Osgary 3, 1013
“So, tell me, Tom — was this party just a good idea, or was it the best idea I’ve had in a while? Don’t be shy, now. Tell me the truth. I can handle it.”
Tom raised one eyebrow. “And what if I say it was a rotten idea?”
“Then I’ll call you a bloody liar!” mock-growled Kay.
Tom laughed. “It wasn’t the worst idea you’ve ever had, I’ll give you that.” High praise, coming from an older brother. “And … perhaps we needed this. After bloody everything.”
Kay nodded. He hadn’t been involved in Will’s campaign against Brother Tuck, but he’d heard about it. He’d heard a lot about it, mostly rumors and innuendo. And it seemed that Will had come out victorious. But the first battle was never the end in politics. Kay didn’t have a full seat at the Council table (yet — he was still too busy trying to master the ropes of the navy Leona had started and left for him to continue while she was away), but you weren’t born a prince without coming to know that in a hurry.
“Although I can’t help but notice some people missing …” Tom pointed out, one eyebrow going up.
“Hey, it’s not my fault that Aglovale and Elyan had decided that studying is more important than coming home for a party with their friends. Can’t say what brought that decision on, by the way. They showed no signs of it before I graduated!”
“Might be the ‘coming home’ part they object to more than the party part.”
“… You know, big brother, you may have a point there.” Kay chuckled.
The Lord knew that anyone wanting to drag Kay away from Camford and back home for a dinner party would have had to pry him away with a crowbar and then drag him with wild horses. Of course Aglovale and Elyan didn’t want to come, Aglovale especially. He only had a few more months of freedom before adulthood with all of its responsibilities set in.
And Elyan? He had barely escaped having to put in an appearance for Wart’s birthday feast. Kay envied him for that. Oh, Kay loved his nieces and nephews (his nephews by Tom especially: they were keeping Kay far, far away from the throne and all its cares and worry), and he loved spending time with them, and he especially loved teaching them tricks sure to drive their parents up the wall. What he didn’t like were birthday parties for toddlers who spent most of the party either fussy and overtired from being kept up past their bedtime, or else finally put to bed. It was necessary for Tom’s children, especially the boys, and it was necessary that Kay show up and show how happy he was that the children continued in happiness and good health. But that didn’t mean he didn’t much prefer the parties in the afternoon, when the kids were happy and rested and he could spoil them properly, not having to be on his best behavior with all the other adults.
“However,” Tom continued, “they weren’t who I was referring to.”
They weren’t? Then who was Tom talking about?
Everybody else, of the younger men at least, was here. Lamorak and Milo were laughing in the corner, dissecting some aspect of training or military readiness or some other such thing. Milo was looking tired and careworn these days, but he’d been looking like that ever since little Marian had been born. The minute you brought up her name, he’d smile and babble on about sucking toes and smiling (not just gas, he’d swear) and other baby things. He’d also been beaming at Wart’s small afternoon birthday party, to which he, his wife Nicole, and little Marian had been invited. Nicole and Lynn had gotten along well, if a little stiffly at first; all of the ladies had been eager to pass Marian around and coo over her; and as for Kay, he made himself a royal nuisance by loudly imagining Wart and Marian’s happily wedded future together, making the veins bulge in Milo’s and Tom’s necks by turns.
At least Dilys had thought he was funny. She had stuck close to his elbow, giggling in an embarrassed way with every crack he made.
Lamorak and Milo, however, were not the sum of people present. Will and Freddy were there, too, perched on the armchair and couch respectively and talking quietly together.
Poor Freddy. Somebody (Kay) really needed to get into the business of adopting him properly. Freddy had always been a friendly soul, and he’d gotten on well with all of the other men at Camford. But now that they had all graduated, anybody with eyes could see the way he nervously shifted and stared at the other nobles, how he rarely spoke unless spoken to, and how he seemed to live in terror of doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. All of that nonsense that Elyan had spewed about Freddy not being good enough for Clarice must have done some damage when Kay wasn’t paying attention. And while Will was a good enough companion for a party like this, Will wasn’t the man Kay would pick to show anybody any kinds of social ropes.
Besides Lamorak and Milo, Freddy and Will, Walter was in the corner, playing his lute and filling the room with soft music. With Walter to keep the party going and all the young noblemen of Albion present, what else could possibly be needed?
Kay said as much to Tom, who clucked his tongue and shook his head. “Sir Mordred?”
“Oh! Him!” How could Kay have forgotten him? Well, actually, it was easy enough if you thought about it. Sir Mordred never really seemed to be one of them. He’d been acting as a lord when the rest of them were partying and studying by turns in Camford. And he was … well …
“Well, don’t look at me. I invited him. He said he couldn’t come.”
“Oh, he did, did he?” Tom asked, blinking. “And did he give a reason?”
Kay rolled his eyes. “All right, first of all — don’t be so bloody obvious when you’re fishing for information. And secondly, no, he didn’t, and I didn’t ask.” Because I was relieved when he said no!
“I’m your brother. I don’t have to be subtle. And even if I was, you’d see right through it anyway. How many people other than you can say that, eh?”
“Anybody with half a brain, Tom.”
“I was not that obvious.” Still, Tom was ready to let the subject drop. “So, when are we going to eat? All I had for lunch was a sandwich in a pail while Lamorak and I made the rounds of the border.”
Again? Kay wondered, but didn’t ask. Instead, he turned to the assembled gentlemen. “Oy, men! Dinner’s ready! Come and get it!” Then he turned to Tom with a grin. “How does–”
Tom wasn’t where Kay had left him. He was picking over the buffet table instead. He must have been quite hungry indeed.
The young men all got up and got their food, and Kay led the way into the dining room. He avoided the chair at the head of the table. He always did. He was usually dining by himself, with only Walter to wait on him, and there was nothing lonelier than sitting at the head of a long dining table with nothing but empty chairs to keep you company. The long dining table was wonderful for entertaining, but terribly depressing when you weren’t.
Tom sat across from him, and Lamorak, Milo, and Will filled in the seats along the edge. When Freddy came in, Kay said, “Here, mate, you sit by us.” He waved to the empty seat at the head of the table.
Freddy hesitated. “Are you sure?”
“Of course he’s sure,” Tom replied. “Come on, Freddy, have a seat.”
Freddy smiled shyly, then he sat down, smiling shyly at all the other men.
As soon as Freddy was seated, the men started to eat. Once again, Kay thanked his own good sense for asking Mistress Birch, the royal cook, to prepare the meal for this party. She was a damned good cook, and that was only saying half of it. No matter what else happened tonight, everybody would be leaving well-fed and quite pleased in the stomach department.
So Kay could feel free to play the part of the impish younger brother and turn to one of his guests with what would probably be the most embarrassing question of the evening. And if anyone took him to task on it, why, he could always say he was fulfilling a mission for his betrothed. Dilys had taken an interest in the whole matter and had asked him shyly what he knew about it. Apparently her father and brother didn’t believe in keeping her informed about the matters of great moment in the kingdom.
“All right, Will, spill it,” Kay said as a way of opening the conversation. “How in the bloody blazes did you convince the whole Council to smack Brother Tuck down?”
Will’s answer was hardly all Kay had hoped for. “Um. Well.”
It was Milo who saved Kay. “Aye — how did you do it, Will? Nicole and I couldn’t believe what we were hearing at Llamamas.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with that,” Will demurred. “That was all Father Hugh’s doing.” He stared at his salad and absently shifted the lettuce and hardboiled eggs around. “We didn’t even ask anything of him — other than keeping Brother Tuck under control. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he said nothing about the matter.”
“But you know they’ll blame us,” Tom replied, waving a dismissive hand. “They’ll say it was Dad who leaned on Father Hugh and put him up to it. And nobody will believe Father Hugh when he denies it.”
Kay sighed. But he wasn’t the next to speak. That was Freddy. “… They?”
“The Church,” Will filled in. “Specifically, the Robertians.” He turned to Tom. “And let them blame us. It’s about time somebody stood up to them.”
“But only in ways that they can’t fight back against, Will. We had the Remans with us when we cut off their funds, and Glasonland’s in too much of a mess to come to their aid. Who knows if the Remans would have stood with us if we tried to prosecute Brother Tuck?” Tom pointed out.
“Wait,” Freddy asked. “I–what do you mean, tried to prosecute? I thought — I thought that the … woman in question decided not to press charges.”
Will and Tom exchanged glances. But before either of them could speak, Lamorak jumped in. “Oh, Will persuaded her not to press charges. It was one of the conditions my father set for his support.” He added to Tom and Will, “He told me all about it.”
One of the conditions? Interesting …
“And,” Lamorak added, putting a forkful of turkey to his lips, “I still have no idea how you managed it.”
“Aye,” Milo agreed. “If — if anybody tried that with Marian, Lord forbid …”
“If anyone tried that with Marian,” Will replied, “you’d have a good chance of at least getting a sympathetic hearing from the court. And win or lose, you’d face no backlash.”
Kay nodded slowly. Aye, that fit in with what Dilys had told him about what she’d seen and heard in regards to the Plantsims. In a way, it was miraculous that the trial and death of Lady Morgause hadn’t caused a backlash against the Plantsims. Or perhaps Kay was too cynical for his own good. What Lady Morgause had tried to do was monstrous. What Brother Tuck had tried to do was misguided.
“And,” Tom added, “you would have been able to go to Camford and walk through the streets without being harassed — or worse. Unlike Goody Thatcher.”
“Camford?” Kay asked.
“If Goody Thatcher had wanted to press charges, it would have had to be in a court ecclesiastic,” Will sighed. “Which means Camford. Lord Pellinore and the King wouldn’t hear of proceeding otherwise.”
“Mind you don’t tell Brother Tuck that,” Tom added. “I’m pretty sure Will left him with the distinct impression that he would have had to face justice in one of our courts. Alas that it wouldn’t have flown for a moment.”
The men were silent as they digested that. A churchman facing a capital crime in a secular court — no, the Church would have never stood for that. The country would have been under interdict, or worse. They were lucky that the Robertians hadn’t placed Albion under interdict for Arthur’s refusing to allow the Robertians’ money through the country.
Except, of course, that everybody knew that the Robertians trying to escalate the situation with Arthur would have only made matters worse for them. The Remans were in favor of anything that had a chance of dumping some much-needed gold into their dusty coffers, and the Gaulish were sick and tired of the troops on so-called crusades to deliver Simspain from the Smoors that just ended up trampling over their lands, harassing their villages for supplies (and worse), and then ended up accomplishing nothing. Plenty of other branches of the Church could find their way to supporting Arthur, too, at least when they saw it as an excuse to keep the money that they would have otherwise had to send along to the Robertians. But to try a Churchman in secular court? That would have threatened them all, and they would have all banded together against that threat.
“So!” Kay said in tones of fake joviality, to get the ball rolling again, “That answers how you got Lord Pellinore to go along. What about everyone else, eh? I heard Sir Bors wouldn’t agree for anything.”
“He wouldn’t,” Will agreed. “Luckily the King didn’t require unanimity on this one.”
“A-men,” Tom sighed. “Lord knows we’d never get anything done if we had to get Sir Bors’s approval on it.”
“He wouldn’t leave my father alone, either,” Freddy put in. “Kept insisting that he support him in this. I don’t know how Dad managed to put him off.” He speared some lettuce on his fork. “I don’t know how I would have.”
“Well, as for how your father did it — Lord only knows, but I’m glad he came around to our side when it comes to it,” Tom replied. “And as for how you’ll do it — well, pray that it’s Elyan you’ll be dealing with, not Sir Bors.”
“Elyan would be easier to manage?” gasped Freddy.
“Oh, Lord no! But Elyan’s got a practical soul underneath all the nonsense Sir Bors stuffed into his head. While he might not have sided with Will out of sheer spite — what with Will letting Leona walk away with that dowry of hers –”
“He can’t blame that on me! I wasn’t even in the country!”
“Sure he can; he’s Elyan. It might not make sense, but he can still do it. Anyway, as I was saying, Freddy, before I was so rudely interrupted,” Tom mock-glared at Will, “Elyan’s not likely to get on his moral high horse in defense of Tradition and Let’s Do Stupid Things Because Our Ancestors Did Them. And if he does, he’s not likely to try to drag others up there with them. And if he does that …” Tom grinned. “Just say that he’s made excellent arguments, and you’ll take them into consideration when it’s time to vote. If he won’t take that for an answer, invent a pressing appointment and shoo him out of your study. And then do what you please.”
“You all make it sound so easy …” Freddy murmured.
Silence descended, awkward and edgy, over the table. They did make it sound easy. But, to Kay’s mind, it didn’t have to be very hard. Especially when you were dealing with a dull knife like Sir Bors. Once you knew the magic words to make him go away, it was as easy as saying them until the next time he decided to get worked up about something stupid.
Except … Elyan was much brighter than his father, hard as it might be to see it sometimes. And he had a streak of ruthless self-interest that Sir Bors might have done better to emulate. If Elyan ever decided to get an issue between his teeth and worry it the way Sir Bors did, he would be much wiser in how he went about it. And much harder to put off.
They might well be in trouble when Elyan came home from Camford.
Milo coughed. “So — er,” he smiled wanly at Kay and Freddy before turning back to Will, “that only leaves one Council member. Sir Mordred. How–how did you convince him?”
There was the expectant silence of five young men leaning closer and watching Will, eyes open wide and ears open even wider.
Will’s reply was disappointing. “I didn’t.”
“What? He bloody voted with you! He voted before the rest of us, too,” Tom pointed out, “so you can’t just say he saw which way the wind was blowing and went with it.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Kay saw Freddy flush. He remembered that when it came to major issues like this, his father usually had men in the Council vote by rank, highest to lowest, with Arthur himself going last. That would mean that Baron Ferreira must have had the second-to-last vote … which would mean that there was a good chance that Tom had just laid out the real reason Baron Ferreira threw his support behind Will.
“You asked me how I convinced him. I answered: I didn’t. I laid out the facts to him, and he said he would support me.”
“Even though she’s the mother of …?” Tom asked.
“I’m sure Sir Mordred … had his reasons.” For some reason, Will cast a glance at Lamorak as he said this. Lamorak looked as confused as anybody by this. Then Will turned back to Tom. “But I’m not the man to guess what goes on in Sir Mordred’s mind.”
Thank goodness. Kay would hate to think that his brother-in-law had a mind as twisty as that.
Another uncomfortable silence descended. Then Lamorak coughed. “Well! That’s enough sausage-making for one night, wouldn’t you say? Let’s talk about something more fun. Like …” He grinned at Kay, and Kay knew what was coming.
“I hear that you got the lead male role in Lynn’s masque, Kay.”
“With your beautiful sister playing as my opposite,” Kay smirked.
And with that, the conversation was well on to more pleasant topics.
But Kay had found out what he wanted to know. And he would tell Dilys tomorrow. That, for now, was all that mattered. That — and having a wicked good time at his own party.