Kelric hadn't meant to
be naughty at all that bright September morning. It had simply
happened. Nurse had been brusque and hurried with both himself and his
sister this morning, quite unlike her usual patient, cheerful self.
She hadn't even given him his customary extra bath time to play with
his beloved fleet of toy boats, but scooped him out and began toweling
him off the minute she judged he was clean enough. He had been bundled
into his best new tunic and plunked into his special chair at the
breakfast table. His sister was wearing her best new dress, too.
Breakfast had been a
hurried meal. And as soon as his sister had finished eating her share
of porridge, Nurse had hustled her off to the opposite end of the
nursery to comb and braid her hair with her best hair ribbons. Kelric
sat patiently waiting to be helped down, but it appeared Nurse had
temporarily forgotten about him. She had also for once forgotten to
move the ceramic honey pot to the other side of the table out of his
Kelric stared at the
unguarded white clay pot, the wooden spoon poking from it like a
silent invitation. His conscience fought with his desire. Nurse kept
honey and other treats strictly rationed but he tested this rule
whenever possible. Something out of the ordinary was happening today,
and Nurse obviously wanted both him and his sister to look their best.
But she had her back to him at the other end of the room while she
fussed over his sister, leaving him stuck at the table with a big pot
of honey in easy reach. Nurse could come back at any minute now though
or even turn around, and his chance would be lost. If she were to come
back and catch him stealing honey right out of the pot, she was sure
to scold, being in the mood she was in right now.
After looking carefully
in their direction, Kelric stretched out his hand then withdrew his
forefinger coated with cool, smooth honey. He sucked his finger clean
in great contentment. It tasted all the sweeter for being forbidden.
The breakfast table was
drawn up to a sunny window, and as he sucked on his finger, he saw a
small golden bead of honey on the white tablecloth, gleaming in the
strong, near-white sunlight. It looked almost like one of mummy's gold
beads, and it even cast a tiny golden shadow on the white surface.
After another look to make sure Nurse wasn't coming back yet, Kelric
dipped his finger into the honey again and deliberately allowed a
larger drop of honey to fall beside the first, smiled as the two
melded together to form one large bead, then sucked his finger clean
for the second time. He'd made a little trail of honey on the
tablecloth this time too -- A thin thread like embroidery floss, or
the trail left by a golden snail. He liked the way dewy grass looked
when covered with a random silver net of snail trails. How something
as cold and ugly as a snail could leave such pretty silver marks on
the ground bewildered him. There were a great many things he didn't
know or understand which worried him sometimes. Mummy explained it was
because he was just three years old and that made it all right. He'd
have time to learn and understand more as he grew older.
The marks _he'd_ made
were golden - even better than snail trails. The honey spot on the
table stayed round and still gleamed, too. Kelric tilted his head, as
he'd thought it would soak into the tablecloth and disappear the way
water did. He loved making all sorts of different waves and splashes
with his bath water, but honey had structural possibilities that had
never occurred to him before. Boldly, he grabbed the wooden spoon and
lifted it as high as he could reach. The honey streamed back into the
pot, making not a splash but a ribbony raised mound for just a moment
before it was absorbed again. The stream thinned or thickened
depending on how high he held the spoon. He dipped the spoon back into
the pot, and accidentally draped a long, thick cable of golden
stickiness down the side of the pot and across the tabletop when he
brought the spoon closer. His arm was getting tired, stretched out
that way. Quite apart from being delicious, honey was fascinating
stuff. It flowed like thick golden water, but the lines, dots and
squiggles he made on the white tablecloth stayed where he put them. He
lifted his arm high and waved the spoon about overhead for thin lines
and tiny drops, then held it down low to make large beads and thick
lines. All the rules about not playing with his food were forgotten in
the pleasure of his discovery.
A loud gasp of dismay
from overhead and across the table made him freeze the spoon held
above the table at the full length of his arm. He had forgot to watch,
and now Nurse had come back and caught him doing something forbidden.
Full of guilt, Kelric dropped the spoon at once, though unfortunately
he missed the honey pot and the spoon clattered all the way to the
Guilty and dismayed,
Kelric looked up to see his mother, very splendidly dressed, her hands
braced on her hips and her blue eyes blazing. Mummy began her scolding
then pressed her lips tightly together as if to keep angry words from
flying out and hitting him. Her lips were pressed tightly together and
there wasn't so much as a glimmer of a smile on her face. One had to
be so careful with grownups; there was so much they didn't understand
even when it was laid out right in front of them. Even Mummy who
understood more than most adults looked at his pretty gold-on-white
design and saw nothing but a mess. Obviously, she wasn't in the
littlest bit pleased.
Kelric bit his lip and
looked down quickly. He adored Mummy and couldn't stand it when she
was angry with him.
"Just look at what
you did!" Mummy said. "And on this morning when the King and
the Hort of Orsal are coming too! Not only have you wasted all that
honey by making that mess on the table, but just look at
Kelric didn't see how
this was possible, and looked up at Mummy in appeal. She just glared
down at him, hands still on her hips, not about to be charmed out of
her anger. He looked down and saw sticky smears on the chest of his
new emerald green tunic and the golden gryphon that had been
appliquéd to its front. Odd, he couldn't _remember_ dribbling honey
on himself or wiping his hands on his new tunic. He dimly realized
that his right hand with which he'd held the honey spoon was quite
sticky, and honey seemed to have run down his arm, both into his
sleeve and over it.
"You've even got
honey in your hair!" Mummy sighed in a kind of angry despair.
"Now you'll have to have another bath, and your best new tunic
will have to be washed immediately too -- don't do that, you'll only
make it worse!"
Kelric felt at his
bangs and the little dots of honey that inexplicably decorated them,
mashing them more firmly into his hair and adding the stickiness of
his honey-coated fingers as well. Nurse came hurrying over to the
table, hauling Briony by the hand. She blanched, seeing Mummy standing
there, obviously angry, and her jaw dropped in a soundless scream as
she looked at him, then at the honey pot which she had failed to move
out of his reach. Briony's eyes went very round, and after a look up
at Mummy, she gave Kelric a sympathetic 'you' re-in-for-it-now' look.
His father, arrayed in
his full ducal splendor with the embroidered arms of Corwyn bright
across his chest, arrived right after Nurse, making Kelric' s heart
sink. He could always soften Mummy's heart eventually, but Daddy was
not so easy to win over. Fortunately, when he saw the squiggles of
honey on the tablecloth, then glanced at Kelric, Daddy seemed more
inclined to laugh than punish him. After looking at Mummy though,
Daddy arranged his face into an appropriately stern expression. But
Kelric knew it was more for Mummy's benefit than because Daddy was
truly angry with him.
"I thought you
knew better than to play with your food, Kel," He said in a very
serious voice. "Honey is far too precious and expensive to waste
this way. And you've made extra work for poor Nurse, too."
Kelric whispered in the meekest voice he could manage. Mummy just
snorted. Even Nurse was trying not to attract attention to herself.
"And he's made a
sticky mess of himself right before the King and the Orsal are due to
arrive," Mummy added. "And spoiled his best new tunic in his
"Both Kelric and
the tunic are washable, Richenda," Daddy said. "The
bathwater is already hot down in the kitchen; it's just a matter of
having some more brought upstairs. He can wear his blue tunic instead,
today. Kelson won't mind and the Hort knows what small children are
"Niyanna has only
just arrived at the harbor mouth yet, and it will take some time for
them to get up to the castle."
"If you please,
Your Grace, it's partially my fault," Nurse confessed to Daddy.
"I forgot to move the honey pot out of Lord Kelric's reach."
"We all make
mistakes, Nurse," Daddy said calmly. "Just do your best to
make Lord Kelric presentable by the time the King and the Orsal
arrive. And send his tunic down to the laundresses right away. I'm
sure they can get it clean."
Daddy reached out a
hand to Briony, summoning her with a smile, then firmly linked Mummy's
arm through his, and all three of them left the nursery. Kelric
sniffed with loneliness - Mummy had not only not give him her
customary hug and kiss whenever she saw him, but she hadn't even given
him a last over the shoulder look as she went out the door.
Nurse was even more
brusque during his second bath that morning. She all but boiled him
alive in her effort to get him un-sticky before the King should see
him; at one point Kelric wondered if she'd twist him around and beat
him over a rock as he'd seen the castle laundresses do with bedsheets
and tablecloths. She got some soap in his eyes while she washed the
honey out of his hair and didn't stop her scolding long enough to
apologize as she flushed his eyes with water.