I’d hoped to get away early and sneak in a little research on Nyneve, but that was never a realistic expectation. Mom decided to get up and fix a big breakfast before I left, including, of all things, hash browns. Why, I have no idea. In describing my standing breakfast at Peckerwoods’, had I incited a sense of motherly competition that I hadn’t known existed? Really, Mom. If you’re going to compete with Peckerwoods’ for best Mom bragging rights, don’t do it with hash browns. I thought longingly of Wanda’s crusty morsels as I dutifully made my way through a heaping mound of lifeless, insipid cubes of potato.
But I gave her some shit about them and that made it all OK. “So, Mom, this is a new recipe, huh? When did you start making hash whites?”
“They are a little pale, aren’t they?” Mom poked at the pile on my plate with her fork. “I thought they’d color coordinate better with the eggs that way, so I didn’t add any food coloring. And too much brown makes a plate dull, don’t you think?”
Sound harsh? Not at all. Word play was expected in our family, our own way of dealing with the world. Gentle loving insults that had no bite. At least I came by it honestly.
But words take time, and loving words even more so. Add to that a large helping of hash whites, and it was almost kickoff time when I pulled into Peckerwoods’.
Lucas and Ellie were already sitting at my table, which was reserved with a sign, ‘Reserved for Captain Lucas and his charming bride, Ellie.’ And below that in small print inside parentheses, ‘Special guest, the Yankee from Charleston.’
“A fine how-de-do this is—reduced from headliner to sidekick in just one week,” I greeted my hosts, shaking Lucas’ hand and kissing Ellie’s cheek. She’d foregone the face paint for a big black-and-red headdress affair, like a feather boa only it sort of exploded over her head instead of lying peacefully on her shoulders. “And what is this creature that you’ve slain for your headgear? Surely not a Falcon. Is this even legal? Seems like it should be an endangered species of something.” I shook hands with one of the loose ends hanging down over her shoulder.
“Actually, I’ll bet it’s from an Eagle. Isn’t that who your jersey-mate, Mike Vick, is playing for now?” Her expression said I was on shaky ground. Fresh from non-stop kidding with Mom, I’d become desensitized that some people don’t take it as well, particularly on touchy topics. So I extemporized. “But I’m sure he’s still a Falcon in his heart.”
“He’s still a Falcon in MY heart, that’s for sure.”
“And it’s a damned good thing he never proposed to Ellie, or I’d be her ex-husband. In her heart and in her checkbook.”
“Now Lucas, you know that’s not true. I’d never give up the man of my life just for a rich, handsome jock with a great butt.”
“Who’s got a great butt?” Sabrina wanted to know, coming in on the tail end of our conversation, no pun intended. “Rick? Don’t think I’ve ever seen him from the back before. Let’s have a look.”
“Unwilling to take Ellie’s word for it?” I stood up and gave it a little shake for her, then again for the crowds.
We were playing the hapless Jets, so I wasn’t too worried. But a game back of the Saints in the division already, we couldn’t afford to drop one we were supposed to win. So of course it turned out to be a real nail biter, with the Jets pretending they were a real football team and the Falcons sputtering along in a rare display of mediocrity. At the end of the 3rd quarter we were down 20-17.
“Sabrina, you got plenty of pie? Enough for everybody?”
“Heavens, no. But Wanda made a sheet cake with a Falcon logo that didn’t turn out like she wanted, so she didn’t even bring it out.”
So I stood up in my chair and started tapping on my tea glass with a knife until the crowd quieted down. “Ladies and gentlemen, fellow peckerwoods. This is a sorry state of affairs indeed. Pulling our team out of this swamp of despair is going to take everybody’s best effort. So I’m buying ya’ll dessert. Go Falcons. Get your heads out of your collective ass, team. Serve it up, Sabrina.”
That turned the tide. Or maybe it was the Jets remembering just in time that they were the Jets. But I’m still claiming at least partial responsibility. Final score was 30 to 20, good guys.
“So, is a victory stroll a Peckerwoods’ tradition, or was that a one-time event?” I asked Sabrina as she brought me my check.
“Rick, I can’t. I know. Stupid, stupid, stupid.” She hit her forehead lightly with her palm to accentuate each word. “Just don’t give up on me quite yet.”
“Oh, I’m not breaking off the engagement, darlin’. If anybody’s going to do that, it’ll have to be you.”
She shook her head. “You’re a good man, Rick Whittaker. I’ve told you that before, but it’s still true. Way too good for me.”
“Not true, Sabrina. You deserve the best the world has to give. Whether I fit that description or not, well, the jury’s still out on that.” I stood, gave her a brotherly peck on the cheek, and ruffled her hair. She turned away quickly and moved on to another table, leaving me unsure whether the response I’d glimpsed had been a smile or a tear.
They’d charged me a measly $10 for the cake. So I added another ten to my tip.
At least Sabrina’s refusal had a silver lining: fifteen minutes later I was on the internet, trying to find out everything I could about Nyneve.
* * *
The first thing that I learned, from Wikipedia, was that Nyneve was ONE of the various names given to the Lady of the Lake. Others included more N names—Nimue, Niniane, and Nivian—as well as a couple of others, mostly variants on Vivian or Elaine. Well, from my reading, I’d already figured out that writers play loose when it comes to names. That’s supposedly because of the different traditions that the legends and characters were derived from, complicated by the variety of languages the stories had been originally written in: French, Welsh, Middle English, and Latin.
The Lady of the Lake was one confusing character. She was sometimes good—saving Arthur from his evil half sister Morgan le Fay, for example. And sometimes evil, as when she entrapped Merlin in a cave for all eternity. And sometimes you couldn’t tell. She gave Arthur Excalibur, but then was beheaded by Balin, supposedly because of a feud. And sometimes those acts were done by one of the women named but they weren’t the Lady of the Lake when they did it.
Before the night was over, I’d come to a conclusion. If George’s ‘N’ was indeed one of the Arthurian N women—Nyneve, Niniane, Nivian, or Nimue—then she was a fictional character, not a ‘real’ person. And to learn more about her, my best resource was George’s library, not the internet. Particularly since if he went missing because he’d discovered the answer, he probably got it from one of these books. I validated my reasoning from the simple fact that, knowing George as I did, if he hadn’t found the answer he’d have bought more books.
Here I use the word ‘real’ lightly, since my experiences with the island of Avalon, S.C. has already shown me that ‘real’ didn’t necessarily mean what I’d always thought it meant. For the old Rick, ‘real’ meant factual, tangible, and verifiable by more than one source so you could print it. But real as it applied to the island didn’t mean any of those things. The fire, for example. You could see it, so it had to be ‘real.’ But it didn’t consume the dead wood lying around on the island or leave ashes, so it couldn’t really be ‘real,’ at least not according to my former definition of the word.
It was all so confusing. I needed to talk to Chai.
Not to mention that we’ve gone a week without getting laid, Mr. Lust reminded me. I quashed him down with a touch more vigor than my usual half-hearted efficiency.
Two books that were likely candidates, from my internet research, I hadn’t opened so far. One was Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. This was the definitive account, written in the late 15th century and based on many of the tales written before that date. I’d avoided it because the language was so stilted and un-novel-like that it didn’t look like a fun read. The other was The Mists of Avalon, a very popular novel from the 1980’s that was imposing because of its 900-page length. But I was no longer reading merely for pleasure; I was being a high-powered investigative reporter who had everything I needed to figure out who the woman was.
Eeny Meeny Miney Malory. I pulled it off the shelf and went to work.