The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 12: The Most Uncontrollable Emotion
By Rock Kitaro
Awesome fireworks lit up the sky. It shimmered and rained from far. If just for one night, in hopeful delight, everyone was his or her own special star. There was electricity in the air as the golden horns blared, and smiles from ear to ear. But who could have guessed, that this would, at best, be the moment that all should have feared.
A cool breeze, but pleasantly so. It stimulated the senses and made the very essence of anticipation somewhat exciting. Eager young hearts descended upon the Hall of Roses in spectacular fashion. Horse driven carriages came in a steady procession. Each stopped on a red carpet as baby-faced ushers helped women with their ball gowns, careful to keep them from touching the dirt.
The lads arrived in droves, all hot-blooded and spurred with confidence. Eager to meet the woman of their dreams, they wore their optimism with regalia on full display. The duchesses and baronesses were uplifted and transported by the extravagance of purple, blue, and gold bursting in air. It was amazing. They didn’t have to go to Camelot or Avalon to find fairy tales. They were living it, all under the same roof.
And what a glorious roof it was. Three hours after the sun had set, King Mark had already given his commencement speech and the celebration was well underway with over 5,000 in attendance. The king spared no expense in making this a night no one would ever forget.
The Hall of Roses was dolled up with green vines and radiant roses swirling the colossal columns as loose petals fell like glittering red flakes of snow. All 580 wax candles blazed from the stunning antler chandelier. Over sixty Hellenistic marble statues were scattered about, drawing much awe and serving as excellent conversational pieces.
At a time where the fiddle and dreary choir music dominated festivals, musicians were granted permission to showcase their newest experimentations. The Hall of Roses pulsed and shook with the profound banging of tribal drums. The beat was accompanied by an arrangement of over forty symphonic string instruments called violins and cellos. No one had ever heard such a heavy sound. Nor would they for another hundred years. Forty-eight musicians blended in perfect harmony to create a charged tempo that coursed through the veins of everyone there. It was a entrancing to say the least.
The actual enchanting, however, was left to professionals. Over a hundred prepubescent ladies dressed in blue fabrics frolicked amongst the guests in the theme of water nymphs. They were coordinated in their dance and, in various locations, took over the center of the dance floor to entertain with synchronized spins and waves in hypnotic fashion.
Court jesters with blue and black painted faces weaved themselves in and out of group circles. They took over conversations, replacing them with whimsical jokes and slapstick comedy. It was a real hoot for the older gentlemen who weren’t as spry enough to risk injury on the dance floor.
Fast shadows swiped on and off of the guests, drawing their attention to the daredevils dashing above. They wore white robes with wings and swung on harnesses in smooth maneuvers. These angels and cherubs flew to and from as they sprinkled petals and pretended to play golden harps. And just above them was the real spectacle to behold.
Stationed in the interior balconies atop the baroque crown molding, were six pyromancers dressed in dark hooded purple cloaks. Their old wrinkled hands were stretched out like puppet masters, but there were no strings on these decrepit fingers. They manipulated streams of fire from the wall torches mounted on all fifty bronze columns. And with their magic, the pyromancers would turn the fire into lukewarm purple flames, animating astonishing illusions.
Radiant bodies of celestial spheres floated above the angels and cherubs, rotating, fluctuating, shrinking and expanding. Wondrous constellations dispersed from exploding supernovas, the inconceivable conceived. Heaven itself had raised her curtains and guests were mesmerized by a glimpse of it. It was like levitating in a dream that lightened the load of one’s burden. The guests didn’t need to socialize to have a good time. One could just lie on the golden floor and stare up at the heights.
A buffet of sweet treats and smoked meats covered three fifteen-foot tables. The largest table held bulky barrels of honey wine. As expected, this was where the Brood of Black Bloods staggered about. Pellinore was having the time of his life as bedazzled ladies competed to make his acquaintance. The dashing young Pellinore was well aware of the lure he had on women and the jealousy fuming from his comrades caused him to roar with laughter.
More than once, Tristan looked over and rolled his eyes at the repugnant noise of Pellinore’s making. The exquisite Lady Annaliese maintained a firm grasp on Tristan’s arm but not his attention. When Tristan wasn’t supervising Pellinore, he was monitoring the deviance of Princess Isolde.
The blue-eyed Isolde was absolutely stunning in her sleek white dress and glistening golden hair. She turned heads wherever she went, leaving a lingering scent of stimulating fragrances that stirred the blood of all men. At the moment, King Mark was taking the time to formally introduce her to various members of the royal court.
Everyone was polite enough but they knew she was the Helen of Troy by which the Hibernians were coming to reclaim. Isolde smirked at their apprehensions and made no attempts to assuage their anxiety. She’d simply nod in small-talk and pretend to be utterly captivated by the purple stars shining above. The Duchess Igraine suggested King Mark take her for a dance and, while stiff in the knees, the good king obliged.
Joining Lot and Morgaus on the dance floor, King Mark took Isolde by the waist and pranced her about like a ballerina. She giggled with genuine joy and it surprised the king to find such satisfaction in seeing her happy. He was nearly twenty years her senior, but from the way she smiled, he was rejuvenating. There wasn’t an ounce of fear or reticence in her. The king was taken aback by the boldness of her hands, the way she gingerly massaged his beard, and even took him for a twirl.
At last, the ice around Tristan’s heart began to melt. He saw his enamored king and for the first time Tristan was grateful to have Isolde grace them with her presence.
Agravain was only fourteen so it didn’t take many drinks to impair his mental faculties. The endless gaggle of girls calling Gaheris’s name was beginning to get irritating. At first, he was resilient, impassive as his older brother was besieged by beauty. But after Gaheris bumped into him to evade the lunging lips of a kiss, envy ignited.
The bearded Constantine noticed and offered Debra’s hand for a dance. Fuming under the collar, Agravain reluctantly accepted as the kind-hearted Debra took him by the hand and led him onto the floor. Meanwhile, Constantine glowered at Gaheris who was now the prized center of ten of Tintagel’s most beautiful daughters. Gaheris felt the scathing stare and laughingly escaped groping hands to approach and inquire.
“Something vexes thee?” Gaheris asked as he struggled to stop smirking.
“You unruly bastard. Would you just pick one and be done with it?” said Constantine.
“Yes, well that’s easier said than done,” Gaheris grinned.
“Just pick one!”
“Wait, Constantine. See, you say that. However, the difficulty therein lies with-”
“Yes! Yes, Gaheris! Please. Please explain the abject horror of possessing the power of such appeal. Such hell!” Constantine shouted.
Gaheris chuckled, “Gladly! For starters…”
As Gaheris began a very detailed explanation with scholastic elocution, Constantine secretly plotted how he was going to knock him out and make it look like an accident. The girls gradually buzzed over like bees to pollen, and soon, Debra lost sight of Constantine from her position on the dance floor. She was beset by reasonable concern.
“Debra, thank you! You should go,” Agravain shouted over the music with a grateful curtsy.
Debra pouted, “Oh, Agravain. You’re so young. One day, women with fall to your feet the same way they do Gaheris. Just wait. You’ll see.”
Her words did little to move the heavy stones mounting in his heart. Agravain merely nodded and walked away, disappearing in the spirited sea of dancing crowns, capes and corsages. Everyone had a partner, a companion who sought none other. At almost every turn he was bumping into someone who easily recognized the lonely look on his face.
First it was his aunt, the Lady Elaine, a woman of reputed fame who had two knights nearly come to blows just for her hand in a single volta. Elaine chose neither and instead whisked Agravain away, lecturing him never to become like those brutes. The aunt and nephew enjoyed each other’s company briefly before Tristan’s friend, Bruno, arrived in his sharp green cloak. Bruno bowed before Agravain and asked for Elaine’s hand. Agravain approved. And again, Agravain trudged on.
Moments later, four lovely virgins dressed as blue water nymphs came and took him by the hand, twirling him around and around. Agravain blushed with embarrassment, spellbound by their remarkable beauty and painted blue eye shadow, but then, an ecstatic shriek from his mother broke that spell. The sight of Lot nibbling on Morgaus’s neck was enough to make Agravain cringe in disgust.
The giddy Queen Morgaus was reaching out for Agravain while a frisky King Lot held her tight. They were drunk and it wasn’t the first time Agravain’s seen them like this. Mead always made them a little too affectionate for his taste. Agravain didn’t want Morgaus’s wet slathering kisses drenching his face, so away he went.
A hand reached out and grabbed one of Agravain’s padded shoulders. He was clutched with such strength that Agravain instinctively reacted with an aggressive swing. He missed. Gawain removed his hand just in time.
“Whoa! Aggie, what happened?” asked the eldest brother.
The young gallant Gawain was conversing with six Lothian knights. For most of the party, ambitious statesmen ceaselessly approached Gawain in the hopes of establishing a powerful political ally. It was too obvious. Thus, Agravain saw through their pretentious smiles. The wall that held back his temper was beginning to crack.
“Hey!” Gawain leaned in to whisper. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t trust these men.” Agravain warned. “They’re not your friends. Neither is Toothless Kersey or the rest of those sycophants.”
Gawain chuckled with a soft smile, “Well, of course I don’t trust them. I’ve only just met them. What’s wrong, Agravain? I see the ire of a scorched heart in you. Tell me.”
Agravain was touched by his brother’s empathy and became glossy eyed as he muttered, “I hate this.”
Gawain nodded, “Let’s get out of here and go for a walk. Just the two of us.”
“No. This is all for you. You should stay and enjoy it.”
“Hey, wait!” Gawain called.
Gawain shouldered his way through the crowd, determined to catch up with his little brother who darted under connected arms and around gowns like a rabbit racing to its dent. He lost sight of Agravain, and almost as soon, he lost sight of everything else.
Everything, except for her.
To call it breathtaking would’ve been an understatement of deceitful proportions. Gawain’s heart stopped with a throbbing pound that pinched the nerves in his arms and clouded his peripheral vision. Everything stopped, frozen in time and space. The music, the laughter, the thousands of competing voices, all of it dulled and gave way to a single high-pitch ringing in his ears. As he inhaled through the lump clogging in his throat, heat rushed up from his collar. Sweat mounted. His heartbeat resumed at a rapid pace as his astonished gaze was harpooned to a young woman that now crossed his path.
As he stood stunned by the explosion bursting within, Morgan sashayed with the supreme confidence of a vixen who had trained her whole life in the art of seduction. Her brown hair was now dyed black. Her smoky eye shadow was heavy and magnetic. She was wearing a black dress of satin and lace that clung to her flesh like thin plastic to a wet surface. It screamed provocation, hugging her hips and engraving her every curve like a tightly wrapped present.
With each step, an eye-catching accentuation of her smooth snow-white thighs would flash through the bold slits of her black dress that came to within inches from reaching the height of her hips. Her velvet black boots were laced and coiled halfway up her calves. Instead of enchanted red rubies, a bracelet of lustrous dark river stones graced her wrists. She left very little to the imagination with her bareback and exposed area just above the derriere. Morgan made her presence known. Everyone hated it.
Women scowled at her. Young men were overpowered by what they called, “audacious insolence.” Only the older men past the age of fifty seemed undaunted by her boldness. Like vultures, they slowly advanced but only when their wives weren’t looking. Yes, these large bearded noblemen had wives and children but showed no shame in letting their gaze settle on her voluptuous figure, tracing along her hourglass hips and getting lost in the lure of her purple eyes that shimmered in the torch light.
An astonished Gawain watched all of this as if he was witnessing an execution. It wasn’t until a knight tapped his shoulder that Gawain was shaken to his senses.
“Young, prince. As I was saying…” The knight began.
“Yes, that’s intriguing. We’ll look into it,” Gawain quickly answered.
Gawain was trapped, ensnared, hypnotized and pulled by the gravity of her glamour. With a palpitating heart, he struggled to maintain grace. He weaved through the mass of excited fans and the closer he got, the more she seemed to glide away. The older men assumed Morgan was smirking at their horrible jokes, but in truth, Morgan was thoroughly enthralled by the animalistic fervor exuded by Gawain.
He was a ravenous shark drawn mindlessly to the scent of her pheromones. Never before had she seen him like this. It was most surprising and validated her vanity. Yes, to see the paragon of virtue himself reduced to a lecherous fiend caused Morgan’s delight to soar with overwhelming confidence. Whenever Gawain appeared to close the distance, Morgan would unleash a squawking laugh, twirl in a dance, and frolic further away.
It wasn’t until her third pirouette that Gawain discerned he was being toyed with. He smirked and shook his head with a fang-flashing chuckle. Accepting her challenge, Gawain started a dance of his own. He didn’t care how it looked. In that moment, no one else existed.
The two of them danced together but distant, as was the story of their lives. They’d steal partners from random couples and after four twirls, leave them for another. It was probably the most idiotic game of cat and mouse ever played but for a time, they were set adrift on an endless bliss, running through a field of ecstatic illusions as the night slipped them away.
Then, the music stopped. The musicians needed a break. Everyone gave them a round of applause, but Morgan and Gawain applauded each other, both wearing cocky smirks that conveyed, “Is that the best you got?”
Gawain broke out in a hearty laugh, deeply amused. As much as he enjoyed the game, he truly wanted to speak with her. As the crowd dispersed from the dance floor like a lake flowing over the banks, Gawain pursued Morgan. This time, Morgan didn’t flee. Her suitor had proven his worth and Morgan was ready to be taken. Fate, however, had other plans.
Just as Gawain came within a stone’s throw of his prize, Pellinore cut off his route to brag about the women he danced with. The Brood of the Black Bloods were all with him, all loud and obnoxious, each bragging about their own conquests.
“This is the one! He’s the one who marked my face! He was a mere brat at the time,” Pellinore slurred to his lady.
“Oooh. Is that right?” The lady moaned as she reached over and ran a thumb over Gawain’s gold lapel pin.
“Yes. Excuse me,” Gawain said out of desperation.
Not giving a damn whether he was rude or not, Gawain swiftly stepped aside and continued his pursuit. That’s when Gaheris, Constantine, and Debra appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Boys, can you give me a moment?” Gawain begged.
“Wait! Have you seen Agravain? No one can find him,” said Gaheris.
“CHECK OUTSIDE!” Gawain shouted with comical frustration.
Gaheris became stiff in the neck with a squinted glare that made all the ladies swoon. “Don’t shout at me like that! I am not your damn servant!”
Biting his lip, Gawain smirked through his angst, “Of course, Gaheris. My apologies. Excuse me.”
“I’m asking about our brother! And by brother, I mean the one of our flesh and blood. Not one your new lackeys whose interest in court favor is only all too apparent.”
“OYE! Prince or no prince, I resent that!” Sir Winold barked as he stormed over with the six Lothian knights Gawain was speaking with earlier.
As Gaheris and Sir Winold argued about the so-called “child politics,” Gawain turned to find Morgan. What he saw was not only jaw dropping, but enough to trigger a heart attack.
The scantily clad Morgan had climbed onto a ten-foot polished statue of Hercules crouching over a slain lion. There wasn’t any music, just the ambiance of endless chatter and flames roaring above. Yet, Morgan swayed over Hercules in a fluid hip-shimmying dance that gradually lowered onto his loins. Everyone in range watched with high brows as Morgan straddled Hercules and slid her smooth ivory legs across his. She pressed her firm breasts against the cool stone and massaged the statue all while staring her prince in the eye. Gawain almost exploded as he tugged on his collar and fought off the onset of a seizure.
“What the hell is she doing?” Constantine remarked, directing everyone’s attention to Morgan. Everyone saw how she was staring at Gawain, and almost at once, everyone turned to see him nervous and glazed with sweat. The grimace on Gaheris’s face was priceless and even Constantine shook his head in disbelief.
Pellinore erupted in laughter, “NO! You and Morgan? Ha! I knew it!”
“She’s your aunt for crying out loud!” Constantine snapped.
“Exactly!” Gawain protested. “Calm yourself, Pellinore. You’re all drunk. It’s nothing of the sort!”
Gawain couldn’t tell if anyone was convinced, but worst than that, Morgan had overheard. Disappointment settled in as she dropped from the statue and crossed her arms with a fiery glare. The fluctuation of Gawain’s chest was evident as everyone waited to see what he’d do next.
“If you’ll excuse me,” said an awkward Gawain as he walked on.
The Black Bloods erupted with laughter.
“I knew it! You dirty dog!” Pellinore chuckled.
“No!” Constantine shouted. “He said that’s not it, Pellinore. Don’t you listen? STOP DRINKING!”
Music resumed. The pounding drums pulsed through the room and somehow matched the throbbing in Gawain’s head. As he trudged over, utterly deflated, he couldn’t help but feel five times heavier. His muscles ached in his gait. His gaze elevated to the heavens and angels swooping between chandeliers.
Morgan wasn’t going anywhere. She was less than twenty paces away but it felt like forever for Gawain to get to her. His fear, so boyishly transparent, gradually softened her scowl. He was Gawain after all. Hopelessly clueless, a slave to chivalry.
“Gawain…you fool.” Morgan whispered with tragic gladness.
“Watch this!” came a whisper in her ear
As Morgan whipped her sights on the intruding whisperer, she saw a flash of white and gold. Gawain was just within arm’s reach when Princess Isolde swooped in and stole her prize for a dance. Gawain tried to pull free but Isolde had him hooked. To resist further would evolve into a grappling match and Gawain’s constitution would never allow him to go so far.
A gasp expelled from Morgan’s throat as her jaw became slack from the unexpected surprise. She hunched over as if she was about to collapse but caught herself. As the astonishment wore off and she realized what happened, her lungs began to shudder with a rage she hadn’t felt in years. She faded to the shadows and moved behind the bronze columns, watching with growing suspense as Isolde held her man tight and refused to let go.
Morgan found herself perched like a raven on a large square pedestal where a statue was recently removed. It was in a dimly lit area at the end of a long table where parents and older country folk were gorging themselves on pastries and wine. They saw Morgan and stared with curiosity. They wanted to ask if something was wrong but were too afraid. Morgan was motionless. She didn’t even blink.
The room seemed to be spinning for Gawain as he scanned for Morgan. The faces blurred and the music turned muffled and distorted. Peril set in. He knew they were all in danger. Isolde detected his dread and it amused her to no end. She knew what Gawain was up to and unfortunately for him, Isolde found Morgan first. With her arms wrapped around his neck, Isolde smiled at Morgan in a devious glare.
Heat instantly flared in Morgan’s chest. A storm brewed in her eyes. She knew what was coming and the mere thought of it made her shake with rage. She slowly rose up from a crouch to stand dangerously upright on the pedestal. Her fists balled up. The long table sat by country folk began to vibrate. A plump elderly woman noticed ripples in her wine glass. Her husband noticed his plate drifting along the trembling table that became more aggressive with hard wooden knocks.
Isolde…with her arms latched around Gawain’s neck, pulled him in for a deep passionate kiss. As soon as her lips landed, Morgan discharged a whispery exhale like steam bursting from a pressurized pipe. Her gasp created a high-pitch shockwave that startled everyone and shattered all the glasses and crystal ware within a twenty-foot radius. Goblets burst. Wine spilled from pitchers and servants dropped whole platters.
The cascade of crashing glass got Gawain’s attention. He turned to see a distraught Morgan dashing through the shadows along the wall. Unbeknownst to Morgan, Isolde wasn’t able to kiss Gawain directly on the lips. Gawain’s reflexes were too quick. He turned his head just in time for Isolde’s lips to land on the side of his cheek. Morgan didn’t know because his back was to her. All she could see was Isolde’s malicious blue eyes and Gawain’s long curly locks.
“Morgan!” Gawain shouted.
He broke out in a full sprint, hurdling over tables and spinning away from Morgaus’s open arms all in an attempt to reach the main entrance before Morgan. He got there before her, but she wasn’t there. He lost sight and saw no sign of her coming. She was gone and Gawain was red with frustration. What he saw next, only made matters worse.
Turned out, Agravain didn’t go outside as expected. Upon leaving Gawain’s company, Agravain bumped into Kersey and fellow lancers having a good time with a group of young ladies, gardening apprentices, to be exact.
Agravain was making his exit when a joyous Kersey accidently spotted him and abruptly stopped laughing. Assuming the laughter was at his expense, Agravain approached the group and had them recall how Kersey lost his front teeth. Kersey and his fellow lancers were older and surrounded by decent young women they genuinely cared for. They knew of Agravain’s violent proclivities but still, they had pride as men.
In a respectful tone, Kersey bowed and begged for Agravain to leave them in peace. He even went so low that his knees and palms touched the stone floor as Agravain loomed over him. Agravain wasn’t satisfied. Agravain felt it was just an act; an act Kersey’s peers and their ladies would go on to respect while loathing him the moment he left their sights. So while Kersey was prostrating himself, Agravain did the unthinkable and stomped on Kersey’s hands, crushing his fingers.
Refusing to cry out in pain or anguish, Kersey tightened his jaw and fell with sweat as he favored his broken hand. Agravain removed his green cape and stretched the muscles in his neck, waiting for Kersey’s boys to make a move. And they were ready to make a move on this fourteen-year-old villain.
“Toothless Kersey. I did not give you permission to rise. Come back and bow before me.” Agravain snarled.
A Lothian knight witnessed this cruel injustice and whispered into Agravain’s ear. Agravain let the knight see the authority in his eyes. The knight backed away.
“Bow, Kersey.” Agravain growled.
Kersey turned to his friends. Everyone was shaking their heads no but Kersey considered their wellbeing. In an admirable display of courage, Kersey returned to Agravain and bowed before the young prince.
“This is the difference between us. The difference between lions and men.” Agravain boasted.
Just as Agravain slid the heel of his boot over Kersey’s broken knuckles, Gawain snatched Agravain by his shoulders and whipped him around. The brothers had the same fearsome stare, only Agravain’s had a hint of confusion.
“Unhand me!” Agravain shouted.
“Apologize!” Gawain seethed.
“Apologize? Don’t be absurd. He’s worse than scum!” Agravain declared as he shoved at Gawain and promptly turned to kick Kersey in the head.
Kersey fell back clutching the side of his bruised face. Agravain started giggling until Gawain grabbed him by the shoulders again. This time, Gawain didn’t talk. Before Agravain could utter a word, a tightly wound fist came smacking against the left side of his cheek.
Agravain staggered into a passing servant, causing a clatter of dropped goblets and splattered mead. Agravain couldn’t believe it. He had just been struck. Instantly became livid.
Queen Morgaus was nearby. She saw and screamed, “Agravain! Don’t!”
It was too late. Agravain charged his older brother for a good old-fashion brawl.
“Gaheris! Constantine! Stop them!” Morgaus shouted.
Gaheris and Constantine came rushing with haste while Pellinore stood watching with honey wine in both hands. When Gaheris and Constantine arrived, Tristan prevented them from intervening. The cold stillness in his blue eyes told the young squires that he’d been waiting a long time for this.
Agravain’s punches were faster than a snakebite but Gawain bobbed and weaved from each blow, countering with open-palm slaps that got harder with each connect. In his right frame of mind, Gawain would’ve used the opportunity to teach Agravain a valuable lesson, not beat him to a pulp. Unfortunately, Gawain wasn’t in the best frame of mind. No one could’ve possibly known.
So after Agravain landed a stinging kick to Gawain’s thigh, Gawain retaliated with a close-fisted punch that spun Agravain onto his back. Agravain spit blood and quickly rolled to his feet for one final charge.
Throwing a hellacious haymaker aimed for Gawain’s jaw, Agravain missed entirely. Gawain had ducked under Agravain’s overextended arm and lifted him clear off of the ground. He slammed Agravain through a wooden table with a thunderous crash dragging down linens and scores of food all spilling over the squire.
“YEAH!!!” Pellinore and the Brood of Black Bloods cheered.
Assuming it was all part of the festivities, the revelry resumed as if all was well. The audience closest to the fray gawked and gasped as Tristan finally let Gaheris and Constantine pass. Gawain stood back and breathed the fire out of his lungs. No sooner had he slammed Agravain through the table that regret bubbled to the surface. Gawain cringed his grief-stricken hands combed through his hair.
Deeply humiliated, Agravain was slow to rise even with Gaheris and Constantine helping him up. He didn’t have the heart to look at anyone but eventually, he glanced at his eldest brother. Gawain saw the sadness in his eyes. Agravain was like a reproached puppy now traumatized as Gaheris covered him with his cape. Constantine urged the guests to clear a path while Gawain stood by and said nothing.
Gaheris wanted to give Gawain a piece of his mind, but even he said nothing.
“There’s nothing to apologize for,” said Tristan, as if he could read Gawain’s mind. “It’s about time someone had enough of that wretched attitude and put him in his place.”
If Gawain agreed he didn’t show it. He didn’t enjoy such punitive measures and the fact that Gaheris disapproved, further caused his jaw to clench. Kersey and the lancers came thanking Gawain, but Gawain made it clear that he wasn’t to be touched.
All he could think was, “Is this what it feels like? To be home?”