Imsdyn 19, 1015
“So,” said Tom. “A King, two princes, and a baron walk into a bar. Everybody else leaves.”
His three companions were silent. Finally a throat cleared to Kay’s right. His father. “And …?” asked Arthur. “The punch line?”
“Oh, there isn’t a punch line,” replied Tom.
“Unless it’s the realization that our lives are a joke,” sighed Kay.
Kay rested his chin on his palm and sighed. Leave-taking, he thought, ought to be a grand thing. He was the spare to the throne. There ought to have been crowds on the quayside waving handkerchiefs to bid him farewell. There ought to have been speeches. Trumpets. Cannons! Was it too much to ask for a bit of style to the leave-taking?
Instead … well, he was sitting in a sailor’s bar with his brother, father and Baron Ferreira, because somebody whom Kay was very much afraid was him had misheard or misremembered the time when the tide would be right for the ship to leave. So here they all were — having chased the poor sailors out by dint of walking inside — while his mother, Jessie, and Lady Ferreira waited in the tea shop upstairs. They might as well have waited here, thought Kay. He doubted it counted as indelicacy or impropriety if nobody was around to see the noblewomen and royal women in the bar.
“You know,” Baron Ferreira said — Kay’s ears perked up — “I blame you three.” Three dropped jaws were the only reply he got to that. “I come into this bar all the time without chasing everybody off. Isn’t that right, Sam?”
The bartender laughed — at least Kay thought that croak was meant to be a laugh — but beyond that she wouldn’t speak.
Arthur shot her a rueful grin. “We don’t bite, I swear.”
“Most of the time,” Tom added.
Arthur rolled his eyes. “Kay, kick your brother for me, will you?”
“Sure thing, Dad.”
“Wait, don’t — ow!”
The bartender’s gaze went from Arthur to Kay to Tom and back down the line. Finally it landed, pleading, on the Baron.
“Oh, don’t look at me, Sam,” replied Baron Ferreira. “I have it on good authority that they’re always like this, when they don’t have to behave themselves for state functions.”
“I hope by ‘they’ you mean my sons,” Arthur answered.
“Your majesty, I’ve got two boys of my own. Believe me, I understand that most of the time, it’s all you can do to maintain a semblance of sanity.”
Arthur laughed, but Tom’s eyebrows arched as he stared around Kay and Arthur to the Baron. “You know, I’m sure that insult was uncalled for …”
“To us?” Kay wondered.
“No — to Freddy. But! Mistress Sam,” Tom turned to the bartender, “you’ll have to forgive us for our rudeness. Here we are, having chased off all your regular custom, and we’ve yet to order anything to try to make up the deficit. So, my good madam, what have you got on offer?”
“Oh–oh, yer highness,” Sam began to wipe her hands on the towel tucked under her corset, “I don’t think–I’m so sorry, but I don’t think we’ve got anythin’ here that will be good fer — fer highnesses such as yerself.”
“Oh, don’t worry, Sam! I’m sure we’ll be fine with whatever you’ve got,” Kay tried to reassure her with his most friendly grin.
Trust Tom to add a sarcastic remark to the mix. “Aye, at least two of of us spent four years drinking heavily at the Lion & the Llama. Trust me, Mistress Sam, since that didn’t kill us, there isn’t any alcohol under the sun that will.”
Sam’s jaw slowly trembled as she valiantly strove not to let it drop. She contented herself with a swallow. “Well–well, yer highnesses, we’ve got some Reman red wine, fer–fer the better folks. Will that be — acceptable?”
“Sounds perfect,” replied Tom. “Dad? Kay? Baron?”
“I’ll take the Reman red, too, if you please,” replied Arthur.
“And I shall too,” added Kay. He was going to be subsisting on beer for the next two months. Theoretically some of the wine in the hold was meant for the subsistence of the “better” passengers; however, Kay didn’t see a reason to drink money away if it wasn’t necessary.
“And Sam, you know my usual,” said the Baron, bringing up the rear.
Sam nodded, and without her eyes ever managing to leave her patrons, she began to pour.
Kay felt himself slowly start to lean forward, elbow neatly tucked under him–then he stopped. Every inch he leaned was bringing him that much closer to those bosoms that no red-blooded male could call anything other than “magnificent.” And while part of Kay pointed out that no sensible woman would put on a dress that low-cut if she wasn’t inviting the attention … well, the other part of him pointed out that, just like men, many women weren’t sensible, and besides … he was a betrothed man.
Who won’t be seeing his betrothed for almost a year. Kay tried not to let his shoulders slump. He’d said goodbye to Dilys a few days ago, when she’d had to go back to Camford. He’d told her he didn’t expect her to come back and say goodbye again today. It would be …
Too inconvenient. Yes, that was what Kay had said. Too inconvenient for her. It was easier than admitting that he thought being able to see Dilys again for a brief minute before having to say goodbye for so long might be a little too painful. And it made him look like a jolly decent fellow, too. What was to be regretted?
Not seeing her …
He felt a nudge and started. His father was grinning at him. “Penny for your thoughts, lad.”
“Oh … uh …” On the off chance that Kay would be willing to admit he was missing Dilys in front of Tom … he certainly wouldn’t be doing it front of a complete stranger to boot. So Kay hid beyond the Pendragon mask of jocularity, waggled his eyebrows, and nodded toward Sam as soon as she wasn’t looking.
Arthur smacked him upside the head. Although maybe “smack” wasn’t the right word. It might look like one — but it didn’t hurt, and the way it ruffled his hair … well, sometimes Kay thought it was like when he was still young enough and short enough for his father to reach down and tousle his curls.
But dignity had its demands. “Hey! What was that for?”
“Better ask who that was for, and in short order: your mother, your betrothed, and …” Arthur let the sentence trail, but his eyebrows finished for him, Mistress Sam.
“You’re no fun, Dad.”
“He’s not supposed to be fun,” replied the Baron. “He’s Dad. Er–as long as you don’t mind my familiarity, Your Majesty.”
Arthur turned to Richard with a fallen jaw. “Richard, what in our acquaintance would lead you to think that I would mind the familiarity?”
Richard shrugged and took a sip of his … well, whatever it was in his tankard. “You are the King.”
“Only in theory.” Sam, who had moved on to cleaning the bar away from them, suddenly laughed. “Oh, you laugh, Mistress Sam!” Arthur called to her. “We’ll see how hard you laugh after you try it!”
“Oh–oh no, Yer Majesty, I wouldn’t be axin’ ter do that!”
“Right, because you’ve got enough trouble running this bar, I’m sure.” Arthur leaned back, gesturing expansively. “Now, imagine running a country …”
“Aw, come now, Dad, you’re acting like it’s a never-ending slog,” Tom chided. “You’re forgetting all the good parts.”
“Well, last I checked that fine castle we’re living in was part of the deal …”
“And face it, Dad,” Kay clapped his back, “if you weren’t being King … well, what would you be doing?”
“Can’t see you retiring to a nice little farm in the countryside and raising sheep,” added Tom.
Arthur blinked. “Sheep? Why sheep?”
“It was either that or vegetable marrows,” Tom shrugged. “Sheep at least have the rudiments of a brain. They’d provide a bit more of a challenge than the marrows.”
“Or you could be raising bees,” Kay added.
“Bees?” asked Tom.
“Sure!” Kay answered. “Think about it. What’s the worst a sheep will do to you if you anger it? Baa at you? Whereas bees …”
The sudden hush was deafening. Kay’s hands dropped to the table. “… What?”
He looked to his father. Then to Tom. Then to his father again. Then to the Baron for good measure. But the Baron looked just as confused as he. “… Am I missing something?” Kay finally asked.
“Yes,” replied Arthur.
That was all he said.
“… And that would be …?” Kay asked.
“We’ll tell you later,” Tom muttered.
“Later. Right. You do remember that the point of this exercise is to see me off to Takemizu, and the journey there and back will take almost the entire year?”
“Then you’re just going to have to be curious,” Tom replied, patting Kay on the shoulder. The only way he could have made it more infuriating and condescending would have been to pat him on the head.
And the fact that he didn’t only made Kay more worried. He brought his cup to his lips and took a few long gulps of wine.
When he brought the cup down, his father was smiling at him. Apologetically. Bloody hell, thought Kay.
Some days, he thought, he wanted more responsibility. A larger role in the kingdom. Yes, this mission was important, perhaps even vital to Albion’s future interests. The fact that he had been entrusted with Takemizu while Leona was sent to prove herself in the relatively unimportant Twikkiis spoke volumes. But at the same time … it was a diplomatic mission, far from Albion and her day-to-day concerns. Arthur and Tom had those well under wraps. And sometimes, they couldn’t help but make Kay feel all too keenly that he was the second son, and this was their domain in a way that it could never be his.
And sometimes … when Arthur and Tom were exchanging these kinds of glances at the mention of bees of all things, when it made Tom shudder — shudder! — when he thought Kay wasn’t looking … sometimes Kay thought it was a good thing he was well out of it.
But only sometimes.
“Prince Kay,” said Baron Ferreira into the silence, “you–you are all set on the details of your mission?”
“Pas devant les domestiques?” asked Tom, nodding to Sam.
“What? Tom, don’t be an idiot.” Kay nudged his brother. “What’s she going to do, find a faster boat and get to Takemizu before us?” He turned back to the Baron. “Aye, sir, I do. New trade agreement. Meant to be as favorable to us as possible.”
“Indeed,” murmured Arthur. He didn’t say more. But Kay knew he was going over the advantages of this in his mind.
Glasonland was always hungry for luxuries from Takemizu. And their ports — not just Port Graal, but all of them — were still recovering from the civil war. This was Albion’s chance to catch the early tide, as it were, and slip in ahead of the Glasonlander merchants. Glasonland was wholly in the grip of the Church, and while the merchants who did the actual trading tended to have a more skeptical eye toward the Church than the leaders of Glasonland … well, at the end of the day, they were still Glasonlanders, and they still had to follow the laws of their King. They knew this, the Sminese knew this, and best of all, the Albionese knew this.
And here Arthur was, with his reputation, which surely must have spread as far as Takemizu by now, of annoying key members of the Church. And now he wanted a treaty.
As far Kay could see, the only thing left to do was haggle a bit over the price of the bargain, and the deed would be done.
“You’ll be fine, little brother,” said Tom.
“What?” asked Tom. He batted his eyelashes like a maid first trying to flirt. “If there’s any one thing you’re good at, it’s talking people into things they don’t at first believe that they want to do.”
“Says you! How many stupid things have you talked me into?”
“That’s different,” Tom replied with a laconic wave.
“How?” asked Kay, leaning his forearm against the bar and leaning himself against it.
“Aye, I’m curious about that too,” added Arthur, unconsciously echoing Kay’s pose.
“Simple, Dad,” replied Tom, in the process becoming the third Pendragon male leaning forward, arm on the bar, body pressed against his arm. “I never had to convince Kay that he wanted to do those things. I just had to convince him that the consequences wouldn’t come back to bite him in the arse.”
“And why did I ever listen to you?” Kay moaned. “Lord, when I think of all the trouble we got into …”
“I know, it’s a miracle Dad didn’t have to repeal the laws against filicide,” replied Tom. “But think of all the fun we had when we didn’t get caught!”
“And what kind of fun would that be?” asked Arthur.
“Nothing!” said Tom and Kay in unison.
Arthur turned to the Baron and shook his head. The Baron sighed. “They never get any more mature, really, do they?”
“Never,” replied Arthur.
“You know,” Kay began to say to Tom. He could hear the door behind him softly open, but decided to ignore it. After all, unlike all the other people in the room, he was wearing chain maille, “I think we really ought to be nicer to Freddy. I can’t claim to tell if George Ferreira is anywhere near as much of a pain in the arse as we are, but Freddy certainly isn’t.”
“Er,” came a soft voice from behind him, “well … if you truly want to know …”
Kay dropped his cup.
He spun on the bar stool — which really wasn’t made for spinning, and his tunic would not be thanking him for the ill-use. “Dilys?”
She smiled at him. She was blushing. This couldn’t be some hallucination, could it? Kay thought those were supposed to come only after a few weeks or months at sea, when you’d stared at the sun dancing on the waves so long that your brain became convinced that something was wrong and started replaying scenes from your past to make up the deficit. They certainly didn’t come before you set off.
He stumbled off. “Dilys! What–what are you doing here?”
“Saying–seeing you off,” she replied, apparently determined to put on a brave face until his ship had dipped over the horizon.
“But–but you’re supposed to be in school!”
She shrugged, toe scratching at the wooden floor and her gaze following her toe. “It’s not that far away.”
“But you have class!”
“I can afford to miss a day.”
Kay felt himself start to grin. “Oh, if your father could have heard that …”
“He wouldn’t mind. I d-don’t think.” Dilys looked up and shrugged. “Papa–Papa always knew what was really important.”
It wasn’t even a year since the old man had died. But here Dilys was, defying his strictures … or was she?
Kay decided to stop thinking and just kiss his betrothed already.
He ignored the hooting coming from behind him. But he couldn’t help but hear the smack and the “Ow! Wright, Dad!”
Only when Kay’s options narrowed to breaking off the kiss or passing out on top of his lady did he break it off. But he still held onto Dilys. “You …” He leaned his forehead against hers. He thought he could see Dilys grinning, though at this close distance it was hard to tell. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you.”
“And there’s no place I’d rather be.” She wrapped her arms around his neck … then she seemed to see Arthur and Tom and the Baron and hurriedly removed them. “H-hello, sirs.”
“Oh, don’t mind us,” said Tom. “I think it’s about time we went upstairs to see to the ladies, don’t you, Dad?”
Arthur looked to Tom, to the Baron, to Kay, and finally to Dilys. Then, with a nod and a slight bow for Dilys, he led the way past them and up the stairs to the tea shop upstairs.
Leaving Kay alone with Dilys.
Or near enough. Sam was still there … but when Kay turned, Sam was industriously cleaning a tankard, and had her back to them to boot.
But now that Kay had Dilys alone … what the hell was he supposed to say to her? “I wish you were coming with me,” he blurted out.
Dilys blushed. “Maybe–maybe some other time, I will.”
“I hope you do.” Kay’s hands reached for Dilys’s. She took them with a smile. “That–that would make traveling perfect. Having someone to share it with.”
“And you will–someday. But now …”
“You don’t want to leave your family. And you’ve got your studies.” They were not questions. Dilys nodded.
“I’ll–I’ll miss you,” Dilys blurted out.
“I’ll miss you too. But–think about it. You ought to be having the time of your life, love. Go out, drink until dawn, enjoy all the young men buzzing around you. Paint some amazing paintings to surprise me with when I come home.”
“Maybe I’ll paint faithful Penelope waiting for her husband,” Dilys smiled.
Kay grinned. “You do that, love.” He leaned toward Dilys — she leaned toward him —
And the door opened again. “Er,” murmured Walter, “I hate to spoil the party — but Captain Love says that it’s time for us to board.”
Bloody hell! Just when things were getting good, too!
But–duty called. “Aye, Walter. You’d best get everybody else; they’re upstairs.”
“Of course, sir.” Walter slipped away as quickly and as unobtrusively as Kay had ever seen him slip.
He turned back to Dilys. Dilys was still smiling, but her eyes looked glassy. He reached for her hand and squeezed it. “Well … I guess this is it.”
Dilys nodded. Kay supposed she couldn’t trust herself to speak. He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. His lips lingered there for a long, delicious moment.
Then he leaned back. “Come on, Dilys. The tide waits for no man and all that.”
Dilys nodded. And as soon as everybody else had come down, Kay tucked her arm into his and headed out.
After all, the sooner he left … the sooner, Wright willing, he would be home again.
He could hardly wait.