Endskel 30, 1014
Eilwen hesitated, her hand on the door leading from the music room to the library. The metal leached the heat from her fingertips, leaving only a cold ache behind.
This year had left only a cold ache behind.
Eilwen sighed, her head coming to rest against the door with a thunk. Why had she invited all the children here? At the time it had seemed a good, almost joyous thing. Maybe Pellinore and Lamorak would come to visit if they were all together. Maybe it would do them good to see the family managing to pick themselves up and cope in their absence. Maybe …
“Mama? Is that you?” came Dilys’s voice from inside.
Maybe Eilwen had best stop woolgathering, pull herself together, and be strong for her family, as she had been for the past year.
She pulled the door open and passed through to the lighted library. “Yes, dear, it’s me.”
Her skirts trailed across the stones as she made her way to the one open chair. Her eyes narrowed as she looked down the length of the library. This arrangement had seemed to make sense this afternoon when she been in here with Florian and asked him to move some chairs around so she could get a feel for the room. Now that she saw it with people in it … well, a Day of the Dead gathering in a family so recently bereaved was supposed to be a solemn, careful thing. The effect would be rather ruined if you had to shout across the room to have a basic conversation.
Oh well. She practically collapsed into the chair. Perfect holidays were things that happened to other families. Once upon a time, she’d even preferred it that way.
“No Garnet?” asked Delyth.
Eilwen shook her head. “She wasn’t feeling up to it.” And Eilwen could not blame her. With Percival, Eilwen hadn’t even known that Garnet was increasing until she began to, well, increase. This baby was being rougher on her. Garnet had been so ill some days that she’d spent the whole day abed, getting up only to eat and use the pot (for one thing or another). Luckily that was all past now, but still she tired easily and some days seemed to have a hard time dragging herself out of bed. Lady Morgan came by every few days to check on her, and from what she said to Eilwen, it appeared that everything Garnet was going through was “in the range of normal,” to use her words. But to judge by her face, there was cause for worry.
But at least we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. A lifetime of counting your blessings died hard. If this year hadn’t killed that habit, Eilwen could only suppose she would die an optimist.
At least Garnet could rest when she needed it. At least she had the best medical care the kingdom could provide. At least she had friends who still came by, never mind that this was theoretically a house of mourning, to do their best to cheer her. Why, Lady Leona had been here two days after Robertmas, mounting the steps two at a time to surprise Garnet while her husband stood at the foot of the steps with his hands over his eyes, shaking his head.
“She’s still in good health, Mother?” asked Dindrane. Eilwen looked up. “Garnet, I mean.”
“Oh, yes! Lady Morgan sees no reason for alarm.” And that was technically true. Worry was not the same thing as alarm. Dindrane ought to appreciate this as well as anyone.
Maybe sometime when Eilwen could catch Dindrane alone, she’d fill her in and ask for what help she could give. But she did not want to bring up Garnet’s health or lack thereof here. She wouldn’t want to worry the twins. And then there was Babette …
Eilwen could avoid thinking ill of her daughter-in-law by clinging to this knowledge: Garnet would not want Babette to know that she was encountering any problems. And surely it was no crime to protect the privacy of her daughter-in-law, even if that meant not being perfectly truthful in the presence of another daughter-in-law?
To judge by her raised eyebrow, Dindrane wasn’t buying that explanation. Luckily Babette was not quite as sharp as that. “Well! If she needs her rest, she ought to take it. After all, it’s only the Day of the Dead. It’s not like there shan’t be dozens of others for her to go to.”
Aglovale stared at his wife, his jaw hanging open. He shook his head slowly.
“What?” Babette whined.
“Nothing — just — nothing.”
“Oh come now, Aglovale, you may think that you can put on that stern and disapproving face and get somewhere with your sisters, but you shan’t be pulling that with me …”
Babette went on, but Eilwen didn’t hear the rest. Delyth took care of that for her. “I wonder which sisters Aglovale thinks he can be stern and disapproving with?”
Dilys giggled — strangely enough, the giggle sounded relieved — but Eilwen felt duty-bound to glare at Delyth. “Delyth.”
“What? I’m sorry, Mama, but you and Papa taught us better than that. We think for ourselves, and just because he’s older and a man doesn’t mean he can boss us around with a look.” After a second’s hesitation, Delyth added, “More importantly, he’s not that much older.”
“He’s still your brother, and … well, as close as a head of the family as we have, and you owe him … well, you owe it to him to not be laughing outright at him. At least not in public,” Eilwen replied.
Her eyes wandered down the long library to rest on her son. Her only remaining son. Eilwen took the same deep breath she had been taking for three months whenever she remembered that. Lord, this never got any easier.
But the grief didn’t displace the worry. Aglovale had had a great deal of responsibility thrust on his shoulders very suddenly. Unlike Lamorak, he hadn’t been raised with that idea ever-present in his mind. And he’d had no warning, again unlike Lamorak, who at least had a few days. Was it any surprise that Aglovale was snappish and sullen, or that he thought sternness and bossiness were a substitute for gravitas and authority? Especially when he dealt with his younger sisters? In a way it was almost a pity that Dilys’s future was the one that was taken care of, for Dilys had always been the more placid of the two. Delyth would fight him; Dilys would persuade.
Or perhaps not. “Mama, I think Delyth has a point. Just — just because he’s older and a man doesn’t mean he shouldn’t show us respect. Kay’s older than me … and he shows me respect.”
There were many things a good and proper mother could have pointed out in reply to that. The obvious was that Kay was Dilys’s betrothed, and he cared about her very deeply — of course he would have a kind of respect for her than an elder brother, particularly one of Aglovale’s disposition, would have found difficult to manage. She could have added that Kay was royalty, and more often than not, royalty could find their way to being more gracious than nobles or commoners could imagine. She could have said that all that was beside the point: Aglovale was still head of the family, at least until Percival came of age, and so they would respect Aglovale.
She said none of those things. “I’ll talk to him,” she promised.
Eilwen looked past the twins to where Aglovale was sitting and endeavoring to get Babette to see his point of view on — something. “After all, he ought to learn that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If he’s to be on the Council …”
The sentence was barely allowed to trail decently off before Delyth ran into it like a runaway horse. “Mama, why don’t you take the Council seat?”
Eilwen jumped. “What?”
“You ran the estate with Papa, didn’t you?” Delyth asked. “And you helped Lamorak and Garnet while they were still learning everything. You’re doing a lot of the day-to-day work now, aren’t you?”
“Delyth, dear, I don’t think you understand … for one thing, Master Carey can manage most about everything day-to-day. When any decisions need to be made, then Garnet and Aglovale have to come to an agreement.” Eilwen took a deep breath. “Those were the terms of Lamorak’s–will. And that is how things must be.”
“But it says nothing about the Council seat, Mama,” Delyth pointed out. “And who do you think the King would rather have on his Council?” She turned to her sister. “I know who I’d rather have …”
“Delyth, don’t …”
They were doing it again, speaking that secret language the two of them had always shared. Eilwen had heard that some twins made words and sentences and presumably whole grammatical structures to keep their communications secret. Eilwen’s had never needed to resort to such stratagems. A shrug, a raised eyebrow, the flick of a lock of hair could speak volumes between the twins while being as opaque as the densest Sminese to an outsider.
Usually Eilwen tried to read the exchanges; now she didn’t bother. The Council seat …
The King would never want her to have it. It had nothing to do with her. It had everything to do with the amount of grief he would get from Sir Bors if he so much as considered it. He wouldn’t want to put up with that, and Eilwen couldn’t blame him. And she wouldn’t want to do that to Aglovale.
He could be good at this: a stern but fair lord, or at any rate the next best thing to a lord. He could be an able enough politician. He just needed time, and he needed everyone else to be patient. And, muttered an imp deep in Eilwen’s mind, he needs to stop thinking he can boss his sisters around, because that will never happen …
They just needed a chance, all of them. To stay in one place, heal from the losses. Catch their breath. The Gwynedds would rise again, Eilwen just knew it …
But now, Eilwen needed to catch her breath. She closed her eyes and took a deep one. “Girls — Aglovale — please excuse me — but I think I ought to check on Garnet.”
And when her children nodded their assent, Eilwen hurried back out of the library.
Perhaps it was wrong of her to want to escape … but … shouldn’t this night be for remembering the past? Not fretting about the future that was sure to come, and sooner than anybody wanted it? Tomorrow would be the first day of the 1,015th year since St. Robert had conquered Death once and for all. It would be the first year that Pellinore and Lamorak would not be here to see. Was it so wrong of Eilwen to want to stay in 1014, the one year that both of them did see, for just a little longer?
She closed the door behind her and leaned her head back against it — softly. She was being unfair. Everyone grieved in different ways. Pellinore and Lamorak’s absence from the Robertmas table had been raw and aching, like a wound that refused to close over. Could she really blame the twins — or anyone, really — for wanting to focus on anything but that loss tonight?
No. She couldn’t. But when she came back down, she would try to steer the conversation towards happy memories. In the meantime … she had best check on Garnet.
She hurried into the corridor, up the stairs, and down the hall. “Garnet?” she asked, knocking at her door. “It’s me. I just want to check and be sure that you’re all right. Can I get you anything?”
That’s … odd … Normally Garnet would at least say something …
Eilwen hesitated for a brief second, then she tried the handle. Unlocked. She would just peek inside …
She had to do more than peek. She had to go in to double-check what she thought she saw but the light of just the one flickering candle.
There was no one there.
Eilwen’s hand rested on the knob. Where could Garnet be? This wasn’t like her …
Letting her feet do the thinking for her, Eilwen shuffled across the room to the communicating door that led to the nursery. She just opened it a crack …
She saw what she needed to see. “There you are,” she said, stealing inside and letting the door shut behind her. But softly.
Percival was sleeping.
Garnet looked up with a faint smile. “Sorry. But I couldn’t …”
“Don’t apologize. The Day of the Dead is meant to be spent with family.” Eilwen tip-toed across the floor to the other side of Percival’s crib. She bent down and kissed that soft black hair. It was already growing to be as curly as his mother’s. As his father’s.
And his eyes, when they were open, were so blue … it was like looking into Lamorak and Pellinore’s eyes both …
“I just thought …” Garnet’s voice was soft, even by the standards of not wanting to wake a little one. “Maybe, if I stayed here … maybe Lamorak would come see Percival …”
She turned her head, and Eilwen could barely hear what she said next. “And then I would see Lamorak …”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Eilwen replied. “I think — I think what they say, about the dead coming … well, we can’t see them …”
Garnet turned to her with a withering glare she must have copied straight from Lady Morgan. She did it well, too; part of Eilwen seriously considered retreating. “I’m a witch.”
Eilwen blinked. “So … you can … see …?”
“At least in theory,” Garnet shrugged. “And surely …” She reached into the crib and stroked Percival’s cheek. “Surely Lamorak will want to see Percival …”
Eilwen was never sure why she asked what she asked next. But she never regretted it. “Do you mind if I join you?”
Garnet blinked. “Of course not.”
Eilwen grinned — then she ducked into Garnet’s bedchamber, grabbed the chair from the spinning wheel, and hurried back with it. She sat.
Both of them watched Percival.
“I thought …” Garnet whispered. Eilwen had to lean closer, to strain to hear. “I thought Lamorak would have been here by now.”
Eilwen bit her lip. Then her tongue. But she couldn’t help herself. “Have you ever … seen …?”
Garnet looked up. She shook her head. “No. But …” She sighed, leaning back. “I don’t blame my father for not coming back. It–by the time the Day of the Dead came, Mother was dead, too. By her own hand, rather than face execution. He wouldn’t have wanted to see the family like that.”
“Don’t say that,” Eilwen chided. “No matter the state of the Orkney name, he would have wanted to see you and Mordred and Agravaine. You’re his children.”
For some reason that made Garnet flinch. “Maybe. But–he never came. Or at least … I never saw him.”
Eilwen nodded. But she said nothing. Something told her that more was coming.
“But Morgan says …”
Garnet sighed. “She says … she thinks that souls that died at peace don’t come back. Or if they do, even witches can’t see them. She says … she says she’s felt the presence of her mother and father, sometimes, especially at the Day of the Dead, but she’s never seen them. And she knows they both died peacefully.”
“That makes sense.” Sometimes she thought she felt Pellinore’s presence, too, watching over her, comforting her from afar. And so what if she wasn’t a witch? Love was stronger than magic.
“But Lamorak didn’t,” Garnet whispered.
Eilwen wished Garnet hadn’t gone there.
“And …” Garnet went on, almost oblivious to Eilwen’s presence. “That was how Morgan knew that something — something was wrong with Accolon. Because he didn’t come to see her and Ravenna on the Day of the Dead. He–she knew he died violently. And she knew — she knew — if there was any way for his soul to get to her that day, he would have gone to her. Even if it was only for a minute. He would have wanted to be sure she was all right … but he didn’t come …”
Eilwen decided she didn’t want to know what that could have meant — other than, of course, what it had meant, and which hadn’t been so bad for everyone, all things considered. “Well, surely that won’t be the case with Lamorak.”
“I don’t know … I don’t even feel him … I’ve never felt him, not once.” Garnet bit her lip. “Do–have you ever felt him nearby?”
Eilwen’s stomach plummeted. Now that Garnet mentioned it … no, she had not …
DON’T! That was the voice of her better sense shouting at her. There were some things that Sims were simply not meant to know. They could not understand it. And when faced with those kinds of things, wasn’t it better to step away from the abyss and not look down into it, lest it stare back into you?
There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy …
Was that Pellinore’s voice? Her memory of his voice? It sounded like something he would say. Something he would have read somewhere, something that he would take to heart and repeat as necessary.
Pellinore. Somehow just remembering him made Eilwen sit up, feel the life-giving air fill her lungs, buoy her up with hope.
All was not lost.
“Now, you hear me, Garnet,” she began.
“I don’t pretend to know, or understand, where we go or what happens when we die. I know what I believe — that the good go to their reward, and the bad go to their just desserts — but beyond that, it’s a mystery to me. But I do know this. Love counts, Garnet. It means something — something more than all the hatred and all the evil and all the spite in this world. If you weighed all those things in the balance, and put only love on the other side … why, love would win, hands down.
“And I know something else. Lamorak loved you.” Garnet looked up, her eyes shining, breasts — already fuller than usual thanks to her baby — heaving. “Yes. He did. Don’t look at me like you don’t believe me. You were the apple of his eye. He fought his father to have you — and you know how much he loved and respected his father. He went waltzing into a viper’s den — I’m sorry to speak so harshly about your brother, but I can’t look well upon him after what he did to Dindrane–”
Garnet laughed wetly. “You think I like him much after what he did to Dindrane?”
“Well! At least we’re in agreement!” Eilwen grinned, but she could not be long deterred. “But Garnet — he tried to patch things up between us and the Orkneys, and at the end of the day it was all for you. Because he wanted you to have all the love you could get. And–and whether you feel him or not–whether you see him tonight or not–I want you to know — he is with you. Always. He couldn’t be anywhere else.”
Garnet swallowed. “How can you be sure?”
“Oh, honey … come here.” Eilwen pulled Garnet to her feet. She came willingly, if a little unsteadily thanks to the weight of the baby inside of her. “I know I’m no scholar. If anything, Lamorak got his brains from me … but I think, if you don’t mind me bragging, he got his heart, too. And that kind of heart …”
She pulled Garnet into an embrace she was sure the younger woman needed. “That kind of heart doesn’t let a little thing like death stand in between it and the people it loves. If you believe nothing else I say …”
She squeezed Garnet closer to her. Was it her imagination, or did she feel a faint pressure, a faint drumming, where Garnet’s belly pressed against her?
“Believe that,” Eilwen whispered. “Always, always, believe that.”