Endskel 2, 1013
The baby was kicking. Garnet was taking that as the Lord telling her that she deserved a chance to rest, have a lie-down, do nothing for the space of an hour or two.
She had a month to go — maybe more, maybe less, depending on when the baby was ready to make his way out — and as far as Garnet’s mother-in-law was concerned, that meant that Garnet ought to be resting at every opportunity she had. She shouldn’t be running around all the time, organizing rehearsals for the masque, supervising them, conferring with Dannie on the costumes and her husband Robert on the sets. Even Lynn thought that Garnet ought to be taking it far easier than she was, and had proven how strongly she felt that by simply not telling Garnet about rehearsals or appointments that she thought Garnet could stand to miss. Given how Lynn of all people ought to understand how infantilizing and infuriating it was to be treated as being incapable of making one’s own decisions, that was saying something.
But Lynn … didn’t understand.
Lynn, for all her issues and anxiety over her pregnancies and her babies, had her fears focused on one thing: the baby’s sex. She did not have a nagging demon of self-doubt that came to prey on her whenever she had an empty moment. Or, well, she did–but a different one. She had Sir Bors’s voice in her head. Garnet had Morgause’s.
Sir Bors would have never — as Morgause had — criticized Lynn for being too attentive or caring with a niece or nephew, as Morgause had done to Garnet. He never would have sniffed, “You’re spoiling that child,” when Lynn tickled or cooed over her niece. He wouldn’t have rolled his eyes when Lynn clapped over that niece’s first words or first steps. Mothering, in Sir Bors’s mind, was one thing that women were allowed to be good at, and he would have greeted any enthusiasm for the task from Lynn with encouragement.
Morgause had not.
Garnet sighed and rubbed her belly, feeling the way the fabric of her dress stretched and strained against the baby’s kicking feet. She hoped the baby was a boy, as Lynn had hoped that her baby — all her babies — were boys. But not for the same reasons. Garnet refused to get worked up about heirs, not when Morgan told her in no uncertain terms that there was nothing she could do to influence the sex of her baby one way or the other. But … Garnet thought that maybe, just maybe, it would be nice to have a boy before she had a girl — if she ever had a girl. Even Morgause had never seen anything wrong with showering attention on boys. If Garnet could get through her inevitable mistakes as a new mother without having Morgause’s voice criticizing her every move, even the ones that everyone sane said were a good idea … oh, how wonderful that would be!
“Oh, for the love of Wright! Stop it! Just stop it!”
The baby jolted in surprise and stopped kicking; Garnet sat up–well, as quickly as she could. Was that–Delyth? What was wrong?
She leveraged herself off the sofa and waddled to the door of her bedroom just in time to see Delyth pound up the stairs and race down the corridor to the room she and Dilys still shared.
“Delyth!” That was Eilwen, sounding as anguished as Garnet had ever heard her. “Delyth, honey, stop! Come talk to me!”
Garnet watched as Eilwen rushed up the stairs. As soon as she reached the top, Delyth reached the playroom door. She darted through and slammed it shut behind her.
Eilwen stood at the top of the stairs, hands wringing together, shoulders a quivering mass. Garnet hesitated for a split second, then walked up to her. “Eilwen?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”
She didn’t add, “with Delyth.” It seemed more polite.
Eilwen spun with a gasp. “Oh, Garnet! I thought …” She sighed. “Goodness me. I don’t know what I thought.” She smiled, ruefully, as if she was asking Garnet to share in the joke … but there was no hiding the sadness and worry in her eyes. Eilwen was simply not that good an actress.
And it didn’t take long for Eilwen’s eyes to dart away from Garnet, once again toward the playroom door.
“Eilwen?” Garnet asked again.
“I don’t know if I should …” Eilwen started, the rest of the sentence dead before it reached her mouth. “No–no. Yes. I should tell you. You …” Eilwen sighed. “You should know — and Lamorak too — but not yet. Lamorak, that is.”
“It’s Delyth, you see,” Eilwen sighed. “It’s her … monthly visitor.”
Garnet’s heart dropped. Put a girl of Delyth’s age, unmarried, in the same sentence as “monthly visitor” and absolutely no good could come of it. But Delyth didn’t even have a sweetheart — not that Garnet knew of, at any rate!
So she protested. “She’s — she’s been rehearsing awfully hard for her role. In the masque. All that swordplay — I’ve heard that physical exertion can make one’s monthly visitor … not visit.”
Eilwen shook her head. “Would that were all it was. No … Garnet … Delyth hasn’t gotten her monthly visitor.”
“But I was just saying–”
“At all.” Eilwen’s lip started to tremble. “My poor baby …”
Garnet blinked. “At all?” That didn’t even make sense! Delyth was eighteen — closer to nineteen than eighteen! Some girls got it late, it was true, but this was very late. It wasn’t even like she had developed other things, like her breasts, late — as far as Garnet could recall, Delyth and Dilys had started breast development at around the same time.
Garnet bit her lip. “Have … have you talked to anybody about this?” she asked. “A doctor? Lady Clarice, maybe?”
“Oh, goodness, yes. Not–not with Delyth,” she admitted, “I didn’t want to alarm her if this was just … just a fluke. But …”
Eilwen sighed. “Oh, Lady Clarice asked me dozens of questions about Delyth’s diet, her exercise, the diseases she had as a child … and at the end, she couldn’t … she wouldn’t give me an answer.”
“Wouldn’t?” asked Garnet. That … well, that did sound like Clarice in some ways. Leona was an optimist, but Clarice was worse: an optimist who knew quite well what the worst might be, but who wasn’t going to tell you until she was quite, quite sure that’s what it was.
“She said,” Eilwen sighed, “to wait another year — until Delyth is twenty — before making any concrete decisions, but we’d best plan for what might happen if she doesn’t get it.”
Garnet winced. She knew damned well what that meant. Women needed their monthly courses to be fertile. Women — at least, noblewomen — needed to prove their fertility in order to be married. If Delyth couldn’t do that …
Oh, damn. “What about Morgan? Have you talked to her?”
“Don’t think I haven’t thought of it,” muttered Eilwen. “But …”
Garnet could feel the prickles on the back of her neck, the hackles that had been formed during her mother’s trial, when she became the pariah of Camford, rising. But she would stay calm. Eilwen meant well. “But?”
Eilwen smiled. “You know your aunt better than anyone, Garnet. Do you think she would talk to me without Delyth being there?”
If Delyth was seven or eight? Absolutely. But seventeen or eighteen? There would be no way. Morgan would insist on talking to Delyth before she said a word to Eilwen.
“I didn’t want to worry her unnecessarily, you see …” Eilwen murmured.
Garnet glanced at the playroom door. “I think she’s already worried.”
“I know. I know. My poor baby …” Eilwen looked over her shoulder, also at the playroom door. “I don’t even know what to say to her …”
That was when Garnet said something she regretted, not five minutes, but five seconds later. “Maybe I could talk to her?”
Eilwen gasped and turned to Garnet. “Oh–oh, could you? Would you? She looks up to you so much!”
That was when the regret kicked in.
“You see, I’m afraid I …” Eilwen shook her head. “I thought she would want to know the worst,” she sighed. “Delyth usually does. So I–I told her the worst …”
But sometimes the worst was too much to face all at once. Eilwen ought to have known that. Delyth wouldn’t — not when she hadn’t had much “worst” to face in her life. Garnet definitely knew that. How many times had she faced down such a “worst”?
Still, it had been a simple miscalculation, an honest mistake. Garnet couldn’t fault Eilwen for that. And when Eilwen was looking at her so hopefully …
Well, Garnet couldn’t backtrack. Which was how she found herself, two minutes later, knocking at the door of the twins’ bedroom. “Delyth?”
That, Garnet supposed, was to be expected. So she ignored it. “May I come in?”
“Why do you think I’d want to see you and your–your fat stomach?”
Garnet glanced down. Well. Nobody ever said that Delyth wasn’t honest. “I’ll ignore that remark if you answer the question.”
Was than an answer, Garnet wondered, or was it a refusal to answer? Did it matter? “You know I’m perfectly capable of magicking the lock open.”
“You can’t! It’s iron! You can’t magic iron!”
Well–yes and no. No witch could magic an iron blade not to cut, for instance. But any witch could use magic to make iron move — and what was unlocking a lock, but making certain parts of it move in concern with other parts?
It was also just as easy to stick one’s wand inside the lock, especially the big, easily-picked locks of Dyfed Keep, wiggle it around a bit, and wait for the lock to click. This was certainly not the first time Garnet had used that approach, and it would probably not be the last.
When she walked in, she found Delyth curled up on her bed, trembling very much like a young woman trying very hard not to cry.
Garnet’s heart cracked inside of her. How could she be other than sympathetic? How many times had she lain just like that on her own bed, when the pain threatened to rise up and choke her from within? And she hadn’t faced what Delyth was facing. When Garnet feared the future, she feared not having one. She didn’t fear having one so limited, so alien, so unlike anything you had ever imagined for yourself.
Perhaps that was scarier than the thought of merely dying. Perhaps that was more heartbreaking, too, because when you were as young as Delyth — as Garnet had been – there was a core of you convinced, however stupidly, that you were never going to die.
So when Garnet spoke, it was more gently than she had been intending. She had thought Delyth would have had her fill of gentleness with Eilwen, but perhaps one could never have one’s fill of gentleness. “Delyth, you know you can talk to me. I just want to help.”
Delyth sniffed. “Why would you want to help me?”
Garnet jumped. She never thought — she never imagined that other people thought that. Felt that. She’d thought it a thousand times herself — whenever Leona or Clarice or, heaven knew, Heloise, showed her the least bit of kindness or concern. Sometimes she thought it even when Morgan, Jessie, Tommy and Kay were being kind. Even Lamorak. She had always thought it was just her who imagined such things.
Perhaps … perhaps she had been wrong.
“Well,” Garnet replied, slowly, “sometimes, when I was … in need … other people went out of their way to help me. And since I can’t guarantee I’ll have the chance to help them back, the least I can do is help someone else, and hope that the kindness finds its way forward.”
Delyth froze. Then she scrambled to a sitting position, wiping her eyes. “That–has to be the most philosophical thing I’ve ever heard you say.”
“I know, I don’t quite believe I said it, either. May I sit?”
Delyth shrugged and scooted over, leaving a grateful Garnet to take advantage of the room.
“I suppose Mama told you everything,” Delyth muttered. “Like how I can’t get married. Ever. Or …” She looked again at Garnet’s stomach. “Have babies.”
“I am quite sure your mother didn’t say that to you.” Eilwen might think that Delyth would want to hear the worst, but she’d never leave Delyth without any kind of hope.
“Why are you taking her side?”
Garnet raised one eyebrow. “What makes you think there’s a side to take here?” she asked. “Or if there is one, what makes you think we’re not on your side?”
“Don’t!” Delyth snapped. “Good Lord! The–the last thing I want is casual sophistry! And don’t look at me like that, I know it’s something Papa would say, but–but it’s true!” she wailed.
Casual sophistry. That was Pellinore’s term for any line of argument that wasn’t really an argument, but sounded like one — one that wasn’t intended to grapple with ideas, but was meant to put off or confuse the other arguer. Garnet almost shook her head, but didn’t. Still, it was amazing — she’d learned more about arguments and the life of the mind in not quite eleven months of being married to Lamorak than she had in four years at Camford.
So, even though she hadn’t meant them as casual sophistry, Garnet stopped the rhetorical questions. “We are on your side, Delyth,” she replied, “and I for one think you certainly shouldn’t give up any kind of hope until you’ve seen Morgan.”
Delyth bit her lip. “Will … will she see me?”
“She will if I ask her to.”
“But–but what can she do about–about me not having courses?”
“Honestly? I have no idea,” Garnet shrugged. “But I do know that if something’s wrong that can be fixed with Light magic, she’ll fix it.”
“You don’t even know what she can do …”
“That doesn’t mean anything. I’m not a healer. If — if somebody you cared about had a broken arm, or was ill, you wouldn’t not send for Lady Clarice just because you didn’t understand what she could do.”
Delyth sniffed. “I could probably figure out how to set a broken arm.”
Since Delyth had been present for the birth of two her nephews and was apparently unscarred by the experience … yes, she probably could if she wanted to. “Probably not in five minutes,” Garnet retorted. “And I can’t figure out what Morgan could do to help you in five minutes.”
“But you said … if Light magic could fix it — what if it can’t?”
Perhaps Eilwen was more right than she knew. Delyth did want to know the worst. She might react badly to it, but she still wanted to know it. So Garnet shrugged again and asked her, “What did your mother say?”
“She said … she said she and Papa would always provide for me, make sure I’m — taken care of, but they wouldn’t lie for me.”
“They won’t tell anybody that I’m fertile so he’ll marry me.”
Garnet could see why Delyth hated to hear this. Nobody wanted to be told that she was being conspired against — especially if the next words out of the conspirators’ mouths was that it was for her own good. But in this case, Garnet thought it might be. Infertility, when it was the clear fault of one partner or the other, was one thing that the Church granted annulments for with relatively little fuss. If it came out that Delyth and her family had known she was infertile ahead of time and had actively concealed that knowledge … they’d grant the annulment in a heartbeat, and who knew what might happen to Delyth when they did that?
But Garnet would not add insult to injury by pointing that out. She chose a different tack. “Delyth, any man who would leave you because of your fertility or lack thereof doesn’t deserve to have you.”
“Are you kidding?” Delyth groaned. “Garnet! You know better! Nobody in his right mind would stay with me if I couldn’t give him children and we both knew it! The–the best I’d be able to become is a — a Rosette!” Delyth spat.
Garnet blinked; she had no idea that Delyth even knew the name of Rosette. How had she found that out? … Then again, it might not have been all that hard for a girl with a sharp mind like Delyth’s. All she had to do was ask the right people.
But besides that … Delyth had a point. What was marriage for, if not to create and raise children?
No. That wasn’t just it–there had to be more than that. A marriage’s worth had to be measured by more than the number and health of the children who came out of it. Look at Sir Bors and Lady Claire — they had more children than any other noble family in the kingdom, and nobody would call theirs a good marriage!
“They took in St. Mary-Sue …”
“There are plenty of children that need good homes,” Garnet pressed. “If–if worst came to worst–”
“Not if he was an heir,” Delyth sighed. “We couldn’t — not if he was an heir to anything. He’d need a son of his own.”
Garnet was silent. The stories never said much, one way or the other, about the source of the Oldies’ wealth — only that they had it, and that St. Herb refused to put St. Coral aside even when she couldn’t bear him a child. The stories also never said when the Oldies knew that they would not be able to have children of their own. Was it before the marriage? Or was it only after years of dashed and disappointed hopes?
“So marry someone who’s not an heir,” Garnet replied. “Your father can give you a good dowry. Your sister will be married to a prince. Your sister-in-law is cousin who the whole royal family. You could probably find a man who would be willing to trade in the chance for children of his own for all those connections.”
“Aye, and with my luck he’d be like Mordred–er, no offense …”
“None taken,” Garnet replied drily.
Delyth took that as her cue to continue. “What are the odds that I’d find a man who wasn’t an heir, didn’t mind about the children, and was halfway decent?”
There was only one way to answer that. “When you add in the fact that he would get to marry you in the bargain … probably better than you think.”
Delyth shot her a look that bordered on contemptuous. And … Garnet could not quite manage to disagree with it. She heard how inadequate everything she was saying was. No children in the marriage, ever — that was a huge obstacle for any man to overcome. Many never would. Plenty probably couldn’t.
Unless … “There’s always a widower,” Garnet pointed out. “With a child. I’m serious,” she added.
“So my options are never marry, or marry someone who’s about a hundred and doesn’t need any more children. Wonderful,” Delyth snapped. “And …” She ducked her head. “What if I want children?”
What if she did? What if Garnet didn’t have an answer for that?
“Your options are not a graybeard or nothing. Your options are talk to Morgan, see what’s wrong and if it can be fixed — or work yourself up over something that might not be an insurmountable problem. Right now, those are your choices. Make that decision, and the rest you can deal with later.”
“But what if Lady Morgan can’t fix it?” Delyth challenged.
“Then … then you’ll at least know that you did everything you could — and that will make your path going forward easier.”
“Will it?” Delyth asked. “Truly? Does that ever make it easier?”
Garnet hesitated. She thought of all that had gone wrong with her mother. Had Garnet truly done all she could have? Had that truly made anything easier?
And then … she thought of Lamorak. Of all that had gone right with him. She’d done everything she could to win him. And … she’d succeeded. And as for her mother …
Maybe Garnet hadn’t done everything possible. But she’d done everything she could. Maybe it hadn’t done any good, but that wasn’t her fault. She’d done everything she could, and perhaps more than she should.
Knowing that did help.
So Garnet turned to Delyth and gave her an answer that was only one word — but was all Garnet could say.
And with that, they would both have to be content.