“Chlo-ey. Chloe-baby. Chloe-darling. Daddy’s little Chloe …” Accolon sighed. His daughter still wouldn’t look up from her chalk drawing. “Chloe!”
That last one — more yelled, unfortunately, than spoken — did make Chloe look up. And while her oral vocabulary wasn’t quite advanced enough to say, I heard you the first time, would you just get on with it stop bothering me?, her eyes and little snort were able to say all that and more.
But Accolon was a zombie, and zombies had license to be a little unpleasant when it suited them. Besides, he was the daddy around here, and that meant he didn’t need to put up with toddler stubbornness. “Have you seen your big sister, baby?” he asked, tousling Chloe’s little curls.
Chloe only looked up at him, brows knit in confusion. “Ravenna?” he asked. “Where’s Ravenna?”
It was a cute little nickname; Accolon only wished he had thought of it when Ravenna was of an age to use it to refer to herself. “Aye, where’s Wenna?”
“Over dere!” Chloe said, pointing. Accolon kissed the top of her head and hurried over.
And there was his big baby girl, taking on the arduous task of keeping Pascal entertained. Well, she had to be here; Accolon had checked the rest of the house and she wasn’t anywhere else. While he did not move very quickly, he doubted that Ravenna could have evaded him that successfully.
He tilted his head to one side, eyes narrowed. The odd thing was, watching his son watch Ravenna’s seeking fingers, he couldn’t help but get the feeling that Pascal was only humoring Ravenna, not the other way around. Odd, that. But the twins did seem to — what was Morgan’s word? Ah, self-entertain — better than Ravenna had at that age. Ravenna always wanted to be close to her parents, was always showing them her blocks or her bunny head or her drawings. And she had been a bit more of a stationary baby, too, according to Morgan. She hadn’t really crawled at all, just learned to walk when the time was right. Whereas the twins had learned to roll over and every moment since then was spent expanding the frontiers of their own mobility.
If either of them ever got a good look at Morgan on her broomstick, Accolon knew they would all be toast.
“Did you need something, Dad?” Ravenna asked, tickling Pascal’s tummy. Pascal proved that he and his big sister were not entirely different by laughing just as Ravenna always had.
“Just wondering where you were,” Accolon replied. “And I wanted to know if you planned to stay for dinner.”
“I thought I would go back over in the morning?” Ravenna glanced over her shoulder at him. “Is that all right with you and Mum?”
“Is that all right?” Accolon asked. “Is that all right?” All three of his babies under one roof — and not just for one night, either, but three nights in a row? When was the last time that had happened? And more to the point, who knew when it would happen again?? “Of course it’s all right!”
Ravenna flashed him a smile that made her look just like her mother and turned back to Pascal. “Do you hear that, cutie? I’m staying the night!”
“‘Gain?” asked Pascal.
“Yes, of course again!”
Again? Accolon wondered. When’s the last time Ravenna stayed three nights in a–
The last time Ravenna had stayed over three nights in a row was the last time she had come home for a weekend. And again, she wanted to stay. “Ravenna, could you come here a minute? And, uh, leave your brother?”
“Sure, Dad!” She put Pascal down, and Accolon had to smile a little as she bid him farewell.
Then Ravenna bounced up and turned to him. “What do you need?”
Accolon’s tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Damn it, how was he supposed to say this? Morgan was the one who knew about — aboutfeelings and things like that!
Oh, well. When it doubt — jump in feet-first and hope everything works out. “Ravenna, are you … are you happy at school?”
Ravenna blinked. “I, um –”
“It’s just, I couldn’t help but notice — well, when you get a weekend home, you seem to take full advantage. And while I appreciate the compliment, I also know how little you like getting up in the mornings, and if you’re doing that … I think there must be a reason, that’s all.”
“Well, I … I just want to spend as much time with Pascal and Chloe as I can. That’s all. You know. Get to know them better.”
Was that all it was? Did Accolon feel stupid now. Of course she’d want to spend time with her little brother and sister. They were a hell of a lot cuter than anyone at that school of hers. And she had always wanted a little brother or sister —
If that was what it was, why wouldn’t she meet his eyes when she said it?
“Ravenna?” Accolon asked. She peeked up at him through her long lashes. He pushed a curl of hair out of her face. “Is that all it is?”
“Well …” She shrugged. “I also …”
Accolon raised his eyebrows and tried to make his expression as inviting as possible.
She smoothed the front of her gown and sighed. “George is always a bit — insufferable when I get back after a weekend home. He always wants to know why I didn’t sneak away to the Tricross to — to hang out with him and his friends. And Dilys. But she’s the sister of …” Ravenna shrugged. “His — his sweetheart, so I guess she counts as one of his friends.”
Accolon blinked. He didn’t have conscious memories of what it was like to be Ravenna’s age, but there was something in the way she said sweetheart — something that tugged at a string of remembrance no mere spell could destroy. Maybe he couldn’t remember faces or names or dates or even events, but he could remember feelings. And he was pretty certain he could remember what it was like to be panting after a pretty young thing and have her not know him from Bob. If Accolon hadn’t gotten some long, drawn-out experience with hell, he would have said that it felt like that.
“Is that all?” he asked.
“We get along a lot better now,” Ravenna replied, almost apologetically, “but … well. He still likes to push my buttons. I wish he would stop.”
“Hmm.” Accolon wished he would stop, too, if only because his daughter wasn’t old enough to be having her buttons pushed by a boy. But good luck convincing Ravenna of that — or George — or Morgan, for that matter. “Well, maybe he still needs to grow up a bit.”
“Maybe,” Ravenna agreed, or at least, her words agreed. The unimpressed shrug she gave didn’t quite make it all the way to agreement. “But … there is another reason.”
Another reason? What kind of other reason?
“An ulterior motive, I guess you might say,” she continued, her smile wide and practically begging him to play along.
“Ulterior motive?” he answered, complying. “Are you trying to hit your poor mother and I up for cash? Or is it something more direct? A new dress?” Accolon pondered his daughter’s character and named something she might actually be interested in getting. “Some books?”
“Well, it does have to do with books — but I wasn’t going to ask for any. Unless you want to give me some …”
“Oh, no! The Bank of Dad is closed!” Accolon laughed. “All applicants should try again at the Bank of Mum.”
“Dad! As if Mum would tell me no!”
“Well, that’s kind of the point, honey. You get your books, I don’t have feel like I should tell you ‘no’ to, I don’t know, build character or something, and I also don’t have to have a minor attack of apoplexy when I give you a whole silver piece or two and you look up at me and say, ‘Dad, that’s not enough.’ Everybody wins!”
“I can’t help it that books are expensive!” Ravenna giggled.
“I know you can’t, honey, but you could pick up a less expensive hobby.”
“And what would that be?”
Accolon let his gaze drift upward, making a great show of pondering the question. “… Semiprecious stone collecting?”
“Hey, at least those are worth more when you’re ready to get rid of them! A book gets worth less and less every time you turn the page!”
“That’s not true! It depends on what the book is!” Ravenna countered. “Though … funny enough, what I want to talk to Mum does have to do with books. I was hoping …” she started, and clammed up.
“You were hoping?” Accolon prodded.
“Dad?” she whispered. “Do you — do you know where our last name came from?”
Accolon’s jaw fell. He blinked so quickly that his vision grew watery and blurred. He gulped.
Then he looked around the nursery. Pascal and Chloe both were playing, absorbed in their own tasks and paying them no mind. It was not often that he was forced to reflect on the fact that his two youngest children were not his by blood. When you were a zombie and your wife a witch, a pair of greenish-skinned babes didn’t seem so very odd. But when you had some certain things to say … well, then you started to wonder just what it was that your blue-skinned babes could hear, and who else could hear what they heard.
“Let’s have a seat,” Accolon replied, hoping that would be enough to keep their conversation private.
It wouldn’t — especially since Ravenna chose the couch just by the stairs — but Accolon sat next to her anyway, trying to think of a way out of this.
Could he — or rather,should he — just send her to Morgan? It was the surname Morgan had chosen, after all. Surely Morgan would be in a better position to explain than him. Maybe it should be her, anyway. Maybe it wasn’t any of Accolon’s business.
Except it was, because it involved Ravenna. If Morgan’s long-ago hunch was right, then it wasn’t just Accolon’s younger two children who he had to … watch out for, but his oldest as well. If that didn’t make it Accolon’s business, nothing would.
But perhaps he should do some reconnaissance before passing the hot potato along to Morgan. “Honey, why do you want to know about … our name?”
“I’m doing a project for school …”
A project for school! Was that all this was? Well, then he could send her toddling off to Morgan without any conflict of conscience. Just a project for school!
“Looking up — magical genealogy, is that it?” Accolon replied. “I can tell you that you didn’t get anything from my family. We’ve all got the same magical capacity as a rock.” He reconsidered that. “At least, I think we do. I know none of Martin’s kids ever showed any potential for anything unusual.”
“That’s actually not what the project is about, Dad.”
“… Oh?” Then what was it about?
“The Emryses … they said …” Ravenna bit her lip. “Well, in some ways, it — it seemed like they were telling us — George and me — that we could work on anything we wanted. Except that’s not what they said.”
“Then what did they say?” And where was she going with this?
“They said our projects should be on whatever we felt we needed to know.”
Accolon’s brows knit. He knew how witches and wizards worked — he had only been married to one for fifteen years, practically his whole life that he could remember. And they placed a lot of emphasis on words. What Ravenna needed to know …
“And what was it you felt you needed to know about?”
“The — the –” Ravenna glanced over her shoulder, first at her brother, then at her sister. “The Gentry.”
“Ah. Them.” And Accolon looked at Pascal and Chloe as well.
“Because of, well, everything,” Ravenna added, shrugging.
Accolon nodded. It wasn’t like he couldn’t imagine why Ravenna might want to know about the Gentry. Sure, they were mysterious and dangerous, but … well, when you had two miniature ones in the house, any sane person would wonder. Any cautious person would realize that now was the time to find out a little more, before too much time passed. Before it could, quite possibly, be too late.
“And I was wondering …” Ravenna continued. “Everything I read says that it’s — it’s very dangerous to say their — their real name. It might attract their attention, and if you attract their attention, they might … well, they might come and see who you are and what you’re doing. And that …”
“Could be bad,” Accolon finished for her.
“Aye. But we — you and I and Mum, and Pascal and Chloe too, someday — we say their name every time we introduce ourselves. And we make other people say their name, too, when they want to get our attention. Why?”
Accolon sighed and took a deep breath. Should he just send her on to Morgan? This was Morgan’s question to answer …
But Ravenna wanted to know. And Accolon figured that she had a right to know. And Morgan — Morgan, who could be so forthcoming about so many things, she might not tell Ravenna. She might think her safer in ignorance. And well she might be.
Accolon took a deep breath. “Come on, Ravenna. Follow me.”
Ravenna jumped up. “Dad? Where are we going?”
Accolon looked over his shoulder and shot her a reassuring smile. “It’s not because of any …” He paused. “Any fear of listeners. It’s because … well, it’s because there’s a book downstairs that I want you to have a look at.”
“Oh!” Ravenna skipped after him, happy enough now that there was a book involved. Or at least, happy enough that Accolon wasn’t suggesting they needed to change locations or else the Gentry would hear them speak.
If the Gentry could hear them speak in the nursery, though, they could hear them speak downstairs. The only room more strongly warded than the nursery was Morgan’s workroom, or else Ravenna’s bedroom.
Still, considering where he was going to be getting this book from, maybe the Gentry still wouldn’t hear. He limped across the dining room to the revolving bookshelf that served as the entrance of Morgan’s workroom … and also, because she was a practical soul, as a repository for books.
He crouched and began to look.
“Can I help? What’s the title?”
“Doesn’t have one — it’s an old … well, it’s an old notebook.” Accolon didn’t say of your mother’s, because that would just lead to questions and he didn’t quite know how to answer those questions yet. “The cover is red. Very red.” It was red because the notebook had been a gift from Morgause, back when Morgan and Morgause halfway got along. Of course, the red notebook had been a bit of a jab — because everyone knew what you should put in a deep red notebook. Morgause had doubtless been gloating over the fact that Morgan hadn’t have any escapades of that nature to record yet.
Rather ironic, really, when one considered Morgause’s reaction to Morgan’s first and only red-notebook-worthy escapade.
Finally, Accolon saw it. He breathed a sigh of relief — he had started to fear that the book was on the other side of the shelf. He picked it up. “Here it is,” he said, slowly standing.
Ravenna held out her hand, but Accolon put the book on the table. He turned to Ravenna and took a deep breath. “I don’t want you to start to read it yet. I want you to ask your mother about … ask her what you asked me. Then, if she doesn’t answer,” Accolon nodded to the book. “You know where the answers are. I’ll put the book in your bag.”
“Why — why wouldn’t Mum answer? And what’s in that –” Ravenna edged toward the book, but Accolon slapped his hand down on it.
“It’s …” Accolon chewed his lower lip. “It’s an old collection of … research notes that your mother took when she wasn’t much older than you.” He allowed a smile to peek through. “On magical genealogy, of all things.”
“You mean she found out which of our ancestors were magical?” Ravenna’s eyes lit up as she glanced at the book again. “Who? I know Grandmother Igraine was, and her mother, but I don’t know anybody farther back than that.”
“Aye,” Accolon agreed. He wouldn’t — couldn’t — say more. That was Morgan’s job, if she chose to accept it.
But he knew why Ravenna’s knowledge of her magical genealogy didn’t go back farther than her mother’s grandmother. It was because, as far as Morgan could determine, her magical ancestry didn’t go back any farther.
Morgan’s great-grandmother had had, as far as Morgan could determine, an interesting life. Oh, it had seemed normal enough on the surface. A young girl of noble stock, married off when she was younger than Ravenna to a man three times her age. Morgan’s great-grandmother was the man’s second wife, and he already had an heir, so he hadn’t paid her too much mind. He only spent enough time with her to sire four or five children on her, and other than that, spend most of his time in the capital, serving the King.
But one of those children was different. One of those children — Morgan’s grandmother, the first Ravenna — came out with black hair and crystal silver eyes. Her parents, or at least, her parents on paper, were a red-haired lord and his blonde lady. And she had magic.
And there was someone … someone very intriguing in that little village. Morgan had scoured the birth, marriage, and death records, searching for something, anything, that could explain the mystery of her grandmother’s parentage or her magic. And in the baptismal records, she found something. It didn’t look too odd, at first. Just a little boy born to a woodcutter. But there were some … anomalies. First of all, there was no mother listed. No marriage record for the woodcutter, either. And there was a note right below the record, too:
Practically bathed childe in holye water. Greenish tint to skin remaineth. So doth childe.
What was more, the greenish-skinned child was right about the same age as Morgan’s great-grandmother. And everyone knew the Gentry and their half-Gentry babes had magic. They also had a certain ethereal beauty, and while Accolon didn’t know whether the first Ravenna had it, he did know pretty well that all of her female descendents in the modern day had it.
Like his Ravenna. “Dad?”
“Why … why do you want me to know this, if you don’t think Mum will tell me?”
Accolon glanced at the book. “Your mother wasn’t much older than you were when she found this all out. If she was old enough to go digging in dusty church libraries and find out … what she found out, then I think you’re old enough to read her notes. But,” Accolon shrugged, “she might tell you. One never knows with your mother.”
“Aye …” Ravenna glanced again at the book, biting her lip. “Daddy?”
Daddy? He didn’t get called that very often these days — the twins weren’t old enough to force both syllables out, and Ravenna … well, Ravenna didn’t call him that very often. “Yes?”
She hurtled into him and locked her arms around his neck. “Thank you.”
Accolon breathed in a deep draught of his daughter’s flower-scented hair. “You’re welcome, baby.”