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?
The queen came over to link her arm through the
king's, leaning up to brush his cheek with her lips. "Are you
going to swim today?"
"Yes, right now," he answered.
"We would already be in the water if these
little rascals hadn't gone running off," Daddy said, leaning down
to ruffle Kelric's hair and then reached down to pat the puppy who was
sniffing at his boot toes.
"Can I come swimming too?" Kelric
pleaded catching hold of Daddy's big hand in both of his. "Pleease?"
"Not today, darling," Mummy said after
glancing up at Daddy. "This is a swim for grownups. Why don't you
play with your boats, instead?"
"Don't _have_ my boats," Kelric
"Ah," Mummy smiled mysteriously and
took him by the hand. "But I do." She led him over to a
large wicker basket, but paused to look down at him before taking the
"Of course, I brought these toy boats along
for my little boy. I'm not sure that puppies play with toy
Kelric looked up at Mummy in grudging respect.
She was going to withhold his boats until he admitted he wasn't a
puppy anymore, he knew. She might not have any sense about the
advantages of having a tail, but she had all kinds of sense about
boats. Although if he admitted he was himself rather than being a
puppy, it would mean that he had to behave himself. He weighed the
pleasures of running around making lots of noise and giving vent to
his excitement against behaving himself and being allowed to play with
his very favorite toys in the sea itself rather than in the tameness
of his bathtub. He looked out at the sunlit expanse of blue-green
water and made his decision.
"_I'm_ your little boy," he told
"You're not a puppy anymore?"
Kelric shook his head.
Mummy smiled and took the lid off the toy
basket. "Then let's go sailing."
Kelric happily picked up the largest of his
boats, carved to look like the Rhafallia and hugged it impulsively.
All the boats had been carved for him by one of the sailors aboard the
Rhafallia. Derry came over and hoisted the basket in his hands.
"Here, let me carry the rest in the basket,
Kel," he suggested with a grin. "That'll be easier and none
of them will drop and get lost that way." Kelric nodded his
agreement, but his satisfaction over the boats was diminished when
Mummy plopped a wide-brimmed straw hat down on his head and turned him
around to knot the strings under his chin, too tightly for him to
remove the hat easily.
"I don' _like_ hats!" Kelric objected,
scowling up at her.
Mummy laughed, then frowned back at him lowering
her red-gold eyebrows and sticking her lips out in a pout. She wore a
hat herself now, a larger version of his. "My goodness what a
ferocious face," Mummy teased in a growly voice. "I know you
don't like hats, my love, but do you remember that bad sunburn you got
that day by the river while we were in Rhemuth this summer? Remember
how much that hurt?"
Kelric nodded. He'd been very hot in the sun,
but that night he had shook with chills, and Daddy had had to work
some of his healing magic so that he could go to sleep. After the pain
had gone away, he'd started peeling. Once Mummy had reassured him that
all his skin wasn't going to come off, he'd found that part rather
fascinating. But he had to admit the sunburn had hurt. At the corner
of his eye, Kelric could see the queen tying the ribbons of a third
hat under her own chin and Briony wore a fourth hat. Kelric thought it
made her look rather like a tall mushroom.
"It's better to wear a hat than to get
burned that way again, isn't it?" Mummy coaxed.
Reluctantly, Kelric nodded.
She gave him her prettiest smile and took his
hand in hers. "Then let's go play." Kelric went with her
willingly. Behind them, Uncle Seandry hoisted the basket onto his
shoulder and followed them. Ahead, he could see Briony hand in hand
with the queen just at the waterline. The queen had tied a long rope
to the puppy's collar and attached the other end to the girdle around
her slim waist. At the far end of his rope, the puppy was trotting
this way and that, sniffing eagerly in the sand.
Far off to the left Kelric could see Daddy and
the King with Lord Dhugal and Bishop Duncan as they undressed to go
into the water. A servant was folding up their clothing neatly and
placing them in a basket out of the sand while another set out a large
stack of towels. Kelric noticed Uncle Seandry look down the beach in
that way wistfully for a moment before he set the toy basket down in
"Sean, go ahead and have a swim with the
others," Mummy said kindly. "I'll watch the children."
Uncle Seandry gave her a grateful smile, but
hesitated. "Are you sure you can manage, my Lady?"
"Sean, I'm their _mother_," Mummy
laughed. "I think I can keep them out of trouble for an hour or
so. Be off with you and have some fun. Heaven knows you've earned
"You be a good boy for your mummy, Kel,"
Uncle Seandry ordered. "Or I' ll have to come tickle you,
later." He bent low and made a very stern face at Kelric, but the
effect was quite spoiled by his twinkling blue eyes.
"Talk about setting me up, Sean O'Flynn,"
Mummy scolded cheerfully as she began to take the boats out of the
basket. "You know how Kelric loves to be tickled."
"I'll be good." Kelric promised. He
watched Uncle Seandry hurry off to join the King and Daddy at the far
end of the beach, just as the grown men were running into the water.
Daddy was the tallest of the four, Kelric noted with pride, but the
King and Lord Dhugal were nearly as tall. Bishop Duncan was half a
head shorter than the others, and Kelric could see he wore a loincloth
just before a wave caught him at waist level and he whooped at the
Kelric pulled his shirt away from his chest and
looked down inside his clothes at his own body.
"Mummy, how long will it be before I'm
big?" he asked.
"It will take much too much time to suit
you, and it will happen far too soon to suit me, darling," she
said and kissed the top of his head.
Kelric sighed at this typical grownup answer. He
knew very well it would be ages before he was really grownup, but
Mummy's replay didn't give him a very helpful idea of how soon he
might be allowed to go swimming in the sea with Daddy and Uncle
Seandry. It looked like great fun, as they were all bobbing up and
down in the swells only heads and shoulders visible as they vigorously
splashed one another.
"When you are four, Daddy said he'd teach
you how to really swim, love," Mummy added. "For now, let's
play with your boats in the shallow water." She'd tied the six
little boats together with a long piece of twine, each having enough
room to bob about without hitting the others. One end of the twine was
tied to the stern railing of the little model of the Rhafallia. A
second piece of twine had been tied to the front of the Rhafallia so
that he could hold onto the string of boats.
"You stay right in front of me where I can
see you, and don't go into the water over your knees," Mummy
ordered. "I'll be right in as soon as I' ve fixed my gown."
For the first time, Kelric noticed that Mummy
wore one of her oldest plainest summer gowns. She untied the long belt
and hitched her skirts to knee height by bunching them up around her
waist and retying the girdle to hold them in place. He had no idea
when she'd removed her shoes and hose, but her slim, pretty white feet
were bare in the warm yellow sand. Briony and the queen were walking
back toward them now, both of them frequently stooping to pick things
up right along the water's edge. The puppy kept trotting about on
various diagonals from his mistress, sniffing at a wet log here,
lunging to yap at shorebirds there.
Together, Mummy and Kelric carried his boat
string into the water and lowered it into the lapping wavelets. Kelric
tugged the string turning around in a large circle, grinning as the
boats followed him. The little Rhafallia even created twin waves at
her bow just as the real Rhafallia did when she was under sail. He'd
been allowed to stand at the bow of the Rhafallia this summer both on
the way to and the way home from Rhemuth, feeling the rush of ocean
breeze against his face and body as he looked down at the two white
crests curving away from her prow in the water. His toy version was
almost as splendid, he thought. And if the waves she created were
smaller, she was a very much smaller ship. The little boats bobbed
behind the toy Rhafallia in a not quite straight line, and Kelric
"Look Mummy, the _Rhafallia_ had baby
boats!" he crowed.
Mummy laughed as did the queen who had come to
join them. Briony stood right beside her, holding up her skirt which
was loaded with small sea shells and sea-wet rocks. The puppy, very
wet and sleek, jumped up to put his forepaws on Kelric's waist. His
tail splashed the boats as he wagged it.
"Oh heavens, and from three year-old boys,
too!" the queen sighed. She gently but firmly pulled the puppy
away from Kelric.
"Everyone has babies on their mind,
eh?" Mummy asked laughing.
"They must, if even Kelric is talking about
it," the queen chuckled.
"He's very fond of going down to the duck
pond and feeding the ducks with bread scraps," Mummy said
smiling. "I believe that's what he means about the boats, isn't
it, darling? The big boats with the little ones behind it look rather
like a mother duck with her ducklings?"
Kelric nodded, although he didn't speak.
"Briony and I are going to build a sand
village," the queen said. "Would you like to help us, Kelric?"
"Kelric and I will have to come see it when
you have it built. He's not yet tired of playing with his boats,"
Mummy replied. She smiled at Briony. "Did you find lots of sea
Briony nodded eagerly, making her braids flap as
she displayed the large load she held in her skirt.
"Oh, oh, Kelric look at that pretty
sailboat out beyond the breakers!" Mummy exclaimed, gesturing
Kelric looked up eagerly , not seeing the boat
at first for it rode low on the water and was several yards out and to
the right from the beach where he stood, and it was sailing westward.
Then he did spot it, a long, slim boat painted a reddish color. It had
three triangular white sails, but no flag flew at the top of its main
mast to identify it. It barely seemed to be there at all, graceful and
swift and silent. Kelric fished for Mummy's hand and stood closer to
her as the waves washed at both their legs as they both watched the
boat pass. There was nothing about the boat that was immediately
sinister, but he had a strange coldness deep in his stomach,
nonetheless. He never felt worried on or around the large, splendid
Rhafallia. There was something about the shape and size of this
sailboat though that was unfamiliar, and somehow dangerous.
"Isn't she a beautiful boat?" Mummy
urged him, shading her eyes with her hand as she watched it. She
didn't appear at all worried by it, but Kelric' s unease only grew as
they watched it go past the mouth of the little cove.
"Don't you like it?" Mummy asked,
surprised by his lack of enthusiasm.
"It's very pretty, " Kelric answered
truthfully. But he was glad when it was gone, and he could return his
attention to his reassuring toy fleet.