“There’s a pretty Chloe,” Accolon cooed, bringing up the little girl to his nose. “Who’s the prettiest little girl? You are!”
“If Ravenna heard you talking like that, she might just be jealous,” Morgan pointed out.
Accolon turned to her with an expression that would be far cuter on Chloe or even Ravenna than it was on him. In a word, he stuck his tongue out.
“That might fall out if you keep it lolling like that,” Morgan pointed out.
Accolon actually managed a raspberry before he turned back to Chloe. Chloe, however, was giggling and squealing at the display like she had never seen anything funny before in her life. And even though she was only a few days old, she had seen funny things before. Accolon had been making funny faces at her ever since he had recovered from the specter of Father Hugh in labor enough to be trusted to hold the baby.
Or at least … one of the babies.
“You know, Pascal,” Morgan whispered into the other baby’s ear, “if I didn’t know better, I’d say that you weren’t nearly as appreciated around here as your sister is.”
“I heard that!”
Morgan didn’t answer, too busy holding this baby close to her cheek and smelling his sweet skin. There was nothing quite like the smell of a new, clean baby — although there wasn’t anything quite like the smell of a new, messy baby either, as she was swiftly rediscovering. Even Accolon at his worst couldn’t compete with that.
If she closed her eyes and only let her other senses tell her about this baby, there was nothing to tell her that she was holding a fae child and not a full Sim-baby. His skin was as soft and smooth as Ravenna’s had been when she was this age. He whimpered and cooed, and yes, cried just as she had. And now, when she rested him on her shoulder, he nestled and rooted and rubbed his tiny hands against the velvet of her dress just as she had. Chloe did the same. The only difference — and it was a slight one — was that the babies’ skin was slightly cooler to the touch than Ravenna’s or any other fully Sim baby.
Morgan had expected them both (insofar as she had expected a both) to be so different from what she was used to. And she was prepared to love them anyway. When they were identical to touch and hearing and smell to any other baby she had ever touched or heard or smelled, how could she do anything other than fall completely in love with them?
But the course of true love never did run smooth.
The obstacle was sitting on the bench in the corner, quietly pining away. If only he hadn’t been so withdrawn and depressed since the birth, Morgan could bring herself to hate him, or at least see him as an enemy. But there was apparently too much of the healer in her to turn away from any creature who needed care.
Then again — the twins, too, needed care. And Father Hugh did not seem inclined to provide it.
As always when that thought crept into Morgan’s mind, she grabbed it, pinned it down, carried a white candle up to it and examined it. Was she thinking this because it was true, or because it was so convenient? If Father Hugh didn’t want the twins, then there would be no reason why she and Accolon couldn’t take them. They were the best people to have the babies, surely!
She could not long go on thinking like this. Else the hope would become a need, and she would no longer be able to examine the matter rationally. So she kissed Pascal on the top of the head and set him down in his basket.
Then she went to talk to his father.
The good Father looked up with something approaching a smile when Morgan materialized by his side. “Daughter.”
“Father,” Morgan replied. “How are you doing?”
“Quite well. Not even sore anymore.”
He hadn’t been sore for very long after his pains ended. Morgan suspected that that was because the pains were simulated, the products of fae humor. They were not the real contractions of muscles that were but rarely used. Once the fae had made their point, the pains were gone, hopefully never to return.
“I’m glad,” Morgan replied. “But I didn’t just mean physically.”
She would have been deaf not to hear Accolon murmuring baby-talk to Chloe as he put her in her basket and then shambled over to Pascal’s basket. So he wanted to know how this would go. Well, she should consider herself lucky that he was letting her take the lead on this, considering how badly he wanted these babies.
At the same time, though, she would have been blind not to notice how Father Hugh refused to meet her eyes after she asked her question.
All the same, Morgan waited.
“I am … I would hesitate to say that I am ‘fine,'” he replied finally. “I have been away from my flock for a long time.”
“You’re worried about them?”
“It has not escaped my notice that after Lord Lot’s death, Lady Morgause started to indulge in kidnapping and attempted murder …”
“Father …” Morgan sighed. “I don’t know whether to tell you not to worry yourself or not to kid yourself. I don’t think you could have stopped her.”
“Perhaps with proper spiritual guidance …”
“I’m sure Brother Tuck did his best.”
“But all the same –”
“Father, don’t make me be blunt.”
She almost thought this did it — Father Hugh seemed to deflate, leaning back against his chair with a sigh, his hands falling limp by his side. Then his curiosity got the better of him. His eyes peeked up at her from their corners. “… Blunt how?”
“Blunt, as in telling you that the only way you could have stopped my sister was to have some foreknowledge of what she was going to attempt, and preventing her from laying hold of Thorn or any other half-forgotten child.”
At least she wasn’t being so blunt as to tell him that it was only something he would see as a worse wrong than the murder of four-year-old children that kept the situation with Morgause from being worse.
Father Hugh bit his lip. “Lady … Lady Morgause cannot be the only one of my flock who needs guidance and support. I … I must be getting back.”
He leaned forward, sighed, and massaged his own face. “Lady Morgan … even a monk hearing a confession does not force his flock to admissions that pain them and do nothing to bring them closer to Our Lord Wright. That sort of work is reserved to the torturers.”
“I’m not a monk. Or even a nun. I’m a witch, and a healer, and your hostess.”
“And the adoptive mother of my …” Father Hugh went silent.
“My children,” Father Hugh finally whispered. It was the first time he had referred to the twins as such since he had named them.
It was only knowing that that kept Morgan from doing a dance about the room at the words adoptive mother. She had no idea how Accolon managed to restrain himself.
However, to force him to dwell on the my children would do nobody any good. Still, Morgan swallowed when she repeated, “Adoptive mother?”
“Please, Lady Morgan, do not … do not underestimate my learning. I have heard enough tales to know that when a witch offers you her aid, there is always a price.”
“No. No, Father, it wasn’t like that. I can’t speak for the witches of the old wives’ tales, but I never — we never –”
“But this is what you wanted, is it not?” Father Hugh asked. “That’s why you offered to help? Both of you? Please don’t lie to me.”
“I … I would be lying if I tried to pretend that we both weren’t hoping that you might want to leave the — the baby with us.”
“And so now you get what you want. And I–”
“But it wasn’t like that, Father!” Morgan protested. “We wouldn’t have refused to help if you wouldn’t consider giving the twins up to us!”
“My dear,” Father Hugh replied gently, “if I had no thought of giving the children up, I should not have needed your help.”
“Father. You were expecting a fae child.”
Father Hugh raised his hand. “Peace. I probably — no — certainly would have needed your medical assistance, if you were kind enough to give it. I apologize for misspeaking. But if I ever truly intended to raise the children myself, I would not have needed you to hide me like this.”
The old man was either trying to kid one of them — Morgan, Accolon, himself — or he really was too naive for words. Morgan heard a rustle of cloth that was probably Accolon rising to tell him that in so many words, but luckily Chloe made a sound that was near enough to a whimper for Accolon to shuffle over to her to see what was the matter. That gave Morgan a chance to take a deep breath. “Father Hugh …”
Father Hugh watched her with blue eyes that barely blinked.
“Father, if you want to keep your — your children, it’s still not too late. Accolon and I won’t –”
“Please, don’t lie and tell me that you won’t be upset to take them with you.”
“No. No, I wouldn’t tell you that. But we won’t stop you. If you want to take them and begin a new life, or even take them to the — to the orphanage, so you could–”
“Morgan!” Accolon wailed.
“I will not take them to the orphanage. No. They deserve two parents who will love them. If I can give them nothing else, I can give them that.”
Morgan thought of the countless hours Accolon had already spent playing one or the other, feeding them, changing them, and all the hours she too had already spent …
Oh, she and Accolon would love these babies. There could be no question of that.
She settled onto the bench next to Father Hugh, but before she dared herself to speak again, she glanced toward the nearest basket, where Pascal lay trying to “walk on the sky” Accolon had termed it when one of the babies tried to kick in the air. She could not imagine how he or his sister would fare in an orphanage. Morgan could see that they were too similar to normal babies to be afforded an iota less of care and love. But she could see that because she had been so close to them, had heard them, touched them, snuggled up against them. Other Sims, who would only be able to trust the evidence of their eyes and not their other senses, would not be able to see that.
Father Hugh seemed to think the same thing, for he said, “I — I do not know who, or how, would be done more of a disservice by them being brought to the orphanage. Them — being denied the love and care they will get from being right here. Them by being exposed to the fear and hatred of their fellow-Sims, who will not understand these children at all. Or the other children, who might … might get into the crossfire, once the crossfire begins. And it would begin, if they were in the orphanage.”
“And they’re a boy and a girl,” Morgan murmured, not quite sure what she was saying but allowing herself to say it anyway. “They’d be thrown into separate dwellings before they were four. That’s not fair. That’s not fair for any siblings, but especially not for twins.”
“Especially twins such as these. They will need each other. There will be none quite like them in the whole of the kingdom.”
“They are more than unique, Lady Morgan, and well you know it. In fact …” He sighed. “Not only would I be selfish to keep them by me by putting them into the orphanage, I cannot help but feel that the point would be moot in any case. We should soon have to beg you to take the children, for there is no doubt in my mind that their fellow Sims would not long suffer their presence out among them, unprotected.”
Perhaps he wasn’t so naive, then. But Morgan felt called to protest anyway. “You think there are many out there who would try to harm babies, because they were different?”
“No, I do not think there are many. But I have spent too much time out and about the other Sims not to know that it only takes one fool to work up other fools, and only a few fools to incite a mob. And then what would happen to these two, never mind all the other children in the orphanage?”
“I don’t know,” Morgan replied, for she could not quite bring herself to admit that she could imagine, and that only too easily.
“Nor do I,” the good Father whispered.
Morgan gulped. “But Father … even if you are sure you want to leave them with us, this doesn’t have to be goodbye. You’ll still be welcome to see them whenever you wish to. You can –”
“No — at least — not right away. No. I told the kingdom I was going on a pilgrimage. I need to be true to my word, for them if not for myself.”
“So I shan’t be in your hair for much longer. Give me another day or two to prepare for my journey, and I shall be gone.”
“But don’t you want to see the twins baptized?”
“I …” He swallowed. “I think I have trespassed on your hospitality long enough.”
“Father, we wouldn’t dream of chasing you out.”
“You’re not what’s chasing me away. I am thinking, you see, of them.” He nodded to the two baskets. “You see …” His voice was uncharacteristically thick. “You see, if you say that you found them, other Sims will expect you to have them baptized. If I were to see it, or to do it before I left, then you could not. And then there would be questions, and difficulties, and it would make their lives even harder … you know, even if you want to name them differently –”
“We wouldn’t dream of it,” Morgan replied, swinging an arm over his shoulder and hugging him, even as she smiled at Accolon. “They’ll be Pascal and Chloe for now and for always. And you will always be welcome to see them.”
Still, Father Hugh was true to his word, and he left a very few days later.
Morgan and Accolon stood nervously holding the babies as he prepared to take his leave. Father Hugh seemed every bit as nervous, rubbing the back of his neck and clearly preparing himself for a speech of some kind. Accolon was already making a face at the prospect of being sermonized.
“I … I suppose there are no words to thank you for what you’ve done to me. You enabled me to keep my life’s work, my … my vows that are more sacred than any ties of kinship, or life itself. Thank you. Thank you.”
“Aww, don’t thank us, Father,” Accolon interrupted. He tickled Pascal’s tummy. “We’ve got our reward.”
“What? The Lord Wright helps those who help their fellow Sims, doesn’t he?”
The good Father did his best to smile. “I — I have no doubt that I could not find better hands in which to place these … two,” he murmured.”
“And now we must thank you, Father,” Morgan replied. “For the compliment, if nothing else.”
“And there is nothing else. Well!” He put on his best rictus-grin and leaned closer to Morgan — or more accurately, to Chloe. “I suppose I must say farewell to these two. Goodbye, Chloe! Or … au revoir, as the Gaulish say. You will be so much bigger when I see you next!”
Chloe began to whimper — whether at her father’s strange look, or because she was somehow able to understand that this was a far more permanent goodbye than Father Hugh was indicating, Morgan would never know. It was all she could do not to whip Chloe from her father’s gaze, put the baby on her shoulder and try to comfort her.
But Father Hugh turned away from Morgan and Chloe before she could expel many resources in fighting that temptation. (So she promptly gave into it.) He turned to Pascal. “And you, my lad. I suppose I ought to tell you to be good, and to take care of your sister, and … yes, to be a good boy for your mother and your father.” He made the sign of the plumbbob over the little boy’s head before he looked up at Morgan and Accolon with a watery smile.
Pascal, however, seemed to regard Father Hugh with a gaze he could have only gotten from his fae parent. Father Hugh never looked at anyone so frankly, so curiously, and so unashamed in his curiosity.
“Well,” Father Hugh said softly. “Farewell. To all of you. Have — have Brother Tuck baptize them, won’t you?”
“Of course we will, Father,” Accolon replied. On the off chance they had time to do anything in their bed but sleep over the next few months, Morgan would see to it that he was suitably rewarded for that generosity.
“I shall see all of you in a few months,” the Father continued, taking a step backward. “In the meantime — take care of each other!”
“And you take care of yourself,” Morgan admonished him gently.
Father Hugh managed a watery smile, then he turned around very quickly and hurried down the steps.
Leaving Morgan and Accolon holding the babies, and unable to be as happy as they thought they ought to be.