"None of you
are going to explain them to him quite yet," Mummy said firmly.
"Kootik, you're far too young to find out about-about that."
"Oh." Kelric was gravely disappointed.
"He must have heard us talking about it
earlier, Alaric," the King said in amused resignation.
"I expect he did, My Prince," Daddy
agreed even while he laughed. "I'm always amazed by the things he
picks up from adult conversations, or just odd orders I've given in
passing. He tries to work things out for himself if he can, and
sometimes it can be days before he actually asks a question. By that
time I've usually forgotten the original conversation."
Daddy grinned at Kelric affectionately, and
waved his half-eaten chicken leg at him. "But it's more fun that
way, usually. Kelric logic is always entertaining."
The King gently ruffled Kelric's hair and smiled
at him. "There's a lot going on in this little head, I'll
warrant. But then, he's the child of two of the most intelligent
people I know, so I'm not surprised." Kelric hung his head,
blushing, grinning in his relief that he wasn't in trouble even after
his question had made Bishop Duncan choke on his wine. The now
recovered Bishop Duncan gave him an amused conspiratorial wink.
"Just _how_ carnal a level were you and
Duke Alaric talking about, my love?" the Queen asked the King
softly. She was nibbling delicately at a chicken wing herself now
while her puppy watched her longingly, his nose quivering anxiously.
"We were talking in general, not in
specific, Araxie," King Kelson answered around a bite of bread
and cheese. "I haven't given away anything that I
"He's far too close-mouthed for that, My
Lady," Daddy answered. "Nor would any sort of gentleman
Kelric watched the puppy sniffing at Daddy's
drumstick and grinned. Daddy's attention was so fixed on the queen,
that he didn't realize he was holding his lunch directly under her
puppy's nose, or that the puppy was eagerly licking bits of meat from
the bone. He covered his mouth with both hands to muffle his giggles
as he thought of Daddy's probable response to sharing his food with
even a Royal puppy.
"Not even if that Duke had known my husband
from infancy and was _very_ curious?" the Queen teased, smiling.
"Ah..I was simply noticing how _well_ he
looked, Madame," Daddy replied, doing his best not to look
embarrassed. "He looks so relaxed and well rested, that the stay
at Dunluce must have done him a great deal of good which is all to the
good when it comes to dynastic-
Daddy stopped all at once and tried to take
another bite of chicken, only then realizing that he'd been sharing
his lunch with the puppy, much to Kelric's, Bishop Duncan's and the
"Alaric, if you're not careful, you'll be
explaining to Kelric what 'dynastic' means," the King warned.
"Caradoc, drop that!" the queen gasped as she realized the
puppy had a strong grip on the drumstick and was playing tug of war
over it with Daddy. "Duke Alaric, I'm so sorry!" She gave
the puppy's muzzle a smack and he reluctantly let go of the chicken
"I _was_ the one who went and held it right
under his nose, my lady," Daddy pointed out, now beginning to
laugh. He eyed the puppy-gnawed drumstick, and added under his breath,
"I'm not so sure I want it back at this point!"
A servant swooped down at once and whisked the
chewed drumstick away while another servant quickly offered Daddy a
platter of sliced chicken breast and sliced cheeses.
Eating resumed and the talk became more general.
Kelric contentedly ate the chunk of bread topped with cheese and
chicken that the King prepared for him, but he already had one eye on
the table where one of the servants was lining up little fruit tarts
in rows. Fruit tarts were his absolute favorite treat, and he wanted
to save plenty of room for his share. It was a grave disappointment
therefore when, as the tarts were finally being passed out, that Mummy
limited him to two.
"_Maybe_ you can have another one
later," she said. "But two tarts are enough for little girls
Kelric had already bolted his first tart, and
was not much consoled that Mummy had also limited Briony's share to
two. And when Mummy said "maybe" she usually meant
"no" when it came to desserts. He ate his second tart in a
state of rebellion, trying to think of a way to wheedle a third one as
he did so. His feeling of rebellion was driven up another notch when
he saw little pallets and cushions being laid out in the shade of the
pavilion's awning which presaged a nap. He didn't need a silly nap!
The day was already too short for all the things he wanted to do at
the beach. There was no telling how long adults could sleep, either,
once they lay down to take a nap. For all he knew they'd sleep until
nearly sunset and then tiresomely insist it was time to go home. Nor
would he and Briony be allowed to go wading again, or to explore the
beach without any adults along. He watched as Mummy and Lord Dhugal
ate their four tarts apiece, comfortably and harmlessly flirting with
one another, adding to his sense of grave injury. But then it occurred
to him that if he waited for Mummy to go to sleep, he could have
another tart, and she'd never know about it if he were careful to keep
from smearing any of it on his clothes.
Therefore when the lunch had been cleared away,
Kelric let Mummy guide him over to a pallet in the shade, and lay down
on it beside Briony with outward meekness. It was comfortable lying
there in the shade, even peaceful as grownup talk died away around
them, leaving only the soft sound of the waves. Kelric felt his eyes
closing in spite of himself, but came back to full alertness when
Briony poked him in the ribs. She had been watching the adults settle
down as he fought off his drowsiness.
**Come on,** she told him mind-to-mind.
**Mummy's asleep, now. We can have some more tarts!**
Kelric climbed noiselessly to his feet, seeing
all the adults lying asleep in a neat row. Even the puppy slept at the
Queen's side, his muzzle resting on his forepaws, the breeze stirring
in his fuzzy coat. Utterly united in purpose and allegiance with his
sister, Kelric tiptoed toward the back of the tent, where the
remaining dozen or so fruit tarts sat unguarded on their platter.
**I got a strawberry one,** Briony said in
satisfaction, as they ducked under the table to enjoy their stolen
"I gots one that's full of apricots,"
"Ssshhhhhhh!" Briony pressed her
finger to her lips. **You'll wake them up!** Both children froze,
listening for sounds of alertness among the grownups. It was still
reassuringly quiet, however. Emboldened by success they both stood and
reached for another tart apiece.
"Kelric Alain Morgan, if you put that tart
either in your mouth or in your pocket, there will be trouble, do you
Kelric started in guilty fright, almost dropping
his prize on the spot. Daddy had reared up on one elbow and was giving
him a long, steady look over his shoulder - one that threatened dire
harm if he were to be disobeyed.
But the tarts were so delicious, and the one in
his hand this time was a raspberry tart, his very favorite. Kelric
smiled his best smile at his father, opening his pale grey eyes wide
and tilting his head. He wasn't sure why exactly, but that look almost
always worked on Mummy. Daddy's expression didn't even flicker.
"Great, big, _ugly_ trouble," Daddy
continued in the same low, clear voice. "You heard what your
mother said. Now put that back."
Kelric weighed his options carefully. Daddy's
anger was always exciting when directed at others, but very
uncomfortable when _he_ was the target. And great, big ugly trouble
sounded as if it could be both prolonged and unpleasant. The tart
would be delicious, if he got as far as being allowed to finish it,
but somehow he doubted this. Daddy could move amazingly fast when he
wanted to. Slowly and reluctantly, Kelric put his fourth tart back on
the tray and was rewarded with an approving nod from Daddy.
"Now then," Daddy said. "If you
two can't sleep, you may play quietly, and I do mean _quietly_, here
by the tent. But you're not to go near the water without an adult. And
if you wake Their Majesties from their nap or wake your mother,
either, there could _still_ be great, big ugly trouble. Is that
"Yes Daddy," Briony piped obediently
"We'll be quiet, I promise."
"That's my good girl." Daddy smiled
for the first time. "Keep your little brother out of trouble,
"Yes Daddy. Come on, Kelric," Briony
said, and took him by the wrist to lead him out of the tent.
Kelric indignantly twisted his wrist out of her
hand as soon as they were out of sight of the adults. She was his
older sister, not his _nurse_!
To his surprise, Briony handed him a slightly
squashed tart and produced another one for herself from her skirt
pocket. They ate them with hasty, guilty pleasure.
"How'd you get two more?" Kelric asked
with his mouth full of crust and sweet blackberry filling.
"Daddy was watching _you_, he wasn't
watching me," Briony whispered back. "I just grabbed them up
quick and hid them behind my back.
"C'mon, lets go see if we can find Uncle
Kelric looked at his sister in amazement and
admiration, knowing she was in one of her adventuresome moods, her
usually irritating obedience in complete abeyance. But he felt uneasy
even so as he followed her confident steps toward the long, low point
like a rocky arm into the sea that marked the western end of this
"Daddy said we weren't supposed to go near
the water," Kelric said, hanging back as Briony took a little
running start up a gently sloping boulder.
She paused for a moment, looking out to sea, no
doubt weighing the prospect of big ugly trouble against the exciting
possibility of seeing a real mermaid.
"We're not _near_ the water, we're _above_
it," she reasoned. "Daddy won't find out if we're careful
not to get wet."
Only partially reassured, Kelric began to
clamber up after Briony. It was a harder climb for him with his short
legs and arms, but he declined to grab her hand. Briony walked with
careful confidence over the damp rocks and sea-weed, keeping a sharp
eye out for anything that moved out where the waves smashed against
the rocks. The tide was at its lowest ebb now, so Kelric suppose they
really weren't so very near the water up here. He followed Briony
slowly though, feeling more and more uneasy with every step and had no
confidence that they'd actually see a mermaid. On the other hand he
didn't want his sister to tease him for being a scare-cat. Nor was his
anxiety entirely based on what would happen if Daddy found out they'd
disobeyed him. He just felt they shouldn't have left the safety of the
The sea breeze had come up, and it tugged at
Briony's plaits and blew Kelric's hair all about and in his eyes,
particularly as the sheltering wall of rocks to his right dropped down
below his waist, and Kelric stopped, almost bumping into Briony. She
was staring down at the smaller beach below the rock wall on their
right. They were higher than the heads of the men standing there
below, and Kelric saw the same sailboat Mummy had pointed out to him
earlier now anchored just beyond the breakers. A small rowboat had
been pulled half way up the beach.
Kelric froze in silence and stared down, too
scared to speak. These six men were foreigners - and they couldn't
possibly have legitimate business in Corwyn, or surely they'd have
sailed into Coroth Harbor, a mile farther up the coast. They were
standing in a small clump, and one man was talking to the others in a
low intense voice, frequently gesturing over his shoulder to the
larger beach where the Pavilion had been pitched. His companions were
listening to him, with expressions of greedy interest ranging to grim
The speaking man was mostly in black although he
wore a dull red Moorish keffiyeh over his head with one tail of the
cloth covering the lower half of his face. He had a wickedly curved
dagger stuck through the black sash at his waist. He spoke in the
desert dialect which neither Kelric nor Briony understood, and his
words were further muffled by the keffiyeh, but one word stood out
clearly for them both;
"They want to kill the King!" Briony
whispered, evidently too scared to use mindspeech. "We have to go
To both children's dismay, the man in black
whirled around at the sound of her voice, pointing up at them, and
evidently cursing. All the other men looked up too, and began to run
toward the cliff. But the man in black shimmered in the bright light
and as he thrust his hand up toward them, a hot, bright *something*
began to fly at them.
"Come ON!" Briony screamed, grabbing
Kelric's arm and hauling him back the way they'd come. "Daaaadddeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!"
Kelric bolted after his sister, just feeling a
rush of hot wind at his back. From the corner of his eye, he saw the
bright 'thing' descend on its arc and plunge into the waves, with a
great plume of grayish steam.