Ververe 6, 1014
Gawaine’s eyes widened as he set foot in Camelot Square. He knew this was here — sometimes he heard the big boys and girls at school talking about going there when they had a break — but he’d never been here before. This was nothing like the market back at home!
“Wow, Father!” Gawaine gasped. “It’s so big!”
His father stopped short, glancing at Gawaine with one eyebrow raised. He slowly looked around, one hand stroking his chin. Gawaine wanted to melt down into his boots. He hated when his father did that. He always felt so stupid. Was it really not big?
“You are right,” Father said finally. “It is rather large.”
Gawaine grinned. He was right! Father had said so!
“But …” Father went on, and Gawaine cringed — on the inside, at least. He didn’t cringe on the outside anymore, not when Father was around. Father said that was unmanly and that Gawaine had to grow a thicker skin. Gawaine wanted to protest that he wasn’t a man, he was only a little boy, and that he didn’t know how to make his skin any thicker — get fat and roly-poly? But his father would have a problem with that, too, he suspected.
He didn’t sigh, but he wanted to. When it came to his father, Gawaine just couldn’t win.
“It’s not a very efficient use of space,” Father went on. “I want you to think about this very closely, Gawaine, because you will be a lord someday, and you will have to manage land and determine what is to be built on it. So. Tell me what you like about this square, and what you think could be better.”
Gawaine’s shoulders slumped. But what else had he been expecting? His father had promised to his visit with a treat, but every treat came with a test attached. It was worse than tests at school, because when you didn’t do so good on a test at school, Sister Margery would look at the test and then talk to you about it and help you to better next time. Father just sighed and shook his head and made Gawaine feel like a fool who would never get any smarter.
But he took a deep breath, because his father didn’t like it when he delayed and dawdled. “Well … I like that it’s big! And bright — much brighter than the market back at home!”
Father’s eyebrows went up. Gawaine swallowed. He’d said the wrong thing, hadn’t he?
“First of all,” he replied, “remember that your mama’s house is not home for you. You live there most of the time, but Orkney is your home. You will be lord of it someday. What other place could be your home?”
Gawaine let his eyes fall. It was the best tactic to take with his father. His father always knew just what he was thinking if he could see Gawaine’s whole face. And his father wouldn’t like what he was thinking now.
He was thinking of Grandma, and how Gawaine had been fretting to her when he was supposed to write a little bit about his home for school. He hadn’t known what to write, because he knew he should be writing about Orkney, but whenever he thought about home, he thought about Mama’s house. So Grandma had kissed him, pulled him up on her lap, tousled his hair, and said to him, “You write about your Mama’s house, Gawaine. Home is where the heart is.”
“Secondly …” Father sighed, and shook his head, and Gawaine knew he had said the wrong thing. “Gawaine, the market in Dyfedshire is completely in the open air. How can this possibly be brighter?”
Gawaine clenched his jaw, the closest he dared to come to a wince. How was he supposed to answer that? He didn’t know how it was that the market here was brighter, even in the shadowed places. It just —
Gawaine looked around — and then he saw.
“It’s the stone, Father!” Gawaine gasped. “It’s because it’s so white and clean and bright! It makes the whole market bright! Back h–in Dyfedshire, the market is all grass and dirty. So when it’s sunny, it’s bright, but if it’s cloudy or rainy, it gets all muddy and mucky and it’s not very bright at all. But this market would be brighter even in the rain, ’cause of the white stone.”
And then he smiled. Smiles of this sort rarely worked on his father, but it was a reflex — he always smiled when Mama asked him a hard question and he thought he had puzzled out an answer. Mama usually smiled right back at him, and kissed him, and told him what a smart boy he was.
Father did none of those things. First his eyes widened. Then they narrowed. Then he looked around, thoughtful. Then he turned back to Gawaine.
“You know …” he mused, “you may have a point, Gawaine. This stone does reflect a great deal more of the light …” He glanced down the square. “The reflecting pool may also help.”
Gawaine almost gasped. He was right! His father thought he was smart! That almost never happened!
“But Gawaine, what you do not yet understand is that this is the capital.” Gawaine’s shoulders slumped. Why couldn’t he just be right for once, and his father could correct him later?
His father looked at him, looked away, and looked back very quickly. “Gawaine — I do not expect you to know and understand this. I am telling you so that you might. You are never too young to have an understanding of these things.”
“But as I was saying — this is the capital. Land here is very scarce. So it is very expensive. So, Gawaine — if you were the lord of this land, how would you use the land so that it got you the most profit?”
Gawaine looked around. How was he to know? He thought the square just fine as it was.
But his father would never be satisfied with that. “Maybe …” Gawaine looked up with his most winsome smile. “Maybe I can look around first, Father? Maybe then I’ll have better ideas?”
Father at first glowered — this his face cleared, and slowly, he nodded. “That is wise, Gawaine. Always have your facts before you make any decisions. Very well. You may look around, and when you have looked your fill, wait for me by the steps of the large building with the blue windows,” Father gestured.
“Wait — wait for you, Father?”
“I have other business to attend to in the square,” replied his father. “But do not worry. I will not be far away. And no one will bother you.” Father smiled. It was rare that Father smiled like that at him, though he had seen Father smile like that at Melehan and Melou once or twice. “You are my son.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Gawaine. And with that, Gawaine skipped off in one direction, while his father strolled off in another.
“And stay away from the pool!” was the last thing Gawaine’s father yelled after him before he let Gawaine be.
As soon as Gawaine could be reasonably sure that his father wasn’t paying attention to him, Gawaine stopped short and breathed in deep. It was amazing just how much brighter it was out here, away from the shadows of the gate! The air even felt bigger and cleaner, easier to breathe. Gawaine was sure his Mama would have something interesting to say about that, if she were here. Maybe someday he would ask Mama to take them all to Camelot Square, so he could hear what she thought about it.
For now, Gawaine would keep walking. He smelled food — his father had said he would get a treat at the square, so maybe there would be something good here. But when he came closer to look …
It was a meat-and-cheese stall. And it wasn’t little strips of jerky or tiny morsels of cheese they were selling, either, but big huge hams, whole strings of sausages, and cheese wheels big enough to put on a wagon and ride into town on. Not exactly snack food. Gawaine was about to walk away.
Then he wondered. His father thought there was something wrong about this place. Maybe he would start here?
Hmm … maybe, instead of an open meat-and-cheese stall, it would be a brighter idea to have a butcher’s shop — like the shop on the other side of the reflecting pool? If there was a shop, then the butcher could keep a lot more meat. He also wouldn’t have to worry about his cheeses getting ruined in the rain. Maybe that was what his father was talking about. Maybe there ought to have been a lot more shops here.
But the more Gawaine thought about that, the more he realized that couldn’t be right. If you filled the square up with shops, then it wouldn’t be the square anymore. It would just be another place with shops, all crowded and cramped and probably dirty too. That couldn’t be what his father had in mind.
Still mulling the problem over, Gawaine wandered away from the meat stand. Then something caught his eye.
His jaw dropped. They had a pair of scales at school that sometimes they got to play with. And there was a pair of scales in the kitchen that sometimes Michelle let him and Nimue use. But these had to be the biggest scales Gawaine had ever seen!
What could they possibly be used for? He circled around as much as he could. If he climbed into one of the baskets, it wouldn’t be hard to use these scales to weigh him!
He wondered … there was a big boy standing by a cashbox not far away. Maybe he would know? But Gawaine’s stomach went funny at the thought of asking. He didn’t like talking to strangers …
But his father said that Gawaine was a Duke’s son, and a Duke’s son could talk to anybody he pleased. He said that a Duke’s son only had to be careful when he was talking to kings and queens and princes and princesses, and here they were all his kinfolk anyway, so he didn’t have to be too careful. And Mama always said that if Gawaine had a question, he should ask it.
That was what decided him. Gawaine walked up to the big boy, coughed, and asked, “Ex–excuse me, mister?”
“What do ye–” The big boy turned, looking angry. Gawaine almost backed away. But then the big boy’s eyes went wide, he swallowed, and he asked, “Yes, m’lord? Is there somethin’ I can be helpin’ ye with?”
M’lord. It felt funny to be called that, even though Gawaine knew he was a lord. Sort of. He was Lord Gawaine, even though he wasn’t actually in charge of anything yet (and hopefully wouldn’t be for a long, long time). Still, the big boy was looking at him — he seemed almost as nervous as Gawaine felt. Gawaine would make this quick.
He smiled as best he could, then he asked, “Could you please tell me what those scales are for?”
“Oh — well, meat, cheeses, stuff like that’s sold by weight.”
“Er–the more it weighs, the more it costs. So if we’re gonna know how much money ter axe of folks, we need ter be able ter weigh it.”
“But they’re so big!” Gawaine protested. “How come they’re so big?”
The big boy finally smiled. “‘Cause we sell big stuff. A whole rack o’ lamb, a leg o’ pork, a big ol’ wheel of cheese — we need a big scale fer it.”
“Oooh!” Gawaine replied. That was smart. He hadn’t thought of it that way before. He started to nod —
And then he saw it. A flower stall. And it was selling flower crowns!
His Mama loved flowers! She had so many in the garden. She’d love a flower crown, wouldn’t she? Something pretty for her hair?
Gawaine had to go see this more closely. So he thanked the big boy for his help and skipped closer to the flower stall.
And as he skipped, thoughts of his father slowly drifted away. He forgot all about the problem he was supposed to solve, what he was supposed to be watching for. He didn’t even think to wonder where his father was, or what he might have to do here in the square, other than take him out.
When Gawaine got close enough to the flower stall to take a look around and smell the pretty flowers, an apple-cheeked grandmother came up to him with a smile. “Why, hello, me little lord. Is there anythin’ I can be helpin’ ye with today?”
“Is this your flower stall, ma’am?” Gawaine asked. His Mama had always told him to address older women as “ma’am,” even when they were commoners.
The old woman smiled. “Why yes, yes, it is. Is there somethin’ ye might be lookin’ ter buy today? A nice posy fer yer sweetheart, maybe?”
“Oh, I don’t have a sweetheart,” Gawaine replied.
“No sweetheart? A cute little lad like ye?” The old woman gasped and put a hand over her heart. “Why, I never heard the like! What are girls comin’ ter, these days?”
“I don’t know,” Gawaine replied. He never quite understood what girls were thinking. Every time he thought they couldn’t be that much different than boys, he turned out to be wrong — and whenever he remembered how wrong he had been, and tried to treat them differently, they tended to react just how a boy would have.
“But …” Gawaine said, “I have a Mama …”
“A mama! Does she like flowers?”
Gawaine nodded. “A lot!”
“Well! Ye’re in luck, m’lord, ’cause I’ve got lots o’ flowers! Is there somethin’ here ye think she might like?”
“Aye,” Gawaine replied. “One of those pretty –”
Uh oh. “That’s my papa,” he said to the older woman.
“Ye’d best axe him if it’s all right, then, fer ye ter be buyin’ anythin’,” said the old woman. Gawaine nodded and waved to his father.
Father saw him and hurried over. “Sir,” Gawaine said as soon as he was close enough — and before his father could tell him that they had to go — “they have such pretty flower crowns here. And this lady is really nice. Ca–may I buy one for Mama, please?”
Father blinked a couple of times, looked at the flower crowns, then looked at Gawaine. He pursed his lips together. Then he replied, “Gawaine, you may spend your pocket money on anything you please — within reason.”
“Oh.” Gawaine felt his brows knit together. “Sir?”
“Is a flower crown for Mama within reason?”
The old woman suddenly laughed — Gawaine looked at her, puzzled, but she wasn’t laughing anymore. And when he looked back at Father, Father only looked exasperated. “Yes, Gawaine. A flower crown is within reason.”
“Yay! Thank you, Father!” If it had been Mama or Grandma or Uncle Lamorak — or Grandpa, back when he had been alive — who had said yes, Gawaine would have reached up and hugged or kissed them. But Father didn’t like that. So Gawaine just smiled and turned back to the flower stall. “Can I have that one, please?” he asked, pointing to the yellow-and-pink crown on top of the fake head.
“Ye certainly can!” replied the old lady as she took it off the head. She told him the price, and Gawaine gave it to her, which made her look surprised. It was all the pocket money he’d brought with him, but it would be worth it to see the smile on Mama’s face.
As soon as he’d bought the flower crown, watched the woman carefully wrap it, and had taken it from her, he turned to his father. “Can–may I have my treat now, please?” Hopefully asking that would keep Father from asking him about how Gawaine would make more money off this land.
“Certainly you may. How much pocket money do you have left?”
Gawaine blinked. “S-sir?”
“To buy your treat, of course,” Father continued. “You must keep track of your pocket money. How much do you have left?”
“N-none, sir …”
Father shrugged. “Then I suppose you cannot have a treat today.”
“M’lord–” said the old woman, stepping forward with one hand on her purse. But Father put up one hand, and the old woman stepped back.
“Oh … all right,” said Gawaine.
“This is a good lesson for you to learn, Gawaine. Once you spend your pocket money on one thing, you cannot spend it on another thing. So you must be very careful.”
“Aye, sir.” Gawaine should have expected that something like this would be coming. His father always had lessons in store for him, usually when Gawaine was least expecting them. He shouldn’t have assumed that Father would be like Mama, that when Father said there would be a treat, it wouldn’t mean that Father would pay for it like Mama did when she said there would be a treat.
Gawaine would remember that.
“Now, come along,” said Father, starting to walk and gesturing for Gawaine to follow him. “We had best be getting you back to your mother. And on the way, you can tell me how you would change the square to make it more profitable for you as a lord.”
Gawaine nodded and followed his father, but inwardly he sighed.
It was going to be a long right home.