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But Lady Lovell said, “No, nothing beyond the ordinary. But the duke of York has refused to have his governorship extended.”

“He’s only held it a year,” Frevisse protested.

“And not been given power or money enough to do much of anything in that while.” Lady Lovell lowered her voice and leaned forward, so that what she said would go no farther than Frevisse, Edeyn, and Giles. “And I gather that being saddled with the earl of Suffolk ever since last summer is what used up his patience altogether. He’s hardly allowed to make a move except that Suffolk approves it, and Suffolk approves of very little.”

“Why make York governor and then keep him from doing aught except what Suffolk says he may?” Frevisse asked.

Giles, busy until then with plucking blades of grass and letting them fall, put in, “Because the royal council—and the King if he has any wit at all—aren’t dim enough to trust the duke of York with that sort of power unchecked.”

“This is the first such office he’s been given, and he’s young for it, some felt,” Lady Lovell said more moderately.

“What they meant is that he’s too royal for it,” Giles returned bitingly. “If they’re that shy of him, they should put him in a cell and forget him rather than give him France and an army.”

“Oh, look at Lionel with Fidelitas!” Edeyn said.

He was holding the ball above the white dog’s head; the dog, on its slender hind legs, was dancing upright, trying to reach it.

“Lionel, here!” Edeyn called, and Lionel with a grin tossed her the ball. Fidelitas scrambled after it, then reversed course as Edeyn tossed it back.

“I think you’ve stolen my dog, Lionel,” Lady Lovell said. “She’s never been that merry with anyone.”

Stroking the dog’s smooth, round head while holding the ball for her to chew on, Lionel answered, “She’s a delight. One of Blanche’s get?”

“Her last litter.”

Talk went to dogs for a while, and it became clear to Frevisse that Edeyn in particular but Lionel, too, and Giles almost as much were familiar in the Lovell household. At the same time, Lady Lovell made sure she was not shut out by their familiarity, drawing her to talk of any dogs she might have known. The pleasant while was interrupted by a servant coming from the house to bow to Lady Lovell with apologies and a problem. Lady Lovell asked pardon of her guests with a smile, and Edeyn promptly rose, taking Frevisse and Giles with her. Giles wandered off, and Frevisse for want of certainty what else to do followed Edeyn over to Lionel and the dog.

“She’s certainly taken to you,” Edeyn said.

“She has indeed.” Lionel seemed inordinately pleased, as if a friend, even in dog shape, was an unusual pleasure. Edeyn reached to pet the dog, but it shied away from her, not unfriendly but busy pawing at Lionel’s arm and whining in a small way at his face, apparently wanting him to toss the ball again. Lionel obligingly tossed it away, but Fidelitas only glanced at it and went on pawing. “Ah, well,” Lionel said philosophically. “Time for a new game, it seems.”

“You haven’t seen the rose garden, have you?” Edeyn asked Frevisse. “You must. Lionel, come with us.”

He came, and Fidelitas with him, following as Edeyn led the way into the arbor close at hand. It made the fourth side of the greensward and, because it caught the southward sun so fully, was already closely grown, a green-walled, green-roofed world of its own. From the garden side the only way in was through a trellised archway in the middle of it, but from there someone could go right or left to reach the two openings on its other side to whatever lay beyond. Edeyn went eagerly, knowing what was there, and brought them out onto another greensward, smaller than the one they had left, enclosed more narrowly by the high manor walls on three sides, by the arbor on the fourth. Small daisies starred its grass and at its center was a low-rimmed fountain. Around the three walled sides ran a turf-built bench wide enough for sitting and with a trellis made close up against the walls and thickly grown with what Frevisse recognized were rose bushes, more rose bushes than she had ever seen in any one place before. They were yet a month or more from blooming, but when they did, there with the walls to hold in the sunlight and warmth, the garden would be rich with their color and scent. Her imagination caught at the loveliness of it. The fountain, quiet now, would play in the sunlight, and there would be music and laughter and the light talk of people at ease, at home here.

By then she would be back in St. Frideswide’s, under Domina Alys’ hard eye and harsh tongue. The contrast momentarily irked, but before she could follow the feeling anywhere, Edeyn exclaimed, “Isn’t it wonderful? Lord Lovell has had a tomb made in the church for himself with his effigy and arms and all on it, but Lady Lovell said that instead of an effigy of herself, she’d rather have the money for her garden, and he gave it to her.”

“And she did this?” Frevisse asked, delighted.

Edeyn nodded with answering delight. “She said she would rather have beauty around her now than a cold stone shape of herself for others to look at after she was gone.”

“A reminder of the beauties of heaven so she would try harder to reach there, she said,” Lionel added.

“I well believe in the beauties of heaven,” Frevisse answered, “but this makes me think of
The Romance of the Rose,
alas for the good of my soul.”

“But isn’t the Rose supposed to be a symbol of the pure love of Christ?” Lionel returned.

Dryly Frevisse answered, “There are several possible opinions on that.”

Lionel and Edeyn laughed in ready understanding of what she meant.
The Romance of the Rose,
that very long and popular poem, could be taken two widely different ways, with the Lover’s quest for the Rose seen either as his pursuit of Christ’s love or else as his lust for a lady’s body. It all depended on which way one chose to read the poem.

They had been walking along the graveled path that bordered the greensward, with Fidelitas leaping up on the turf bench to run at Lionel’s elbow height and down again, still trying to paw at him for more attention. Now Lionel gathered the dog into his arms, a full load but manageable. “You’re a trifler,” he said. Fidelitas licked up at his face. “No, I’ve washed it lately. I don’t need more.”

He had picked up the ball as they came toward the arbor. Now he tossed it ahead of them and let Fidelitas squirm out of his arms to go after it. They had been walking as they talked, Frevisse and Edeyn on either side of Lionel, who now took up the Rose theme again with a nod at the rose bushes growing all along the trellised wall. “So despite what holy thoughts we may have here ourselves,” he said, with an acknowledging gesture to include the three of them together, “concerning roses and Roses, worldly loves and heaven’s joys, do you suppose we should warn Lady Lovell that others may be tempted here to more worldly thoughts than we—and she, of course—in our piety are?”

“Or should we simply accept that we can’t answer for other people’s thoughts?” asked Edeyn, with warm laughter. “And keep our own as pious as best we can?”

Frevisse lightly matched her with a mock sigh. “Alas, that might be best. One can so rarely answer for other people in these matters.”

Lionel, the lightness suddenly gone from him, said, “But we have to answer for what we do to them. And maybe answer on our souls for what we make them do.”

He was looking toward the farther arbor archway, and Frevisse, following his gaze, saw Giles standing there as if he had been watching them for a while and a while, listening, knowing he was unnoticed. Looking quickly back and forth between the men as they looked at one another, Frevisse saw understanding and an acknowledgment in them both of something at which she could not guess.

Edeyn, too concentrated on Lionel, saw only his sudden change from happiness and laid a hand on his arm.

“Edeyn,” Giles said with an amusement as difficult to read as the look that had held between him and Lionel.

Edeyn smiled in greeting, her hand dropping naturally away from Lionel’s arm as she asked, “You’ve come to call us in to supper?”

“At long last, yes,” Giles answered. “And we’re to sit at high table with my lady. You nuns, too,” he added.

Frevisse started, “Then I’d best go see how Dame Claire does, if she—” but beside her Lionel came to an abrupt stop, staring at his left hand, holding it out in front of him as if it were suddenly not part of him. Fidelitas, the ball dropped and forgotten, whined up at him. Edeyn, on his other side, staring first at his face and then at his hand, began, “Oh, Lionel—”

He stopped her with a curt shake of his head, his attention still on his hand as he ordered, “You go on. There’s time yet. I’ll go to our room. There’s nothing else can be done. Go on.”

“I’ll send Martyn to you.”

“If he isn’t there, yes.” He was curt, not looking at her or anyone, only at his hand as if he hated it. Or feared it.

Giles came to take Edeyn’s arm. “He’s told you what he wants. Come on then.” Whatever Giles felt, it was not pain or anything like sympathy. “My lady,” he added to Frevisse, “if you would?” Indicating she should come with them.

Frevisse hesitated, but Lionel wanted to be left and she went, wondering what was toward, wondering why Edeyn, like Lionel, had gone pale and now was silent, her husband’s hand still around her arm as if to be sure she went with him as they crossed the gardens back toward the manor house, Lionel left behind to come alone.

Chapter 5

Giles stood with his back pressed against their room’s door, as far from the thing on the floor as he could be and still be in the room at all. Good old Lionel had made it to their room before the attack came on him. How pleasant for him, and for everyone else who was therefore spared the sight of it. Giles had managed for almost three years now to avoid seeing Lionel in one of his fits and he would have gladly made it longer, but this one might give him the chance he wanted. Somewhere other than Minster Lovell might have been better, but if the chance was going to be now, he would take it; he was tired of waiting. But to know if this was the one he could use, he had to be here and see it.

He had waited until he was sure Lionel would be down and unknowing before he came, and then said he was there because Edeyn had been worried. Martyn could not order him away and he had stayed, just as he meant to. The room was a goodly one, agreeable, and, Giles had noticed at the very first, well apart from most of the household, near only Lady Lovell’s parlor and the chapel. Chosen, he suspected, so that as few folk as necessary would know if one of Lionel’s fits came on him. Its only lack was bar or lock for the door to keep someone coming in unwanted, and here was Lionel in full grunt and thrash on the floor, with Martyn trying to keep him from hitting himself against the bed foot or too hard on the floor, unable to watch the door, too, so that it was not unreasonable for Giles to have stayed once he was in, to guard the door as a “kindness” to his cousin, he would have explained if he had been asked, but Martyn had not bothered, the arrogant bastard.

Holding down his gorge, Giles glanced at Lionel and away again. There was nothing human left there on the floor, just a writhing, twisting, grunting hulk, all drool and twitching. If ever Lionel had clear knowledge of what he was when a fit came on him, he would have shut himself up to die and been done with it. But he did not know and he never would if Martyn had his way. Dog-vomit Martyn would keep him ignorant of it to doomsday and protect him as much as might be in the bargain because Martyn would be out his profitable place if anything permanent happened to Lionel, damn them both.

Between them, Martyn and Edeyn were forever protecting Lionel from seeing what he was—a long-jawed, scar-faced, shambling farce of a man living out a sham of a life to everyone’s inconvenience. Why Martyn did it was plain enough. Lionel was profit to him and a sure place in life. It was Edeyn who was hard to understand. To Edeyn Lionel was… what? Giles had never quite been certain, but it was sure she had never seen him in writhe and spasm on a floor, never seen him as he fully was. She only knew he was “afflicted,” and so in need of her woman-hearted sympathy. But then, she was so soft she had even spent hours nursing her sick greyhound bitch last winter when any fool could tell it was going to die. When he had had enough, he had put the bitch out of its misery and everybody’s way with a heavy pillow. It had been a mercy all around, for everyone, but Edeyn had taken it like a woman, badly and with tears, and then, like a woman, in a few days forgotten all about it. She had even forgotten to ask him for the dog he had promised her in the bitch’s place.

It would go the same with her over Lionel. Grief and misery for a while and then she would forget. The baby would be a distraction, too. She’d not be thinking of much else in a while. That was one of the useful things about women: give them sport in bed and set them breeding and they were satisfied until it was time to do it to them again.

He chanced another glance at Lionel. The fit was nearly done. The thrash and writhe were fallen away to only twitching. Soon he would lie quiet and then rouse, a little more witless than usual and exhausted for a while but no great harm done. By the time the rest of them came in at evening’s end, Martyn would have seen him clean and into bed to sleep it off. But there would be tomorrow. Tomorrow night probably, if the pattern held. The fit had been a brief one and that meant that almost assuredly tomorrow night— pray God not sooner—Lionel would have one of the great ones, the wildly violent ones that left him nigh to mindless with exhaustion for hours afterward.

Exactly as Giles needed him to be.

Chapter 6

When supper was finished in the great hall, household and guests rose from the benches and moved aside for the hall servants first to clear away the food and dishes and tablecloths, then the tables themselves, opening the hall for whatever the household chose to do with the evening—talk or singing or dancing.

Left to her own choice, Frevisse would have been satisfied to seek out the manor chapel, say Compline with Dame Claire, and be gladly done with the day. But it was not her choice. Lady Lovell had been gracious enough to do her and Dame Claire the honor of having them sit at the high table. They must be gracious in return, which meant joining in at least the evening’s conversation. Not the singing nor the dancing assuredly, but at least the talk.

BOOK: The Murderer's Tale
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