondered if she was meant to research not the workings of the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii, but the workings of the Sim mind — specifically, the ways which it could trick an observer into believing that things were other than they were. The theologians would doubtless be thrilled with this avenue of research, as it was the nearest thing Dindrane could conceive of as evidential proof that there was in fact a Lord. How better to keep His creations trusting and faithful rather than to make sure that they could not always trust the fruits of their own reason?
Of course, the argument could also go the other way. Surely an all-knowing, all-powerful Lord, seeking to create beings in His own image, could have done a bit better when it came to that creature’s most necessary equipment. She was probably better off where she was.
For Dindrane was fairly certain that the theologians–or, rather, not the theologians, but the policing powers of the Church, the enforcers of doctrine–would not much care about her current research. Her experiments with Sylvia Marie the Mashuga’s resurrection device were at a bit of a dead end, since Dindrane could think of no further way to experiment with it other than to kill people, bring them back, and ask them what they saw. Such an approach was ethically problematic, to say the least, not to mention rather prohibitively expensive at the scale necessary to garner any useful data. So she was content to let the device gather dust in its hiding space for now. Now, she would again focus on the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii. Specifically, she was trying to determine just what was necessary in order for one to grow.
Even more specifically, she was trying to understand just what blood-soaked ground actually was. Was it, perhaps, a certain type of fertilizer to enhance the soil? After all, everyone from the lowest land laborer knew that in order to grow the best crops, one needed to prepare the ground first. Manure was the most common fertilizer. But perhaps there were different components in blood that were essential to the growth of the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii, but not other plants. Of course, there was always the favored, traditional explanation — that a Sim-eating plant needed to grow in the blood of Sims in order to acquire the proper taste — but Dindrane was not sure how far she wanted to credit that. That kind of thinking, she was sure, lead down more dead ends and foolish cul-de-sacs than any other kind.
She lifted up one of the flasks, one into which she had placed a blood sample from a willing donor (namely, herself) and a bit of rotten plant material. There was another flask containing manure from an uncaring donor (some animal whose waste was being used to fertilize the crops) and some more rotten plant material. She was not thinking of the utter failure of this experiment, since whatever made the plant material rot did not seem to be working in the stoppered flasks. She was instead thinking of where she might get more samples of blood. She, after all, could only spare so much of it.
Perhaps Lady Clarice … a doctor would surely have–
Dindrane jumped and turned around with a gasp. But the sound had not come from her private study. Everything in the room was as pristine and quiet as it had been before.
“My lord! What is the meaning of this?”
Oh, no! Dindrane hurried out the study by the only door.
It took her no time to dash through the library, toward the great room. But when she got to the door, she stopped. From what — shock? Surprise? Horror?
Maybe it was disgust at herself. She should have seen this coming. She should have known that if he had not come yesterday, that would make him doubly likely to come today.
“I did not come here,” Mordred was in the process of bellowing, “to have my way blocked by a useless servant! Move, woman! I must speak to my wife, and since this home is my property, I will not be gainsaid!”
It was not his property. Dindrane’s father had specifically put the house and the land it stood upon in her name. And Dindrane could hold property in her own name; that had been specified in the marriage articles. Dindrane did not know whose idea that had been, but she had always been grateful for it.
Apparently, though, it was not to be enough.
“No, my lord!” Michelle, Dindrane’s housekeeper, crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Mordred. “If you want in, it’s through me you’ll have to come!”
That would not be happening. “No, Michelle,” Dindrane replied, closing the library door softly but firmly behind her. “Let him in.”
There would be no more hapless Sims to suffer because of her thoughtlessness — that Dindrane promised herself.
“My lady!” Michelle gasped, spinning around. “He has no right to be here! You needn’t let him in!”
“I have every right to be in here,” Mordred snarled, pushing his way past Michelle. “Lady Dindrane is my wife,” he spat the word out, “therefore, all that is hers is mine. And more importantly, I paid for half of this house.”
That conferred no rights to him, in Dindrane’s thinking. He owed it to her to support her, and more importantly, to support their children. But it would gain her nothing to argue the point, so she said nothing in reply.
Instead, she walked forward, past Michelle, to meet him, arms held loose at her sides, eyebrow slightly arched. “What do you want, Mordred?”
“My lady–” Michelle started.
“You — silence!” Mordred snarled. He turned to Dindrane. “And you …” He laughed. “Do not ask me what I want, Dindrane. You will not like the answer.”
No, she did not think she would. Not when she had Morgause’s living, breathing ghost before her. The look in Mordred’s eyes reminded her of nothing so much as the caged fury of Morgause in the dock.
“Then might I ask, instead, why you came here?”
“You know damned well why I came here!” Mordred bellowed. “Or has our daughter managed to pick up the lying habits of her mother?”
“Nimue is no liar.” And neither am I. All I ever did to you, Mordred, was tell truths that you did not wish to hear.
“If that is the case, then surely you know why I came here,” Mordred sneered.
“If I were to guess, I would assume that it has something to do with what Nimue inadvertently told your sons on the playground the day before yesterday. I apologize for that. I should have known better than to tell that to a child so young and expect it to keep it a secret.”
The most ironic thing was that her apology was as sincere as she could make it. She should indeed have known better than to expect Nimue to keep it a secret. Perhaps Dindrane’s best course of action would have been to keep the knowledge to herself. But the reason why she had told Nimue so swiftly was the same as the reason why she did not tell Mordred what she had told Nimue. She could not bear to give Mordred a reason to justify himself, to arrange the facts to suit his liking, and most importantly, to give Nimue — and Gawaine, too, and Gareth — the unmistakable impression that in all of this, he had done no wrong.
“That is the only thing you see fit to apologize for?” Mordred shouted. “That you should have realized she wouldn’t keep it a secret?”
“Are. You. Mad?” Mordred shouted.
“No. I only doubted that you would want to hear a baldfaced lie from me, especially at a time such as this.”
“Ah, at least you admit that you tell nothing other than baldfaced lies!” Mordred laughed. Michelle gasped, but Dindrane did not send so much as a glance at her. When confronting a writing, spitting viper, only those who do not wish to survive the encounter dare to look away.
As if to prove her point, Mordred lunged forward. “And what the hell did you tell her?”
“The truth,” Dindrane answered. “That you were her friends Lou and and Han’s father as well as hers. And–”
“What did you say about Rosette?”
Dindrane could not help the swift gasp. He dared — he dared? He dared to grow upset at the thought that Dindrane might have something less than complimentary to say about his mistress, the woman who was the source of her humiliation? Who was the reason why her children only had half a father?
But she must keep calm. Nothing but ill would come of shouting at Mordred as he so, so richly deserved to be shouted at. Truth was not a weapon; you could not take it up and bash an enemy with it until he bled. Not if that enemy had the kind of armor Mordred had. “If you are asking,” Dindrane hissed, “if I called her a whore and all manner of other ill names –”
“You dare! You dare!”
“–then you may rest assured that I did not. First of all, I do not use that type of language in my daughter’s hearing.” If nothing else, I hope to raise her to be insightful enough to find ways to insult other women based on what they do while on their feet, not on their backs. “Secondly, I do not know your … Rosette well enough to make such judgments.” And she knew Mordred rather too well to make such assumptions. He would never be satisfied with a woman who was only with him because of the pretty gifts or the money he could give. His vanity would demand far, far more than that.
“Do you honestly expect me to believe that?”
Dindrane shrugged. “It is the truth.”
“You lie! You lie! If you said nothing against Rosette or the other children, why would you not tell me that you told Nimue? I will tell you — you wanted to blacken Rosette and the children’s names to Nimue as much as you could! You wanted to twist and warp Nimue as you are twisted and warped!”
There was a proverb springing to mind, one involving pots and kettles. But Dindrane did not bring it up. Instead, she kept her reply as brief as possible: “No.”
“Do you think me foolish enough to believe that, woman?”
“Even a fool ought to trust the truth when he hears it.”
“I am not a fool!” Mordred stepped closer, yelling into her face. Dindrane focused her attention on her breathing, her blinking. She would not show fear. That was not how one survived. “And you are a liar! You said nothing to me because you wanted Nimue to only hear your side — admit it!”
“I do,” Dindrane replied, softly enough that Mordred seemed to strain to hear it. “But not, perhaps, for the reason that you think.”
“Then for what possible reason, if not to make a demon of my poor Rosette?”
“I thought Nimue would be able to best determine what type of father she had if she did not have to contend with you pouring your venom into her ears — in this as in everything else. I thought–”
“You wanted to blacken my name!”
“Blacken your name? Why would I need to do that?”
Mordred blinked. “My Lord,” he breathed, “if you honestly have to ask that question, then you are even more detached and out of touch than I thought.”
“Then let me ask this one: why do I need to work to blacken your name, when your actions do the work for me?”
“What would I tell her, Mordred? That you were a terrible husband? She can see that!”
“I was a fine husband — the finest husband you deserved! There are icicles with more natural warmth than you!”
“I prefer to think that I was the finest wife you deserved.” Dindrane was surprised to hear the edge — just the edge — of a snarl to her voice. Were things getting that far out of hand?
“Did I ever — ever — not do my duty to you?” Dindrane challenged, now stepping into Mordred’s space. “If you wanted my body, did I ever refuse it to you? I bore you three strong children! I raise them! I was — still am! — a friend to your sister, one she desperately needed! And your brother! When your mother could not be bothered –”
“Say nothing about my mother!”
“I shall say what I please about her! She could not keep me silent while she lived! She will not manage it–”
“Say. NOTHING!” Mordred’s hand went up — for a moment she thought he would strike her. And then what, once the inevitable pain and shock were over? Would he do it again? Hurt Michelle, because she witnessed it? Or — oh, Lord — what of Gareth?
He did not strike her. Instead, he stared at his hand, then, with a look of utter contempt to Dindrane — a visual, Look what you almost made me do! — he slowly and deliberately lowered it. “You will say nothing about my mother,” Mordred whispered.
Or else. The words hung in the air like woodsmoke.
So Dindrane let that sleeping hellhound lie. Instead, she replied, “I only ever asked one thing of you, Mordred. One. If you had done it — you would have never heard a word about your mistress and her children from me.”
“Put my children first! That is all I ever wanted!”
“And it was something you had no right to ask, let alone demand, as you did!” Mordred bellowed.
“You wanted me to choose! To choose! Between my own children! Did it ever occur to you, Dindrane, that men are not made to make that choice! We must care for them all! We cannot decide whether we will love this one or that one or the other one!”
Dindrane gasped. She had not — she could not have —
“How would you like it,” Mordred snarled, “if I told you, Dindrane, that you could not care for Nimue, Gawaine, and Gareth all to the best of your ability — but that you had to choose? No — no, you don’t get to choose! What if I told you that you had to love Gawaine best, and leave to Nimue and Gareth only the dregs of your affection?”
She shook her head. No. No. She could not have been that selfish — could she? Could she have not understood what it was that she was asking? She had not been a mother when she asked it … perhaps …
Then she saw it: the light in Mordred’s eyes. It was but a flash, but it was there. And Dindrane saw it.
Sometimes, she thought the fact that she saw it, that she always saw it, was the one thing that kept her from becoming a far chillier, far more … strange version of Rosette.
He was manipulating her. Or rather, he was trying to manipulate her. He would not succeed.
“Get. Out,” Dindrane snarled.
Mordred blinked. “What?”
“You have no right –”
“I have EVERY right!” Dindrane shouted. “And understand this, Mordred: I see through you! I have always seen through you! That is why I told Nimue and did not tell you! She is too little to defend herself from what you are. But I see you, and I will defend her and Gawaine and Gareth from that until my dying day!”
“From what? Do you think I would hurt them?”
“You would damage them,” Dindrane replied. It was not the same as hurting. Not quite. She would give this much to Mordred: he would not harm any of his children, not even hers, deliberately and with the full knowledge of what he was doing. In that way, he was not Morgause.
But he was Morgause in another way. He would warp them, as surely as she had warped him. He might not even realize he was doing it, and if he did see what he was doing, he would think it was for their benefit. But once he started on them, they would not be Nimue, Gawaine, and Gareth as they could have been. They would be Mordred’s pale shadows.
Just as Mordred was Morgause’s own pale shadow.
“Damage them,” Mordred scoffed. “Ha. I should like to see that. I will be telling Nimue and Gawaine the truth, Dindrane. I will be taking them home with me from school today. I will not let you have one more evening to use to twist them to your way of thinking!”
Dindrane’s heart contracted. “You will not take them from me!”
He waved a hand. “And send you running to Morgan, starting a wizard’s war? I think not. You can have them back tomorrow. And then, Dindrane …” He smirked as he edged to the door. “You, who place so much value on the truth … we will see how you like it once your children are armed with it.” He threw open the door and bowed mockingly to her. “Good day, madam.”
“Good bye, Mordred.” If only she could say good riddance.
She kept her back ramrod straight, her sneer firmly in place, until the door shut behind Mordred. Then she wilted.
She was never sure how she made it under her own power to the sofa. All she remembered was staring into the flames of the fireplace while Michelle asked, “My lady? My lady?”
Finally, Dindrane heard her. “Yes — yes, Michelle?”
“Shall I send Patrick down to collect the children? From school?”
Good Lord, why hadn’t she thought of that? She could —
No. Mordred, certainly, would have foreseen the possibility. He would not leave something like this to chance. If anyone attempted to take Nimue and Gawaine out of school early, he would be watching — waiting — and Lord only knew what they would see as Mordred tried to assert his rights.
It would be a better illustration of Mordred’s true nature than any argument Dindrane could make. But she would not deliberately put her children into a position to see that. He was still their father.
“No. I — I will let Mordred win this round. That … that will probably cost the least harm in the long run.” She would be picking up pieces of this loss for months. But Lord only knew what she would have to do if she did anything other than forfeit.
As a soft, low whimper escaped her, Dindrane heard the sofa creak as Michelle sat down upon it. “Michelle …”
“I’m right here, my lady. If you should want to talk.”
Good Lord, what am I going to do? Dindrane thought. How was she going to keep Mordred from working his evil magic on her children, as Morgause had worked her magic on Mordred?
They did not live with Mordred. That was one point in her favor. And Dindrane saw the danger and could work against it. Lot had never seen any danger, so he had never defended his children against Morgause. There was hope. There had to be hope. If there wasn’t hope …
“Like I said, my lady, I’m right here.”
“Michelle …” Dindrane took a deep breath. “I cannot talk about this. Not now.” Not ever. At least … not with Michelle, as good as she was.
“That’s all right, my lady. I’m still right here.”
How sad, Dindrane realized, that all she could think was, At least someone is.