Saint-George's eyes were closed when Einion slipped into the room. The Duchess and Duke had just departed, tight-lipped and furious in the one instance, weary and worried in the other.
Pausing at the doorway, he took a breath to speak, then reconsidered, and instead drew up the plain chair beside the hospital bed and sat. Saint-George opened his eyes at the squeak of the chair and grimaced. Ein raised an eyebrow and waited.
"If I plead youth and inexperience will Your Honour be lenient?" Saint-George put on his best woeful innocent face, and Ein reluctantly smiled.
"It's true I had thought of a number of remarks to deliver with great feeling, but then I recalled my ambition to be as dissimilar to your mother as possible."
"I knew there was a reason I liked you."
"Seriously, Jerry, we're all glad you're still with us. And we've done a collection to ensure that the motorcar will never be repaired."
Saint-George snorted, and then winced. "Ow, don't make me laugh, it's medically forbidden."
"O druan bach!" Ein made the sympathy in his voice as false as he could muster, watching his friend's face as the tension eased.
They smiled wryly at each other for a moment, until Saint-George abruptly tried to sit up, apparently struck by recollection, and collapsed back with a groan. "Oh hell. Ein, I'm terribly sorry, but can I beg a desperate favour?"
Ein's lunch with Harriet Vane was surprisingly pleasant. Dark and pragmatic and kind, she seemed a bit like his aunties and older sisters back in Dolgellau. She took the change of plan in stride, laughing at his Oxbridge patter, and over the cutlets he found himself relaxing back into his truer voice, telling her more than he'd expected about his studies and his home. They had literature in common, although he wasn't terribly well read in the detective genre, having only read The Moonstone, and none of Miss Vane's own novels. For her part, Welsh poetry meant Dylan Thomas, but she responded with interest when he mentioned Hedd Wyn, and the conversation ran easily.
After seeing her to the gate, Ein stopped beneath a tree, feeling suddenly drained by the events of the day, and thoughtful. Miss Vane had really not been what he expected a woman courted by Wimseys to be. He tried to imagine the lunch that would have been, if there had been no motorcar accident and Saint-George had presented himself as planned. Would Miss Vane have been amused by Saint-George's standard performances for an entire lunch? Or would her nature have brought out the calmer side of him, the side of his friend that Ein only saw when they'd been alone for a time, and most usually late in the night?
He supposed it most likely that her association with them would be temporary. Saint-George's liasons, such as they were, rarely lasted more than a few weeks before the inevitable spectacular implosion, and, without direct knowledge of Lord Uncle Peter, he presumed that to be the model of the unmarried Wimsey male. Ein hoped she would get more enjoyment than heartbreak from the episode, when all was said and done.
It was late in May and the leaves were green outside when Saint-George came barrelling into Ein's room, wild with delight. Ein put aside his revision.
"What have you done now, drafferth bach?"
"Not what have I done this time, but what has Uncle Peter done! He's got his girl at long last!"
"Got" was a worrisome word, Ein thought. He tried to keep his face blandly interested, but Saint-George gave him a sharp look.
"Ah no, you're thinking he's a scoundrel like me, it's not like that. She's said yes, at last, she'll marry him!"
Ein was surprised and relieved. "Well that's wonderful then. When's it to be?"
"Oh there's acres of planning to come, to be sure. Some months, I expect." Saint-George smiled, considering, and then confided, "He's so happy, Ein. I didn't know he could be so happy, that anyone could be so happy. And nearly scared to move lest the bubble breaks! But Harriet would never do that, now she's said yes, she's completely sound. Auntie Harriet!"
"My mater will be having kittens," Saint-George announced with satisfaction. "Puppies. Great enormous tiger cubs."
The newspaper lay in front of them, spread open to the unfortunate article. Poisonings and murder trial and free love amongst mad Bloomsbury artists. Apparently this was old news, all dragged up again now to flog the newspaper sales before the wedding, but Ein hadn't known. He thought again of nice Miss Vane, and felt a mix of sympathy and astonishment. So much to have lived through, and still to be a kind person, gracious and self-possessed. He looked on Saint-George's glee with some disapproval.
"Rough on the lady though, isn't it? And on Uncle Peter?"
"True, O King." Saint-George looked mildly abashed. "Though Uncle Peter won't be bothered but for Harriet's sake. Here's hoping she won't let it trouble her much, it's only noise to be sure."
"Can your mother not make trouble for them, being the Duchess?"
"Well no, not as such. She can be her charming self in their direction, but Uncle Peter doesn't need Denver funds and doesn't want the estate, so they're free as birds, really." Saint-George grimaced and sat precariously on the chair arm. "Unlike myself, which I suppose is why I enjoy the spectacle in my shameless way."
Ein rolled his eyes, not without sympathy. "Come on then, let's go find dinner."
Riding back to Oxford after the wedding reception, Saint-George went quiet. He had, as expected, been a whirlwind of high spirits throughout the day, but something had dampened them now. They were alone in the back of the car, as the Shrewsbury dons had grouped up to ride together, but he would not respond to Ein's careful sallies, and after a bit Ein gave it up and watched the fields go by in mutual silence.
The car deposited them at their college gate, and Saint-George followed him back to his room willingly enough, by purpose or by habit, Ein could not be certain. He took down the port and poured them two large glasses, and Saint-George laughed at him, reluctantly.
"You're usually more subtle, Ein."
Ein shrugged, and tapped his glass to Saint-George's. "I do what needs done. So?"
Saint-George sighed, and drank. "It was all so perfect. The pair of them, the wedding, all of it. And, I'm a wretch, but... when they drove away, I thought, that will never be me. That's the sum of it."
Ein stared at his rich, titled, beautiful friend in surprise. "Why would you think that, Jerry? Perhaps if you set your attention toward unwed women for a change...?" He saw Saint-George's face tighten, and regretted the scold, but could not take it back.
They were quiet a moment, and then Saint-George looked up and said, "Ein, come to Denver with me after Michaelmas."
Ein had made it a scrupulous habit to keep out of Saint-George's parents' way, since their first intimidating introduction, and through the years of friendship after. The wedding had been safe enough, with so much distraction to hand, and him not in the wedding party. But Denver Ducis was quite another matter, and now he truly did not know how to respond. Saint-George appeared to see this, and tapped his glass again.
"You're thinking my mater is a dragon to eat you, it's written on your face clear as can be."
"Is she not, then?" They would let it be a joke, that was a relief.
Saint-George looked thoughtful. "Well perhaps, but her sharpest teeth are reserved for me. I expect you will be safe enough."
"Then I shall be there to watch you eaten?" His tone was light, but Ein did not know how he would behave, if it were bad, and no quick escape to hand.
"Be there to bind my wounds? I don't foresee being eaten, not just yet." Saint-George was unexpectedly serious, and Ein could not refuse.
It was a long day's journey from Oxford, first to London by train, and then a black cab, and another train north into Norfolk to Watlington, where a car would collect them and take them on to Duke's Denver. Ein watched the bare trees and pastures go by, so flat compared to home. They read, and chatted, and bought tea from the little cart, and finally disembarked at the village station.
When the car pulled up at last at Bredon Hall, after the long winding drive through the estate, the sun had set and they were greeted by the butler, and footmen to take their bags, and ushered up to their rooms to refresh, and told that the Duke and Duchess would expect them in the drawing room before dinner.
The drawing room was stately and imposing, warmed by the fire and by electric light. The Duchess and Duke were rather formal and stiff in their greetings, Ein thought, especially to their own son, but pleasant enough. He did not think they recalled that they had met him before, but that was all right. The Duchess asked whether she knew his family, and when he demurred, saying only that they lived very far away, he could see that he had become unimportant, and was glad.
They sat, with sherry, and then a footman appeared at the doorway, announcing, "Your Graces, the Dowager Duchess," and they were joined by a lovely little woman, with a kind face, whom Ein somewhat remembered from the wedding, Saint-George's nain. She greeted them with warmth, calling them "my dears!" and asked after their journey, and then they all went in to dinner.
Ein was very thankful that, as it was only the five of them, dinner was not formal, and he was seated beside Saint-George. As the food was served it became apparent that the Duchess was, in fact, still entirely angry about the wedding, both how it had been done, and the fact that it had been done at all, and that she had many remarks to make about it, each one sharper than the last.
Saint-George made jokes of some, and the Dowager Duchess defused others with clouds of bright words, and others they simply let pass without comment. The Duke stayed quiet and ate his dinner, and so did Ein, wishing to help but unable to think of any possible way that he could do so. They had been served the sweet course when the Duchess snapped "At least we may be certain the divorce will be announced and done with as quickly as the wedding, and shan't suffer the embarrassment to last for too long," and Saint-George shoved his chair back from the table and stood up with a clatter of cutlery.
"You will excuse me, mother. I find myself in urgent need of a walk to settle my digestion."
The Dowager Duchess rose likewise, with grace, and gathered them both with her bright eye, saying, "My dear Einion and Saint-George, it would be a courtesy and a pleasure if you would escort me back to the Dower House," and Ein rose too, filled with relief.
The walk from Bredon Hall to the Dower House was lit with electric lamps, shedding circles of light between the dark lawns and bare trees. They walked together quietly until they reached the Dower House, and then she turned to them and said, "My dears, I hope you will remember to think of my house as a refuge at any time, because it is the best of all things to see my grandson, and so very lovely to know his friend as well."
Alone in his guest bed that night, Ein lay exhausted but wary, rest elusive. Denver surrounded him, huge and so very English, alien and harsh in all the ways he had feared before he grew accustomed to Oxford and boys Saesneg and learned to see just people. After the tensions of the evening it was hard to let go and trust it to hold him unaware in sleep.
When the door creaked it jolted him, and he sat up reaching for the lamp, and switched it on to see, in a wash of relief, Saint-George, with a finger to his lips. His pyjamas and dressing gown were familiar to Ein from a hundred late night hours of revisions-and-port, and thus a comfort. A memory surfaced and he blurted "Have you come to have your wounds bound?"
One corner of Saint-George's tired mouth turned up. "Something of the sort, it seems. Do you mind?" He glanced toward the chair by the window, but the room was cold, and Ein on impulse held up the coverlet, and Saint-George came to him, sliding under and prodding the pillow into comfort with a sigh.
They lay face to face in quiet, and, uncertain what else to say, Ein picked up the thread, soft-voiced. "Where are you wounded, then?"
Saint-George looked at him, still and intent, and then found Ein's hand beneath the covers, and pulled it to his chest, clasping it there, centred. "Here, I think."
Ein carefully opened his hand in his friend's grasp, pressing it flat, palm and each fingertip taking the measure of the living body beneath. "Your heart seems to beat despite the wounding."
Saint-George laughed, soft and quiet, and changed his grasp, holding Ein's hand close, and reached with his freed hand to brush back Ein's hair. "It's a wonder, the wounds a heart can take, and go on beating."
Saint-George's fingers were tracing the side of his face, and Ein felt his world was changing anew with each breath, in and out. It seemed they were in a space without edges, all thrown open, and all the blood running through him was melting into honey and wine, and he did not know what to hope for next, but to hope that this moment would go on and on and not end. He could feel the pulse come faster now, his palm warm where Saint-George had drawn it, and the beats speeding, heated, in harmony with his own. Saint-George's eyes were huge and dark in the soft lamp light, and when the change came into them that Ein had seen so many times before, the moment of recklessness, Ein turned his face into Saint-George's hand, and kissed it open-mouthed.
An indrawn breath, and then that hand went behind his neck, and over his shoulder, and pulled him in, and they were entangled close, mouths meeting, secret and unashamed beneath the heavy covers, and Denver still all around them, silent and uncaring.
Ein was tired in the morning, but his every moment of memory was clear, held close. Saint-George had left him in the dark early hours with a whisper about servants. Now he sat waiting, uncertain of the day ahead, listening to the dim sound of rain beyond the walls, until the soft knock on the door came and Saint-George stepped in, with an anxious look.
"All right, Ein?"
Ein searched for the right words, and found them. "You're not a scoundrel."
Saint-George's face softened into a helpless smile. "It seems my secret is yours. I'll trust you'll keep it safe." He pulled Ein close for a quick hard embrace, and then said "Armour on, then? Shall we take the field?"
They went down to the breakfast room and found the Duchess sitting with tea and correspondence, and the Duke at the head of the table frowning, surrounded by paper and ledgers. Morning greetings were polite and perfunctory, and they filled their plates at the sideboard and sat to eat in silence.
Ein hoped they might get through the meal and escape with no unpleasantness, and for a time it seemed it might be so. Then the Duke grumbled, and rubbed at his neck, and looked over at his son, saying "You might have a look at these tenant yields with me, they're a devil to make sense of." He paused, and when Saint-George did not respond, said "You'll have to start some time, and you've left it late enough."
Saint-George drained his teacup and set it down, and said, lightly, "I'm afraid I'm still worse then useless with such things. It'll be a kindness, really, for me to let it alone."
The Duke shook his head, but the Duchess' attention was drawn, and she cast her glance at Saint-George and demanded, "Tell us, Viscount Saint-George, why it is we pay such sums to Oxford for your education, if you remain so steadfastly determined to be useless?"
Saint-George looked back at her, half-smiling. Ein hurt to see it. "I can only be grateful for your patience and charity, Your Grace."
"No." The Duchess was stiff-backed, her face sharp. "That is enough. It is clear that Oxford has simply been a way for you to avoid your duties, not to prepare for them. You will remain at Denver, and you will learn to manage the responsibilities that you will inherit, and that is final, do I make myself clear?"
Saint-George stared back at her, his face gone white, then abruptly stood and fled the room. Ein scrambled to follow, out the door and down a hall, and another, and then into a book-lined library, quiet and deserted, where Saint-George leant against a desk, head in hands. Ein went to him, uncertain, desperate to touch and somehow protect. He reached to rest his hand on Saint-George's shoulder, to comfort and support.
Saint-George took a shaky breath and lifted his head, looking at Ein with a resigned expression that made him ache. "I shall have to go back in a moment and grovel, I fear." He looked at the doorway, then back at Ein again. "But you can stay here, there's no need for you to watch."
Ein could not bear it then, and he stepped forward, gathering Saint-George into his arms, held close. Saint-George returned the embrace, and dropped his forehead to Ein's shoulder, and they stood together, holding each other up.
"Saint-George!" A terrible voice cracked across them from the doorway. Stumbling back in panic, Ein turned and saw the Duchess standing, looking like a woman made of bone, and thought fleetingly, madly, of Y Fari Lwyd.
For a moment it seemed she was beyond speech, and they were frozen waiting. Then she looked at Ein and spat "Get out!", but he could not move. She was speaking now to her son, passing sentence: she would arrange treatment and he would cooperate, would be cured of this.
Saint-George was looking back at her with hopeless contempt. He beckoned to Ein and said "We'll get our things," and he took Ein out and up the stairs and got their bags from both their rooms, and led them out from the Duke's house.
They stumbled into the Dower House, white and shaken. Morton closed the door behind them, took their bags, and exchanged a speaking look with Franklin, who had appeared in the doorway. She nodded to Morton and said "I'll take you to the Dowager Duchess, my Lord, Mr Danvers. She's given orders to be prepared for your sudden arrival."
Seated in the salon with Saint-George and his grandmother, given hot sugared tea and brandy, Ein felt as if the ground under him was returning a bit. He felt desperately grateful for her immediate kindness, after the shock and horribleness in the Duke's house. Saint-George beside him was uncharacteristically silent. Ein thought he had the look of a man who has exploded a bomb and is now waiting to see what still stands in the aftermath.
The Dowager Duchess was watching them intently. "My dears, will you tell me what has happened?" And then, when Ein looked helplessly at Saint-George, and Saint-George seemed likewise helpless to reply, she said "I did think there was reason to fear this visit might go badly, but it seems from your faces that it was very bad. Will you trust me, so that I can determine what may help?"
Saint-George took a deep and ragged breath. "Grandmamma, my mother... she came upon us. Ein and me. Embracing." He stopped there, but the Dowager Duchess made a soft sound of understanding.
"I see, my dears. Please, will you tell me precisely what happened then?"
"She... ordered Ein out. And she insisted she would see me undergo treatment. To cure me."
The Dowager Duchess put her hand to her mouth. "Child, you do understand you are in serious danger? We must put you beyond her reach, and quickly."
"Perhaps the Foreign Legion then?" Saint-George's voice was as bitter as death. "It was never going to end well for me, I have always known it."
"France would be sensible, yes, I think," she corrected him swiftly, "but certainly not la Légion étrangère."
"You mean me to run to Great-Uncle Paul, Grandmamma? You know that is the first thought my mother will have?"
"Annwyl, cariad, no." They were both looking at him. Ein put down his cup and faced Saint-George, reaching for his hands. "Don't go to France. Come home with me."
"To Oxford? Ein, my mother will..."
"Home. To Dolgellau." Ein broke in.
Saint-George was silent and still, watching him. The Dowager Duchess put a hand on top of theirs, and Ein looked back at her, this delicate and regal woman who was helping them, who might help them, if he found the right words.
Her voice was gentle. "Einion Danfers, do you love my grandson?"
"Ydw, I do, yes, Duchess."
"And my dear, what will happen in Dolgellau, if you bring him home with you?"
"My family, y teulu... family is everything. They will hold us safe." Ein felt the certainty inside himself and recognised it for a greater gift than he had previously known.
"Will they not try to hold you safe from Saint-George?"
Ein paused, feeling the test. It seemed critical to be completely honest. He chose his words slowly. "No, they will be troubled, and wary of him, for a stranger, and... not a woman, and English as well. But they are kind. We will be safe, and they will come to know him, and all will be well enough."
"And the rest of your village, your friends and neighbours?"
Ein nearly and suddenly wanted to laugh, it was so foreign, these questions, and so good to be certain in his answers. "My family has been there for hundreds on hundreds of years, Duchess. The neighbours are my cousins, and nearly all the village too, and all through the hills around us."
"Thank you, my dear." The Dowager Duchess turned her gaze to her silent grandson, whose hands still held Einion's. "Saint-George?"
Saint-George was still a moment longer, nodded to her, and then faced Einion. "Ein, I said to you that I could never have what my uncle now has, that I knew that would never be me." He paused and swallowed. "To see that I was wrong, I... I am usually full of words, but only cheap ones, and I must find some better ones now."
Ein clung to the hands in his, listening with all that he was. He could see that Saint-George's eyes were wet now, although his voice remained mostly steady.
"It's still true that I will never stand up in a church to marry you in front of my family. But Grandmamma is my family. So here in front of her, I love you, Einion Danfers, and yes, yes I will, I will go with you. And I am yours, for as long as you will have me." Saint-George looked briefly down to their entwined hands, and up again to Ein's face. "And Ein, all that I have lost, it is so much less than the worth of what you are."
They were smiling now, at this magic in the midst of all terribleness, and Ein saw that Saint-George's grandmother was smiling too, and her eyes were also wet. She took up the bell beside her and rang, and when Franklin appeared said, "Franklin, we need some champagne, and the train timetable, and the car drawn up ready, please. And we must be sure that all this household knows not to speak of any detail of their journey or destination, to anyone, is that understood?"
They made a tiny celebration then, with champagne, and Saint-George gave his grandmother their heartfelt thanks. And she put her hands on theirs once again, and said, "Saint-George, you have made me so very proud."
The telegram arrived at breakfast, and Peter read it and cursed. Harriet put down the butter knife in alarm, and Bunter paused in the kitchen doorway.
"My Harriet, I'm called to Denver straightaway, to be judge and executioner. Do you want to come? You're family of course, but it will be an ugly moment, and you might spare yourself this time."
"Of course I'll come, Peter. But what has happened?"
They arrived at Denver in the middle afternoon. The drive allowed ample time for explanation, and they went straight to the Dower House for conference, and thence to the Duke's house for what must be done.
Peter wasted no time. "I will be direct, Helen. You have lost him. Your son is not with us, and not with anyone you know, or anywhere that you know of. He will not be returning to you. You have a choice, and it is thus: you may accept this with good grace and give up any notions of forcing him into treatment, or even of locating him, and you will be provided with assurances of his safety and good health. Or, if you refuse and persist in endangering him, then you will see stories in the press detailing and relishing the scandal of why he fled, and presuming him to have gone to Europe and beyond. Do you understand?"
Harriet thought she could almost feel sorry for the Duchess, watching her struggle for words, and finally accept, diminished and distraught. It was easier to feel sorry for the Duke, weary and sad, as his wife spoke up, "But what will we tell people, then?"
Peter's voice was grim. "War is coming, Helen, and the disappearance of young men will soon be nothing to remark on. Say he joined up as a fighter pilot. It's what he would have done, after all."
"Where's Ewythr Geri, Ein?"
"He'll be along later, cariad. He had a call to look at a tractor, and you know he's the best with any greasy old machinery." Ein smiled at his niece. Saint-George was a favourite with the small children, who adored the hint of wickedness he brought to all their games of Let's Pretend.
Carys considered this, in the thoughtful way of six year olds, and then requested a story. Ein dried his hands and took his seat in the chair by the fire, and his nephews abandoned their blocks and came to join them.
Ein thought for a moment, and then began. "Once, right here in Dolgellau, there was a young man, and his name was Einion as well. Einion Las. And he loved these hills, and he loved his family, but he had heard all the stories of a strange place, outside of this land, filled with knowledge and wonders and beautiful people, and he longed to go there and see what might become of him then."
The story came easily to him, and the children listened happily, and as he neared the end he realised that Saint-George had come in quietly some time past, and was leaning on the Aga rail, watching and smiling. Ein met his eyes as he told the end of the tale, "And all the people asked Einion where his love had come from, and he would only say that his love was from a very Fair Family. So the people decided his love must be of the Tylwyth Teg. And Einion and his love laughed and laughed, but they did not tell anyone different. And they lived happily for ever after on the side of Cader, with all their lovely nieces and nephews. And that is how the story ends!"