A man's long
graceful hand with skin as white as moonlight was extended toward
Stripes, delicately offering her his fingertips to sniff.
The cat took a cautious step forward and
investigated the offered hand. Then, to Kelric's amazement, she rubbed
her whiskery cheek against it, and began to purr. Normally, Stripes
was timid with those she didn't know. Kelric watched the hand as it
lifted and lightly stroked the top of Stripes' head between her ears
with one fingertip. Stripes arched her back and butted her head
against the hand and continued to purr loudly. Then the owner of the
caressing hand stepped out of the direct moonlight, revealing himself
to Kelric at last.
Kelric stared up in amazement at this stranger
who was evidently no longer trapped inside the shiral crystal up in
Daddy's study. It had to be the same man -- he was wearing the same
cloak. He faded out of focus down below his knees so that Kelric
couldn't see his feet, but Kelric tried not to think too hard about
that. He was not afraid of this odd visitor. If he were evil, he
certainly would have frightened Stripes away. Instead Stripes was
doing her 'stroke me' dance, wandering quickly back and forth beneath
the visitor's hand while continuing to butt her head against his palm
and rub her cheeks against his fingers. Nor did Kelric feel anything
but a calm, kind presence from the cloaked man. But he was mightily
curious about who this person was who came to visit him in this odd
way and in the middle of the night.
As if his thought had gone right to the
stranger's mind, the man reached up and folded his hood back on his
shoulders, showing the same head of thick fair hair that Kelric had
seen in the shiral crystal earlier. He could see the man's face far
better now, and even though his skin was lined as older people's faces
tended to be, he did look amazingly like Daddy. His grey eyes were
kind, and he looked terribly wise. Kelric tilted his head wondering if
this was Daddy's mysterious father whom he had been told was up in
Heaven with God. He quite liked his living grandfather who always came
to visit with his saddlebags packed with gifts and treats for himself
and Brendan and Briony. This person obviously had no gifts to bring as
he had no saddlebags, but maybe someone who lived in Heaven didn't
"Good evening, young Kelric Alain
Kelric tilted his head. He was sure this person
had just spoken to him, but he only seemed to hear the man's pleasant
baritone inside his head.
"Are.are you my grandfather?" Kelric
whispered. The whisper sounded harsh and loud, and Kelric wondered if
this person could hear him when he spoke aloud.
His visitor tilted his head while considering
Kelric's question, and Kelric wondered if it meant he hadn't heard, or
if he just didn't understand what Kelric had asked.
"I'm not your father's father if that's
what you mean," he said kindly in return. "But I suppose I
_could_ be called your grandfather, at the remove of several
generations of course."
"What's a gen- a genera.?" Kelric
The stranger laughed. "A generation? Let me
just say that I'm very much older than I look, young Kelric. Even too
old to be your grandfather's grandfather."
"Oh." Kelric was _very_ impressed.
"Wait a minute! How do you know my name?"
"Ah," the man looked rather
embarrassed. "I.sometimes I watch you and your sister while you
play together in the castle gardens. It reminds me of the days when I
had children of my own. I don't feel so lonely, then."
"What happened to _your_ children?"
"Oh, they grew up as you and your sister
will one day. They're all dead now, and gone to live with God."
Kelric looked up at the man, feeling very
confused. If he was as old as he said he was and all his children were
already dead, then why was _HE_ still alive? But it felt like a
terribly rude thing to ask even an ordinary old person, let alone this
man who plainly wasn't ordinary.
"That's where it gets a bit
complicated," his guest said as if Kelric had actually spoken his
question aloud. He looked even more abashed than before. "Even
though you can see me and hear my voice, I'm not truly alive in the
way that you and your family are alive. But I'm not exactly dead,
either. I am a being of spirit, although I can be seen when
Kelric frowned, trying to make sense of it all.
He'd never met anyone like this man. But he supposed that someone who
could make himself small enough to fit inside Daddy's shiral crystal
would be capable of doing whatever he wanted to do. He noticed that
his visitor was slightly transparent around his edges although his
face was firmly in focus.
"But you _have_ seen me before today, in a
somewhat different form," the man said. "King Kelson built a
chapel that was dedicated to me this summer. You were there on that
day, I believe."
Kelric goggled up at him, openmouthed.
"_You're_ Saint Camber?" \ "In life, I was Camber
MacRorie the Earl of Culdi, yes. And yes, I did help King Cinhil
regain the crown of Gwynedd for the Haldane kings."
"An' got sainted."
St. Camber gave him a very rueful smile.
"And I was sainted, although I hope God knows I never sought
that, and certainly never felt I deserved it. It was..something of an
"An _accident_?" Kelric was now
completely bewildered and wondered if he were having a very peculiar
dream. In his experience 'accidents' involved his breaking something
without meaning to, or falling down and hurting himself. Just before
his last birthday, he'd tripped on the last few steps leading down to
the Great Hall and had skinned both knees and knocked out a baby
tooth. Saints either did amazing thing that nobody else could do, or
they were killed in scary ways when they wouldn't renounce God.
"Yes, it ah, seemed like the least harmful
choice at the time, " said St. Camber uncomfortably. "But
enough of that. I hope that you don't mind that I've been watching you
and your sister? It's been a rather lonely two hundred years, and I
enjoy the two of you very much."
Kelric shook his head. "No."
"I particularly enjoyed watching you this
morning," Camber said, smiling. Kelric stared up in amazement at
his saintly guest. St. Camber looked positively mischievous -- could
saints _do_ that?.
"_I_ didn't see you!" Kelric
"No. As I said, I can avoid being seen when
I wish which is most of the time. My presence can lead to some very
complicated questions if I'm not careful. The saint chuckled and
perched on the edge of Kelric's bed. "Children learn by
exploring, and it was great fun watching you learn what you could do
with honey. It reminded me of my own boys when they were young."
"They played with honey, too?"
"Mmmm, not exactly. The time I'm thinking
of involved the honeybees, rather than the honey itself. Camber
chuckled again as he thought of it. "It was really bad luck for
Cathan, Ballard and Joram that they chose the very day that King
Blaine was coming to Caerrorie for a visit." The saint interlaced
his long white fingers and set them on his upraised knee. Stripes
flopped down beside him and began to wash a white forepaw.
"King..Blaine?" Daddy had told him
about the Haldane Kings who had come before King Kelson, but he'd
never mentioned a King Blaine that Kelric could remember.
"King Blaine of Festil," St. Camber
answered calmly. "It was all very, _very_ long ago young Kelric,
so it's not surprising that you don't know his name." He looked
up at the canopy for a moment.
"You must understand that King Blaine was
not like your father, or like King Kelson, who is fond of children
whether or not they are his. King Blaine was a stern old soul, and I
don't think he liked even his own children very much," Camber
continued. "A great deal might have been different had he taken
more interest in them." The saint looked sad for a moment, but
quickly smiled at Kelric again.
"Anyway, the weather was very fine on that
particular afternoon, and my sons had been out practicing their
archery. They got bored with shooting at the same old round target
though, and without telling anyone, the left the castle yard and went
to find something more interesting to use."
"Where did they go?"
"They went down near the bottom of the
flower garden and began shooting at a fence post. Unfortunately they
hadn't been at it very long before Cathan missed the post entirely.
And his arrow."
Kelric leaned forward eagerly. "What
"Can you guess what he hit instead?"
Camber asked with a smile. Kelric could swear that his eyes sparkled
with fun just then.
Kelric shook his head. "_What_?"
"He shot the top right off one of his
mother's bee hives."
Kelric crowed, then hastily stuffed his fist in
his mouth and glanced in the direction of Nurse's cot. The rhythm of
her snores faltered for a heartbeat and then resumed.
"Of course the bees were very surprised and
angry. One minute they'd been peacefully making honey, and the next,
some large, sharp thing had hit and rocked their nest and sheared off
the top. The positively came boiling out of that hive and after Cathan,
Ballard and Joram.
"The boys immediately dropped their bows
and arrows and ran to get inside when they saw all those bees
coming," Camber laughed. "Too bad that they came running up
to the Great Hall steps just minutes after King Blaine arrived."
Kelric muffled his giggles with his fist.
"Everyone heard the bees first, luckily and
I was able to get the King and all his escort inside before they could
be stung. But the grooms really had to run to get all the horses into
the stable before the bees came, or they'd have had a stampede on
their hands." St. Camber shook his head and shrugged while he
"Instead of spending a fine summer
afternoon hawking as we'd planned, we all had to sit inside with all
the windows closed while we waited for the bees to calm down and fly
away. By the time it was safe to go outside, it was too dark to go
hawking and too dark for the King to return home safely, so he and his
escort stayed the night. Unfortunately, there wasn't much for our
royal guest to eat at Caerrorie that night, as we'd planned to catch
our supper that afternoon. And of course, no one could go outside to
find so much as a chicken to stew with all those bees flying around
the house. My poor wife Jocelyn was mortified at having nothing better
to offer His Majesty than pease porridge and ale for his supper when
she'd hoped our cook would have some nice gamebirds to roast for him,
instead. King Blaine and his companions didn't think much of the
change of menu, either."
Camber laughed. "For all the disgusted
faces they made as they ate it, I daresay such a peasant mess did
their insides no harm, for once. And it was probably more easily
digested than some of the rich dishes the King was served at his own
board. But it wasn't at all funny at the time."
"What about your sons?"
"They'd have been glad even for pease
porridge that night, but they were all three sent up to bed without
supper," Camber said. "That was not so funny, for the King
insisted I give them a good thrashing, first. I avoided punishing my
children physically whenever I could, but after our afternoon of sport
had been taken away, I couldn't very well refuse the King 's direct
command. And the danger had been quite real, for one bee sting might
have killed him, let alone a swarm.
"So I took the boys into my study and gave
each of them one good whack each for the trouble they'd caused, after
which I just kept slapping a cushion with my belt and told them to
yell as loudly as they could every time I did it. It was enough to
satisfy the King."
Kelric laughed but was interrupted with a huge
"And now young Kelric Alain, I think I've
kept you awake quite long enough for such a young fellow and in the
middle of the night too," St Camber said softly. "Why don't
you lie down and go back to sleep now?" He reached out his long
graceful hand and brushed Kelric's forehead with his fingertips,
smoothing his hair back and out of his eyes. His touch was cool and
gentle. Kelric lay down again at once, feeling very drowsy, suddenly.
He felt St. Camber's hand gently open his right fist and tuck
something small, hard and round into his palm before closing his
fingers around it once more. Kelric yawned, and when he forced his
eyes open again, he and Stripes were once again alone in the bed.
The next time Kelric opened his eyes, Nurse was
already up and bustling about lighting the fire in the main day
nursery. Stripes was still in bed with him though, and she was dabbing
at a fine, green silk cord lying on top of the coverlet with her paw,
alert and fascinated. Kelric was surprised to see he was holding onto
the end of the silk cord and there was something small and hard tucked
into his right hand. He looked at it and blinked in puzzlement. He
held a small, round bead that seemed to be made of golden yellow
glass. It had been threaded onto the green silk cord through a hole
drilled through it's center. He didn't remember ever seeing it before
Kelric sat straight up suddenly which made
Stripes leap off his bed and hiss at him in her startlement. Last
night -- he remembered now. St. Camber came last night, and he'd told
him a bedtime story. Kelric yawned mightily and rubbed the sleepiness
out of his eyes. He'd never had any other saints come to visit him in
the night, let alone tell him a story and tuck him into bed and leave
him a bead on silken cord. It seemed like a very strange thing for a
saint to do, and perhaps he should ask Bishop Duncan about it later
on. Kelric's eyes went wide and he looked more closely at the bead the
saint had left - could a shiral crystal possibly be that small? He
smiled and pulled the green silk thread loop over his head. His very
own shiral crystal now glowed like a tiny yellow star against the
whiteness of his woolen nightshirt.