Darid 7, 1015
Aglovale wished that the sight of his childhood home didn’t fill him with dread. But ever since Lamorak’s death, the four tall towers and squat gray keep of the Gwynedd family seat had not meant laughter and happiness and good memories, but rather stress, anger, and worry. He was here once a week these days, sometimes more than that. And instead of being able to enjoy time with his family, he was holed up with Garnet and Master Carey in the library, going over accounts, checking the progress of the various crops, and inevitably fighting over the next steps to take.
And while Garnet was technically family, and he knew that some families saw their stewards as practically one of the family …
The Gwynedds were not that kind of family, and Master Carey certainly wasn’t that kind of steward — no matter how much Garnet liked him.
“Hello, Sir Aglovale,” Master Carey said. The tone was barely on the correct side of polite.
“Good day, Master Carey.” And it would be just Aglovale’s luck that, in seeking to sound far more polite than Master Carey, he managed to come out the other side of courtesy and approach rudeness from the other end. “Is Lady Garnet in the library?”
Aglovale waited. Master Carey grinned fatuously at him.
Aglovale sighed. “Well, then where is she?” And why isn’t she in the library? Good Lord, I can’t be the only one who just wants to get this over with!
“I think she’s in the nursery. With Percival. I didn’t want to disturb her.”
… Oh. That was … different. Very different. Aglovale could not have exactly put the difference in words, except that … some things were sacred. Estate management wasn’t. Time with your son … was.
Especially when it was entirely possible that that would be your only son.
“Is the library prepared for our meeting?” Aglovale asked.
“I was just doing that, sir.”
“Then why aren’t you still doing it?”
“Well, you showed up and somebody had to answer the door.”
Aglovale scowled. Why, why did the madcap steward constantly have logic on his side? “Finish that, then. I’ll fetch Lady Garnet.”
Considering that as fitting a dismissal as any, Aglovale marched up the stairs.
The nursery. Master Carey could speak of it obviously, flippantly even, but that was only because he didn’t know any better, not really. “The nursery” when Aglovale had been growing up had not been any single room — they had had the run of the castle when they were little. At least … the children had had the run of the castle from the time when Aglovale was old enough to remember. Presumably they had been supervised closely when they were Percival’s age, if only because all five of them had survived to adulthood.
And it was no use remembering. The Keep had gone through so many alterations in recent years that trying to square the home he had grown up in with the Keep that now existed was an exercise in futility. It was still the same building, and the layout of rooms was still the same. Other than that … all had changed.
That much was obvious when Aglovale pushed open the door to the nursery without bothering to knock.
“Come to Mama. That’s it. Good boy!”
A dark-haired, olive-skinned woman was teaching her equally dark-haired son to walk. She did not look like a Gwynedd. The Gwynedds were fair of hair and skin. Look even at Dindrane and her children, double cousins to this little toddling boy. They were all red-haired, fair-skinned little children. And they had just the same amount of Orkney blood in them as Percival did …
But Percival showed it as none of them did.
“What a good boy!” Garnet laughed, lifting Percival up over her head as he toddled to her and then fell into her waiting arms. Aglovale could just remember his mother doing that with — was it Delyth or was it Dilys? The little girl in his memory had been wearing a white cap over her hair, and he had only seen her from behind.
Garnet must have seen something similar back then. Or maybe this way of teaching a child to walk was just an instinctual knowledge mothers had. Aglovale hadn’t been able to see Babette guide Morien through his first steps, and as for Elinor, well, he was trying to claim that honor for himself, given how much he had missed with Morien. In any case, Aglovale had never seen Lady Morgause act like that with any of her children, and he somehow found it hard to imagine her taking time from her busy days to guide her offspring through those first steps when a nurse could do it just as well.
For his nephew’s sake — and for the sake of the niece or nephew Garnet was carrying now — Aglovale was glad that Garnet was nothing like her mother. At least not in that way.
Aglovale watched Garnet bounce Percival once or twice, even rubbing noses with him, which made the little boy giggle to no end. Then, when he was done giggling and Garnet presumably done playing, she asked, “Uncle Aglovale’s been standing here for at least five minutes, just watching us and not saying a word. Sweetie, do you think we ought to tell him that that’s rude? He didn’t even knock!”
Percival laughed, and Aglovale scowled.
Percival reached for her necklace, and Garnet’s hand closed, quicker than thought, over Percival’s little one. “Oh, no. I don’t think so. The last time you got hold of Mama’s necklace, you almost choked poor Mama half to death.” She kissed Percival’s head and put him down. Then she sighed, eyebrows raised at Aglovale. “I suppose it’s that time again?”
“Of course,” Aglovale replied.
“The weeks seem to pass so quickly with our meetings to bookend them …” Garnet shook her head. She had a point; the dullest, longest patrol passed in the wink of an eye in comparison to the simplest of their meetings.
“The sooner we start, the sooner we get this over with,” Aglovale replied. He was rather proud that he hadn’t snapped outright.
Garnet nodded. “Right. I’ll be down as soon as I’ve fetched Jeannie.”
That was only reasonable. Aglovale was mildly disappointed, since Garnet on average managed one reasonable thing per meeting … well, this was probably it, knowing his luck. All the same, he nodded and hurried down to the library, where Master Carey was already waiting. Aglovale took his seat diagonally across from Master Carey. They both waited for Garnet to make her appearance. And when she did … well, naturally, she took the seat next to Master Carey.
Aglovale figured it was his right, or if not his, then surely Garnet’s, to open their meeting. Naturally, Master Carey did not agree. He turned to Garnet. “My lady, are sure we want to get the worst over with first?”
“Yes,” Garnet replied.
The worst? thought Aglovale. Bloody hell.
Garnet didn’t give him more time for dread than that. She turned to him, resting both of her hands on the table. “Aglovale, Berach Brogan has applied to us for permission to open a tavern. He’d build it across the lane from his home. Florian and I think–”
“Wait. What?” Aglovale interrupted.
Garnet winced. “Oh, for the love–”
“What he’s asking for is impossible. Impossible,” Aglovale replied. “Serfs can’t own purely commercial property. It’s — preposterous! You’d let a man who doesn’t even own himself own land? Garnet, we have no choice. We have to deny his request.”
“Actually, not true,” replied Master Carey. “Because serfs are free to start business ventures on the land they lease from the lord, with the lord’s permission, aye?”
“Of course, but you said he’d want the tavern to be across the lane –”
“And he’d be leasing the land from us–er, you two. Well, Percival technically, but since Percival is probably technically getting his nappy changed right now, I don’t think we have to worry too much about the technicalities. Anyway! We lease the land to him, so–”
“No. No, that couldn’t possibly work. A loophole that obvious must have been countered in the law,” Aglovale shook his head. “Unless we go to the King for permission, which I will tell you now, I am not about to do–”
“We don’t have to. The loophole is that if the property is all deeded as one piece of land, Goodman Brogan can do whatever he wants.”
Aglovale blinked, though whether at the steward’s presumption to interrupt him, or whether it was at what he said was anybody’s guess. Including Aglovale’s. “We can’t do that.”
“Sure we can,” replied Master Carey.
“It would set a horrible precedent! The law exists as it does for a reason.” And before Garnet or Master Carey could open their mouths, Aglovale added, “I’m sure that’s what my father would have said.” That ought to shut them up.
And if they really wanted to help Goodman Brogan run a tavern … well, Aglovale did not like that idea, no mistake. But building a suitable tavern and dwelling in one would surely be less dangerous, long-term, than allowing Goodman Brogan to “own” a separate commercial property. There was nothing barring a freeman from owning a commercial property in a shire he did not live in — and if Goodman Brogan had a tavern and half of his brother’s business sense, there was every possibility he could become a freeman — but all residential property would remain the property of the lord. If Berach Brogan bought his freedom, he’d have to leave his tavern behind.
… Unless of course some idiot (like the two seated across the table from Aglovale) wanted to sell him the land. But in that case, Goodman Brogan would still be on the land, and still paying rents and taxes to them. So while it would be less lucrative than Goodman Brogan and his family remaining their serfs, it would not be an entire loss.
Or so Aglovale thought until Garnet sighed and turned to Master Carey. “Do you want to tell him, or should I?”
“My lady! You have so few pleasures in this life! What kind of man would I be if I denied you one of them?”
Garnet chuckled. And in that chuckle, Aglovale sensed, was the reason why Garnet refused to listen to Aglovale when he suggested that they find a new, more conventional, more sane steward. Master Carey made Garnet laugh. Very few things did these days. Aglovale supposed he couldn’t begrudge her that.
All the same, sometimes he did wonder if it would be possible to hire him as a court jester and find somebody else to run the estate.
Garnet turned back to Aglovale. “Aglovale, not only would your father have not said that, he was the one who set it up so that Goodman Brogan could lease the land across the lane and deed it all as one property.”
Aglovale blinked. “You’re … you’re jesting, aren’t you?”
“Nope!” Master Carey grinned.
“Then you talked him into it!” Aglovale pointed to him, scowling.
“Nope!” Master Carey smirked like someone had just awarded him a lifetime of riches and a private island to boot. “I was still in Glasonland when that deal went through!”
“From what Florian and–Lamorak–and I could determine, Goodman Brogan refused to take over his father’s old home unless this was written into the deed. Now that he has the money to lease the land, we’re legally obligated to let him do so. We can argue this until we’re blue in the face, Aglovale, but unless you managed to pick up a degree in law at Camford when none of us were paying attention, I don’t see how we can get out of the terms of the lease.”
Aglovale hesitated. If it was as she said … well, it might not be as she said. Master Carey, Aglovale knew, was very good when it came to Glasonlander estate law, but he wasn’t a lawyer and in any case he hadn’t trained in Albionese law. They shouldn’t make any decisions until they got a second opinion, namely, Sir William’s. Sir William tended to be a bit of a bleeding heart when it came to serfs and the lower orders generally, but he was scrupulously honest, and if there was a way out, he would tell them.
But from the way she said it … “Garnet, do you want to, uh, massage the terms of the lease?”
Because if she did … well, it made Aglovale’s stomach twist at the thought, but it would be possible. All they had to do was tell Goodman Brogan that the terms of the lease were not as he had thought they were, that they had bound Lord Pellinore, but not his heirs. How would Goodman Brogan know the difference? He couldn’t afford a lawyer to interpret the lease for him. Even if he could — when two parties disagreed over the terms of a contract, they went to court. But serfs could not sue their lords. That was pounded into the bedrock of Glasonlander law, and doubtless it was the same in Albion. Unless Goodman Brogan petitioned the King directly — and who was to say he would have the courage to do that? — he would have to abide by the rules that they set.
And while Aglovale knew his father would hate it if they went that route … this wasn’t the world his father had lived in. It would have been one thing for Pellinore to do it, or even Lamorak. For them to do it? They were supposed to be guarding the estate for Percival. They couldn’t very well let their largest indentured family earn enough money to be able to walk away. More to the point, they could hardly agree whether the sky was blue, so it seemed to Aglovale that the safest course was to let the estate remain in stasis as much as possible, rather than constantly bicker and change course of action and sink money into investments that would never come off because one party was too impatient to be proven “right.”
If Aglovale was running the estate himself, he wouldn’t have gone for stasis. If Garnet was running it by herself, he wouldn’t advise her to try for stasis. The only advantage of stasis was that they were unlikely to impoverish the estate through it. But given that the two of them somehow had to manage this thing … well, the safest course suddenly seemed like the best.
Unfortunately, Garnet ruined that comparatively pleasant vision by opening her mouth. “No.”
ARGH! “Why not?”
“Well, first of all, it wouldn’t be right, and it wouldn’t have been what Lamorak wanted done, and it certainly wouldn’t be what your father would want us to do.”
Aglovale’s cheeks burned. “I’m very aware of that, Garnet. But –” Aglovale felt the familiar ache in his jaw that came from too much time spent grinding his teeth. “This is not Father’s world.”
“Huh?” Master Carey replied, and Garnet’s expression echoed him.
“Look, I know it hasn’t been–that long.” Aglovale swallowed. “But–we are dealing with very different circumstances than Father was. Father’s word was law on the estate. We’re just — guardians, trustees. We owe it to Percival not to make any major changes unless they are absolutely necessary.”
Garnet started to rub her temple. Aglovale knew that gesture. It meant that a headache was coming on, or that she would very soon claim that one was. Lamorak had mentioned that Garnet sometimes got debilitating headaches, and that they had gotten worse when she was carrying Percival. So Aglovale tried to be patient. But all the same, it was only natural to wonder if she didn’t sometimes exaggerate the effects in order to get out of these meetings.
“I don’t agree,” Garnet replied. “We owe it to Percival to give him the strongest possible estate.”
“That means taking as few risks as possible.”
“No, that means taking calculated risks that are likely to have a significant return.” Garnet glared. “Such as allowing a tavern to be built, which will increase foot traffic through the shire, and will probably bring more people to the market.” She turned to Master Carey. “Isn’t that what you said Lamorak was thinking?”
“Aye,” agreed Master Carey. “He talked to Goodman Brogan, sir, and the two of them agreed that as soon as Goodman Brogan got the money together, he’d be able to open his tavern. And I agree with his reasoning, for whatever that’s worth to you.”
“How you think the tavern will be a net boon to the estate –”
“Easy!” Master Carey interrupted. “It’ll be a moneymaker for Goodman Brogan, which means he’ll be paying more to us, and by us I mean you, in taxes. That’s number one. Number two, having a good tavern will give people a reason to come to Dyfed. Number three, if they’re here, they’ll buy things, which means we’ll get money from the market fees as the market gets bigger. Number four, those people coming here and buying things? Some of them are probably going to be from Port Finessa –”
“Port Finessa?” Aglovale repeated.
“Yes. Port Finessa. Where everything costs twice as much as it should ’cause there are twice as many people trying to buy it. So, Sir Aglovale, if you had to stock your ship full of grain and hard tack and whatever the rest of it is, would you rather get it from Port Finessa, or would you rather get it from here?”
There was no sensible answer to that other than to agree with Master Carey, so Aglovale chose not to answer.
“And, all of this is on top of the extreme economic benefit that will come from Dyfed being the home of the first fox football league of Albion!”
Aglovale’s jaw fell. He looked at Garnet.
Garnet could only shrug.
Amazing. That was two things they agreed on. In one day, even! That had to be some kind of record.
“While I agree a tavern could be a short-term boon to the estate,” Aglovale admitted, “you have to reckon with the long-term risk of having one of our largest indentured families leave. And that–”
“Isn’t a risk, Aglovale! Or if it is, it won’t be a risk for years. Maybe not until Percival is old enough to handle it himself. And by the way, Aglovale, you still haven’t explained how we can legally not honor the terms of the lease — and honorably manage it, too.” Garnet leaned back, her arms crossed over her chest, eyebrow raised.
Aglovale groaned. “We’re the lords! Our word is final! If–if we want it to be–”
“Is that what you want to tell your son, Aglovale?” Garnet snapped. “That we get to do what we want, whenever we want, because we’re lords? Is that the world you want him to live in? Is that the world your parents would want us to live in?”
“It’s the world your parents wanted us to live in,” Aglovale hedged.
“No. It’s the world my mother wanted us to live in.” Garnet spit the word mother out like it was a curse. “And you didn’t answer.”
Aglovale stayed silent.
Garnet narrowed her eyes at him. “Then don’t ask me to tell my son that if you’re not willing to do the same.” She took a deep breath. “So. Are we in agreement, Aglovale? We’ll grant Goodman Brogan permission to start work on his tavern, lease him the land, etc.?”
Aglovale sighed. “Since you’re not going to budge, I suppose so.”
“Excellent.” The word dripped with disdain. She turned to Master Carey. “So. What’s our next order of business?”
“The monthly rents are in, so we should probably go over those …”
Great, Aglovale thought. Just great.
It was going to be a long, long meeting.