Duncan gently laid him down on one of the abandoned palettes and
turned him onto his side.
"Just relax now,
Kel," he said softly, stroking Kelric's hair out of his eyes.
"Have a nice sleep, and when you wake up, I promise your back won
't hurt anymore.."
Kelric closed his eyes
and surrendered to Bishop Duncan's deft but insistent mental command
to sleep. His touch might be softer and more subtle than Daddy's, but
he was still a trained adult Deryni, and there was no resisting him.
".Allies of Count
Teymuraz, even though they don't know where he is anymore than we
do," Daddy's voice was saying. "My Lancers have taken them
back to Coroth for questioning." Kelric could hear the voices,
but he could not quite summon the energy to open his eyes. He felt
very peaceful and sleepy just now and was reluctant to come back to
normal awareness. He still felt the reassuring presence of Bishop
Duncan behind him, and felt his hands carefully pulling his shirt back
into place down around his waist.
"I sent my
Anviller companions along as well, just in case any of them should try
to escape by arcane means." Kelric recognized the voice of Prince
Azim. "I wonder how they knew where to find your party?"
Daddy's voice sounded
bewildered. "I don't know. We planned this beach outing on a whim
at the feast last night. It's not as if it was common knowledge around
"Are you thinking
there might have been a spy present last night, Prince Azim?" the
King's voice asked.
"I suspect a spy
far more than I suspect that the presence of those men here today was
a coincidence," Prince Azim replied. "I would not wish to
see any child endangered, and particulary not little Briony and Kelric,
but you were fortunate indeed to have had what warning you did, My
Prince. Either yourself or Her Majesty would have been a most valuable
hostage to men such as Count Teymuraz and those who support him. Let
alone the two of you together. I suspect that the son and daughter of
the Duke of Corwyn would have been adequately valuable hostages had
they not been able to seize any of the rest of you."
Kelric shivered, both
at the thought of being in the power of the bad men and at the moment
of shocked silence from the adults as each of them digested the truth
of these words.
"If there is a
foreign spy in Coroth, I will find them." Daddy's voice was
deadly grim. "And when I do, they'll wish I hadn't."
in Coroth, Alaric. But Prince Letald was also your guest last night,
and I have reason to believe he has a spy somewhere in his household.
Particularly after the assassination attempt on the two kings this
summer, and when Teymuraz did not in fact make landfall on the Ile d'
Orsal as we expected after escaping from Torenthaly."
"It seems we would
have been wiser to have stayed in Coroth today after all," the
King's voice spoke. He had tried to keep his tone light but his voice
shook. "I could never have forgiven myself if Araxie or the
children had been taken hostage."
snorted. "*I* couldn't have forgiven myself, My Prince,
particularly not if *you* had been taken. We can't spare you, and it
would look extraordinarily bad if the King of Gwynedd had been seized
as a hostage right under the nose of the King's Champion. Nigel would
never have let me live it down."
"A life lived in
fear of what might be is hardly worth living," Prince Azim's
voice spoke again. "You brought the children to the beach for a
special treat, and were all having a splendid day. And when the danger
arose, you all acquitted yourselves well in self-defense. It was well
thought of to have those Corwyn Lancers standing by. And the worst
that could have happened did not happen precisely because you had
taken that precaution. And now you have some valuable hostages of your
own who may be able to give us more information on Teymuraz's
whereabouts, or at least his probable next course of action."
"We also thank
you, Prince Azim. Your intervention and that of your companions was
very timely," the King said.
was," Daddy said. "Duncan, how's Kelric?"
"He's as good as
new, at least physically," Duncan said. "I haven't touched
his memories, though. I wasn't sure how you and Richenda would want to
handle that and thought the less interference from me, the
Kelric yawned again,
feeling something wet and cold dab at his face. There was a stir of
laughter when the wet thing touched his face again. He opened his eyes
all at once and found himself nose to nose with the puppy who was
wagging his tail, his head tilted to one side.
came the queen's soft voice and a slim hand came down into Kelric's
range of vision as the puppy was gently but firmly pulled away. Kelric
found he could now open his eyes all the way, and didn't feel quite as
sleepy, now. As Bishop Duncan had promised, his back didn't hurt
anymore and neither did his knees. He was surrounded by a ring of
adults, all of them looking down at him in kind concern.. The Queen
was nestled close to the King, his arm across her shoulders, and
Briony leaned against Daddy. Briony's face was dirty and
tear-streaked, and her hair was a tangled mess. She was sure to cry
tonight when Nurse combed the tangles out of it, Kelric thought. Daddy
was looking down at him with an expression Kelric very rarely saw,
although he knew Daddy loved him fiercely. Lord Dhugal and Uncle
Seandry were smiling down at him, and Prince Azim gave him a friendly
nod as well. It took Kelric a moment to realize he couldn't find
Mummy. He sat up all at once in a panic to look for her before he
remembered that she had come back from the battle. She was there
beside him just a moment later and she put a fruit tart in his hand.
Like Briony, she had been crying, and she was very windblown.
"How is my
baby?" she whispered, pulling him into her arms.
Kelric willingly let
her take him in her arms and hold him tightly for a long moment. At
least her touch didn't hurt, this time. He almost smiled as he ate his
tart, but kept his face shy and solemn and clung to Mummy with his
free hand instead, as if still overwhelmed by what had almost
happened. He loved being the center of adult attention as he was now
but such delightful times never lasted long enough to suit him. If he
acted too normal, everyone would stop doting on him.
"He doesn't seem
any the worse for his adventure, fortunately," Prince Azim
commented. "Thanks to your Healing powers, Duncan."
now," Duncan answered as he climbed to his feet. "I'm just
glad I was able to spare Kelric some painful days recovering from that
burn. It was a nasty one, and would have been worse if he hadn't been
wearing a shirt at the time."
Mummy rested her cheek
against his hair and held him a little tighter. Kelric nestled against
her, glad for the warmth of her body. Sunset was not far off, and a
chilly breeze was blowing inland from the sea.
"I think we ought
to start back for Coroth, now," the King said. "I think I'd
appreciate the safety of castle walls before nightfall. And," he
said grimly, "It looks like we'll have some interrogating to do
before we sleep tonight."
"I agree on both
counts, My Prince," Daddy's voice replied. "The children are
tired too, and I believe they've had quite enough stimulation for one
"So has their
mother," Mummy said clearly. "I definitely want to get the
children home as soon as we can, Alaric."
For an answer, Daddy
came and gently took Kelric out of Mummy's arms, giving him a strong
"We'll leave right
now," he said. "The servants can pack up here and follow
Back at the top of the
hill, Kelric was once again deposited in Mummy's lap for the ride
home, although this time Briony also rode inside with the grown women.
Caradoc curled up in the queen's lap and immediately fell asleep. The
carriage lurched into movement as soon as the door was closed.
Kelric curled up
against Mummy, hearing the peaceful sound of her heartbeat under his
left ear, and feeling her right arm securely wrapped around him.
Briony was leaning against her, almost asleep already with Mummy's
left arm draped around her. He was tired, although not really sleepy,
but he kept his eyes closed, half listening as she and the queen spoke
in soft voices. Mummy's voice sounded deeper than normal with his head
resting right on her chest.
"Have you heard
from your Lady sister since she arrived in Meara, My Lady?" Mummy
asked the queen.
Kelric was surprised.
He didn't think Mummy was terribly interested in Meara, but perhaps
she wanted to think about something else besides what had almost
happened on the beach, this afternoon.
"Oh yes. I had a
letter from her last week," the queen replied, evidently just as
relieved to talk about something more normal herself. "According
to Riche, Meara is an earthly paradise and Brecon is the god of her
Mummy laughed softly.
"I've heard that Meara *is* a lovely country, but I've never
heard that it was exactly paradise. One can't fault her bridal
The queen laughed too
although it was tinged with regret. "That's just Riche's way -
she does rather exaggerate sometimes. But reading between the lines, I
had the feeling that she finds her earthly paradise just a bit more
rustic than she was prepared for, and that the god of her universe
snores rather loudly."
"Marriage *is* a
shock, even when you love your spouse," Mummy answered, laughing.
"Having to share a bed with another person every night.."
She let her voice trail off.
"Yes, that does
take rather an adjustment," the queen acknowledged softly.
"I think Riche is genuinely happy with Brecon," she
continued. "And God knows I'm glad for it. But after so many
years of living at dear old Horthanthy, settling down in a simple
manor house in Kilarden is rather a shock for her. Horthanthy is
famous for it's grounds and for Uncle Letald' s hospitality, and Maman
and Papa Savile have always liked their creature comforts, too."
"Richelle is also
Countess of Culdi though, is she not?" Mummy asked. "They'll
have to spend at least part of the year at Cor Culdi so that she and
Brecon can manage her Culdi lands, as well."
heavens," the queen giggled. "And they're coming to Rhemuth
for Christmas Court, too. I doubt Richelle would be content to stay in
Kilarden year round. But I don't think that manor house is going to
stay simple for long, if Richelle has anything to say about it - which
she does. It will be twice the manor it used to be when she gets
finished fixing it up."
"Do you miss
her?" Mummy asked.
queen murmured. "Very much. Even though I'm very happy in my new
life. I always knew that Riche and I would both marry one day and
couldn't live together all our lives. But a husband is not the same
thing as a sister. We've never been separated this long, or lived so
far apart before. Kelson jokes that he'll have to hire at least ten
new couriers just to keep up with all the letters Riche and I write
back and forth."
Kelric glanced at his
own sleeping sister. Briony's eyes were closed, her mouth half open
and she was drooling a little as she leaned against Mummy. Would he
miss her if he didn't see her every day? He tucked his thumb inside
his mouth and considered this with the murmur of Mummy's voice and the
queen's in the background. She had got him into trouble this
afternoon, but she had also got him out again when they were in
danger. And she had shared the stolen tarts with him. She never
laughed at him when he fell down and hurt himself, and she'd been
sympathetic about the trouble with the honey yesterday morning...
He woke up all at once
when the carriage stopped and the door creaked open. They were home at
last. Briony too woke up and rubbed at her eyes with her fists as she
yawned. Uncle Seandry made a half-bow to Mummy and the queen as he
helped the queen out of the carriage.
"Shall I take the
children up to the Nursery now, m'lady?"
"Carry Briony up
if you would please Sean," Mummy replied. "I'll bring Kelric.
Tonight, I want to put the children to bed, myself."
Kelric contentedly rode
in Mummy's arms as she carried him through the torchlit castleyard
with Uncle Seandry half a pace behind her carrying Briony.
please tell Cook to have a light meal ready for our guests and serve
it in our supper chamber upstairs. I also want a supper of hot bread
and milk sent up to the nursery for the children's supper. You may
tell His Grace and His Majesty that I will be back as soon as I have
put the children to bed."
Half an hour later,
Kelric lay curled up in his bed, warm, clean and content with a belly
full of hot bread and milk. Stripes lay curled up by his side, her
head, upside down to display her white chin and muzzle and small pink
nose to greater advantage. He watched in fascination as Mummy
patiently combed the snarls out of Briony's long, fine hair by the
light of her golden handfire.
"I know everything
turned out for the best *today*," Mummy was whispering, with the
serious-angel face she put on whenever she spoke seriously to them.
"But it was still very naughty of you to go looking for the
mermaid, Briony Bronwyn, and especially to take Kelric with you on
those wet, slippery rocks. When Daddy tells you to do something,
especially when we're away from home, he always has a good reason. You
are not to even think of disobeying him or me in the future, is that
Briony sniffed. She rubbed at her wet eyes with one fist.
"Kelric, is that
Kelric nodded, wide-eyed and solemn.
"There now, my
darlings, you're safe at home with Daddy and with me," Mummy
comforted. "But you were in tremendous danger today. I couldn't
have borne it if you had been taken away from me. Those men wouldn't
have cared if you had both been cold, hungry or scared, and Daddy and
I would have been heartbroken and terribly worried about you."
Mummy's eyes filled
with tears and she set the comb down and hugged Briony tight from
behind, kissing the top of her head. "What would I have done
without either one of my babies?" she whispered, turning her head
to look at Kelric. She reached out and stroked his hair.
Kelric stuck his finger
in his mouth, thinking what would have happened to him if he'd been
taken away. Most likely he'd be cold and wet from sea-spray in that
little boat, and hungry for his supper, and longing for the sight of
Daddy or Mummy or anybody he knew. He whimpered and shivered, and was
at once drawn into Mummy's arms again.
"There, there, my
lamb," Mummy whispered. "You weren't taken and you're safe
at home with Daddy and me. Everything is all right." She kissed
the top of his head then gently made him lie back down, pulling the
sleeping furs all the way up to his chin.
"Sleep well, my
love and may God and St. Camber look after you tonight.. Those bad men
can't hurt you, now. "