"By all means,
Lord Dhugal and Bishop Duncan looked up with
keen interest too, but Kelric was full of frustration and
disappointment. He was about to be sent back to the Nursery if the
look on Daddy's face meant anything.
But although the King rose and set Kelric gently
down on the ground, he immediately took hold of his hand. "Kelric
can come too, can't he, Alaric?"
Daddy's eyebrows went up, then he smiled and
gracefully gave way to the King's wish. Kelric squeezed the king's
long hand hard to show his gratitude for the invitation. They walked
back toward the main castle, Daddy and Bishop Duncan going first, the
King and Duke Dhugal following with Kelric between them. They lifted
and swung Kelric by the hands every few steps along the garden path.
Kelric tried to behave for fear that Daddy would declare he was too
overstimulated to come up to the nursery, but he could not help
crowing with pleasure once or twice.
"You two are a pair of overgrown children
this evening," Daddy said over his shoulder to the King and Duke
Dhugal as they came into the main garden although he didn't sound at
all cross about it.
"We've been attending to dull grownup
matters all day," the King teased. "We really came to Coroth
to see Kelric."
Kelric giggled, but he was anxious. Across the
garden he could see that Mummy had brought all her female guests
outdoors to take the evening air. He couldn't decide if he wanted her
to see him and call him over right now or not. If she did, it meant
she wasn't angry anymore. But if he went over to her, he might miss
his chance to go up to his study with Daddy and the King. The longer
they paused here the more danger that he would be spotted or sent
back, so Kelric pressed close to the King's side and made himself
Lord Dhugal, though, was looking over at the
ladies with keen interest, and his hold on Kelric's other hand had
"You didn't tell me that the Orsal had
brought his daughter too," Lord Dhugal whispered to the king.
"Are you after Rezza Elisabet now?"
the King teased. "What about poor Princess Ekaterina? She'd be
"And after you've been talking about her
all summer, too," Bishop Duncan added.
"Is Princess Ekaterina here too?"
Dhugal asked eagerly. "Thanks to you, I didn't even get a chance
to introduce myself while we were in Beldour."
"Oh, let him get on with his
flirting," Daddy said, and slapped Lord Dhugal's shoulder.
"The world needs more McLains."
"In due time, of course," Bishop
Duncan said drily.
All four adults laughed and Kelric tried hard to
puzzle out why. But Lord Dhugal let go of his right hand and after a
bow and a wave, he strolled away toward the ladies.
"Do you think he's really interested in
Rezza Elisabet?" Bishop Duncan asked the King. "I can
understand his interest on the purely physical level just by looking
at her, but I've heard that she's not likely to set the world on fire
with her ideas."
"The Orsal keeps a pretty sharp eye on
her," Daddy said calmly. "A Duke might be good enough for
her in his eyes, but I think Letald's mildly piqued that she's not
Queen of Gwynedd."
Kelric heard his godfather groan. He looked up
to see Daddy grinning evilly at the King while the King looked
"Oh stop!" the King muttered to Daddy.
"At least I married his niece, didn't I? No matter who I married,
I was bound to leave all the other parents feeling piqued."
"_I'm_ not piqued," Daddy said looking
very innocent as he opened the nearest door. "But then, Briony
was far too young for you."
"You know you didn't think I was good
enough for her, in any case, Alaric," the King snorted as he went
in, bringing Kelric after him. Daddy and Bishop Duncan followed with
Daddy closing the door behind them.
Kelric was mystified as he followed his
Godfather down a short hallway and started up the first of the three
staircases that led to Daddy's study up in the Green Tower.
"Why would anybody want to marry Briony?"
Kelric asked the King, panting a little. They were half way up the
second staircase now.
"Well nobody wants to marry Briony _right_
now, she's a little too young for that. But when she's old enough, I'm
guessing that several young men will want to marry her."
"Ah..well, she's going to be very
beautiful. She's already very pretty even though she's only five. Men
notice that about ladies. You will too, when you're older."
"She's not as pretty as Mummy," Kelric
"Maybe not yet, but she's a duke's
daughter, and that makes her very important right there. And she'll
have a very nice dowry. That means she'll have lots of land and
money," he added when Kelric looked up at him in bewilderment.
"Men notice that too."
"I dunno-oo," Kelric said seriously.
"She'd never let them play with her dolls."
The King seemed to think this was very funny.
"That's difficult," he agreed in an equally serious voice
when he'd finally stopped laughing. "I could never have married a
woman who wouldn't let me play with her dolls."
"But then, Royalty doesn't have very much
time for playing with dolls, Kel," the King went on. "We're
too busy giving people orders all day."
"Like Daddy does?"
"Yes, but to even more people."
Kelric didn't have the breath to both talk and
climb the last staircase, which was steeper and longer than the other
two. The King let go of his hand and let him go before him to clamber
up using both his hands and feet on the stair treads.
"A long way up for short legs" the
King said smiling as they reached the tiny landing outside the study
Kelric nodded, flushed and panting but
triumphant, this was the first time he'd made it all the way to the
top without having to be carried any part of the way.
Daddy and Bishop Duncan were close behind the
King, and Daddy mussed his hair affectionately as he opened the outer
door leading to an even smaller antechamber before a heavy door of
carved walnut with the enameled arms of Corwyn set in it. Daddy set
his signet ring to the Gryphon's eye, then pushed the door open and
stood aside for the King and Bishop Duncan to precede him. Kelric
trotted in last of all, thrilled to have made it. Daddy's study was
one of his favorite rooms in the castle, and he wasn't allowed up here
"Now you are going to be a very good boy
and not break anything up here, right?" Daddy asked, laying both
hands on Kelric's shoulders for a moment.
The three adults went over to Daddy's desk where
he took something long and papery out of an orange silk pouch and gave
it to the King. Bishop Duncan stood by the King and peered over his
"I can see what you mean about the copy
hand," Duncan said.
"So do I, but it is a very beautiful
scroll," the King said. "Look at the quality of that
illumination. It must be fantastically valuable.."
Kelric eased a little away from the adults.
Daddy had shown him some of the pictures in the scroll, and while he
thought they were beautiful, they didn't interest him very much. He
wanted to look around Daddy's study on his own without any grownups
following him around and telling him not to touch. The first thing he
wanted to look at was on the table at the very center of the round
room, holding pride of place in the slightly green-tinted sunlight
from the skylight. Daddy had said he was not to break anything. That
didn't mean he couldn't look.
Kelric stood on tiptoe and was just able to rest
his chin and his fingers on the edge of the tabletop. But this still
didn't give him a very good look at the round crystal held aloft in
the claws of a golden Corwyn Gryphon. He dragged one of the
green-upholstered chairs out a little way from the table and climbed
onto the seat without making too much noise. Kneeling on the green
leather seat cushion, he had a much better view of the shiral crystal.
He leaned close, but carefully kept his hands on the tabletop several
inches away. He knew very well it was a shiral crystal, and a magical
object. Furthermore, he knew that its being magical put it in the
"don't touch" category of objects. He had learned that
lesson very well a few weeks ago when Mummy had found him building a
black and white tower with Daddy's eight mysterious little cubes. She
had taken them away from him at once, and had then given him one of
the "talks." Those talks were always uncomfortable, and made
Mummy look like a very serious angel. He was never to play with or
even touch magical objects she said, unless she or Daddy was right
there to help him and then only when they'd given him specific
permission to use it. Magical objects could be dangerous to untrained
little boys who didn't understand them properly. This was a pity, as
Kelric found magical objects were even more interesting than his toy
boats. But it was not possible for him to disobey Mummy. Her REAL
talks always .did something to him.
But it was all right now, he wasn't touching the
shiral crystal - he was only looking at it. It was perfectly round,
and was the exact same color as the breakfast honey had been this
morning - like a knob of honey made solid. The sunlight made a white
round patch at the top of its polished circle. Quite without meaning
to, Kelric brushed his forefinger over the top of the crystal. It was
as sleek as one of Mummy's satin gowns, but hard and did not yield to
the pressure of his finger. Guiltily, he snatched his hand back and
glanced over at the adults. They were still busy with the scroll, and
Daddy didn't seem to have noticed. Kelric looked at the tip of his
right index finger - it looked exactly the same as it always did, but
it was grimy from the stair treads Just touching a shiral crystal was
evidently not dangerous, then. He looked at the crystal next, and it
looked just the same, too. Daddy had told him not to break anything,
but he hadn't said 'don't touch.' Not exactly, anyway.
Kelric took a deep breath, scrubbed his right
hand clean on his tunic, then leaned forward and boldly put the palm
of his hand down on the top of the crystal. It was cool, not cold
against his skin, and it became pleasantly warm at his touch. A glance
over at Daddy confirmed that he was still occupied and oblivious.
Kelric leaned forward for a closer look, bracing
himself on the table top with his other hand, still keeping his right
palm down on the crystal. He gasped as suddenly the crystal shot up a
beam of bright yellow light between his spread fingers, making his
skin glow pink at the edges. Kelric recoiled at once, feeling as
guilty and frightened as he had last week when he'd knocked over
Mummy's favorite vase of ruby Vezairi glass and shattered it beyond
mending. He hunched over in the chair, ready for Daddy to come running
and start scolding him. But nothing happened. His hand was warm where
it had been touching the crystal as if he'd been holding a cup full of
hot posset, but there was no pain, and no tell-tale yellow blotch on
his right palm. Finally he dared to look up - the other three were all
still standing by Daddy's desk, and Bishop Duncan was evidently
reading the scroll, translating what he could as he went. But to
Kelric's dismay the shiral crystal was still not normal. It was not
shooting out spokes of light anymore, but it was glowing golden,
lighting the whole tabletop. If Daddy should look around now, he'd
know right away that Kelric had been naughty. That was surely worse
than making a mess with honey at the breakfast table.
Nor was that all, for the clarity of the crystal
had dimmed as if someone had breathed on the inside of the sphere.
Kelric stuffed two fingers in his mouth, terrified that he'd broken
Daddy's special crystal. He leaned down and