Endskel 21, 1013
Aglovale could not believe that his time at Camford was almost over.
With the exception of the necessities he would need to get through the next day or two, his belongings were all packed neatly in trunks. He had taken his exams, so his books were all put away. The results would be out tomorrow, and as soon as Aglovale was certain that he had, in fact, graduated, he would leave Camford — forever. Well, maybe not forever — but certainly for the foreseeable future. He would be home, with Babette, in time for Robertmas. The next week or so after that would be the usual round of end-of-year feasting and merriment, and then …
Then life would begin.
Should he be terrified? Hopeful? Relieved that after two and a half years, he’d never have to sleep under the same roof as Elyan, ever again?
… Best not to hope too hard for that. That was the kind of hope that was asking to be slapped down. Aglovale would be entering the military ranks under Elyan’s father; Elyan was set to join the knightly ranks after his own graduation. They would probably end up sharing a tent or a room at an inn at some point in their adult lives.
Lord help me.
But Elyan had his uses. This bout at the training fields had been his idea. Aglovale only wished he had thought of it himself.
“Good, isn’t this?” asked Elyan, lunging forward, blade barely parried by Aglovale.
“Aye,” Aglovale agreed. “Better than sitting around all day, waiting for those damn results to come out.”
Elyan snorted. “As if you wouldn’t pass!”
He had better pass. He had spend days studying until his eyes were sore and his brain felt about to explode. And, Aglovale thought, he’d been bright enough to take the hardest classes in his junior and the first part of his senior year, so that if something did happen and he didn’t pass those classes, he’d have another chance to straighten things out before graduation.
“Besides,” Elyan added, dodging Aglovale’s feint, “your father is the Earl of Gwynedd! Do you honestly think any one of your professors would dare to fail you now?”
“The second son of a two-bit earl in a tiny kingdom that may or may not appear on the maps they have? I think they’d dare, if they thought it was warranted.”
Elyan clucked his tongue and shook his head. “You need, Aglovale,” he said, “to get a better sense of your own importance in the world.”
Right, Aglovale thought, bending under Elyan’s onslaught, because that works so well for you.
“After all, you don’t want to end up like Beau of Lothario, do you?” Elyan asked.
“Beau of Lothario?” Aglovale looked up. “What’s he got to do with anything?”
Elyan sighed. “Oh … I just saw him the other day … he’s still here, you know that?”
“Since you say you just,” Aglovale skipped out of the way of a powerful would-be blow, “saw him, I would assume he was.”
“Oh, you know what I mean,” Elyan waved a hand that wasn’t his sword hand. “I can’t believe he hasn’t gone to Port Graal! They say that the town is weakening, you know! His brother might fall any day!”
That … that was disheartening. Aglovale knew that he had little in common with his brother, and they had had their fair share of fights growing up — but if he was in a city, if he was leading a city that was about to fall, and Aglovale could get there, Aglovale would be on his horse and gone. What was wrong with Beau of Lothario that he wasn’t there?
“And, you know, everyone knows that,” Elyan went on. “And they know who he is. I even caught some commoners — burghers’ sons, all of them! — sniggering at him!”
“And what did Lothario do?” asked Aglovale.
“Nothing!” Elyan almost shouted, raising his sword — Aglovale darted out of the way, for by the look on Elyan’s face, Aglovale thought it prudent to assume that Elyan was dueling against those uppity commoners, or perhaps Lothario, not Aglovale himself.
“He just kept on reading his book!” Elyan went on.
“Well, that’s no reason to think ill of him,” Aglovale replied. Elyan stared at him. “I’m serious. Some people, when they read, they’re utterly dead to the world–stop looking at me like that, Elyan, I’m related to two of them.”
“Who?” Elyan gasped.
“Dindrane! And my father!”
“Oh!” Elyan at least had the grace to look sheepish. “I … didn’t think of that.” He paused, perhaps for breath as Aglovale saw an advantage and jumped on it. “I’m not sorry for teaching those commoners a lesson, though.”
“What–what did you do?” Aglovale asked, trying to keep his voice from quavering.
“Well, we were in the dining room at St. Pascal’s — so I knocked one of those fools’ stew into his lap, and told him not to speak that way of his betters.”
“Elyan.” Aglovale rolled his eyes. “You were giving Lothario shit the last time you saw him. And you’re taking offense to others doing the same?”
“That’s entirely different! It’s one thing for men of our stature to say things like that to one another — but commoners? What next? You think it’s fit for a man who’s never held a sword in his life to dare impugn the honor and courage of a nobleman?”
Well, when Elyan put it like that … of course you couldn’t let commoners go around saying those sorts of things about noblemen. But … did Lothario even count? He was bastard royalty, it was true, but though his mother had good blood, she’d only gotten her lands by spreading her legs. Perhaps one ought not–
Someone, said a treacherous voice in Aglovale’s mind, might one day say the same thing about your son, and his mother.
Aglovale sighed. That was all too true. And it didn’t matter that the circumstances were so vastly different as to be impossible to compare. Someone might still say it. Plenty, if they knew the date of Aglovale and Babette’s wedding and compared it to the date of Morien’s birth, would think it even if they didn’t dare say it. It was no good to go around calling the kettle black, under the circumstances … even in the privacy of his own head.
At least nobody, Aglovale thought as he and Elyan charged for each other, would be able to say that about his and Babette’s second child, who was due to be born in about a month.
A second baby. Good Lord. At least Aglovale would have a place in the army, and most importantly income, from the moment the new year started. At least many of Morien’s baby things could be reused, even if Babette was insisting on making or buying some new things for the new baby. At least Aglovale’s father had promised to help him out for the first couple of months, as Aglovale found his feet.
… At least Babette hadn’t gotten pregnant again and had the second baby before Aglovale graduated. Even if this baby came early, all the women agreed on when he was supposed to be born. Nobody could call Aglovale or Babette careless just because the baby happened to come early.
Even if careless was precisely what they’d been.
“Whew!” Elyan said without warning, leaning back. “I don’t know about you, my friend, but this is thirsty work! What do you say we get a drink?”
Aglovale calculated. There were cool ale upstairs — and the best thing about it was that ale was perfectly acceptable in these circumstances, and it was cheap. He and Elyan ought to both be able to afford it.
Aglovale sheathed his sword. “I think that’s the best idea you’ve had all day.”
“Ha!” Elyan laughed as he followed Aglovale up the stairs. “Can you imagine, Aglovale? This might be the last time you and I get a drink together. Well …” He hesitated. “At Camford, anyway.”
“It might indeed,” Aglovale agreed.
It didn’t take long to go upstairs and take their seats at the bar. Aglovale looked around the upper story. It wasn’t crowded, but that was to be expected this late in the year. Plenty, if they wanted to get home in time for Robertmas (and weren’t graduating), had left already. Those who stayed over the break often didn’t spend much time training this time of year. Even though exams were over, everyone was exhausted by studying, and plenty of people preferred to start the Robertmas feasting early.
“Ho! Barmaid!” called Elyan. “Two ales!” With a small smile, he added to Aglovale, “My treat.”
Aglovale blinked. “That’s … generous.” Then, belatedly, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Elyan preened. “Besides — my trunk is going home in the wagon your father ordered, aye? It’s the least I can do.” Then, softly, “That was — awfully generous of your father, by the way, to let me put my things in there too.”
There was no reply Aglovale could make to that. It would not have occurred to Pellinore to say no. He would doubly not ask for help in paying for the wagon, either, not since he knew Sir Bors’s financial situation. That was a kind of generosity of spirit that Aglovale was not sure he had … and that Elyan, he suspected, could ill afford.
But at least Elyan knew it. That would put him ahead of his father any day of the week.
“So,” Aglovale asked, changing the subject, “are you looking forward to Princess Gwendolyn’s masque?”
Elyan sighed. “To be honest …”
“I’m sure it’ll be quite entertaining,” Aglovale stumbled forward. He could hear where Elyan’s tone was going and did not want to follow him there. It wouldn’t matter what he privately thought of a masque Dindrane or Delyth or Dilys was creating: he would be supportive, damn it, in public even if he couldn’t manage it in private. “Babette’s letters have been full of nothing else for months. She’s so jealous of Dilys and Delyth, since they’re acting in it.”
“Aye. That’s what frightens me,” Elyan replied. “Oh, not that your sisters are acting in it!” he added hastily. “I’m sure they’ll be splendid! No, it’s …” Elyan sighed. “My father … has a small role. Well–I think it’s small … but to hear him tell it …”
“Your father has a role?” Aglovale asked incredulously.
“According to my mother’s letter, Prince Thomas himself asked him to play it,” Elyan replied glumly.
That … could not be good. Aglovale might not have been in the country when Prince Thomas and Sir Bors’s relationship soured, but he wasn’t an idiot. More importantly, people (Lamorak) talked. If Prince Thomas was doing the asking …
“My goodness,” Aglovale murmured. “What–what an honor.”
“I hope so.” Elyan rested his chin in his palms and sighed in the general direction of the wall opposite.
He was still sitting like that when the barmaid walked over to him. “Here ye go, sir,” she said, pushing the ale across to Elyan. “Yers’ll be up in a minute, sir.”
“Thank you,” Aglovale and Elyan muttered in unison. Elyan started to nurse his ale. Aglovale looked longingly at the ale that the barmaid was carefully pouring into his glass.
“Well …” Aglovale said finally, since he could only imagine where Elyan’s mind might be going, “maybe … maybe Prince Thomas asked because he thought your father might be good in the role.”
Elyan shot Aglovale a please-don’t-kid-me look. He took a long draught of his ale. “Mother writes that Father is very excited about this part.”
Oh boy. “Maybe … maybe it’s because it’s for Princess Gwendolyn. Fathers–well, you should know that fathers will do all kinds of silly things if their daughters bat their eyelashes at them and ask, ‘Pretty please?'”
Elyan snorted. “My father would never be so unmanly.”
Was that unmanly? Aglovale doubted it. He’d seen his father melt hundreds of times over in connection with requests from Dindrane or Delyth or Dilys. It was not unmanly — only human.
“Besides …” Elyan added. “This is … Prince Thomas. We all know what his sense of humor is like. It’s worse than Kay’s.”
“It is not,” Aglovale protested.
“So you think!”
“So I know. Prince Thomas can’t act a complete fool and get away with it. Not like Kay can.”
Elyan’s mouth opened. It closed. “Perhaps … you have a point.”
Aglovale knew he had a point. But there was no point in arguing it further.
The barmaid walked up to them with a second tankard and pushed it to Aglovale. Aglovale nodded his thanks and took a sip. That felt good — that felt like exactly what he needed.
And best of all, this was a perfect excuse to change the subject. “So — are you looking forward to having the house all to yourself for the next half-year?”
“In a way, I suppose …” Elyan sighed. “I mean … it won’t be fun paying for everything on my own …”
“You’ll only have to pay half as much for the laundress,” Aglovale pointed out.
“I know — that’s not — just what I’m worrying about. It might be a bit dull, you know, with nobody around.”
“But George Ferreira will be starting here at the new year. You can have him over whenever you want, you know, even if he can’t live with you.”
Elyan stared at him. “George Ferreira is hardly my idea of an … acceptable companion.”
“Why not?” Aglovale sipped his ale. “His father’s a baron now.”
“Hardly a real baron. He practically bought the title!”
“More to the point,” Aglovale added, “his brother is married to your sister. If …” Aglovale stopped. There was no point going there. It didn’t matter that Sir Bors himself had arranged the match between Clarice and Freddy and that Clarice and Freddy’s feelings only entered into it tangentially, if at all. As far as Elyan was concerned, Freddy was not good enough for his sister.
“Well, look at it this way,” Aglovale went on. “As far as my father was concerned … George would have been good enough for my sister, if things had … worked out.”
Elyan’s eyes bulged. “He what?”
“George and Delyth were courting for a while back,” Aglovale replied. “It ended about a year ago — don’t ask me why. What, didn’t you hear?”
“No!” Elyan gasped. “My–your father allowed that?”
“Need I remind you that Freddy is married to your sister? If he’s good enough for Clarice, why wouldn’t George be good enough for Delyth?”
Elyan would never believe that — but Aglovale would hope it would get him to shut up about it. He wouldn’t be able to say anything about Delyth when he was reminded of Clarice … would he?
“But your sister Dilys is going to marry Kay!”
“And of course Gwendolyn is — ugh! Your father is a wise man! I can’t believe he didn’t see the danger!”
Aglovale blinked. “Danger? Elyan, what could possibly be dangerous about letting George court Delyth?”
“They’re getting above themselves — those Ferreiras,” Elyan spat. “They have one connection to the royal family through Clarice and Gwendolyn. Think of it, Aglovale: the grandchildren of a common sea captain, who managed to buy himself a barony, share blood with the prince and princess of Albion!”
“And you,” Aglovale added.
“I know! And–and if your father and Baron Ferreira had chosen to pursue the match between your sister and George — George’s children would have been cousins to Kay’s children! Another close tie to the royal family! You see how they’re getting above themselves?”
Aglovale wasn’t sure he would call that. He’d certainly call it a meteoric rise. But … Albion, he knew, was built on the back of two trading empires. The Blaise spice empire, the property and trade routes that Queen Alison had inherited from her father, had financed Albion at the start. And now the Ferreira trading empire was making Albion great. Other men in other kingdoms could earn their nobility through deeds of arms. Richard Ferreira earned them through the the work of his own two hands.
From the perspective of Albion, a small country in between two huge kingdoms — a country that could not afford to war with either, because of the certainty that it would be crushed — was it really worth it for the nobility to get into fights with each other over this?
“And,” Elyan went on, “you can see it with George. That boy has no respect for his betters!”
“Why do you say that?” asked Aglovale.
“Because of the way he treats me!” Elyan huffed.
Oh, boy. “You’re not that much better than he is,” Aglovale pointed out, hoping against hope that logic would save the day.
“I’m plenty better than he is! You know how far back my lineage goes!”
“Somehow, I doubt I see a family tree mattering all that much to the Ferreiras.”
“Exactly. Exactly. And it gets worse! George Ferreira has absolutely no respect for rank, for good family — why, the first time I ever saw him, he called me an — an –” Elyan began to turn red and a vein throbbed at the side of his head. “An inbred ass!”
There was no way that Aglovale could reply to that and hope to keep a straight face. None. Aglovale tried to cover that by taking a long draught of his ale. At least Elyan was doing the same thing.
Aglovale didn’t put his mug down until he could say something that wasn’t entirely insulting. “I can see why you’re not eager to live with him.”
“I can’t believe King Arthur actually opened the house to every young man hailing from Albion!” Elyan huffed. “Didn’t he think of what that might lead to?”
He probably had. And since Prince Thomas and Kay had to get their sense of humor from somewhere … and Aglovale didn’t think that place was Queen Alison … well, no doubt the King had thought that this mixing of the social orders within a house was a very good thing indeed.
“Well, if nothing else, it leads to you not having to pay for the maid and the laundress and everything else yourself. Cheer up, Elyan, maybe it won’t be so bad. Freddy certainly wasn’t.”
“So you say,” Elyan sighed. “You won’t have to live with him.”
“No …” Aglovale agreed, hopping off his stool. “But I’ll have my own problems. Just like everyone else.”
And whatever Aglovale’s problems would be … at least they wouldn’t involve trying to keep both Elyan and George Ferreira happy. That was something to be grateful for.
“So come on,” Aglovale said, “let’s see if we can fit in another bout. And let’s leave tomorrow’s problems for tomorrow, aye?”
And if Aglovale himself could learn to do that more often … he’d certainly be a much happier person today.