Rites - Part VI
fter she had chopped all of the herbs as small as she could make them, Lady Avery had directed she mix two of the piles thoroughly, handing her a mortar and pestle to further grind them together. Kimberly pressed in as firmly as she could, though it took several minutes before the squirrel was satisfied at her mixture. Handing her a tea thimble, Angela instructed her to pour as much of the mixture into it as she could. Kimberly was able to fill the thimble completely, but a little spilled onto the floor, floating like a fine mist downwards.
“Don’t worry about any that spills now. You have more than enough. I’ve heated the water now, so you should make a tea with this,” Lady Avery gestured to the brass kettle that was beginning to steam. Faint trickles floated up from the spigot, billowing upwards to vanish into the air.
Kimberly did as instructed, pouring the hot water through the thimble and into a small earthenware bowl. Immediately, the damp vegetable odour became apparent to her nose, and it wrinkled backwards in distaste.
“It will not taste very good, I’m sorry,” the squirrel admitted as she watched, seeing the rat’s reaction. “But it is necessary.”
“Do I have to drink all of it?” Kimberly asked, filling the bowl with a dark green fluid. Some of the crushed herbs floated in the liquid, others settling down at the bottom, having seeped through the thimble.
Lady Avery nodded, her face twisted regretfully. “You may throw that away now,” she said, pointing to the soggy vegetable bits inside the thimble. Angela took the kettle and set it on a crockery plate to cool. “I need to get a few other things. Just let that tea cool first.”
Kimberly nodded, gently touching the side of the bowl. It was already warm. In another few seconds it would be quite hot indeed. She took a step back, trying to get her nose away from the slightly nauseating scent. It thankfully did not permeate the kitchen, but remain confined to the air above the steaming bowl.
When the squirrel returned, she was carrying two censers, one in each paw. She set them both on the lacquer and smiled, “Now, except for the Heleth sprig, I want you to split each pile in half. Then put each half in one of the two censers. Make sure you get every herb in both censers though. Don’t worry about mixing, just get them in there.”
Kimberly nodded, and scooted the greenish-black Heleth sprig aside, and then did her best to separate each pile into halves. Scooping up the chopped leaves and stems, she deposited them first into one censer, and then the next. The censers were small brass objects with room for a single wick, and a narrow funnel opening to direct the fragrance.
Lady Avery smiled as she watched. “Now you’ll need to wash your paws clean first. I have just one other thing I must bring in.” The squirrel left the kitchen once more, while Kimberly took a small hand cloth, dipped it into the cistern, and then wiped her paws clean with it. She laid the damp cloth over the pipe leading up from the chimney, where it would dry again.
By the time she had managed to dry her paws on another cloth, Lady Avery had returned with a thin sheet of bark-wood paper. It was yellow like a freshly cut tree’s pulp, crisscrossed by dark, jagged lines. Carefully, the squirrel set the thin sheet upon the lacquer before the small pile of Heleth sprig. “Kimberly, do try to get as much of the Heleth on the paper as possible. Do not worry about spreading it about just yet. We still have to carry this to your bedroom.”
Kimberly nodded and smiled, humming a bit to herself as she scooped up the black and green bits in her freshly cleaned paws, before depositing them in a pile on the bark-wood paper. She idly wondered if Charles had ever used such paper to hold ink before, but could not remember seeing it in his old chambers at the Keep.
“There,” Kimberly declared proudly, wiping her paws on the dry hand cloth once more. “Do we need to take these in a certain order?”
Lady Avery shook her head. “I’ll bring the censers over, if you would carefully carry that slip of paper. You can come back for the tea in a moment.”
“I can carry the tea,” Baerle offered, standing as she was in the kitchen’s doorway now.
“Oh yes, thank you so much,. Baerle!” Kimberly chimed delightedly. Caroline was staring over her shoulder, but stood well clear as Lady Avery came through with the two unlit censers. Kimberly took either end of the bark-wood paper in her paws, and gently lifted it from the lacquer. Baerle slipped around behind her, accidentally brushing her tail as she did so. Kimberly let out a little squeak of surprise, but did not drop the paper.
“I’m sorry, Kimberly,” Baerle said, watching to see if everything was all right.
“No harm done,” Kimberly said brightly then, smiling back to her friend. “Now be careful, that tea is very hot!”
Baerle smiled to her, and then stared at the steam rising from the dark green liquid. “I see that,” she said quietly. She took the mitten that Angela had used to hold the brass kettle, and its companion still hanging from a hook on the wall, and carefully cradled the bowl within them.
“Do you have it?” Kimberly asked.
“I think so.”
Kimberly bore her smile the entire way to her bedroom, Caroline and the Levins standing out of the way, but close enough to watch. Burris was standing in their doorway as well, idly preening himself distractedly, trying not to spread is wings too far out. Lady Avery had already set down the censers and was now holding the doorway open, keeping the thick woolen tapestry out of the way. Both Kimberly and Baerle strode through the doorway, though slowly and with great care not to spill what they carried.
“Just set that on the bed, Kimberly. You’ll need to be able to reach it once we begin.” Lady Avery said as the rat slipped under the door frame.
Kimberly nodded and laid the bark-wood paper down at the end of their bed, the pile of Heleth sprig still jumbled together in the middle of the sheet. Baerle carefully laid the bowl of tea out on the small table beside the bed. The censers were sitting one on either table, while a fire burned warmly in the hearth. The sconces were all lit, casting the room in a gentle yellowish-orange glow. The two windows were very dark, testifying to the fall of night.
“Now, there is only one thing more we need,” Lady Avery said, motioning to somebody outside the doorway. Burris came into view, his claws rattling against the wooden floor. “We’re about ready to begin. Did you bring the candle?”
Burris nodded, and leaned forward, pressing one of his wings towards the ground. A small pack slid across his bright feathers and onto the ground. “In the centre pouch.” Lady Avery kneeled down over the knapsack, and fiddled with the drawstrings for a moment. Soon, she had opened the pouch and produced a candle that looked just like the paper, the same bright pulpish yellow, marred by dark jagged lines of bark.
“Kimberly, you will need to light one of the censers with this candle. Burris will begin to strengthen the magical energies of the room while you do this.”
Baerle blinked once as she stood a short distance form the bedside. Kimberly took the candle in her paw and slid up onto the quilts, smiling to her friend. The opossum did not seem to see the smile however, as her attention was focussed on the squirrel, or on something beyond the squirrel, as if her thought was down upon the wall scurrying about like a lost ant.
Finally, her eyes focussed upon Lady Avery and she asked, “Do you want me to leave?”
“ I don’t,” Kimberly said. “I want you to be here for this. You are my friend.” Kimberly wanted to tell her she was her sister, but her chest was beginning to constrict. Her paws gripped the candle tightly, claws threatening to dig into the wax. Her tail flicked back and forth across the bedside in agitation. The moment was finally here, and her heart was trembling anxiously, mind a scatter of thoughts. Would it be a boy or a girl, or would it be a rat as Lady Avery had said it might?
Lady Avery frowned at this, but only said, “We do not want to have too many people in here, it could make the reading more difficult, unless they are providing their own magic.”
“The paper is fashioned from wood, so I can imbue it with my magic,” Burris explained, his beak cracked in an avian grin. Given that he was a woodpecker, it was a comical expression. His black-speckled wings fluttered a moment, but he regained control of them.
Caroline was standing just inside the doorway, watching, while from over her shoulder Kimberly could see Annette Levins rubbing her paws together, the spindles on her back twitching like as if they were making their way across her back. Walter was nowhere in sight, but from the sound of logs being dumped on the fire, she knew the tailor to be at the hearth. At Lady Avery’s words, Caroline nodded, and stepped through the doorframe, pulling it shut. The tapestry fell into place behind it, the bright images flashing discordantly under the lamp light.
Kimberly looked down at the candle in her paws, and a smile began to play out across her muzzle. Finally, it came completely to fruition and she glanced back up at the squirrel who was fastidiously adjusting the paper on the end of the bed. “I know how to light a candle with magic. Would that be okay?”
Lady Avery looked up, and smiled warmly to her, more like a friend than a mother, which is how she had been acting the last few days. “Certainly, Kimberly. It will help!”
Beaming brighter, Kimberly held the candle out from her chest, and stared at the wick, imagining a flame there. Murikeer had taught her a few things with magic, taught her how to use the power of her own life and that of the world to bring about even a little light. At first, she had not been able to stir even a spark, but under the skunk’s patient paw, she had seen sparks, and then, true flame at last.
She remembered the first time she’d shown Charles what she’d managed to do. He’d laughed in delight, and hugged her firmly, nuzzling her cheek with his muzzle. He’d then said something about not needing flint anymore, because he had her. That thought made her heart beat all the faster, and her smile wider. Her eyes stayed upon that slender wick, white still where it hung fixed within the yellowed wax.
And then, the tip of it began to sizzle. The air about her paws grew warm as she pulled the threads together, focussing the warmth from the fire as it flowed upon the air onto the end of that wick. The sizzling turned into a few sparks, bright pinpricks of dazzling white light that vanished as soon as they came to life. Her own body warmth was wrapped about that point, pressed tightly upon it, her heart beating like a drummer marching into battle.
Kimberly leaned back when at last the flame came to life, engulfing the end of the wick, rising upwards like a golden tear. She smiled and showed the candle about proudly to the three in her room. Baerle laughed delightedly and clapped her paws together. Burris nodded his beak approvingly, while Lady Avery once more the motherly smile, amused, but focussed on other more important matters.
Leaning over her side table, Kimberly put the end of the candle to the wick of the censer. It caught instantly, and soon a gentle smoke began to drift up through that funnel, spreading out into the air. Strange aromas came to her then, ones she could not place, but brought to her mind dazzling palaces, exquisite tables laden with exotic foods from every corner of the world, and gowns so delicate they would crumble to thread should she touch them. As she breathed in the aroma, she felt herself grow languid, as if the world itself were slowing down so that she might better enjoy it.
“Kimberly, you need to blow out the candle and begin drinking the tea,” Lady Avery’s voice cut through the sudden haze, and brought her back onto the bed. She leaned back against the pillows, and lifted the bowl in both paws. It was still very warm, but not so warm that she could not touch it.
She tried her best not to breathe too deeply of the tea, but it still turned her stomach as the censer stilled it. Leaning her head forward, she tipped the fluid down into her muzzle, the warmth washing across her tongue, tasteless at first, but growing bitter as it went down. She paused a moment to catch her breath, tongue extending far out of her mouth in distaste.
“You have to drink it all,” Lady Avery admonished gently.
Kimberly nodded, noticing that Baerle was standing fairly close, dark eyes full of concern. Burris touching his wings to the wood of the bed, his forehead pressed against it as if he were trying to push it through the wall by himself. Lady Avery simply stood, one paw holding the other, watching, her long tail held tight against her back.
She lifted the bowl once more to her lips, the bitter tea wrinkling her nose. She drank it down though, closing her eyes, but she drank it down, feeling the loose particles of the herbs drift across her tongue and down her throat along with the tea. She felt her stomach clench tightly as she finished the last of the concoction, wondering idly if this was how Charles felt when she made him drink his tea in the morning.
Visibly revolted, she held the bowl out to Baerle, who took it and set it down on the wooden floor. Kimberly was glad to be rid of it, the taste lingering like an unwanted guest on her tongue. Looking up, she saw that Lady Avery was nodding in approval. “It will take a little while for the broth to settle into your system. You will need to learn a few chants in the meantime, while the magic collects. I’ll say them, and you repeat them. We’ll do this until it is time.”
“How will we know it is time?” Kimberly asked.
Lady Avery smiled and gestured with one paw to the lit censer. “The first censer will go out. You’ll need to light the second one of course, but we will know that you are ready then.” She drew in a deep breath, composing herself, standing up straighter. The tip of her tail flicked back and forth behind her head like a giant ladle. “Are you ready?”
Kimberly nodded, paws resting upon her grey blouse. She could almost feel her belly growing with her pregnancy as she sat upon the bed, still wondering what could be inside of her.
It was at least two hours past dusk when the meal was finally finished. They had managed to eat the entire elk, except for the head, which Berchem and Angus were stuffing properly so they might present it to Charles as a gift to mount upon his wall. Charles had protested this of course, as he had not killed the beast, so he had no right to display it like a trophy. But neither the skunk nor the badger would hear any of it, and insisted. Finally, the rat relented and accepted the gift, but it still felt strange to think he would show a head he had not taken in his own home.
He could have stayed longer at the brewery enjoying the company of so many friends, and the pleasure of so much wine, but his curiosity finally got the better of him. Charles wanted to see how his wife was doing, and to find out to what he’d be the father soon. Though he would not admit it to any, he secretly hoped that his child would be born a rat. After so many years in this form, it was a matter of pride for him, and he hoped that his children would be able to share in that pride.
Of course, like any father-to-be, he was hoping for a boy as well. He would love any daughter he had as well, but whenever he thought of a child, he always thought of a son. One who could bear his name and continue his line. A son he could teach to fight with sword, staff and bow, to track and to hunt. A son he could teach to read and write, and maybe even the tongue of his native land. Charles smiled as he thought about all the things he could do with a son.
So, eager to find out if he would have a son or not, he stumbled back to his home, with Misha’s help of course. The Long came with him, as did a good number of Glenners. Garigan was now at his side, laughing with him as they sang the chorus from the Scouting song one more time. The lamps in the Glen were lit, dancing before his eyes like a flock of fireflies on a Summer’s day. It was dark, the moon not yet risen in the night sky, and only the twinkling of stars overhead told them that there was still a sky up past the uppermost boughs of the redwoods.
When they finally reached his home, they found the door opening out to them. Caroline stood in the doorway, and Misha let go of the rat’s arm to rush forward and embrace her. The two licked each other’s muzzles once, smiling as they held each other in their arms. “You’ve been drinking,” Caroline said simply, her voice only gently reproachful, but her smile content.
Charles, no longer having the fox’s weight helping to bear him up, stumbled against the roots that lined the path down to their door. Garigan laughed at his side, and straightened him up once more. Charles nodded appreciatively, and walked more steadily down to the two Longs still entwined. They stepped inside the warmth of his home as he neared, and he pushed past, finding the nearest seat to collapse gratefully into.
Walter and Annette Levins were standing near the fire, the tailor holding out her hands to warm them. Her stern features were softer than usual, but she did not speak. The hedgehog bubbled delightedly as she saw them enter, and rushed over to greet Charles. “Oh young man, it is good to see you once more! You look and smell like you’ve been having a wonderful time!”
Charles laughed a bit, as more and more of the Longs and Glenners filtered within his main room, their voces still laughing and a few still trying to sing. Walter glared at them and shushed at them.
“What is it?” Charles asked, his eyes surprised. The wine was still dulling his mind, but it was slowly ebbing back and forth, giving him moments of clarity amidst the roiling waters of his drunkenness.
Annette smiled, her small eyes nearly squeezing shut as she did so. “Your wife is beginning the ritual. Everyone needs to keep quiet so that she does it right.”
He blinked. Several times in fact. He rose up from the chair, the fog gone from his mind in that moment. He glanced about the room, scanning every nook and crevice, as if expecting to see his wife already gone into labour. “Where?”
“Your bedroom,” Annette gestured with one paw, still smiling.
“How long will it take?” Charles asked then, still standing, but feeling the weight of alcohol trying to drag him back down once more.
The hedgehog shrugged, “It’s different for everyone, young man.”
Misha and Caroline, still practically entangled in each other’s clothing, came over to where Charles finally slumped back down in his chair, eyes staring vacantly at the floor. Misha patted his shoulder, “We’ll stay here with you, Matt. We’ll stay up with you until you know.”
A slight smile returned to his features, and he patted the fox’s paw still resting on his shoulder, “Thank you, Misha!” He looked up to his friend, and after a brief rapport, glanced about the room. It was then that he noticed the three cribs against the wall stacked with various piles of clothing and other odds and ends. “What is all that?”
Caroline practically glowed, even as her arm snaked around Misha’s back. “Those are the gifts, silly! Would you like to see them while we wait?”
“Yes!” he said, trying to leap from his chair, but only managing to throw himself upon the ground.
“Easy there,” Garigan said, as he and Misha helped Charles back to his hind paws.
“Don’t kill yourself before you find out!” Meredith crowed from where he hunched against a wall. Charles did not have a chair big enough for the bear, so he was forced to sit against the wall.
Charles brushed his shirt off as he got back on his hind paws. He laughed a bit, quietly though, as did his fellow Longs. His mind though was awash in confusing sensations. He felt as if he were being tossed about in the sea during a storm, moving first one way, and then another. But there was an buoy he held fast to, maintaining some stability despite the raging waters. Very soon he was going to find out what his child would be.
“In semine durat genus. Meum et tuum. In semine durat genus,” Kimberly uttered the last words of the chant, focussing her will upon them, and upon the Heleth placed upon the wood paper. She could feel the power that Burris had placed within it tripping over her tongue with each syllable. Her own inner strength seemed to swell, as if fed each new word of the chant. The scent of the incense burning only connected her more fully to that reservoir of strength. Inside her, she could feel the tea churning, coursing through every vein and muscle.
It had taken about an hour for the first censer to burn out. She had practised those words, and had been told what she must do afterwards. Several times aloud she had repeated each step so that Lady Avery might be convinced she had a firm grasp of the ritual. As she had been practising, Kimberly had felt as if it was knowledge that she would never again use, as if she were watching another from far away. She felt as if the censer would never burn out, and she would never actually use the magical incantations she was learning. But now that the moment had come, it was moving all too swiftly.
Kimberly had heard Charles come back home, accompanied by the Longs. She had just lit the bark-wood candle again with her own dweomers, her body now suffused with the tea and the herbs percolated in the air. That moment felt both aeons ago and only seconds ago, constantly shifting back and forth as time seesawed in her concentration.
As the last words of the incantation hung in the air, as if dangling from strings, she leaned forward on the bed, and placed both of her paws firmly into the Heleth sprig spread across the paper. Before she had begun the incantation, after she lit the second censer, she’d very gently spread the black and green herb across the sheet, trying to keep it as even as possible. Now she pushed down, feeling a sullen warmth from the appear as her fingers met it. The sprig itself was unnaturally cold, as if fashioned from ice.
Kimberly held her fingers stretched out, the paper warming by the moment. She could feel her belly warm as well, the tea now charging her flesh, burning hot as if strangling a fever. A gurgling resounded within her, as if a well bubbling up from a crack in the ground for the very first time. From that well sprang a flow that traced upwards leek ivy along her flesh, curling around her fur and backside, moving over her shoulders and down into her arms. The tendrils pulsed with that spring, sending wavelets through those vines that pressed down into her paws, and then spread out across her fingers, circling until they settled into each tip, a burning flame meeting the paper and her flesh.
She gritted her teeth, knowing that her fingers were being singed and perhaps blackened by this fire, but also knowing that Lady Avery had assured her no harm would be done. The pain only grew as the wavelets continued to flow from within her belly. The Heleth sprig beneath her paws shifted about, scratching at her palms, digging through the flesh as if to tunnel their way out into the air. Her finger tips burned as though she were pressing them to metal being forged, her flesh sizzling and shrivelling.
And then, as if a great cork had been wedged within the crack, the spring stopped flowing, the vines unravelled themselves from about her flesh, and the burning at her finger tips ebbed, and after a moment in which she could do aught but breathe heavily, tired and weary, that too vanished. Kimberly felt paws upon her shoulders, pulling her back. Her hands were stiff, but otherwise, there was nothing wrong with them. She clenched her fingers into her palm, eyes only slowly opening.
Baerle was helping her to lay back upon the pillows, smiling warmly to her friend. Burris still had his wings pressed to the wood, but he too was straightening up, wincing as his back did not want to move very fast. Lady Avery was gently reaching forward to examine the bark-wood paper and the Heleth sprig upon it. Staring past her legs, Kimberly could see that the sprig had collected itself into several piles, three on one side, two on the other. The piles were strangely shaped as well, but she could not see how clearly.
Lady Avery’s eyes went wide as she examined the paper, her muzzle falling agape in complete surprise. She glanced up at the rat, and then back to the paper, and once more at the rat. And then, as if needing to convince herself again, she peered back at the yellow sheet, tracing over each pile, though not touching, with her fingers. Finally she stood back, nearly bumping into Burris who was stretching his wings out, working loose whatever kinks had formed in his back.
“This is... remarkable,” Lady Avery managed to say at last, her voice quiet, as if she was standing on a distant mountain and speaking into the wind.
Kimberly felt exhausted, her eyelids trying to sink back down. Her mind taxed, she wished nothing more than to sleep all night and all day tomorrow as well. What is it that Angela saw, she wondered blearily. Finally, after several moments where she just took deep breaths, she managed to ask.
In breathless tones, Lady Avery answered. Kimberly blinked once at the news, and then promptly fell back against her pillows surrendering completely to the beckoning call of slumber.
Despite the distraction of examining the many gifts that had been brought for them, ever did Charles’ eyes stray to his bedroom door, closed to him now. Beyond that doorway subtle chanting could be heard, given by his wife no less. It had become a gentle refrain for him, one that soothed him, assured him that she was well. But it also made his mind race in circles, dashing the drunkenness from his body as surely as her concoction did in the mornings. To what would he be a father? What was their child to be?
It had not yet been a week since he had discovered that he was to be a father, but it still felt as if this moment had been building for months. How long had he been married now? Almost two months, of which he’d spent perhaps little more than three weeks in the company of his wife. Now he was to be a father, something to which he had never given a great deal of thought, but from which he could not escape now, even if he wanted to.
As he stroked his paws across one of the cribs, he smiled and trembled at yet another sign of his coming fatherhood. He gave the crib a gentle push, and it rocked back and forth. His smile became a quiet laugh, eyes flickering across the cushions set within, and the baby toys nestled on top of them. His eyes also went to the closed door, ears lifted high to catch every inflection of his wife’s tongue.
Caroline was calmly explaining all of the gifts, each in turn, while some of the other Longs warmed themselves by the fire. Ralls, Finbar, and Meredith were leaning over a small game of dice, while Angus looked on with keen interest. Danielle had her arms wrapped about Finbar’s chest, his paws stroking her fur as they embraced. Misha was holding Caroline in much the same way, his snout nuzzling across one of her short rounded ears. They were all more affectionate than the rat could ever remember seeing them, but the assault had taught them all just how precarious life could be. How could he blame them? He certainly wished only to hold his wife in his arms and whisper of his love.
And it was then that Charles realized his wife was no longer chanting. His heart stopped within his chest, held tight in anticipation. He held up one paw, waving Caroline to silence. The otter blinked at him, “What is it, Charles?”
“She’s stopped,” he said, his voice trembling, as if perched upon a narrow tree limb that was cracking.
Annette was standing only a few paces from them, looking over the gifts herself as if remembering something fondly. “That means it is done. You’ll know in just a moment, young ma,” she said brightly, smiling up to him for a moment before turning bak to contemplating the baby clothes.
Charles tensed, his smile widening. His flesh tingled, the fur standing up on its ends. This was the moment he’d been waiting for this entire week long. Now it had finally arrived, and he could not even concentrate on keeping his thoughts together. His Sondeck pulsed within him so rapidly he was afraid he would crack the floor beneath him simply by stepping down.
Misha stopped holding tight to Caroline to straighten up. He put a reassuring paw on Charles’ shoulder, as did the otter, both smiling. “Steady, Charles,” Misha said, his voice firm, but filled with good humour. The other Longs and Glenners looked up from what they were doing, waiting as well for the news.
And then, the door opened, the tapestry pulled back. Burris was the first to step out, stretching his wings still, his beak unreadable though. He blinked several times as he saw so many gathered in that room, bringing to it a warmth that the fire alone could not accomplish. But he said nothing, as Lady Avery emerged from the room only a moment later, her eyes scanning about for Charles. Behind her, Charles could see Baerle kneeling at his bedside, stroking a paw across his wife’s forehead.
What was Baerle doing in there? He thought, feeling his heart skip another beat. However, his pondering on the opossum was brought to a halt as soon as the squirrel spoke. “It is finished.” Her eyes had a faraway look, as if she was still uncertain of something, but not something she would ever say.
Lord Avery moved away from the fire and came to stand behind Charles as well, giving him a solid pat on the back. The rat managed to remain on his feet, taking a brief moment to smile back to the Lord of the Glen. He then returned to Angela and asked, “Is my wife well?”
She nodded. “She’s just resting. The ritual exhausted her. She won’t wake up until sometime tomorrow.”
“And my child?” Charles asked, not knowing whether he really wanted to know, and yearning for the answer in equal measures.
Lady Avery suddenly bore an odd glint, and glanced at one of the chairs. “I think you had best sit down for this.” Charles wasted no time in doing so. Misha leaned against the side of the seat, while the other Long’s clustered about, each eager to hear the verdict.
She took a deep breath, glancing once towards Burris, who stood mutely and stock still, and then back to the bedroom. Baerle was looking out the doorway now, but Charles could only see a sliver of her face, for which he was glad. He did not think he could meet her gaze just then. His whole body trembled, legs and tail shaking as he waited to find out.
“Well,” Lady Avery began, composing herself slowly, “your child... children will be rats.”
Charles felt a sudden elation at that, and smiled, giggling a bit, and then laughing more fully. About him the Longs also laughed, sharing in his delight. His heart beat again, several times in fact, before the full weight of her words bore down upon him, making themselves understood in his crazed state. “Children?”
The squirrel nodded, her tail flittering back and forth in sudden agitation. “Yes. You are to have three boys and two girls.”
Charles felt his jaw fall into his lap. The Longs all stood mute in shock as well for several seconds, before Misha collapsed against the side of the chair, slipping down to the floor as his legs splayed out behind him, laughing so heavily the rat thought sure he would shatter glass. And with that the rest of the assembly either broke into gales of hysteria, or shouts of congratulations!
But Charles sat there mutely for several long seconds, staring at the grey squirrel as if she had just pronounced him King of the world. He could not yet wrap his mind around what had been said, the words teasing the corners of his mind, stabbing and poking into the flesh. Finally, he managed to get his muzzle and tongue to work again once more and he managed to blurt, “Five?”
Lady Avery nodded, her own muzzle stretching into a mirthful smile. Lord Avery had managed to regain his composure, and patted the rat on the shoulder, “And I thought I’d had a litter!”
Misha himself struggled onto his knees, leaning over the arm of the chair, still laughing between every word, “You do breed like rats!”
Charles felt his face flush crimson at that, and he pressed himself back into the chair, as if to disappear within the cushions. Laura was at his other side, her smile wide, “I guess we can make you two more cribs!”
Lowering his face into his paws, Charles felt himself beginning to laugh as well, though it was the laugh of a stunned man who could feel his delight, but was only now ready to let it free. Lady Avery’s voice caught at his ears once more, holding that delight in check. “There is one other thing.”
He lifted his gaze quickly. “What?” The laughter was beginning to die down, as everyone tried to listen in to what Angela had to say.
She took a few deep breaths, suppressing her own mirth again. “Because your children will be rats, as with Brian and myself when we had Darien and Christopher, her pregnancy will not last as long as normal. It will be much shorter.”
Charles felt himself tense up once more, his nerves being rubbed raw by a toothy rasp. “When?” he managed to ask, his voice naked with the need to know, and the need for their to be no more to know.
Again, Lady Avery took a deep breath, but only one this time. “The end of May. A little over two months from now.”
Charles blinked once as he heard that, and then fell back against the chair, mercifully passing out as he hit the cushions from every shock.
|Talk to me!|