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A Feeling Disputation

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‘I know it sounds wretchedly ungrateful, but sometimes I hate my life.’

‘Consider the alternative, fach.’

‘Oh, I know, I shouldn’t whinge. But really, so very unprepossessing. That coarse, unmodulated voice! And he has flat feet. I wonder that Himself can bear him at all, but he actually seems enthusiastic, ugh.’

‘Mmm, Bertie’s fancies are sometimes a bit opaque, even to the disinterested eye.’

‘I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. But I feel rather—sullied by it. Is that impossibly absurd?’

‘Quite normal, I’d say. But you’re too fine a creature to keep company with Dame Kind.’

‘That bootfaced bourgeoise! Never, honey! I shall be unnatural as long as I live. May I comb your hair?’

‘Of course, sweeting.’ Morgan dismissed her hovering maid. She wound a fiery skein around her forefinger. ‘It’s gone a most dreary brown, isn’t it? God be with the days.’

‘It’s beautiful. I always wanted hair like yours. Do you mind awfully, having to wear such acres of wimple?’

‘Not a bit. Female envy and male lust, the two most futile emotions on earth. I soak up all the attention you get, naturally.’ Morgan leaned back and caressed Elizabeth’s neck and cheek; the young woman giggled and dropped a kiss onto her upturned mouth.

‘You must be perfectly dessicated at the moment, then. I’m afraid Percy doesn’t care for me any more than I do for him.’

‘It isn’t actually possible to think him the more fool, but I would if I could. Your kisses, by the way, are not compatible with dessication.’

‘He was jawing about his wife for absolute hours this morning: it was rather gorgeously asyntactical, actually.’

‘It was decided Elizabeth should be prevented from reading romances.’

‘Well, it was. She sounds an utter dish.’

‘She is. Wasted on him. You’ll see, if this thing comes off. Don’t desert me for her.’

‘No, for shame! Oh—I say—I think I get it.’

‘Go on.’

‘Percy—he’s quite happy to turn his coat—'

‘The hereditary defect—’

‘Except—’

‘Except when he’s infatuated, exactly. And young Percy brings the Douglas, because—well, you can probably guess what goes on there, if indeed it does go on much beyond feinting at each other’s groins and bawling like hungry calves, which I doubt. If only the father had such an obvious weakness—mind, you should have seen him with Lancaster, old Lancaster, I mean.’

‘You don’t say!’ Elizabeth wriggled in delicious disgust.

‘Oh, I find it rather touching. Men at their sport. And how very amusingly exercised they get when someone drops all that ridiculous, defensive manliness. Poor Dickon, God rest him. I wish you’d met. He’d have adored you. And he was dazzling, you know. Even—especially—at the end. He performed defeat so magnificently. Made one feel justified—in all the trouble. Come, lay your head in an old woman’s lap, cariad.’

‘Catrin wrote. I nearly forgot.’ Elizabeth retrieved a letter from her sleeve. ‘Isn’t it funny to think he’s her brother, in a manner of speaking, anyway? Percy, I mean.’

Morgan broke the seal and scanned. ‘Mmm—oh, Owain, bless and keep him in his steely determination to live up to all the prejudices of the Saeson—I daresay we can neutralise him somehow—mmm—seventeen yards of—mmm—progress in their impossible tongue—astonished they call that poetry—thank you for the songbook—worried—still not pregnant—useless six-foot streak of bloody Saesnig piss, she doesn’t say that, I do—no more at this time, commends to Christ, mmm. That’s not entirely good, is it?’

‘Poor Cat. At least I’ll never be anyone’s beastly consort. You can’t do anything right.’

‘Nor will she be—whatever dear Dickon is supposed to have said at wherever it was—over my cold corse, anyway.’

Elizabeth looked up at her, eyes wide. ‘But—?’

‘Darling, imagine the tedium of this place if his lordship and I were on the same side all the time. A little slantwise is much more fun. And you, of course, must choose yours—or make one.’