Imsdyn 18, 1014
The funeral luncheon was not quite over. But there was only so much ritual grieving that Eilwen could take in one day. She had excused herself as soon as she had eaten, claiming a headache — which was only slightly more politic than saying what was truly bothering her, which was an “everywhere-ache” — and she had claimed to go up to her bedchamber to lay down.
She had intended to be true to her word. But now that she was here … she couldn’t. Pellinore had died in this bed.
She hadn’t slept there since.
Eilwen did not want to think about those final days. She knew that was not how Pellinore would want to be remembered: fevered, sweating and shivering by turns, the hacking and wheezing, the endless vomiting. And truthfully, that was not how she liked to think of him. Pellinore was always most Pellinore when he was in his study, working late into the night, the candlelight bringing out the most gold strands in his hair and, later in life, the silver. Or else he was in the library, reading a story. The children — or grandchildren — would be clustered around him, on the benches, on the floor, one of them on his lap. He was the best storyteller. The children used to clamor for him to “do the voices,” and he would always comply.
That, she thought, was the greatest blessing of their having come to Albion. It wasn’t just the opportunity for increased wealth and power. Or even getting Eilwen away from the attentions of Vortigern. It was that Pellinore was able to be home every night, or so near as to make no difference. In Glasonland, a man of his talents would have been a valuable member of the King’s service. He could have been traveling to court or around the country for weeks or months at a time. Indeed, so he had been when they lived in Glasonland and Dindrane and Lamorak were both very little. If they had stayed, it would have been a rare thing for him to be surrounded by all his children at once … as he had been as he lay dying.
Eilwen thought that for once in her life, she could be excused from counting her — their — blessings. But they still entered her head one by one, demanding to be numbered and accounted for. All of the children, even Dilys and Delyth, had been close by when Pellinore had grown ill. They had all been around his bed when he died. They were all alive to bid their father farewell. How many parents could say that? Eilwen only hoped she would be so lucky when she went.
… When she went …
Lady Morgan had Eilwen taking herbs and eating many fresh fruits and vegetables: she said that with a disease like Pellinore’s, given how quickly it had struck and how fatal it had been, with even Lady Morgan unable to do much more than delay things, one could not be too careful. She’d convinced Lamorak and Garnet to send Garnet and Percival both to repair to Apple Keep while Pellinore was ill. Percival was easy; neither of his parents — or, for that matter, his ill grandsire — wanted him put at risk. But Garnet had wanted to be there for Lamorak, as Lamorak had been there for her. Lamorak had insisted that she go, though. He said there would be plenty of time for support after, if support was what was needed.
Lady Morgan had not even suggested that Eilwen leave, for all that she was not shy about giving Eilwen advice on how to stay healthy in the aftermath. Eilwen was glad of that. But she had been of two minds about the advice. First of all, there was the magic … even if there seemed to be nothing magical about herbs and a fruit-and-vegetable heavy diet. There was also the question …
How long did she want to linger after Pellinore was gone?
But that was a question that was resolved more easily than she thought it perhaps should have been. Well … not entirely. She did not relish the thought of a decade or more without him, for all that she knew it was possible — improbable, but possible. But … she did not want to go now. She wanted to watch her grandchildren grow up. She wanted to be at Dilys’s and, hopefully, Delyth’s weddings. She wanted to welcome their children into the world. She wanted to show Nimue, Gawaine, Gareth, Percival and any more children Lamorak and Garnet might have the unswaying love of a grandparent, for she was the only one they had left.
So she ate her vegetables and her fruit. She took the herbs. She had allowed Lady Morgan to order the sheets of the bed changed and washed as soon as Pellinore was gone, not that it mattered.
Eilwen sat down heavily on the end of the bed — her end. She had never felt so bone-weary in her life. But she could not sleep here. Not when she looked at Pellinore’s empty side of the bed and knew that it would remain forever empty.
The first night, there had been no question of sleeping. Pellinore had still been here, and she, Dindrane, Lamorak, Aglovale, and the twins by turns had kept watch. Eilwen was the only one who had kept vigil the whole night. As soon as Brother Andy had come to take Pellinore and allow him to lie in the cathedral before the funeral, Eilwen had told her children she was tired and needed to rest.
But she had not slept here. She had stolen down the corridor and slept in the bedroom that Nimue had occupied that year that Dindrane had lived here with her children. And now Eilwen was in a quandary — a stupid quandary, an utterly inconsequential quandary, a quandary that did not even rate the name — but it was easier to think about this than to think about everything else that Pellinore’s death meant.
How was she supposed to sleep? Usually the heir — now the lord — and his wife would move into the lord’s bedroom. But Lamorak swore he would not force Eilwen out of the bedroom and bed she’d slept in for years. Garnet, too, had spent a great deal of time altering Lamorak’s bedroom to make it her own: she would not want to move either. And the bedroom had a communicating door with Percival’s nursery.
But Eilwen couldn’t sleep here …
Knock-knock. The door opened without whoever was without bothering to wait for an answer. “Mother?”
Eilwen glanced up. “Dindrane? Do you need something, dear?”
“No, of course not. I just wanted to check on you.” She hesitated, still standing at the edge of one of the green rugs. “Everyone … well, almost everyone is gone. Aglovale just took Babette home.”
“Good,” Eilwen said. She forced her mind on — well, not inconsequentials, but certainly things that were not the prime issue of the day. “We don’t want to strain her. How did she look? She didn’t seem too tired or worn, did she?”
“She looked about as tired and worn as any woman due to give birth any day would be,” Dindrane shrugged. She advanced closer to Eilwen. Eilwen was glad. As much as she said she wanted to rest, she ached, she did not want to deal with all the guests at the luncheon … she did not want to be alone.
She already was alone.
“Lady Guinevere wants me to tell you,” Dindrane went on, “that whatever you need … she’s there for you. The Queen says likewise. So do Lady Claire and Lady Ferreira.”
Eilwen smiled. “I have such kind friends.”
“You’ve earned them,” Dindrane replied simply.
Eilwen looked at her daughter and knew what they were both thinking: Lady Morgause had not received such an outpouring of support after Lord Lot had died. There had been similar offers, but they had not been serious. And they had not been taken up.
Well … at least, of all the things Eilwen could possibly worry about, she didn’t have to worry about going the way of Lady Morgause. If it ever occurred to her to — to — to kill a little boy to make herself more beautiful, by that point she would have gone so far around the bend that her family would have surely locked her up for her own good.
But Eilwen did not think that madness was the root cause of Lady Morgause’s actions. At least … not mad-from-grief madness. She would have had to care about Lord Lot a great deal more for that.
“Would–would you like me to stay the night here? I don’t mean to impose,” Dindrane went on — as if Dindrane could ever impose! — “but between the twins, and Lamorak and Garnet, I thought … you have your hands rather full, and perhaps I could … help.”
“Oh, Dindrane — I shouldn’t be asking for help from you.”
“You–you just lost your husband, Mother.”
“And you just lost your father.” Eilwen went on. Words piled onto her tongue: I know you two were very close. But they were so stupid. They would be fine coming out a stranger’s mouth, but a mother’s?
But … Pellinore did his best not to play favorites with the children. They both did. And he would have laid down his life for any of them. But if someone had held a knife to his throat and forced him to name a favorite … Eilwen would have bet her whole dower that he would have named Dindrane.
Eilwen reached out, took her daughter’s hands, and squeezed them, perhaps to stop herself from saying something so foolish. “And, Dindrane, you have your own children to think of. They will need you tonight.”
“Mordred took them for the night. They’ve already left.”
“What?” Eilwen meant it as an honest question, but it came out as a snap.
“They always stay with him on Saturdays,” Dindrane replied. “Mordred thought it would be better for them if we did not disrupt the routine. And I … found it hard to disagree.”
If what Dindrane meant was that she lacked the energy or gumption for a fight with Mordred, well, Eilwen could hardly blame her. But she had to stick up for Dindrane anyway. “You should have had the final word, though, not him. For heaven’s sake, you are certainly a better judge of what is best for their welfare than he is.”
“But … that is just it, Mother. I think keeping the routine will be good for them. I think being with Agravaine will be distracting for them. And I think …” Dindrane sighed. “Do I think Mordred will help them remember Father as he ought to be remembered? No. But I think he will help them forget for tonight, to not be … scared and crushed, as I could not.”
“Then, Dindrane, if you think that is what is best for them, you did the right thing,” Eilwen replied. “And …” An adage about broken sundials sprang to mind, but she wouldn’t say that — not about the father of Nimue, Gawaine, and Gareth. “Well, if Mordred is agreeing … then that shows, whatever his faults, he does want what is best for the children.”
“It doesn’t help,” muttered Dindrane, “that I think he would have let me keep them if I had insisted. How could I refuse?” She shook her head. “I shouldn’t be talking about this. Heaven knows you–”
“Never have so much on my plate that I can’t talk with you. Sit down, Dindrane.” Eilwen sighed. “I think we can both use a few minutes.”
Dindrane did not even argue before she sat.
Eilwen sighed. Dindrane glanced quickly at her. That gave Eilwen a moment to chuckle. “You looked just like Garnet when you did that.”
“With Percival. Every sneeze, every little whimper, every sound that is just a bit different from one he’s made before …”
Dindrane smiled. “There is nothing quite like the anxiety of one’s first baby.”
“Thank goodness,” Eilwen added. Then she remembered whom she was speaking to. “Oh, darling, I’m sorry — I didn’t mean it that way–”
“Mother.” Dindrane laid a hand on her arm and winked. “I know. I had a first baby of my own once.”
“Yes,” Eilwen added. “And you were a wonderful mother from the first.”
“As is Garnet.”
“As is Garnet,” Eilwen agreed.
“The trouble …” Dindrane paused. She glanced sidelong at Eilwen.
Those eyes. Blue as the heart of a flame. Pellinore’s eyes. Eilwen could cling to this: no matter how far away Pellinore was from her, no matter how long it was before they could meet again, she would never need to look far to see his eyes staring back at her. They were on all of their children and all of their grandchildren, save Morien.
But Eilwen could not woolgather forever over Pellinore’s eyes. Mooning over one’s lover’s eyes was meant for young swains and newlyweds, not staid old widows such as she. And she did not want to … oh, it sounded horrible, but she wanted to forget, just for a little while. If she couldn’t nap here, at least she could take her mind off things. “The trouble?” she asked.
Dindrane nodded. “The trouble will be getting Garnet to believe that.”
Eilwen shook her head. “That poor thing … she has no confidence in herself. She’s so afraid that everything she does will be wrong. Every time Percival burps, she’s asking Jeannie’s advice or mine.”
“I know,” Dindrane replied.
“Has she been asking you, too?”
Dindrane pursed her lips together. “No … but … all the same …” She shook her head. “You did not see what Lady Morgause did to her as I did.”
“And Lady Morgan, I think, has an even better idea than either of us.”
“Aye,” Dindrane added. She hesitated. “Mother … don’t be upset with me if I suggest this … but … do you think it might be possible to have Garnet stay with Lady Morgan for a few days?”
“Surely she won’t want to be parted from Lamorak.” And that, Eilwen thought, was right and proper. Now that the danger posed by Pellinore’s illness was past — if, that is, Lady Morgan thought it was past — there was no reason for Garnet and Percival to stay away.
“But Lady Morgan can talk to her as we cannot … and if there is still danger, it would be a good excuse.” Dindrane hesitated once again. “And … Lady Morgan did not have much of a chance to watch Garnet and Percival these past … days.”
That was certainly true. But … “I worry about Lamorak,” Eilwen admitted. “Garnet’s anxiety … oh, Dindrane, this sounds cruel, but it can wait. Especially if we — or, well, you — talk to Lady Morgan and ask her to come by often and keep an eye on Garnet. You know she’d do it. Especially for Garnet. But … Lamorak …” Eilwen wrung her hands together. “It is so much responsibility — and so suddenly …”
Dindrane said nothing, and Eilwen felt judgement in her silence. There was no excuse for Lamorak to be ill-prepared. He had been home for Camford for four years now. Pellinore should have been involving him in the running of the estate. And Pellinore had been. But Pellinore had things so well in hand, and their steward, Master Carey, was quite competent for all his … eccentricities, that at the end of the day, Eilwen feared that there was simply little for Lamorak to do.
“Then how can we help to make this easier for Lamorak — if we put Lady Morgan on the case for Garnet?” asked Dindrane.
Oh, how she was like her father in that moment! Pellinore never saw a problem without wanting to solve it. Sometimes Eilwen thought he wanted things dealt with so quickly and cleanly because it then left him time for thornier questions, ones that might never be solved but, oh, it would be fun to try.
Eilwen took a deep breath. She had done her fair share with the estate: gone over accounts with Master Carey, helped keep track of the minutiae so that Pellinore could focus on the larger issues. “I can, of course, continue to do as I have always done. That ought to be a help to him.”
“And get Garnet to assist you.”
“That, certainly.” That would help keep her mind off her anxieties surrounding Percival, too.
“But …” Eilwen put her finger against her lip. “Well, darling … you know what your father is … was like. You know how he … he left everything he could to Master Carey and to me. Because he wanted … he needed to focus on politics. On serving the King.”
“At least no one will be expecting Lamorak to fill Father’s shoes as Chief Justiciar.”
“Oh, no!” But Eilwen knew that had always been something of a disappointment to Pellinore. He would have wanted one of his sons, if not necessarily Lamorak, to have followed him as Chief Justiciar. But Lamorak did not have the mind for it, and while Aglovale had the mind for it, he did not have the interest … or perhaps the temperament, either.
And it was a pity that the girls could never take that route. If Aglovale might not have the temperament, then Dindrane certainly did not. Nor did Dilys. But Delyth … if Delyth were born a boy, she might have made a fine Chief Justiciar. A very different one from her father, to be sure, but a good one all the same.
“But …” Eilwen hesitated. “You know it’s more than that. Your father … he made himself practically indispensable to the King, and that way … our family was always protected. Looked out for. It — it would be hard to refuse your father things, since he did so much for the King. And he was skilled and shrewd when it came to negotiating with the other noblemen. Lamorak … does not yet have those talents.”
“Father–Father was that powerful?” Dindrane asked in some surprise.
Of course — Dindrane would not have seen that side of her father. Pellinore never emphasized that part of his life to his children. He preferred to impress upon them the values of hard work and loyalty rather than shrewdness. And while Pellinore told Eilwen these things, the idea that Mordred would have paid Dindrane the same courtesy, had the same trust … well, it was laughable, knowing Mordred.
Eilwen nodded. “Yes. He was. And …”
“Mother …” Dindrane rested her hand on Eilwen’s sleeve. “Maybe–maybe this is not something to fret about overmuch. Lamorak — Lamorak is young. And he’s close to Prince Thomas, aye? And Garnet is close to Princess Gwendolyn. I think … I think that Lamorak will find his way. If we help him with the estate — if we help him to make it truly well-run …”
Eilwen knit her brows. And then she saw what Dindrane was driving at. “Oh … I see.”
There were, after all, many ways to build or maintain a family’s position. One was through service. But Lamorak’s talents were of a military nature, and Eilwen could only pray he would not need to use them in the King’s service. Luckily there was another way — and that way was simply being too powerful, or too profitable, to ignore. It was how Baron Ferreira had risen.
But … but …
Eilwen found she was standing up without any clear appreciation of how it was she had come to be in this position.
And what she was thinking was stupid. So stupid. She was remembering Pellinore fuming about some of the great lords of Glasonland — the head branch of the Gwynedds themselves, even! “They have so many lands, such large estates, that they can do as they please — they come to the capital and everyone must dance attendance on them and give them their way, though they bring nothing to the table! Nothing, Eilwen! And I work, and I serve my King, and I am lucky if I am thrown a pittance …”
His rantings had gotten even more heated when Vortigern had cast his eye on her, and his own family had suggested — not insisted, not yet, but they would have — that he throw Eilwen to that beast. They could only see more lands and power, gotten without them having to even lift a finger …
Were they becoming a family like that? And so soon?
Eilwen found that she was hiccuping on sobs without any clear recollection of having started to cry.
“Oh, Mother!” cried Dindrane. Eilwen felt her daughter’s arm drape over her shoulder. “When was the last time you cried?”
Eilwen shook her head. She could not remember.
But she knew it would probably not be long before she cried again.