Terence gazed glumly from the turret of Camelot’s highest tower. Before his eyes lay miles of tidy patchwork farms, bordered by hedgerows and forests, all tied together by ribbons of well-kept roads. Britain under King Arthur was a picture of tranquility, a picture that was belied by the tense, anxious emptiness that Terence had felt growing within for more than a month. He turned and picked his way down the tower’s winding stairs.
At ground level, Terence crossed a courtyard where young squires practiced swordplay with wooden cudgels. He nodded to them and returned several polite greetings: although he was older than the next oldest squire present by at least ten years, he was still one of them, in the service of King Arthur’s nephew Gawain.
He stopped once to offer advice to a young squire who was scrubbing at a spot of rust on a breastplate, then continued through the court to the chambers that he shared with Gawain. Gawain sat in an armchair by the fire, nursing a pot of ale.
“There you are, lad,” Gawain commented.
“Here I am.”
“Where’ve you been all day?”
“In the north woods, then on the high tower,” Terence replied. Even to his own ears, his voice sounded abrupt. “Sorry, milord,” he muttered.
“Still worried?” Gawain asked, turning to examine
Terence more closely.
“Ay,” Terence replied. “It’s been nearly six months now since I’ve had any contact with the OtherWorld.”
Gawain shrugged. “Is that so rare? Until I began traveling with you—fifteen, twenty years ago, or whatever it was—I never had contact with the Other World.”
“It’s rare for me. Since we met, I’ve never gone more than a week or two without some word from home.”
When Terence said home he always meant Avalon, the court of his father, Ganscotter, in theWorld of the Faeries. Terence had been raised as a foundling by a hermit until he had been taken on as squire many years before by the young Gawain. In the course of their adventures, Terence had discovered his faery heritage and, through many visits to the Other World since then, had come to realize that he lived in theWorld of Men as a visitor and a stranger.
Gawain nodded. Although he had only a trace of faery blood himself, he was as tied to Avalon in his own way as Terence was. In Avalon lived his wife, Lorie, who was Ganscotter’s daughter and Terence’s half sister. Both Terence and Gawain would have left the World of Men and returned to Avalon in a second if it were not for their loyalty to King Arthur. Ganscotter had told them that they still had a task to perform for their king, and so they remained—their lives and duty in one world, their hearts and hopes in another.
“What are you thinking?” askedGawain. “Have you noticed something peculiar?”
Terence sighed and sat in the other armchair by the fire. It was a breach of courtly etiquette for a squire to sit in the presence of his knight, but they had been through far too much for either to give a straw for such rules. “No, nothing. I don’t have one solid reason for feeling so uneasy. To all appearances, King Arthur’s reign is at its peak. Everything is peaceful and prosperous. It’s been more than a year since the last little revolt, and that was just poor, unhappy Count Anders being a silly ass. King Arthur’s made England what every land ought to be, and people come from everywhere to see how he did it and to bask in his glory.”
Gawain snorted and took a deep draught of ale. “I could do without that last bit,” he commented, wiping foam from his lips with the back of his hand. “It’s gotten so you can’t step outside your door without tripping over another batch of jabbering, overdressed foreign courtiers come to get that Camelot polish, as if Arthur were running some sort of finishing school for knights. And that reminds me, where’s this latest passel of fools from? The ones with the checkerboard trappings?”
A gruff voice came fromthe hallway behindTerence, through the still open door. “From the Holy Bleedin’ Roman Empire.” Neither Terence nor Gawain bothered to look.They both knew the voice of Sir Kai, King Arthur’s half brother and seneschal.
“Come in, Kai,” said Gawain. “Oh, you have. Have some . . . Never mind.” Kai was already at the sideboard, helping himself to a tankard of ale.
He joined them by the fire and continued his own rumbling monologue. “Though why they call themselves Roman makes no manner of sense to me. A passel of Germans.” He frowned. “Is that right? Is it a passel of Germans?”
Gawain looked thoughtful. “It isn’t a flock, I know. Or a gaggle. For that matter, what would you call a group of Britons?”
Kai snorted. “All I know is that I wouldn’t call them Roman.”
Gawain assumed the patient tone of someone instructing a very small child, or an idiot, and said, “Let me explain then, my dear Kai.The founder of this empire was a very important man named Charlemagne, who was a very good Christian except for the bit about killing thousands of people, and so the pope himself granted him the title of Emperor of Rome. So now Charlemagne’s successors are the spiritual descendants of the Roman Caesars.”
“If there was anything spiritual about the Caesars I’ve yet to hear it,” grunted Kai. “And anyway, it isn’t as if the old Roman empire is gone. It’s not what it once was, but it’s still around, moved to Constantinople. So now, because the pope’s a busybody without a lick of sense, we have two bleedin’ Roman empires, and if I have to pick one I’ll take the one that’s farthest off. At least they’re not sending us their wet-nosed brats to learn how to be knights.”
Terence rose from his chair and slipped away. Kai and Gawain would be talking politics for hours, and he had no desire to listen.Outside the door, he took a long breath, then slipped out the window at the end of the corridor and climbed up the outside of the castle wall to a window one level up. He was going where he nearly always went when he felt uneasy or incomplete. He swung through the openwindowinto a neat bedchamber where a red-haired woman sat reading. “Hello, love,” Terence said.
Lady Eileen carefully marked her place in her book, then looked up and met Terence’s smile. “Hello, Terence. I was hoping you’d come by today.”
“Oh?” Terence asked. “Did you have something to ask me?”
“No,” Eileen replied. “I hope that every day.” She rose and walked across the room to him, and they kissed. It had been more than fifteen years since Terence and Gawain had rescued Lady Eileen from the Chateau Wirral, and Terence still caught his breath when he looked into her wise, laughing eyes. She rested her hands onTerence’s shoulders, then stepped back to look at his face from arm’s length. “Now you tell me,” she said. “What’s wrong?”
Terence shrugged. “It’s the same thing. Still no contact from the OtherWorld. Not even a visit from Robin.” Robin was the name of a mischievous little sprite who had been Terence’s most frequent faery visitor.
“And it worries you,” Eileen said, nodding.
Terence nodded back. “Remember, when I was with my father six months ago, he told me there was a plot against Arthur and that I was to be on my guard. Since then, there’s been no contact at all.”
“You think this silence is a part of the plot?” Eileen asked. “That someone is keeping the two worlds apart on purpose? But who could do that?”
“Morgause,”Terence replied at once.Morgause was the most powerful, and most venomous, enchantress in Britain. She was also Gawain’s mother and King Arthur’s half sister, but that had no bearing on the implacable hatred that she bore for both. Terence and Gawain had opposed her plots against the king more than once.
“Remember a few years ago,” Terence said, “when Morgause kidnapped Queen Guinevere? She took the queen to a deserted land and cast a spell over it that kept all faeries from entering. Even I couldn’t go in, and I’m only half faery. Lancelot and Lady Sarah had to rescue the queen.What if Morgause has done something like that for all England?”
“I think you worry too much,” Eileen said at last. “I’m no expert, but I have a feeling that if Morgause had enough power to do that, she wouldn’t have to work by such roundabout means. She’d be able to just kill us all outright.”
Terence relaxed. Of course Eileen was right. “That’s why I keep coming to you.You have such good sense.”
Eileen rolled her eyes. “Why, how complimentary, my dear! I had thought that you came because you were fond of me, but I see now that it’s because I’m useful.”
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” Terence replied, grinning. “But you show promise.”
Eileen drew a breath to reply, but before she could speak, there came a loud rap on her chamber door and a thin female voice with a rich accent called out, “Lady Eileen! Are you een?”
“Oh, blast!” Eileen muttered.
“Who is it?”
“A little chit named Fenice,” Eileen said in a low voice. “She’s with this latest group of tourists from the Holy Roman Empire. A silly, pampered girl with a head full of nonsense about romance that she’s picked up frombad minstrels.Quick, in my bedroom. I’ll try to get rid of her, but she’s not strong on taking hints.”
Terence ducked behind Eileen’s bedroom door. For Lady Eileen—one of Queen Guinevere’s chief ladiesin- waiting—to be seen alone in her rooms with a lowly squire would effectively ruin her socially in the eyes of most of the court. He closed the door behind him and heard Eileen opening the outer door. “Good afternoon, Lady Fenice.What can I do for you?”
There was a swishing of silk, and Lady Fenice’s voice grew clearer as she entered Eileen’s sitting room. “Ah, my dear Lady Eileen, I haff just heard the saddest news! I am to return to my home and so must take my leave of you! And I haff been so happy here! And to think! I haff seen Sir Lancelot and Sir Gavain and Sir Yvain and so many of the greatest knights! It is, it is, unglaubhaft—I do not know the English word; wait, I haff it! It is uncredible to see in real life these heroes that one had only in legends thought to live! But you, you do not think so. These heroes are close to you all the time, is it not?”
“I have been here at Camelot many years,” Eileen replied.
“But there is one you are perhaps closer to than others, yes?”
“I’m not sure I understand you, Lady Fenice.”
“One you haff loved faithfully for many years. It is so, yes!”
Eileen hesitated, then replied, “I don’t know to whom you’ve been talking, but I’m sure that whoever it was told you I have never been married.”
“Married? But what has that to say to anything? I do not speak of marriage. I speak of love! Marriage is a contract, a . . . a Notwendigkeit . . . a thing that one cannot help. Me, I will be married soon, but it does not matter.”
“You’ll be married soon?”
“But yes. That is why my visit here must be cut short. A messenger comes to say that my father has arranged a marriage for me.”
“A marriage to whom?”
“The Duke of Saxony. He’s very rich and very old. He will do nicely. But I speak of love! I haff heard whispers of your secret love.”
Terence leaned toward the door.
“You must learn not to pay attention to rumors, Lady Fenice,” Eileen replied calmly.
“I haff been told how he rescued you from a castle called Wirr . . . called something silly and English, and how you have been faithful to him ever since, and how he has never married, for love of you! So I haff come to see you before I leave to hear stories of your love. How does he worship you? Does he poems of love to you write? Allegories? Does he wear your token at the tournaments? Do you send secret messages? Oh, it is so wunderbar! It is likeTristram and Iseult!”
“Sir Tristram and Lady Iseult had a disgraceful affair and both died because of it,” Lady Eileen said abruptly.
“Yes,” sighed Lady Fenice. “Isn’t it romantic? But it isn’t only Tristram and Iseult. I haff also heard that Queen Guinevere, many years ago—”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you, Fenice,” Eileen interrupted. “My congratulations on your upcoming marriage, and I wish you the very best of journeys as you return home.”
Terence grinned and relaxed. He could just picture his Eileen shepherding the Lady Fenice gently but irresistibly out the door.Taking a breath, he stepped back, bumped against a chest, and knocked a wooden basin onto the stone floor. It made an impressive clatter as it bounced.
“Aha! I knew it!” shrieked a delighted voice, and a moment later the bedroom door had been thrown open and Terence looked into the eyes of a pretty yellowhaired girl in a sumptuous silk dress. “I was right!” she exclaimed. “Secret messages!”
Terence avoided Eileen’s eyes and cast about desperately for something to say. Nothing came to him.
“He sends his squire to you with love messages!” Fenice said. “Me, I haff seen this squire, and I know!” She turned back to Eileen and said, “You and Sir Gavain are very sly, yes? But you may trust me! I will say nothing! Oh, it is so romantic!”
With that, Lady Fenice swished away. Eileen looked steadily at Terence for a long second. “Oh, marvelous. Terence, the uncanny woodsman who can creep through the densest of shrubbery without a sound! Can’t make it across a blinking bedroom, can you?”
“I am, er, better in the woods,” Terence admitted. “And now she’s off telling everyone about my love for Gawain.”
“She said she would tell no one,” Terence pointed out.
Eileen shook her head sadly. “You weren’t listening. What she really said was ‘I can’t wait to tell everyone I meet.’”
“That’s what she said?”
“Of course. Soon the whole court will think I’ve had a long-standing affair with Gawain.”
“Well, at least you both have good taste,” Terence said.
“Shut up, my love.”
That evening King Arthur was hosting a state dinner for his guests from the Holy Roman Empire. In recent years, state dinners had become the most frequent event at court.When alone in Gawain’s chambers, with those he trusted, Sir Kai would often complain about such affairs. “When I started out,” he would say, “I organized armies and planned for battles. Now I spend my time making sure that the linens are clean for the banquet tables.”And if anyone suggested to him that it was the price of peace, Sir Kai would reply, “Not sure it’s worth it.”
Having no plausible excuse to skip the banquet, Gawain went, which meant that Terence was there as well, standing correctly behind his knight’s chair. He didn’t mind. He, at least, could move about the room and stretch his legs. This evening, as dinner entertainment, the guests from the continent offered their very own minstrel—a spindly fellow named Gottfried—to sing a song of his own composition.After apologizing to all for his English, which actually was excellent, the minstrel launched into the tale of Sir Tristram de Liones and his adulterous love affair withQueen Iseult, wife of King Mark of Cornwall. Gottfried played it up in the best courtly tradition, praising the purity of the pairs love and treating King Mark as a jealous buffoon. Never once did he hint that King Mark might have had reason to be angry about his wife’s love affair with another. Terence decided that this would be a good time to stretch his legs, and he casually made his way to the kitchens.
He had been there only a few seconds when the doors opened again and he was joined by one of King Arthur’s knights, Sir Dinadan. “Is the dinner over?” askedTerence, grinning.
Sir Dinadan smiled back, ruefully. “I couldn’t stomach it,” he admitted. “Even leaving aside that this Gottfried has no touch for his instrument—he plays the lyre like he’s currying a horse—I just can’t sit still and hearTristram and Iseult treated as tragic heroes instead of the selfish lackwits that they really were.”
Terence’s eyes rested on Dinadan’s face. “Don’t I remember hearing . . . you were there, weren’t you?”
Dinadan nodded. “I saw them die, and there was nothing noble or romantic about it. It was stupid and pointless.” Dinadan made a quick head motion as if to shake off a fly, then crossed through the kitchen and went out the far door. Terence watched him thoughtfully. When Dinadan had first arrived at Camelot, a callow youth not knowing whether he wanted to be a knight or a minstrel, Terence had not thought much of him, but in late years he had reconsidered that opinion. At any rate, he felt a bond of sympathy with anyone who lived in one world but really belonged in another.
Gottried finished his maudlin poem, to loud cheers from the younger knights and courtiers and polite applause from the older ones, and Terence returned to his place behind Gawain, who whispered to him, “Coward!” Terence grinned but didn’t answer.
As the third course was concluding, a diversion broke the predictable monotony of the state dinner. A guard hurried into the hall, spoke privately with King Arthur for several seconds, then trotted away. After a moment, Arthur and Queen Guinevere rose to their feet. “My friends, I apologize for the interruption, but we have just received word that a dear friend has arrived at the court, and we must leave you for a moment.” He smiled to the party from the Holy Roman Empire and said, “We shall not be gone long. Indeed, I hope to persuade our guest to join our dinner.”
A buzz of whispers began as soon as King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were gone. Terence exchanged a glance with Gawain, but neither joined in the speculation. They would be told who this guest was when the king was ready. Sure enough, a minute later, the king and queen returned, with their guest between them. She was a young lady with reddish blond hair and a firm step. Terence smiled with genuine pleasure.
“My lords and ladies,” King Arthur announced. “I present to you the Lady Sarah of Milrick.” The king needed to say no more. Everyone at Camelot— and, from their awed expressions, even those from the Holy Roman Empire—had heard of Lady Sarah. Only a few years had passed since she, aided by Sir Lancelot, had rescued Queen Guinevere from a knight who had kidnapped her, a certain Sir Meliagant. Since then, Lady Sarah had lived quietly in the small castle that King Arthur had given her and had not been to Camelot, but Terence and Gawain had ridden with her for a time on that adventure and knew her very well.
From the king’s table, Sir Lancelot rose to his feet and crossed the hall to Lady Sarah. “My lady,” he said reverently, kneeling at her feet.
Lady Sarah suppressed a smile. “Oh, get up, Lancelot. It’s good to see you again, too.” She stood in the center of the hall, clad in her dusty traveling clothes, and gazed around the brilliantly decorated room filled with richly clothed courtiers and foreign dignitaries. “Forgive me for interrupting your dinner,” she said, “but I am hungry.”QueenGuinevere took her arm and began leading her to the head table, but as they passed by Sir Gawain’s seat, Lady Sarah looked intently into Terence’s eyes and mouthed the words, “Can we talk?”
Until the contingent from the Holy Roman Empire left, there were no available guest rooms at Camelot, which Terence used to his advantage. By strolling among the tables during the dinner, dropping a word in Kai’s ear and whispering for a moment with Eileen, he saw to it that Sarah was assigned to stay with Eileen during her time at Camelot. Having arranged that, it was easy for him simply to drop in on Eileen after dinner, once he was sure that Sarah was there. Sarah and Eileen were sitting by the fire when he swung through the open window, and Sarah gave a start. “Lud!” she exclaimed. “Does he often do that?”
“No manners at all,” Eileen said without looking up from her embroidery.
Sarah glanced curiously at Eileen, then at Terence. Terence said, “It’s good to see you again, my lady. You’re looking well. Older, but well.”
“And you look exactly the same,” Sarah said frankly.
“He never ages,” Eileen commented, setting a tiny stitch. “It’s infuriating.”
“And how about our mutual friends? Lady Charis?” Terence went on. “I trust she’s well? And Ariel?”
Sarah frowned. “Charis is fine,” she said. “I haven’t seen Ariel in months.”
Terence allowed nothing to show, but his heart sank. Ariel was from theWorld of Faeries.
“That’s what brought me here,” Sarah continued. “Ariel used to drop in every week or two, and then about six months ago, her visits stopped.” Eileen looked up from her stitching, met Terence’s eyes, then looked down again. Sarah went on, “I was concerned, but I didn’t want to overreact and get all worried over nothing.”
“I know just what you mean,”Terence said.
“Then someone came to me and gave me a message for you.”
Sarah hesitated, glancing quickly at Eileen. “I was told to tell no one but you,” she said.
“Who told you that?”
Sarah considered this. “Well, she didn’t say I wasn’t to identify her. It was Lady Morgan.”
Terence nodded. Morgan Le Fay was another of Gawain’s aunts, an enchantress like her malevolent sister Morgause, but not as dependably wicked. “I see,” Terence said. “Well, you can take my word for it that you may trust Eileen.”
“Still . . .” Sarah said.
“If it makes any difference, let me assure you that whatever you tell me in private, I will certainly tell Eileen. So why not save time and tell us both?”
Sarah looked between the two one more time, a faint smile on her lips, then shrugged. “All right. She said to tell you that it has started again, and that this time there would be no help from your world.”
She paused, and Terence asked, “Is that it?”
“No, but what does that much mean?”
“It means,” Terence said, “that Morgause the Enchantress has begun yet another plot to destroy Arthur.”
“That’s what I thought. She was the one behind the queen’s abduction, wasn’t she? And when she says there will be no help from your world, that means the faery world, doesn’t it?” Terence nodded. “Why not?”
“I haven’t any idea.”
Sarah frowned. “How disappointing,” she said. “I had come to think that you knew everything.”
“A lot of people think that,” Eileen said. “Odd, isn’t it?”
“What else did Morgan tell you?”
“She said that this time the threat would come through pretense and falsehood. And that’s it. Oh, except that she said that you’re to trust no one.”
Terence nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Morgan isn’t very trustworthy herself, so she has trouble understanding the concept of trust. But I don’t choose to live like that.” He pursed his lips and thought for a moment. “Well, that doesn’t help much, but at least it confirms what I’ve been feeling.Thank you, Sarah.”
He fell again into a reverie, so that he was only vaguely aware of Eileen asking calmly, “Do you make a long stay at Camelot, Sarah?”
“I should like to stay for a while, anyway,” Sarah replied, “but I don’t want to put you out.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble. My rooms are quite large enough for two people.”
Sarah looked puzzled. “Two people? You mean you usually live here alone?”
“Yes,” Eileen replied. “Had you heard otherwise?”
“No, but . . .”
Sarah took a breath. “I’m probably breaking some important rule of courtly etiquette that I never learned correctly, but I never understood why it’s sometimes ill manners to say out loud what’s obvious.” She looked at Eileen, then at Terence, then back at Eileen. “I assumed that you two were married.”
Terence and Eileen both stared at her, but neither spoke.
“It’s as plain as day. I’ve never seen two people who fit together as perfectly and who were as comfortable with each other as you two are.You love each other. If you aren’t married, then it’s a crying shame. Are you?”
“Yes,” Terence said.
“In a manner of speaking,” added Eileen. “Mostly.”
“What does that mean?” demanded Sarah. “I didn’t think you could be mostly married.”
Terence hesitated, not really wanting to tell Sarah what was known only to the two of them and Gawain, but he had every reason to trust Sarah. Besides, he had just declared in front of her that he refused to be as untrusting as Morgan, so he said, “About fifteen years ago—”
“Sixteen,” corrected Eileen, who had gone back to her embroidery.
“Sixteen, then. Eileen and I had a private sort of wedding ceremony. It was just a few months after Gawain and I brought her to court.We slipped out on our own and went to a religious man that I knew,named Trevisant, and with him as a witness we promised to love each other faithfully.”
“Then you’re married,” Sarah said.
“Sort of,” Eileen said.
“It’s not exactly official,” Terence admitted.
“Well, Trevisant was a holy man, as I said, but he wasn’t a priest.”
“Oh.” Sarah seemed to digest this for amoment. “So why not go to a real priest?Why the secrecy?”
“We went toTrevisant because he was the man who raised me,” Terence said. Then he grinned ruefully. “Also because I knew that he would forget it within a few days. Trevisant was peculiar that way. You see, I’m a squire—and as far as the court is aware, a squire of unknown parentage. Lady Eileen is a noblewoman from one of the oldest families in England. For her to marry so far beneath herself would ruin her socially.”
Sarah glanced at Eileen. “Does that matter to you?”
Eileen smiled briefly. “At the time it did, a little. At any rate, I agreed to the plan readily enough. It doesn’t seem so important anymore, but it still matters to Terence.”
“And so,” Sarah said, “for fifteen years—”
“Sixteen,” said Eileen.
“Sixteen, I mean. For sixteen years, you’ve been married, sort of, mostly, but have told no one.”
“Gawain knows,” Terence said. “But, yes, that’s essentially it.”
“Haven’t you ever thought about going ahead and making it official?”
This time Eileen replied. “Yes, of course we have. But the longer the current arrangement goes on, the harder that becomes.To get married now, suddenly, after years of pretending to be only casual friends, would give rise to all sorts of speculation as to what had really been going on all that time.And if we explained that we hadn’t been having an affair, that we had really been married—”
“Mostly,” Terence qualified.
“Sort of,” added Sarah.
Eileen ignored them. “As I say, if we told people we’d been married all along, then we would have to explain why we’d deceived them. Awkward.”
“And besides,” Terence said, “we are, as you say, comfortable together. There hasn’t really seemed to be a need to change.”
Sarah looked dubious, but Terence reminded himself that she was still young.Young people sometimes place excessive value on external forms and ceremonies, he remembered, so he let it go.
“And now, Terence,” Eileen said, breaking into his thoughts, “you go report to Gawain and Arthur and whoever you feel should know Sarah’s news.We ladies will go to bed. It really isn’t seemly for a man to be in our quarters so late, you know.We’re virtuous ladies, we are.”
“Virtuous?” repeated Terence.
“Sort of,” said Eileen.
“Mostly,” added Sarah.