Imsdyn 15, 1015
The trouble with thinking is that it so often led your mind places where it didn’t necessarily want to go.
Ash watched the four eldest of his kids — Thorn, Betony, Ginny, and Bran — as they weeded and watered the vegetable garden. As always, his feet itched to go down there and talk the plants into good health, but he stayed rooted to the spot. Lyndsay said it was good for the kids to learn some responsibility. The arrangement was that Ash could swoop in to save plants that were dying or were failing to thrive, but otherwise, he left the vegetable garden alone. He supposed it was a testament to Lyndsay’s ideas and the kids’ green thumbs that most of the time, when the plants got into trouble, it was due to things the kids couldn’t do much about — disease and blight, over-watering thanks to the rain, insect infestations. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to step in and save a plant that wasn’t being weeded or tended often enough, or that was dying of thirst.
He supposed he owed that to Bran.
It wasn’t just that Bran was the oldest. Ginny was only two years behind him, and Thorn was only a couple of months behind Ginny. Ginny was a little mother hen in her way, and Thorn took better care of Marley than plenty of well-meaning adults took of their dogs. Bran … had a knack for planting and hoeing, for weeding and watering. He seemed to know without being told just what he had to do to keep each plant happy and healthy. Ash could teach a lot about plants to anyone who cared to listen, but he hadn’t taught this to Bran. Bran seemed to know it on his own.
And sometimes, when Bran was out there by himself, when he didn’t know anybody was around to listen, Ash would hear him talking to the plants. He was never close enough to make out the words, but he could hear pauses and lapses, like a normal conversation. Like what Ash did with the plants. Was Bran just copying him? He’d followed him around all the time when he was little, wanting to be “just like Papa.” Bran had outgrown that some years ago, and now that he was pushing twelve, it was probably a good thing. But sometimes Ash wondered …
Still, somewhere deep in the pit of his stomach, Ash knew one thing: whether Bran was just copying him, or whether he was just talking to himself as he worked, or whether he really had somehow picked up the language of plants … Bran would never reach his full potential if he was tied to this tree.
Ash swallowed and turned to go inside.
“Hallo, honey.” She looked up with a smile for him. Ash knew that with the littlest girls upstairs napping and the older kids all at work, this was one of the few times Lyndsay could rightfully claim for herself. She was using it to make dinner — that was Lyndsay’s way, never a moment wasted that could be put to good use. But that didn’t change that it was a rare quiet moment.
And Ash was going to ruin it. It needed to be done, but that didn’t make the sting of it fade. He didn’t bother telling himself that Lyndsay would be too exhausted to talk after supper was eaten and the washing-up was done and the kids were all asleep in their beds. She’d be having another baby in about three months, and this one was being exceptionally rough on his (or more likely, with their track record, her) mother. Ash would have to give that baby a stern talking-to once she (or he) was in his arms. For now, though, there was nothing to do but work around the baby, and that meant talking to Lyndsay in the afternoon.
She looked up as Ash crept closer to her. Her knife was able to fly over the vegetables — all produce from their garden, all the kids’ handiwork, more or less — without her so much as looking at it. Ash still didn’t understand how his wife had all her fingers, but he knew better than to ask. “Need somethin’?”
“Aye. Can we … talk?”
“Sure thing. What’s it ye’re needin’?”
“Er … can we talk sittin’ down? Without the knife in yer hands?”
Lyndsay turned to him with a raised eyebrow. “Is this where ye tell me that ye’ve been sneakin’ over ter yer sister’s when I’m asleep?”
“Heh.” That old joke. It stemmed from early in their marriage, when Ash had finally had enough of lying in bed night after night, unable to sleep, the only thing he could do to pass the time being to count Lyndsay’s breaths. So he would wait until she fell asleep, then clamber out of bed and go for night rambles. Lyndsay had been less than pleased to wake up in the middle of the night and find nobody by her side, and wandering all over the tree and not finding him had only made her more scared and angry. She’d yelled at him about it, they’d fought, Ash had stumbled and tried and mostly failed to make her see his point of view, and Lyndsay had finally burst into tears and admitted that she was afraid he was sneaking off to Marigold’s to while away the hours in another woman’s bed.
He’d managed to reassure her on that point — and once Bran and then the rest of the kids had started coming, Lyndsay had seen the value of a husband who didn’t sleep. He could be the one to get the crying infant out of the crib, bring it to her, help her sit up while she nursed and dozed at the same time. When the baby was done, he could burp him (or her) and put him back to bed. And if the baby needed to be changed, or washed, or just held and soothed, well, Ash would do that, and be glad of having something to do to help the long night pass away. So the old fear became a joke, though Ash still wasn’t sure who the joke was one.
“Well … no … but I don’t think ye’re gonna like what I’ve got ter say.”
Lyndsay’s eyebrows rose. But she did put down the knife and step away from the counter. “Oh boy. Well–we’d best get this over with, then, I’m guessin’.”
Ash nodded. They sat.
“So, husband-mine.” Lyndsay smoothed her apron over her knees and shifted to face him. “What is it that’s on yer mind?”
Ash swallowed. He’d thought a lot about this conversation — and he knew that the only way he’d be having it would be to approach it sidewise, like a crab. “Well … ye heard about me brother’s latest plans, aye?”
Lyndsay’s eyes narrowed. “Billy? The guardin’?”
Ash nodded. “Aye. He’s … well … he’s startin’ small, he is. Jest being taken on as a …” Ash tried to remember how his brother had described the job. It didn’t make much sense to Ash, walking around the more crowded streets of Avilion and making sure everybody had their bucket. Their bucket. Billy said it was about fire prevention, that having a bucket filled with sand or water and kept always by the door was an important part of citywide safety. Ash had just nodded and pretended he understood. “A bucket-checker?”
“Yer ma explained it ter me,” Lyndsay nodded. “Bucket-checker! But ye ain’t never lived in a city, Ash. Out here in the woods … well, unless it’s been a mighty dry summer or fall, a fire ain’t gonna get far. There’s too much wet stuff about. But in the city, near everythin’s wood, an’ one little spark from a stove gone wrong, an’ POOF! Next thing ye know, the whole city’s gone up!”
“Aye, that’s what Billy said,” Ash agreed. He still couldn’t claim to understand — or at least, he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live in an environment so precarious. “But this means he won’t be workin’ Sir Lancelot’s lands no more.”
“Oh, Kata said that won’t make no difference ter the taxes, if that’s what ye’re worryin’ about. Sir Lancelot, he told her that a man workin’ city watch is as good fer a tax break in his eyes as a man workin’ his lands. Maybe even more!”
“I know that too.” He knew, too, that Kata hadn’t been happy. She could have well afforded the extra taxes if Billy’s job change had resulted in her losing the tax break — but Billy didn’t necessarily know that, and she could have gotten him to think twice about guarding if she’d had that excuse. Kata, Ash knew, was a mother who preferred to be permissive most of the time, but somehow the thought of her only son making his living chasing after rogues and murderers didn’t appeal.
“But, but I was thinkin’ …” Ash went on, “since Sir Lancelot will be losin’ a laborer, he might be needin’ another … an’, well, Bran’s gonna be twelve in two months …”
“Twelve!” Lyndsay repeated. “I can’t be believin’ it, Ash! Our baby boy! He’s growin’ up so fast!”
“I know,” Ash replied, relieved that they were at least starting from a point of agreement.
“An’ the rest o’ ’em will be followin’ right behind …” Lyndsay sighed.
“Aye,” Ash agreed. “But–I was thinkin’–why don’t we axe Sir Lancelot — or axe Kata ter axe Sir Lancelot — if he’d like ter be takin’ Bran on?”
Lyndsay blinked. “Take Bran on?”
“Aye. After all — he’ll be needin’ somebody, won’t he? An’ it’ll give Bran a good opportunity ter work a bit, earn some money fer himself, learn ter manage it …”
“But surely there’s gotta be somethin’ closer ter home,” Lyndsay disagreed. “That’s a far walk. Would Bran even want ter be that far off?”
There was a solution to that — but Ash wasn’t willing to broach it yet.
“Besides, what about the King?” Lyndsay asked. “Surely there’s gotta be somethin’ the King could find fer Bran. He could be followin’ in yer footsteps, bein’ a gamekeeper. Ye could teach him everythin’ ye know. An’ yer friend Roy, maybe ye could get him ter teach him somethin’ about huntin’, too, so he can see it from both sides, as it were.”
Yes, a hunter, a gamekeeper — Lyndsay would like both of those things. But Ash felt deep in his bones that they were wrong, at least wrong for Bran. “Lyndsay, I can’t be teachin’ him all I know. An’ we both know that.”
Lyndsay’s face fell. “He’s yer only son, Ash.”
That was code for so much. How Bran wouldn’t be getting the tree, once Ash could no longer live here. How Ash had no land, not really, to leave to his son. How Lyndsay saw things that Ash had, that could be passed down — but how she couldn’t see why Ash wouldn’t. It wasn’t so bad, in Lyndsay’s point of view, to try to angle for Bran to get Ash’s job when Ash couldn’t do it anymore. Didn’t most men have perfectly normal gamekeepers? Would it be so bad for the King (or, more likely, Prince Thomas when he was King) to have one? Weren’t there hundreds of posts in every kingdom that were handed down from father to son, never mind if the son would never be quite as suited as the father?
Ash swallowed. “I know. But, Lyndsay–I don’t that … I think Bran’s got somethin’ of a — a gift. A real gift, Lyndsay! Only it ain’t with animals. It’s with plants.”
Lyndsay blinked. “Plants?”
“I think–I think he’s got somethin’ o’ a shine, Lyndsay. I hear ‘im talkin’ ter the plants–:
“Ash, lots o’ people talk ter plants–”
“Like I talk ter the plants. I think he can hear ’em, an’ talk back. Not ter all o’ the plants — not to the ones what are, well, wild — but the ones Sims grow? The ones that are raised from a seedlin’, by him? I think he can talk ter ’em.”
Lyndsay gasped. “Well–if he can, what a fine thing! We should axe ‘im–”
“No no no!” Ash grabbed Lyndsay’s hands, as if that would stop her from getting out of her chair and calling Bran inside. And, well, it did seem to still her for the moment. “I think this is somethin’ he’s got ter figure out on his own. At least–I don’t want ter go bargin’ in on ‘im. That wouldn’t be fair.”
“But–but if we talk ter ‘im, then we–all right, ye–can help ‘im with it, an’ we can see how he grows–”
“No. Lyndsay. He’s got ter figure this out on his own. I can feel it. If he’s wantin’ help, Lord knows I’ll be givin’ it ter ‘im! But I ain’t buttin’ in unless he axes.”
Lyndsay knew when something Ash said was final. It wasn’t often, but when it was–well, there it was. She nodded, probably because she’d run out of other things to say.
“An’,” Ash went on, “an’ I’m thinkin’ — if we put ‘im on a place like Sir Lancelot’s lands, where he’s got lots o’ plants ter be workin’ with, where he ain’t got nothin’ but plants ter be workin’ with … well, won’t that be all ter the good, ter help ‘im?”
“Maybe,” Lyndsay agreed in a tone that suggested she wasn’t really agreeing, she just didn’t have a good argument to counter what he was saying. She switched to a different tactic. “It’s still far, though.”
“He could live with Kata,” Ash replied. And held his breath.
This was the part she wasn’t going to like.
“Kata?” Lyndsay gasped. “What? Why?”
“We could find ‘im somewhere else ter work that’s closer ter home! He don’t have ter go live with Kata! Don’t the King have some lands he’s got bein’ worked fer ‘imself? Can’t Bran go there?”
“Because then he can’t be helpin’ Kata.”
“Helpin’ Kata? Ash, he’s twelve! Not even! He’s gonna be more harm than help ter her! At her age, she ain’t gonna be wantin’ another young’un ter be raisin’ on top o’ Billy and Rhoslyn!”
“I think she might.”
“Because Bran’s good with the plants. Because he could be takin’ care o’ her whole garden — includin’ herbs, Lyndsay. She wouldn’t need ter be comin’ ter me no more for her herbs. Bran could grow ’em.”
“Really? She’s gonna take in a rascally twelve-year-old–”
“Bran ain’t rascally!”
“He ain’t twelve yet! Ye watch an’ ye wait an’ ye see, Ash, when kids hit that age, their brains go inside-out an’ they start actin’ with less sense than a two-year-old, sometimes!”
Ash decided to take her at her word. “Maybe. But there’s more, Lyndsay. Kata’s gettin’ on in years. Now, Billy with the guardin’–he ain’t gonna be in the house much, or at least, not as much as he used ter. That jest leaves Rhoslyn with Kata. I’d feel better if there were someone o’ Kata’s kin what will be around more, too. So she’s got someone she can be leanin’ on if, Lord forbid, her health goes poorly.”
“That’s a lot o’ responsibility ter be puttin’ on Bran.”
“He can handle it.”
Ash shook his head. He wasn’t just saying it; he knew it, but that was a matter for another day. He finally took a deep breath and drew out his trump card. “Kata could help Bran, too. In ways we can’t.”
“Like what?” Lyndsay snorted.
“Like connections. Like knowin’ people. Like puttin’ Bran inter good places ter be talkin’ ter folks, folks what can help ‘im. Like …” Ash swallowed, knowing Lyndsay really wasn’t going to like this, but it needed to be said. “Like lettin’ the world start ter know ‘im as her grandson, not as our son.”
“An’ what’s that supposed ter mean, Ash Thatcher? Ye want our son ter be fergettin’ his roots?”
“Not him. I want everybody else ter, though. Not ferget about ye bein’ his mother, but ferget about me bein’ his father.”
“Ash! How can ye even be sayin’ that? Ye, the best man I ever met!”
“Because there are too many people who look at me like the scum on the sole o’ their boots, Lyndsay. I don’t want people lookin’ at Bran like that. I don’t want people thinkin’ o’ him as me son. If–if he can make a name fer himself, prove his talent on his own terms — if he’s as good as I’m thinkin’ he is, then people will like ‘im an’ admire ‘im, or at least they’ll admire the gift he’s got. An’ they’ll want ter help ‘im so he can help them. If they’re lookin’ at ‘im an’ seein’ jest a Plantsim’s son … well, they won’t do that, ’cause they’ll assume that everythin’ that’s right with ‘im is everythin’ that’s wrong with me.”
“Bloody hell, Ash, I hate it when ye talk about yerself that way.” Lyndsay looked away, wiping what looked like tears from her eyes. Ash lifted his hand to help, but she swatted it away. “I see good in ye. I see nothin’ but good in ye–well, most o’ the time,” she grumbled. “If everyone else only sees bad, what does that make me, eh?”
“Smarter than the average bear,” Ash replied with a ghost of a grin.
Lyndsay chuckled in spite of herself. “Ye loon.” She playfully nudged him.
“Does that mean ye agree?” Ash wheedled, even as his foot edged nearer to hers to caress it under the table.
“Oh, hell no! But …” Lyndsay bit her lip. “I’ll think on it. I’ll promise ye that much, aye? I’ll be thinkin’ about it. An’ I’ll be talkin’ ter Kata, ter be sure she’s all right with it.”
Ash found himself nodding.
“An’ I want another year with Bran,” Lyndsay went on. “Let’s see what kind o’ youth he grows inter before we’re promisin’ him away, aye? One more year with us, an’ then … well, we’ll see …”
That was probably the best he was going to get from her today. And it was better than he had expected. “Aye. That’s great, Lyndsay.”
“So ye say. Anyway, I need ter get dinner goin’.” Without another word, she shoved the chair away and stomped over to where she had left her cutting board and vegetables.
Maybe Ash’s hearing was simply sharper than the average Sim’s, but he couldn’t help but fear that those vegetables were being cut with more force and malice than they strictly deserved. He cringed. He’d done that, hadn’t he? Ruined Lyndsay’s good mood …
But it had to be said …
“Lyndsay?” he asked, getting up and edging closer to her. She’d finished her cutting and was tossing the vegetables into a pot already filled with water.
“I told ye I’d be thinkin’ about it, Ash. That’s the best ye’re gettin’ from me terday.”
“I know, Lyndsay. I jest want ye ter know I only want what’s best fer Bran. Fer all our kiddies. But–I wouldn’t even be suggestin’ this if I didn’t think it were best fer ‘im.”
Lyndsay had already picked up the pot, preparatory to putting it on the coals. She put it down. “Oh, Ash. I know that.” She shook her head. “I ain’t agreein’ with ye that it’s what’s best, but I know that’s what ye’re thinkin’.”
“So ye fergive me?”
Lyndsay turned to him with a smile that only went up on one side. “Oh–come here, ye loon.” She kissed him. “Aye, I fergive ye. I don’t agree, not yet, but I fergive ye.”
Lyndsay brushed his leaves off his forehead and smiled at him. “Ye’re welcome. Now, if ye really want ter be workin’ yer way back inter me good graces, ye’ll get those kids in an’ washed up. Dinner’ll be ready in two shakes o’ a lamb’s tail, an’ I know ye don’t eat, but this baby do, an’ this baby is hungry.”
Ash laughed. “Will do, honey.” He leaned in and kissed her nose. “Ye can count on me fer that much. Whatever ye an’ our babies need — that’s what’ll happen.”