Elaine and I were married in a very simple ceremony in the late afternoon of a clear, crisp October evening with a full moon just coming up in the eastern sky. Considering that the official part of the ceremony lasted about three seconds—Arthur pronounced the words, “I grant you this woman as your wife” and we were married—it took a hell of a long time to get ready.
Actually, the limiting factor was Morgause. Elaine insisted that she had to be invited; she was her sister after all. We delayed our nuptials until mid-October, and even that was pushing it. What with the invitation having to travel all the way to Orkney, and then the reply which said, “Of course I shall be there,” getting back. And then time for Morgause to assemble her baggage and a suitable party to escort it. Not to mention the actual trip itself, almost four hundred miles, at a rate that would not bruise the royal heinie. A royal heinie would be even more delicate than, say, the Lady Lorena’s (although Elaine and Guinevere both rode horses, not wagon seats).
But my new sister-in-law made it, with two days to spare. By then, of course, the weather was already too foul for her to return home before spring. Morgan solved that little problem by inviting Morgause to spend the winter. “Oh, we’ll think up some mischief to keep us busy.” I shuddered to imagine what that might be although I was grimly determined that it would not include the sister trifecta.
Wonder if Morgause brought the Holy Grail along? There was plenty of room for it amongst all those chests.
Elaine’s wedding gown was sewn and embroidered long before the actual day. But not by Elaine. She absolutely refused to participate. Said she’d get married in a peasant’s homespun dress before she embroidered another stitch. I liked that about her: when she took a stand about something important, she was willing to hitch up her skirt and stand in a shield wall over it. When she felt that strongly, the only answer was, “Yes, dear.” But if it wasn’t important to her, she was very flexible.
We asked the Lady of the Lake to officiate, but she’d sent regrets. Actually, it wasn’t that big a deal to me, except I figured she’d bring George Foster, and we could spend our honeymoon learning new and better math skills. Plus I hoped to talk him into teaching at our school part of the year, since Nimue was bound by solemn oaths not to have sex except at Beltane. The Princess was positively drooling over the idea. “Hey, we can fuck anytime, even if he can’t. But you should never pass up an opportunity to learn more math.” Her words, not mine. She had a bit of a potty mouth in private. But in her note, Nimue invited us to come to Avalon for Beltane and she’d marry us proper.
The wedding was a rather small affair—for a royal wedding. Ninety-two Knights of the Round Table were in attendance. They formed the traditional sword arch for Elaine and me to walk under after we were official. Elaine’s entire family was there—her half brother Arthur, both sisters, and all six nephews plus Gawain’s brood, Gaharis’ twin terrors, and Gareth’s new baby daughter that he treated as if made of glass. Morgan’s son, the eight year old King Yvaine (with a regent still ruling in his stead instead of his mother) stood beside Morgan in kingly finery and watched with wide eyes. Morgause’s five—Gawain, Agravain, Gareth, Gaheris, and Mordred—all Knights of the Round Table, were in the sword arch. Just passing beneath a bare longsword held by Agravain was a little unnerving. Oops, sorry Uncle Arthur, that just slipped right out of my hand. But when his sword touched the one opposite his, Agravain cringed away from the sound; later I saw him retching in the bushes. Never should have doubted Morgan.
There were no problems with the wedding feast either. Cook told me, “Hey, I got this. You just stand back and take notes.” And she was as good as her boast. Arthur even admitted that the food was almost as good without me as with me. Actually, the only responsibility that challenges most seneschals is calculating stocks and usage rates and resupply points. Once Elaine and I got our school up and going that would be a thing of the past.
While we were waiting all those weeks for the wedding party to assemble, we worked on figuring out how our school was going to operate. Whenever we could squeeze in an hour around Elaine’s tutoring responsibilities and her carnal demands. For two old people, we spent an astonishing amount of time naked. “By the rigid rod of Priapus, woman. At this rate, you’ll be tired of me long before Arthur makes it official.”
“I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Right now I’m still making up for the Year of Our Lord 487.”
“Well, let me know when we get to 488. We’ll have to celebrate having only twenty-four years left.”
“Oh Kay. But isn’t this just what we’d be doing to celebrate?”
Now that my ribs didn’t hurt, I was able to practice some of the arcane arts I’d learned under Morgan’s tutelage. Elaine, although she’d been married for a decade and was a lot more practiced in the basics than I was, was as ignorant about sex as I had been. But she was an adventuresome lass, and quite vociferous about her delight.
“By the goddess, Kay, don’t you dare stop what you’re doing. Where in the world did you ever learn such a thing?”
Occasionally I was tempted to answer that question. After all, a husband and a wife should have no secrets from each other, right? Wrong. She might have found the answer uproariously funny—Elaine had a strange, delightful, offbeat sense of humor. But she could have just as easily been so offended she called the whole thing off. Probably not, but being a woman and all, she was mightily hard to predict. So it remained my secret. Mine and Morgan’s.
But outside of that one private area, we had no secrets. There were hours and hours of cuddling each other in the afterglow of our lovemaking, holding forth on whatever topic came to mind. In my experience, any two people have only a limited number of things they can talk about before they run out of things to say. But I was deliciously wrong.
Our biggest problem about the school was where to locate it so I could keep up my oversight obligations at Camelot without a lengthy commute and Maleagans could readily visit his daughters, whom he really did dote on. Morgan solved that quandary with a dismissive wave of her fingers by giving us her manor for a wedding present. “It’s really a little small for my needs, as it turns out. The Knights of the Round Table who are my guests are constantly stumbling all over each other. And they do tend to get cranky and competitive when one of them has been appointed to pleasure me while the other eleven are just fantasizing about it.”
“You’re committed to continuing this, I suppose? No making up with Arthur and letting bygones be bygones? I put in a good word for you.”
“Well, it hasn’t worked so far. And I’ll let bygones be bygones when the bastard gives me my kingdom back.” Morgan made a putting sound with her lips. “But there’s the other problem—it is a little close to Camelot. Sooner or later my brother is going to drop in for a visit and be astonished at what’s been going on right there under his nose. Then I’d have to enchant him so he’ll forget and while he was enchanted I’d be tempted to sleep with him—hey, Morgause did it, why can’t I? And then I’d think about having a son with him so Mordred wouldn’t automatically inherit the throne since he’s such a slimeball. And what a mess that would be. So I’m moving north to Coventry, and I’m happy to let you have this little place for your love nest. How’s that working out, by the way?”
“One of the things you taught me was that a gentleman never kisses and tells, dear Morgan. So I’m afraid I can’t answer.”
“I didn’t mean you shouldn’t tell me, you big galoot. Well, I’ll just have to resort to the scrying basin to see how you’re progressing.”
After delivering that threat, she was quiet for a bit. Outside, red and golden leaves continued to come free in the wind and flutter toward the ground.
“We’d have been great together, Kay.”
“Indeed we would have, Morgan.”
“Well, if it doesn’t work out, come find me.”
“And I won’t use the scrying basin, dear boy.” She leaned over and kissed me, gently and tenderly. My lips burned for days afterward. Sometimes I wake up in the night and imagine I can still feel her lips on mine.
Our school has been up and running for a bit more than two months now, and there’s an amazing number of details to work out. So far we have seven students. Three sons of nobles with quick minds but without the physical tools to become knights (one with a club foot, another a deformed arm, and the third whole and quick but pint-sized). One son of a very wealthy merchant who is paying handsomely for the privilege. Hilda and Glenda, of course, who are already far ahead of the rest. And Lisle.
“Forget everything I said about mathematics being the tool of the devil, Kay. Learning is the best way to get ahead in life. I could teach her how to read although I’m not all that strong at it myself. And stories from the Holy Bible. But little else.” Father Gascon looked down at the chess board and made an atrocious move, one that was sure to lead to his rapid demise. “I promise to make regular journeys to your home and let you beat me at chess.”
“You’ll do no such thing, my friend.” I reached over and returned his knight to where it had been before. “I’d be pleased to accept her as a student. But aren’t you concerned about her living in such proximity to Oswald?”
“Your young squire has a noble heart, certainly as far as my daughter is concerned. And if the pressure of true love becomes too great to bear, he would feel obliged to marry her. And so she’d not only be educated but an educated minor noblewoman. So what’s there to worry about?”
Oswald. In the days leading up to our wedding festivities, I found myself depending on him more and more. We discussed at length the pros and cons of his becoming a student, the biggest con being that it had the potential for getting in the way of his becoming a Knight of the Round Table. He spent a couple of days thinking about it, and then graciously declined. “I admire you more than any man I’ve ever known,” he told me. “But Sire, I don’t dream of becoming like you.” He looked a little abashed when he said those words, but he said them anyway. I ruffled his hair to let him know I didn’t hold any grudges.
Not that he’ll be young enough to tolerate that gesture much longer. He’s growing like a weed. Not unexpected, since he’s of that age where boys spurt up overnight. And also where they become headstrong and eager to prove themselves. The worst possible time for me to be tied to one spot and temporarily abstaining from questing.
Not that questing was an option at the moment. Winter has set in with a vengeance. Last week we celebrated midwinter with a giant burning log and lots of liquid cheer. The manor is drafty and chill, but what place isn’t? It’s a hell of a lot better than Camelot (that must be Odin’s hell of a lot better; Father Ignatius’ hell is rumored to be burning hot). And it’s going to get colder yet. By Imbolc nobody will be traveling anywhere, and the ignorant will wonder if the gods are mad and punishing mankind by taking warmth away from the earth (the answer, of course, is that the gods are mad but not necessarily angry).
Oswald has been sitting in on some of the classes. I think that’s more a sign of how bored he is than any true interest. But the other day he asked me, “So, Sire. If you left Camelot riding at a leisurely two miles and hour, and I came chasing after you an hour later, how long would it take me to catch you? Wait, don’t tell me. Two hours? Hah! Who’s the man now?”
He came to me this morning with a puzzled look on his face. Which has leaned out considerably as his height shot up and has lost some of that cherub look. “Sire, will you take a look at this? My sword doesn’t quite fit in the scabbard any more. I think it may have gotten larger.”
I started to make some smart remark, but then I looked closer and damned if it didn’t look bigger.
“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Did you show Guardemaine?”
“He said that elvan weapons are mysterious things. But he wouldn’t guess what it meant.”
“Well, I’ll guess. It means that it chose you before you were born and was waiting for you to come and claim it. But it would not have done that unless you were going to be a great knight some day.”
His eyes got big. “You really believe that?”
“Absolutely.” I hated to say the next words, but I did anyway. “Do you want me to talk to Galahad about taking you on as a squire? I’m sure he’ll be off on some great quest or another as soon as the weather breaks.”
Oswald smiled and shook his head slightly. “I am grateful for such an offer, Sire. But I think I’ll stick with you. After all, a knight needs to know more than he can learn on quest. And besides, you’re going to need me come spring. We’re taking your students to Avalon for Beltane!”
“Certainly, Sire. The Lady of the Lake invited you. You’ve said yourself that there’s more to a well-rounded education than Latin noun declensions and long division. And if that’s true, Beltane on Avalon has to be one of those things.”
I put on my best stern, fatherly look. “So what do you know about Beltane?”
He answered with that charming smile of his, still disarming even though he wasn’t quite as cherubic. “I’m too young to know those things, Sire. But I won’t always be.”
No, Oswald. You’re doomed to grow up, just like the rest of us.
“And then there will be the greatest quest of all—now that you’ve found a woman who reads, that is. To heck with the Holy Grail—that’s Sir Galahad’s quest and we’ll leave it to him. Instead, we’ll bring kaffka to Britain!”