Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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Chapter  9

In the Carriage

"Grownups talk all the time, don't they?" the Queen asked, smiling at him. "Can't even go down to the seashore without discussing it first."

Kelric nodded and grinned.

"Well you did give us a lot to talk about, my love," Mummy said. "Has Saint Camber ever visited you before? He's certainly never visited _me_."

Kelric shook his head. He was a little bored with St. Camber right now. He wanted to look out the window instead. It was always fun to go through Coroth -- people always waved and smiled at him and at Briony.

"Speaking of St. Camber, how are Rothana and Albin adjusting to life in Rhemuth?" Mummy asked. Kelric decided to listen instead. Grownup conversation always mystified him. What did the Princess Rothana and Albin have to do with Saint Camber? Especially Albin, whom Kelric considered to be a tremendous baby.

"To tell the truth, I haven't seen very much of Rothana since Kelson and I got back from Dunluce," the queen said. "Albin spends a large part of each day up at the castle so that Rothana can concentrate on engaging new teachers for the schola. Meraude can't get enough of her grandson. And Rothana _is_ legitimately busy right now."

"I thought she had accepted the need to live in Rhemuth."

"She has, but that doesn't mean she's entirely comfortable with it, yet," the queen said softly. "Her being there has stirred up some talk at Court of how things really stand between her and Kelson which has been uncomfortable for all three of us. She feels that the best way to allay the gossip is to stay down at the Basilica as much as she can, and only be seen in the same room with Kelson and I at large court functions. I daresay she' s right about that. "I also think it's been difficult for her in a different way--to actually see us married."

"Yes," Mummy said softly. "Now it's irrevocable, and she can't ever have him back."

"Even though she brought us together an insists this is right and what she wants for him, she's realized how much she's given up." The queen smiled wistfully. "It would be hard for any woman to give up Kelson I think. Even with the most unselfish motives in the world. I certainly couldn't do it, now."

"Fortunately, _you_ don't have to," Mummy said gently. "And how was it down in Dunluce, together?"

To Kelric's surprise the queen blushed bright pink at this question even as she smiled. She bent her head low and stroked the fuzzy coat of her greyhound puppy sleeping curled up in her lap.

"It was-very nice," Queen Araxie confessed, still smiling shyly.

"From the look on your face, I'd say it was even better than 'very nice,'" Mummy teased smiling, her blue eyes twinkling. "And very good for Kelson, too. I've never seen him more relaxed or in better spirits. Alaric says so, too."

"He _does_ look well rested, doesn't he?" the queen said eagerly. "Part of my reason to get him down to Dunluce was for a rest cure. He worked tremendously hard all summer, and I thought he looked exhausted of state were going to leap out from under the rosebushes at him, too."

"I hope he didn't sleep through your _whole_ time at Dunluce." Kelric looked up at Mummy in puzzlement. She was smiling at the queen, and she looked as she did when she and Daddy had playful moments together.

"No, he didn't," the queen whispered, unable to keep from smiling. Then she laughed aloud. "I thought I was prepared for all the curiousity I'd face at court when we returned to Rhemuth, but it was even more intense than I thought."

"About..?" Mummy asked slyly, still smiling.

"About whether I was... well." Queen Araxie took a deep breath looking very shy.

Kelric knit his forehead in complete puzzlement over her hestitation. Why couldn't grownup ladies just _say_ things without being mysterious all the time?

"With child," Mummy said softly. "Well Kelson does need an heir, my dear."

"I know, and I very much want to provide him with one. More than just one. I want to give him lots of beautiful, healthy little Haldane children."

"Nigel and Alaric and the entire privy council will be very glad to hear that," Mummy chuckled. "Any luck so far?"

"Unfortunately not yet," the queen murmured. "I want babies too, and not just for the sake of the succession. I see how Kelson is with Kelric and Briony and also with Albin and Conalline. He'll make a wonderful father to his own children.

Mummy nodded and smiled. "The signs of that are very good. And he's had excellent examples in Nigel and in his own father, too."

"And in Duke Alaric," the queen finished, now teasing Mummy in her turn.

"I daresay," Mummy said, looking embarrassed and pleased in her own turn. "We're trying for another baby ourselves."

Kelric looked up at Mummy in dismay. "No!"

"Darling, why not? Wouldn't you like another little brother or sister?"

"No! You're _my_ mummy!" He threw his arms around Mummy and hugged her even as he glared up at her.

"And you can't share me?"

Kelric shook his head emphatically.

"But you already share me with Brendan and Briony."

"They were already here when I got here. No more babies!"

"Oh dear," the queen laughed softly at Mummy while she kept caressing the puppy.

"Are you worried that I won't love you as much anymore?"

Kelric nodded.

"You don't have to worry about that, Kootik. You're my darling boy and you always will be. And even if I have more babies, you'll always be Daddy's eldest son and heir."

"I will? I thought Brendan was his heir."

"No, my love. Brendan is already the Earl of Marley because he got it from his father who's dead now. You will be the next Duke of Corwyn because you're Daddy's first son. That's what it means to be a Ducal heir and that' s why people wave to you when you ride through Coroth."

Kelric considered this. "Am I a nearl, too?"

"Yes. You're the Earl of Lendour and you have been since you were born."

"I have? Where is it?"

"Up north and west from Coroth. In the Lendour Highlands."

Kelric considered this. "Nobody told _me_ I was a nearl." He giggled. He'd misplaced his toys and even shoes and gloves, but it was funny to think he'd misplaced his whole _Earldom_.

"But everyone knows, all the same darling." Mummy smiled and smoothed his hair back from his forehead. "For now, Daddy is taking care of Lendour for you until you come of age, just as I manage Marley for Brendan."

Kelric screwed up his face. "Why can't I run Lendour _now_?"

"Mmm, it's very hard work, running an Earldom, darling. You don't know how yet, and if you tried, you wouldn't have any time to play with your boats or go to the beach."

"I shouldn't like that," Kelric admitted. "But when _will_ I get my heresy?"

To his indignant amazement, both Mummy and the queen burst out laughing.

"It's a mercy Archbishop Bradene didn't hear _that_ question," Mummy sighed as she dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve, still laughing. "The correct word is in-her-itance, Kootik, my love. Heresy is saying or doing something that goes against God's law."

"They do sound alike, and it was a very good guess, Kelric," Queen Araxie added smiling at him. "And I think the Archbishop would understand what Kelric _meant_ to ask.

She laughed suddenly. That does remind me of a funny thing that happened at Court, last week. Albin has learned how to undress himself, lately. He's very proud of this accomplishment. And he's taken to demonstrating it for anyone who will watch."

"Anyone?" Mummy lifted her eyebrows.

"Archbishop Bradene was a bit startled to have Albin pulling off his little clothes right in front of him on the Royal dais," the queen went on. "Not as embarrassed as Rothana, though. She ran and grabbed Albin with one arm and his clothes with the other and hustled him out of there while I distracted the archbishop."

"What did Kelson do?" Mummy asked while laughing.

"He was no help at _all_," Queen Araxie said with playful severity. She leaned to her right, turned her head toward the carriage window and raised her voice.

"He sat on his throne and watched the whole thing, laughing fit to die."

The king spurred his horse forward and leaned down, setting his hand on the window frame.

"Well it was *funny*," he protested. "There was Albin, naked except for his little boots, positively glowing with pride while poor Bradene was looking at everything but him." He winked at Kelric before straightening in his saddle.

"Now then Sire, don't go giving Kelric any ideas about how to amuse visiting Bishops," Mummy protested. "Poor Rothana!"

Kelric stuck out his lower lip, not liking the suggestion that HE would take to undressing in public - or copying anything else that Albin might do, for that matter. He was almost a whole year older, after all.

"I'm sure Kelric knows to keep _his_ clothes on in public, Richenda.," Queen Araxie smiled at Kelric. "He's much more grownup than Albin is."

Kelric beamed back at the queen in satisfaction. He'd liked her right away this summer, even before she'd married the king. She could tell the difference between a big boy and a big baby like Albin. "You're very pretty," he told her frankly. "Almost as pretty as Mummy."

Queen Araxie's cheeks went pink and she smiled at him.

"Thank you," she said simply and leaned over to kiss the top of his head. "That's high praise from one of your mummy's children."

Her shift of position had awoken the puppy in her lap which yawned widely. Kelric forgot the queen entirely as he gazed at the puppy's bright brown eyes and at the moist, glossy black nose that twitched at the scent of him.

"Who polishes the doggie's nose?" Kelric asked as he stretched out his hand to stroke the top of the little dog's head. A wet, raspberry pink tongue unfurled from the puppy's mouth between sharp white puppy teeth, straining up toward his face to give him a dog kiss. Kelric patted him in delight. The long slim tail at the puppy's other end began to wag enthusiastically.

"Stroke him gently, darling," Mummy reminded him. "He doesn't belong to you."

"I know," Kelric said cheerfully, continuing to stroke the soft fur. "Oh Mummy, I wish _I_ had a tail!"

"Darling!" Mummy laughed. "What would you do with a tail if you had one?"

Kelric rolled his eyes. Even though Mummy was very smart in many ways, she sometimes asked entirely silly questions.

"I'd _wag_ it, of course." What else would a person do with a tail? Out the carriage window, he could hear the king laughing aloud either at what he'd said or, and the rumble of carriage wheels lurching over uneven ground as the driver turned his team and stopped the carriage. Outside the carriage, Kelric could see the ocean and everyone could hear the soft rush of the surf. "We're here!" Kelric crowed.



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