Chapter Twenty-Two

There is little to say about my arrival at Kellan and Cyric’s palace. They greeted me warmly, and we ate together, and then I was led to my chambers by a maid. I fell asleep, aware that I would soon be immersed in the search for a home.

Morning came quickly, but not before the night had succeeded in instilling all sorts of horrid pictures of the courts of Camelot and the actions of it’s knights, of Gavin and Blanchette, and even of Leslie and Mordred’s mother crying out from their graves in my mind. I woke, not feeling very well rested, and prepared myself for the day.

The night before, at supper time, Cyric had explained to me that King Arthur’s adviser had heard of my query and volunteered a small piece of land that was placed in between his lands and the lands of another of Camelot’s knights. He was expected to arrive later this afternoon, and we would take a tour of the land I would be living on.

As I entered the dining hall, Kellan glanced up at me and hurried to fulfill her role as hostess. Cyric, on the other hand, paid little attention to me as he drained his beverage.

“Good morning, Morgan,” Kellan said as I sat down, motioning for a servant to fill my cup. “Did you sleep well?”

“Relatively,” I said, aware of how bad it would sound if I were to tell the truth. “The chamber was quite comfortable.”

“But you appear to have not slept well,” Kellan said, ever observant. I smiled tiredly as I prepared my trencher.

“You know how it is to travel,” I said quietly. “The first night in a new place is usually rough.”

“That it is,” Kellan said gently, taking a sip from her own cup. I smiled, and she smiled back. “You’ll have to tell me how you’ve been since Christmas, and how Mordred is and how he’s grown.”

“Good lord, woman,” Cyric said, finally turning his attention to us. “She won’t be able to tell you anything if you don’t let her eat in peace.” Kellan glared at him for a moment before falling silent.

I ate quickly, eager to be done. As I took my last bite, Kellan grabbed me by the arm and pulled me off to a small, cozy room. I’m not sure how to describe it.

It was more of a sitting room than an library or an office, but there was a desk by the window, placed there to catch the most light. Kellan pushed me down into a comfortable chair, and began to question me rapidly.

“Tell me everything,” she warned before she began her interrogation. “How was life with Gavin and his family? Why did you leave? How is Mordred? Did Gavin propose? Did you say yes? Has Mordred grown much? Are you doing well?” She paused for a breath, and I took the chance to answer before she could think of more questions to bombard me with.

“Gavin’s family was very kind and accepting or Mordred and I. We left because Gavin had made it clear that he wanted to marry me, and yet he had a prostitute living under his roof,” I said. Kellan gasped in horror.

“That’s simply awful!” she exclaimed, leaning forward and taking my hand.

“He had proposed to me, and I hadn’t been sure whether to accept or not,” I said. “the return of that woman made my decision for me. I will not marry that man ever, not even if he’s the last man left on this planet.”

“I can’t say that I blame you,” she said, staring at my sympathetically.

“Mordred is fine,” I said, wanting to change the subject. Thoughts of Gavin and his misdemeanors, particularly of his actions with that prostitute, made me feel uncomfortable and angry, but when I spoke of him to Kellan those feelings intensified. Remembering that she was Leslie’s sister made everything even worse, and I couldn’t stand that. “He’s healthy and has grown so much. I don’t know if you’d even recognize him.” Kellan laughed.

“Little boys have a habit of doing that,” she said, smiling sadly. I was surprised to see the maturity in her eyes. For me, very little change had occurred since Kellan’s marriage. However, Kellan had been a wife for eighteen years or thereabouts, she had been a mother twice over, and both of her babies were training to be knights. Over the last eighteen years she had lost many children, and been through so much pain and suffering.

“Before you know it, you’ll have to start looking for a wife for that little baby of yours,” Kellan said, a far away look in her eyes.

“Have you found wives for your sons yet?” I asked curiously. Kellan shook her head.

“Not yet,” she said. “It’s not for a lack of trying, either. The young women who are eligible, well, they’re just not right for my babies. They won’t take care of things the way they ought to be cared for.”

“You know that you’re going to disapprove of whoever the lucky women are, anyways,” I said, smiling at her. She laughed again, and infectious life-filled laugh, that gurgled up from deep inside of her.

“That’s probably very true,” she said. A tap on the door frame alerted us to the appearance of Cyric and a tall and thin man.

“Kellan,” Cyric said, his tone containing a warning for her. “This is Merlin. He’s here to speak to Morgan about the house.”

“Merlin,” I repeated, standing and eyeing the man. His black hair obviously hadn’t been washed since ast summer, though his skin looked a little cleaner than that. His eyes were back, too, and heavily shadowed, and currently sowed surprise.

“You aren’t what I expected at all,” he said, stepping closer. He wore druids robes, and his hands were encrusted with dirt and something that looked suspiciously like dried blood.

“Nor are you,” I retorted. “We ought to discuss the particulars”

“I’m sure we ought to,” he said, not moving from where he stood beside Cyric.

“Oh, do come in,” Kellan said brightly, turning into a welcoming and proper hostess in a heartbeat. “Have a seat, Merlin. Can I get you anything?”

“I don’t plan on being here long,” he said brusquely. Kellan’s smile became fixed, but she managed to keep it up, somehow.

I reached for her hand as I moved to sit beside her, determined to let her know that she shouldn’t let this man upset her. She smiled slightly.

“What do you intend to charge me for the house and the land?” I asked Merlin, not overly impressed by his manners. I suppose that he could have easily said the same of me, but he didn’t.

“I was thinking that since it is a productive and fertile piece of land that the house is on, you could pay a quarter of whatever you grow for your own use to me,” he said, his eyes raking my figure, lingering where my gown clung to my body.

“A quarter?” I exclaimed, shocked and mildly horrified. “But according to the ancient laws of this and the king lays claim to half of the vegetation the land produces. Of the remaining amount, a tenth goes to the local parish. You propose to leave me with only fifteen percent of whatever is grown? Surely that won’t be enough to feed my son and myself through the summer and the following winter!”

“The king requires no taxes from the land,” Merlin said, his voice silky. “It is my land, and I am your feudal lord while you dwell upon it. Ten percent of what would have been the king’s to claim would have been given to me anyhow, and the other fifteen percent will be considered your rent. I assure you, Lady Morgan, you will not find another offer this generous.”

“Oh?” I said, surprised. It have never been common for a king of Camelot to give someone’s lands an exemption from taxes. I bit back the urge to ask Merlin what he had done to warrant such favor with his king. “That sounds reasonable. However, we probably should go and take a look at the land before we doanything to make this official.”

“I suppose that would be a good idea,” Merlin said, his face and voice both impassive. “Are you ready to travel?”

“Permit me to fetch my cloak,” I said calmly, rising to my feet. “Kellan, Cyric, will you be accompanying us?”

“Of course,” Kellan said, standing as well. Cyric eyed her disapprovingly, but she ignored him. “If you will excuse us, gentlemen?”  she said, curtseying politely before pulling me out of the room.

“Of course,” Merlin said, his gaze never leaving me once. With a slight shudder I left the room with Kellan.