Ververe 9, 1013
The guard to the auxiliary fortress let Garnet, Dindrane and Gareth in with no trouble. On the one hand, it was to be expected. Albion was at peace, and even during wartime, what guard would dare to forbid entry to two noblewomen, one the King’s niece, the other carrying a small child? They would hardly be spies or the first wave of an enemy invasion. Besides, the guard doubtless knew that Garnet and Dindrane were sisters-in-law to Babette Wesleyan. They had to be on some sort of approved list.
Yet despite the many logical reasons why Garnet and Dindrane should have no trouble getting in, Garnet had to swallow a tinge of disappointment. “Why did we agree to this, again?” she asked Dindrane.
Dindrane turned to her with a raised eyebrow. “Was there an option to not agree?”
At least Dindrane was looking “forward” to this as much as Garnet was.
Dindrane shifted Gareth on her hip and kissed his forehead. “Besides … she’s family, Garnet.”
Unfortunately for all of us. Good Lord. And I thought I was the one bringing unfortunate in-laws to this marriage!
Garnet sighed and nodded. She rolled her shoulders back — twice, due to the minor backaches she had been experiencing ever since … well, never mind that. She wouldn’t think about that. Not when she had to deal with Babette. Surely that was enough stress for one day.
It was doubtful whether she would have succeeded in that resolution, but she had the fortune to blink, and when she opened her eyes, she noticed a flash of purple. “Jess?”
The redhead looked up. “Garnet!”
“Jessie!” Garnet lifted her skirts and hurried across the cobblestone courtyard, Dindrane following at a more sedate pace. “I didn’t know you were–coming.”
Jessie stood, laughed, and caught Garnet in an embrace once she got close enough. Garnet had just enough time to recognize the light in her cousin’s eyes — the Nice save light — before she closed her eyes and finally, for the first time since she got into that carriage, relaxed.
It was short-lived. Jessie pulled away with a rueful smile. “Well, Lynn and Clarice were. I thought I’d … join them. But I didn’t know you would be here! Or you, Lady Dindrane.”
“It seems there are surprises all around, Princess,” Dindrane replied.
“And you brought Gareth, too! My goodness, he’s getting so big!” Jessie tickled Gareth under the chin; he giggled and beamed at her. The little mite did love attention, and he wasn’t shy, like Gawaine had been at that age — like Gawaine still was. Garnet hoped … well, never mind that.
“I’m surprised you didn’t bring the twins,” replied Dindrane.
Jessie’s eyes narrowed. “The … children were invited?”
“Jessie!” Garnet laughed. “What, do you think Dindrane would be rude enough to bring Gareth when he wasn’t invited?”
“No–no, that’s not what I meant at all!” A faint tinge of pink overlaid Jessie’s cheeks; she swallowed and it went away … mostly. “I simply assumed that … that family can get away with what mere friends cannot.”
Lord help us all, Garnet thought, if we end up having to be Babette’s friends as well as her family!
“Fortunately or unfortunately, that is often the case,” Dindrane chuckled. “Even if it is not here. But come — we mustn’t keep the other ladies waiting.”
Their duty remembered, the three of them (and Gareth) walked up to the cheerful green-painted porch of Babette’s house. Garnet wondered who had done the decorating, Babette or someone else. She certainly did like the outside of the little house — it was restful and calming. So different from the blacks and blood-reds of her childhood home.
Their approach must have been watched, for Garnet had hardly reached the top step before the door was thrown open and a grinning Babette burst forth. “Welcome! Welcome, ladies!”
“Hello, Babette,” replied Dindrane — which made Garnet grateful, since it meant she didn’t have to.
“Come in, come in! Come in where it’s nice and warm!” Babette tittered. Warm? Garnet wondered. She wasn’t feeling particularly cold — though perhaps Babette in that off-the-shoulder number might feel a bit differently.
That … off-the-shoulder number that was looking very familiar … rather like …
Just like that dress Jess used to wear! Garnet did not gasp, but she did steal a quick glance over her shoulder to see if Jessie had picked upon the resemblance.
Garnet couldn’t tell. But she did see something else: Jessie’s eyes, very wide. And fixed on Babette’s head.
No, not her head … her hair … which was styled just like Jessie’s.
Oh my Lord. She did not. She did NOT! Garnet looked again at Babette, who in her turn was staring at Jessie, or more particularly Jessie’s gown, with something like disappointment.
… She did, didn’t she?
But to comment was beyond Garnet’s power, so she followed Dindrane and Babette inside, knowing Jessie was on her heels.
“The babies are all playing over there,” Babette said to Dindrane, “if you think Gareth might like to join them.”
“Of course he would,” Dindrane replied. “Gareth, wouldn’t you like to play with your cousin Morien and Princess Elise?”
That, Garnet thought, would be rather difficult, given how Elise was playing with one toy (about as far away from Morien as she could get, too) and Morien with another. But that was to be expected with Elise. Garnet often played with her while Lynn and the nurse fussed over Wart. It had taken quite a long time for Elise to warm up to Garnet, but now that she had, there was no sweeter baby in the kingdom. Morien, however, would only scare Elise off.
“But sit! Sit, my ladies, sit!” Babette broke into Garnet’s thoughts. Jessie, having greeted Lynn and Clarice already, was taking a seat at the foot of the table. Garnet thumped onto the stool beside her before Babette could coo and clamor for Garnet to sit next to her.
Besides, Babette already had Lynn sitting next to her. That had to be enough for her for one day.
“So!” began Babette as soon as Dindrane had taken the only remaining seat. “Ladies, how is everyone? What news do you have to share?”
“News?” asked Lynn. “I … well, I’m sure I don’t know. I don’t have any news.”
“You don’t?” Babette pouted. “But — but a little birdie told me …” She leaned closer. “That maybe you were planning a masque?”
“Oh — oh, the masque! Well,” Lynn laughed, “that’s still very much in the planning, I’m afraid. I … well …” She glanced beseechingly at Garnet, probably half afraid to ask whether Garnet was the little birdie with the big fat mouth.
She wasn’t — or at least, she wasn’t the direct source of the information. Perhaps she ought to have been more discreet around the twins, though. It was hard to imagine Dilys getting out enough words together to blab about anything to Babette, but Delyth was a talker. Or who knows? Eilwen could have said something. She certainly wouldn’t see the talk of the masque as something to be hidden from Babette.
“We don’t even have a script yet,” Garnet replied. “We’re still conferencing with Lady Guinevere. Once we have a script — then we can start our planning in earnest. Figuring out the sets …”
“Costumes,” filled in Clarice.
“Special effects,” added Jessie.
“And — and who is to perform in the masque?” Babette asked.
“Oh, that will be the last thing we try to figure out!” laughed Garnet before Lynn could say something a little too inviting. She loved Lynn, she really did, but sometimes Lynn could be too damn nice for her own good. “Besides, I think the masque will be a lot of singing and dancing — barely any spoken parts at all. And your voice isn’t trained, is it, Babette?”
Dindrane shot Garnet a surprised glance. Garnet did her best to grin in reply.
“Oh … well …” Babette nervously fluffed her hair. “I — well, I never thought singing lessons were that important, when I was little. Silly me!” she tittered.
“I think any vocal role would be very taxing to someone who didn’t have a trained voice,” Garnet replied. “It’s not just being able to sing well — anybody with a decent ear and a decent voice can manage that. It’s knowing how to control your breathing, and space your notes, and be able to last through a long performance without embarrassing yourself.”
“Well!” Babette murmured. “I — I never imagined that might be the case …” She pursed her lips together. “How — how long does it take to properly train one’s voice?”
“Years,” replied Garnet.
“Well, not years, I don’t think,” Clarice replied. “If you want a voice like Angelique’s, then years is what you’ll need. But for a simple masque like this? I think a few months ought to do the trick.”
CLARICE! NOO!! Babette was perking up already.
“However,” Jessie interrupted, “don’t forget all of the dancing. There will be a great deal of dancing, won’t there, Lynn?”
“Oh, certainly!” Lynn agreed.
“And being able to sing while dancing … that’s awfully difficult. You know, Lynn, I’m still wondering how I might manage it, if I was lucky enough to get picked for the masque.”
Lynn was staring at her, probably because Jessie had implied that she — Lynn’s own sister-in-law and one of her closest friends — might not be able to participate in the masque, even if she desperately wanted to. Garnet, however, only wanted to applaud.
“Picked?” Babette asked.
“Oh, yes!” Jessie replied. “Lynn wants the masque to go so smoothly — she’s going to be choosing who gets to play what parts very carefully. Isn’t that the case, Lynn?”
“Well, naturally, but …”
“You see?” asked Jessie, smiling at Babette.
Babette was wilting. “Oh …”
“However,” Lynn replied, “if you really want — really want — to play a part, Babette, of course you may.”
“Oh, I would love to! When will it be?” Babette gushed.
Lynn exchanged glances with Garnet. Garnet did her best not to look stony-faced. She should have expected this out of Lynn to begin with. Of course Lynn wouldn’t let anyone’s — even Babette’s — feelings be hurt.
“We … we think,” replied Lynn, “that it probably won’t be until the end of the year. Possibly the beginning of next year. There’s still so much to do!”
“The … the end of the year?” Babette squeaked. “And — you said there’s to be a lot of dancing?”
“A great deal of dancing,” Garnet answered, because if that was a deterrent to Babette, she’d be damned if she didn’t sell it for all that it was worth.
“… Oh …”
“But you don’t need any kind of training in dancing or anything like that!” Lynn hastened to reassure her. “Why, anybody with the normal complement of feet could do it!”
“Oh, it’s not that,” Babette waved her hand dismissively. Garnet bristled. Morgause used to wave her hand like that all the time. “I’m a fine dancer! It’s just …”
She hesitated. Then she laughed. “Oh, why not! Ladies, I don’t think I shall be doing any dancing in Endskel. I’ll have a belly out to here!”
Blinks all around. Garnet felt herself begin to grow dizzy. Maybe that was why she thought she saw Babette simper and sneer at her. Good Lord, that little minx couldn’t be … couldn’t be …
Of course she was. Of course she would treat this as a competition. That was the sort of woman Babette was. If she had any idea that she had already —
Garnet wasn’t going to think about that. She had told herself she wouldn’t think about that. Not today.
“Why, congratulations!” Lynn gasped; dutiful congratulations from around the table followed. Garnet even heard herself join in. It was easier to do that than to let herself think. “When — when is the little one expected to make his appearance, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Imsdyn!” Babette crowed. “At least,” she giggled, “I hope it’s Imsdyn. Aglovale doesn’t want any more children until after he’s graduated, the spoilsport! But you see, if I have a new baby in Imsdyn, then he won’t be able to complain!”
“Oh, he wouldn’t complain!” Lynn replied. “No father would complain! You certainly can’t help the timing of these things — isn’t that right, Clarice?”
“Well …” Clarice started. Lynn turned to her with something between a shocked glance and a glare. “That is to say,” Clarice corrected, “nobody can pick the day and time she’ll give birth. Would that we could!”
“As if you’d want that, Clarice,” teased Jessie. “Why, wouldn’t you rather pick the day and time everybody gives birth? Then you’d never have to miss anything fun to help someone deliver their baby.”
“And everyone would start no earlier than daybreak — later, if they’re closer to me, so I get a chance to get myself ready for the day,” laughed Clarice, “and they would all be done in enough time for me to get home by sunset!”
“Oh, that would be lovely!” sighed Babette. “I was up all night with Morien, don’t you know! Of course … that’s because it had started, but I wasn’t quite sure it was for real this time, you know?” Babette asked.
Oh, no, thought Garnet. They were not about to start trading labor stories. They could not be about to start trading labor stories!
“Oh, that’s normal,” replied Clarice. “Sometimes women start feeling stray pangs days before the baby is ready to be born. I think it’s a way for the body to — to sort of practice for the birth. When I was expecting Colin …”
Garnet gulped, forcing the bile that had risen in her throat back where it had come from. She looked around the table. Every face she could see was politely interested at a bare minimum. Even Jessie’s! Even Dindrane’s! Even Lynn’s! Good Lord — was this what mothers did when there was nobody else around? It made Garnet even less eager to join the club than she had been already.
But she had promised herself she wouldn’t think of that. Still …
“Oh, ladies, we’re being most rude!” gasped Babette. Garnet stared at her — Babette? Realizing they were being rude? Had the world turned on its head while Garnet panicked? “Why — we’re having a conversation that not all of us can participate in! Isn’t that right — Garnet?”
Garnet felt her eyes grow wide, like the doe’s when she saw the hunter’s arrow. She would not look around the table. She would not see Lynn’s eyes begging her apologies. She would not see Clarice’s sheepish cringing. She would not see Jessie’s slow wince. She would not see Dindrane’s troubled, apologetic frown.
“Unless …” Babette murmured. “You have been married five months, Garnet. Do you have any news to share with us?”
No. No. She most emphatically did not.
Garnet stood. “Excuse me,” she murmured. “I need some fresh air.”
One did not last long as a daughter of Morgause without learning how to beat a dignified retreat. So Garnet did not run for the door. She did not even walk quickly. She opened it with a smooth, unhurried grace. And when she descended the stairs, she did so as slowly and with as much state as a queen.
However, when she reached the bottom, she started gulping in air like a fish tossed carelessly on the beach.
She was going to be sick — again! She was already sick this morning! Was it too much to ask to be only sick once a day? If she had to go through this —
If she had to carry a baby knowing she’d never be as good a mother to it as it deserved —
The door behind her clicked open. Soft slippered feet stepped onto the porch.
The door clicked shut.
Garnet didn’t turn around. Whatever it was, she didn’t want to hear it.
“Ignore her, Garnet,” said Jessie.
Garnet still didn’t turn around.
She could hear her cousin’s footsteps on every tread of the stairs. Garnet closed her eyes. “Some … fools, like Babette,” Jessie went on, “like to — hell. Garnet, she’s not a nice person. We all can see that. And she’s trying to make a competition out of things that just — just don’t matter.”
“That’s what you think,” muttered Garnet.
“No, Garnet, that’s what I know. Look — before the twins were born, I stood right where you’re standing. Wondering why it had been months already and –”
“No. Jess …” Garnet sighed and turned around. “It’s not that — that I — look, I don’t care about Babette’s competition. I don’t! Because I — because I –”
Jessie watched her mildly.
“I think I’ve already won,” Garnet muttered to her feet.
“You — Garnet! That’s wonderful!”
“No! No, it’s not!” Garnet scowled. “I’m not — damn it, Jess! How am I supposed to be a decent mother, given everything that happened with her?”
“Garnet, the kind of mother Morgause was will not define the kind of mother you are.”
“Yes, it will! Yes, it will! I’ll always feel her ghost standing over me!” She shuddered. “No matter what I do — I can feel her standing over my shoulder and telling me I’m doing it wrong. She …”
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes! You can’t tell me how I feel, Jessie!”
“Perhaps not — but I can help you stop feeling that way. Garnet, your mother is dead. I don’t know whether that will or would help her realize all the mistakes she made, but either way, she can’t hurt you anymore –”
“Yes, she can!”
“–unless you let her.”
Garnet blinked. Let her? Let her? When had Morgause ever bothered to ask for, or wait for, Garnet’s permission before she sought to destroy her very soul?
“They say,” Jessie went on, “that even the dead live on — inside our hearts if nowhere else. Garnet, you have to let go of your mother. Of what she said, of what she was. It’s either that, or she’ll never truly be dead to you. And listen to me — you’ll have help. Lots of help. Me, Morgan — my mother — Lady Eilwen! If there is ever something you’re afraid to handle on your own, call in any one of us. We’ll help you.”
“But …” Garnet murmured.
“What if I’m — bad at it anyway?” she whispered.
“Oh, Garnet, you won’t be.” One more time, Jessie pulled her cousin in for a hug. “You know what it’s like to love somebody outside of yourself. And once your baby comes …”
Jessie closed her eyes and held Garnet closer. “You’ll understand more about love than you can possibly imagine.”