Jaban 25, 1014
There was some news that had to be delivered in person.
Tonans ambled his way down the lane that led to Dyfed Keep, picking his every footfall with the shuffling insecurity of a horse twice his age. Perhaps he was only echoing Will’s mood. The Lord knew that Will wanted no part of what he was about to do, was bound by honor and friendship and everything else to say. But there was no help for it. He couldn’t send a subordinate. And even that would not solve the true problem: that there was bad news that had to be shared, that there was no way to turn back the clock and un-discover what the guards that morning had found, or go back even farther …
No. Will wouldn’t think like that. He would turn back the clock. Perhaps he could not change what had happened, but by the Lord and all the Llamas and all the saints, he would find out what it was. And he would bring those responsible to justice.
Right now, it was the only thing he could do for Lamorak.
He turned Tonans up the long drive. A stableboy came running out to take the reins as soon as Will was near the bridge over the moat. He gave the stableboy Tonans’s reins and a coin. He didn’t speak. He didn’t want to waste words now, when he was trying to marshal the few he had to the task at hand.
He did look into the stables. As he had half-hoped, half-dreaded, in one of the stalls resolved for visitors’ horses was Aglovale’s dapple gray gelding. So he had beaten Will here. Will had sent Aglovale a message to meet him at Dyfed Keep as soon as the news had been confirmed. He only wanted to give this message once, and he did not want to ask Lady Eilwen or Garnet to spread this new to Aglovale.
That confirmed, he walked down the bridge as firmly as he could. When the door was opened at his knock, Master Carey, the Gwynedds’ steward, was waiting in the vestibule.
“Sir William?” asked Master Carey.
Will hesitated. “I am expected … aren’t I?”
Master Carey nodded. “Aye. Sir Aglovale told us you’d be along.” He paused and tilted his head at Will. “Er … can I get you anything?”
How much scotch do you have? Will wondered. And then he shuddered. He remembered that day, all those years ago, when Lamorak had blundered into the fraternity house, grabbed the scotch and started guzzling like there would be no tomorrow. And now …
Don’t GO there, William! He closed his eyes. If he let his thoughts travel down that path, they might never return.
So he answered. “No, thank you. Where is everybody?”
“In the parlor, sir.”
“And — and they’re all there? Lady Eilwen and Lady Garnet and Sir Aglovale?”
“Aye, my lord.” Master Carey leaned back on his heels, arms crossed before him. Written all over his face — if not actually on his lips — was the question, And just what is this all about?
“Good. Good,” Will replied, ignoring the unasked question. “That will make this — easier.”
“Easier?” Master Carey’s eyes bugged. “With all due respect, my lord, I’m not liking the sound of this.”
Will chuckled, or at least that’s what the sound was supposed to be. “With all due respect, you shouldn’t. And … you had best come too.” Yes, that would be best. He could spare Aglovale one more announcement.
Without another word, he led the way into the parlor, where Aglovale and Lady Eilwen and Garnet would be waiting.
Lady Eilwen and Garnet were seated on a bench and chatting, and — oh, Lord! — little Percival was napping in his cradle nearby. Will couldn’t look. He couldn’t. He couldn’t even imagine —
But his not-looking and his not-imagining soon perforce came to an end, for Aglovale, who had been standing and pacing back and forth, rounded on Will. “Sir William! Finally! Do you mind telling me just what this is about?”
Will had no chance to speak in his own defense; Lady Eilwen leaped to that. “Aglovale! For goodness sake, I taught you better manners than that. I’m sure whatever this is about, it’s important enough for you to spend your afternoon on.” She leaned so she could better see Will around Aglovale. “Good afternoon, Will. I have to ask — should this wait for Lamorak? He’s expected back from his tour this evening.”
Will did not wince. He stepped forward to pay his respects. “Thank you, my lady. And — no, this can’t wait.”
“Hi, Will,” Garnet added, smiling that half-smile of hers, the one that seemed to be laughing at a private joke. Lamorak would never forgive him for what he was about to do to that smile. “How are Jess and the kids?”
“Well–very well,” Will choked out. “Ladies — Aglovale — I’m sorry, but — what I need to say cannot wait. Aglovale, you’d best sit down.”
Aglovale blinked. “… Why?” But he sat anyway.
Will ignored the question. It would be answered soon enough. “My ladies — Aglovale — Master Carey …” He took a deep breath and forced himself to go on. “I have some … bad news to share.”
He shouldn’t have paused, it wasn’t right, it was even cruel. But he had to. He had to mark the expressions on the faces before him, because they might be important later on. All he saw now was confusion mixed with trepidation and fear. Garnet was holding her breath. Lady Eilwen had her skirts clenched in one fist.
Lady Eilwen was the first to speak. “What … kind of bad news?”
Will had rehearsed how he would say this on the ride over. He’d considered and discarded dozens of approaches. This one would have to do. “This morning, two guards on patrol in the forests on the Camford border discovered Sir Lamorak. He was — I’m very sorry — he had died. Words — words cannot express how sorry –”
He stopped talking. He could see from the looks on the faces before him that it wasn’t going to do much good. They wouldn’t hear.
Lady Eilwen had frozen. Her pupils were dilated, and the hand that was clutching her skirt started to shake. She swallowed a couple of times, opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
“… What?” whispered Garnet.
Will gulped. “Garnet –”
“What?” shouted Aglovale. “The Camford border? That–that’s where he said he was starting! How the hell — how can he be –”
Aglovale stopped talking. He suddenly looked green. Will found himself casting about in vain for a bucket. He could sympathize — when he had seen Lamorak’s body as it lay in situ, he’d wanted to be sick himself.
And Aglovale didn’t even know the half of it.
“W-w-w-what …” Will’s gaze snapped to Lady Eilwen. Her hand was still shaking. Now so were her lips. He wondered if it was too soon, if it was indecent, to turn to Master Carey and tell him to send for Lady Morgan, now. “What happened?” Lady Eilwen finally whispered.
Oh, no. Oh, no. He could not tell this. Not the whole story. Not to Lamorak’s mother, with his widow sitting right next to her, and their baby sleeping peacefully in his crib.
But she was owed something. “Lamorak — Lamorak was found heavily bruised. It’s possible he fell from his horse.”
“His horse?” Garnet gasped. “But then where’s Triss?”
Will could only shake his head. But he filed away the fact that the horse had not returned. “I don’t know, my lady.”
“Horses always come back home, don’t they?” Garnet’s lips started to quiver. “If something happens to their rider? That’s what I’ve always heard! They always go back to their home stables!”
“Maybe it wasn’t Lamorak!” Garnet shouted. “You don’t know! Maybe — maybe he’s still out doing his patrol, and he’ll be home in t-time for supper …” Garnet’s shoulders started to shake now too. “He s-s-said he’d be home in time for s-s-supper …”
“Garnet, do you want me to send for Lady Morgan? Or Jess?” Will asked. He could not in conscience have asked Jessie to come with him on this trip — but asking her to come and comfort her bereaved cousin was something else entirely.
That seemed to be what made the news sink in for Garnet. Her eyes widened — Will heard her draw in air in a gasp that seemed to last an eternity — and it was expelled in a sob that echoed down to the keep’s very foundations.
Percival woke with a start and added his wails with his mother’s. Lady Eilwen stared at the baby, but getting up and comforting him seemed beyond her power. Aglovale sat and rocked and dry-heaved. And Will didn’t dare to move toward the baby. He had no right.
Thank heaven for Master Carey. “I’ll get Jeannie! And — I’ll spread the news to the servants, Lady Eilwen? And send for Lady Dindrane?”
“P-please,” Lady Eilwen stammered. Master Carey practically ran from the room.
Things were deteriorating as Will watched. And there was still more he had to do. “Aglovale …” He turned to him. “Do you have a moment?”
“What?” Aglovale asked.
“It’s important.” And, he tried to add with his eyes, it’s about Lamorak, and do NOT make me say this in front of the ladies!
Aglovale seemed to get the message. He slowly stood. “Aye … we’ll go into Father’s study.”
Father’s study. It hadn’t been Pellinore’s study for nine long months now. But Will was not about to bring that up. He led the way inside, presumptuous as it might have been.
As soon as the door closed behind them — though it would take more than even the sturdy oaken doors of Dyfed Keep to keep out Garnet’s wailing — Will turned to Aglovale. “Do you need a bucket? I’m sure there’s a wastebasket in here …”
Aglovale glared. “And what is that meant to mean?”
“I was nearly sick myself, Aglovale. I won’t insult you by pretending that I understand what you’re going through, but that much I do understand.”
Aglovale blinked. He had the same eyes as Lamorak. All the Gwynedds did. “You were nearly sick.”
Will took a deep breath. Aglovale was in no position to be fed a line of bullshit about Lamorak having been his friend, about it having been a shock, no matter how true or true-enough those statements might be. “Aglovale … the body was …”
“Don’t call Lamorak ‘the body’!” Aglovale snapped. “He’s a person, for Wright’s sake!”
Will swallowed. “I–I’m sorry.” That was the best response. Saying what he was thinking, that he did not want to sully his memory of living, laughing Lamorak with visions of what he had looked like when the guards had found him was out of the question. “Lamorak — there were signs of violence on him.”
“He was … my guess is that he was beaten. In a fight,” Will replied.
“You said he fell from his horse!”
“Please, Aglovale, keep your voice down. I don’t think the women should hear this.” Not yet, at any rate. Not until Will knew more. Not until he could tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, culminating with the identity of the man or men who did this. “And I didn’t say he did. I said it was possible. And …” Will rubbed his temple. “It’s possible. It’s very possible that he did.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that we’re still trying to piece together what happened, Aglovale. All we have right now to go upon is his body, and the fact that his horse is missing. I don’t want to tell you, or your mother or your sister-in-law, something and have it turn out to be incorrect.”
Aglovale didn’t seem to hear the last part. “His body. And his horse is missing.”
“It must have been ruffians!” Aglovale gasped. “They — they must have attacked Lamorak — and stolen his horse!” He put a hand to his head.
“Aglovale, we don’t know that yet …”
“How can you say that? What else could it possibly be?”
Yet another question that Will could not hope to answer. At least, not yet. “It’s possible that that is what it was. But we don’t know that yet.” Will took a deep breath. “Do you know if Lamorak might have traveled with money on him? At least, a large sum of it? Or any valuables?”
“His horse would be valuable enough!” Aglovale replied. “And his signet ring!”
“He was found with his ring still on him.” Will had needed to see it to be sure the body in question was Lamorak’s. The face … did not bear thinking of too closely. “His wedding ring, too. There was also a purse on his person, but that only contained a small amount of money. There may have been more in the saddlebags — which is what I’m asking you.”
Aglovale could only shake his head. “I have no idea.”
So that would be a series of questions to ask Lamorak’s valet or his arming squire, or possibly Garnet or Lady Eilwen as a last resort. It would, after all, pay to be thorough. “I see. And –”
“What else could you possibly have to ask me?” Aglovale exploded. “Isn’t it obvious? It was ruffians! It must have been!”
Will blinked once or twice. “And why,” he asked quietly, “are you so sure of that?”
“I don’t know — it just — nothing else makes sense! If you say he was beaten — and his horse is missing …”
That was only the tip of the iceberg of things that did not make sense. Will put one hand on his hip and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He couldn’t just explain it all to Aglovale. Not yet. Not when he had nothing to go on but a knowledge deep in his bones that the obvious explanation was not the correct one.
That, and all the bee stings …
Will closed his eyes and breathed deeply before opening them again. “It’s possible that that is how it played out. We don’t know yet. Aglovale — did your brother have any enemies?”
Aglovale’s jaw fell. “Enemies? Lamorak?”
“People who wished him ill. Anyone. A disaffected serf, a servant who had been let go unjustly — he’s–he was a lord, lords can make enemies easily –”
“Lamorak?” Aglovale repeated incredulously. “Lamorak would make friends with a bloody barn cat if it would sit still and talked to him long enough! He keeps that mad Master Carey on as a steward! He even made nice with Sir Mordred, after he dishonored Dindrane and fooled around behind her back and then went and browbeated her on the stand! Even Garnet doesn’t like Sir Mordred much, but Lamorak had to go be his best friend!”
So there was real anger there. That could be important, or useful. Or perhaps it was only natural. Aglovale struck Will as cold and a bit bloodless — but so, perhaps, might Will himself strike others. And to say that he would be angry at a man who would treat Leona like Sir Mordred treated Lady Dindrane was no small understatement.
“But sometimes even a man who is kind and considerate to men who might not deserve it can rack up enemies, Aglovale. Especially if he is a lord. A lord who just recently gained control of the estate, who might have been making some changes that might not have gone over well? Or …” Will scrambled about for other possible enemies. Unfortunately Aglovale was right in that Lamorak did not have the temperament that easily made enemies. And politics in Albion were not so cutthroat that even the unpleasant and abrasive were under any real risk of having their throats cut, so the idea of someone like Lamorak meeting his death because of politics alone … it was laughable.
But stranger things have happened, Will reminded himself.
“Please, Aglovale,” Will went on. “Think. Tell me anything, anyone who might have been angry with Lamorak. Anybody at all who would have wished him ill. Even if you think it’s trivial or unimportant or –”
“No! Wright damn it, Will, do you think I’m a moron? If there was anybody, I would have told you already! And this is Lamorak! You know as well as I do that Lamorak never had any enemies! He’d never do anything to earn them!”
Never? Will thought. For some reason that did not sit right … and the answer, Will knew, would come to him if he thought about it for thirty seconds; it was just under the surface. But now was not the time, so he pushed the thought aside.
“And besides! You don’t need enemies to be riding through the woods and have some outlaws see you and — and –” Aglovale’s words dried up. Will wondered if he ought to be offering a handkerchief or running for the wastebasket, but Aglovale’s blinking eyes and his gasping mouth hinted that neither were necessary. Yet.
“You … you don’t think it was ruffians …”
“Aglovale, we still don’t know much–”
“Don’t lie to me, Will. I’m not an idiot. You — you wouldn’t be asking this if you …” He gulped. “You’d be asking — you’d be asking other questions. Wouldn’t you? You’d want to know what armor he had on him, and — you did ask about valuables, but you didn’t press –”
“Tell me!” Aglovale reached forward and grabbed Will by the shoulders. “What do you think happened? What happened to my brother?”
“I don’t know,” Will replied.
“Damn it, Will! Don’t–”
“But,” Will interrupted, “I — I think …” Will swallowed. This wasn’t right to say. Not this soon. But if Aglovale didn’t have the right to know, who did? “Don’t tell anyone this … but I think whoever killed Lamorak … hated him very much.”
Aglovale let go of Will and stumbled back. “You — you think he was murdered.”
“Lamorak … murdered …” He started to shake. “Oh Wright …”
“Aglovale …” Will edged closer, put a hesitant arm around Aglovale’s shaking shoulders. Just as he had tried to put an arm around Lamorak’s shoulders the day Lamorak had told him what had transpired between him and Morgause.
Why did he keep thinking of that day? The answer would come soon. But not now.
He had far more important things to worry about now.