here!" Kelric crowed. He bounced once impatiently on Mummy's lap
as the driver opened the carriage door before he remembered she
preferred him to sit still. The warning squeeze of her hands on his
waist reminded him that he had to let the queen descend from the
carriage before he could get down himself. He positively quivered with
longing, for beyond her, he could see the pale yellow sand and the
long arm of piled up rock that marked the western end of the cove. And
beyond that he could see the waves crest in a white ruffle before
rushing up the sand. The King gave his hand to the queen, then handed
Mummy down, and Kelric eagerly scrambled out after her, too impatient
to wait to be lifted. A green and white striped pavilion had been set
up on the beach and the royal party was wandering toward it, talking
as they went. There was a wonderful smell of roasting chicken on the
air, and Kelric could see that a pit had been dug in the sand a little
way off from the pavilion. Four large chickens were slowly being
roasted on a spit above rose red coals.
Bishop Duncan and Lord Dhugal walked to either
side of the queen who carried the puppy. Lord Dhugal was trying to
avoid the puppy's eager efforts to wash his face. Daddy strolled after
them, hand in hand with Briony who swung on his hand and skipped at
his side in her own eagerness to get down to the beach. The King
escorted Mummy behind them and Kelric and Uncle Seandry brought up the
rear. Once they had reached the pavilion, the queen set the little dog
down in the sand where it at once began to run about in ecstatic
circles, wriggling with delight at being free. Kelric grinned as he
watched the puppy, feeling the dog's pleasure and excitement in waves,
and gave a great wriggling leap of happiness of his own. He plopped
down in the sand at once and pulled off his short boots, eager to get
his bare toes in the sand, even while he watched the puppy continue to
run about from one person to another, leaping, wriggling and wagging
its tail as it went. Nobody scolded the puppy or tried to calm it down
in it's excitement, Kelric observed. Had he been the one doing all
that running and jumping, either Mummy or Daddy or Nurse, or possibly
Uncle Seandry would have hold of him by now and would be telling him
to settle down. Perhaps life as a puppy would be more fun than life as
a Ducal heir and Earl of Lendour.
**For the rest of the day, I'll be a puppy
too,**Kelric decided. He stood up, looked around and spotted the
greyhound near the queen, sniffing the air just before it bounded off
down the beach toward the water, yapping loudly at the nearest flock
of seagulls. Kelric ran after him and did his best to imitate the
puppy's high-pitched bark. He was too happy to care that his yapping
didn't sound at all convincing. He waved his arms over head, sending
all the seagulls flapping off. A flock of sandpipers hurried away too,
their thin legs almost invisible against the glossy dark sand at the
water's edge. Then all of a sudden, Kelric found himself lying face
down in the sand after tripping over a bit of driftwood. The fall was
hard enough to knock the wind out of him for a moment. As Kelric lay
and gasped for air, he noticed a small, feathery body lying
half-buried in the damp sand. It was covered with a buzzing cloud of
small black flies. The dead gull's beak was open as if it had been
calling for help when it died, and Kelric felt desperately sorry for
it, suddenly. He reached out a finger to stroke the feathers.
"No, no, Kelric. We don't touch dead
animals, remember?" Daddy's voice asked from over his head.
"It might be nasty."
Kelric felt Daddy's hands on his ribcage and he
was being lifted up and set on his feet. Daddy leaned down and brushed
the sand from the front of his tunic, quickly yelping and standing up
when a wave surged up the beach and caught both their feet.
"There goes _that_ pair of hose,"
Daddy said with amused resignation. "Fortunately, Mummy has
brought dry clothes along. But for now, you might as well go barefoot,
I suppose." When they had reached the dryer sand higher up, Daddy
peeled off Kelric's wet sandy green hose and Kelric happily buried his
bare toes in the sand. He loved being barefoot and wished that Ducal
heirs didn't have to wear shoes all the time. He was unimpressed by
all Nurse's scoldings about poor children who had to go barefoot even
in the coldest weather and would have loved to own even one pair of
shoes, while luckier little boys like him had dozens of pairs. Going
barefoot in the winter wouldn't be very nice Kelric thought , but he
positively envied those children in the summer time. Especially now
that he was standing and wriggling his toes in the warm clean sand.
"I've got my puppy, and I see you've caught
yours too, Alaric," the King said.
Kelric grinned up at his Godfather, gratified
that he'd noticed he was a puppy today. The King had the greyhound
puppy tucked under his right arm. The puppy's tail was lashing and he
was straining upward in his eagerness to wash his master's f ace with
The king gently enclosed the puppy's muzzle in
his hand. "Thank you, you're a nice little dog, but I don't need
a bath, right now."
Kelric once again regretted that he didn't have
a proper tail, but he gave Daddy's cheek a nice, wet swipe with his
"_Kelric_! Good _lord_!"
The King roared with laughter while Daddy wiped
his cheek dry with his sleeve and gave Kelric a glare of exasperated
"I should be grateful that he's _only_ a
puppy, today," Daddy admitted as the three of them started back
toward the pavilion. "After I told Kelric about seeing the
Queen's Zoo in Beldour, he insisted he was a monkey. He spent the next
three days climbing _everything_."
"Maybe you should have told him about the
camels, instead?" the King suggested, still laughing.
"No, this boy doesn't need _any_
encouragement when it comes to spitting."
"I can spit almost as far as Uncle Seandry,
Sire " Kelric told the King with pride. "Do you want to
"I'm sure you can, Kelric, but I don't need
a demonstration right now."
Oh." Slightly disappointed, Kelric went
hand in hand with Daddy, having to trot a bit to keep up with the two
very tall men.
"Where did that puppy come from,
"He was a wedding gift to Araxie from
Prince Cuan," the King answered. "I'm still not sure if it
was a genuine gesture of goodwill, or a sneaky form of revenge for the
fit King Colman threw when he heard Araxie and I were married."
"He seems to be a very good tempered
"He is, and he's very affectionate and
fairly intelligent. The second this wiggly little fellow was let out
of his basket, Araxie bonded with him. She's always loved dogs and I
rather like him myself. He's incredibly destructive, even so. He's
chewed up two of my boots, so far - from two different pairs, of
course. When you live in a castle, it's awfully hard to persuade a
puppy not to make puddles indoors."
"You can always have new boots made, but
keeping one's wife happy is an important art to learn," Daddy
observed. "How have you and Araxie bonded?"
The King just smiled. "As you've seen since
we've been here, Alaric."
"A month in Dunluce with her does seem to
have done you some good--knocked a bit of sense into your head, at
least," Daddy chuckled. "She's a fine lass, Kelson. The more
I see of her, the better I like her."
"Odd, I was about to say the same thing
about her," the King said.
"The signs are good that you esteem her
somewhat more than just liking her," Daddy said, watching the
"If you're asking if I love her, the answer
is yes," The King said. "But it's based on more than just
physical passion, Alaric. We enjoy talking to one another, too. She's
full of ideas; she makes me laugh, and she plays a mean game of
"I'm glad to hear all of this, My Prince.
The old "carnal level" is very helpful in dynastic duties,
but marriages based solely on physical passion can go sour rather
quickly. Marriages last better when the husband and wife like one
another during their waking hours, too.
"Of course, I'm still glad to hear you've
been paying attention to the dynastic side of your marriage,"
Daddy teased. "Look at raising that puppy as practice. Of course,
one toddler can be more destructive than an entire litter of puppies.
Kelric is the scourge of Coroth Castle all by himself."
Kelric trotted along, wondering what Daddy had
meant by "old carnal level." He was relatively sure that
Daddy _must_ have meant "carnival" rather than
"carnal" but it hardly mattered as he had no idea why they'd
want a "carnival" when they were alone together in the first
place. Carnivals meant lots of people in the streets having fun, some
of them in masks and costumes, and they were always very noisy and
crowded. But when Daddy and Mummy went up to their bedroom alone, it
meant they didn't want anybody else around, not even himself or Briony.
Why did adults always have to be so mysterious?
"I see you've captured the pups,"
Bishop Duncan said as they came back to the pavilion.
"Aye, and we've been comparing notes as to
which one is more destructive," the king said. He bent over and
set the greyhound puppy on the straw matting. The puppy immediately
bounded off to greet his mistress.
"Kelric won, without a doubt," Daddy
said and mussed Kelric's hair with an affectionate hand. "He can
climb, and he has thumbs."
"He has quite a reputation to live up to
yet, though," Bishop Duncan teased. "As Alaric Morgan's son,
"He's only three," Daddy said
dismissively. "Just getting started, really."
Kelric made a face, not fancying being called
"only" three. He'd felt quite grown up on his birthday, and
he could do all sorts of things now that he hadn't been able to do
when he was two.
"Wherever my mother is now, I'll bet she's
enjoying watching Kelric," Bishop Duncan chuckled. He put his
hands on his hips and his voice was a half-octave above normal when he
spoke again. "Alaric Morgan, when you're a grown man, I hope you
have a son who's exactly like you to repay all the anxious moments you
have given me!"
To Kelric's amazement, Daddy suddenly cupped his
hands over Kelric's ears although he could still hear the grown men
"Don't give him any ideas now,
Duncan," Daddy objected. "Poor Aunt Vera, I did rather wear
her out before I left for court. But if she had her way, Kelric would
never let _me_ sleep at night."
Kelric looked around uneasily. First his dead
grandparents, then Saint Camber and now this mysterious lady, Aunt
Vera. Just how many dead people _were_ watching him, anyway?