Tyves 28, 1014
“Alix …” Jessie whispered, putting her hand on her baby’s tummy. “Alix. Wake up, sweetie.”
Alix yawned and blinked up. She was too little to smile yet. But none of her babies had ever been too young to look up at Jessie with wide, somehow very knowing eyes. They all got that from Will; Jessie was certain of that.
Alix wiggled in her swaddling. Jessie wondered how long it would be before she got restless and demanded to be let out of it. She was lucky enough to have a clean, well-kept nursery that she could keep her children in when they were too little to be entrusted to the castle generally. So when Corey had lost his patience with the swaddling at three months and Celeste as soon as Corey was no longer in it, it had been easy enough to take it off. Plenty of families didn’t have that luxury, especially once the babies wanted to be more mobile — look at Ada, still swaddling four-month-old Darya!
But surely Alix was too little to want to not be swaddled? Everyone said that young babies liked swaddling …
She could worry about that later. For now, Jessie had other fish to fry. “Come see Mummy,” she whispered to her younger daughter.
“Mummy?” asked Celeste from the play table.
“Aye, sweetie?” asked Jessie as she bounced Alix up and down.
“When Alix play with me?” Celeste asked. Corey looked up, too, adding his questioning gaze to his sister’s words.
“Not yet, honey,” replied Jessie. Telling Celeste and Corey that Alix would be playing with them “soon” had probably been one of the dumbest things she’d ever done as a parent, Jessie decided. Sure, it wouldn’t be long from a parent’s perspective before Alix was crawling, then walking, then finally running around with her big brother and sister and raising all kinds of hell. But from a not-quite-three-year-old’s perspective, Mummy’s “soon” was better characterized as “an eternity from now.”
“Eh, Celeste,” added Ada, “ye’ve got ter give it more time! Look, Darya’s so much bigger than Alix — but she ain’t gonna be playin’ with ye fer a while yet. Ye can still play with yer brother, though.”
Celeste pouted. “Want girl,” she replied.
“Poor Corey,” laughed Jessie. “You don’t get much respect around here, do you?”
Corey looked up with a smile that was just like Will’s. He pointed to the toy he was playing with. “Have wabbit!”
“Indeed, Lord Corey,” agreed Ada. “Who needs respect when ye’ve got a rabbit toy all ter yerself?”
Jessie barely had a time to laugh before someone knocked on the door. “Come in!”
In came Will.
Corey saw him first. “Daddy!” He threw down the rabbit — good thing it landed on the carpet — and hurried to his little feet, toddle-running for his father. The moment “Daddy” was out of Corey’s lips, Celeste had pushed back from the play table and was doing the same thing. Will only had a few seconds to brace himself for double impact, one twin around each leg.
Will laughed. Jessie was glad to see it — sometimes the only times she saw him laugh these days were when he was around the children. He was so tired all the rest of the time that a laugh just seemed like too much energy. But today was a good day — he was home before sunset, if only by a few minutes. “Hello, you two,” he replied. First he picked up Celeste and kissed her on the head, then Corey. “How are you today?”
“Good!” replied Celeste. Corey nodded.
“Were you good for Mummy and Ada?” he asked.
“Yes!” answered Celeste.
“No,” sighed Corey.
“Uh oh.” Will glanced between Jessie and Ada. “Which should I be more worried about?”
“Oh, they were fine, m’lord,” replied Ada. “Maybe there was a bit of mischief around naptime, but it weren’t nothin’ ter worry about.”
Will smiled, and that was all he had a chance to do before Celeste grabbed his hand and demanded, “Daddy! See my drawing!” And of course, once Will had admired Celeste’s drawing, he had to go see the block tower that Corey had constructed for Daddy to see. Then the three of them had to knock the block tower down, because now that Daddy had seen the tower, what else could they possibly do with it?
So it was a few minutes before Will was able to make his way over to Jessie and kiss her cheek, and then say hello to Alix. “Hello, sweetheart.”
“Say hello to Daddy,” said Jessie, holding Alix so she could get a better look at Will.
“She probably doesn’t recognize me,” Will murmured. Was Jessie even meant to hear that? “I’m barely ever here.”
“Don’t say that!” Jessie shifted Alix. “You know Daddy, don’t you, Alix?”
Alix blew a bubble from her lips. It popped. “See? That’s a yes.”
“Oh, you speak newborn now?” asked Will, eyebrows lifting.
“I’m her mother,” replied Jessie. “If mothers are to be believed, they always know what their daughters are thinking …”
She kissed Alix’s forehead. “Especially when their daughters want to be thinking precisely the opposite.”
She expected a laugh, or at least a chuckle, out of Will. But when she looked up, there was only a weak smile. “Will?”
He sighed. The last time he had looked this drawn, this worried, he had to tell her about the mission her father had given him to Glasonland …
“What’s wrong?” Jessie asked.
Will winced and bit his lip. “We’d best go down to the library.”
“It’ll be easier this way, Jess.”
Jessie took a deep breath — but instead of saying anything, she nodded, put Alix back in her cradle, kissed both the twins’ heads, took Will’s hand, and headed for the library.
They didn’t say a word until they were downstairs. Lancelot and Guinevere were already waiting for them. Lancelot looked miserable, Guinevere anxious … but mostly impatient.
As soon as Will and Jessie sat down, Guinevere began. “All right, you two.” She glared at her husband and son. “Spill. What’s going on here?”
Will winced. At least Lancelot was the first to try talking. “Well … you know there was a Council meeting today …” He took a deep breath. “And we have good news! The barons of Glasonland have accepted Constantine of Caernavon as King, and the Robertians have agreed to hold the coronation in St. Robert’s Cathedral! There! Isn’t that wonderful?”
“And?” asked Guinevere.
“There … has to be an ‘and’?” asked Lancelot weakly.
“Lance, honey, we wouldn’t all be sitting here if there wasn’t an ‘and.'”
Will took a deep breath preparatory to taking the heat off his father. Jessie squeezed his knee under the table. Will squeezed her hand. “His Majesty wants Jessie and I to be present for the coronation — and only the coronation — as his representatives. And,” Will went on before Guinevere could explode, “I’ve already accepted on my behalf.”
“He wants what?” Guinevere yelped. “Is he insane? The last time he sent you two out of the country, you got trapped and nearly killed in a war zone! Lance!” Guinevere looked at her husband.
“What?” Lancelot yelped.
“Didn’t you mention this to the King? Or do I have to go over there and give him a piece of my mind myself?”
“We — or possibly I — am only going to Camford, Mum. It won’t be far. It won’t be long.”
“How long were you two supposed to be gone the last time?” Guinevere challenged. “Don’t look at me like that, Will — Lance. I’m serious. The two of you almost got killed last time. I say that Arthur ought to — to share the wealth a bit. Let someone else worry about their son and daughter-in-law for months and months.”
“It will be weeks at the most, Mum,” Will promised.
“That’s still too long.” She looked at Lancelot. “There was nobody else he could have sent?”
“Honey, Will and Jessie are the best choice. They’ve both been there before — they met Constantine in person!”
“It would be a mark of high respect,” Will pointed out. “King Arthur’s own son-in-law sent to witness Constantine’s coronation. It would be a sign that we are still Glasonland’s friends and allies … despite everything. And there is no one else. Lamorak is up to his neck in affairs with his estate. Sending the Ferreiras might be construed as an insult, given … everything,” Will finished. “Sir Bors –“
“Oh, let’s not make this day worse than it is by bringing him up,” Guinevere rolled her eyes.
Finally, Will smiled, even if Lancelot winced. “Aye. And Sir Mordred …” He stopped.
“Isn’t trusted enough by the King,” finished Lancelot. He turned to Will. “I’ll say it if you won’t.”
“Pity,” muttered Guinevere. “If he got himself lost for months in Glasonland, I doubt he’d be much missed.”
Nobody laughed. Not Lancelot, who bit his lip. Jessie certainly not — she was too busy fighting back a chill that threatened to turn into a shudder. And Will? Will said nothing, and his face was as impassive as he could make it, but Jessie could hear the telltale pop of knuckles underneath the table.
And in the lull, Jessie found a reason to speak — and something to say. “If we went, we’d have to take Alix — and Ada, to watch her when we were at the coronation. And Darya, if Ada went. Did Dad consider that?”
“He understands. He told me that he would be happy to pay for all of our travel expenses — and anyone we might find necessary to take with us. I told him that wouldn’t be necessary –“
“Will! Let him pay!” Guinevere interrupted. “If you’re risking life and limb for him, the least he can do is pick up the tab.”
“Gwen,” Lancelot pleaded, but Guinevere would not be moved on this.
And Jessie? Jessie leaned back in her chair and tried to do some mental calculations.
If they had to make a quick escape — how would they do that? A broom could carry two, but not for too long or too far. Two and a baby would be fine, at least from the perspective of weight distribution if not “how does one hold a baby on a fast-traveling broom,” but three was out of the question. At least there were spells to help ensure that the babies were safe and secure, but the adults …
However … if she convinced Penelope to come along … that made two brooms. Two brooms, four adults, and two babies. If she kept in close magical contact with Ravenna while they were there, that was three brooms — four, if you counted her beau George Ferreira. Four brooms, six adults, two babies. And Apple Keep was not far from the border with Camford.
That was doable, if something needed to be done and done in a hurry.
“Seryl fifth?” Jessie heard Guinevere gasp.
“We just found out now,” Will said hurriedly. “Caernavon wants a coronation soon … and …” He pursed his lips together. “I think … he hopes the sanctity of the location will make up for the size of the crowd.”
And this, Jessie thought, is why Dad is willing to risk the Wrath of Guinevere to give you this duty, Will.
“It’s St. Robert’s Cathedral, Gwen,” added Lancelot. “Think — think of that. When’s the last time a King of Glasonland was crowned there?”
Guinevere nodded. The preferred location for Glasonlander coronations was St. Goopy’s Cathedral, right on the banks of the river in Ludenwic. The river made for an excellent way to arrange a dramatic entrance by barge … and, on more than one occasion in Glasonland’s history, a quick getaway for the newly crowned King. Apparently that advantage made the fact that the cathedral was reputedly the most badly-decorated in Glasonland palatable to the future monarch. But not so for Constantine of Caernavon.
… Maybe Emilia put her foot down. Jessie barely held back a snicker.
“I still don’t like this,” Guinevere went on. “Not after what happened last time. That trip was supposed to be short, too.”
“But …” Jessie replied. She glanced sidelong at Will, then jumped in. “I — Will, we couldn’t stay much longer than the coronation, could we? You’d have to come back.”
Will nodded. “Aye. I–I couldn’t stay away too long. Master Raben and Master Tower can run things for a few weeks, but longer than that …”
Guinevere narrowed her eyes, seemed to nod — and then let fly one last dart. “What about the situation with the Robertians?”
Silence. Jessie looked to Will and Lancelot. So did Guinevere.
Lancelot took a deep breath. “Arthur didn’t say anything about the Robertians.”
Lies — or, if not lies, certainly not the truth. Her father would have thought about nothing but the Robertians once he knew the venue of Caernavon’s coronation. He probably thought loudly enough that Will was able to eavesdrop and know the substance of what he wanted.
“But …” Lancelot turned to Will. “We’ve heard that the refugees are almost gone …? And you talked to the King after I left …?”
Will nodded. “If I’m asked, I’m to repeat to the Robertians that we will not allow Church gold to pass through Albion until the guards are removed from the border and travelers allowed free passage to Albion. However … the refugees are almost gone, as you said, Dad, and when they’re gone, the Robertians should remove the guards. And even if they don’t … the Glasonlander ports are starting to re-open.”
“It’s faster and cheaper to send the gold by sea,” Jessie filled in. “The point ought to be moot soon enough, Gwen.”
Guinevere glanced between the two of them. Then she sighed. “Good Lord, Jess. One lawyer in the family is enough. Don’t you get started on that, too.”
Finally, they had a reason to laugh.
“But …” Guinevere said as soon as the laughing was over. “I want to hear the truth from you, Will. How dangerous is this likely to be?”
“Not very — but we thought the same about the last time,” Will admitted. “However … this trip is much shorter. And it’s Camford.”
“And we can get out quickly if we have to,” added Jessie. Will, Guinevere, and Lancelot all turned to her in surprise. “I’ve already got it all planned out, sweetie.” She squeezed Will’s hand. “We just need to make sure we bring Penelope. And that we’re in close contact with Ravenna and George.” She glanced again at Lancelot and Guinevere. “We’d need the brooms.”
Lancelot’s eyes went wide. “What?” asked Jessie.
“I’m just imagining the look on the Robertians’ faces if they saw the lot of you hightailing it out of there on brooms …”
“Oh, Lord,” Will murmured. But Guinevere, at least, looked interested, and not in a horrified way, either.
“We managed to make it out of Ludenwic that way,” Jessie shrugged. And far too many other places, too. “In broad daylight, too. I think, if we have to make an escape that way, everyone will have too many problems on the ground to be worried about what’s happening in the sky.”
And there was another reason for getting George Ferreira involved. Dannie liked to talk about her little brother, and Jessie was happy enough to listen. So now she knew … if they needed to make a quick escape, then there would certainly be more problems on the ground than in the sky. George would make sure of that.
And by the look on Will’s face … he seemed to have an inkling of that. Apparently Dannie was not the only one who liked to share stories of her little brother. Freddy must have had his share of stories to tell, too.
“Well …” Both of them turned to look at Guinevere. Guinevere turned to Lancelot. “There’s no getting out of this, is there?”
“He already said yes,” Lancelot shrugged, nodding at Will.
‘And there’s no hope of getting you to stay behind this time, is there?” Guinevere asked Jessie.
Jessie shook her head.
“I’m still going to have a word with the King,” said Guinevere.
“I’m sure he’ll be happy to let you yell at him if it makes you feel better,” replied Lancelot.
“I’m sure he’s already gotten an earful from Alison,” sighed Guinevere. “All right, you two … if you insist on going off on another adventure, and if you doubly insist on taking my grandchild with you, hear this. You’d darn well better get back when you say you’ll be back, or else …”
Guinevere took a deep breath. “Lance and I will be coming after you — and there’s nobody between Dyfed and Ludenwic who wants to see that!”