Prince Stavin Zel'Andral. Of all the things Stavin dreamed he'd become, this is by far the wildest. He is now second in line to the crown of Evandia. And Kel'Kavin is now Evandian territory.
Stavin leads the Farindian Pacification Force into the new Evandian territories. Wielding the Sword of Zel'Hallan, he finds himself respected-and feared.
Book Four in the Stavin Kel'Aniston Dragon Blessed series.
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Format: Trade Paperback
Format: Trade Paperback
The Zel'Hestel Estate in southern Farindia was a beautiful place. Roads bordered by hedges of blackberry and raspberry bushes passed through orchards of apple and pear trees. Well-tended fields of barley, oats, and wheat filled every flat area. In the center, a manor house that was older than the province that had become the Land of Farind stood strong and tall, more fortress than simple home, but a home nonetheless. However, the seeming tranquility of the outside was not to be found inside.
"It cannot be allowed!" Lord Cevin Zel'Hestel the Sixth stood and screamed in his study. Around him, in an assortment of ornate padded chairs, sat the other six Lords of Eastern Farindia. He was too old for such outbursts, and clutched his chest as he staggered back to his heavily-carved chair. "It cannot be allowed," he continued in a more moderate tone as his personal servant all but forced a goblet of wine into his hand and encouraged him to drink.
A younger man, though still a white-haired elder who had known most of the others as children, shook his head. "There doesn't seem to be a lot we can do about it, Lord Cevin. There are only our seven Chosen Houses left to oppose them."
"We did well enough after the rebellion, Lord Zel'Korvalas," Lord Zel'Hestel said in a harsh tone that was barely above a whisper.
"We faced rabble then," another, significantly younger lord pointed out. "The Evandian Army is not rabble."
"No, Lord Zel'Esten, they are certainly not," a very young man agreed. Where the most of the lords were elders, he looked like he was barely old enough to shave. "My grandfather is of the opinion that we should oppose them, but our resources are limited. The Zel'Freedan estate can field a hundred trained fighters and three hundred auxiliaries."
"We can field about the same," Lord Zel'Anlar sighed. "We've all maintained the same strength we had after the rebellion. I doubt any of us could field much more than that though."
Lord Zel'Barnal nodded. "You're right about that, Gabrin. Zel'Barnal can field even less, just the hundred trained men of the treaty and another hundred auxiliaries. Gods Below, we've never needed more than that. We've only had to fight Kavadian bandits, and we've always had the Old Guard in Kel'Kavin to call on in an emergency."
"And now it's the Old Guard and their upstart prince that we need to defend against," Lord Cevin pointed out. The rest of the lords quieted down and looked glum at the reminder of who they were opposing.
"Sirs, no!" Stavin cried as he faced the Elders' Council of Kavinston. The time-darkened wood of the council chamber kept his voice from echoing, but the dim light of the oil lanterns didn't hide the anguish on his face. Me? An Elder? They can't be serious!
Chief Elder Kel'Kaffrey bowed his head, his iron-gray hair falling forward until he brushed it back with a flick of his fingers and once again focused his attention on Stavin. "Prince Stavin, it must be this way," he replied. "You are second in line to the Evandian crown. As the only Chosen member of the community, you should at least be on the Council, if not the Chief Elder."
"You are also," Warmaster Kel'Horval pointed out, "the highest ranking Warmaster in Kel'Kavin, Senior Warmaster Zel'Andral. By tradition you are now the Warmaster of the Academy," he continued as he stood and stepped aside, "and this chair is yours."
"No, sirs," Stavin replied as he shook his head and took a step backward, away from the Elders. His voice was soft with shock as he looked at the Elders one by one. "No, I can't be the Warmaster." He took another step backwards, away from the Elder's table and everything it represented, as he continued to shake his head. "I can't."
Warmaster Kel'Horval walked around the table and stopped when he reached Stavin. He looked down into his son-in-law's face and sighed. "It is our tradition," he said softly, "that the highest-ranking warrior leads the Academy, Stavin."
"But I can't teach them," Stavin said as he looked up into Charvil's face. "I don't know enough."
The pleading in Stavin's tone was just barely noticeable, but Charvil knew him far better than any of the other Elders. He looked down into Stavin's face for a moment longer, then turned to face the Council. "He has a point. He's also going to be out of the valley a lot."
Chief Elder Kel'Kaffrey looked at the other Elders silently for a moment, then bowed his head in resignation. "I place before the Council a proposal to exclude Senior Warmaster Zel'Andral from leadership of the Academy. While his rank is sufficient, he is correct that he lacks the experience to properly teach our young men. And, as Warmaster Kel'Horval has pointed out, Prince Stavin is going to be out of the valley for much of the summer. Is there any opposition?" When no one spoke, he continued. "Very well, Prince Stavin. Warmaster Kel'Horval will retain control of the Academy."
Stavin breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Thank you. Now I can get back to the Archive."
"We cannot allow that either, Prince Stavin," Chief Elder Kel'Kaffrey said as he shook his head.
"But I wanted to be the Master Scribe. It's all I've spent the last eight years dreaming of," Stavin whispered as he stared at the Chief Elder in stunned disbelief.
Master Scribe Kel'Zorgan was also in the room, and he shook his head slowly as he stepped forward. "While it is appropriate for a prince to be a scholar, it is not appropriate for one to be a scribe. You, Prince Stavin, are going to have more important uses for your time."
"Then what am I to do with myself?" Stavin asked in a soft, pleading tone as he faced his Craft Master, and a feeling of devastation swept through him.
"That," Chief Elder Kel'Kaffrey said as he looked at the rest of the Elders, "is going to take some discussion. Something appropriate must be found. We would also like you and your family to move into the royal suite. That places you in the most protected position in Kavinston."
"You want me to give up my house, too?" Stavin asked in a stunned whisper.
* * *
"You want me to give up my house?" Sharindis screamed at her father when he and Stavin went to tell her what the Elders Council had decided. "Daddy, no! No! You know how much it means to me to have my own home! You know!" Tears were streaming down her face as she stared at the shadow of her father. "You know."
Charvil sat beside her on the love seat and put an arm around her shoulders, and sighed as he shook his head slowly. "I know, baby girl, I know. But you are a princess of Evandia now. While the annexation of the rest of Farindia hasn't been decided, Kel'Kavin is now Evandian territory. It's not appropriate for you to live in a little house on the edge of town. The royal suite is yours by right."
Sharindis looked around, unable to see her house, but loving it nonetheless. True, it was a small house, but it held the library Stavin had built her, and was the home she never thought she'd have. "This is my house, Daddy. My home. This is where I want to live."
Stavin sat in a chair facing his wife and her father, and leaned forward as he spoke. "I did my best, Shari, but the Elders are being stubborn." He looked at his father-in-law, but Stavin's expression held no trace of apology. "They want us to move into the suite. They wanted to make me Warmaster of the Academy as well, but we talked them out of that." Stavin sat back and covered his head with both hands. He shook his head as he said, "I'm not telling her," when Charvil looked across at him, as if prompting him to continue.
"Not telling me what?" Sharindis asked in a dangerous tone.
Charvil took a deep breath and said, "You can't work in the Archive anymore, Shari. It's not appropriate."
"What!?" Sharindis screamed at the top of her voice. Her scream woke Karlin in the next room, and he added his protest to hers. Stavin went and gathered up his son before Sallin could, then returned to the library.
Charvil shook his head, but continued over the ringing in his ears. "It is not appropriate for a princess to be working as a scribe in the Archive. The Council has already approved Jessaka and Marral as Arlen's new apprentices."
There were tears running down Sharindis' face now. "You're taking it all away from me?" she asked in a heart-broken tone that almost made her father cry. It was the same tone she'd used when she found out that she'd never see clearly again. "Aren't I allowed to have even one of my dreams?"
Charvil sighed. He'd tried to convince the others that Shari should be left where she was, but the other four elders had closed ranks against him. She was a princess, and must be treated like one. End of discussion.
"We have to, baby girl. We don't want to, but you're a princess and Stavin is a prince. We can't let you be scribes anymore."
"You let Marina teach," Sharindis pointed out in a sulky-little-girl's voice.
Her father sighed. He knew that tone all too well. "As a guest, yes, we did."
"Then why can't I?" she demanded.
Charvil took a deep breath as he tried to figure out an argument that would satisfy her. He finally gave up and just said, "Because you're not a guest, Shari."
"Charvil," Stavin said as he leaned forward once again, rocking Karlin to calm him down, "we have to have something to do through the winter. There has to be something to keep us busy."
Charvil took a deep breath and looked around the room. Stavin and Shari had more books than the rest of Kavinston combined, and one book in particular caught his attention.
"How much of the Book of Inatat have you completed?" he asked as his head tilted to the side.
Stavin followed his gaze. "A bit more than half. We need something other than that, sir." Stavin turned back to face Charvil and shrugged one shoulder. "Translating it and rewriting it in Common Script gets tedious."
"Well, there'll still be the final year group to work with. That would be appropriate for you. You are still the best we've ever had with a Dragon's Tongue, and you are a Warmaster. It's your duty to pass on as much of your skill as you can to the next generation. As for Shari," he looked down at her and sighed. "I'll speak to Arlen about letting you continue teaching once the twins are born." When she gave him a questioning look, he continued. "And continue to work on the scrolls."
"Thank you, Daddy," Sharindis said as she relaxed against him.
* * *
The arguments were long, loud, and sometimes profane--but in the end, Stavin and Shari were moved, along with their books and personal belongings, up to the Royal Suite of the fortress. The Elders countered every argument against the move that Stavin could come up with.
Stavin immediately placed a table under the only southern-facing window for Shari to use. He arranged their books on the library shelves himself, and was surprised when they all fit. He kept his roller top desk, but the rest of the furnishings in their little house were given to his big brother Bahrandik and his family, along with their new crockery. The kitchen in the royal suite was already well appointed.
Sallin remained their only servant, though several other young women tried to worm their way into Shari's service. Shari, however, was having none of it, and sent them on their way. They had been her students long enough for her to know she didn't want any of them in her household.
"This suite is bigger than mom and dad's house," Shari complained as she and Stavin sat down to eat the first night they were there.
"Yeah," Stavin agreed in a sour tone. They were sitting at the dining room table, though they chose to sit side-by-side rather than at the head and foot. The table was meant to seat twenty. Karlin was in a high-chair between them.
Sallin brought out their meals, and Stavin was surprised by how much was on the plates. "Why so much, Salli?"
Sallin bowed before she answered. "Prince Stavin, when you were visiting Princess Marina, this is what her maids said was appropriate."
Stavin shook his head. "For Marina, yes. But for us, I'd prefer to retain our traditions and eat like everyone else."
"I'm sorry, Prince Stavin," Sallin replied, bowing her head and clasping her hands in front of her.
"It's all right, Salli," he said as he patted her hand. "Shari needs more because of the twins, but if I eat like Marina and her guards did last year I won't be able to get my armor on." He grinned and chuckled as he shook his head. "Dahvin got a touch pudgy while they were here."
There was something odd about Sallin's tone when she said, "Yes, Prince Stavin. I noticed that as well. I'll go back to preparing meals like I used to." She bowed, then retreated to the sideboard.
Stavin and Shari ate quickly, then went to the sitting room while Sallin cleaned up. "Stavi," Shari said softly as she touched his arm, "did you notice something strange about the way Salli reacted to talking about Dahvin?"
"You caught that too." Stavin chuckled and answered just as softly. "I think our dear Salli is a little smitten by our good friend Lord Dahvin. Too bad he's already married to Lady Glora now."
"Too bad she's a servant," Shari said as her head tilted to the side. She could hear Sallin in the kitchen. "Though she is being courted, you know."
"No, I didn't know," Stavin replied. "By who?"
"I can't place him." Stavin's eyebrows drew together, then he shook his head.
Shari smiled. "He hasn't been in your classes yet. He will be this winter. He and Varik are friends, and he's been over to visit a few times. Var says he's already sick of hearing about how beautiful Salli is." She turned so she was facing Stavin squarely, but was still whispering. "You told me she wasn't pretty."
Stavin paused and considered his words carefully. Leaning forward, he spoke softly to ensure Sallin wouldn't hear him and said, "She's not. Oh, she's not ugly, but she's not pretty. I'll admit that she seems to be getting better looking, but I think that's as much familiarity as anything else." He shook his head and sat back while Karlin played with his hair. "They say there's someone for everyone."
Shari hummed and nodded. "Indeed." She took a deep breath and sighed, then spoke in a normal voice. "What are we going to do, Stavi? I've spent the last nine years in the Archive. It's all I know how to do." She sighed again and continued in a bitter tone. "It's about all I can do."
Stavin sighed as well. "It's all I wanted to do. Ever since I learned to read the glyphs, I've wanted to be a scribe. I wanted to be the scribe, the Master Scribe of the Kavinston Archive. And now I can't."
"No," Shari said with a sigh. "Now you are stuck being a prince." Then she giggled. "Oh, Stavi, isn't this silly?"
"It's like being made master of the Kel'Carins. It's not a bad thing, it's just not what we wanted." He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "All right, Princess Sharindis, time for us to rethink our future. Got any ideas?"
"We could finish the Book of Inatat this winter. We have plenty of time." A smile crossed her lips as a new thought occurred to her. "We could also write the translation of the ancient glyphs into modern glyphs, as well as Common. We need one here for Jessaka and Marral, and the Evandian Archivists are going to want one as well. If we do several copies we can give Lord General Zel'Enred a copy of his own. I bet he'll like that."
Stavin was nodding vigorously. "I bet he will. And when I go--no, when we go to Twin Bridges in the spring, we can deliver it in person. King Kalin said he wanted to meet you and Karli. Marina had been telling him stories."
Sharindis shook her head. "I don't know about taking the babies on the road, Stavin. Karlin is old enough, but the twins are going to be very young."
"We'll use the enclosed wagon."
"Marina took the enclosed wagon."
"Huh?" Stavin grunted as he tilted his head to the side.
Sharindis sighed. "When Marina went home, she went in the enclosed wagon. Dad and the Council insisted. So did Dahvin." She shrugged before adding. "She's your sister now, so I didn't see a reason to argue. We weren't going to need it."
Stavin took another deep breath and blew it out in short bursts. "Then we get Dad and Henley to enclose another one. The one I brought up with the books and desk. It has a cover already. All they'll need to do is build sides and we can fit the interior the way we want it."
Shari smiled as she thought about the idea. "That will do nicely."
Stavin presented the idea to his father the next morning. Karlit nodded thoughtfully as he listened.
"We can do that. We have the extra wood from those bookshelves." He paused to consider the idea carefully for a moment as he continued to nod and look at Stavin. "We can probably make it nicer than the other one as well. That was primarily made to haul trade goods. This one can be designed for living in."
They went to the area where the valley's wagons were parked. The covered wagon was the only wagon of the Kel'Aniston Trading House left in the valley. All the others had been taken to Aravad to await the thaw when they would deliver the spring supplies.
It was a large wagon: fifteen cubits long, and five wide. It was suited more for hauling bulk items like grain or hay than anything else, but Karlit hummed and nodded as he walked around it. "Yes, that will do," he said, more to himself than Stavin. Turning to his son, he smiled broadly. "We can make this into a nice wagon for you and Shari to take down to Twin Bridges."
Stavin looked up at his father and asked, "Can I help?" in a timid tone.
Karlit gave him a startled look and said, "Of course. Why would you ask a question like that?"
Stavin grimaced bitterly. "The Council and their damn 'It's not appropriate,' rulings."
Karlit chuckled and shook his head. "You know, Stavin, they really can't tell you what to do. Oh, they can hem and haw, but you outrank all of them, both as a warrior and as a prince."
Stavin sighed, then spoke in a whiney tone as he said, "But I don't. That's the problem."
Karlit stopped what he was doing and turned his son to face him. "How so?" he asked as he looked down into Stavin's face.
Stavin grimaced and looked down. "I haven't made my fifth expedition yet."
Karlit burst out laughing. "Stavin, you can't be serious."
"My stars don't really count until I make all five of my expeditions."
Karlit grabbed Stavin by both shoulders and gave him a little shake. "They count, Stavin. They always have. You couldn't lead an expedition because you didn't have the experience, but they tried to seat you on the Council. You really do outrank all of them, even Charvil and Barvil. You aren't going to be making a fifth expedition anyway. Not with those four hollowed stars on your shoulder and the name Zel'Andral. The king will never allow it."
Stavin shook his head because he was confused by what his father was saying. His hands came out like he was holding his Dragon's Tongue. "But Charvil said I was still the lowest ranked because I hadn't made all five expeditions."
"Nope," Karlit said with a shake of his head and a wry grin. "You were lowest ranked because you believed Charvil when he said you were. And, really, you would have only been above two or three of them. It wouldn't have made a difference. But now, Prince Stavin Zel'Andral, Senior Warmaster of Kel'Kavin, you can do pretty much whatever you damn well please. So can Princess Shari. Oh, Arlen will bow to the Council and try to keep her out of the Archive, and might even refuse to assign her work, but he can't stop her from taking a scroll to your suite and working on it if she wants to." Karlit grinned as Stavin looked up at him.
Stavin stood stunned dumb for a moment, then stammered, "I--We--They--Oh, that's just so typical."
Karlit chuckled. "Yes, it is. You're used to obeying the Council. We all are. But the simple fact of the matter, my son, is that you are no longer under their authority. No more than Princess Marina was. They can ask, but they can't command. Now, let's get started on this wagon."
* * *
It turned out that Stavin did recognize Karvil Kel'Dessar once he was introduced. He was a typical fourteen-year-old in most respects. Tall, gawky, and unfinished, Karvil had a surprisingly handsome face. Stavin recognized the boy's face immediately. He had just never put the face and name together until then.
Karvik and Stavin were once again drilling the final year group every third day with Dragon's Tongues, and Varik had positioned himself and Karvil in the front row. Barvil and Charvil were drilling them during the intervening two days with sword and ax. Their respective ranks demanded it.
Stavin smiled as he surveyed his students, and especially his little-brother-in-law. "Good morning," he said loudly, making sure every eye was on him. "Warleader Kel'Carin and I will be working with you all winter to get you ready for the spring. We are not going to be teaching you how to use a Dragon's Tongue. You already know that. What we are going to do is teach you how to stay alive long enough to use that knowledge."
Nineteen young voices shouted, "Yes, Senior Warmaster Zel'Andral."
Stavin stifled a sigh. He also stifled the desire to smack Karvik when he started chuckling. "Very well. Varik, front and center."
Stavin picked up a shortened Dragon's Tongue and tossed it to his brother-in-law. Varik caught the practice weapon automatically and looked at it, then at Stavin. "Um, isn't this yours, sir?"
"Yep. This one matches it," Stavin said as he picked up another shortened Dragon's Tongue. "You'll be spending the winter using that one to get used to the length and heft."
Varik was giving him an intense look now. "Why?" he asked as a smile started to curve his lips.
Stavin grinned. "I told you I might let you use my Dragon's Tongue this season. You need to get used to the different length and heft before you go out."
"You mean it?!" Varik all but shouted, then recovered his composure enough to add, "Warmaster Stavin?"
"I mean it," Stavin answered with a chuckle. "In the circle, Var. Strike and evade."
Karvik chose another young man and began drilling him in the fine art of not getting himself killed. Two other Warmasters were watching them from the side, and both of them were smiling for the same reason.
"He's really going to let Varik use his Dragon's Tongue," Charvil commented.
Barvil nodded. "And I'll bet a crown he's going to ask for Varik to be included in his guards when he goes to Twin Bridges."
"Are you going to let him?" Charvil asked, looking sideways at his cousin.
Barvil nodded. "I don't see why not. I also don't think I'll take more than three teams. I'd be surprised if we see any action."
"Probably not. But we're talking about Stavin." Charvil gave Barvil a very intense look. "I didn't think we'd see any action when we went to Twin Bridges season before last, and look how that turned out."
The two Warmasters turned and watched as Stavin and Karvik taught, each with his own thoughts, but both with the same concern: What kind of trouble will Stavin get into this time?
* * *
Shari spent her daylight hours at her table under the south window, reading and copying scrolls as she pleased. She'd sent her mother to talk to Master Scribe Kel'Zorgan about working on the scrolls. Nahrana hadn't said what form of persuasion she'd used to get her big brother to relent, but Shari suspected there had been threats of violence involved. Between Nahrana and Arlen, there usually were.
She was copying a scroll of laws once again. I think Uncle Arlen is trying to turn me into a magistrate. Or perhaps a queen? This scroll, like the last one, had been written during the reign of Queen Fiora Zel'Kanis, the queen who had banished all of her father's Royal Guards to Kel'Kavin. It was a list of rulings she had handed down on everything from a simple land dispute between two Chosen houses to an execution order for a man who had beaten his wife to death.
Law was a subject that had always held a strange fascination for Shari. So many laws contradicted one another that it was possible to argue both sides of a case against the middle. Plus, there was the fact that if the king or queen was involved, their word was law, no matter what was written down.
As she copied the scroll, she couldn't help thinking how she would have ruled in the cases. The details were all there. She usually decided that the old queen had ruled correctly, and in one instance she snorted in amusement.
"Princess Shari, did you need something?" Sallin asked as she stuck her head into the room.
"No, Salli, I was just amused by one of Queen Fiora's rulings. Listen. In the matter of House Zel'Jassan versus House Zel'Haltan, I find that House Zel'Haltan is acting like a stingy toddler crying 'Mine! Mine!' every time they get hold of something, theirs or not. The houses were squabbling over a herd of feral cattle that was wandering between their holdings. She continues with, House Zel'Haltan and House Zel'Jassan shall each provide ten men to capture the herd, then it shall be divided equally. If the numbers don't come out even, then the extra animal shall be delivered to the Temple of the Nurturer. A lot of her rulings end with anything left over going to Lady Sahren."
Sallin bowed and said, "Yes, Princess Shari. I should get back to work."
Shari was pleased with Sallin. The girl had blossomed into a young woman, even if she was a touch older than usual for an unmarried woman. However, Shari had been even older, so it wasn't an issue she would allow to be brought up. The only thing that bothered her was that she still had no idea what the girl looked like beyond Stavin's original description.
The light crept across her table, and she sighed when it reached the point that told her evening was upon them once again. She carefully put her crystal away and closed her inkpot. She'd copied nearly a quarter of the scroll despite her aching back. She looked at her belly and whispered, "You two are getting heavy." Then she smiled and cradled her belly with both hands and closed her eyes as she rocked side to side.
Stavin arrived home after his day with the young warriors and she smiled at the sounds he was making. He always kept up a continuous monologue about his day with the young warriors.
"They're getting better. They all seem to believe that Kar and I can teach them how to get a star on their first expedition."
"And can you?" Shari asked.
"I don't know. That's not what we're trying to teach them. We're trying to teach them how--"
"--How to stay alive," Shari finished for him. "I know. But you must realize that they aren't much different from you, Stavin. Who was it who once told me that all he used to dream of was being a Warmaster like my dad?"
Stavin chuckled. "Guilty. Never thought it would happen, though. Not really. Not after I stopped growing."
Shari smiled. "And now look at you, Senior Warmaster Zel'Andral. Everyone needs a dream, Stavin."
Stavin slipped on some soft, comfortable clothes and walked over to her. He asked, "And what was your dream, my darling?" as he leaned over to kiss her.
Shari smiled and said, "You."
The winter passed slowly for Stavin and Sharindis. The restrictions placed on them by the Elders chafed, but they had spent their entire lives living in accordance with the Elder's decrees. As much as they disliked it, it was just how things were. Then, just after the Mid Winter Festival, things got interesting.
"Stavin?" Shari said, reaching over to nudge him in the middle of the night. "Stavin, it's time."
"Time for what?" Stavin asked sleepily.
"Time for the babies," Shari groaned.
Stavin was out of bed in an instant and turning up the lamp. "What do you want me to do?" he asked in a near panic.
"Mom. Get mom. And Barb. Hurry."
Stavin was dressing as she spoke, and ran out of their bedroom, pausing to stick his head in where Sallin and Karlin were sleeping. "Salli, Shari's in labor. I'm going for Nahrana and Barb." He was gone in an instant, and Sallin hurried into the royal bedroom.
"Princess Shari, what can I do?"
"Help me sit up." Shari sighed as the contraction eased. "Prop the pillows behind my back." Sallin did as she was asked, then sat on the edge of the bed and waited.
Stavin returned with Nahrana and Marinis, and Barb was just behind them. Charvil and Karlit followed the women in and took Stavin by the arms. "Come with us, son," Karlit said when Stavin looked at him. "Some things you've just got to let the women handle alone."
"Nope. They threw me out when you and your brothers and sisters were born. They threw us out when Karlin was born. They aren't going to let you stay for the twins. Come on, let's get Karlin and go to our house. Delia was up and fixing the morning meal when we left."
Charvil sighed and shook his head. "Come along, Stavin. It's not up to us. Barb is the Midwife, and she makes the rules." Charvil went in and picked up Karlin, and the boy didn't even wake up as he was lifted from his bed. "Grab a blanket and wrap it around him," Charvil ordered, and Stavin immediately complied. Then Karlit led them out of the fortress.
Karlit led the way into his house, and guided Stavin and Charvil to chairs. Farlit walked out of the kitchen and smiled at his little brother. "This is the hard part, Stave. Just sit back and relax. Del will have the morning meal ready in a bit."
Stavin sat and sighed. "Is it always like this?" he asked the other men.
"Yep," Karlit, Charvil and Farlit answered together.
The twins were born just after mid day. The first was named Sahren, after Sahren Kel'Vandar. That was Stavin's idea. The second was named Mahren, after Shari's maternal great-grandmother. There were some chuckles about the names rhyming, but that wasn't uncommon with twins.
Stavin and the men were let back in once the mess was cleaned up. Barb met them just outside the bedroom door. "Quietly, gentlemen. Shari is very tired. The girls are asleep, and don't you dare wake them." The glare she treated them to was sufficient to draw nods of obedience from all three of them, rank be damned.
Stavin led the way to the side of the bed and looked down at his wife and daughters. They were so tiny, lying there wrapped in blankets against the chill of the fortress. "Shari?" Stavin whispered, and she opened her eyes a little and smiled.
"They're perfect, Stavi. Absolutely perfect."
"So are you," he whispered. "Do you need anything?"
Shari smiled. "Just some rest. Where's Karli?"
Stavin looked over to the door and signaled Sallin to bring Karlin. She handed him over to Stavin, then stepped back, but she was craning her neck to get another look at the babies.
Stavin held Karlin so he could see the bed and said, "Karli, these are you new sisters." Karlin looked at the babies intently for a moment, then turned and hugged Stavin's neck. Stavin chuckled. "Not ready yet, hmm? That's all right. You've got the rest of your lives to get to know one another."
"Shari needs to sleep now, Prince Stavin," Barb Kel'Kaffrey said in a no-nonsense tone. "Sallin should stay with her, but everyone else needs to leave."
Everyone immediately turned to leave, and Stavin felt a chuckle bubbling in his chest. No matter what their rank was, no one argued with the midwife. Charvil, Karlit, Marinis, and Nahrana joined Stavin in the sitting room, and Marinis immediately grabbed Karlin.
"Well, little Prince Karlin, what do you think of having little sisters?" she asked. Karlin wasn't speaking very much yet, so he replied by frowning and cuddling into his grandmother's lap. She chuckled and held him tightly. "That's all right, sweetie. We all understand. You'll get used to them."
"Stavin," Nahrana said, drawing everyone's attention, "I'd like to move up here for a while to help Shari."
Stavin nodded. "Sure. Whatever you want."
"I'm canceling your next three days in the training grounds as well," Charvil added, making Stavin shift his attention. "You need to spend some time with your daughters, and Karlin is going to need extra attention for a while." He smiled at his grandson. "We don't want him getting jealous of the babies."
Stavin immediately said, "Yes, sir," drawing a grin from his father in law.
Charvil shook his head at Stavin. "You've really got to work on that, Stavin. It's not appropriate for a prince to be calling everyone 'sir' all the time, and you outrank everyone as a Senior Warmaster as well."
Stavin shook his head and shrugged as a sheepish grin crossed his lips. "It's habit, Charvil. I do it automatically."
Charvil and Karlit both nodded, but it was Karlit who answered. "You have to think about everything you say for a while, Stavin. It's like learning Old Tongue: You have to concentrate on what you're saying."
* * *
The winter deepened, and Stavin and Shari spent most of their time on the ancient Book of Inatat. The book was as much a hero's tale as a history, so it appealed to both of them, and they completed the copy and translation well before the thaw. The end did leave them curious, though.
In the thirty-sixth year of Inatat's reign, assassins broke into the palace. Inatat fought against them, but was overcome in the end. Inatat died as he had lived, with a sword in his hand.
"And that's the end of it," Stavin said as he sat back and rubbed his eyes. "There isn't even any of the flowery praise that the beginning of the book had. He just died and that was that."
"Maybe the scribes were busy writing the Book of Charat and didn't think Inatat would mind a quick ending," Shari suggested. "Or Charat might have ordered them to close it up and begin his book."
"Could be," Stavin agreed. "Now we need Lord General Zel'Enred to find Charat's tomb so we can find out what happened next."
Shari giggled. "Oh, now wouldn't that be fun? Are you up to working on the translation text, or have you had enough of the ancient glyphs for one day?"
"I'm tired," Stavin said as he stretched. "I think I'd just like to hold the girls for a while and relax."
Shari nodded and put her crystal away. "Sounds like a good idea to me."
The girls were asleep, and Stavin smiled at Sallin and motioned for her to stay where she was. Karlin was awake, though, and immediately ran to be picked up. Stavin held his son and nuzzled his hair, making him laugh.
"Shh, you'll wake the girls," Sharindis scolded softly.
Stavin smiled and carried Karlin to the sitting room. "Well, Karli, what have you been doing today?"
"Blocks," Karlin replied.
"Do you like playing with your blocks?" Shari asked.
Karlin had already learned that he had to speak to his mother. Simply nodding didn't work with her, though he really didn't understand why. "Yes."
"Yes what, sweetheart?" Shari prompted.
Karlin concentrated for a moment, then said, "Yes, blocks fun."
"Very good," Stavin said as he hugged the boy. "Very good, Karli. Yes, blocks are fun. What have you been building with them?"
Karlin squirmed loose and went to the side of the room and pointed. Stavin had led Shari behind him, so he described what he saw. "He built a square fortress with a gate and crenellations around the top."
Shari giggled. "He's starting young, isn't he?"
Stavin chuckled a little. "No, he's about on schedule. We've been reading that picture book about the fort, and he loves the pictures. He's just creating what he likes."
"Boys." Shari sighed.
"Don't tell me Var didn't like forts when he was little."
"Oh, he did," Shari acknowledged. "He had Kahn's little lead Warriors, and spent spans playing with them. He had company, though. We need to see if we can find Karli some playmates near his own age."
Stavin agreed. "He used to play with Jelat, Kissa, and Laral at mom and dad's house. I don't see why his cousins can't come up and play once in a while. Even the Council can't object to that."
Shari answered in a bitter tone. "The Council can object to anything, but your dad was right. We don't have to listen to them anymore."
"Within reason," Stavin temporized.
Farlit's three children joined Karlin at playtime the next day, and it was immediately apparent that he'd missed his friends since they had been forced to move up to the suite. Shari and Sallin watched them at play while they tended the twins. The toddlers got loud a few times, but Shari didn't mind. The loud laughter of the children was a welcome change to the normal silence of the fortress.
Once the pattern of his cousins joining Karlin at playtime was established, others joined in as well. Kahn brought his children up to play. Bahrandik and Stavin's sisters soon joined in as well. Sora always brought her two children, two-year-old Noral and six-moon-old Delian, up to join the fun. Delian was still nursing, and Sora was once again playing wet-nurse to Shari and Stavin's babies.
"I'll tell you, Shari, it's a relief to feed the twins once in a while. Delian doesn't always eat enough and my boobs get sore."
Shari giggled. "It's a relief to have you with us, Sora. I worry about them getting enough. I don't always produce enough to satisfy both of them."
"It's too bad I can't go with you to Twin Bridges."
Shari froze for a moment, then asked, "Why not?"
"Why not what?"
Shari turned toward Sora's voice and asked, "Why can't you go with us? You and Noral and Delian. You're Stavin's sister, and my best friend. Why can't you go with us to Twin Bridges?"
"What would Aric say?" Sora asked, trying not to get too excited.
Shari giggled. "If Stavin requested him as one of our guards, what could he say?"
"What indeed?" Sorandis murmured in a thoughtful tone as she mulled over the idea. "But let me bring up the idea first so he doesn't get caught off guard."
Loren Jones lives near Tampa, Florida. He married Pamela A. Willis in 1983 and they have stayed together to this time, and have three adult children. A US Navy veteran, Loren served as a nuclear reactor operator on attack submarines for six years before his honorable discharge in 1986. Loren makes his living as an instrumentation and controls technician and writes because the stories won't leave him alone.
Stavin DragonBlessed series
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Farindian Summer Copyright © 2017. Loren K. Jones. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.
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