all the time, don't they?" the Queen asked, smiling at him.
"Can't even go down to the seashore without discussing it
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."
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
Mummy nodded and smiled. "The signs of that
are very good. And he's had excellent examples in Nigel and in his own
"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.
"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
"They were already here when I got here. No
"Oh dear," the queen laughed softly at
Mummy while she kept caressing the puppy.
"Are you worried that I won't love you as
"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
"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,
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"What did Kelson do?" Mummy asked
"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.
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
"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
"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