Over the next month I mulled over my uncle’s proposition as I sorted through and dealt with my mother’s things. Tenderly I put away my belongings in her old trunk, which I had inherited.
When I had finished with that, I was certain of my answer. I knew that I would be sent away at some point, if some of Uncle’s family had their way. They might be kind to me now, but they’d return to their real beliefs about me soon enough.
I couldn’t risk my uncle putting together a dowry or arranging a marriage for me, either. My choice was obvious to my eleven year old mind. I would become his ward.
I told him as much, and he agreed that it might be the best option for the time being. So I became Kellan’s companion.
Kellan was not happy about it, needless to say. She had never liked me, and since I had blackmailed her into leaving my things alone she had hated me. Personally, I wasn’t too fond of the arrangement, but I knew that it would only last a couple of months.
A betrothal had been in place since Kellan’s second birthday, and her future husband would marry her once he had been recognized as a knight in my father’s realm. As the ceremony for that would be taking place the next spring, their wedding would occur not even a full week later.
My dear cousin constantly complained about this wedding, reluctant to marry a man of her father’s choosing when she fancied herself to be “in love” with her father’s squire. I thought that she was being silly- not only was her fiance young, but he was to be a knight of my father’s lands, Camelot. My father didn’t let weak men become a knight of his land, so as far as I could see, her pre-arranged mate was a pretty decent deal.
“How can you be so heartless?” Kellan moaned, throwing herself across her bed rather dramatically, causing me to look up from the book I was reading momentarily. “Don’t you care at all for true love?”
“I do care,” I said, half-listening to her. “I simply think that it is irrelevant now. Aunt Mary is planning your wedding. Uncle Cadman wouldn’t let you break the betrothal now. Besides, at least your husband will be young. Not an awful old man who’s been married several times before.”
“But he’s not Deverall,” she complained, her voice whiny. I made a non-committed noise from the back of my throat and carefully turned the page of my book. “What do you think of Deverall, Morgan?”
“He’s a small, weak, meek boy who will never amount to much,” I said calmly. A moment later a pillow hit me in the side of my head.
“He’s just a bit shy,” Kellan said. “He’s sweet and gentle and sensitive-”
“He’d be better off writing poetry or studying to be a cleric,” I said, closing my book as another pillow came flying. I caught the pillow and set it down in my lap, thinking, thank goodness that Kellan only had two pillows on her bed. “You know that I’m right, Kellan, and sulking won’t do anyone any good.”
“Be quiet,” Kellan snapped, pouting. “I won’t listen to you insult Deverall.”
“You asked me what I thought,” I said. “So I told you.”
“Get out of my sight!” Kellan said, rolling over so she wouldn’t have to look at me. “Forever!”
“You know that’s impossible,” I said, standing up and gathering my things. “But I’ll be only too willing to oblige.” With that I left her room.
For the rest of the evening we avoided one another, and apparently Uncle noticed. I was summoned to the solar by Arland, and I entered rather reluctantly.
“Oh, good,” Uncle said. “You came.”
“Of course I did, Uncle,” I said, slightly bemused. “You summoned me.” He smiled slightly.
“Yes, I did, Morgan,” he said. “Please take a seat by the fire. These nights are getting longer and colder again.” I did as he said, wondering why I was there. It didn’t seem like Uncle Cadman was angry or upset, maybe just a little tired and resigned. Silence fell for a couple of minutes, except for the crackling of the fire.
“Why have you called me here, Uncle?” I asked after a couple of minutes. He gave a slight start, making me wonder if he had forgotten that I was in the room.
“Kellan came to supper alone tonight,” he said quietly. “I was wondering why you weren’t with her, when you are her companion.”
“We had a disagreement earlier, Uncle,” I said, choosing my words carefully. Mama had always told me that words had power, so I was to be on constant guard over my tongue. “She told me to leave her, so I did.” Uncle sighed heavily, and I began to wonder if I was in trouble.
“That daughter of mine,” he muttered under his breath. Afraid of being the source of trouble, or maybe even eviction from my uncle’s lands, I felt the compulsion to apologize.
“I’m sorry,” I said, studying my hands. “I shouldn’t have left in such a hurry.”
“Don’t apologize, Morgan,” he said, studying me. “Both you and Kellan have very strong wills. I understand that you love different things and activities than she does, and that could sometimes cause a rift quickly if the wrong thing is said. Maybe it was foolish of me to make you her companion.” He paused, watching me for any reaction. Seeing none he continued. “I think this might be a good chance for the two of you to learn how to get along. Morgan, you are to continue to be her companion, and you will not leave her side except at services or when you are asleep.”
“Yes, Uncle,” I said, not liking the sound of that.
“She’s prone to get into trouble if I don’t have someone with her,” he said with a sigh. “I’m sorry for forcing my problems on you.”
“I’m your ward,” I said stiffly, not sure what else I should say. “You can order me to do what you will, and I have to do it.”
“I am also your family,” he said. “I need to ensure only the best for you, in the memory of Anna.” I studied my hands, completely uncertain of myself.
“Is that all that you wished to discuss, Uncle?” I asked, quietly.
“Yes,” he said. “You may go. And remember, tomorrow you will be by Kellan’s side as much as possible.”
“Of course, Uncle,” I said, rising and leaving the room quickly.
Over the bitterly cold winter I somehow managed to stay with Kellan most of each day, every day. Snow covered the ground, and it fell steadily, making it impossible to leave the palace.
The wind itself was brutal. It whistled through the shudders, doors, and windows, creating a constant chilly draft in the outer chambers and halls. Fires were kept burning consistently in the solar and great hall, and everyone wore half of their wardrobe daily.
In the middle of December, Uncle and Aunt had pallets placed in the solar for their children and I. We huddled together, searching for warmth. The rest of the household moved to the great hall, sleeping on the benches, tables and floors.
According to some of the older members of the household, that was the coldest winter in thirty years. I would believe them. Uncle lost several of his livestock to frostbite, and when food began to run short the servants cut up the dead animals and cooked them.
Spring came after a long last, and we received a letter from Kellan’s fiance’s family with the date of the knighting ceremony. The next several months were filled with us packing Kellan’s things and readying her for the wedding. In the midst of this I received another summons from Uncle Cadman.
Like a good girl, I went. As it turns out, what he had to say was simple.
“I hope you won’t be too upset, but I think that it would be best if you were to stay here while Mary and Kellan and I go to the knighting ceremony, which is to take place on your father’s lands, as he was less than kind to you the last time you spoke. Besides, someone must stay with the younger children,” he said, pacing the room. “Three days after the knighting, you and the rest of the family will come to Brittany to witness the marriage of Duan Cyric and Kellan of the Scots.”
“Yes, Uncle,” I said, understanding what he meant. I was extremely relieved that I would not have to see my father, so I accepted what he told me without argument.
“My son, Devin, will be in charge of my lands while I’m in your father’s courts,” Uncle Cadman said. “If any troubles arise, go to him. I leave you in charge of the children during this time. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Uncle,” I said. I paused and then continued. “Thank you, Uncle.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. “You are fast becoming a woman, one your mother would be proud of. You have proven yourself to me, Morgan. I trust you.”
He could not have paid me a higher compliment. I thanked him many times, and then he dismissed me.
I returned to the preparations, and they were finished soon after that. Before we knew it, it was time for Uncle and Aunt Mary to leave, taking Kellan with them.
As we waved good bye to them, the world seemed right. I felt like I belonged now. I was part of a family once more.