Endskel 25, 1013
It was late. Lynn had eaten far too much at the feast, the only virtue of which was that it was absorbing the far-too-much wine she had drunk once the masque was over. She was still in her itchy wool costume, and whenever she leaned her head on Tommy’s shoulder, she left white powder over the tacky doublet. And she could not remember the last time she had been this giddy and this happy.
Their masque had been a success!
“How are you, love?” Tommy whispered into Lynn’s ear.
“Oh, I’m … wonderful,” Lynn sighed. “You?”
“Oh, I’m happy if you’re happy.” Tommy replied. “But I’ll be happier if you promise to never make me be the villain of the piece again.”
“But you were such a good Prince Humperdinck!” Lynn protested.
“Did someone say Humperdinck?” called Lamorak.
“Oh, no,” Tommy muttered, drawing his hand over his face.
And then it came. “HUMPERDINCK!” cackled Jessie. “Humperdinck, Humperdinck, Humperdinck!”
“Valerie! You promised me you would never say that name!” laughed Lynn.
Lynn squirmed to see Will surveying his wife with his head cocked to one side. “Where,” he asked, “did you learn to cackle like that?”
“Who cares?” asked Delyth. “All I care about is that they were hilarious in their scene together! I could barely keep from laughing out loud!”
Tommy sighed — but this time it was a happy sigh, not a mock-exasperated sigh. “That is one of the two scenes I very, very much wish I could have been on the other side of the stage for.”
Lynn didn’t ask what the second one was — she had all too clear a feeling that she thought she knew what the answer was. And … she was trying very hard not to mind that. On the one hand, she could quite understand why Tommy felt that way about that particular scene of Bors’s. And she knew she was the cause of his feeling that way. On the other hand … Bors was still her father.
Even so, Lynn had to admit he made a wonderful Vizzini. He was the perfect arrogant, sneering know-it-all who in fact knew nothing. The only thing Lynn didn’t like about the performance was how she suspected that most of it wasn’t an act.
Inconceivable! Lynn thought, and chuckled.
“Garnet, by the way,” Tommy leaned around Lynn to see his cousin, “you were on that side of the stage — was Kay able to keep playing dead?”
Garnet chuckled. “He was only mostly dead.”
“And mostly dead,” Lynn had to add, “is slightly alive.”
“Which means that you could definitely see him quivering every now and then. Especially,” Garnet tapped Jessie on the shoulder, “when you told this one,” she nodded to Lynn, “‘I’m not a witch, I’m your wife!'”
“Wrong on so many levels,” Tommy shook his head and clucked his tongue.
“But it was funny, Tommy!” Lynn protested. “Your poor father — I think some wine came out his nose!”
Tommy sat up. “He–what?”
“Yes, Tommy, it happened,” said Garnet. “Your sister managed to make wine come out your father’s nose.”
“Jess! Not fair! That’s my and Kay’s job!”
“What can I say, Tommy?” Jessie leaned back, hands behind her head, stretching her legs out before her. “Prince Humperdinck is just not a comedic role.”
“Nope, he’s a sniveling coward, bested by a two-bit farmboy with some pirate’s training–”
“And the power,” the door to the library flew open, and in slid Kay, “of true love! Ladies, gentlemen, giants and miracle men — may I present to you Buttercup, the Princess Bride!”
Dilys came in much more slowly, hands covering what Lynn guessed was a very red face. “What? Dilys …” Kay put a hand on the small of her back and guided her forward. “Have a look at your adoring public!” He slung an arm over his shoulder. “And just think — if this whole Albion thing doesn’t work out, why, the …” Kay counted, “nine of us can go on the road and make this a stage show. We’ll have sold-out performances from Bledavik to the Twikkiis!”
“Hey! We don’t know about Bledavik!” Delyth pointed out. “The legend comes from there, after all.”
“True!” Kay cried out. “A toast! A toast to Bledavik, and a toast to Cherry Andavri, teller of its stories!”
Lynn smiled — she did owe Cherry Andavri thanks, when they finally met. It was Cherry who had told Delyth the legend of the Princess Bride so Delyth could pass it on to them. Lynn hadn’t known what they were going to do and had been searching all around for a suitable story before Miss Andavri had practically dropped this one into their laps.
A servant quickly made the rounds with more wine — you could never have too much wine on Robertmas night, much as you might think you had on the day after Robertmas — and after they had toasted, Garnet spoke up again. “We’d need ten of us, Kay. You’re forgetting,” she snickered, “the most important role.”
“Ah, yes! Vizzini!” Kay put an arm around Dilys’s shoulder. “He was the scariest of all the villains poor Buttercup faced, wasn’t he?”
“Oh … I don’t know.” Dilys blushed and leaned against Kay. “He was certainly scarier than Fezzick or Inigo …” She grinned at her sister and brother. “I don’t think they would have hurt Buttercup.”
“Inigo was only ever after the six-fingered man,” Delyth agreed.
“And Fezzick …” Lamorak looked at Delyth. “Did your friend ever say why Fezzick was there?”
“Cherry said it had to do with a land called …” Delyth pondered. “Greenland. But she never said what it was that got Vizzini to hire him. Well … other than the fact that he was a giant.” She scratched her head. “Do you think it matters?”
“Er …” All eyes turned — as well as they were able, given how they were sitting — to Will. “My mother has said,” he shrugged, “that thinking too deeply about these things is the quickest route to madness that she knows.”
“That makes a lot of sense, honey,” Jessie replied.
“Hear, hear! I still haven’t figured out why it is that Prince Humperdinck wanted to murder poor Buttercup in the first place,” Tommy added.
“To start a war with Guilder,” Garnet answered.
“But why do you start a war? And — for heaven’s sake — there have got to be …” He stopped. “No–wait–that actually is a pretty easy way to start a war. Never mind.”
Jessie spun around and smacked Tommy on the back of the head. “Tommy!”
“That’s horrible! To say that it was a good idea to try to kill Buttercup just to start that war!”
“It’s not horrible, it’s logical — Will, back me up on this one.”
Lynn squirmed to see Will staring at Tommy with both eyebrows raised. “Er … I’m afraid I don’t follow …”
“What? Count Rugen, the six-fingered man, doesn’t follow the logic of his prince? For shame, Will. You need to study up on the lackey-ing business better. Anyway — think of it this way. From Humperdinck’s perspective. Imagine you’re a smarmy coward of a prince who, for whatever reason, wants to make war on the country that’s his nearest neighbor.”
“We’re thinking,” replied Will — in that tone that Lynn (and she suspected all of them) knew well: Will’s I have a bad feeling about where you’re going with this, but I’m going along because you’re my friend tone.
“Now, for whatever reason, you can’t use the usual war-making channels — you know, make demands of Guilder that they can’t possibly meet, say that they’ve been raiding on the border when you know they haven’t, claim they have something that originally belonged to you, etc. So, how do you start the war? You pluck up some beautiful young woman from obscurity, say that you’re going to marry her, see to it that all the people fall in love with her, and then have her murdered and blame it on your enemy. Presto! The people will be furious, will demand that you go to war, and then you can march off with their full support.”
“Oh yes, a brilliant plan,” Jessie replied, rolling her eyes. “For everyone except Buttercup.”
“It was a brilliant plan, and it would have worked out beautifully, if it wasn’t for Westley managing to come back from the dead at least twice and scaring the hell out of Prince Humperdinck without even fighting him once,” Tommy shot back. He then turned to Lynn. “Are we sure we couldn’t have gotten a sword fight between Humperdinck and Westley in there?”
“You know your father wouldn’t have heard of it,” Lynn answered.
“But we could have used false swords!” Tommy protested. “What’s the worst a wooden sword ever did to anyone?”
“You could still put an eye out with one of those things,” Garnet sniggered.
“So? What was Morgan there for, I want to know, if not to put our eyes back in our heads, should we inadvertently knock them out with wooden swords?” was Tommy’s retort. “I’m sure she does that and more for Accolon.”
“All right, let’s not think about the things Morgan has had to put back on Accolon!” Jessie protested.
“Ugh! Jessie!” Garnet shouted.
“Oh, Lord, we just went there, didn’t we?” Kay asked, covering his eyes with one hand.
“Went … where?” asked Dilys softly, looking around the room and flushing.
“NOWHERE!” shouted Lamorak. “We went nowhere! And we will continue to go nowhere!”
Still, Lynn couldn’t help but watch as Dilys shot her sister a questioning look, and Delyth mouthed in reply, I’ll tell you later.
Nevertheless, a change of subject was in order. Lynn supplied it by turning to Tommy. “You know — since you can understand Prince Humperdinck so well — I wonder if I should be nervous!”
“Nervous? Never, love.” Tommy wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “There are far easier ways to make an excuse for war — and you have to be a sniveling coward to even think of Humperdinck’s way …” He knit his brows together. “Why does a sniveling coward want to start a war in the first place?”
“Don’t think about it,” Will warned. “Don’t even think about it that hard.”
“I shall think about it! I’ll have to think about it until I figure out a reason why Delyth got all the best sword scenes!”
“It’s because Inigo Montoya is the best swordsman in the world!” Delyth laughed, brandishing an imaginary sword aloft. “My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father!”
“PREPARE TO DIE!” shouted everyone else in unison — even Will.
“How many times did you say that?” asked Lamorak, laughing.
“Honestly? I have no idea. It was different in every rehearsal.” Delyth sighed happily. “It all depended on how long it took me to kill Will off.”
“Glad to know I was a worthy opponent,” replied Will. Lynn had to look–but of course he was keeping a straight face. You needed a man like Will in a masque like the Princess Bride: someone who could be trusted not to crack a smile no matter what was happening on the stage around him. She wondered what part she might be able to convince him to play next year …
But surely it was too soon to think of next year — wasn’t it?
“Although,” Delyth suddenly giggled, “you remember — when we did the dress rehearsal the other day? I was practicing that line for when I say it — you know, really say it, with Will — and Sir Mordred walked out of the Council chamber just as I was yelling it! I almost felt sorry for him — he jumped half out of his skin and looked like he’d seen a ghost!”
Lynn glanced at Garnet, wondering how she would take that. But Garnet was snickering with everyone else. Still — this was as good an opportunity as any to check in. “And how are you doing?” Lynn asked, glancing at Garnet’s belly.
“Oh …” Garnet rubbed her belly. “We’re–I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? We didn’t tax you too much?”
“No–no, don’t be silly.” Garnet shook her head. She was hiding something — Lynn had hidden too often herself to not know when someone else was doing the same to her — but was that such a bad thing? Everybody was anxious before the birth of her first child. And Garnet was due any day now. “You wouldn’t even let me stand up! All I had to do was sit in my chair and say my lines. How is that tiring?”
Garnet had done far more than that. She’d overseen the development of the script with Lynn, she’d helped plan the costumes, she’d approved with Lynn the design of the backdrops and props. She was the director and stage manager for their rehearsals, always ready with a prompt for a line or cue if one was needed. How could she not be exhausted?
Then again … Lynn remembered how she had been before Elise and Wart were born. How everyone told her to stay off her feet, sit quietly, and rest as much as possible. On the one hand, physically it was a relief to not have anyone pushing you … but mentally? Especially before Elise had been born, mentally, Lynn had nothing to do but wonder and dread the coming birth. She could have used something else to keep her busy those last few days and weeks. Perhaps involving Garnet so much in the masque had been less a favor asked than a favor granted.
“Well …” Lynn said, “You know, if you get tired or want to go home …”
“I’ll have to drag my husband out of here with a shepherd’s crook,” laughed Garnet, nodding to where Lamorak and Delyth were laughing in reply to something Kay or Tommy had said.
“He should be taking better care of you than that!”
“Oh, this could be our last party before the baby is born,” Garnet shrugged. “I’m not ending it before I have to. Besides, the baby was quiet all day …” She rubbed her belly. “I think he knew that Mummy had plans.”
He, Lynn noticed. When Garnet assigned a gender to her baby, it was always male. She wondered if that meant anything. Morgan had told her that mothers were often right in their instincts for what their babies were going to be. But was this instinct, or wishful thinking? Garnet would not expound on her reasons — for all that Lynn thought she could guess some of them — but she wanted a boy almost as badly as Lynn had wanted a boy in both of her pregnancies.
But she wouldn’t press. “If he’s already so considerate,” Lynn laughed, “then you’re–”
“But I am not left handed!” shouted Delyth — Lynn gasped, turned and saw Delyth and Kay battling it out with imaginary swords, just as they had earlier.
Kay laughed as he danced back and forth, waving his imaginary sword around. “I have to give it to you, Delyth — I don’t know how you managed to learn to fight left- and right-handed so quickly.”
“Well … it’s not real sword fighting,” shrugged Delyth. “Lamorak helped me practice — and he said that the point was a lot of waving around, and a lot of bashing swords, without ever getting near enough to cause real damage. Isn’t that right, Will?”
“Aye,” Will agreed. “You’d never fight like that in a real battle.”
“So no barfights with blokes twice your size once you get to Camford, Delyth!” Tommy leaned forward, wagging his finger. “Else you will be in for a big surprise!”
“Camford!” Delyth left off the sword fight to sling an arm over her sister’s shoulder for a brief moment, then she danced off. “Can you imagine it, Dilys! Just a few more days!”
“Well …” Dilys glanced at Kay.
“You,” Kay said, edging closer, “will have a wonderful time. And I will be a very frequent and often uninvited guest, to make sure you aren’t having too much fun.”
“Kay!” Dilys giggled.
“Or, I should say, too much fun with gentlemen other than me. We can have all the fun we want–”
“HEY!” shouted Lamorak.
“Once your father and mine get off their duffs and get those bloody papers ready, of course,” Kay finished.
“And don’t you say a word!” Garnet laughed, pointing at Lamorak. “We’re certainly in no place to point fingers at anybody else about what they do in between the betrothal and the wedding!”
“What’s this I hear?” Tommy asked, leaning forward.
“Tommy! It’s none of your business!” Lynn laughed, nudging him. “Not now that they’re married.”
“Perhaps I can let my royal wrath slide … this once,” Tommy agreed, leaning back. “But only this once,” he added to Lamorak.
Lynn rolled her eyes and turned again to Garnet — only to see that Garnet was not looking at her. She was watching Kay and Dilys, whose heads were bent in close consultation, expressions alternating between troubled and trying to be happy.
Dilys’s parents wanted her to have her education — which meant it was another four years to wait until they could be wed. Four years was a long time. From the perspective of today, Lynn was not sure how she had made it — and she had Tommy so close the whole time.
But … why should she worry? If their little masque had taught them anything, it was that nothing — not even death — could stop true love. At its worst … all it could do was delay it for a while.
Kay and Dilys would be fine. Just like Jessie and Will were fine. And Garnet and Lamorak were fine.
And she and Tommy were fine.
Some time later — when Tommy was out of that obnoxious doublet, when Vanessa had washed all the powder out of Lynn’s hair, when the bells of the cathedral were tolling midnight but Lynn and Tommy had yet to blow out the candle … Lynn thought still of how she and Tommy were just fine.
Lynn was wondering if she wanted to risk making them not fine in the hopes of making things even better.
“Penny for your thoughts, love?”
Lynn leaned her head on Tommy’s shoulder. She absently started to stroke his chest. “Tommy … what would you say if I said I wanted to go off the herbs?”
She looked up to see Tommy frowning faintly down at her. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Wart’s a year and almost three months old.”
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
“I do — but …” Lynn closed her eyes. “I want Wart to have brothers. And I want Elise to have sisters. And … I want them to be close enough together that they can have their childhoods together.” Lynn looked up with a faint smile. “And I want that badly enough that I’m willing to take — a small risk, that I might begin to feel … as I used to feel.”
“Used to feel?” Tommy asked.
Lynn shrugged. It hadn’t quite gone away — not yet. But tonight’s masque, and all the work leading up to it, had shown her one thing: she was more than the sum of what came from her womb. Lynn had had a lot of help — but she had had the idea of the masque, and she had worked hard to make it come into being, and she had seen it turn into a success. If she could do that …
She could certainly manage to be happy whether the Lord sent her a girl or a boy next time.
“Well,” Tommy said, leaning Lynn back and propping himself up over her, “if that’s a used to feel … then I for one will be thrilled to meet the newest addition to our family, whenever you and she decide to have her put in an appearance.”
“Now, now, Tommy,” chuckled Lynn, “you have to promise you’ll love the next baby even if it’s a boy.”
“Maybe we’ll have one of each,” Tommy teased. “A boy for you and a girl for me.”
Lynn grinned. “Wouldn’t that be lovely.”