Imsdyn 8, 1014
“And now, gentlemen,” Pellinore said, shuffling the papers on his desk, “since Sir William could not join us today, I do believe it is high time we turn to the appeals for clemency.”
“Er …” said Tawiel.
“Yes, Master Raben?”
“For–forgive me for asking, my lord,” stammered Tawiel, “but why is it that we never do this while Sir William is here?”
Ah. Well, that was the question, wasn’t it? Pellinore glanced at Christopher. Christopher didn’t look confused or even curious — but then again, he likely understood the reasoning.
“Well,” replied Pellinore, “it is certainly no slight on Sir William’s abilities — but since he often acts as prosecutor, I find … it is best for him not to mix roles too much. Speaking as a man who was once prosecuted many of his Majesty’s cases myself, it can be difficult to separate out the man you convicted from the man who might be beginning to reform himself. Especially if the crime was shocking or violent — sometimes … it is too easy to see the victims’ faces when one reviews the appeal, and …” Pellinore shrugged. “It can be very difficult to offer even the slightest bid of mercy.”
“But sir,” Tawiel protested, “it’s the King who makes all the final decisions.”
“Naturally,” Pellinore nodded. “But he leans heavily upon our recommendations. After all, he has only so much time in any given day. He cannot go into every detail of every single case himself.”
Pellinore hesitated, then — why not? If he didn’t trust Tawiel and Christopher, then whom did he trust? “In fact, gentlemen, ‘limited time’ is another reason why I prefer to do this when Sir William is not present. If there is another thing I learned from my time as a prosecutor, it is that a prosecutor feels compelled to argue every last case — and frankly,” he chuckled, “I think we all have better things to do!”
Christopher chuckled, too, and Tawiel smiled. “Now, gentlemen,” Pellinore went on, “let’s get started. Master Tower, what is the first appeal we have before us today?”
“The first one is a young Henry Brennan, sir,” replied Master Tower. “I’ve got some notes here.” He pushed some parchment across the desk to Pellinore.
“Hmmm.” Pellinore perused the closely-written notes. “I see that you have already spoken to Mother Julian?”
“And it is she who is advocating clemency.”
“Yes, sir. You see — she’s looked at the boy’s case, and she thinks that this is more a case of youthful hijinks than anything. He only took an apple from a stall, sir. That’s hardly worth being punished as a true thief.”
“You have written here,” Pellinore glanced at the notes, “that there may have been more than just this Brennan involved?”
“But no names.”
Christopher hesitated. “Well …” He sighed. “The boy won’t give them up.”
Pellinore folded his hands before him. “And why is that?”
“Loyalty, I’m guessing. It can be a hard thing for a boy that age to give up his friends to the law.”
“I would imagine that it would be a harder thing to be branded as a thief,” Pellinore snorted.
“But–sir! It’s an apple! He didn’t even run away with it — the guards caught him and they gave it back to the stall owner!”
Pellinore cocked his head to one side, watching Christopher. Christopher swallowed, but he refused to let his gaze leave Pellinore’s. Interesting. So this was one that Christopher felt strongly about. Pellinore would not have pegged this as being one that was likely to excite Christopher’s sympathy.
And true, it did seem a hard thing to brand a … Pellinore glanced at the notes. Brennan was fourteen. Yes, it did seem hard to do that to someone so young. But on the other hand, fourteen was more than old enough to know that stealing was wrong.
Pellinore turned to Tawiel. “And what do you think, Master Raben?”
Tawiel almost jumped, but he should have known that this was coming. “Do you mind if I see your notes, sir?”
“Of course not.” Pellinore handed them over.
Tawiel narrowed his eyes and stroked his beard as he read. After a quick perusal, he handed the notes back to Pellinore. “I think, sir, that to predicate clemency on condition of him giving up his co-conspirators–”
“Co-conspirators? Tawiel, were you never fourteen?” interrupted Christopher.
Pellinore blinked and looked at Christopher. “Master Tower, while we’ve all made our share of youthful mistakes — I know I for one would be very surprised to hear that you were acting like this young man when you were his age!”
“Did I ever steal? No, sir.” Christopher smiled wryly. “I … I knew too much of what the law could do to dare acting against it. But I did plenty of stupid things under the influence of other young men like myself. And I encouraged them into doing plenty of stupid things, too.”
Pellinore nodded slowly. Yes — young men, particularly in groups, were rather notorious for doing foolish things. He’d done it — he knew that both Lamorak and Aglovale had done it in Camford, even though he didn’t want to know just what it was that they had done. But there was a difference between youthful hijinks and breaking the law. It was quite possible to be a riotous youth without taking what did not belong to you.
“And–and think of it like this, my lord. If we were to predicate any clemency for Brennan on him turning over his friends — what are we to do when we have a case of three or four youths before us, whose only crime was encouraging their friend to do something stupid? We’ll have the same problem, only we won’t have an easy way out.”
Pellinore blinked. “Problem? Is it truly a problem to enforce the law without fear or favor? To take seriously the notion that these laws are created for a reason?”
“But it’s so minor, sir!”
“Is it?” asked Pellinore.
Christopher’s mouth opened. He shut it. He swallowed. “I don’t think I fully understand your meaning, sir.”
Pellinore sighed. “When … when King Arthur, when I, when the rest of the Glasonlander settlers came to this land … it was not entirely lawless. But it had been so long since the people had a firm hand on the reins that they were inclined to do as they pleased. They did not care much for authority — they flouted it whenever they thought they could get away with it. Smugglers crisscrossed this land, carting contraband from Reme to Glasonland and back — and do you know how we managed to make this into a calm and orderly land?”
Christopher shook his head. So did Tawiel, though he was a native of Albion. But Tawiel was also very young.
“We enforced the law. Oh, I am sure you will point out to me that there were some laws that King Arthur chose to do away with,” Pellinore added, though he was not at all sure of that — Tawiel wouldn’t remember and Christopher may not know — “but the laws that we kept, we enforced. Even something as small as an apple nicked from a stall, we prosecuted. The people now understand that while the King is quite prepared to live and let live in most instances, if you break the laws that we have chosen to keep, we will ensure that there is punishment.”
Christopher and Tawiel exchanged glances. Tawiel was the first to speak. “My lord … if I might make a suggestion?”
“Naturally,” Pellinore nodded.
“I still think we ought to only give him clemency if he gives up his … well, whoever it was who he was doing this with. We can get Mother Julian to work on him,” Tawiel nodded to Christopher. “But if this is a case of … of boys being fools, if no real harm was meant — or, to be honest, done — then can we not require a fine out of all the boys, and not brand them?”
“And if he won’t give his friends up?” asked Christopher.
“Then I think it would be best to brand him — but we needn’t do so in a place that is very visible,” Tawiel said to Pellinore. “Even the hand — he can wear gloves and cover it up. The thing is … if he’s not willing to give his friends up, we can’t be sure this was just youthful hijinks.”
“We can’t be sure?” asked Christopher. “Mother Julian is very sure, and she knows boys that age!”
“But …” Tawiel chewed his lip. “It all happened — according to your notes — in the Camelot weekly market.”
Christopher blinked. “Well, yes.”
“And the Wesleyan money-house is being built at the north end of the common. I don’t know how close to being finished it is …”
“It’s almost done,” mumbled Christopher. “At least that’s what Sandra says.”
Now it was Pellinore’s turn to blink. “Your wife? Forgive me asking, but how on earth would she know?”
“She’s very good friends with Mistress Wesleyan — well, both of them,” Christopher chuckled. “Master Joshua’s wife and his brother Master Robert’s wife.”
“Ah!” That certainly would explain it. “But I am afraid I am not sure I follow how –”
Someone knocked at the door. Odd — Pellinore was sure he hadn’t had any appointments for today, other than the one he was in the middle of. “Come in!”
He was not at all expecting the man who came in.
“Sir–Sir Mordred!” Pellinore stammered. He leaped to his feet. Christopher and Tawiel hastily followed suit. “What–” He bit down on that sentence — he would not, in front of Christopher and Tawiel, ask, What the hell are you doing here? He swallowed. “What … can I do for you, sir?”
No sooner was the sentence out than Pellinore had a most ungentlemanly urge to spit.
Mordred had the grace to look surprised himself, particularly in regards to Christopher and Tawiel. “Forgive me, my lord — I did not know you were conferencing. If this is a bad time …” He edged to the door.
“No, not at all.” Pellinore lied — well, was it a lie? Any time Mordred wanted to talk with him was a bad time. But … now that he was here … Pellinore would much rather know the worst than have to wait for hours or days to find it out. “Again — how can I help you?”
Mordred glanced at Christopher and Tawiel. “A … conversation in private would be most helpful. You see …” He sighed and shrugged. “It concerns … private matters …”
Christopher was the first to take the hint. “We’ll be right outside if you need us, my lord,” he said, hurrying out the door and leaving Tawiel to follow him.
And that left Pellinore alone with — no matter whom Dilys and Delyth ended up marrying — his least favorite son-in-law.
But Pellinore would not show that. Not here. He could at least cling to the hope that even though Mordred claimed this was a private matter, it was still a legal one. Private and personal were not necessarily the same thing. “Please — have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the chairs by the desk. Pellinore regained his own seat as Mordred took the seat Christopher had just vacated.
They stared at each other for an uncomfortable minute. Perhaps neither wished to speak first. Then Mordred coughed once and spoke. “My lord — we are both men of the world, are we not? Can we not be honest with each other?”
Pellinore swallowed. “I hope we always have been honest with each other, Sir Mordred. I hope we shall continue to be honest with each other.”
“Perhaps we have never lied to each other,” Mordred demurred, “but I do not think it can be said, with any truth, that we have been honest. There has been much thought between we two that has not been said.”
Oh, Lord, he was going to go there, wasn’t he? Pellinore coughed. “Perhaps that is for the best.”
“I cannot believe that, my lord. Not when that policy has led to …” He flung his arms wide. “This! We are kinsmen by marriage, are we not — though my sister and your son’s marriage, if not through my own marriage? We should be allies. Close confederates. Instead, all we have between us is a … a veritable bog of things unsaid and things that we cannot help but think and feel. One wrong step, I think, and both of us feel that we will be sucked down into the mud and never surface again.”
Pellinore was feeling rather muddy right now, now that Mordred brought it up.
“And — forgive me for my bluntness, sir — but this cannot go on. At the moment, we are each the only marital alliance of note that the other has.”
Unfortunately Pellinore could not help but agree with that. The twins weren’t married yet. And while apparently Babette’s family was doing well for themselves … well, that would be a great help for Aglovale and Babette, as time went on, in gaining more respectability for themselves and for their children, but at the moment, the marriage was not truly benefiting either family.
“So …” Mordred took a deep breath. “I should like to clear the air by … by apologizing. I–by any measure, I have treated Lady Dindrane abominably in the eyes of the world, and I sincerely apologize. I never meant to embarrass her. Please believe me when I say that.”
Pellinore blinked once. He blinked twice. He blinked three times.
“… Come again?”
Mordred swallowed. “I am sorry for how I treated Lady Dindrane. I offer no excuses. After all, as I have daughters myself, I can well understand–”
“Stop. Right. There.”
It all came flooding back to Pellinore in that moment, as Mordred stopped dead, mouth slightly open in surprise. Nimue’s birthday party. Pellinore hadn’t truly forgotten it, but he had shoved the anger to a back part of his mind. You couldn’t walk around all day in a towering fire of fury — not when there was work to be done, a daughter to support, grandchildren to comfort, to say nothing of everything else in Pellinore’s life.
“Do not mention to me, sir,” Pellinore hissed, “your daughters.” He swallowed. “After your — your display at a seven-year-old’s birthday celebration!”
Mordred sighed. “That … that was a miscalculation. I should not have done that. But … my lord, you have many children. Surely … surely you can understand wanting all of your children to get along?”
“If it were Nimue, Gawaine, and Gareth bickering, Sir Mordred, I should be the first to applaud your sentiments, if not your methods. But I refuse to believe that it is the duty of my grandchildren to be welcoming and understanding to the children of the woman who is responsible for their mother’s humiliation. Their interests have been injured by your conduct — and that is to say nothing of their — their feelings!”
Mordred swallowed. “My lord, believe me, I will do right by all my children.”
“I cannot believe that.”
“Not when I saw how you treated Nimue in comparison to your younger daughter! Your favoritism was entirely obvious, Sir Mordred. I am only amazed that you do not see it.”
Mordred blinked. “Favoritism?”
Mordred was an intelligent man. He could not possibly be this stupid. Or blind. Or–
… He had believed in Morgause’s innocence until the very end … for all Pellinore knew it, he believed it still …
Perhaps Mordred was capable of a degree of self-deception that Pellinore could only vaguely grasp the edges of.
Pellinore swallowed and forced himself to be diplomatic. After so many years of practice, it should not be this hard. “First of all, there is — there was the way you comported yourself around both. You played with your younger daughter’s hair, you held her hand, you were …” How to put this? “You were — are — not just her father, but her papa. And Nimue — you didn’t even embrace her! On her birthday!”
“Nimue is not a demonstrative child. You should know this, my lord.”
Maybe she wasn’t with Mordred. But Pellinore had never known Nimue to refuse a hug or a kiss from him. On her very birthday evening, when any seven-year-old, especially one as active as Nimue, should have been bouncing off the walls with cake and excitement, she had sat in his lap for almost an hour after Mordred left.
“Then what about your sons, Sir Mordred? They are both demonstrative boys. But you did not offer them much affection, either.”
“They …” Was it Pellinore’s imagination, or was Mordred hesitating? “They are boys. They must grow into men. It would not be wise to coddle them.”
“Sir Mordred, ponder two questions for me. First — do you treat your illegitimate sons the same way? They must grow into men, too. And second, did your father never hug you or pet you when you were young?”
Mordred winced. “Sir, my father–”
“Was a good man, and a good father,” Pellinore interrupted. “Remember how he treated your sister and your little brother in the time that he had, even if you don’t remember your own childhood well. Remember how he doted on Nimue and Gawaine! If that is not a good guide and a good example for you, then I do not know what would be.”
Mordred stared at him, expression torn between confusion and guilt. It was the closest to vulnerable that Pellinore had seen him.
Then he sighed. “And you wonder why I wish to make things up to you, my lord. You … you are one of the wisest men in this kingdom.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Pellinore replied.
“But the truth is the truth, my lord. I can imagine that you would not deny that.” Mordred sighed. “Listen — and believe this, if you believe nothing else that I say. I want all my children to get along. I want my children … to treat each other as brothers and sisters ought. I do not want them squabbling and arguing and learning to hate each other before they’ve even properly learned to love yet. I understand that are you more partial to your own grandchildren, but they are all my children, and I cannot help but love them all. As I said — you have many children, my lord. You, of all people, should understand that the well of paternal love does not empty, no matter how many times you dip the bucket in.”
Put like that … well, perhaps he had a shadow of a point. But no more. It did not excuse what Mordred had done.
But it did make it understandable.
However … this was enough to for one day. Pellinore rose, and surprised, Mordred rose too. “I … I begin to understand, Sir Mordred. But I am afraid I must bring this interview to an end. We are both very busy men. However … if you wish to mend fences, I believe that it may be … possible.”
Mordred swallowed. He stuck out a hand, hesitantly. “I understand. Shall we, though, at least shake and agree to part as … neutrals, if not friends or allies?”
Pellinore paused. But how could he refuse that? Mordred was still his son-in-law, the father of three of his grandchildren. “Aye,” Pellinore agreed, shaking Mordred’s hand.
“Ouch!” he yelped in spite of himself as something pricked him.
“My lord?” asked Mordred, blinking in alarm. “What’s wrong?”
“Noth–nothing,” Pellinore replied. A pin must have stuck him — that was all. “Good day, Sir Mordred.”
“Good day, sir.” He nodded and turned around.
“Master Tower! Master Raben!” Pellinore called.
Christopher and Tawiel were back before Mordred had even properly left.
With Mordred’s back turned to him, Pellinore took the time to glance at his hand. He could see a small speck of blood — but it had already stopped bleeding. And it no longer hurt. Still, that had been some pin.
“Everything all right, my lord?” asked Christopher.
“What? Oh, of course! Everything is fine. Sit down, sit down, sirs,” Pellinore said. The men sat.
He grabbed the back of his own chair and pulled it out. “Now … now that that interruption is taken care of …”
Pellinore sat. “Where were we, gentlemen?”