Tyves 4, 1014
Elyan ducked into St. Pascal’s Hall, shaking out his hair and the water from his shoulders. Rain — how fitting. He had to meet another prospective bride today, and he’d have to do it soaking wet.
… Maybe not soaking wet. The storm had come up suddenly, and it was a ferocious one, but it had come up late enough that Elyan only had a quick dash to get into the building. But of course it had to start to rain only after George had left him. Elyan was trying to be a conscientious connection to the boy, showing him the ropes of Camford and trying to instruct him how to act in front of his social betters (which were just about everyone on campus), but George made a trial of it. He wished that it could have started to rain while George was still with him. It probably would have made the dye from his clothes (far too sumptuous and expensive for a man of his low birth, as Elyan had told him more than once) start to run — and wouldn’t that have been fun to watch!
Unfortunately, ill-luck seemed to be the name of the game for Elyan. And it seemed, too, that he was the butt of Mother Nature’s joke today. For the young woman whom he was coming to meet was named Raine. Maid Tamsin Raine.
Elyan mentally reviewed what he knew of her as he shook off the last of the water. Her father was a knight. Elyan wanted to smart over this, but he knew that Albion was a small kingdom, and his father was the poorest of the landed nobles in it. A poor earl of Albion probably was the equivalent of a knight of Glasonland. More to the point, Sir Carlisle Raine was a longtime retainer of Baron Constantine of Caernavon — now King of Glasonland for all intents and purposes. Envoys of the Robertians had journeyed to him some time ago, and rumor insisted that an official Church blessing of his reign was only days — maybe weeks if the messengers got holed up — away.
So that would be a good match, if Elyan could make it. A wife with connections to the highest power in Glasonland — and, of course, him, brother to the Crown Princess of Albion, uncle to the third in line to the throne. Who knows? He could be uncle of a King someday (may the day be long in coming)! Yes, politically, it was a very good match. Which was why it was beholden upon him to — once again — not screw this up.
At least it wasn’t my fault that Lady Clemencia’s father decided he wanted her closer to him than in Albion — I can’t help where my father’s lands are. He sighed. His fault or not, he was two brides down. He needed to find another young woman, fast, before he left Camford. He couldn’t bear having to return home and, instead of having Leona waiting for him, as he had assumed all his life, have to continue the search.
So he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and marched over to the small library, where he had been told Maid Tamsin would be waiting for him.
He gathered all his courage and threw open the door.
There was only one person inside — a young woman with black hair, fair skin, and a teal dress with silver accents. All of those features tallied with how Maid Tamsin had been described to him. The book that she held in her hand and was apparently engrossed by hadn’t been in the description — but they were in a library. Stranger things had happened than a young woman being interested by a book she found in a library. Elyan coughed to gain her attention.
She looked up, startled. “Oh! Oh, hello!”
Elyan smiled, prepared to step forward and introduce himself — but the young woman forestalled him by getting up and hurrying to the bookshelf to … put her book back?
She turned around with an almost apologetic smile. “The brothers are awfully particular about their books,” she said. “I’d hate for them to not let me back in to read.”
Elyan supposed he could understand that. “And you were reading …?” he asked. He didn’t know what he expected — probably a hagiography, or a history. Something instructive and edifying. This was the library — well, one of the libraries — of the Pascalians, after all.
The young woman’s eyes lit up. “The Knight of the Cart by Lady Guinevere! Oh, it’s a wonderful romance! I love it so much!” She laughed. “This has to be fifth time I’ve read it. I just love everything Lady Guinevere writes!”
… Bloody hell. He finally found a likely prospect for a bride, and she was a follower of Leona’s mother?
“But I’m being rude,” laughed the young woman. “I’m Tamsin Raine. You … you are Sir Elyan, aren’t you?”
“Indeed I am, my lady.” Elyan leaned in and formally kissed her on the cheek.
As he kissed her, he wondered — why was she still unattached? He had been told that she was in her last year of studies, like he was. It was no shame for a man to have not had his matrimonial future planned at this point in life — it was not like he didn’t have plenty of time — but for a woman …
Then again … the war in Glasonland had played hell with a lot of matrimonial plans. That was why the Elyans of the world still had pickings left on the table.
“So …” Elyan groped about for something to say. He would settle on something tried and true. A compliment, that always worked, didn’t it? “You look quite fetching in that gown, if you don’t mind me saying, my lady.”
The Lady Clemencias of the world would have tittered and asked, “What? This old thing?” The Leonas of the world would have looked at the gown, then at Elyan, then at the gown again, finally shaking their heads in certainty that Elyan had lost his mind. The proper ladies of the world — like his sisters … well, all right, like Gwendolyn — would blush and look away, and politely murmur their thanks.
Tamsin did none of those things. She grinned. “Thank you! It’s my favorite!” She looked down at the gown and smiled. “It always brings me luck.”
Elyan supposed that a lucky gown was better than the lucky pair of braises that Kay had always sworn by.
“And you look quite dashing in that tunic of yours, sir,” Tamsin went on with a slight giggle.
“Thank–thank you,” Elyan stumbled. Had he ever been complimented on what he was wearing before in his life? This day was already shaping up to be … interesting …
They stood there for another moment, staring awkwardly — then, without warning, Tamsin laughed again. “Well, we might as well get down to business, mightn’t we, Sir Elyan? Have a chat, see if we’re suited?”
“Er — er, yes, we had better,” Elyan replied. See if they were suited? Oh, dear. Was this a girl with ideas — like Leona? Although … although, if it was only to be a match arranged for financial and political reasons, there was no point in having this meeting. They could have met at the church door, or when the betrothal papers were signed. It might have been better that way. They couldn’t take it into their heads to dislike each other if they barely knew each other when they were married.
“Shall we go upstairs and get coffee, then?” Tamsin asked. “We can talk more easily upstairs — and we won’t be disturbing anyone who wants to read.”
“Yes. Yes, of course, we ought,” replied Elyan. Slowly, he extended his arm to Tamsin. “My lady?”
She took it, though she had to let go when they went up the stairs. And somehow, when they entered the small coffee room in the Hall, Tamsin had managed to be in front of him.
She managed to be a bit strange in other ways, too. For one, when they ordered their coffee, Tamsin did not communicate her preference to Elyan and let him order — she ordered for herself. And she paid for herself, too. Feeling the coins in his purse, Elyan decided that he wouldn’t take that as an insult, but instead as a blessing … for now.
But even though she was forward and forthright when it came to ordering the coffee, she was quite docile otherwise. She let Elyan pick out a table (on the far end of the room, near a window), and once they were there, she was happy enough to let Elyan help her into her chair before he sat down himself.
Then they were both sitting, and sipping their coffee … and once again, Elyan’s tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth, and he had no idea what to say. Flirting with a girl was one thing, but what were you supposed to say to the woman who was supposed to become your wife? For a moment Elyan found himself missing Lady Clemencia. At least he never had to worry about what to say when she was around.
Tamsin took a sip of her coffee, seemed to sense the awkwardness, and laughed. “Perhaps we ought to take turns asking each other questions. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never done this before.”
Elyan shifted. Was that a good sign or a bad sign? More to the point — would his answer be a good sign or a bad sign to her? So he didn’t answer, instead electing to cough and asking, “Oh? Why not?”
“Oh …” Tamsin flushed, and she blinked. “Well … I was betrothed before. Since I was twelve. So … it never really came up.”
Since she was twelve? Wasn’t that — no, wait, it was legal in Glasonland. And it was perfectly lawful in the eyes of the Church, which mattered much more. “That’s quite a long betrothal — especially if your father decided to send you to Camford, even though you already had a betrothal set.”
Tamsin blinked. “Well–I know some people would look at it like that–but Papa wanted to send us all. And Soren was going to go anyway, and he’s only a year older than I am–he was,” Tamsin stopped. “He–he was.”
Was? Elyan flinched in sympathy. That poor young woman. But in a way, it was a relief. If a young woman entered into a long betrothal — and then her fiance died — well, that took the mystery out of why she was still on the shelf. And there was no shame in having a fiance who had passed away.
“I’m so very sorry to hear that,” Elyan replied. “I mean — about your fiance.”
Tamsin smiled. “Thank you.” She swallowed a couple of times. Elyan wondered how recent the blow was. She wasn’t in mourning … but there was still a sadness about her.
Then it was gone — well, not gone, perhaps. Perhaps it was only hidden. Elyan hoped as much. He wouldn’t want to marry a girl who could throw off her sadness as easily as an ill-favored bonnet. “But you never said, Sir Elyan? What about you? Is this your first time doing this?”
“Oh … I …” Elyan shifted. “Well–I too had a long betrothal, of sorts.” That was the most sensible way to explain it. “But … it fell through about a year and a half ago, and so … my father has been looking for me ever since.” He hesitated, then added, “There was another young lady who looked likely. Lady Clemencia Abraham. But that too fell through.”
“There was only ever just Soren for me,” replied Tamsin. “Soren of Adenau, that is.”
So she went in for honesty and full frankness. That was … Elyan would count it as a bonus. After all, his father always said that women were deceitful and duplicitous, so an honest one was a rare gem indeed.
However, Elyan was nowhere near prepared to be as fully frank — at least, not where Leona was concerned, which would be the next logical thing to bring up. So he changed the subject. “Well, doubtless you want to know more about me! I’m studying history, military history in particular, and it is my father’s wish that I join the Knights of Albion when I graduate. As my brother-in-law is the Crown Prince, I have every hope of rising quickly through the ranks.”
Elyan meant to go on. But as he was taking a deep breath and trying to get his thoughts in order (namely, how to make his father’s ambitions for him sound like his own, and how to not let it slip that breaking off the betrothal with Leona meant that he was no longer a shoo-in for the position of Marshal of the Realm once Sir Lancelot left it), Tamsin began to speak. “That’s nice! I’m studying grammar — mostly concentrating on literature and poetry.”
“Grammar? But that is only the first of the arts!”
“I know,” shrugged Tamsin, “but I enjoy it. After all, that’s what’s most important about choosing a course of study, isn’t it? That you enjoy it? We have the rest of our lives to do our duties, so we ought to take this chance to live for ourselves. At least, that’s what my mother always said.”
That was … very wise. Far wiser than anything Elyan had been expecting to hear this morning. And — who knew how different Elyan’s life would have been, had he had that advice for the taking? He might have studied rhetoric all along …
Then he saw the hole in Tamsin’s logic, and laughed. “Ah — that’s very good advice for a woman. After all, one can major in just about anything and still be an able lady, wife and mother — it’s not as if one needs a Camford education to do that!” Elyan laughed. “But –”
“Couldn’t you say the same thing about a knight?” asked Tamsin.
” — a man — what?”
“A knight. He certainly doesn’t need a Camford education,” Tamsin pointed out. It wasn’t belligerent or snappish — not at all like Leona would have said it — but it was there. A direct contradiction to what he had said. “All you really need is training — lots of training — but Camford doesn’t really do that. In fact … other than a doctor, or a professor, is there anything you really need a Camford education for?”
Several answers came to Elyan’s mind: a monk or nun. A general or tactician. A great lord. A king. But every time an answer came to mind, he had to reject it. Too many men had managed to be good or even great monks, generals, lords and kings without ever having set foot in Camford.
“And my mother always said,” Tamsin continued, “that no matter what you choose to study, it will help you in your role in life. Camford is supposed to be here to teach us how to think — and to help strengthen our faith, of course — but once you know how to think, you can apply that to just about any set of duties and it won’t matter whether you learned how to think by — by looking at literature and grammar, or by looking at military history.” Tamsin grinned at him. “Don’t you think?”
“… Well, perhaps, if one views education that way, your view makes a certain amount of sense,” Elyan conceded. “But I see Camford as an investment of both time and … well, coin. And that being said, I want to get the largest return on my investment possible. Therefore, I study what will prove to be most useful.”
“Then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree,” replied Tamsin, cheerfully enough, “because I think you never know just what will be useful. But I see your point. It’s probably more important to be practical if you already know just where your life will be heading and there’s a course of study at Camford that will help you more than others.”
“… Isn’t there a course on the wifely arts?” asked Elyan.
“Pfft!” Tamsin scoffed. “I know I’m not the brightest, but I’m not such a chowderhead that I need to be in that course. That’s where only the silliest girls go, you know.”
“Er … no. No, I did not know that.” It had been his father’s desire that both Gwendolyn and Clarice take that course of study (and both had flouted that desire). But perhaps, if what Tamsin said was true, they had a good reason. There was no hiding that both Gwendolyn and Clarice were quite clever, for girls.
… Or even, if Elyan was being honest with himself, for Sims in general.
“Well, I suppose that’s to be expected. Most young women in that course are at least clever enough to know that letting out just what the course is would only hurt them — and those of us who aren’t …” Tamsin tilted her head to one side, then she laughed and shrugged. “I guess we have mercy, most of the time! I hope you won’t tell, Sir Elyan?”
“Oh–I wouldn’t dream of it!” Elyan added. He doubted the subject would even come up. There was no way a young woman of Albion would take that course — at least, now that his own sisters had declined it. So, he doubted he would eve have an opportunity to spill the beans.
Elyan opened up his mouth to change the subject again when the ringing of the bells from St. Robert’s next door perforce put an end to all conversation. Tamsin paled. “Drat! I need to make it to my next class!”
Taking that as his hint, Elyan stood and helped Tamsin up. “Well, this was … quite nice,” Elyan said. And it was true — it was far more pleasant than any coffee date had been with Leona or Lady Clemencia. “I–I hope we can pursue this acquaintance in more depth later.”
“I, too!” replied Tamsin. “My father certain seems quite excited about the match — I can only hope your father is just as excited. And if they are determined — well, it would be awful to get to the church door and barely know each other, wouldn’t it?”
“Very awful,” Tamsin said. “It was nice meeting you, Sir Elyan.”
“The same to you, Maid Tamsin.”
Tamsin smiled — and without warning, she leaned in and granted Elyan a chaste peck on the lips.
She pulled away in a minute, before Elyan could even be sure that that butterfly-light touch was even a kiss. “See you soon!” She waved at him and skipped off, hurrying to her next class.
And watching her go, all Elyan could think was, You know … that could have gone a lot worse …
I wonder when I get to see her again?