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Bizarrely Rich Brits

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PART ONE

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to”

-Dorothy Parker


 

Chapter 1

Arthur Penn & Merlin Emrys

New York City, USA

 

“And you’re sure about this?” Merlin asked once more, looking at Arthur over the brim of his steaming cup of tea before he took a delicate sip. They were seated at their favorite table at Fenway Tea and Arthur had just invited him to spend the summer with him in England with his family. 

“I’d love it if you came, Merls,” Arthur reassured, a hand reaching out to softly clasp at the darker-haired man’s hands when he set his cup of tea down. “You weren’t even planning on teaching this summer, so what’s the problem? Do you think you won’t be able to handle the English summer?” he teased good-naturedly with a small chuckle. 

Letting out a chuckle of his own, Merlin shook his head, “No, no, it’s just that I know you’ll be busy with your best-man duties. I don’t want to distract you, y’know?”

It had been about a week ago that Arthur had ended a phone call with a wide smile, returning to his position beside Merlin on their couch where they’d been watching a historical drama about Queen Anne. Arthur, a European History professor at Columbia, made a sport out of watching period movies and pointing out inaccuracies, something that Merlin found endearingly hilarious. As he cradled himself once more into the warmth of Arthur’s body, Merlin moved to press play again when Arthur stopped him. 

“That was my mate Lance,” he stated with a small smile on his face when Merlin turned to look at him, “He’s going to get married this summer and he wants me to be his best man.”

Merlin had beamed. “That’s amazing, Arthur! This is Lance, you’re childhood friend right? The one that you grew up with?” he asked, having heard countless stories of all the adventures that Arthur had as a young boy with his friend. 

“That’s the one,” Arthur nodded, chuckling, “I can’t believe he’s getting married!” 

They had chuckled a bit and Arthur had relayed a story of his youth with Lancelot, one about them both falling into a lake that was near Arthur’s grandmother’s house, and they’d both thought they were going to die. “We got all existential and made promises that if one of us survived we’d let the other’s parents adopt us so they’d still have a son!” Arthur described, and they’d laughed together, eventually returning to the movie. 

Since then, Merlin hadn’t put much of any thought towards the wedding. He certainly hadn’t thought if he was somehow involved in Arthur’s trip back home for his best friend’s nuptials. 

“Why would you be a distraction, babe?” Arthur countered, slathering some jam and clotted cream onto a scone that was still warm from the over, “Lance’s wedding will only take up the first week in England, and then we can spend the rest of the summer just enjoying ourselves. Don’t you want to see where I grew up? I can show you all my favorite haunts, babe.”

Arching a brow playfully and a wry smile forming on his peony-pink lips Merlin asked, “Are you gonna take me to the castle where you lost your virginity?”

Letting out a small laugh, Arthur nodded eagerly, “We can even stage a reenactment on the parapets”, earning him a small kick to the shin from Merlin under the table. Making a contorted face in exaggerated pain, he continued, “Don’t you have a friend from uni over in London?”

“Elena, my best friend from my Georgetown days,” he nodded, “She’s been trying to get me to visit London for ages.”

It was true, Elena had been Merlin’s best friend when he was getting his Bachelor's degree in International Politics at Georgetown, an international student who was from London. They’d always made an effort to keep in touch regularly throughout the years since they had graduated. She would always eagerly tell him about all the places in London that she wanted to take him to, how she missed him and would make pleading sounds as she told him that she needed him to come and visit her already. 

“All the more reason, Merlin. You’re going to love it, really!” Arthur said enthusiastically, “I’ll be your personal guide, show you all the best things that the U.K. has to offer, babe.”

“You’re really sure about this, Arthur?” Merlin asked again. He could sense Arthur’s eagerness about the trip, it was palpable in the air between them, and the idea of spending a summer abroad with Arthur certainly was exciting. He’d spent little less than a year teaching at the University of Leicester but back then he hadn’t cared too much for traveling about and soaking up all the experiences that he could, too focused on work. He knew it would be fascinating to visit this time with leisure in mind, especially with Arthur as his guide through it all. 

And yet, something about the idea of the trip made Merlin feel slightly apprehensive. He couldn’t help but think of the deeper implications of it all. The question was popping up quite spontaneously, but knowing Arthur, he was sure that he’d put much more thought into it than his casual visage was letting on. They’d been together for almost two years and he was inviting him to attend his best friend’s wedding in his hometown, no less.

“Of course, baby,” Arthur insisted, meeting Merlin’s eyes with an earnest and open expression on his face. “You know that I’d love for you to be there with me.” 

Did this mean what Merlin thought it did?

These thoughts buzzed in his head and his eyes pulled away from his boyfriend to instead gaze out the window of Fenway. They always sat by this same window, it was their favorite spot in the whole tea shop, sun-dappled in the shade of a nearby tree. It was a clear view out to the passerby of Greenwich Village, people with small dogs on leashes walking by as if it was a runway for the city’s most fashionable breeds. A year ago everyone couldn’t get over Italian greyhounds and their horse-like prance and slender build, but it seemed the dog of the season was the miniature American shepherd with its fluffy coat and eagerly wagging tail. Maybe I should get a dog, Merlin thought , A dog would be nice…, he pondered, knowing well that she was getting lost in thought over the question. 

His gaze drifted downwards for a moment, looking at the stray leaves that lay at the bottom of his cup of amber-colored Assam tea. He wished he could pull some sort of divine answer or vision of the future from the leaves pooled there. Really, Merlin had never been one for romance, never one to hopefully await a fairytale ending. At 28 he was already being pressured by his busybody relatives to marry, something he found ludicrous, only, even more, when his uncles and aunts would relay tales of how, at his age, they’d already had children who were toddlers. They had been perpetually trying to set him up with whatever child of whatever acquaintance they vaguely knew but despite their efforts, Merlin spent the better part of his twenties single and focused on earning his degree, getting through grad school, finishing his dissertation and jump-starting his career in academia. This invitation though, it sparked something in Merlin, a long-dormant and vestigial romantic inkling that had his mind thrumming with thoughts of “ He wants to take me to his hometown. He wants me to meet his family.

The long-forgotten romantic in him was awakening and he knew deep down that there was only one real answer to Arthur’s question. 

“I’ll have to check with my dean to see when I’m needed back, but...let’s do this!” he declared, smiling wide at Arthur whose face broke out into a wide grin. 

He leaned across their table and kissed Merlin, pulling away with a smile, “You’re going to love it, Merlin! You’ll meet my grandmother and Lance and all my other friends too and…”

At a nearby table, huddled discreetly behind a three-tiered stand ladened with pastries and mini Bakewell tarts, was a girl who was growing increasingly excited by the conversation she was overhearing. She suspected that it might be him but yes, she knew now that it had to be him. It was Arthur Pendragon!

Even though it was years back when she was fifteen that she had last seen him, Isobel Kernall would never forget when Arthur Pendragon had strolled past their table at the Prose Lounge✽ and flashed that devastatingly disarming grin at her sister Elizabeth. 

“Is that one of the Faithley brothers?” their mother had asked, eyes widening slightly. 

“No, mum, that’s Arthur Pendragon. He’s a cousin of the Faithleys,” Elizabeth had replied, eyeing her mother and how she gazed, completely rapt, at the retreating figure of the handsome bloke who was walking towards the hip new bar that had been added to the Lounge after renovations earlier in the year. 

Their mother gasped, “Wait, you mean he’s Uther Pendragon’s son? My God, when did he shoot up like that? He’s so tall! He’s so handsome!” she exclaimed, a wide smile overtaking her face. 

“He’s studying at Oxford with Lancelot,” Elizabeth stated as she sipped from her pomegranate and guava almond lassi. The Prose Lounge, one of London’s finest hidden establishments, had recently revamped its menu with a series of dishes inspired by a series of Britain’s “ closest cultures in spirit ” which included India, South Africa, and Egypt. Upon hearing the news of that, Elizabeth had rolled her eyes, “just say 'the lands we horrifically colonized and plundered ’, is that so difficult?”. 

Her pomegranate lassi, topped with a sprinkle of Marcona almonds, was quite delicious though. 

“Dual major in History and Law,” Elizabeth added, already knowing what her mother was going to ask when her lips parted to speak. 

Mrs. Kernall turned to look at her eldest daughter, her eyes gleaming, “Why don’t you go talk to him?”

“Why should I? You always hate all the boys I go out with,” Elizabeth scoffed, shaking her head at her mother.

“My God, stupid girl! I’m trying to protect you from fortune hunters! This one, you’d be lucky for him to even look at you, Ellie! You should go, go and snatch him up!”

Isobel couldn’t believe her mother was encouraging her older sister to go and snatch up this boy. She looked curiously at Arthur who was now laughing with some friends at the bar. Even from afar he stood out in high relief. Arthur was tall and looked fit, had perfectly tousled golden hair, chiseled boyband star features, and impossibly thick eyelashes and beautifully full lips. He looks like that Keating cutie from Boyzone , Isobel thought, he was the cutest and dreamiest guy she had ever seen in her life. 

“Why don’t you go over there and invite him to your fundraiser on Saturday, Lizzie?” their mother insisted, gaze turning hungry as she stared in Arthur’s direction. 

“Stop it, mummy,” Elizabeth sighed gruffly, turning to shoot her mother a sharp glower as she stood up, “I know what I’m doing,” she added. 

As it turned out, Elizabeth did not know what she was doing. Arthur never showed up at her fundraiser event on Saturday, much to their mother’s eternal disappointment. And to top it all off, just that following autumn Arthur had come out as gay. 

Regardless, that afternoon left such an unwavering mark on a young Isobel’s mind that even nearing ten years later and on the other side of the Atlantic, she still recognized that head of artfully tousled flaxen hair that looked like it was spun from gold. 

“Claire, let me get a picture of you with your Eton mess!” Isobel declared with a faux giggle, taking out her phone from her bag. She pointed it in the direction of her best friend but she instead trained the focus of the camera on Arthur and his date that sat by the window. She snapped the picture, making sure to actually take one of Claire as well, beaming brightly at her friend as she sent the first picture to her sister, who now lived in Atherton in California. Her phone pinged with an income text message less than a minute later.

 

Lizzie Bear: FUCK FUCK FUCK THAT’S ARTHUR PENDRAGON

Isobel Kernall: I know, dude, I know

Lizzie Bear: WHERE ARE U?

Isobel Kernall: Fenway @NYC

Lizzie Bear: Who’s the guy that he’s with?

Isobel Kernall: BF, I think

Lizzie Bear: Do you see a ring?

Isobel Kernall: No, no ring

Lizzie Bear: Spy for me, Issy

Isobel Kernall: You owe me for this!

 

And like that, just minutes later, before Merlin himself knew for certain what his plans for that summer would be, the details of his conversation with Arthur had already started to spread far and wide. The gossip spread around the world like a virus set loose amongst the closely guarded upper crust of the Anglophonic world. 

After Isobel Kernall (Masters in Architecture student at Parsons) texted her sister Elizabeth “Lizzie” Kernall (who recently had to “settle” for getting engaged to Welsh super angel investor Hugh Merle) in California, Lizzie called her best friend Hortensia Kerne (youngest daughter of Australian casino and hotel magnate Sir Howell Kerne) in Melbourne and breathlessly filled her in on the gossip. Rosie immediately texted eight of her friends in a group chat after the phone call, a group chat which included Hillary Leighton (granddaughter of eccentric art patron Ed Leighton) in Victoria, British Columbia. Hillary’s cousin Caroline Leighton (who now resides in Switzerland with her husband Mikkel, the British-Afrikaner heir to the Gamhert family luxury goods conglomerate) had studied law at Oxford with Arthur Pendragon and she simply had to send a series of rapid-fire voice messages to Gracie Triffyn (the Triffyn Media Corporation heiress) in Toronto. Grace, whose office in The Exchange Tower was just across from Leonie Young (of the Young Finance Group Youngs), simply had to interrupt her conference call to share this juicy tidbit.

Leonie, in turn, skyped her boyfriend Bran Fendigaid, who was holidaying at the Royal Mansour in Marrakech with his grandmother Mrs. Branwen Fandigaid (no introduction needed, of course) and her goddaughter Beverley Annwyn (Miss Rhodesia 1974, now the ex-wife to English-South African mining magnate Aaron Annwyn ). Beverley made a phone call to Iseult Berould (granddaughter to famed philanthropist Norman Berould) in London, knowing well that Iseult would have a direct line to Vivian Gododdin (second cousin to Arthur) who spent every summer at her family’s vast parkland compound in the Canadian countryside. And so, this exotic strain of gossip spread rapidly through all the leviathanic networks of the English-speaking world’s jet-set, everywhere from Auckland to Boston to Adelaide, and in just some few hours most everyone in this exclusive circle knew that Arthur Pendragon was returning to England for Lancelot’s wedding and was bringing a boyfriend with him.

And, bloody hell, this was big news!


✽ One of the most secretive social clubs in London with membership practically harder to obtain than a knighthood

 

Chapter Text

PART ONE

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to”

-Dorothy Parker


 

Chapter 2

Ygraine Arnive-Pendragon

"The Pink Palace", Herefordshire

 

Everyone knew that the Honorable Carleon Brennenal, Viscount Ryfellar, reinstated his family’s fortune the dirty way after taking down London Igely Bank in the early eighties. But in the three decades and a half since then, the efforts of his wife, Annis Brennenal, the Viscountess Ryfellar, on behalf of the right charities had burnished once more the Brennenal name into one of respectability. For example, every Wednesday she would host a Bible study breakfast for her closest friends at her home, and Ygraine was sure to attend.

Annis' bedroom wasn't actually located in the sprawling and gargantuan 18th-century Palladian style country house that was the family’s residence, known as Hadrien Hall, made of pink Derbyshire alabaster and nicknamed The Pink Palace. Instead, on the advice of the family's security team, her bedroom was hidden away in the large pavilion of pink stone that stood away from the home, overlooking the backyard gardens of trimmed topiaries and gorgeous flower beds.

To get there, you had to either follow the cobblestone footpath that wound around aromatic bushes cut into spirals and exotic animals, or take the shortcut through the service wing. Ygraine always preferred to take the quicker route, since she avoided the sun to maintain her porcelain Lladró figurine complexion and as Annis' oldest friend she felt herself exempt from the formalities of being announced at the front door, being greeted by the butler and having to listen to all the fawning formalities from the service staff who would line up to welcome her to Hadrien Hall.

Besides, Ygraine always loved going through the service block, flanking the country home on the left side and connected through a closed colonnade in pink alabaster and white travertine stone. 

Greeting the old women who had ascended to the top domestic positions, loyal to Hadrien Hall since the 50s and 60s when they'd arrived as teenagers, who were shouting at orders at the younger maids. The younger women fresh-faced and looking like they were plucked from some hillside village town with their brown hair and open expressions, flushed at all the activity going on around them.

The twenty-something-year-old girls would always fawn over how young Mrs. Pendragon looked at fifty-five, with her shoulder-length and fashionable unstyled (but totally styled) sheeny platinum blonde hair and her unwrinkled face. Of course, they'd begin a furious debate about what newfangled and expensive procedure she must've endured the moment that she was out of earshot.

By the time she reached Annis' bedroom, the bible study regulars-Laudine Dunlauk, Enide Tennyson and Daione Tirmur-were already there, assembled and waiting. Here, sheltered from the countryside heat, the decades-old friends would sprawl languidly about the room and analyze the Bible verses in their study guides.

The place of honor, Annis' red Amboyna wooden bed ✽ was reserved for Ygraine. For, even though it was Annis' home and she was the one who was married to a billionaire financier with a noble title, Annis deferred to her. This was the way that things always were, the way they’d always be, and they all kowtowed to Ygraine because, even among the room of exceedingly well-married women of pedigree, it was she who trumped them all by becoming Mrs. Uther Pendragon.

Today's breakfast began with a course of slices of bread and small baked goods set up on antique silver two-tiered platters, with an array of jams and creams of various flavors. Laudine Dunlauk (married to mining magnate Ewan Gorre, but born a Dunlauk, of the Scottish Dunlauks), was having a difficult time trying to smear some clotted cream on a golden brown scone while trying to find a verse in her New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Book. 

With her fire-red hair a frizzy halo around her head and thick-rimmed white reading glasses perched on her (relatively new) nose, she looked like a mildly eccentric fashion editor. At sixty-two she was the oldest of the ladies, and even though everyone was on the New American Standard she insisted on reading her version, "I went to a convent school in Dundee, it's always going to be the King James for me, girls". Crumbs fell onto the tissue-thin paper, but she managed to keep the good book open while smearing some clotted cream on her fresh-out-of-the-oven and still-warm scone.

Meanwhile, Daione was busy flipping through her Bible, the latest edition of Tattle. 

Every month she couldn't wait to see how many pictures of her daughter Sofia-the famed Tirmur Enterprises heiress-would be included in the magazine's "Soirées" section. Daione herself was a frequent fixture in the glossy pages of the society section, what with her always done-up makeup styles, tropical fruit sized jewels, a penchant for elaborate couture looks and her Rapunzel-like head of champagne blonde hair, all-natural of course ✽, that grazed along her hip bones.

"My God! Annis, Annis, look!,” Daione grinned excitedly, cheering,  "Tattle devoted two full pages to your Christian Hearts Benefit fashion show!"

"Really? I didn't think it'd come out so soon,” Annis remarked demurely. 

Unlike Daione, she was always rather embarrassed to find herself in the magazine pages, even though editors always fawned over her "classic Joshua Reynolds portrait-like beauty". She just felt obligated to, as a born-again Methodist (she was raised Catholic), attend a certain number of social events a week. And her husband always reminded her that, "playing the role of Diana is good for business".

Daione scanned the sheeny pages and let out a snicker, prompting the women to look in her direction. "Elaine Garlot has really put on weight since that Caribbean cruise she went on last month. Must be those all-you-can-eat buffets, don't you think? They make you feel like you have to eat up to get your money's worth".

"I don't think she cares too much about her weight," offered Enide from her position on one of the decorous chaise lounges, "I heard that when her father passed last November she and her three sisters each got 700 million".

"I thought Lenny would have at least a billion,”  scoffed Daione disparagingly, shaking her head, her complex braided updo of her fairytale-long hair swaying slightly as she moved. "Hey, Ygraine? How come there aren't any pretty photos of your niece Morgana? I could've sworn I saw all the photographer's swarming around her that day!"

"They were wasting their time. Morgana's pictures are never published anywhere : her mother made a deal with all the magazine editors and publishers back when she was a teenager,” replied Ygraine, brushing away a stray lock of flaxen hair as she took a seat on the bed.

Daione squawked in indignation, "And why would she do that?"

"Don't you know my husband's family by now?," Ygraine answered, shaking her head, "They'd rather be dead than appear in print".

"Are they too grand to be seen mingling with the rest of us?,” chided Daione, feeling bristled.

"Come now, Daione,” Laudine eased, "There's a difference between being grand and private", knowing well that families like the Pendragons and the Faithleys guarded their privacy to the point of obsession.

"Grand or not, your niece Morgana is wonderful", Annis chimed in, glad to shift the topic of the conversation, "I know I'm not supposed to say, and this might be very un-Christian of me, but Morgana wrote the biggest check at the fundraiser. She wanted to be anonymous, but it was thanks to her that this year's gala was such a success, a record-breaker!"

Ygraine nodded. That sounded really Morgana-like.

"What do we have today?", she asked, eyes gleaming with interest when she saw a young and pretty maid enter the room, carrying in her arms an ornately carved chestnut-wooden trunk, which she set beside Ygraine on the bed.

Annis shrugged lightly, in that way that showed she was going to reveal a treasure trove of epic new buys but was being discreet about it. "Just wanted to show you girls some of the things that I bought when the Viscount and I were at the Dominican Republic,”  she smiled.

The women nodded. Annis' springtime sabbatical to the Caribbean, to the Ryfellar property in Cabarete Bay, was one they'd been anxious to hear about. They knew that their friend had stayed at the famed colossal and sprawling ultimate bungalow home in American Craftsman style, commissioned by the Viscount's grandfather in the 20s to Californian architectural duo Greene & Greene✽, but Annis had skirted around the topic of any acquisitions during her time away. She had masterfully deflected all of their probing questions and attempts to get her to spill about what she might’ve bought while on her vacation, much to the women’s chagrin. 

Ygraine was quick to flip open the lid of the chest and methodically take out the stacked and velvet-lined trays. This was probably her favorite part of Wednesday morning Bible brunch (a close second was that divine strawberry cheesecake that Annis mentioned her cooks were preparing as dessert for that morning, yessssss !): getting to see Annis' new acquisitions.

The platinum blonde headed woman's eyes widened at the sight of a gorgeous cross necklace, with peculiar and transparent honey-hued stones along the shape. "What a beautiful cross-I never knew they did this kind of setting work in the Dominican Republic! My God, I’ll have to take a trip myself!"

"No, no, the cross is Harry Winston,” Annis corrected, adding, "But the stones are Dominican amber.”

Ygraine nodded, and then her eyes zeroed in one some other pieces, multiple rings and bracelets, and two necklaces, all set with a magnificently bright blue colored stone. She grazed her fingertips along a golden band with a pear-cut stone, and a pair of cabochon-cut earrings with diamonds and gold.

"And this? Is this Larimar?✽,” Ygraine asked with awe, looking up at Annis, who nodded in response.

Enide got up from her plate of scones all smeared with some richly flavored boysenberry jam and headed in a straight beeline for the bed, immediately holding up one of the stones to the light. 

"You ought to be careful with your Larimar, girls. When I told Eric that you'd gone to the Dominican Republic he told me about this horrific scandal with some mines near Barahona that were sending their stones to Switzerland so they could be synthetically treated to boost their blue color," the dark-haired woman informed her friends. As the wife of Eric Tennyson, of the mining Tennysons, she could speak on the topic of jewels with authority.

"My God!," Ygraine cried out, "And Larimar from Quinceañera is so gorgeous ! Why would anyone think of working on it in a lab? How disgraceful".

"Not Quinceañera, Yggie", interjected Laudine, correcting her, using that age-old nickname, "Quisqueya, you’re thinking of Quisqueya ".

"My God! You're just like Arthur, always correcting me!," Ygraine said, shaking her head lightly.

Laudine shrugged. "Speaking of Arthur, when does he arrive from New York? Isn't he going to be the best man at Lancelot's wedding?," she asked, looking up from her Bible to glance at Ygraine.

"He is, but you know my son-I'm always the last one to know anything!" complained Ygraine, her hands fiddling with an amber piece, the small slab of resin at the center of a festoon style necklace.

"Isn't he staying with you?," asked Enide.

"Of course! He always stays with us before heading to the Antique's house", Ygraine explained, using the nickname she had for her mother-in-law.

"Well,” Laudine started, her voice lowering, "What do you think the Antique is going to say about his guest?"

"What?,” Ygraine frowned, arching a thin brow in confusion, "What guest ? What are you talking about, Laudine?"

"You know...the one....he's bringing....to the wedding,” Laudine replied slowly, her eyes darting around the room mischievously to the other ladies, who all knew what she was referring to and whose attentions were now piqued by Ygraine’s seemingly cluelessness regarding the matter.

"What are you talking about? Who's he bringing?,” Ygraine asked, frowning in confusion.

"My God!", Daione cried out, flicking a stray strand of blonde away from her face, exasperated at how Ygraine really didn't know a thing, " His latest boyfriend !"

The ice-blonde gasped, "No such thing! He doesn't have any sort of new boyfriend!"

"And why is it so hard for you to believe that your son has a boyfriend?,” Enide asked, arching an accusatory brow at her friend. She had always found Arthur to be the most dashing young man of his generation, and with all that Pendragon money it was really such a shame her good-for-nothing daughter Devon never managed to attract him.

When he had so brazenly come out as gay during his second year at Cambridge, she had been amiss to what to do now. Devon wasn't a viable option anymore, but Enide had a son too, Geraint, who she thought was quite the catch as well: handsome with russet-colored hair, was a good 6'2 and was most likely going to inherit the grand majority of the Tennyson fortune. Ever since her husband's sister Verity ran off with some Swedish quasi-millionaire in a union that wasn't blessed by Enide’s in-laws, the two sons she had were disinherited. Her crone of a mother-in-law had gone so far as to even refuse to meet her eldest grandchildren. Eric's other brother was the youngest of the three, which automatically put him at a lower position when Enide's father-in-law would croak ( soon , Enide hoped) and his estate would be dished out.

So, when Enid heard that Arthur would be returning to Britain for the DuLac wedding, she'd informed her son of the plan to have him seduce and enamor Arthur away from whatever boy-toy he was bringing along as his guest. Geraint, the blasted foolish idiot that he was, had refused to go along with the plan.

"I'm not gay , mother!” he had snapped at her, looking at his mother in a mix of irritation, bewilderment, and shock at the mere idea as if she’d suggested something unreasonable of him.

He'd been staring absentmindedly at his mother's pacing figure, half-listening to what she said as she made a continuous circle in the ornately decorated living room of the family's Victorian Gothic villa on Crick Road. Geraint hadn't been much engrossed in what she had said was "the perfect plan", thinking more on why he'd even canceled his closed-door meeting with Marek Reichmann where he was going to be shown the newest sports car codenamed Nebula before the Aston Martin private showcase at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ✽.

"For a name like Pendragon and a fortune like the one they have, I don't care if you have to fake liking getting fucked by Arthur , you stupid child!” she had screamed in response, arms flapping around wildly like a bird as she screeched.

"Surely you've heard of who he's bringing, right? The American?,” Laudine announced in a stage whisper as she closed her Bible, relishing in how they were the ones to deliver the news to a shocked Ygraine.

"An American ? Never, never,” Ygraine protested, panicking and shaking her head in earnest protest, "Artie would never , you're gossip is garbage , Laudine!"

"My gossip is never garbage!" cried Laudine.

Daione, who had set down her magazine, let out a loud cackle, "My goodness! Let's pray that it isn't another one of those American avalanches !"

Horrified, Ygraine dared to ask, "What do y-you mean?"

"You know, the American avalanches! They come out of nowhere, men fall in love and before they even know it, they're gone! But not without having taken every last cent in their path as they go!,” Daione explained, her voice excited and blue eyes gleaming, "So many men have fallen to American avalanches, you know?"

Her face blanched. "Like who?", Ygraine questioned.

"Mrs. Ashton-Carlby's middle son, Joseph, for example. His wife cleaned him through and ran off with a bunch of the ages-old Carlby heirlooms!,” Daione recounted, picking up one of Enid’s forgotten scones and happily munching it down.

Enid, who's attention had been pulled from assessing the treasure trove of jewelry before her, nodded along. "And don't you remember Anne Susan Chartery's husband who ran off with that Los Angeles internet model who posts pictures online with expensive bottled water?"

All the women visibly trembled at that last part. ✽

 It was at that very moment that Annis' husband entered the room. "Hello, hello, ladies,”  he greeted with a wide smile, "What's God been saying today?,” he joked, looking every bit the caricature of a well-off middle-aged businessman in his Edes & Ravenscroft mint colored shirt and his slate grey Milan-made A. Caraceni custom suit, swirling some scotch in a glass.

"Hello, Viscount,” the ladies all said in unison, hurriedly arranging themselves into more decorous positions on the furniture.

Ygraine was the first of the ladies to speak, crying out and shaking her head, "Viscount, the girls are trying to give me an aneurysm! Laudine is saying that Arthur is going to be bringing some American with him to Lancelot and Mithian's wedding!"

Chuckling, the man replied, "Relax, Yggie, Americans are lovely people. And maybe whoever he's found will be better than all of the inbred spawn that you always want to matchmake him up with!"

The ladies stayed silent at that last part.

"Anyways,” the Viscount continued, lowering his voice and taking a few steps closer, "If I were you ladies, I'd spend less time worrying about who Arthur is bringing for the Grail-du Lac wedding and worry about Strassberg Development instead".

"What's going on with Strassberg?,” asked Daione, her face paling a bit. The Viscount always had the best insider information regarding stocks. 

"Strassberg is over , ladies. It's going to collapse !” he announced with a jubilant smile, taking a slow sip from his glass of scotch as he watched as his wife's friends started to get jittery.

"B-but Strassberg is a blue-chip ! And they're doing all those new construction projects in Wales!,” argued Enide, who was slowly growing worried.

"According to my source at Downing Street, the government is pulling out of that big development project outside Cardiff,” the Viscount announced, nodding to himself proudly, "I just unloaded my shares and I'm shorting a hunted thousand shares every hour until the market closes".

And with that the Viscount walked calmly to the state-of-the-art touchpad beside Annis' bed, pressing a button. He stood quietly, watching as the large glass wall that faced the wisteria-covered pergola, that wound towards the Viscount's private pavilion, began to part like crystalline sliding doors with a nearly inaudible humming sound. With a final nod towards the women and beaming at their shocked faces, the Viscount began lumbering along the pathway, chuckling to himself as he went.

For a few short seconds, everyone in the room was ramrod still. One could practically hear how their thoughts whizzed into overdrive, and then Laudine jumped up from her position at the table rather frantically, sending her cup of Nicaraguan Segovia coffee flying across the table. "Quick, quick, where's my bag? I need to call my broker right now, where is it ?” she screamed.

Ygraine and Enide frantically searched for their phones as well. Daione, who had her stockbroker on speed dial was already screaming into her phone, "Yes! Dump it, dump all of it right now! Strassberg is a goner , I just heard it from the fucking horse's fucking mouth!"

Enide had toppled her coffee as well, but was cupping her phone close to her mouth as she said, her voice steely, "I don't bloody care, Lyle, just start shorting it! Right now!"

Laudine let out a wailing sound, shaking her head, "I'm losing millions by the fucking minute! Where is my bloody broker? Don't tell that idiot is still at lunch!"

Reaching calmly over to the touch-screen pad beside her bed, Annis spoke, "Hello girls, I need you to come in and clean up a spill, thank you.” 

And then she closed her eyes, brushing gently at her auburn hair for a moment before starting to pray aloud, arms raised up. "Lord Jesus, our gracious Savior, and protector, blessed be your name. Today we come to you with humility and asking for forgiveness for our sins, as we've all sinned against you, my dear Lord."

" Fucking motherfucker !", shrieked Daione at her broker who was still questioning why she wanted to dump all her shares in the blue-chip development and construction company, her face contorted viciously.

"Thank you Lord Jesus for all of your blessings,” Annie went on, "and thank you for all your divine love. Thank you Lord Jesus for our fellowship and allowing us to come together, thank you for the nourishment of the meal we have enjoyed this morning and I want to thank you particularly for the cheesecake that Maisie is preparing for dessert.  Thank you for the power of your holy word, Lord Jesus.”

“Please watch over our dear Sister Ygraine, Sister Laudine, Sister Daione, and Sister Enide as they try to sell their shares in Strassberg…,” opening her eyes for a moment she saw that Ygraine was also praying with her. Ygraine is such a good Christian woman , Annie mused for a moment, a content smile blooming on her peony colored lips, resuming her prayer with more gusto than before.

What Annis didn't know was that behind that serene look on her face and her closed eyelids, Ygraine was praying for something else entirely.

Not an American , please, let it not be true!

 


✽Amboyna wood isn't a species per se, but the rare and extremely costly rose-scented burl of the rosewood tree, with Annis' bed being made by furniture designer Thomas Sheraton from wood imported straight from Ambon Island in the 18th century

✽While she’s a natural blonde, Daione's particular lustrous shade of creamy yellow with platinum, golden and butterscotch accents is thanks to her colorist Alexandra at the Jo Hansford salon on Mayfair

✽Their only known project outside of the U.S., a stunningly gorgeous and chic home built completely from Dominican guayacan wood, the house today also includes a bird conservatory and a greenhouse in which there's a treasure trove of Bayahibe roses, kept in perfect conditions

✽Larimar, an exceedingly rare blue variant of the mineral pectolite, is found only in the Dominican Republic and the more intense the blue color and the contrast in the stone, the higher and rarer is the quality.

✽The car that Geraint was going to view was the now-revealed Aston Martin Valkyrie, of which only 150 cars will be made and crafted of pure carbon fiber. With a top speed in excess of 200 mph, park one in your garage for near $3.2 million

✽Bottled water, hotel rooms, pricey airfare, phone bills, snacks and undergarments, all things that women of Ygraine's set and generation can't stomach to spend much money on. Catch them shell out millions for antique furniture though.

Chapter Text

PART ONE

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to”

-Dorothy Parker


 

Chapter 3

Morgana Faithley

Paris, France

Every 1st of May, the Pierre-Laeres, one of France’s great banking dynasties, would host Le Bal du Muguet , a stunningly organized ball that was the highlight of Paris’ spring social season. This year, Morgana entered the arched passageway that led into the Pierre-Laeres’ hotel particulier on the eastern tip of the Île Saint-Louis, being handed a delicate sprig of white flowers by a stately looking footman in smart black and gold livery. 

“It’s after Charles IX. He would present lilies of the valley to all the ladies at le Château de Fontainebleau every May Day,” a woman dressed in all the fineries murmured to her as they passed through the arch and emerged into the courtyard where dozens upon dozens of eighteenth-century style hot air balloons floated amongst the topiaries cut in the form of sparrows, the family’s beloved animal that was featured on their sigil. 

Morgana barely even had time to take in the delightfully beautiful sight when the Vicomtesse Anne Laudine de Pierre-Laere pounced on her. “I’m so glad you could make it, Morgana!” she greeted effusively, greeting her long-time friend with quadruple cheek kisses. 

Morgana, beaming brightly, hugged the other woman, “I wouldn’t miss it, Laudie.”

Pulling away, the Vicomtesse praised, “My goodness, is that linen ?” her eyes intent on the other woman’s dress, “Only you could get away with wearing a simple linen dress to a ball, Morgana!”

The blond took Morgana’s arm in hers, the two walking together as she appreciated the delicate Grecian pleats of the long burgundy colored gown that her friend wore. The sumptuously artful folds, the rich color, the crossed-back…

“Wait a minute...is this an original Grès ✽?” Laudamie gasped, realizing that she had seen a similar piece on exhibit at the Palais Galliera. 

Slightly embarrassed to have been discovered, her cheeks coloring pink, Morgana nodded, “From her early period, yes.”

“How on earth dd you get your hands on an early Grès?” the blond asked, awe bathing her voice. Morgana had always been able to find absolute gems, be it an early Fortuny or a necklace once owned by a Russian Czarina, Laudamie felt that she should've been accustomed to her friend's affinity for only the very best of haute couture and joaillerie. She quickly recovered herself though, murmuring in a quieter voice, “I hope you don’t mind but my mother-in-law put you beside Garel, I’m sorry. He’s being such an annoyance , really Morgana, he still thinks I’m angry about his affair with that opera singer last year. He won’t stop trying to appease me and insists we go to marriage counseling, can you believe the man? He keeps crying and apologizing and gets on his knees, honestly, it’s tragic," she shook her head, "You’re the only person I trust to sit next to him. He's too enchanted by you to mope about our marriage to you. At least you’re going to have Gasaprd ✽ on your right.”

Chuckling, Morgana nodded, “You know I always enjoy Garel’s company. And his behavior is to be expected, I told you that he was obsessed with you since the day you met," Morgana pointed out, knowing well that Garel was dangerously in love with her friend ✽, "He’d do anything if it meant you were happy.”

A mischievous smirk appeared on the blonde’s lips. “I have been thinking of renovating our compound in the Alps...”

“You’ve always known how to take advantage of a situation," Morgana chuckled, adding, “And it’ll be a treat to sit next to Gaspard-I saw his new movie last week.”

“I thought it was such a bore, but he’s so dreamy, isn’t he? Anyway, are you sure you have to leave tomorrow?” the hostess asked with a pout. They hadn’t gotten to spend as much time together on Morgana’s visit to the city as they would’ve liked, mainly because Laudine’s in-laws had roped her into all the preparations for the ball.

Morgana gave her friend an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, but I’ve been away from home for almost a month. My son is going to forget who I am!” she joked.

“You should bring Ewain next time you come to Paris. My boys love playing with him,” the Vicomtesse beamed as they were ushered along into the grand foyer where her mother-in-law, the Comtesse Babianne dePierre-Laere, presided over the receiving line.

“Morgana! Quelle surprise!” the woman gasped when she saw the young woman who walked with her daughter-in-law.

“I wasn’t sure if I would be able to attend, but you know I’d never miss this event, Comtesse,” the brunette smiled bashfully. 

“Comtesse? No need for formalities, Morgana! I'm always Tante Babi to you, mon tendre!” the woman proclaimed with a wide smile.

Morgana nodded and she noticed the woman beside her long-time family friend. A stiff-looking grand dame who didn’t return the small smile that Morgana sent, instead she narrowed her eyes slightly, taking her in like she was appraising her. 

“Morgana Faithley, let me present my dear friend, Baronne Marie-Éléonore de la Troye.”

The older woman simply nodded curtly before she turned her gaze away and resumed a quiet conversation with her Tante Babi. Ignoring her completely, as if Morgana wasn’t worth another second of her vision. 

Looking at Morgana’s retreating figure out of the corner of her eye, Marie-Éléonore turned to her friend, “Babianne, did you notice the necklace the girl was wearing? I saw it at Monsieur Rosenthal’s last week. It’s unbelievable what these girls can get their hands on!”

The Comtesse nodded, “Morgana has an eye for the very best.”

“Tell me, Babianne, to whom does she belong to?”

The flaxen-haired woman with greying hairs chuckled, “No, no Éléonore, Morgana isn’t one of those girls. We’ve known her family for years now.”

“Oh,” Marie-Éléonore frowned, astonished, “Who is her family?”

“The Faithleys are an English family from Australia, Éléonore.”

The Baronne nodded slowly, letting out a small chortle. “That must be why I’ve never heard their name. These new families, they just keep popping up, right? They make a lot of flashy money quickly and suddenly all the doors open for them!”

“No, no, Éléonore, you don’t quite understand. Her family has been wealthy for generations. Her father is one of the biggest clients this family has ever had.”

Joining his wife in the receiving line, Comte Chretien de Pierre-Laere remarked humorously, “Giving away family secrets again, my love?”

“Not at all. Just enlightening Marie-Leonore about the Faithleys,” Babianne explained, adjusting her husband’s tie. The big baby could run a multibillion-dollar financial holdings company but couldn’t properly put on a tie , she thought.

“Ah, the Faithleys,” a small smile bloomed on Chretien’s lips, “Why the topic? Don’t tell me that the ravishing Morgana was able to come last-minute?”

“You just missed her, my love. But don’t worry, you’ll have all night to ogle at her from across the dinner table. She’ll be seated next to Garel,” she informed her husband with a light chuckle, and turning to Marie-Éléonore she explained, “It’s been years and my husband and son are both still enchanted and obsessed with Morgana.”

“A girl like Morgana exists to feed obsession, my love,” Chretien declared, earning a smack to the arm from his wife who gave him a playful faux outraged look. 

“Chretien, darling, explain to me these Faithley people? How is it that I’ve never heard of them?” Marie-Éléonore asked, intrigued, sure, but mostly peeved that her encyclopedic knowledge on who everyone was in the leviathanic network of Europe’s uppermost echelons had holes poked in it. Who were these Faithley people?

Before he could start (if anyone was prone to revealing secrets about both the family and the family’s clients, it was Chretien), Babianne cut in. “Let me just tell you this: we visited Morgana’s family in England one time a few years ago. It’s the only time that the Faithleys have invited us to stay with them in all the years we’ve known them. They’ve been wealthy for centuries, for hundreds of years. You simply can’t imagine how staggeringly wealthy these people are, Éléonore. The houses, the servants, the way that they live. It makes the Arnaults look like peasants. Makes the Rothschilds look like corner store owners.”

“What’s more, I’ve been told that Morgana is an heiress on both sides-her mother’s side has even more enormous fortune!” Chretien nodded, always having lamented that Gordon’s wife didn’t bring her family’s wealth management to him. 

“Oh, really?” Marie-Leonore gasped in astonishment. She stared at the girl who was across the room, renewed interest in her eyes. This left the unanswered additional question of who the fuck was the mother’s family?

Clearing her throat, the Baronne nodded, “Well, she’s rather soignee, I’ll admit.”

“She’s terribly chic-I think she’s one of the few girls of her generation who actually gets it right,” the Comtesse nodded, “Laudamie tells me that Morgana has a couture collection that rivals both those of the Sheikha of Qatar and Mouna Ayoub. She never goes to the shows, she hates being photographed and appearing in the media but she goes straight to the ateliers and snaps up dozens of dresses every season as if they were profiteroles. They all have mannequins in her size ready in case she can’t make it in person to the ateliers.”

Chretien smirked and added, “And all of this Marie-Éléonore, without anyone even knowing that her family exists ”. 

Some fifteen minutes later, Morgana stood in the salon, admiring a dream-like portrait of a beautiful woman that hung above the mantelpiece when someone behind her spoke, “That’s Chretien’s mother, you know.”

Turning to see who had spoken, she saw it was the Baronne. The woman was seemingly making her best attempt at a smile on her tightly pulled face. 

“She was a beautiful woman,” Morgana replied with a small nod. 

“Cherie, I must say that I’ve been admiring your necklace since I saw you. I fell in love with it when I visited Monsieur Joel a few weeks ago but he told me it was already spoken for”, the Baronne beamed, this time a genuine one, “But I see now, you were clearly destined to wear it.”

“Thank you,” Morgana replied, blushing slightly at the compliment and feeling rather amused at the woman’s sudden turn in attitude, “But your earrings are the most magnificent things.”

“Babianne tells me you are from Australie?” Marie-Éléonore asked and when Morgana nodded, she continued, “A lovely country, so I’ve heard. My beloved granddaughter is taking a trip to Australia in the summer. She loves beaches and nature. Maybe you would be so kind so as to give her some advice?”

“Of course,” Morgana said politely albeit thinking, My Lord, it took this woman all but five minutes to go from snobby to suck-up! It was...well, it was honestly disappointing.

Paris had always been her escape and she’d always yearned to be invisible in the City of Lights. To be just another one of the well-dressed tourist girls visiting the city for the first time and taking everything in with a wondrous expression. It was the luxury of anonymity that made her love the French city. 

But living in Paris some years back had changed all of that. Her parents, concerned that their only daughter was living without any sort of chaperone by herself in a foreign city, had alerted their friends in Paris, like their trusted bankers the Pierre-Laeres. Word had gotten out, spread widely throughout the city, and suddenly she wasn’t just another jeune fille renting a flat in the Faubourg. She was suddenly emblazoned with the title of Gordon Faithley’s daughter and Constance Gododdin’s granddaughter . It was frustrating and she had been utterly enraged when her mother had informed her that they’d spoken with their friends in Paris and let them know where she was living, “just so they can check in with you, my dear.” But, of course, she should’ve been used to it, to people talking about her as soon as she left the room. It had practically been happening since the very flowery May evening when she was born.

To understand why though, one had to first consider the very most obvious thing-her astonishing beauty. Morgana wasn’t attractive in the "classic English beauty" way like her mother, no, many would say that she wasn’t attractive in the typical sense of the word. One could say that Morgana’s eyes were set slightly too far apart and her forehead-so similar to the men on her father’s side-was too big for a girl. Her smile was a bit too toothy maybe and some of her naysayers would describe her physique as rather flat and lacking. Yer somehow, with her delicate button nose, bee-stung naturally peony pink lips and her long obsidian hair that had a slight wave to its form, it all came together to form a particularly entrancing vision. 

Morgana was always that girl who modeling scouts stopped in the streets, even if over the years her mother would never fail to make quick work of dispatching them. 

“Hurry along, Morgana,” her mother had chided one day while they walked through Paris’ picturesque streets. It was the summer right after Morgana’s 17th birthday and she had been allowed to accompany her mother on her yearly trip to Paris. 

They were currently en route to the Kraemer Gallery ✽. Vivienne had been planning on running down to the 17th arrondissement to pick up some pains au chocolat when she received a phone call. It was her source at the antique furniture dealer and they had hurriedly whispered that they’d just received a Jean-Pierre Latz long-case clock from the reign of Louis XV. 

“Nearly identical to the one that was made for Frédéric le Grand at the Nouveau Palais,” the voice on the other line had murmured to Morgana’s mother in the morning, “Oh no! I have to leave you, madame!”, before hanging up abruptly. 

Vivienne would be damned if anyone else got their hands on the clock, and so she had promptly woken up Morgana, shrieked until her daughter was dressed and her hair was brushed, and then they began their trek to the antique dealer by the Parc Monceau. Morgana, still not the seemingly-native-Parisian she would one day become, was staring at all the architectural beauties that they were walking by. She was brought back to reality by her mother’s hand wrapping itself around her forearm, nails slightly digging into her skin.

“Mum, that hurts !” Morgana had hissed, pulling her arm away from her mother.

“Hurry along then! I’m not going to be late to Kraemer and risk someone else getting my clock just because you can’t be bothered to run quickly!” Vivienne had replied curtly. 

So, they continued walking briskly through the streets, until a woman suddenly appeared in their path. 

Platinum blond hair cut in a fashionably shaggy haircut and thin eyeglasses that rested precariously near the bottom of her nose, this woman was tall and willowy and, more importantly to Vivienne, blocking their way

The woman said something in French to her mother. It was a bit too quick for Morgana’s schoolgirl-level French to quite understand but she did hear the woman say “beautiful”. Morgana tensed slightly though when she saw the shocked expression on her mother’s face.

What was this French lady saying to her mum? Vivienne’s eyes were widening and her stance was pulling away as if recoiling. She moved between the woman and Morgana, prompting the teenaged girl to frown a bit. Her mother was animatedly shaking her head now and was responding in equally rapid-fire French. 

The woman turned her attention to Morgana, grey eyes bright. “ Miss, I was joost zaying to ‘our maman zat I work for an agency ‘ere in Paris, a modeling agency and-

Excusez-moi, nous sommes pressés! ” Vivienne hissed, interrupting the woman and glaring daggers at her as she tugged Morgana along. 

Later in the day, when Morgana brought it up her mother sighed. 

“That awful woman was a modeling scout. She said her agency worked with ‘ ze bezt deezigners ’ and that she thought you could have a great career,” Vivienne scoffed, shaking her head. 

Morgana swallowed. She’d never thought of modeling as a profession and it seemed her mother didn’t much like the idea either. But, her mother was in a good mood as they’d gotten the clock ✽, so she decided to risk it.

“What would be so bad with being a model, mum?” she dared to ask.

Vivienne met her daughter’s gaze in an intense stare. “You’re not going to be modeling for anyone ,” she frowned, “and certainly not for money . Those things are beneath you.”

And then there was the other, probably more essential, detail about Morgana. She was born into the uppermost echelon of the world’s wealth-a secretive and rarefied circle of families who possessed immeasurably vast fortunes. For starters, her father, Gordon, was of the Faithley family, nothing more needed be said. Adding more oomph, her mother was the eldest daughter of Aurelian Pendragon and the even more imperial Constance Gododdin. Morgana’s aunt Caroline had married into the Royal House of Windsor. Another aunt was wed to renowned Canadian neurologist Lot Camlann.

If one wanted, they could spend hours upon hours that would turn into days diagramming all the amazing dynastic links in Morgana’s family tree. From whatever angle you looked at it her lineage was nothing if not extraordinary interesting. 

And as she took her place at the candlelit banquet table in the long gallery of the Pierre-Laere’s long gallery, surrounded by the uppermost tiers of France’s old-guard families and cultural scions, the walls around her adorned with rose-period Picassos and table laden with Sèvres in pristine condition from the 1700s, she couldn’t have suspected just how extraordinary and interesting everything was truly going to become. 

 


 

✽ As in Madame Grès, the respected French couturier famed for her minimalistic draping technique, eye for the female figure and painstaking attention to detail: her famous “Greek goddess” gowns could take anywhere up to reported 300 hours to complete.

✽ As in Gaspard Ulliel, a.k.a the man of my dreams

✽ Called "Laudamie's petit chien" jokingly in their circle of friends when he wasn't around, to this date there isn't a single thing that Laudamie has asked him to do that he hasn't done without a moment's doubt. It's slightly (read: very) alarming. 

✽ Considered to be the world’s largest privately-owned museum-quality collection of 18th-century French furniture and objets d’art and the oldest in Paris, nicknamed “the billionaire’s IKEA ”, some have joked that for a piece to be sold there it must have been owned by at least 1 royal

✽For €4.2 million, purchased less than two minutes after it was shown to Vivienne

Chapter Text

PART ONE

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to”

-Dorothy Parker


 

Chapter 4

Merlin Emrys

New York City, USA

It was just after dinner time in California, Merlin noted as he glanced at the clock, and so he called his mother as he pushed the stack of papers in front of him to the side, needing a break from reading over his class’ most recent batch of half-concocted essays. 

“Merlin, you won’t believe who just closed the deal on the big home on Laurel Glen Drive that I told you about!,” Hunith Emrys ebulliently proclaimed in a sing-songy tone when she picked up the call.

“Wow, congrats, mum! Isn’t that your third sale this month?” he asked, smiling, always feeling a warmth at hearing his mother’s cheerful accented voice float through their call. 

“Yes! I broke last year’s office record already ! I knew that I made the right choice when I joined Julian Capps at the Los Altos office!” his mother gleamed with satisfaction, sounding absolutely delighted.

Chuckling, Merlin replied, “You’re going to make Realtor of the Year again, mum, I know it,” he rolled his shoulders, letting out a small grunt at how one of his joints cracked. I’m getting old , he thought, adding, “I have some exciting news for you too.”

His mother remained silent for a moment. 

“Arthur and you are going to have a child ?” his mother asked hopefully, “A surrogate? Adopt?” she continued, her volume increasing with every suggestion, making Merlin burst out into loud laughter. 

“Mum, no !” he managed to say through his laughter and his mother’s chiding scolds to not laugh at her, “Nothing like that, no, no! Why would think that ?”

“You know, I’m not getting any younger, Merlin,” his mother grumbled good-naturedly over the phone, he could hear the smile in her voice, “I want to be able to actually enjoy my grandchildren!”

Merlin rolled his eyes even though he knew she couldn’t see him. 

“Don’t you roll your eyes at me, Merlin,” his mother scolded anyways as if she had some magical power and was able to detect his every facial expression. He wouldn’t be surprised though, what with the connection they shared. 

His mother and he had always been close, ever since he was a little boy he remembered a relationship characterized by love and affection by the plenty. She had been a single mother in a new country, an immigrant from Ealdor, a sleepy village in Cornwall, but she had persisted and prevailed above it all. It had always been them, just the pair, and Hunith had always been a dedicated mother, always there for Merlin despite juggling a series of jobs to keep them afloat as a working one-parent household with a growing child. She’d weasel her way and cajole her bosses to let her have just an hour and a half to go see Merlin perform in his school plays, to see him receive a district-wide scholastic award, to cheer him on at his track and field races. 

Despite the long hours she worked she would always come home and press a small kiss to his hair while he lay in bed, and their relationship had remained great even as he grew up. He could easily say that his mother knew him in and out and that he trusted her wholeheartedly with any and everything. She had always been and still was, a pillar of strength in his life, the person who had taught him how to work hard and to love with an open and generous heart. 

Chuckling and shaking his head, Merlin decided to just go for it: “Arthur invited me to come with him to England this summer, mum.”

“He did ?” Hunith remarked, her excitement evident in her tone. 

Merlin warned, knowing his mother too well to know what she was thinking of after he revealed his summer plans to her, “Don’t start getting ideas, mum!”

“What ideas ? My, when you brought Arthur home last Thanksgiving, everyone who saw you two lovebirds said that you were perfect for each other!” she proclaimed, excited and gushing, “Now it’s his turn to introduce you to his family, Merlin! My God, do you think he’ll propose ?” Hunith rushed out, already eagerly thinking about telling everyone that her son was going to get married soon. 

“Ugh!” Merlin groaned out, collapsing back against the chair. He knew this was going to happen, he knew his mother in and out just as well as she knew him and he had predicted that the moment she learned of their trip to England she’d start planning the floral arrangements and the color palette for the wedding. “We’ve never even talked about marriage, mum,” he protested, letting out a small annoyed groan, wanting to downplay it. Even though he was excited too, deep inside, about the possibilities that hung over the trip, he wasn’t planning on encouraging his mother. 

Still, Hunith seemed to be brimming with earnest anticipation. “Besides, you’re already living together, it’s not even going to be a big difference, dear!”

“My God, I remember that you kept pushing me to move in with Arthur. You’re the only mom I know that is actually pushing their child to marry as quickly as possible!”

“I’m also the only mother out of my friends who has an unwed child! I’m the only one without grandchildren!” Hunith lamented, bemoaning, “Do you know how many people ask me about you, Merlin? Just yesterday, I ran into Horacia Pyle at Whole Foods. ‘Oh, that son of yours, Hunith! I know you wanted him to get his career started, but really, isn’t it time he gets married?’ she asked!”

“That seems rather nosy of her,” Merlin commented, already knowing where this story was going.

Hunith let out a deep breath, “That’s Horacia Pyle for you. You know that her daughter Annie is married to the number four guy at Snapgram right?”

Snapchat , mum,” he corrected, “And yeah, I know. Instead of an engagement ring, he endowed a scholarship in her and her mother’s name at MIT. It’s for engineering majors, isn’t it?” Merlin asked in a bored voice.

“Yeah, machinery thingies. And that girl is nowhere even half as good-looking as you are!” Hunith remarked with indignation, “Annie Pyle has got a crooked nose, dear!”

Mum ,” he chastised, hiding his chuckle as best he could. 

“It’s true ! It’s from that time that she got in a fistfight with Henrietta Ford, that girl who was a year under you! Do you remember what a mess that girl was in her teens?”

He didn’t reply to that, rolling his eyes at his mother’s encyclopedic knowledge on all the people he went to school with and the children of her friends too. 

She continued, “Your uncles and aunts gave up a long time ago , Merlin. They didn’t think you were going to be the marrying type, you’ve always been so free-spirited and independent and bohemian and all of that, but I just knew you were waiting for the right guy!”

Merlin didn’t quite know what to think of his relatives writing him off as past his expiration date, nor did he know what about him his mother deemed bohemian about.

“Oh but of course!” Hunith let out a wistful sigh, “you had to find yourself one of those eclectic and bookish professor types, just like you! He’s going to get on one knee, Merlin, I just know it ! You wait and see!”

Merlin instead requested, a hand lifting to rub slowly at his temples, contemplating if he maybe should’ve omitted telling his mum about the trip until they were back in New York, “Speaking of my aunts and uncles, please, mum, for all that’s good in this world , do not blab about this to anyone.”

Hunith remained silent for a moment. 

She looked down at her phone screen where she had Merlin on speaker.

Hunith

Joan, you won’t believe it

Merlin got invited by his boyfriend to visit England with him this summer!

He’s going to meet the boyfriend’s family!

Joan

Oh my God!

His boyfriend? The professor one? The handsome one with the accent?

I’m so excited, Huny!

 

Hunith

Yes! That one!

Joan

I have to call Ned and let him know!

I’m going to phone Nigel too!

 

“....Merlin, darling, your mother doesn’t blab ,” Hunith replied. 

“Fine, fine, just don’t tell anyone, alright?” he insisted. He didn’t want his entire family, who were also apparently traitors who'd written him off as a spinster , to get their collective hopes up for his trip to London with Arthur for his friend’s wedding.

Hunith looked down at her phone at some incoming messages. 

 

Cousin Ned

I just heard the news from Joannie! 

You need to congratulate Merlin on my behalf!

Suzanne is excited too!

Cousin Nigel

When’s this wedding gonna be, Hunith?

We're so excited for little Merlin!

 

“Of course, Merlin, you have my word,” Hunith pursed her lips. 

“I don’t want you getting people excited, mum,” Merlin explained, sighing. 

“It’s going to happen, though, Merlin. I just know it in my heart!”

“Well, until something happens, we don’t have a reason to make a big deal, do we?” he countered, chuckling lightly. 

Shifting the conversation topic finally, Hunith asked, “And where will you be staying while you’re in England?”

“I guess at his parent’s place?” Merlin wondered aloud. He hadn’t put much thought into that, actually. 

“Do they live in a house?” Hunith asked, “Or an apartment?”

“Are you going to try and sell them a house, mum?” he asked, countering with a small chuckle, “I have no idea!”

“You must know these things, darling! What will the sleeping arrangements be?”

Sleeping arrangements? Mum, blimey, I don’t know,” Merlin breathed out.

"Don't say blimey, Merlin", Hunith chastised, as if she hadn't used that word all through Merlin's youth to the point that the particularly British word stuck to his vocabulary. She let out a frustrated little sound. “Son, that is an important thing! You know, not all parents are as liberal as I am, dear. Us Brits are an interesting breed: what if his parents are all stuffy and vote Tory? What if they're the kind to like Piers Morgan?"

"No respectable person likes Pierce Morgan", Merlin replied dryly, quoting his mother's words that she proclaimed whenever she spoke about the TV presenter. 

Hunith made a sound of agreement but she continued, "You need to know these things, I don’t want them to think that I didn’t raise you well!”

Merlin sighed. He knew how his mother was, she meant well but managed to make Merlin stress over details that he never would’ve even thought about. 

“Don’t worry, mum. I’ll take care of it”

 

 

Chapter Text

PART ONE

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to”

-Dorothy Parker


 

Chapter 5

Ygraine Arnive-Pendragon

London

After a few days filled with strategically placed phone calls and lunches out in the town, Ygraine had finally nailed down the source of the disturbing rumor involving her dearest Arthur. Laudine confessed that she had heard it from Sigourney Titurell who revealed she had heard it from her brother Shaun Titurell who’d gone to Cambridge with Lucius Gododdin. Shaun had the following to report to Ygraine:

“Well, I was in Canada for a conference, Auntie Ygraine,” he began, and she was glad that they were talking over the phone and not in person because she didn’t think that she could school her face away from a grimacing cringe when he called her Auntie. This boy was the son of that philandering Herman Titurell who for all his billions was still garbage if you asked Ygraine. She had no business ever associating with this child in his youth enough for him to deem it passable to call her by that affectionate familial moniker. 

He continued, none the wiser to the appalled look on her face, “At the last minute I got a call from Lucius who invites me down to dinner at the Gododdin estate in the countryside. Have you ever been there, Mrs. Pendragon? Blimey, what a palace! Truly, magnificent! I had no idea that Destailleur designed it, the very same architect who build Waddesdon for the Rothschilds!”

Ygraine just gave a sound of approval.

“Anyway, we’re dining with all these VIPs and MPs and, of course, Vivian Gododdin is holding court. We’re in the middle of dinner when out of nowhere Vivian pauses her conversation with Celine Dion and says loudly across the table to your sister-in-law Grace Pendragon, ‘ You’ll never even guess what I heard, cousin dear! Arthur has been dating a Welsh boy in New York and he’s bringing him to London for the Grail-duLac wedding!’ And Grace looks so shocked but she asks, ‘Are you sure? A Welsh boy? Good grief, what? Did he fall for some gold digger?’ And then Vivian goes something like, ‘Well, I have it on good authority that he’s one of the Emrose boys. You know, the Meridian Enterprise Emroses. They might not be old money but they’re one of the most solid families to come out in recent years’. Oh, Auntie Ygraine, you should’ve been there to see! How have you been by the way? How is Mr. Pendragon? I heard that you-”

Ygraine had made quick work of ending the call before he could continue with anything else, trying to actually have a conversation with her. She had gotten what she needed. 

Had the news come from anyone else then at least Ygraine could dismiss it with more confidence. Brush it off as idle gossip from her husband’s bored relatives who had nothing better to do than to chatter. But this was coming from Vivian, who was always dead accurate with her reportings. She hadn’t earned the title of the BBC for nothing. 

Still, Ygraine wondered how Vivian had heard of this. Arthur would first tell the news to the mailman than to his big-mouthed second cousin. Ygraine surmised that Vivian must’ve gotten the intel from one of her spies in New York. By now Ygraine knew that Vivian had spies everywhere, in every continent and always willing to pass on a hot tip to the platinum blond and sucking up to her. 

To Ygraine, every single person occupied a specific space in the elaborately constructed and intertwined social universe of the uppermost echelons in her mind. Like most of the other women in her crown, Ygraine could meet another woman who came from either the British Isles or any other part of the world touched by the British Empire and within seconds of knowing their name and one personal relationship, she could easily implement her social algorithm and calculate precisely where they stood in her thorough map of the cosmos of those with astronomical pedigree and fortunes. Be it while shopping in the intimate’s section of David Jones in Sydney or attending a ballet performance at Convent Gardens in London, she could derive where exactly they were in her constellation based on who their family was, who else they could be related to, what their approximate net worth might be, how their fortune was derived, how new this fortune was and the added fact of how many family scandals might’ve occurred within the past 50 years. 

The Meridian Enterprises Emroses were very new money, having a fortune that was made in the seventies, possibly early eighties. Knowing practically nothing about the family made Ygrain feel nervous. How established were they in Wales? Who were this boy’s parents? How much did he stand to inherit? Did he have siblings? If yes, was he the oldest?

It was uncomfortably unsettling for her to not know who this boy was.

Ygraine had a long-held theory on men. She believed, no, she knew, that for most men, all those frilly notions of “falling in love” and “finding the one” were all nonsense. It was about timing, Ygraine knew. Whenever a man was finished sowing his wild oats and being a stupid youth, whatever girl was there would be the right person they claimed they'd been searching for to settle down with. It’s how she’d been able to catch Uther at just the right moment. 

The men in her husband’s married in their early to mid-thirties, almost mechanically. Her son, Ygraine knew, was in that just-right age when she was ripe for the plucking. If the relationship that Arthur had with this boy was serious enough to not only bring him as his guest to his best friend’s wedding, but to bring him back home to attend said wedding then that meant things were getting serious. Serious enough that Arthur had avoided telling her that this boy was in the picture. Serious enough that it could ruin all of Ygraine’s ever-so meticulously and carefully detailed plans for Arthur. 

Since the day that she had received the news that she was pregnant, three months after her wedding to Uther, she knew just how much she would need to devote herself to everything being right for Arthur. She understood his value, his importance, even before she had given birth to him and seen him be passed to her mother-in-law’s arms before anyone even considered handing the newborn to her so she could cradle him. Constance had taken one look at him and a soft warm smile, so different from the hollow ones she always gave Ygraine, had appeared on her face. 

He has his grandfather’s eyes ,” Constance had declared as she held the baby close. Ygraine didn’t know then, she’d yet to even see the baby, but she heard Constance’s watery voice and she understood that the woman was referring to her deceased husband Aurelian. 

She knew what Arthur was. He was nothing less than the eldest child born to Constance’s firstborn male heir. The one who would ultimately receive the keys to heaven’s gates. 

She understood that since day one. And so, she had planned everything out, had coordinated everything with the utmost precision and care possible so that the day would one come: the day when her Arthur would receive everything. 

And this boy? Well, he was an unforeseen problem that could wreak havoc on her plans.

Ygraine needed to know what she was up against. She couldn’t launch an attack on an enemy if she didn’t know who this enemy was

It was 6:45 a.m. in New York. Perfect time to wake Arthur up, Ygraine thought as she sipped on her Sunday tea. She picked up her phone and found his contact, dialing his number. The phone rang four times before Arthur’s voice mail picked up: “Hey, I can’t come to the phone right now. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Ygraine had wrenched the phone away from her ear when the voicemail message began. She hated hearing her son’s “American” accent, a truly tragic sound. She preferred listening to his voice in his normal Queen’s English that he always spoke with when he was back in London. She left a message nonetheless, “Arthur, dear, where are you? Call me tonight and let me know all your flight information. Everyone on this side of the Atlantic but me knows when you’re coming home! Also, are you staying with your father and I first? Or with your grandmother? Please call me back.”

She put down the phone and then almost immediately brought it up again, a new plan devising in her mind. 

“Morgana, is that you?”

“Oh, hi, Auntie Yggy,” Morgana said. Ygraine was perfectly fine with Morgana calling her that, unlike that freaky Shaun Titurell boy, who did he even think he wa -

“You sound funny, Morgana,” Ygraine frowned, “Why? Are you okay?

“I was just asleep, Auntie,” Morgana responded, clearing her throat, sounding still a little groggy.

“Why are you asleep so early? Are you sick?”

“I’m in Melbourne visiting my parents, Auntie Ellie. It’s midnight over here.”

“Dear Lord! I didn’t know you were away!” 

“Yeah, I came here from Paris before I headed back to England.” her niece clarified, sounding less groggy. 

“Oh! And how was Paris, my dear?” asked Ygraine.

“Lovely.”

“Did you do lots of shopping?” inquired the blond woman. 

“Not too much, Auntie Yggy,” Morgana replied as patiently as she could. Did her aunt really call her out of the blue just to ask about shopping?

“That’s nice, very nice my dear...Anyway, Morgana, I wanted to ask, have you been able to speak with my son recently?”

Morgana paused for a moment. “I talked with him over the phone a few weeks ago.”

“And did he tell you when he was coming to London?”

“No, he didn’t mention the exact date. I’m sure he’s going to arrive sufficiently before the wedding. He’s Lance’s best man after all, don’t you think?”

“You know, Lord! Arthur never tells me anything!” Eleanor cried, feeling deflated at the fact that Morgana wasn’t providing her with any new info she could use. She paused and before Morgana had even time to consider saying her goodbyes a new idea had formed in Ygraine’s mind. “Oh, Morgana! I’m thinking of throwing him and his new boyfriend a surprise party, just something small and nice here at my new flat. You know, to welcome them both, make them feel all nice. Do you think that’s a good idea, darling?”

“I think they’d both love that, Auntie,” Morgana responded genuinely, albeit taken aback at her aunt being so welcoming to Merlin. Arthur you genius, what kind of charms did you work on your mother? she wondered.

“But, here’s the thing: I don’t really know what this new boyfriend would like so I don’t know how to plan the party properly!” Ygraine bemoaned, making sure that she sounded distraught about not organizing a perfect party for Arthur’s wretched wraith of a guest, “Do you maybe have some ideas? Did you meet him when you went last year to New York?”

“Yeah, I did,” Morgana replied casually, trying to get into a comfortable position on her bed again as she did. 

Ygraine’s grip on her phone tightened minutely. Morgana went to New York to see Arthur last March, which means this boy has been around for at least a year!

“And what’s he like?” Ygraine prompted, ensuring that her seething didn’t seep into her questions, “Is he very Welsh?”

“Welsh? I don’t think so, no. He doesn’t have an accent, Merlin seems completely Americanized to me,” Morgana answered before she immediately regretted having said that to her aunt. 

How detestable! Ygraine thought. Brits who let their accents slip into some weird sounding pseudo-American voice were ridiculous. Who the fuck was this boy?

“So, his family is Welsh but he was raised in America?”

“I didn’t even know he was Welsh, Auntie.”

“Really? He never talked about his family back home in Wales?”

“Not at all, Auntie,” Morgana replied. What was her Aunt even getting at? Morgana knew that her aunt was prying, but she didn’t know what kind of information she was trying to obtain. She did know however that she had present Merlin as best as she could, “But he’s an incredibly intelligent and accomplished young man. You’re going to like him.”

“Oh, is he a brainy one? Like Artie?”

“Yes, exactly. I’ve been told that he’s considered one of the brightest up-and-coming professors in his field.”

Ygraine couldn’t believe it. A professor? My God, was this some man older than Arthur?

“Artie never mentioned what his specialty was. Do you know, Morgana?”

“Oh, he studies global relations, Auntie. Globalization and international economics, I think it was,” Morgana supplied, thinking that she was painting a pretty good picture of Merlin. 

So, a calculated and cunning older man. This is just getting worse and worse , Ygraine thought, silently judging and shaking her head. 

“Did he go to university there in New York?” Ygraine pressed, “Do you know?”

“He went to Georgetown in D.C.”

“Oh, yes, Georgetown , I’ve heard of that one,” Ygraine nodded, sounding unimpressed. The school in Washington D.C. for those people who didn’t get into Harvard, she mused. 

“It’s a top university, Auntie,” Morgana defended, already knowing what her aunt was thinking when she gave the name of Merlin’s alma mater.

“I mean, if you have to go to an American school I suppose-

“Georgetown is a globally recognized top university, Auntie. I think he got his masters from Yale. He’s incredibly down-to-earth and intelligent, Merlin is amazing. I think that you’re going to like him very much.”

“I’m sure I will,” Ygraine lied. She knew this boy was named Merlin, but Hell, who even comes up with a name like that? she wondered. How was she supposed to devise a master plan if she didn’t know how the insolent boy’s name was spelled? 

“....Is that all, Auntie?” Morgana asked, hoping she could end the call quickly and just get back to sleep.

A sudden thought made a wide smile pop up on Ygraine’s face, “Just one last thing, Morgana! I’m thinking of having a nice cake made by your grandmother’s cooks, you know that Artie loves that chocolate cake and we can put their names on it! Wouldn’t it look so nice? ‘Welcome Arthur and Merlin!’, right?”

“That would be sweet, yes.”

“Do you know how his name is spelled though? Is it M-E-R-L-Y-N? Or M-E-H-R-L-Y-N? Does it have 2 Ns? Do you know?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s just M-E-R-L-I-N, Auntie.”

“Oh, my, of course!” Ygraine beamed, “You’ve been so helpful to me, Morgana!”

Morgana didn’t even know how helpful that information was to Ygraine. 

“Alright, I’m going to get some more sleep, Auntie.”

“Oh, okay then. Bye-bye!” and with that Ygraine hung up the call, a wide smile on her peony pink lips as she felt excitement buzz in her body. Her gamble had paid off! Arthur and Morgana have always been thick as thieves-why didn’t I think of calling her sooner?

 


✽ Abbreviation for “Members of Parliament,” used here to refer to British MPs, most definitely Tories

✽Some have alleged it might have the dual meaning of Blonde Bitch in Charge with how easily, and ferociously, she commands her teams of spies across the globe that feed her intelligence.