Kelric squealed and covered his eyes with both hands. Within seconds
he felt Daddy's hands on his ribcage and he was being lifted up and
held in a reassuring hug.
"It's all right, Daddy's here Kelric."
He buried his face against Daddy's shoulder and
clung to him with all his strength and fear. Calmness and reassurance
flowed from Daddy, dispelling Kelric's fright at seeing the face
inside the ball.
"What's the matter?" "I broke it!
I broke it and now you're going to be _mad_ at me!" Kelric
sniffed, not daring to look up quite yet.
"Broke what? I don't see anything
"Kel, there's nothing wrong with the
"It gloowwwwwed," Kelric moaned.
"I see," Daddy said gently. Kelric
could tell he was trying not to laugh. "You made the crystal
glow, and it scared you, didn't it?" Kelric nodded.
"Poor little Kootik, you gave yourself a
fright over nothing. That's what shiral crystals _do_, remember?"
"You've seen Mummy or me make the crystals
glow before, haven't you?" Kelric nodded.
"Now you know that you can do it too. But
it's a very bright crystal, and the light probably scared you, didn't
Kelric nodded for the third time, not entirely
reassured. Daddy had talked about glowing, but he hadn't said he'd
ever seen any tiny *people* trapped inside a crystal.
"The Crystal is perfectly all right, Kel,"
the King said kindly. "Look, it glows for me, too."
Kelric turned his head to see the crystal ball
within his godfather's cupped hands, shining like a tiny sun.
"Isn't it pretty?" The King lifted it
up so that Kelric could see it more easily. There was noone inside the
Crystal now, not even a cloudiness, just clear amber light which
slowly died until the crystal was normal again. The King set it back
into it's setting within the Corwyn Gryphon's claws.
"So you see there's no harm done, Kel,"
Bishop Duncan said kindly. "You didn't break it."
"For once, you didn't break anything,"
Daddy said, amused.
A knock on the study door ended the
conversation. Derry's head poked around the edge of the door at
"Begging your pardon m'lord, but Her Grace
sent me up to look for you," Derry said, making the King a
half-bow. Kelric saw that instead of his usual mail and riding
leathers, Derry wore a rich court tunic of deep blue embroidered with
silver in an all-over pattern that looked like one of the great
fishing nets the sailors used down in Coroth Harbor.
"I'm afraid we're found out," Daddy
said, setting Kelric down on the floor again. "Time for me to go
back to being the gracious host."
"I'm afraid so, sir," Derry chuckled.
"Supper is very nearly served, and nobody can eat until you and
the King's Grace are present."
"We'll all come down with you, now, Derry.
If I know Richenda, she's told you to not only find us, but to herd us
all back downstairs, like stray sheep."
Derry laughed. "Aye, m'lord. She knows
you'd much rather stay up here talking about Duke Matyas'scroll than
attend a state dinner."
"She knows me _far_ too well,
sometimes," Daddy sighed though he smiled as he said it.
Back in the garden, Mummy had been watching and
waiting for them. Kelric watched her anxiously as she greeted the
King, Daddy and Bishop Duncan, wondering if she'd seen him and whether
she was still angry. Then she looked directly at him, smiled her usual
smile and held out her arms to him.
Hugely relieved, Kelric ran to her and was swept
up into her embrace. "How's my darling boy?"
He hugged Mummy tight, his arms around her neck
and hid his face against her shoulder. He felt her lips brush the top
of his head, and her hold on him was as tight as his hold on her. She
had to have forgiven him or she wouldn't be hugging him like this.
"What is it, lamb?"
"I'm sorry I made a mess this morning.
Please don't be mad at me anymore."
"Oh that. I'm sorry *I* was so cross about
it this morning, my love. I was busy and in a hurry to have everything
ready before the King and Queen and the Orsal arrived, and all sorts
of little things kept going wrong. Unfortunately, finding you all
sticky with honey was the final wrong thing, and so you got all my
anger at once. I'm sorry, darling."
"S'all right," Kelric said happily.
He didn't even mind when Mummy gave him to Lady
Moira for her supervision during the feast that followed. Mummy had
forgiven him, and everything was all right with the world again. Lady
Moira was more strict with himself and Briony than Uncle Seandry, but
nevertheless she allowed them both larger portion than usual of the
sweet course. Feeling very full and sleepy afterwards, Kelric slipped
under the main table, almost landing on top of Gryphon, one of Daddy's
favorite Cassani deerhounds. Gryphon thumped his tail on the floor
when he sniffed him and gave his cheek a juicy swipe of welcome with
his tongue. It was pleasantly warm and dim under the table, and Kelric
curled up beside Gryphon and dozed off, his head pillowed on the dog's
stomach. He woke up a bit when Derry fished him out from under the
table and carried him out of the hall, towing the cross sleepy Briony
with his free hand. Kelric let his head rest on Derry's shoulder while
he tried to work out a way to feed Stripes the table scraps he'd
smuggled out of the hall for her without Nurse finding out. He had the
napkin wrapped bundle stuffed inside his tunic, but that wasn't a safe
hiding place as Nurse always helped him undress for bed. Unfortunately
the bundle had worked its way down to his waist where he couldn't
reach it without being obvious. Nurse might be forced to tolerate
Stripes' presence as the Nursery cat, but she and Stripes were not at
all fond of one another. Nurse insisted that if fed, Stripes would
become lazy about keeping the Nursery free of vermin which was the
only justification for Stripes' entire existence as far as she was
concerned. Nurse might dislike cats, but she detested and feared rats
and mice. Kelric loved Stripes though and couldn't bear to think of
her being hungry. Briony too often sneaked extra food to Stripes. They
knew Stripes couldn't be banished as Mummy wanted her to stay.
Fortunately, Nurse was dozing by the nursery
fire when they arrived. When Derry woke her, she trundled off to help
the yawning Briony get ready for bed, leaving Kelric to Derry's care.
Before Kelric could stop him, Derry started to tug Kelric's slightly
outgrown blue tunic off over his head.
"Good lord, what's that, Kel?" Derry
asked as the napkin wrapped bundle flopped onto the floor of Kelric's
bedroom. "Were you planning a midnight feast?"
"'S for Stripes," Kelric said yawning.
He eyed the stained napkin thinking that perhaps he should have wiped
more of the gravy off the strip of beef fat first before adding it to
his bundle. There was a small matching round gravy stain on the front
of his blue tunic, too.
"Two tunics needing washing all on one
day," Derry sighed holding up the tunic. "You're hard on
your clothes, my lad. You and that cat," Derry said, but he
smiled at Kelric. "Better hide Stripes' supper before the boss
comes in, though."
Kelric stuffed the napkin under his pillow then
grinned up at Derry who winked back. He tugged Kelric's nightshirt
over his head then guided it down over his body, and helped Kelric
find the sleeve openings with his hands.
"Make it a quick prayer tonight, eh, Kel?
There's a young lady downstairs I met at Horthanthy this summer, and
I'd like to become better acquainted with her," Derry directed as
Kelric knelt on his bed and clasped his hands.
"Dear God, this is Kelric speaking. Ummmm..."
Kelric paused. He liked quick prayers much better than long ones, but
it made him nervous to know that Derry was waiting, wanting to be back
downstairs among the adults with his duties complete.
"Ummm, I'm really sorry about making a mess
this morning and making Mummy cross. Oh, and sorry about getting my
clothes dirty. Amen."
"Excellent," Derry nodded pulling back
the bedclothes. "Very brief and to the point, but heartfelt,
nonetheless. Good night, little scourge of Coroth."
"What's a ..?" Kelric began but Derry
shook his head.
"It's way past your bedtime Kel and you're
yawning your head off. I'll tell you in the morning. Goodnight!"
And Uncle Seandry was gone.
Nurse came in shortly afterwards in her shift,
tying the strings of her nightcap under her chin, her graying brown
hair in a long braid down her back. She gave him a kiss goodnight,
then blew out the candle and went to lie down in her cot across the
room. Soon, Kelric heard the soft drone and rumble of her snores - a
sound familiar to him from his earliest memories.
Kelric felt very sleepy, but forced himself to
lie awake and wait for Stripes to come. The cat always waited
tactfully until Nurse was asleep to join him in bed. He must have
dropped off, anyway, for he came awake again at her mew and the sound
of a soft paw scrabbling against the linen pillowcase by his head.
Stripes' keen nose had led her directly to where Kelric had hidden her
packet of table scraps. He reached under the pillow and pulled out the
napkin and untied the knots for her. He smiled at the funny sound of
Stripes trying to purr and eat at once. He yawned widely though, and
his eyes closed without his being able to stop them...
Kelric did not know how long he had been
sleeping, or what woke him later on. The foot of his bed was bathed
with bright with moonlight and it was very quiet in his room and
indeed in the whole castle. Stripes was wide awake, though. Her large
pointed ears were pricked forward, and she was half standing and half
ready to jump off the bed and run. She was staring fixedly at a point
a little to the left of the foot of his bed. Kelric could see nothing
at first, then a long, loose grey sleeve, not visibly attached to an
actual person, extended toward him and Stripes. A man's long graceful
hand with skin as white as moonlight was extended toward Stripes,
delicately offering her his fingertips to sniff.