Arthur took Tommy to his study, sat him down on one side of the desk, and grabbed a bottle of wine and two glasses from the cabinet in the corner. He poured his son a cup, pushing it across the desk. “Have some. You look like you could use it.”
Tommy looked at the glass, bottle and cabinet with a grim laugh. “So that’s where you keep it.”
“Aye—drink up.” Arthur sat down as Tommy obligingly took a sip, before leaning his elbows on the desk and grabbing his hair by the roots. Arthur grabbed the wineglass and pulled it out of the way before disaster could strike. “Are you all right?”
Tommy gave another grim chuckle. “Like hell, no.”
“Watch your mouth,” the stern father in Arthur responded automatically, though the concerned father was giving his son a worried glance. “Any physical injuries?”
“Nah—didn’t get that far.”
“Good.” Arthur paused, then asked in a softer voice, “Is it … Mairwen?”
“Who—no, no, not her.” A quick, humorless laugh escaped him. “Good riddance to her. Though …” He looked up. “Why did you let them live?”
“Because, as I said in the courtyard—I keep my promises.”
Tommy lifted one eyebrow. “Promises? To who? Their father?”
“No—Lord above, that reminds me, I need to send a message to him—” Arthur began to stand, sat down again after a glance at his son. “It can wait.”
“Thanks,” Tommy replied with a small smile. He grabbed the wineglass and took a long sip. Arthur was glad he was keeping the bottle near him. “Promises to who?” Tommy repeated.
Arthur leaned back, philosophically frowning. “This room,” he remarked cryptically, “is remarkably well-insulated … I’ve always thought that the castle could be under attack and I wouldn’t know it until someone came and told me …”
“Uh huh,” Tommy answered doubtfully.
“In fact—had not someone come for me, it’s entirely possible I would not have been able to help you until it was … too late.”
Arthur could see his son frowning, mentally adding up the time it would take, even for someone running, to go from the courtyard, fetch Arthur, and come back with the king in tow … Arthur nodded when his son gave him a confused look. “Yes—someone not in the courtyard came for me.”
Tommy frowned again. “But who would … he made you promise not to kill them? Is that it?”
“She, actually,” Arthur murmured. He saw his son’s eyes go wide. “Elaine of York,” he clarified.
Tommy’s jaw fell. “Elaine? But she’s—”
“Mairwen’s best friend, yes.” Arthur put his hands behind his head and nodded. “Enough of a friend to save Mairwen from making a very stupid, fatal mistake.”
“But—she betrayed her—”
“Betrayed? That ‘betrayal’ was about the only reason why Mairwen and her brothers were left alive—if Elaine had not begged me to promise that I would not kill them, they would probably be with their Creator now, I assure you. And yes, with their Creator,” Arthur said firmly. “I would have given them time to go to shrift. I’m not a barbarian.”
Tommy smiled weakly. He sighed and took another small sip of his wine. “So I owe my life to two … courageous women.” A small frown crossed his face. “It’s not a debt a knight would want to have to acknowledge …”
“If there’s one thing I’ve picked up in forty-six odd years,” Arthur warned, “it’s ‘don’t underestimate the ladies’. Believe me on that one.”
Tommy’s eyes grew dim, unfocused. “Aye.”
“You all right?” Arthur asked again.
He blinked—then shook his head, staring at the floor. “Well enough.”
“It’s—nothing …” His voice trailed off—Arthur could see his son suddenly blinking. He raised one eyebrow as Tommy looked up. “Dad?”
“Spring Faire is next week.”
“Yes—I’m aware of that.”
“And I think I’m a little short on cash.”
“Oh, for the love of—” Arthur heaved a long-suffering sigh. “All right—what do you need?”
Tommy gave his familiar grin—and told him.
Lynn heaved a slight sigh as her father picked up a mace, surveyed it, turned it this way and that, then finally placed it back on the weapon maker’s stall. “Don’t like the feel of it,” he grunted. “Do you have anything else?”
Lynn closed her eyes and screamed inwardly. This was going to take forever—her father could look at weapons and armor for hours—and she needed some new cloth for both their sakes. Several of her dresses were getting worn out, and the older ones that she had did not have enough to let out on the seams – her bust had grown just a little bit since she had worn them last. That was before she even considered her father’s clothing needs. She stared at the ground, pursing her lips together, silently knowing that if Bors took too long and all the good samples were gone, or worse, the clothier had packed up his stall and left, she would blamed.
At least the sky was blue – a lucky chance for spring in Britain; the birds were singing, and she could listen to the minstrels wandering around to distract her. She smelled currant buns as a courting couple walked by—her stomach growled impatiently. But of course a lady was of a dainty appetite, and her father would be sure to point out that they had eaten before they left if she mentioned being hungry now. There was also a flute beckoning in the distance, probably the accompaniment for a dancing bear. Another bit of entertainment that her father had no interest in—and bear and keeper would probably be gone before her father grew bored with armor.
Again she sighed. There would be no escape; this year she would not even be able to sneak away—last year her father had let her go off with Will as her escort. But she was still under house arrest from the events of the courtyard, over a week ago now—and even Will, who Lynn knew was in no way interested in her, was not considered safe enough this year.
Well, that and Tommy was, after all, Will’s best friend, and there would be nothing more natural if he joined them …
A familiar boot crossed into her line of vision—Lynn blinked. Then a hand gently tapped against her arm. Lynn frowned and looked up.
Her eyes widened. “Tommy?” she hissed, glancing at her father.
Bors was still deeply involved in his discussion of the latest weaponry—he had even let go of her arm, so he could use both hands to try out the feel of a sword. Tommy grabbed her hand and led her a little away from Bors.
Lynn gave him an incredulous glance. “Tommy, if my father sees—” she whispered.
Tommy gave a charming grin that could be taken for reassuring if Lynn let herself fall for it. “He won’t. Have a look.” Tommy pointed over her shoulder—Lynn turned. Sir Gawaine, the bluff, red-haired Scot, had come up to her father, was loudly (and, Lynn suspected, not at all seriously) debating with him on the merits on the mace Bors had so recently laid aside. Lynn could see her father’s face sideways; it looked like he was getting redder and redder under the strain of keeping up the “argument”. Gawaine saw her glance, winked at her.
Lynn’s gaze came back to Tommy. “He’s not going to be able to keep Father distracted forever,” she said with a sigh.
“He doesn’t have to keep him distracted forever—though it would be nice,” Tommy added wistfully. “All I need is a minute.”
Lynn looked up. “Oh?”
“Aye.” Tommy dug into his pocket, pulled out a small package carefully wrapped in a handkerchief and handed it to her. “Open it,” he said when she took it hesitantly.
She gave a puzzled frown as she did so—her dark eyes went wide as she saw the small vial with the sweet scent—“Oh, Tommy,” she breathed.
“Roses—right?” Tommy questioned. “That’s what you like?”
“Oh, of course—it’s not that—” She gulped and looked at the ground. “I can’t accept this—” She started to hand it back to him, but Tommy put his hands over hers and pushed them back, gently against her stomach.
“Of course you can. You saved my life the other day—it was the least I could do.”
Lynn gave a small smile as she looked at the ground. “Your father did that.”
“And you helped—big time. Dad probably could have kept me alive without you, but it would have looked bad—why I don’t know, some political reason—but I owe you one, Lynn. This is … well, it’s the least I can do.”
“It’s more than enough,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
Tommy grinned. “Anytime—you just be willing to pro—damn,” he murmured. Lynn looked up and over her shoulder. Bors was starting to shake his head, turning away. Tommy groaned. “I’d best let you go …”
“I suppose,” Lynn said dully, weighing the vial in her hand. She put it in her pocket as Tommy started to walk away. Then, suddenly—“Tommy, wait.”
He looked back at her, raising one eyebrow. Lynn felt words stick in her throat as she asked, not daring to look at him, “Could you—d-do me a—f-f-favor?”
She swallowed. “Tonight—after dinner—could you—I mean, would you mind—” Lynn took a deep breath. “Could you meet me in the solarium? Where we met—last time?”
She thought she could hear the grin in his voice as he replied, “With pleasure, Lynn.”
Tommy was not sure if bolting down his food in record time or sitting dully at the table, pushing it around on his plate, was the better course of action. Certainly he wanted to be done with the dinner part – but his stomach was in such a roil he really was not sure if putting something into it was really the best of options. He spent about ten minutes in an agony of indecision, before he realized that sitting around and staring at his plate was not going to make the food disappear any faster, and if he left with a full plate sitting on the table, someone would be sure to notice, rumors would start, and his life would be made miserable thereby. He started tucking in with, if not quite enthusiasm, definitely alacrity.
He kept that up for another ten minutes, before his father kicked him from under the table and hissed for him to slow down, he would make himself sick otherwise. Tommy ate more slowly for about five minutes. Then he just gave up, asked to be excused, and took off. He thought he saw Lancelot give his father a questioning look; Arthur had just held up his hands and shrugged.
It was not until he found his way through the darkened and dimmed hallways – the servants, probably assuming everyone to be at dinner, must have not made it to this corridor yet – and into the still-empty solarium that he realized that Lynn, with her (his mind filled in profanities) overprotective father, would hardly be able to, first of all, leave dinner early, and secondly, be allowed to leave alone.
Tommy threw himself moodily onto one of couches. He was still in for a long wait.
There were no candles lit in the solarium, and found himself lacking the energy to light any. But he could see anyway. The night was crisp and clear—brilliant pinpricks of starlight came through the wide windows, and the moon was up and somewhere between the quarter and the full. It gave the room a silvery ambiance that was almost eerie, but there was too much clarity, too much sharpness to keep up the illusion of fear. Tommy sighed and looked out the windows, staring at the moon and bright stars and, for a few moments, succeeded in emptying his mind of all thoughts …
Until he heard a rustle, then the small click of a knob being turned, and the slow sweep of the door opening …
Tommy bolted upright, turning and kneeling on the sofa like a ten-year-old child, staring over the back and looking at the door. Flickering torchlight appeared in the widening light-space on the floor, a shadow following. Tommy thought the shadow was small—definitely female, there was no mistaking those curves for anything else—but the light was too bad for him to make out the facial features.
The shadow saw him, started back nervously. In a whisper too strained for him to positively identify, she asked, “To—Lord Thomas?”
Tommy, less cautious, replied in a normal tone, “Aye—Lynn?”
Breath in a soft whoosh came from the shadowy figure, and she replied, “Yes, Tommy, it’s me.” She started to close the door behind her, then stopped. “Don’t … you want a candle or something?”
“Not particularly, no,” he replied, then asked, “Do you?”
Lynn paused, seeming to think; then she shut the door behind her. “No—it’s better this way—no one will know that we’re in here.”
“Oh. Good point.” Tommy climbed over the sofa, gently took hold of her hands. “Come here—I can barely see you.”
He led her into the moonlight; he thought her face looked almost as apprehensive and worried as he had felt during dinner. The silver light made her hair look almost white, her dress seemed to almost glow. He saw Lynn wipe her hands off nervously on the skirt, then shyly smile at him for a split second.
Tommy swallowed—the question of why she had asked him to meet her was burning on his tongue, but he started off with a neutral topic. “How did you escape?”
“I told my father that I had to use—well—” Lynn glanced at the ground; in the low light he could not tell if she was blushing, but he thought she was. “Er—Father had no wish to accompany me …”
“So you probably don’t have a lot of time,” Tommy said ruefully.
“Well …” Lynn licked her lips. “As long as—no one brings his attention to the fact that I’m gone for a long time—he probably won’t notice, but …”
“But we’d best make this quick.”
“I suppose.” She sighed. Tommy let go of her hands in order to caress her cheek.
This seemed to trigger whatever she had wanted to say—she looked up so fast that, had his nails been not bitten to the quick, he probably would have accidentally scratched her cheek. “Tommy?” she whispered; he thought he could hear her voice shaking.
“I—you once said—that, if I ever said no to your advances you would—stop. Is that—offer still open?”
“It’s not an offer,” Tommy replied. “It’s a promise. And it still holds true.”
“Oh—all right.” She swallowed and licked her lips. “If—I said—yes—what would you do then?”
Tommy stared at her—If she said yes? Is she saying yes?—and Lynn, mistaking his bewilderment for something else, blundered on hurriedly, “I mean—I know it’s been three weeks—if you’re not interested anymore, I understand—” she swallowed and looked away for a moment—Tommy wanted to interrupt, but she was talking again before he could get his thoughts in order, “—and I know that, even if you are interested, you might not want to start something, because, well, the only thing my father has over Andras, Einion and Padrig is that there’s only one of him—and he isn’t stupid enough to try to kill you in the middle of the courtyard without a proper challenge or anything—so, like I was saying, if you don’t want—”
Tommy put his hand over her mouth, tenderly but firmly. Her eyes, wide and reflecting the stars from their dark depths, stared up at him. “Lynn. Are you saying yes—or aren’t you?”
Slowly, she nodded.
Tommy smiled. “Good. Now, if you please, I’ll answer your question.” He felt her swallow; he smiled at her. He removed him hand.
Then, with another smile, this one just to himself, he leaned in for the kiss he had been waiting for, it seemed, all his life.