Tyves 23, 1014
“Good afternoon, Mordred!” Lamorak said as cheerfully as he could as he walked into the other’s study.
Mordred looked up with a bit of a startle. “Lamorak.” The word was flat, and Lamorak had known Mordred long enough to know that when he sounded his least impressed and unsurprised, he actually was more than a bit startled. “Good — good morrow. Is it afternoon already?”
“Aye, it is!” laughed Lamorak. Leave it to Mordred to bury himself in work all morning and be surprised when afternoon came creeping in. Lamorak had had more than a few mornings like that himself … well, since his father died. They seemed to be multiplying more with every passing week.
But he wasn’t going to think of that today. Today he had a mission. He’d just barely managed to get Dindrane to agree to it, and she had only done so when Lamorak brought up the children. Garnet wasn’t happy either. But they were all a family — Nimue, Gawaine, Gareth, and of course Percival sealed that in blood — and they all had to get along, somehow.
“Well, welcome, my friend.” Mordred got up, rounded the desk, and shook Lamorak’s hand. “However, I do hope you ate before you came. The servants prepared a tray for me for luncheon,” Mordred nodded to the crumb-covered tray, “but I must admit I have no idea what’s on offer for guests at the moment.”
“Oh, that’s no worry! I didn’t come to scrounge a meal off you. I actually came for just the opposite — to invite you to a free dinner,” replied Lamorak.
Mordred blinked. “Oh?”
“Aye. Would you like to spend Brandiwine with us?” Lamorak asked. He wore his most winning smile. But Mordred’s face was impassive and inscrutable as always. “Dindrane will be there, with the children, so you could see them for the holiday. And it’s been a long time since Percival has seen his uncle.”
Mordred coughed and took a deep breath. “I thank you for the invitation — but unfortunately, I already have other plans for the day.”
Lamorak felt his face fall. Other plans? But with whom? He knew the du Lacs, the elder Ferreiras, and the King and Queen and Kay were all spending the feast together — surely somebody would have mentioned if Sir Mordred were part of that party. And the de Ganises were hosting a gathering with Freddy and Clarice, Tom and Lynn, and Elyan and the young lady he was hoping to marry. So that was out. Even Aglovale had plans with the Wesleyans. So who could Mordred have plans with?
Then Lamorak remembered — and kicked himself. Of course. He was going to be with his other family. His stomach twisted a little at the thought. Would it kill Mordred to put aside this one day to spend with his legitimate children?
… Although, if Lamorak just told Dindrane and Garnet that Mordred had refused, they would probably both be happy, and Garnet might just forget Lamorak had ever brought the subject up. So maybe it wasn’t a total wash.
Mordred smiled without warning, and Lamorak knew his every last thought had been read as it marched across his face. Damn. How did Mordred get so good? “Come along, brother,” Mordred said, clapping Lamorak on the shoulder. “I want to show you something.”
He led Lamorak out of the study and into the reception room. And when Mordred pointed, Lamorak gasped. “Is–is that a Smoorish wine shrine?”
“It is indeed,” Mordred smirked.
“And–and those bottles …?”
“At the moment, they hold date wine.”
“Date wine?” Date wine was a Smoorish delicacy, much prized in Glasonlander court circles — Lamorak had heard all about it at Camford. “But–how? There hasn’t been a crusade in years! And the last ones,” Lamorak remembered, “didn’t go so well …”
“Ah, my friend,” Mordred clucked his tongue and shook his head. “There are more ways to get Smoorish delights than fighting for them. One can always buy them.”
Lamorak’s eyes bulged. “But … that’s trading with infidels …”
“Which I naturally do not do.” Mordred stepped forward and began to pour a tiny — tiny! — amount of wine into the goblet. “I was saving this for Brandiwine,” he added, “but a taste won’t hurt now — don’t you agree?”
Having no idea when he would next get a chance to try date wine, Lamorak agreed and took the goblet from Mordred’s hand. What was in there was barely a sip, but for a taste … Lamorak drank, being sure to swish it through his mouth a few times to get the full flavor. Mordred did the same with his cup.
Some men had delicate, cultivated tastebuds able to pick out notes of oak and honey in wine that had not been within spitting distance of either. Lamorak was not one of those men. “It’s good,” he said finally.
“I agree,” replied Mordred. He placed the stopper back on the bottle. “After Brandiwine, I shall have to host some kind of dinner so we can all have a crack at this. Consider this your invitation — and Garnet’s, of course.” He waved Lamorak forward. “Here–come sit.”
“Thank you,” replied Lamorak as he took a seat next to Mordred. “But–I’m not disturbing you, are you? I know–I know the estate can be vital to see to …”
“Yes, you would know that now, wouldn’t you?” replied Mordred with a knowing light in his eyes. But it was not, to Lamorak’s eyes, an unsympathetic light. And why should Mordred be unsympathetic? Hadn’t he been thrust into control of the estate almost as suddenly as Lamorak had? Being the heir was nothing compared to being the lord.
“I have no idea how my father did it all,” Lamorak admitted. “Chief Justiciar … and the estate … I barely have time to train with the other men; there’s always so much to do. I’m glad that the King hasn’t given me real command responsibilities, else I wouldn’t have time for … anything.”
“It is always thus, when you are first starting. You feel compelled to go into the minutiae of accounts your father would have merely glanced at — it is only natural. You feel you must know and account for everything, and understand every last detail of it — and preferably, you must have that all done by yesterday.”
“Aye,” Lamorak agreed. That was exactly how it felt most of the time. And it certainly felt odd to know that in some things he was being more careful and thorough than his father — than his father! Pellinore must have been watching with a dropped jaw up in Heaven.
“But give it time,” Mordred continued. “Soon it will all become as familiar to you as it was to your father. And consider this, as well. Both of our fathers were men who had great responsibilities in the larger kingdom. At present, we are not. We have the time to devote to our demesne; therefore, we devote it.”
“And strengthen the kingdom that way,” Lamorak agreed. That was what he was telling himself — that his efforts to build up the estate, the estate that is father had mostly allowed to chug along slowly and steadily, were meant to help the greater kingdom. He wasn’t bright enough to be a lawman like his father; Sir Bors, Tom, and someday Aglovale had the military well under control; Sir Lancelot was as able a Marshal as ever. What else was there for Lamorak to do, but to build up his estate and wait in readiness if the King should ever need him?
“Indeed,” agreed Mordred.
“Although …” Lamorak bit the inside of his cheek. Should he ask? The invitation to Brandiwine might have been enough of an imposition for one day … but who else could he ask? Who else was in his position?
“Although?” prodded Mordred.
“Do … do you mind if I ask you a … personal question? I’m sorry. It might be — a bit — oh, Lord …”
Mordred’s eyebrows slowly went up. “You may ask me anything you like,” he finally replied. “But I reserve the right not to answer.”
That was the fairest answer Lamorak was likely to get — and a very Mordred answer besides. “I …” He sighed and let his head tilt back to rest against the wall. “Will’s been after me about my will.” And then he laughed. “Sorry — it’s just. Will, will …”
“I understand,” replied Mordred. “But I fail to see how this constitutes a personal question.”
“He …” Lamorak shrugged. “He goes on about guardianships and trusts and this and that and … my head starts to spin, and I don’t even know where to tell him to stop and slow down and explain … so, do you mind if I ask … how did you do it?”
Mordred blinked. “You want to know the terms of my will?”
“I’m sorry, I know it’s personal –”
“No, no,” Mordred replied. “No — you …” He seemed to stop, to slow, to think. “You ought to know it. If something should happen to me –”
“Heaven forbid!” Lamorak interjected.
Mordred paused, then replied, “Thank you. But, if something should happen to me, you and Aglovale would be Gawaine’s closest kinsmen — well, closest adult kinsmen — so you should know.” He hesitated, then added, “Frankly, I should have told you years ago. I apologize. But I did not think of it.”
“That’s all right,” answered Lamorak. “So …”
“My will is actually fairly simple, for a nobleman’s,” Mordred began. “Of course the estate itself must be left to Gawaine. I also have settlements for Nimue and Gareth. And … there are other settlements …”
He meant his other family. Lamorak forced himself to take a deep breath. It didn’t matter that that woman and her children were the source of Dindrane’s humiliation and that they broke Nimue’s and Gawaine’s and even Gareth’s, once he got old enough to understand, hearts. He was not going to begrudge them food for their bellies and clothes on their backs. Those children were still children, and they hadn’t asked to be born into this.
“And of course, bequests to various orders — the Pascalians, the Picasos, etc. — for prayers for my soul.”
“Of course,” replied Lamorak.
“But all of that — well, as important as prayers for one’s soul are, I cannot help but feel that whether one writes one’s bequest to this order or that matters little in the long run. Or even the short run. No. What is most important is to make sure you have guardians for your minor children and for your estate.”
Lamorak nodded. This was the part that was keeping him up nights — well, that and Percival, when he cried and would only be soothed to sleep by Daddy’s off-key singing.
“And as for that … well, my children I have left to the care of their mother, and the estate and Agravaine I left to the care of my steward, John Barber.”
Lamorak’s jaw fell. “You gave the guardianship of your estate to your steward?”
“There was no one else,” Mordred replied. “Trust me, had I a brother who had reached his majority, I should have named him guardian of the estate. As it is, by the time Agravaine reaches his majority, Gawaine will only be six months behind him — hardly worth it,” Mordred shrugged.
“But — but I would have done it! Would do it!”
Mordred shook his head. “You have your own estate, Lamorak. I could not ask that of you.”
“But … but the steward …”
“Part of the job of the guardian of the estate is to be the executor of my will, Lamorak. There are some settlements in there … well … Barber is loyal to me and only to me. He would see to it that my wishes were carried out.”
Lamorak swallowed. “You think so little of me, that I wouldn’t see your wishes carried out?”
“On the contrary, my friend,” replied Mordred. “I think far too much of you to put you in a position where your natural feelings pull you one way and your sworn duty pulls you another.”
Lamorak swallowed. But he was still digesting that when Mordred continued, “However … you are very lucky, my friend. For you have a brother that is of age, and a very shrewd one at that. You also have a wife. You could do nothing better than to name them both the co-guardians of your estate and your children.”
Lamorak recoiled. “Name Aglovale Percival’s guardian?”
“With Garnet, of course.”
“But–why would Garnet need a co-guardian? The estate, I understand — she’s not trained for that — but Percival? She’s his mother!” Lamorak protested.
Mordred blinked. “Is–is it not best for children to have both a mother and a father figure?”
“Aglovale wouldn’t have be named a co-guardian of Percival to be–a–a good uncle to him,” Lamorak stumbled. “He’d do that anyway …” He hesitated. “I could …”
And then he stopped. No, naming Aglovale guardian of the estate and Garnet guardian of Percival would be too much of an insult to Garnet. She didn’t know how to run an estate on her own — yet — but she deserved to have a voice. Aglovale wouldn’t listen to her unless he had to.
Then it hit him. “I know! I’ll name Garnet guardian of Percival — and any other children we might have — and I’ll name her and Aglovale co-guardians of the estate …”
Mordred was nodding sagely.
“And in the meantime, I’ll get Garnet to start helping me with the estate more, and we’ll both sort of learn the ropes together — and then, once she’s got a handle for everything, I’ll name her guardian of Percival and the estate both.”
Mordred shook his head. “I would not do that.”
“What? Why not? Garnet could learn it!”
“Oh, I don’t object to that,” Mordred hastened to assure Lamorak. “Certainly not. If she is to be co-guardian of the estate, she ought to learn all she can against that eventuality. No, I think it is best to have two guardians of the estate. Unfortunately circumstances have forced me to only have one, but it is best to have two people, so that both can keep an eye on the other and one person’s less-than-brilliant ideas cannot hurt the estate as a whole. And … forgive me for bringing this up, but what if, heaven forbid, Garnet did not survive Percival’s minority?”
Lamorak blinked. “What–what would happen then?”
“Control of the estate would revert to the Crown for the period of Percival’s minority. And you do not want that. Of course Arthur and Thomas would mean well — but Dyfed would be the lowest on a long list of priorities. Doubtless they would appoint an overseer whose only interest would be doing a good-enough job so that he could keep his job. He would not be advancing the estate at every opportunity, for he would have no incentive to do so.”
Lamorak frowned. “But … Aglovale and Garnet quarrel so much … they would barely be able to get anything done, other than the day-to-day things. Would that be much different than a Crown overseer?”
“Yes,” replied Mordred, and when Mordred spoke like that, he was inexorable. “For, you see, Garnet and Aglovale, as quarrelsome as they may be, both have an excellent incentive to improve the estate as much as possible. They have Percival, and Percival’s welfare, to consider. They would, I’m sure, be able to put aside their differences to make the best possible circumstances for Percival.”
There was that to consider. Lamorak knew he would work with his worst enemy if it meant making life easier for Morien or Elinor — and certainly for Nimue or Gawaine or Gareth. Aglovale and Garnet might get along as well as a pair of ill-tempered alley cats, but they would surely be able to pull together for Percival’s sake.
Lamorak opened his mouth to say so, but he never got the chance — someone knocked at the door. Mordred held up a hand to stay him. “Come in,” he said.
The door opened — and in skipped Agravaine.
“Hello, sir,” he said, hanging back by the coffee table. “I’m home from school.”
“I can see that,” replied Mordred — Lamorak glanced at him, but there was not a hint of a smile on his face. “But you must greet Sir Lamorak, too. It is rude to ignore guests.”
Agravaine smiled at Lamorak. “Hello, Sir Lamorak.”
“Hello, Agravaine. You can call me Lamorak.” That … that would do, wouldn’t it? Of course it would. He smiled a little nervously at Mordred. “After all, we’re family …”
Good Lord, if Mordred only knew …
But Lamorak wasn’t going to think about that if he could help it. If … if anyone ever found out … He wouldn’t think about it. Mordred might never forgive him for that. So, to keep any hint of suspicion away, he asked, “And how was your day in school today, Agravaine?”
Agravaine’s eyes lit up — but why? Surely it was a mundane question? Even when Lamorak was Agravaine’s age, he could remember sighing and rolling his eyes whenever his father–
He wouldn’t go there.
“It was fun today!” Agravaine replied. “We’re starting astronomy now! Well, not real astronomy, because Sister Margery says that the math is too hard for us — we’re only ready for arithmetic and a little geometry,” he went on, “but we learned about the planets today, and we started to talk about the stars and the constellations …”
Lamorak found it hard to concentrate on just what Agravaine was saying. He was too busy watching the boy’s face, tracing his features. He could barely see anything of Morgause in Agravaine, except of course for his coloring. Was that a good thing? Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing. Lamorak wouldn’t say this in Agravaine’s hearing (or Mordred’s, for that matter), but the less he was like Morgause … well, wasn’t it all to the better?
And in coloring, Agravaine was so like Percival … would Percival be like this when he was Agravaine’s age? So eager and ready to talk? So full of life and spirit? Or would he be more like Garnet, guarded and serious?
… It had been so easy when he promised Garnet, all those years ago, to only look on Agravaine as her little brother. But now that he had Percival, he couldn’t help but wonder, and wish …
“Agravaine,” said Mordred, cutting through Lamorak’s wondering and wishing like a sword through silk. “Sir Lamorak and I were busy having a grown-up conversation. What is it that you needed?”
Did Agravaine need to need something to tell his brother — the closest thing to a father that he would ever know — that he was home from school? To talk about his day? Lamorak’s father had never seemed annoyed or put-upon when Lamorak and his siblings barged into his study when they got home. Even when he was with somebody or busy with work, he always told them that they would talk later.
It would be the same for Percival, Lamorak decided.
“Oh … sorry, sir,” Agravaine said, bowing his head.
“It is quite all right. However, Agravaine, please tell me what you need so that Sir Lamorak and I can get back to our conversation.”
“Well … Lionel said that his mummy–”
“Lady Claire,” Mordred interrupted.
“Er, Lady Claire, said it was all right for me and Gawaine–”
“Gawaine and I,” Mordred corrected.
“Sorry, sir — but she said it was all right for us to go to their house tomorrow after school. So — can I, sir?”
“I don’t know, Agravaine. Can you?”
Agravaine sighed. “May I, sir?”
“Certainly you may. You must tell your nurse, however, to send a note around to Lady Claire — or rather her staff — immediately. To not give her adequate warning would be rude.”
“Yay!” Agravaine’s face lit up. “Thank you, sir!” And without another word, he skipped out of the room, no doubt to find his nurse.
“Agra–” Mordred shouted after him. But it was too late, Agravaine had already escaped out the door.
Mordred sighed and leaned his head against the wall. “I despair of ever teaching that boy manners.”
“You–you don’t have to be so hard on him,” Lamorak said hesitantly. Mordred’s head jerked up and he treated Lamorak to a sudden hard, quizzical stare. Lamorak swallowed. “He’s only … five?”
“Six,” replied Mordred. “More than old enough to say goodbye to a guest before he gallops out of a room.”
“He’s still only a child.”
Mordred blinked at Lamorak, then, slowly, he nodded. “Tell you what, Lamorak. How about we agree to disagree for now — and then, when Percival is six, we can revisit this conversation and determine who was right?”
Lamorak laughed. “Deal!”
“Excellent. Now,” Mordred stood and went back to the wine shrine. “While I am saving the date wine, I also have some excellent port here … I say that we both treat ourselves to a goblet while we iron out the rest of the details of your will — in the interests of making your visit to Sir William as painless as possible, of course.”
And Lamorak laughed. “I’ll drink to that!”