“… I just can’t believe him, Elaine, I really can’t. I mean—in all seriousness—he’s not likely to find another—well, let’s face it, Thomas might be the king’s son, but he is only a bastard son.”
“Oh, of course, Mairwen, of course.”
Lynn sighed as she leaned a little closer to the embroidery of the tapestry the three of them were working on – at any rate, she was working on it, and she had been working steadily on the plainer design of the border since Christmas. She was almost halfway through – Mairwen and Elaine, given the charge of the center design, were still working on the knight’s hair. Coincidentally, they had been working on that portion since Christmas as well. But their lack of progress was not due to lack of diligence—well, most of the time—it was more due to the fact that, over the course of Mairwen and Tommy’s rocky relationship, Mairwen had spent much of the down time either adding vermilion stitches, or taking them out.
Which was why Lynn knew as much as she did about what had happened between Tommy and Mairwen – sitting and listening to the other two talk could yield very useful information. She never joined in the conversations; indeed, by the way the other two jumped whenever she so much as sneezed, they must have forgotten she was there most of the time.
Lynn’s eyes shyly poked up, glancing at her two companions. Mairwen ap Vaughan was a tall, imposing maiden – her bearing and carriage stately, the lines of her figure Junoesque. There was grace and dignity in the fine-boned structure of her face; the skin over it gave off a polished, porcelain sheen. Her beauty would be more at home on a throne or dais than in—well—Lynn blushed—the bedchamber. Her hair was dark golden brown, framing her face in smooth waves. And her eyes, jade-green, surveyed the world with a mix of arrogance and smooth charm.
Elaine of York, on the other hand … Elaine had a cheaper, smiling prettiness that was found more often in tavern wenches and peasant maids than in the stately ladies of the court. Her skin was inclined a little – just a little – to freckle, something that Elaine constantly tried to battle using every tincture and ointment the apothecary could mix for her. Her hair was a natural shade of flax, though a bit darker than Lynn’s – the same as her younger half-brother Bennett’s. Elaine’s eyes were a wispy, far-away blue.
“And,” Mairwen added severely, “no matter what titles his father may give him when he comes of age, no father’s likely to marry his daughter off to him – I might have worked around Daddy, of course – but let’s face it, given the status of the—succession—really, no father in the world would have been willing to risk his daughter in an enterprise like that.”
“Oh, I know, Mairwen—you were so brave, you were willing to give up so much for him!”
You don’t know a thing about risk—about giving things up, Lynn thought bitterly, as she stabbed her needle into the fabric. You don’t deserve Tommy—you just wanted him because you thought he might inherit the throne someday—though anyone who really knew Tommy would tell you that he didn’t want the throne—anyone who knew Tommy as you don’t!
“I know,” Mairwen said with a sigh. “And had my brothers found out … they are so protective of me … I only kept it a secret because I was certain that Thomas would never—well, you know.”
He wouldn’t, Lynn thought fiercely. He wouldn’t and you know it.
“But … after the things he said to me … and the way he won’t give me back my tokens …” She shook her head. “I think I had a very near escape.”
Oh, please—I heard what you were saying to him—Tommy was only answering in kind! Lynn pursed her lips together—pursed, not bit—if men caught sight of bitten lips, they might think twice about tendering marriage offers, or so her father always said.
“Oh, I know!” Elaine said earnestly. “He’s really—at least in that regard—not much better than, well—his grandfather, if you know what I mean.” Elaine shook her head and clicked her tongue. “You were really very lucky, Mairwen, not to have become the third generation of—the ladies that Pendragons have courted.”
“And thank God for that,” Mairwen said—almost devoutly, though Lynn did not believe any real devotion sat behind the tone. “Heaven seems to have spared me that fate.”
“Amen,” Elaine replied—but that was more than enough for Lynn. She wanted to throw down her embroidery and leave in a huff—but of course—that would not be ladylike.
Instead, she sighed and gently stood up, giving a polite curtsy in the direction of the other ladies—then, eyes modestly downcast, she turned and slowly left the room.
A few days later, the following Sunday, Lynn quietly adjusted her wimple as she and her father left the chapel, the last ones out as usual. Her eyes were fixed on the ground – a necessity when her father was present, he demanded every appearance, every trapping of proper maidenly virtue and modesty. Such as giving her “full attention” to what he was saying.
“ … disgraceful,” Bors was murmuring. “I can’t believe that witch would actually take the liberty to send to the king—and his daughter! Using the witch as an intermediary!” He glanced at Lynn from the corner of one dark, snapping eye. “I suppose I’m lucky in that respect …”
There was a compliment in there—somewhere—backhanded certainly, but Lynn gave a small smile. “Thank you, Father.”
He snorted. “Don’t let it get to your head … now where was I?”
“The letter the king received from J—Lady Jessica, by way of Lady Morgan le Fay.”
“Right—that. What does the girl need to be bringing a friend for, anyway?”
Jessie? Lynn wondered. Bringing a friend? The remark stung a little—Jessie had been the only female friend Lynn had had in, well, ever—but if she was bringing a friend to Camelot that summer … she sighed.
“What’s the matter with you?” Bors grunted.
“Hmm.” He started to drone on again … Lynn felt her attention wane; and, certain that her father was paying no attention, too intent on what he was saying, her eyes quietly peeked up from their study of the ground.
There was really nothing to look at—she almost stopped in her tracks.
Most of the courtyard had emptied, but a few still remained—two in particular—Tommy, leaning against the doors of the Mews in a relaxed fashion, and … the young woman he was speaking to.
Lynn could recognize the grin on his face—heaven knew she had seen him use it with other girls often enough—and usually with the same stab of hurt that she felt now. And envy. Now she felt another stab—this time guilt. Here she went again … envy, anger at that other girl – why did she have to take Tommy’s attention? She could probably get it well enough from somewhere else – and pride, for even thinking that she would deserve the attentions of a young man, avarice for wanting them, and of course lust—her father would place all of her thoughts about Tommy firmly under the heading of lust, much as Lynn tried to convince herself that what she felt was something more. Speaking of her father—had he any idea what she was thinking, he would have probably found a way to link up sloth and gluttony in there as well, though Lynn could not. Great – all seven deadly sins in one shot – way to go, Gwendolyn. She sighed again, this time with more force.
“There you go again! What is it, Gwendolyn?” her father asked, almost triumphantly.
She looked at the ground, closing her eyes briefly. “Nothing, Father—just—thinking.”
He snorted. “Then stop thinking. You don’t need to think, I’ll do your thinking for you.”
“Yes, Father,” Lynn replied dully. One last time, she looked up—
And met Tommy’s clear gray gaze.
Dark eyes flashing across his vision—Tommy froze in spite of himself. The girl in front of him – Bethany – kept her light-hearted banter up—but Tommy was no longer listening—could hardly find it in himself to respond. Because in those dark eyes—Lynn’s, that now were holding his gaze for the longest time since Bors had returned from the Grail quest and thrown the cage around her—in those dark eyes was something … a little bit of hurt, hurt that hit him like someone had punched the breath out of him … a little bit of surprise … and a little bit of … something else …
Bors was still walking, he unconsciously pulled Lynn forward—she stumbled, breaking eye contact, and the spell was broken with it. No—not broken—Tommy heard himself muttering an excuse to Bethany as he followed the white-clad Lynn and her father, walking quickly so he could catch up to them.
He finally fell into step with them—Bors, idiot that he was, hardly even noticed Tommy, he kept droning on and on about something. Tommy thought it was something about “witches”, Bors was probably insulting his sister again—he thought about defending her, but figured that Jessie would forgive him if he did not, especially given his motivations at the moment …
He had been carefully walking on Lynn’s side – he was almost certain that she was aware of him. Tommy leaned a little closer to her ear, just on the side of propriety. “I’d offer a rose for a rose,” he murmured, “except the roses aren’t blooming yet.”
She looked up in shock—he winked—Bors came to a dead stop, sending Lynn stumbling again as she tried to move without him. Tommy caught her arm, steadying her. “Have you something to say, Thomas?”
“Oh—just a bit of a—greeting for your lovely daughter,” Tommy said lightly. He still had not loosed his gentle grip on Lynn’s arm—she looked between him and her father in a state approaching panic.
Bors raised his eyebrows, glancing between Tommy and Lynn as if assessing the value of that statement. “Well—Lady Gwendolyn thanks you for your courtesy—however she cannot accept the compliment, as such words lead along the road to sin—tell him, Gwendolyn.”
Lynn dropped her eyes—she curtsied and he had to let go. “Thank you, my lord.”
Tommy blinked, looking at Bors. “I wasn’t aware that telling the truth was a sin.”
Bors narrowed his eyes. “Good day, Thomas.” He roughly jerked his daughter along, continuing their path through the courtyard at a much quicker pace than previously.
Tommy watched them go, arms crossed before his chest, gnawing a thumbnail as he considered his options … weighing the blustering, ill-tempered knight against the understated charm of his daughter … and that certain something …
He heard footsteps approaching, but they stopped a little bit behind him and Tommy ceased to pay attention. A voice, low, quiet and familiar came to his ears – “What harebrained scheme are you thinking up this time, Tom?”
Tommy looked over his shoulder—Will. “Eh—nothing you have to worry about. No griffins.”
“A dragon this time?”
“No—no dragons—although—” Tommy stared intently at the doorway that Bors and Lynn had disappeared inside. “You could call it that—slay the dragon, free the maiden …”
He could not see, but Will blinked. “What are you getting yourself into?”
“A girl, of course. A … replacement, if you will, for the shrew. And this one …” Tommy grinned.
“Dear God—she’s not married, is she?”
“What? No!” He shook his head. “No—no, it’s quite a different kind of dragon … but …”
Tommy’s grin widened. “I think—this one’s going to be a real challenge, Will.”