Gary sighed resignedly, and was just about to give up on the search that had consumed him for the past half-hour when he finally spotted what he had been seeking. A diminutive copper-headed figure sat on a bench, aimlessly kicking at the white daisies growing beneath her feet. Gary smiled at Alanna's petulant display, and began walking towards her. From behind she looked almost the same as she ever did; it was only when he moved to her side that he could see the round swell of her new profile. It was still somewhat jarring to see his old friend with child. It wasn't that he thought Alanna was not up to the task, but Gary had to admit that if five years ago someone had told him Alanna the Lioness would be married and with a child before the decade was up he would have laughed long and hard. He smiled down at her now, but she only scowled and turned away from him in response.
"If Jonathan sent you to drag me back there to apologize you might as well leave now." Her tone was harsh, but knowing her as he did, Gary suspected she was closer to bursting into tears than she was to yelling. Then again, knowing her as he did, she might just decide to do both. It occurred to Gary that the gentle approach would probably be the most effective one here.
Gary carefully settled himself at her side, and extended an arm towards her. "I didn't come to drag you anywhere, I came to offer comfort and support," he said kindly. His efforts were rewarded when Alanna ever-so-slightly leaned into his offered hug. He squeezed her tightly and kissed the top of her head, though she still refused to meet his eyes. "I can't say I would have have reacted differently were Lord Fart Face to have chosen me for his accusations of infidelity."
Actually Gary was pretty sure he would have done far more than violently curse and storm out of a council meeting had some stupid conservative fuck suggested that the paternity of his baby was probably unknown. But then, Gary figured that if he had been accused of sleeping his way to the top as frequently as Alanna had been, he would definitely be imprisoned by now. For someone so infamous for her temper it was impressive how often that particular barb could be thrown at Alanna without reaction. Actually, Gary considered, it was probably because of how often she heard it that Alanna was mostly immune to the accusation. This revelation sent a wave of sadness over Gary.
"Jonathan needs that Lord Fart Face, or he and Thayet will never get enough support to fund the schools they want." Alanna's voice was not angry, as Gary expected, but instead had a sour note of defeat to it. "I'll have to go back and say I'm sorry tomorrow and he'll go back to making snide comments and speculating with his friends whose bed I'll be in that night." She shook her head bitterly, and her hands began to fidget with a seam on her gown.
Gary sighed. "That may be the case, but those people are idiots, and everyone knows it. People might say such things about you, but anyone who really matters knows the truth."
Alanna's fingers continued to pick at her gown as he spoke. "It's not that."
Gary nearly jumped in with encouragement, but then thought better of it. Cythera always accused him of trying to buffer her emotions, making quips and jokes to keep bad feelings at bay. He decided to wait and see where Alanna was going, but it was an effort to stay silent. He anxiously kicked at another poor defenseless daisy as Alanna drew breath to speak.
"Before, people said things, but it was just me and I didn't have to care what they thought. If things got really bad I could just take off for the desert or the Roof of the World." Gary had to chuckle at that. Now that he thought about it, most of Alanna's travels had indeed started out as attempts to avoid awkward questions.
She rested her head against his shoulder, then continued, "And then it was George and I, and that made it better. A lot of people stopped saying those things, although for some people it only encouraged them." Before Gary could ask she added, "Apparently marrying someone common born is a clear sign of questionable morals," her tone more than a little resentful. "But George can take care of himself, and this kind of thing doesn't bother him, so it was fine. But with this baby…" Alanna paused again, apparently struggling to find the words she wanted. Gary watched her fingers pull at a loose string in her sleeve, her arm resting on her growing belly. "It's just, I guess I suddenly realized in that meeting today that people will say those things to my children." Alanna finally looked at him, her eyes brimming with tears. "What is my son going to think when people walk up to him and tell him that his mother is a whore?"
Gary could only look at her, momentarily at a loss for words. These were problems far beyond the scope of his life, and once again he was immensely grateful that he was a desk knight and not a legend. He felt an enormous pressure to say the right thing, which rendered him uncharacteristically silent as he thought.
Finally he leaned down to look Alanna in the eye, and said softly, "You are always a faithful friend, platonic or romantic. You've always done your best to do right by people, and you're a woman of your word. Even a child can see that, including yours. People will say things, but your children will always know better, Alanna." He tried to look reassuring as he said, "Your child is lucky to be borne to such an honorable woman."
Alanna's face flushed the deep red it did when anyone paid her a compliment, and the tears in her eyes finally began to spill over. There was a long moment when Gary feared he had only made everything worse, but then she flung her arms around him and whispered, "Thank you," her voice muffled by his chest. He wrapped his arms around her, returning her hug just as fiercely. He held on until he felt her pull away gently. Alanna coughed, then began to straighten her clothes uncomfortably. Gary sensed she needed a moment to compose herself.
He sniffed punctiliously and then said, "Anyways, all this talk of harlotry is clearly just because the conservatives are jealous we never invite them to Orgy Night."
The quip did its job, startling a rough bark of laughter from Alanna. Gary grinned, pleased to have finally said something that cheered her. She looked up at him, her nose wrinkled, and said "Oh gods, no. No offense."
Gary laughed as he stood up. He turned immediately to Alanna, offering a hand to help pull her awkwardly to her feet.
"Come on, let's visit the kitchen. I saw some cherry tarts being made for this evening's meal. I'll bet you a noble that no maid will refuse a sad pregnant lady a little pre-dinner dessert if you pout convincingly enough." Gary laughed as he easily dodged the swipe a grinning Alanna aimed at him, then returned to her side. As the sun began to head towards the horizon they walked in the direction of the kitchens, his arm around her shoulders.