“Lyndsay?” Ash called into the darkness of the treehouse. “Lyndsay? Where are you?”
The thin cry of an infant.
Ash sighed, running a hand through his hair — or rather, leaves. “I’m coming!” he called as he trudged toward the ladder. “Whichever one you are,” he muttered under his breath.
When he finally reached the nursery at the top of the hollowed-out tree (and whatever had possessed him to put the nursery in the tree’s crowning branches? If only he could remember), his nose told him all he needed to know about the situation. “Phaugh!” he coughed. He lifted his nephew out the crib. “When’s the last time someone changed you, little man?”
As the father of two young children and the uncle, or more properly foster-father, of another, Ash had seen (and smelled) his share of dirty diapers. His nostrils were attuned to all the fine variations: wet, dirty, smelly, and rank. This was beyond rank — Ash almost thought he could see noxious green fumes escaping from the babe’s hindquarters. Wrinkling his nose, he moved the child firmly toward the changing table. “Come on, Thorn — let’s get you cleaned up.”
Luckily his experience with Bran and Ginny (his two children) had taught him all he needed to know about taking care of stinky diapers. With the mess cleared up and little Thorn much happier and more comfortable, Ash set about entertaining his nephew. He couldn’t help but smile at the little one’s shrieks of delight.
“Yes, Thorn loves his Uncle Ash, doesn’t he?” Ash cooed. “Better than all your aunties at Mummy’s house?” Of course “aunties” probably wasn’t the right word for it — but Ash wasn’t about to go calling the other tenants of his sister’s home “whores” in front of an infant. Especially when said infant’s mother was one of those whores.
Thorn would face enough ridicule for being descended from the head whore of Albion and … well … it was anyone’s guess, really, who the babe’s father was. Ash was determined that the lad wouldn’t get any grief for it under his roof. Even if the grief came when Thorn was too young to understand it.
It didn’t take long to tire the baby out — probably his crying in the crib had mostly accomplished that — and with one last cuddle, Ash set Thorn down to sleep. Then he checked on Ginny and Bran. Ginny was sleeping peacefully, sucking her thumb; Bran seemed to stir as Ash came close, but a bit of shushing and a few strokes of his black, silky hair and Bran was again sleeping deeply. Ash smiled down at his eldest.
Then he straightened, took a deep breath, and went out in search of his wife.
He found her in the vegetable garden, watering in the moonlight. “Lyndsay?” he called. “Lyndsay, can we talk?”
She turned around and he caught his breath. For a second — just a second — she was the beautiful girl he had met and fell in love with, the only woman in Albion who would accept him for who he was, all his dreams come true —
And then she raised a hand to wipe the sweat from her brow, leaving a faint smudge of earth in its wake. The illusion was broken. His beautiful girl was a woman now, a woman with bags under her eyes, a droop to her shoulders, and a faint frown creased between her brows. “What, Ash?” she said, the once dulcet tones now a weary sigh.
He tried to smile. “I — when was the last time you checked on the babes?”
Lyndsay narrowed her eyes. “If you’re worried about them …”
“I just checked on them myself — they’re fine,” he said hurriedly. “I was just asking because — well — Thorn was crying, and he obviously hadn’t had a diaper change in a while … maybe since before you came home …”
Lyndsay stared at him. “Ash, do you have any idea what I came home to?”
“Well, I — no –”
“For starters,” Lyndsay snarled, “that horrible old woman had Bran in his high chair and was trying to feed him.”
“Maybe he was hungry?”
“Maybe he was — but anyone with a pair of eyes would have noticed that he was desperate for bed, and was screaming to be put down for a nap!”
Ash winced, but he knew better than to answer any of Lyndsay’s criticisms of the nanny. Truth to tell he rather agreed with them. The trouble was that there just wasn’t anyone else they could afford to hire.
“And so when I finally liberated him from that woman’s clutches,” Lyndsay continued, “I go upstairs to put him to bed, and do you know what I found when I went into the nursery?”
Ash shook his head, sensing that he was about to find out anyway.
“Not one — but two — TWO — half-empty skeins of goat’s milk, just left SITTING on the floor — spoiled and stinking to high heaven — and a dirty diaper!”
“Oh dear,” Ash murmured, doubting he’d be heard but deciding to try for sympathy anyway.
“But I can’t take care of that right away, oh no, because Ginny is screaming, because who knows when the last time she was fed or changed was — so I do both and have to cuddle her for nearly half an hour before she finally, finally nods off to sleep. So then I check on Thorn, who isn’t screaming, doesn’t stink and appears to be soundly asleep, THANK WRIGHT, before I clean up the nursery and head out into the garden. And do you know what I found THERE?”
“Not a garden full of happy and thriving plants?”
“WEEDS!” Lyndsay shouted, throwing her hands in the air. “Weeds around every — damned — plant! I’ve been out here ever since!”
“And I’m not even done yet! I still have to water, and harvest, not that I could even have done that if I wanted to until you came home and did your magic with some of the plants!” Ash could hear her teeth grinding from where he stood. “After spending a whole day trying to serve customers who can’t tell an overcooked rump roast from the most delicious steak, not sitting down since breakfast this morning — before I left — I come home to chaos! I don’t even remember the last time I ate, and I haven’t even given a thought toward mine or Bran’s dinner!”
“So, no,” Lyndsay said, taking a step closer and jabbing her finger into Ash’s chest, “I didn’t go crazy making sure your nephew was happy — as far as I was concerned if he wasn’t screaming, he was fine — and if that isn’t good enough for you, you’re going to have to find yourself another wife, because it’s the best I can do!”
“Lyndsay, don’t be silly … I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have made it sound like I was accusing you.” Ash sighed. “Maybe …”
“I don’t know … maybe I could talk to my father, have Roma move in for a bit to help you — help us — out with the little ones. Or Ella maybe.” He didn’t even suggest that Lyndsay quit her job at the tavern, knowing all too well that her salary was one of the only things keeping the family afloat. If anyone were to quit, it should by rights be him — King Arthur paid him what he was worth but that frankly wasn’t much — but he couldn’t quit, not if he wanted to retain the royal family’s protection for him and his family.
“Or,” Lyndsay replied, words clipped dangerously, “you could ask your other sister to stop by from time to time –”
“Lyndsay, Marigold has her own business to run –”
“Not during the daytime! And don’t tell me that she needs her rest — the last time you got into our bed was when Ginny was conceived — I know damn well that neither of you actually sleep!”
“But it’s too far to travel here and back everyday –”
“To take care of her own son?”
Ash winced — somehow, someway, no matter how the argument started or what it was about, it circled back to this. “If Marigold could take care of Thorn, she’d do it. We’re only doing it because she can’t.”
“Can’t, or won’t?”
“Can’t,” Ash growled. “And that’s the end of the matter, Lyndsay. She can’t.” He didn’t want to hear — not tonight — about all of Marigold’s “other options” for disposing of Thorn. Options like his father (not an option, since he was getting on and it was all-too-likely that he wouldn’t be able to see his grandchild grow up) or perhaps the church’s orphanage (not an option while Ash had a roof and food to provide any of his nieces and nephews). He sighed. “Why don’t you go inside and put your feet up … you’ve had a long day. I’ll finish this.”
Lyndsay blinked up at him. “Thank — thank you.” She heaved a sigh. “I could use a break.”
“I know. And — Lyndsay …” He tucked a hand under her chin and gently pressed his lips to hers. “It’ll be all right,” he said. “Somehow. Before you know it the kids will be all grown and we’ll have so much time that we won’t know what to do with ourselves.”
Lyndsay chuckled. “Somehow, Ash, I don’t think that time can come soon enough.”
PS: If you’re wondering about the treehouse comments, that’s because Ash, Lyndsay and co. live here. It’s an awesome house and great for Plantsims!