Gallus was waiting for them a short distance away from the tree. “Ahh, there you are, Lady Dauris. I was beginning to get worried about you.”
She grinned and ran up to him for a hug. There were days, oh, there were days she loved being a child and having a child’s freedom. Short bodices notwithstanding. He lifted her into his arms and hugged her as tightly as he would any of his grandchildren, and then reached out and ruffled Illian’s hair for good measure. Illian glowered but endured it because adults were always doing that to him.
“Has the baby gotten here?” Dauris asked in an excited voice. Gallus’ daughter-in-law was expecting another grandchild for him any day now and Dauris was almost as excited about it as Gallus was.
Gallus grinned and nodded. “A messenger just found me not even an hour ago. If you are willing to let me lead your wanderings then we might be able to go see them.”
Dauris grinned and clapped her hands. “Please?” She looked over at Illian. “I gotta go see the baby!”
Illian grinned. “May I come, too, Sir Gallus?”
Gallus nodded. “Yes, young lord, I don’t see why you couldn’t come too.”
— — —
Gallus’ son, Krecian, was waiting for them at the house that they kept in town. He grinned at his father’s approach with the two children in tow. “I see that you brought friends this day, Father!”
Gallus laughed. “They insisted.”
Dauris shouted out eagerly. “Merchant Krecian! Where’s the baby?”
They all laughed. “Sleeping,” Krecian told her, “and I am threatened against my life if I wake her.”
“Babies sleep better when there’s noise around them, or they’ll never be able to sleep through anything when they’re older.” Dauris paused. “Her? The baby’s a girl?”
Krecian nodded and led them through to the room where his wife rested. Dauris immediately calmed down when she saw the tiny bundle, her eyes going wide and taking on a strange longing.
She walked up to the new mother respectfully and bowed. “May I… may I hold the baby?”
At a smiling nod, Dauris sat down carefully and reached her arms out to receive the bundle. She looked down into the crunched and wrinkled face and smiled. “Oh, you are precious,” she whispered.
Illian looked at the little baby and frowned a bit. “She’s so small, and so wrinkled.”
Dauris grinned at her brother. “She’s been squeezed in a very confining space for as long as she can remember. You were wrinkled when you were born, too.”
The tiny child blinked her eyes open and looked up at Dauris and the Princess smiled at her. “Hello, little one, welcome. Life is going to be very confusing for a while, and you are going to be very frustrated sometimes as you learn to communicate with those around you, but you have a good family and you have brothers to protect you and that is a great deal there.” For a moment Dauris felt a bit of frustration of her own. The child was important; she was of great importance, but without her senses and her abilities that were sealed, she couldn’t tell how. She sighed and held the child a moment longer until she started making unhappy sounds. With great reluctance she gave the child back to her mother. “She’s hungry and I don’t have what she wants.”
There was soft laughter as the mother began to carefully nurse her child.
— — —
Marus carefully mounted the winding steps of his brother’s tower. He knew, as did they all, that his mother could not, and not even he would ask this of Illian or Dauris. So Marus chose to lessen himself for the greater good. He would plead with his brother to return home, at least for the celebration, now less than a week away.
He entered the main chamber to find Jules working with something on a table. There were pages everywhere, and books scattered about, alongside jars of specimens and herbs and on one end of the table there was a small cauldron with a tiny fire underneath it, burning merrily away. The contents of the cauldron boiled and bubbled and steamed in a strange mixture that made Marus’ nose itch.
His sneeze caught Jules’ attention. He looked up at him and blinked several times to focus his eyes. “Marus? What are you doing here? I asked not to be disturbed.”
“That was several weeks ago, Brother, we became concerned. Illian and Dauris will be celebrating nine this week, and they wished for you to attend.” It was very difficult for Marus not to tear into his brother for worrying them all so much.
Jules turned back to whatever had him so fascinated. “I don’t know that I’ll make it. I am very busy.”
For a moment Marus lost control of his temper. “Mother is dying, Jules. How could you be so busy that you would worry her and sap away what strength she still has?”
Jules looked up at him, astonished. “Mother?”
“Yes. A little more each day. We don’t talk about it, mostly we try not to think about it, but she’s wasting away little by little and there’s nothing any of us can do. And every time I go to see her I can see how much she worries about you and it’s killing the rest of us.”
Jules looked down and for a moment he seemed tired, sorrowful and so very tired. “If I could just unlock a little of the power… ”
“What power, Jules? What power could be worth not being there when your mother needs you?”
Jules sighed. “The power to Heal her. Tell them I’ll be there. Somehow… I’ll be there.”
— — —
Lukan noticed the change in Jules almost immediately. “Highness, what troubles you?”
Jules looked down at the book. He carried it with him everywhere he went; even now he was absently turning pages, not really seeing anything. “My brother came to see me. Mother is dying.”
Now this was interesting. Such tones of genuine concern. How could any concern for his family remain after so long immersed in the book? This prince was made of interesting stuff. Well, if there is something one cannot destroy, the next choice is to use it. “When did she become ill?”
Jules shrugged. “I don’t know. She was always delicate, but that was just the way she was. I never gave it much thought until… ”
He sighed. “Until the day we found Dauris. Before Illian returned with her, Mother had a spell. She lost her breath and almost didn’t regain it. She laughed it off, said we were worrying over nothing, but… I knew something was wrong.”
Ahh, an opening, and so wonderfully presented, too. “So this started when your sister arrived?” Jules nodded slowly. “Is it possible… I do not know how to ask this without seeming rude.” Jules looked at him and frowned, and then nodded him to continue. “Is it possible that something in your sister is causing this condition?”
Jules drew in a startled breath. “How would that be possible?”
“The book… it spoke of persons gifted with power, persons out of the ordinary, if she were such a one, and required energy from a living being to sustain her life… ”
Jules looked very troubled indeed. “How would I be able to tell? She has always been odd for a child, but I have not sought out her company.”
Lukan shrugged. “Power knows power. Such a one might fear the book, fear the knowledge it holds in the hands of one outside her control.”
Jules sighed and stood to leave. “I need to study the book some more. Maybe something in it will give me the wisdom I need.”
Lukan nodded. “Have a care, Highness, if she is such a one, to have survived any length of time she would need to be wily to the extreme, and powerful. We could learn much from her, if we had means to study her.”
Jules left, book in hand. Lukan went back to his drink with a feeling of satisfaction. With a little careful timing, he would have Goldeneyes back in his hands by the end of the week.