Hybel 1, 1014
Term was finally over. The Agnestide break had begun. Elyan decided to start it off right by not getting out of bed until noon, enjoying a leisurely brunch, and sitting down to a game of practice chess as soon as he had eaten.
After all, this was his last Agnestide break. He’d be graduating at the end of the year, and as soon as he was moved back home, he would be married, with probably a child on the way soon, and there would be all the responsibilities of being a knight and his father’s heir. He did intend to spend about a fortnight at home; after all, since Tamsin had gone home herself yesterday, in order to get her trousseau in order before graduation, there was nothing to keep him here all month. But other than that, all he saw for the next month was rest, relaxation, a chance to unwind and regain his energy for his last term.
Unfortunately for Elyan, the universe had other plans.
Noooo! he thought. There could have been any number of people at that door. Meat and bread and cheese and other food were delivered to the house several times a week; deliverymen were supposed to use the servants’ entrance, but perhaps this was an apprentice making a stupid mistake. There was always a handyman coming for something or other — who, again, should be using the servants’ entrance, but Elyan would forgive him if this was the case. Many orders of monks and nuns especially used St. Agnes’s Day to prod the faithful who had grown lax in their tithing; perhaps this knock was a group of them coming around to ask for donations. Or maybe —
Knock knock knock! “Yoooooo-hooo! Eeeeeeelllyan! It’s your favorite new roooooooommate, come to move in!”
He should have known this was coming! Freshmen were required to stay in university-owned dormitories the first term, but once Agnestide came around, they were free to live where they pleased. Most who planned to move out took a few days to pack up (and party) before they left (to party some more). But apparently …
Elyan sighed and went to answer the door.
“Hello, my most wonderful new roommate! Aren’t you happy to see me?”
Apparently Elyan had no luck whatsoever.
“You had to move in today.”
“Of course! Why should I deprive myself of a moment of your glorious company, Elyan–”
“Sir,” Elyan growled.
“Oh, come now, Elyan, we’re going to be roommates! And we’re already practically family!” George clapped Elyan on the shoulder as he somehow — despite the fact that he had a much leaner build than Elyan, for all that he was taller — managed to muscle his way into the room. “There’s no need to be so formal. You really needn’t call me ‘sir.'”
“I wasn’t –” Elyan started, then, with George in the room, he was able to get a good look behind George.
There was nobody standing there. A wagon was parked on the side of the lane, the horse placidly eating the grass, but there was no driver in sight. The only sign that George might be planning to move in was a trunk on the stoop. A big, heavy-looking trunk.
“GEORGE! We haven’t got any menservants!” Elyan heard himself yell.
“… That’s nice?”
“And you didn’t bring anybody! I am not helping you get this trunk inside!”
“You don’t have to,” George shrugged.
“Are you telling me you plan on getting this thing in yourself? Ha!” Elyan spat. “I’d like to see you try!”
George blinked twice at Elyan, then he raised a slow, languorous eyebrow. His face clearly said, Are you challenging me, Elyan? You don’t want to do that. You really don’t want to do that.
Then, in a blink, the mulishness and challenge were both gone, replaced by faint disdain and a roll of the eyes. George pulled a stick of wood from his sleeve, pointed it at the trunk and muttered something. He replaced the stick with another eye-roll.
And the trunk floated silently through the open door into the house.
“AAAAH! It’s possessed!” Elyan shouted.
“Noo,” said George slowly, as to an idiot or a small child. Or perhaps a small idiot child. “It’s ma-gic.”
“There’s no difference!” Elyan spat.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” George rolled his eyes. “If I could control demons, do you really think I’d be using them to move my luggage? That seems more likely to piss them off than anything else.”
“You–you–you–” The idea of having demons in his house was terrifying enough. The idea that George might be deliberately antagonizing was terrifying in a way that made Elyan want to run for the privies before he embarrassed himself.
But he couldn’t do that, because that would mean George would win. “I won’t have it!” shouted Elyan, rounding on George. “No magic in this house! I forbid it!”
George blinked. “You and what army?”
“It’s not only unholy, demonic, and — and sure to get us both damned — it’s against the laws of Camford! You know that! Nobody can do magic in Camford!”
“Oh, Elyan,” George said, shaking his head. “If you only knew.”
“I mean it! I forbid it in this house!”
“First of all, you can’t. The King founded this house for all young men of Albion, which means I get as much say in how things are run as you do,” George pointed out.
“Nonsense!” Elyan snapped, even though he had a terrible sinking feeling in his stomach that could only mean that some part of him thought George had a point. “I am a man of true noble blood — and,” he added, reaching for a reason that would hopefully have weight with George, “I am a senior, and you are merely a freshman!”
“Perhaps. But you’ve got all the magical sensitivity of a brick,” George shrugged.
Elyan’s stomach sank further. He couldn’t remember the last time it had done that. “What’s … what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I could call up a zombie in the cellar and you wouldn’t even know I was doing it until said zombie knocked on your door and asked you what you wanted for tea.”
“Aye, which is why I don’t plan on doing it anytime soon,” George shrugged. “But the point still stands. Unless the evidence is right in front of your bloody nose,” George gestured to the trunk, which was still floating in the air. Elyan suspected it was only doing that to annoy him. “You’ll never have any idea that I’m doing magic, which means that you can’t enforce your decree that there shall be no magic in this house. Which means all of your protests are ultimately moot, as our dear friends the lawyers would say.”
“I shall write to the King! Do you think that he wants you to embarrass the whole of Albion by performing illegal magic on Camford ground — sacred ground? Have you no shame?”
“Not particularly, no,” replied George. “And more importantly, the only way I’d embarrass Albion is if I was caught — and the only way I’m going to get caught is if somebody turns me in. And who’s the only person likely to do that? Oh, that’s right. It’s you.” George patted Elyan’s head; Elyan swatted his hand away. “Now, Elyan, tell me — do you think the King wants you to embarrass the whole of Albion by turning in your something-or-other-in-law and countryman in for doing illegal magic on Camford grounds?”
“I–I–I shall write to your father!” Elyan retorted. There! That ought to keep George in line. Elyan would swiftly mend his ways if anyone was threatening to let his father in on his misadventures.
Or … not. George cocked his head to one side. “Sorry, is that a threat?”
George patted Elyan’s head again. “I knew you’d come around eventually. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bedroom to pick out.”
He brushed past Elyan and headed up the stairs, leaving Elyan to stand there and stew. With the trunk still floating in the air. Elyan was pretty sure it was laughing at him.
“Oh, I like this room! I think I’ll take it!”
Elyan’s heart skipped a furious beat, and he ran up the stairs to find out just what disaster George had accomplished now.
Perhaps it wasn’t that much of a disaster. But it was still unacceptable. “What? No! You can’t have this room!”
“Is it your room?” George asked.
“No! Of course not! Why would you even ask that?”
“Well, it’s not like you’ve ever let me up here before. How was I to know?”
“By using your eyes, you moron!” Elyan snapped. “Look around! Blue, silver — the du Lac crest! This is the du Lac room!”
“… So why can’t I say in here?”
“It’s the du Lac room!” Elyan repeated.
George turned to him, watched him with his head turned to one side, and finally shook his head. “Elyan my friend, my something-in-law, I hate to break it to you … but you’re making no sense.”
“It’s the DU LAC room!” Elyan shouted. “It’s for the DU LACS!”
“But –” George started.
“And YOU,” Elyan interrupted, “are not a du Lac!” He leaned back, arms crossed over his chest and smirking, waiting for whatever pitiful response George could muster up for that.
George did not disappoint. “So … are you saying that I can’t stay in here because the room is designed, thanks to the decor, exclusively for the du Lacs?”
“Yes!” replied Elyan triumphantly.
Elyan waited for George to cough and sputter. He waited for him to protest. And he hoped — though he didn’t expect — George would look down meekly, see the insurmountable logic, and admit for once in his life that he was wrong and Elyan was right. Then Elyan could show him to his own room, and they could both get on with their lives.
Elyan was not waiting for George to laugh. But that was what he did. “You know, you’re awfully funny when you’re being completely unreasonable and dickheaded.”
“Oh, come on, listen to yourself! I can’t have this room because of the paint on the walls and the covers on the bed? You’ve got half a brain under all that hair — I think — so think it through, Elyan!”
“Think what through? This is the du Lac room–”
“And there’s no du Lac in Camford!” George interrupted. “The last one graduated two and a half years ago! The next one is only three years old! Trust me, I will be long gone by the time little Corentin –”
“Whatever. By the time the kid needs the room, it’ll have probably gone through at least three different tenants.”
“And this is why you are impossible!” Elyan huffed. “Listen to yourself! I’ve never heard such disrespect in my life! Do you honestly think that the likes of you is welcome in a room meant to house dukes? Men of royal blood, even? You show no respect for your betters!”
“I show plenty of respect for my betters. We just have different conceptions of who they are,” replied George.
“Tell you what,” George interrupted. “Let’s compromise. We’ll write to Sir William, ask him, as a representative of the du Lacs and as the father of the next du Lac to come to Camford, whether it’s all right if I stay in this room. And if he gives any reply other than, ‘Do you honestly think I give a shit?’ I will not only not sleep here, I will eat my favorite hat. How does that sound?”
Elyan wanted to stand fast, hold his ground, and insist that he was right … but he had a feeling this was the best he was going to get from George. George had no conception of social graces, and certainly no idea of obedience. And Elyan was altogether uncertain how to make him see sense. He had a terrible feeling that he could say whatever he liked; George would do what he wanted, when he wanted, no matter what Elyan thought of the matter. “That sounds perfect. Now, let me show you to your room — which you will be staying in for the next three-and-a-half years, digesting your favorite hat.”
Elyan stomped from the du Lac room, made a sharp left, and turned into the next room. “Here! Here is the room for commoners! And younger sons, too.”
He turned around, expecting to see George nodding and understanding how this was better. He even gathered hope from George’s open-mouthed expression. Then George spoke and, as usual, ruined it all. “You’re shitting me.”
“You can’t possibly mean for me to stay in here. There’s not even a desk! And what the hell do I need three beds for?”
“Obviously you only need the one,” Elyan replied. “But this is altogether more suitable, don’t you think? You clearly don’t need that big bed all to yourself–”
“Who says I’m keeping it all to myself?”
Elyan’s jaw fell. “What?”
“Come on, Elyan. Grow up a little and put the pieces together.”
“You would — you would dare think — the Lady Delyth would never –”
“Whoa, whoa! First of all, you are way behind the times there, my friend. Delyth and I–”
“Delyth,” George growled. “When you spend as much time snogging a girl as I did, you’re allowed to be on a first-name basis with her. We–we parted ways over a year and a half ago. I’m with Ravenna now.”
Ravenna le Fay? What could she possibly see in this one? Then Elyan kicked himself. Of course — how could she possibly do any better with her mixed blood, shameful (if unfortunately useful at times) mother, and her magic? She and George were practically equals.
Although … Ravenna really was a very pleasant person, as long as you ignored the rest of it. Even if George was her best chance for an acceptable marriage, what did she see in him?
Elyan also thought that she might have a share of her mother’s dangerous intelligence. She certainly had a good helping of common sense. “Are you telling me that the King’s own niece is jeopardizing her future and her immortal soul by giving up her virtue to you?”
For a brief moment, George looked discomfited — well, almost discomfited. It was still glorious. “Well … hope springs eternal …”
“But more importantly,” George growled, “there’s no desk in here! Where am I supposed to work?”
“There’s a whole library downstairs,” Elyan shrugged.
“Fat chance. I need a place to study alone.”
“Then take care to study when I am not there,” Elyan sniffed. “This is your room, George. It is for commoners and younger sons. And think of how fitting it is that you stay here! Your brother stayed in this room. And my father mentioned that you’re putting a cousin of yours through the cathedral school and eventually here — he shall stay here, too! So your whole family–”
“Are you really that fucked in the head?” George interrupted.
“When Geoff comes to Camford, there won’t be any nobles here! You and I are the youngest, buddy, and the next one coming up is what, five years old? Six? Explain to me why the hell Geoff and anybody else who’s in the house should stick to your stupid rules when you’re not here to be insufferable if they don’t?”
Elyan’s jaw fell. “What?”
“THINK about it!” George looked for a moment like he might shake Elyan, but luckily for both of them, he thought better of that. “You’ll be gone! The Gwynedds are gone! The du Lacs are gone! The Pendragons are gone! The Orkneys haven’t even stayed here yet! And even I’ll be gone! Why should they leave the big, comfortable rooms undisturbed when they can have them and nobody will care?”
“Of course people will care! I don’t know where you learned your manners, but other people have a better sense of their place and know enough to keep to it!”
George rolled his eyes. “Elyan, if you actually believe that people keep to their place for their own free will, you’re an even bigger moron than I ever gave you credit for. Nobody ‘keeps to’ their place. They’re kept in it by everybody else — starting with people like you.”
“Right,” George interrupted. “I’m right. And if you want more proof of that, look at my parents. They minute they got themselves half a chance, they were scrambling their way up to the top. Hell, look at the King! He was only the bastard son of King Uther, wasn’t he? He wasn’t supposed to rule anything –”
“He was still royalty! And King Uther himself gave him the kingdom!”
“Right,” George replied, “but the point is he still got himself to the top. Look at Constantine of Caernavon –”
“Who also has royal blood!”
“All right, fine, ignore them if you want. What about your father?”
“He was only the second son of a baron, wasn’t he?” George asked with a grin that Elyan had to call feral.
Elyan gasped and licked his lips. “That — that is –”
“Nothing but the truth, and you know it. But he got himself an earldom through being friends with the right people, and do you think he hesitated for a second before taking it? And what about the du Lacs? Wasn’t old Lord Ban only a baron, too?”
“That–that’s different!” Elyan wailed. “They were already noble! And some of the richest, most important holdings in Glasonland are baronies! The–the exact title isn’t of as great importance, as long as you have the land and the connections!”
“Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t change anything of what I was saying,” George shrugged. “Face it, Elyan. Our whole country is founded by a bunch of people who got tired of being at the bottom of someone else’s hierarchy, so they went and founded their own where they would be at the top. And if you think there’s a single person in this world who wouldn’t do the same if they had the chance, you’re lying to yourself.”
“That’s — that’s –”
“The truth, and if you don’t know it by now, you’d better learn it if you want to get anywhere,” George snapped. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get my stuff unpacked. In the ‘du Lac room.'”
“What? But–but you said–”
“You can still write to Sir William if you want. But I’m telling you, he’s not going to care. And I don’t feel like moving twice.”
“You’ll have to, when he forbids it!”
“Maybe,” George shrugged. “Or maybe I’ll just eat my hat and we’ll call it even. ‘Cause if Sir William says no, then the minute you move out, I’m moving into that room.”
And then, not even waiting for Elyan to protest, George walked out of the room. Whistling!
And in the mass of rage and frustration that was Elyan’s mind, only one coherent thought could form:
He could not wait for graduation.