Darid 11, 1015
“And even Sir William says you have to go along with it? My Lord, Aglovale. What’s he going to say next — that perhaps Dindrane should have inherited the estate and everything, simply because she’s older?” asked Elyan.
Aglovale had was about to stab that stupid dummy to the heart, but he had to pause. The idea of Dindrane having the estate … well, it meant it wouldn’t be his problem anymore, and best of all, he wouldn’t have to deal with Garnet on a weekly basis. Was he a horrible person to find the idea strangely attractive?
Not that it mattered. Aglovale stabbed at the dummy like — like it was the person who had murdered Lamorak. The robbers or what-have-you. If he ever got that bastard or bastards on the business end of his blade —
But Elyan needed an answer, so he gave it. “Sir William only interpreted the contract. I don’t think he’s about to advocate for revolution.”
“Sometimes I wonder,” Elyan sniffed. “You heard what he insisted on for his sister’s marriage portion, didn’t you? Her dower is all coin, but it’s in trust, and her husband can’t touch the principle without her permission!”
Aglovale amused himself by wondering how it was that Elyan managed to come to know the details of Leona’s financial arrangements. He supposed the loose lips of Sir Lancelot might be to blame here — he would mention something to Sir Bors, and once Sir Bors knew it … well, so would anybody to whom Sir Bors opened his mouth. There was a reason why Aglovale preferred to report potentially sensitive information directly to the King, despite Sir Bors being his commander.
“Except, of course, for that part of the dowry that will be the house that Sir Lancelot is building for them,” Elyan went on, as if any of this mattered to Aglovale, “which will be in Leona’s name. He has no rights to it except those she grants him! What a disgrace!”
“Hardly,” Aglovale snapped. “My sister has availed herself of similar protections.”
That shut Elyan up. For about a second. “Well, that’s different,” he replied. “You–well–the law ought to offer women some protection. But that … but what Garnet is suggesting, what Sir William says you must do — what next? Dogs biting their masters if the masters aren’t forthcoming with the meat fast enough?”
“I doubt it’ll come to anarchy as fast as that.” Aglovale slashed at the dummy and was barely able to duck as the wicked curved hook came careening toward him.
“Maybe. But still …” Elyan stroked the few short hairs that grew upon his chin. Aglovale could never quite determine if Elyan kept his beard that way as a deliberate style, or if that was all he had ever managed to grow. “Whatever the short-term profits might be of having a tavern on your estate, I think you’ve every reason to be concerned about the long-term risks.”
“Hear, hear,” Aglovale agreed, lunging for the dummy.
“To say nothing for the precedent it sets.”
“Again — I couldn’t agree more.” Aglovale was still trying to determine how it was that his father had permitted Grady Brogan to buy his freedom, and seemed to have deliberately set up circumstances that would allow Berach Brogan to do the same.
“I mean, imagine that! One of the original indentured families of Albion, brought over from Glasonland — the parents staying in their station as they ought, but the children, all three of them, managing to attain the status of freemen!”
Aglovale blinked. “All three of them?”
“Of course — surely you know that better than I do!”
“I stopped keeping tabs on Ailís Porter when my father transferred her and her husband’s indentures to Baron Ferreira,” Aglovale shrugged.
“Well, I’ve had it from Clarice that Goodwife Porter’s husband has started his own shop, and her father-in-law — er, Clarice’s father-in-law — has every intention of helping him along until he buys out his indenture. Helping him! Have you ever heard the like?”
Aglovale had to fight back a shiver. No–no, he hadn’t. And that meant that, for once in his life, Elyan was right. All of the Brogan children becoming free in a single generation? It was a terrifying precedent. There was nothing special about the Brogans — indeed, just the opposite, if their father had given Pellinore half the trouble Aglovale remembered him giving. What one family could achieve, others would attempt.
Aglovale did not like that thought. At all.
And that — he stabbed the dummy — was why he could not countenance Sir William’s reasoning. For the Lord’s sake, the man was a lawyer! Weren’t they paid to map out the future in each of the varying paths it could take? Couldn’t Sir William see the potential consequences of this? And if he could, then why did he not, as a nobleman, help Aglovale avert that path? Even his father couldn’t have buttoned up the deed that tightly …
“I just wish I could get Garnet to see this,” Aglovale admitted. “But between her and Sir William — I’m hamstrung. If at least I could get Garnet on my side …”
“With all due respect to your sister-in-law, Aglovale, women are only somewhat reasonable at the best of times — certainly when it comes to matters of business and practical management — and Lady Garnet … well … it is only rarely the best of times when it comes to her.”
“While I wouldn’t disparage all women as you do, Sir Elyan,” said a slow, icy drawl from behind Aglovale, “I unfortunately must accede to the charge you lay at my poor sister’s doorstep.”
Aglovale froze. SIR MORDRED! Just hearing that voice was enough to help him understand how the rabbit felt when one minute it was innocently hopping along and the next staring into the depthless black eyes of a snake. He could almost see the forked tongue flickering between the lipless jaws …
Slowly, Aglovale sheathed his sword, and just as slowly, he turned around.
“Sir–Sir Mordred …”
Sir Mordred bowed to him. “I am sorry to interrupt your conversation so rudely,” he said, “but the fact remains … well. I could hardly help overhearing, and it seems to me … unless I am very much mistaken … that you have a dilemma, Sir Aglovale, a dilemma I could help you to solve.”
Aglovale glanced at Elyan — but Elyan was gaping like a fish. He’d be no help. “I–I thank you for your concern, Sir Mordred, but –”
“Don’t be too hasty!” Sir Mordred was still tapping his fingers against his chin. “I know that our houses have not always been as close as they ought to be, but Sir Aglovale, if you would only hear me out, I think a conversation between us could be of benefit to us both. I know …” He sighed deeply. “You have little reason to listen to me, but if you just put your prejudices aside for a brief interview –”
Aglovale took a deep breath, preparatory to declining —
But why should I? came the sudden and somehow not unwelcome thought.
After all, what he needed help with, at the end of the day, was dealing with Garnet, wasn’t it? If he and Garnet could form a united front, why, Berach Brogan’s tavern would be no issue at all. There was no law that set the price for buying out an indenture, only custom. And there was no law that set the rate of rents and taxes on each estate. Even if they had to allow the tavern … well, if Aglovale knew how to properly manage Garnet, they could manage to enjoy all the profits of it without the drawbacks.
And was there a living man who better knew how to manage Garnet than her own brother?
Sir Mordred smirked, a smile there and gone so quickly that Aglovale was unsure if he really saw it. But why shouldn’t Sir Mordred smirk? Why wouldn’t he want to see the Gwynedd estate in good hands? Percival was just as much his nephew as he was Aglovale’s. And the reason for the marriage between Sir Mordred and Dindrane, and later Lamorak and Garnet, still held first: somebody needed to counterbalance the closeness of the du Lacs and the de Ganises on the great scales of the kingdom.
“Come,” said Sir Mordred, gesturing. “Let’s fetch a bite to eat. It would be best to discuss this in privacy, don’t you think?”
Aglovale nodded, and without bidding farewell to Elyan, he meandered to the gate, stepped through it, and followed Sir Mordred to the rooftop canteen.
He was not halfway up the stairs before misgivings started to set in. He was about to discuss his family’s private affairs with Sir Mordred of all people? Elyan made a better confidant, and some days Aglovale wondered if Elyan kept his brain a jar beside the bed! If things between Sir Mordred and Dindrane had been as they should — if Sir Mordred hadn’t treated her so abominably — that would be one thing. He would have already gone to him for advice. But as things were …
As things are, Aglovale, the last thing you want is to get one of the two dukes of the kingdom, who happens to be the brother of Garnet, annoyed with you. Because it is just your luck that they would patch up their differences to join forces against you. So you might as well hear him out.
Besides, you’ve earned your breakfast, haven’t you?
Aglovale wasn’t sure which it was that won the argument — the appeal to fear, or the appeal to his hungry stomach — but whichever it was, he managed to get into the canteen, grab a plate of piping-hot pancakes, and take a seat across from Sir Mordred without a word of protest.
For the first few moments, they were both too occupied with their food to attempt conversation. At least, Aglovale was. Directing his attention to his plate meant he didn’t have to look at Sir Mordred. But the soft, periodic clink of fork against plate assured Aglovale that Sir Mordred was doing the same. So he wasn’t being too rude. Hopefully.
“Well, Sir Aglovale, I don’t see any use in pretending that this interview is a welcome thing to you,” opened Sir Mordred. “So shall we get down to brass tacks? Might I ask precisely what it is that my sister has done, or means to do, with the estate?”
Aglovale didn’t particularly want to say; however … was there any getting out of it? He’d come this far, hadn’t he? “I suppose that the short answer is that — my father, before his death, made arrangements with one of our serfs that said serf could open up a tavern on a separate, commercial plot of land. It’s a bit more complicated than just that, but that’s the long and the short of it,” said Aglovale.
Sir Mordred’s eyebrows rose. “And how does my sister come into this?”
“Er …” Aglovale swallowed. “Well, she proposes to honor the agreement …”
Sir Mordred’s eyebrows rose even higher, which told Aglovale exactly what the duke thought of that. “And–and she doesn’t even see the danger. She thinks that the tavern will be nothing good for the estate.”
Sir Mordred blinked. “My Lord, I wonder what’s making her think that. I didn’t think her opinion of serfs’ proclivities, if left to their own devices, was much more positive than mine.” He shrugged and addressed himself to his food. “But I suppose that shows that you never know another person as well as you think you do. Even your own kin.”
Aglovale’s jaw fell. The serfs’ activities if there were a tavern directly on the estate … Aglovale hadn’t even thought of that. “I–I do not think she has considered the matter in that light. She seems to see all benefit from the scheme. And,” Aglovale added, “I think she is of the opinion that most of the patrons of the tavern will be visitors to the estate. Traders passing through to Reme or Glasonland, or perhaps on their way to Port Finessa.”
“Hmm. Well, those have their drawbacks too. But make no mistake, Sir Aglovale: the majority of the customers at that tavern will be men from your own — or should I say, Percival’s — lands. She ought to have a care for that before she allows a tavern to be opened on her son’s property with nary a protest.”
Aglovale swallowed. “You–you haven’t anything of the kind on your estate, have you, Sir Mordred?”
“Certainly not,” Sir Mordred agreed. “The woodsmen’s lodge in the King’s forest is plenty by my measure. At least those men are often dealing with dangerous implements — axes and arrows and the like — directly after drinking, so they know not to over-indulge. If my serfs had a tavern in easy reach … why, I could easily see them, or at least some of them, getting drunks as a lord (to borrow their parlance) every night, blindly trusting that they would be sober in the morning! And of course they would not, and would report to work with a fierce headache and all of the other ‘rewards’ of heavy drink, and as a result …” Sir Mordred shook his head, clicking his tongue. “It should very shortly become — there is no other way to say this — a mess.”
“Yes. I can see that.” Aglovale sighed. The knowledge that he would be a shire away, and thus not have to deal with the worst of the problems, was somehow not very comforting. “But I don’t know what to do. Sir William says that the way the deed is worded is watertight. We can’t get out of it.”
“Then you must seek to limit the damage,” Sir Mordred shrugged.
“But how?” Aglovale asked — he was very much afraid it came out sounding like a wail. “I–Garnet barely listens to me at the best of times. I’ve already made my opposition clear. Now she’ll doubly suspect everything that I have to say.”
“So don’t you say anything.”
Aglovale blinked. “I–I beg your pardon?”
“Listen, Sir Aglovale — I do not claim to have the key to unlock the secrets of a woman’s psyche. Heavens, I doubt any many could be entrusted with such a key. However, that being said, I do know a few things about Garnet. If she has decided that your hand is against her — for whatever reason — then she will not listen to anything you say, no matter how well-reasoned and well-intentioned. Therefore, you must not be the person to lay out these objections and ideas for limiting the damage to her. Or if you do, the advice must not appear to come from you, but from a wholly neutral party.”
A neutral party … But who could that be? Was there any man in the kingdom who both had the necessary expertise and would not take a side between him and Garnet? Sir William tended to have far too much sympathy for Garnet; Elyan was equally firmly on his side; Sir Milo was too unknown a quantity to trust; and Frederick Ferreira and that Twikkii native Leona had brought home had not an ounce of estate knowledge between them. Besides, they would both, in all probability, side with Garnet out of either soft-heartedness or solidarity with his wife. And Sir Mordred? The idea of Garnet listening to him was laughable.
“Your brother-in-law the banker would do admirably, I expect,” Sir Mordred added, almost offhandedly.
Aglovale blinked. “Josh–Joshua Wesleyan?”
“Ah yes! That would be his name,” Sir Mordred nodded. “Don’t you think he would be perfect?”
“Garnet would assume any advice he gave came from me,” Aglovale sighed.
“Truly? Do you get on with your brother-in-law as well as that?” Sir Mordred blinked. “I mean … I do not wish to pry into affairs that are none of my concern … but I cannot help but notice that relations between you and the Wesleyan brothers –”
“They never forgave me for–” Aglovale paused. “For … moving things along more quickly than perhaps strictly necessary, when it came to me marrying their sister.”
Sir Mordred smirked. “I could not have said it better myself. And if Garnet knows this –”
“How would she know it?” Aglovale interrupted.
Sir Mordred rolled his eyes. “My dear fellow. I will be the first to agree that Garnet is the last person who has the business sense necessary to oversee half an estate, but the woman can count. And if there is any one thing that women the world over can compute with astounding accuracy, it is the months that elapse between a joyous wedding and that next most joyous of occasions, the birth of the happy couple’s first child.”
“… I see,” Aglovale muttered.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know,” Sir Mordred added. “As to what happened between you and your wife. There is no shame in loving a woman as well as you are able, and, well, taking the consequences as they come.”
Aglovale’s hand tightened reflexively on his fork.
“In fact, I envy you,” Sir Mordred went on blithely, as if he didn’t even see Aglovale’s growing scowl. “You–you were able to follow your head and your heart. Have you no idea how many men would kill for that opportunity?”
Aglovale dropped his fork.
“And–if only they were allowed to,” Sir Mordred sighed. “It would save so much heartache … for so many people …”
Aye, thought Aglovale, like my sister, you–
“Like your sister,” Sir Mordred sighed.
Now Aglovale’s jaw dropped. “I–I’m sorry? I didn’t quite catch that …”
“I have no problem repeating it,” Sir Mordred shrugged. “I treated your sister horribly, Sir Aglovale, to my eternal shame. I wish I was a better man, and that I had been able to make her happy. Alas, it was not to be. But all the same … if I can somehow repair the damage I did to your sister’s heart by assisting her family, then believe me, that is what I shall do.”
“Have–have you said that to Dindrane?” Aglovale asked. “She–an apology from you would mean a great deal to her, I’m sure–”
“That is not possible at this juncture. She would not accept it, and as conscious of my wrongdoing as I am, I still do have some pride.” Sir Mordred wiped his mouth with a handkerchief and sighed again. “And I would ask you not share this with her, either. Or anyone.”
There was something glittering and hard in his eyes, something that would not brook arguments. Aglovale felt himself begin to nod.
“Excellent.” Sir Mordred then looked out the window, charting the progress of the sun. “Well, I must apologize for cutting this interview short, Sir Aglovale, but I very much fear that I have another appointment for this morning. Still,” he rose in a perfectly fluid motion, “I hope that some of what I said was helpful?”
“Oh, yes–you have no idea!” And in the moment, Aglovale meant every word of. Later he would wonder why he was so effusive. Not that it mattered. He extended his hand, and when Sir Mordred met it, gave it a hearty shake. “I have no doubt that I will soon have Garnet seeing reason!”
“Excellent,” Sir Mordred smirked. “And remember, whenever you have need of aid or advice in dealing with my sister … I am always, always, here to help.”