Marital Bliss - Part II

Charles appeared a bit flustered as he returned inside, Baerle thought. But that melted some as his eyes met his wife’s. Baerle loved that look, the way his eyes sculpted his adoration, his commitment. In them was all the gentleness of the heavens themselves, their antipodes a soft whispering caress and a lion’s roar of exultation. Yet their only detriment, their one ignoble failing was that they were not directed at her, but upon Kimberly.

Baerle cursed herself for her sudden fit of jealousy. Kimberly had given her permission to pursue Charles, though she had not found the courage to make any advances. Certainly not while his wife was still pregnant. And now, that his children were being born, she had no place trying to see if the love she thought he had for her was truly there. Now was a time for he and his wife to celebrate together, and she would be there to make sure that it happened. Anything she could do to help, she would.

Moments before, when Lady Avery had entered, Burris had leaned his head further over Kimberly’s belly, inspecting the area only minutes before he’d wiped clean. With solemn voice he had pronounced, “It will not be long now. The first is coming. Soon now.”

The squirrel had joined Burris at the bedside, quizzed him briefly on what he’d done, and then assured Kimberly that all would be well. Apparently she had sent word to the Healer Jo. If the vixen were to come, likely that feline bard Jono would be putting in an appearance as well. Just how many people were going to be waiting outside while Kimberly gave birth, she wondered.

“Are you feeling better?” Charles asked after he returned, stepping towards the far wall so he could see Kimberly clearly. With both Burris and Angela hovering over her, it was hard to see the rat as she lay in bed.

Kimberly’s breathing was still intense and measured, but she smiled. She had reduced a second chewstick to splinters by then, but her paws were planted firmly at her side. She had sated her need to chew for now. “A bit... but... ah!”

“That’s it,” Lady Avery said, her look focussed and intense. “I think the first one is coming.” She climbed up onto the bed, trying to get between Kimberly’s legs. “Burris, can you move to the side? I can guide the child better than you.”

Charles, at hearing that his first child was to be born, was already at the side of the bed, grabbing his own chewstick and beginning to gnaw furiously at its end, even as he leaned over trying to see what was happening. The woodpecker slid more to the side, though he still was rubbing the end of one wing across her belly, obscuring most of the rat’s view. And now with Lady Avery doubled over in front of Kimberly’s legs, it was impossible to see anything. But the sound that came from her throat, the cry of pain that filled it as her first birthing came, made Charles gnaw all the harder.

“Just push, Kimberly,” Burris said, his voice soothing. “Push, and breath. Push and breath. Think only of those two things.”

Kimberly gritted her teeth tightly as her entire bodied strained, the veins in her neck pressing outward, discolouring the light tan of her fur with the darkness of the flesh underneath. “Baerle,” Angela called, “bring her another stick to chew.”

She felt a momentary pang of surprise at hearing her name, but the opossum was on her foot paws seconds later. The Matthias’s kept a bucket for their chewsticks next to the hearth. After all, they could double as kindling, and in most cases were completely indistinguishable from such. Taking out one of the thicker pieces, she held it out for her friend, squeezing in between Burris and the wall to do so. Kimberly nodded he thanks, opening her muzzle just enough for Baerle to slip the end of the stick between her massive incisors.

Charles met her gaze as she took a step back from Kimberly. He smiled thankfully to her once, but then returned his eyes to Kimberly. He took his chewstick from his mouth long enough to say, “Thank you.”

“I can see the head,” Lady Avery announced. “Come now, Kimberly. Just push a bit more.”

Both Baerle and Charles froze, their muscles tense as the seconds drew out and suffused them for every sensation that was possible in the space of each second. They felt their fur tingle in expectation and anxiety, their whiskers twitch, tails shifting back and forth, the grooves of the wood beneath them suddenly plain, and every gasping breath and stutter of pain from Kimberly’s throat filled their ears with desperate, worrisome need.

Although it filled him with no end of dread, when it came to messengers who could reach the Keep the fastest, only one name was able to come to the ferret’s mind. And that was the sparrow Kevin. Although still young, he’d proven himself capable in flight. Those few times when Garigan had the opportunity to watch, the sparrow had performed magnificently in the air, and gave him a momentary pang of longing that he too could join him to tread upon the air. Man was meant to fly after all, or so he felt.

But his sense of trepidation did not arise from seeking out Kevin while he was on his patrol. Kevin was a helpful soul who would be only too glad to carry the letters to Metamor Keep. It would not even be the first time he’d attempted such a long flight. No, he was uncertain that his course of action was altogether wise because Kevin was paired with the incorrigible pine marten Marcus on his patrol that night. And if there was one defining characteristic of Marcus, it was his unending supply of mischievous energy.

He knew that they had been ordered to watch over the western edge of town in the stand of trees near the Inn. Garigan was certain that both had already seen him as he came up through the clearing and around the Inn where it sat huddled like a watchful cat at the base of a rocky hillock. There were only two lights on in the tavern, both right next to each other and glowing a bright yellow, adding to the predatory air that it held that evening. Garigan circled wide around the Inn, scrambling up the sward on the far face towards the base of the trees.

At the very least, he consoled himself, Marcus had learned enough discipline not to jump out and greet him. For some reason, the youth had always looked up to him, and while at times it grated on the ferret’s sensibilities – and most especially his patience – most of the time it was strangely pleasant. It was as if Marcus was a younger brother who merely idolized his elder. So despite his sense that he was making an annoying mistake in risking the jovialities of his fellow musteline, that bit of fondness he had for the boy assured him that he was overreacting.

Garigan scrambled up the familiar paw holds in the tree, invisible but to the trained eye of the Glen scout. The two letters had been stuffed down either side of his belt, and he was always conscious of the way they rubbed against his tunic. It only took a moment before he left the Inn laying below him, the continuous stream of smoke from the chimney the exhalations of a slumbering beast. Glancing upwards at the lookout, he saw Kevin staring back down at him. The light was too dim for him to quite see the sparrow’s expression, but he felt there was an attempt at silent communication.

“Garigan!” a voice cried softly, but firmly into his ear from behind.

Startled, his training took him immediately to his calm, but not before he spun about on the tree branch scowling at the figure that dangled from above. Marcus grinned back at him, the darkness muting the rich colour of his pelt. The pine marten was hanging by three paws and waving with the fourth.

“Marcus! Are you trying to get me killed?” Garigan asked, in reproach. Though he was afraid his good humour showed through in his voice.

“Naw, just saying hello! Coming up to chat with your best friend?” The hopeful look on Marcus’s face was so genuine, that Garigan wished he could say yes for a moment.

“No, I’m here to ask a favour of Kevin, and then I need to get back.”

Marcus’s eyes widened in excitement. “Something’s going on, right? What is it! What is it! You have to tell me, Garigan!”

“No I don’t. You have to stay here anyway,” Garigan replied, even as he turned back around and climbed up the branches so he could get to the near tree where Kevin was perched.

The plaintive voice of Marcus continued from behind him, but Garigan ignored him. He did want to be with his mentor Charles after all during this time. Now if only he could get his message delivered. And if only Charles, Lord Avery, and the rest would not find another errand for him when he did.

“Hello, Garigan,” Kevin said, the burr of a chuckle in his throat. “Sorry about that. I tried to warn you.”

“It’s all right. I’ll strangle him later.” Garigan cast a quick meaningful glance back at Marcus, but the pine marten was not there. Wonderful, the ferret thought in resignation. “I need you to carry two messages to Metamor.” He drew them both out from his belt. “This one is to go to Misha in the Long House, and this is to be given to Tallis at the Writer’s Guild.”

Kevin looked down past his beak at the two rolls of parchment. He had on a knapsack with pockets on his chest, and he bent his wingtips around so that he could undo the lacing with his claws. “I’ll have to ask where they are when I get there, but I can make the trip faster than a rider.”

“I know, it’s why I asked you,” Garigan held out the messages, waiting while the sparrow opened the pockets.

“Is Misha coming here?” Marcus asked brightly, suddenly standing next to them again on the branch. There was no end to the jovial excitement in his voice.

“Charles hopes so,” the ferret replied. “Charles will wring his neck if he doesn’t I imagine.”

Marcus narrowed his eyes. “Now what’s going on. Charles wants you to send that message to Misha, and that one to this Tallis? I thought I saw him running across the Commons earlier. What’s going on, Garigan? You have to tell me!”

The sparrow had managed to undo the lacings finally, and Garigan slipped both messages into the pockets, one in each of course. “Can you do the lacings?” Kevin asked. “I can tie them myself, but it’ll be quicker if you do it.”

“Of course.” He gripped the lacings between his claws and smiled over at Marcus. He could feel the mistake bubbling up in his chest. “Well, you know his wife is pregnant.”

“Yeah, everybody keeps wondering if this day will be the day.”

Garigan could not suppress the wide smile that yearned to be on his muzzle. “Well, today is the day.”

The pine marten blinked wide eyed. “Really? Oh I have to go see this! They’re going to be rats like them, right?”

“According to Lady Avery. And you need to stay here. You are on patrol after all.”

“Oh come on, Garigan! This will be exciting! It will be fun! I want to go see it! Berchem and Ralph are only a short ways in either direction. They won’t miss us.”

With knowing dread, Garigan stared into those ever eager eyes and could already feel the mental kicking beginning. From what he’d heard from the other scouts of the Glen who’d already been through what Charles was going through, a birthing was all about waiting impatiently, pacing back and forth, and being forced to sit down and imbibe drink after drink to distract the mind. Marcus would undoubtedly grow bored of that very quickly.

“Well,” Garigan said, and knew he’d already lost. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt just this once.”

“Really! Woohoo!” Marcus pirouetted on the branch in his excitement.

Kevin snorted and laughed, shaking his head. “I’ll get these messages out. You two have fun.” He spread his wings a moment, and looked about. “I’m going to have to get over a bit to start. Can you two move out of the way?”

“Hey,” Marcus said as he jumped backwards to a nearby limb. “You think we should wake Sir Saulius and James and Angus and Jono and all the rest? I bet they’d want to see this too!”

Garigan sighed, and then laughed to himself. Oh yes, it had been a mistake. Slowly, he nodded his head to the incorrigible youth.

“There,” Burris declared, even as the rest of them watched in excited anticipation. “It’s coming now.”

Lady Angela cradled the head that had emerged from Kimberly, a small thing, skin a tender purple and soft, without any fur. The eyes were merely pronounced bumps darker beneath the skin, and the ears were small folds of flesh bunched against the head. There were no teeth yet in its small muzzle that it opened reflexively as it tasted air for the very first time. Charles smiled broadly, his mouth agape in wonder as the body began to slide free, its widest portion already birthed.

“It’s a boy!” Angela declared in a triumphant voice, even as the legs and a long thin tail slid free from his wife. The umbilical cord, tangled and pulsing red and violet trailed from the child’s belly back inside. “Charles, the knife? Soak it for a moment in the boiling water and then cut the cord.” She said this even as she took bits of string and tied them about a finger’s width apart an inch from the baby’s belly.

“Yes, of course,” Charles mused, barely able to turn his eyes off his very first child. The purple skin was already reddening as the child took its first breaths. Taking the knife that Burris had brought, he dunked it into the water that had been brought to a boil over the fire. The churning of the bubbles popped and snapped like a small series of pipes. But he could not help but croon at the sudden cry of his child, a squeak so plaintive and honest that it tore at his heart. “My son!” he could not help but shout, feeling his whole body tremble.

“Charles!” Angela called back as she held the sticky babe in her paws. His child was still covered with blood and amniotic fluids.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, though his voice was still filled with awe and wonder. Taking the knife, he pressed the blade between the bits of string tied around the cord and sliced through smoothly. The flesh parted with a small spurt of blood, which Baerle damped with the towel she held out across the bed.

“Good, now hand me the towel,” Angela instructed, and when Baerle had done so, she wrapped it around the crying child. She then smiled and held it towards him. “Your son, Charles.”

“My son,” he echoed, staring at the infant face, whose eyes were not yet open. He’d hoped to look into the child’s eyes to gain a measure of their soul before naming them, but he felt as if he could peer through the thin fold of red flesh to understand it enough. “Our son!” he declared, smiling at Kimberly, who was letting out several heavy breaths. He cradled the small babe, it was no larger than the length of both his paws set claw tip to claw tip, and weighed less than a parcel.

Kimberly smiled broadly as she looked, and she held out her arms. Charles set the babe within them and Kimberly crooned, her voice a trilling laughter as she ran her finger over the small tender red flesh of the child’s face. The babe waved a small hand paw at her own as if to press her away. “My son,” she cooed, chittering loudly in delight. “What’s his name?” she asked, looking meaningfully up at her husband.

Charles smiled and gently traced his fingers back along the furless hide of his babe’s head. One of the flaps of skin that would grow into an ear trembled slightly. “He’ll be Charles too. Yes, Charles Matthias the II!”

“He looks a little like you,” Kimberly crooned again, smiling widely. “Yes, you do!” she said to the baby. “You are my Charles. My sweet baby Charles! I love you, Charles!” Whether this last she said to the babe or her husband, he did not quite know, nor at the moment did he care.

Lars never liked waking up. Even before he turned into a bear he was noted for his delight in sleep. Even so, when the ferret had come knocking to bring him the news of the Matthias’s eminent parenthood, and of Lord Avery’s instructions, he was somewhat mollified. At least he was being paid to wake up.

Still, as he knocked on the door, the wagon behind him with one of his servants and a barrel of his best mead – a batch that he’d opened only a few days ago in fact – he could not help but long for the sanctity of his large mattress, thick feather pillow, and gracious quilts. It was Lord Avery who answered the door as well, smiling and waving for him to come in. “You just missed the first bout of shouting, Lars, but I’m sure there will be more. Come in, come in! Set the barrel over there, in that corner. They’ve nothing else there yet.”

Lars was a bit tall for the doorway, but he managed without hitting his head on the transom. “James, bring the stand in here and put it in that corner.” The choice of the donkey to wake to assist him in this had not been difficult. James was also the Matthias’s friend, and the bruin often had to put up with his equine servant’s pleased ruminations on what he’d done for Charles that day. In fact, he was thrilled to be of any help whatsoever. He practically leaped from the wagon, hoisting the small stand over his head, lowering it only so that he could get through the doorway, and then setting it down with careful but excited grace.

“Roll the barrel to the doorway and we’ll tip it through,” Lars instructed then, even as he looked about. He’d never been in Charles’s home before, and from a first glance it was quite well apportioned. There could be no doubt that the rat had some money. Lord Avery had resumed reclining on the nicer of the two couches. “What did I miss?”

“One of them has been born, or so the shouting implied.” Brian said, eyeing the tapestry, when a figure burst from it, crying out in joy.

“This is my son!” Charles announced, holding out a swaddled infant. Lars went wide eyed, and James nearly lost control of the barrel as he rolled it between the roots of the tree in the night lamplight. The babe’s skin was pink, and his eyes were unopened black smears. “His name is Charles!”

The infant, for its part, was wailing like any good infant should. Lord Avery was up in a heart beat, and even James managed to climb over the barrel to come see. “Is he supposed to be like that?” the donkey asked, as he finally reached the rat’s side.

“Burris assured me that this is normal for rats,” Charles said, returning his silly grin upon the babe. He held out one finger and tickled the claw along the babe’s snout. “Oh, isn’t he adorable?”

Lars chuckled drily to himself. That wasn’t quite the word he would have used.

“And what is this one?” Baerle asked as she prepared the second cup of broth for Kimberly to drink. The liquid inside was a pasty yellow now after mixing in half the bottle of creamy sludge into the hot water.

“This will give Kimberly the strength she needs for what is still to come,” Burris said, even as Charles was preparing an impromptu hillock of blankets that the babes could be laid in once they’d been cleaned. Angela was cleaning up the foul miasma that offended their noses that lay between Kimberly’s legs. Baerle wondered if they had enough linens in their home to satisfy the Lady of the Glen, Charles, and all the children that were on their way.

Baerle blew across the surface of the liquid, cooling it down slowly. It was still far too hot for Kimberly to attempt to drink it. She held the cup away from her snout for a moment and asked, “Are you feeling well, Kimberly?”

The rat nodded slightly. “I’m very tired.... though, but I... can’t stop.” She smiled weakly then looked back down past her distended belly towards Lady Avery. “Was it like... this... for you?”

Angela looked up and put a comforting hand upon her leg. “The pain was worse I think. Darien and Christopher were larger than your little Charles over then when I birthed them. But I only had two to your five. But don’t worry. We will be here with you as long as it takes. And Jo should be here soon too. She knows just as well as both of us what must be done.”

Kimberly smiled and nodded, leaning her head back against the pillows, her breathing coming in continuous rasps. The pain was only momentarily abated. Baerle knew it would begin soon again. Blowing across the cup once more she saw that no steam rose this time and held it out towards the rat. “I think it is cool enough to drink now, Kimberly.”

She lifted her head once more, and tried to lap at it as Baerle tipped it up towards her muzzle. It was not as foul a concoction as what Charles had poured down her throat not long before, but it still made her blanch in distaste. “There, that should give you back your strength,” Burris nodded in satisfaction. He procured another bottle from his satchel and carefully offered it to the opossum. “Set this beside the cup. In another thirty minutes it should be safe to give her this.”

Baerle took it and set the small green coloured liquid down upon the end table with the now empty cup. The bottle’s were small enough to hide in her paw, but whatever was inside must be potent medicine indeed.

“The blankets are set. That should serve for them until they are all born,” Charles announced, coming back to stand beside the bed. The babe was no longer crying quite so loudly, snuggled warmly in the thick sheets as he was. “Should I be feeding them something?”

“They need to taste their mother’s milk first,” Lady Avery announced. “They will be fine for now. Once they are all born we will start to feed them.”

Charles bounced back and forth on his foot paws and grimaced. There was another knocking at the door, and momentarily the sound of hearty voices. “I’m going to see who else is showing up tonight. Pardon me.” And with that, Baerle watched him slip out again.

“I suppose I shouldst allow him a few days reprieve to enjoy his new children,” Sir Saulius mused as the trio of them walked quickly back towards the Matthias home. Garigan was glad he’d been successful in restraining Marcus’s enthusiasm for waking everyone in the Glen. But he could now agree, the rat knight was somebody who should be there. Nobody alive at the Glen, not even Kimberly herself, had known Charles longer than the knight had.

“I’m sure he’ll appreciate that,” Garigan grinned widely. At last he’d get a chance to be there with his friend. If there were any other errands to be run, Marcus could do them. The pine marten would only be too eager for responsibility after all. Maybe there had been some sense in letting the rapscallion tag along.

Of course, tag seemed a very appropriate description for it, since he was darting back and forth, ducking and weaving between them as he raced alongside them towards the massive tree that housed the rats. “Come on you two!” he cried, his voice almost childishly impulsive. “We’re almost there! You two are the slowest warriors ever!”

Saulius quicked his pace with a huff. “I assure thee boy, that I could run from here to Metamor and back again shouldst I choose. We wilt be there in a minute if thee wilt learn patience!”

Marcus grimaced and stuck his tongue out at the rat. “Foo patience! We’re missing all the fun.” There were another pair of figures that were coming quickly across the Commons, as mismatched a pair as they were. A vixen carrying a handbasket in her paws, and a feline that seemed to stroll leisurely even though he was moving at a brisk pace. “Jono! Jo!” Marcus cried in delight, rushing off to them. The vixen steered clear of the impetuous youth her eyes widening in sudden surprise.

“Who let you in on this?” Jono asked in amusement. The feline’s eyes stole to Garigan and they seemed to chuckle at the ferret. “They’d have to be a mad man!”

“Naw, it was my friend Garigan!” Marcus grinned widely. “Are you coming to see the children be born too?”

“I’m here to help,” Jo said pointedly, though her own smile broke through the look of recrimination she made towards the marten.

“Oh, can I help too?” Marcus asked, his tail flitting back and forth quickly against his trousers.

“I’m shocked,” Garigan replied in a droll voice. “I don’t think I’ve heard a worse idea yet!”

Marcus stuck his tongue out at the ferret then, even as Jono laughed expansively. “Now, friend Marcus, you will find only the company of women where Kimberly will give birth. The men will be outside, and that’s where I think you will want to be too.”

“Well, as long as I get to see em too!” the marten pointed out, even as the reached the base of the roots. Jo moved ahead first, rapping on the door firmly. There was a wagon with a horse hitched to it still at the far side. The horse was cropping what grass had managed to grow around the thick roots.

A donkey morph answered the door, whom Garigan recognized as James, the other friend that Charles had brought with him to the Glen. Garigan had watched James training and he had to admit that the donkey was beginning to account for himself quite well. Another few months and they could begin training him on the finer points of being a Glen scout. “Jo,” James said, recognizing the vixen as he held open the door. “They’re expecting you in the other room.”

“Good,” she turned back looked pointedly at Marcus and then up to Garigan. “Make sure I don’t have to tend to anybody out here too.”

“Hey, you haven’t had to mend me up in what, two, three weeks?” Marcus shot back indignantly, though there was more mischievous humour in his voice than he probably meant to show.

“More like two, three days,” Jo said, her smile wicked. Garigan laughed, as did the rest of them. Jono patted the affronted pine marten on the back of the shoulder, even as Garigan saw the tapestry at the far back of the room get pushed aside.

“Jo!” Charles cried as he stepped into the main room. “I’m glad to see you here. Sir Saulius, you too! Oh come in all of you, come in!”

The rat frantically waved his paws as the five of them filed into the warmth of the main room. Lord Avery was resting upon one of the couches, while Lars was leaning against the wall next to the kitchen doorway with arms crossed. James backed up several paces to make room for them all. Garigan went in last and closed the door behind him, grinning at all the bright faces inside.

“How is she?” Jo asked, giving Lord Avery and Lars only a brief glance.

“She’s doing well. Burris has given her some medication, and Lady Avery is keeping her clean.” His grin broadened to almost impossible width then, showing off more teeth than just his incisors. “And my first child is born! A son! His name is Charles too!”

“Congratulations,” Garigan shouted, and his voice was not the only one. He reached out and grasped his friend in a firm hug, and then felt Saulius do the same thing from the other side.

“Now thou hast better bring the babe out for us all to coo over, oh thee new father,” Saulius said with expansive breath. “Or else we shall ne’er forgive thee!”

Charles beamed brightly, and after ushering Jo into the next room, was quick to do so.

It was fortunate that so many in the Glen were animal morphs, as the scent of a fox entering the room did not startle any of them in the least -- they had long grown accustomed to it. In fact, it was a welcome addition to the panoply of odours that were already mixing into an overwhelming aroma of rat and new rat.

“Jo!” she cried out as she saw the familiar vixen Healer come back into the room. Charles snuck in behind her, grinning widely. He winked to them all, and scooped up little Charles from the blankets and then snuck back outside, the infant crying once more in his arms.

The vixen watched him go with a grimace on his face. “I was hoping to look at the child before he showed him off again.” She smiled then to Kimberly, her tail wagging slightly behind her. “And how are you, Kimberly?”

“I’m... tense....” the rat said between breaths. Her breathing was already picking up again, becoming laboured once more as her body wound itself tight. Was the second going to come so soon?

Jo nodded and moved to the bedside, setting her small basket down atop it. She flipped open the top, and pulled out a few things. “Rub a little of this on the towel,” she handed a small bag filled with a powder of some kind to Angela. “Massage it over her channel once the next one is born. It will help keep the flesh strong but relaxed.”

“Burris, how does it feel?” the vixen asked. Burris had resumed rubbing his wing across Kimberly’s belly, feeling over it and what lay within.

“It feels as if the next child is moving into position. She should begin to feel her contractions again shortly.” Burris turned his head and beak back to Kimberly and smiled with his eyes. “Do you feel the effects of the medicine yet?”

Kimberly nodded some, trying to smile through her heavy breathing. Baerle looked over at the bucket of kindling and drew out a thick piece. “Would you like another chewstick to gnaw on?” Kimberly did not hesitate to nod at that.

Lars was passing out the first mazers of mead as the men laughed and admired the young boy Charles held in his arms. Jono had taken a seat next to Lord Avery, while Garigan, Sir Saulius and James sat opposite them on the other couch. Marcus flitted back and forth between the couches, bouncing on his paws the entire time and babbling in excitement. Charles stayed on his paws, cradling the babe and cooing happily to his son.

“So why aren’t his eyes open?” Marcus asked, casting ugly glances at the bear because Lars had refused to give him any mead!

Charles twitched his whiskers as he grinned. “Well, Burris says that when rats are born they don’t open their eyes for about two weeks. But he also says he thinks little Charles and the rest should have their’s open in less time. Maybe a week at most. They are part human too after all.”

“My Mom says that when I was born my eyes were already open, and that I was looking all over the place, grabbing at everything, and getting into anything I could!” Marcus announced with irrepressible enthusiasm.

“So nothing’s changed then?” Garigan said, grinning over the rim of his mazer. Jono and Lord Avery both chuckled, while Lars just snorted loudly in amusement.

“Hey, I’m a scout now!” Marcus objected, visibly pained. “You can’t talk to me like that anymore.” His body was a tangle of excited nerves and impulses, each one trying to fire at the same time or so it appeared to Charles. Though he was starting to develop into a man, there was an enduring quality to his impishness that the rat found totally infections. No matter what he did, he’d like the pine marten.

“Marcus,” Charles said, patting the pine marten on the shoulder. “Garigan just means that he only wishes that we all had your energy.” He gave his student a quick glance to make sure that he would not contradict him just then. Garigan caught the glance and winked back, chuckling into his paw.

“I might actually be able to keep up with my sons that way,” Brian added smirking as he sipped at his mead. “Oh, that’s an excellent brew.”

“I tapped it only a few days ago,” Lars said from the back of the room. He had no mead himself, but then again, he rarely drank any of his wares in the company of others.

However, the words did appear to mollify and rejuvenate the young pine marten’s spirit. He beamed proudly and nodded his head as if he had thought so all along himself. “And one day I’ll beat those two through the trees too! They’re getting slower the bigger they get! One day!”

Jono laughed and shook his head. “Ah, that reminds me of my own attempt to chase your boys. And what a fine tale that was. But Lord Avery, you have not told us the tale of their birth. What finer time than this to tell us what you did while your wife was bringing those two bundles of joy into the world?”

Even as Lord Avery opened his muzzle to speak, a sharp cry came from the other room. Charles turned his head quickly, sliding his other arm back under his babe. That had been Kimberly’s voice again. “I think I may have another bundle of joy soon. Excuse me. Go ahead and tell your tale.”

Charles smiled to them all once more before plunging back under the tapestry.

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