The wind whipped around us. I pulled my cape closer around the two sleeping children in front of me. The rolling hills surrounding the country side were doing nothing to block the wind.
Running away from the revolution was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be by the queen. Since I was a little boy, I was taught to protect the queen; to be her Hawk, her one and only protector. Anger swelled in me. I was doing woman’s work. No. I couldn’t think like that. I was sent off by both the King and Queen to hide away in the forest where a group of travelers were waiting to take the Princess as well as my son and I into protection. I felt very grateful towards the travelers already. They were willing taking a valuable run away, and her protectors.
When Princess Ember was born, I had mentioned to their Majesties that I had a son who I hoped would follow in my foot steps. It had been arranged right away that he would be trained to protect Ember, to be her Hawk.
For a little over a year now, I have been training my son the ways of chivalry and conduct. It has been a slight struggle to teach a young boy of the age of four and a half years to remember all of the ‘rules’. Throughout many struggles over the year he is a very well mannered five year old.
I had started to beg Their Majesties to allow me to bring my son-since I was his only caretaker left after his mother died in childbirth- but they interrupted with their consent before I could speak.
The steady gate of my horse, Windsong, slowed down a tiny bit. We were now entering the forest of Breena. The forest of magic. Only well experienced travelers used this forest path. Most of the common folk, soldiers, and nobles preferred to use the more worn, open path that went around this forest. There were stories told about this forest. Many of them about people disappearing. I didn’t think that the disappearances were due to magic, but due to people getting irrevocably lost.
One thing magical about the forest nonetheless was that it looked magical. The trees loomed in the air, casting shadows that glowed from the early sunrise. The grass glittered from morning dew. Roots from the trees, flowers, and other plants seemed to create delicate pictures upon the ground. It was a forest that could birth a fairy tale.
The sun seemed to be on fire as it rose. Making the forest glow even more. Almost as if the sun was a alarm horn because within moments Princess Ember started to cry. Her innocent cry awoke Sergei. I opened my cape from its cocoon position around them and turned Ember around from her swaddle so that both of them could see the magic of the forest.
Princess Ember stared at the sun for a moment before wiggling back towards the cape. Her cry was muffled by my riding shirt. Sergei looked up at me after peering at the luminous forest.
“Where are we Papa?” His young voice was sleepy.
“That my son, I can not tell you right now. You will know soon enough.”
“It is a secret. Just like it is a secret about tiny Ember. Remember?”
“Oh… I remember Papa. I am not suppose to tell anyone who asks.”
“Good. Now I want you to go back to sleep just as Ember has done.”
Sergei grimaced at me but curled back up around Ember and shut his eyes. I pulled at my cape again, to cover the children. It amazed me how children seem to always be able to fall asleep no matter what is going on.
There was scantly enough room left on Windsong. I was sitting as far back as I could on him then wrapped around my chest was Ember, Sergei was sitting below the swaddle, slightly between my legs. I patted Windsong’s side, he was a good war horse.
A few hours passed before I began to hear the bubble of noise from a large crowd. Both Ember and Sergei were awake now. I would have to stop. Ember needed to eat, and needed her diaper changed. I couldn’t keep silencing her with her binkie. She was becoming angry. Sergei who was trying to sit straight against my stomach, below Ember‘s swaddle, was trying to sing a soft lullaby to her.
“Sergei do you remember our Disguise Plan?” My voice was slightly rusty after hours of disuse.
“Of course Papa.”
“Good. When I stop Windsong, get ready to help me go through it.”
Sergei nodded eagerly, he has always loved taking part in everything I did. I slowed Windsong to a stop, steadying Sergei before dismounting with Ember.
“Stay still Windsong.” No response came from Windsong except for him lowering his noble head down to graze the grass.
It was slightly odd to try to hold Sergei close as I pulled him off of Windsong with Ember in her swaddle. I put Sergei down on the ground and undid the drawstrings to the lower satchel. It held worn baby clothing.
Before we had left the palace I taken the Princess out of her red satin jumper and replaced it with a cotton white one. She now would fit in more, but not enough to blend in entirely. I handed Sergei a changing cloth so Princess Ember wouldn’t have to be put onto the hard ground while we ate. I pulled out a few pieces of baby clothing. Like the jumper she had on these were also cotton, but they were a light brown color instead of white.
Princess Ember would always look royal because of her looks, but that couldn’t stop her from dressing as a commoner. As gently as I could I removed Ember from her swaddle and put her down on the changing cloth.
“Sergei please hand me the goat milk, it is in the satchel that held the clothing.“
“Yes Papa.“ Sergei practically bounced over to Windsong. He was tall for a five year old. Just last month he had trouble reaching the bottom satchel. He now could reach into it to grab the milk. “Here you go.”
“Thank you Sergei. We will eat soon. We just have to feed Ember first.”
“I know Papa.” He sat down against the tree next to Windsong.
As quickly as I could I poured the milk into the bottle that I had stashed into a pocket in my cape. Ember was starting to wail. I had to hurry or her cry might bring unwanted company.
I picked her up and cradled her to my chest easing the bottle into her mouth. She crinkled her nose at the taste but she didn’t stop drinking it.
It took her approximately thirteen minutes. Never before had I seen a baby drink milk so fast. It made me feel horrible for not stopping earlier than I did. But I think I made the right choice because I think had we stopped sooner someone would have surely seen us.
I placed Ember onto my shoulder. Praying she wouldn’t spit up on my favorite shirt, I began to burp her. Sergei watched me fascinated. After two minutes of coaxing Ember let out a most un-lady like burp. Sending Sergei into giggles. The site of Sergei laughing made me smile. The life I had chosen for him was a rough one. Sergei’s laughing made Ember chortle.
Smiling I laid Ember down on the changing cloth and put her in dress that was plain except for the row of embroidered flowers on the bottom, and a hat that matched the dress.
Ember seemed content to lay down on the cloth so I let her be as I stood up to grab food for Sergei and me. It was simple food-bread, cheese, and sausage-but it would do for a light lunch.
“Here you go Sergei. Eat fast okay?”
“Okay Papa. I’ll hurry.”
I watched the two young children; they were calm and happy. Ember had no clue that both of her parents were probably dead by now. Sergei knew that we on the run but he did not know what we were running from. I dreaded the day I had to tell Ember the truth about this. Unsettled I fed Windsong half of my bread instead of eating it myself.
“All done Papa,” Sergei looked at me for approval.
“Good. I‘m going to help you onto Windsong. When we reach the travelers I do not want you to say a word unless I look at you. Am I understood?”
“Yes,” Sergei stood up from the tree and walked over to Windsong.
“Up you go son,” I scooped him up and set him onto the saddle. He was too small to ride Windsong by himself but with me leading it was okay.
Ember cooed at me thinking she had been ignored.
“Do not fret young one. I am coming. Hopefully our small journey is over,” I went over to the Princess and picked her up and carefully put her back into her swaddle. “Come here Windsong. Time to go,” he lifted up his head from grazing and trotted over to me. “Good boy, lets go.” I picked up the reins and started to head towards the noise of the travelers group.
At a brisk stroll we had reached the group, at my guess of ten minutes. Before I let Windsong round a slight curve hidden by trees to enter a tiny clearing were the travelers were I checked all of our clothing. Our clothing weren’t the best ‘commoners’ outfits but they were better than our more expensive clothing that we were originally wearing.
I led Windsong into the clearing, before us were approximately twelve tents. It was hard to tell if there were more because half of them were a quarter of the height of the hundred year old trees.
No one really paid any attention to us, at first. That all changed when a slightly older woman exited a huge tent that was to the left of our position in the thinning trees. She came towards us at a leisurely pace.
“You are Soldier Pavel, yes?” She had lowered her voice so no one near us could hear.
“May I ask who you are?”
“I am Merinda. You are looking for me, yes? The Queen mentioned me?”
“Yes. Is there somewhere better we could…talk about this?”
“Of course. Follow me,” she led us to the back of the clearing.
Merinda was a small woman. Her face was chiseled inward from years of lower food rations, her hair fell thick and straight down her back it was the color of a faded brown velvet sofa. Unlike most people who did not come from the palace she held her head and shoulders back. I could tell she did the same amount of work as anyone else did within the camp because as we walked towards the back of the camp I noticed people nodding their heads respectfully at her.
More of the smaller tents were back here. I realized that the smaller ones are living spaces. There were probably more than twenty tents. It shocked me at how big this camp was.
“This will be your home for now. When the little ones get bigger, we will add on connector tents,” Merinda said stopping in front of a tent.
“Thank you, please go in first,” I held open the flap for her as she went into the tent. “I will be right in, I must tie up Windsong.”
I led Windsong over to the nearest tree. It wasn’t a horse post, but it would do for now.
“Papa, can I come down now?”
“Yes son. Welcome to our new home.” I picked up Sergei, holding him away from the swaddle and put him on the ground.
“May I go in?”
“Yes, make sure Merinda sits down before you, mind,” I said tying the reins around a low thick branch.
“Of course Papa,” Sergei pranced into the tent. I could hear him asking her as politely as he could to sit down.
“Come on little Ember, lets bring in our supplies,” I tightened the straps on her swaddle before lifting off the satchels from Windsong.
The satchels weren’t heavy so I could easily carry them without jostling Ember.
Windsong was only tied up a few feet from the tent. I went over to the tent and pushed my way through the flaps of the tent expecting to be slightly cramped in the small tent. The tent which had appeared small on the outside was actually quiet large. In the far right corner there were two small cots, on the left there was a medium sized dresser, left of the entrance was a big tube and smaller wash basin, and to the right of the entrance was a sitting area with pillows for seats.
Merinda and Sergei were sitting on the pillows.
“I have already talked to my people. We have decided that we will acknowledge her as the Princess but she will not be dismissed of any chore or duty. To other people outside of us, she will be your daughter,” Merinda had to raise her voice because I had gone over to the dresser to put down the satchels containing all of our things.
“That is perfectly acceptable but why my daughter?” I asked coming over to the pillows to sit down in between them.
“Because it will be the best spot for her to be in your protection without making you a criminal.”
“Ah, I see now. Is there anything else I should be aware of?”
“We would love it if you could teach all of us how to defend ourselves with and without weapons. Will you do this?”
“Of course, it would be my pleasure to teach the young boys…”
“And the women. We do not discriminate against women as they do in the palace Sir.”
“Yes of course, forgive me. I did not mean to come off as rude,” I bowed my head towards her. “Where will the Princess sleep in here?”
“Over in the corner next to the beds is a small cradle. It will work for now.”
What I had thought of as just a basket next to the slightly larger cot was the cradle. I got up from the pillows and went over to the cradle. As lightly as I could I removed the sleeping Princess from the swaddle and laid her into the cradle. All she did was mumble and curl slightly inward. I went to the satchels and got out a small blanket to put over Ember.
“Thank you for everything. This was more than I hoped for on the way here. The Queen was right for trusting you and yours,” I told Merinda walking back to the pillows.
“It is our pleasure. We do not wish for the Princess to die. We already know that the Queen and King will die, and new monarchies will replace them. There is nothing we can do to change her parents fate, but we can help hers. Do you care to tell me what started the revolution?”
“I am not quiet positive of why it started but I can tell you what has happened to my knowledge.”
“That is all I ask for.”
“The Princess was to be pledged in agreement to be marry the Prince of the Southern half of our country. They had made, and signed the papers. Both sides. It was expose to bring peace into both of our lands. Within the following month the treaty was broken. They started to raid our villages. Working their way towards the palace. The day before they attacked the palace itself their Majesties sent me off in the dark of night with the Princess. They had given me general directions to where you would be. I had been told that if I was caught, then this country would lose all hope of thriving. The new monarchies will destroy our land, our people, and our dreams. Which is why it is a relief that there are people like you who wish for our country to live, and not die.”
“No one knows of your absence? Your whereabouts?” Merinda looked at me harshly.
“No, I told no one where we were headed. If they notice me missing, they will assume I was killed in a fight,” I raised my hands in a silent plea of innocence.
“Good, then we shall be in better luck,” Merinda stood up from her seat. “I must go and help prepare dinner. Tonight you rest, but tomorrow you join us in work.”
“Of course. But if you need me to work tonight, I will gladly lend a hand.”
“I need you to rest tonight, not work. You will be notified when dinner is prepared. And then you must meet the group.”
Merinda left the tent, leaving us by ourselves.
“Come on Sergei, let us unpack,” I stood up from my pillow and headed over to the satchels with Sergei on my heels.
I didn’t realize how little I had packed until everything was put away into the dresser. The dresser had three big drawers and two little drawers on it. The bottom drawer was Sergei’s, the middle had Ember’s things, and the top one was mine. I had put our items that were not clothing into the two smaller drawers. There was so much room left in the dresser that I felt guilty for not packing more.
Throughout unpacking Sergei had remained quiet.
“Are you feeling well Sergei?” I asked before standing up.
“I am tired Papa, that is all.”
“Why don’t you head to bed. I will wake you when it is time to eat. Just be sure you do not jostle the cradle.”
“I won’t Papa.” Sergei tip toed over to his cot and peered at the Princess before getting onto the smaller cot. He fell asleep almost instantly.
There was nothing more I could do inside the tent. I opened the top right corner drawer and took out the curry brush. I would wipe down Windsong. He needed to be brushed. It was bad enough I didn’t brush him down before this.
When I walked out of the tent I was surprised to see how many people there really was. They all glanced at me, but did not stop what they were doing to ask me anything. I bet I am going to be asked a lot of things after being formally introduced to the group.
Windsong whined towards me when I went near him.
“I know, I know. Hush now. You are going to get your brushing,” brushing Windsong seemed to calm me down more. I was more at peace than I had been since the revolution had started, which was about a week ago.
Once Windsong was completely brushed I went back into the tent. I could hear Ember start to fuss. I went over to the dresser and opened up Ember’s drawer. I took out the thermos that I had wrapped in a wool blanket. I opened the lid and smelled the milk. It was still good. As quickly as I could I made her a bottle.
When I got to Ember I heard the tent flap open. I turned around to see who it was, it was Merinda.
“Yes?” I asked picking up Ember from the cradle.
“Dinner is ready, you should bring Ember out with you. They need to know that she is completely unscratched. The dining tent is near the front of the camp. You can’t miss it; all you have to do is follow your nose.” Merinda said leaving the tent.
I settled Ember in my right arm-holding onto the bottle with my hand- and gently shook awake Sergei.
“Come on son, it is time to eat.”
“Okay, I am going,” Sergei sat up and rubbed his eyes. The poor boy was probably exhausted.
“Put your cloak on, it is getting cold,” I wrapped my cape around my shoulders, using my left hand to button it together at the top.
I couldn’t put the Princess in her swaddle if they were expecting to see her. But I couldn’t leave her without something warmer over her. The only blanket I had for her was the one she had in her cradle. I didn’t want to use it encase it became dirty, but I had no choice. I laid Ember down on my cot and laid out the blanket so I could wrap her into it.
We left our tent not long after Merinda had left. Ember was starting to cry which made Sergei nervous.
“What is wrong with her Papa?” He was walking fast to keep up with my stride.
“She is hungry, just like we are.”
“Why doesn’t she just ask for food, instead of crying?”
“She can not speak yet, she has yet to learn. Ember is a baby,” I smiled down at Sergei and his innocent question.
“Oh… I see now,” Sergei scrunched up his face. I’ve noticed that he does that when he is thinking about something.
“Good. When she is older, you can help me teach her how to speak properly. Would you like that?”
“Oh yes! I could teach her how to bow!” Sergei’s face lit up like a hundred candles.
I laughed loudly.
“Oh my son. Women do not bow, they curtsey.”
“Why don’t they bow? And what’s a curtsey?”
“They don’t bow because that isn’t what women do, its what men do. It separates us from each other. Do you remember the Queen?””
“Oh… Yes I remember her.”
“Do you remember when she would stand to greet people and while the King bowed she curtsied? I told you about this remember?”
“Oh! That is what a curtsey is? That seems like a lot more work than a bow….Are we almost there Papa?”
“Yes, do you see the very big tent a little bit in front of us?”
“That is the dining hall. When we get in there, I want you on your best behavior, understood?”
“Yes of course Papa.”
“Good, what do you do when someone gives you something?”
“You tell them thank you, and when you want something you say please. Right?”
“Very good. You remember well. Here you go,” I held open the left flap so Sergei could enter the tent. The inside of the tent was much warmer than the outdoors. I saw the reason why when I noticed the miniature bonfire in the center of the tent.
The tent went silent when we entered. Whether it was because Ember’s cries were now louder or the fact that we were dressed completely different than they were.
Everyone was wearing either a rich brown color or black. Most of the women I noted were wearing leggings and tunics like the men. There were women like Merinda who were wearing gowns or a shirt with a floor length skirt. Sergei was wearing light tan traveling cloths, Ember was wrapped up in a wool blanket that was a deep blue color.
Merinda stood up from across the room and came towards us. As she came to us she looked into Ember’s face. I could see her eyes gleam with the future that was held in the young Princess.
“Everyone I am so very joyous to bring to your attention the Princess Ember and her saviors, Sir Pavel and his young son Sergei. As we talked about earlier, we are to make them feel as they are one of us. They are one of us. This is our future. We will raise her, we will not only raise her, but we will raise her an army. She will bring back what is to be a long sorrow filled rein. Sir Pavel, is there anything you would like to say?”
“Yes. I want to thank each and everyone of you from the depths of not only my heart but the country’s as well. You are helping save what is good and innocent from the evil. Thank you for housing us. Thank you for more than words can say. I am looking forward to living with you all, learning with you, teaching you, and just growing old with you. Thank you for not only housing the Princess but my son and I as well,” I bowed to all of them, gesturing at Sergei to do the same.
“Come sit with me. We will discuss how our daily life goes. Do all of your clothes look like that?” Merinda asked walking us to a wooden table that wobbled slightly when we sat down.
“Yes. I wasn’t able to obtain any clothes other than our traveling clothes. I would have purchased some if it weren’t for our rush to leave the palace grounds.”
“That is understandable. I am sure we have clothes to spare for all of you, although Ember might have to wait a until winter for new clothing but that is okay. How much milk have you gathered for her?”
“Not much, I am afraid I only have enough for one more bottle,” I said coaxing Ember to drink from her bottle.
“Hmmm I am sure we can find something to be a replacement for her for the time being but I think it would be best to start weaning her off the bottle. It isn’t good to introduce normal food as they grow older. I’ve seen many women do this and then their children end up with severe reactions to a lot of food. Which makes life difficult for someone who can only afford simple food,” Merinda said bluntly handing me a small wooden bowl filled with a vegetable soup for Sergei.
“Yes… That makes sense.”
“Talk with me after dinner about milk for Ember. Now we should go over the daily schedules of our life. It is pretty simple. Unlike our name, we are not like normal travelers. Normally we do not travel unless there is a dire need to. Everyday you will teach us how to defend ourselves, you will join the men in gathering the wood, and the meat. Your son will join our school. We do not accept uneducated children in our camp. When Ember is older she will also join the school. Life is simple here,” Merinda said turning to her neighbor and started talking about an event that had happen earlier today.
I looked over to Sergei, to see him happily eating. Ember was done with her bottle and needed to be burped. I didn’t want to burp her without a rag covering my clothes. I really didn’t want to chance the fact that she might not spit up on me again. I looked around my seat, there wasn’t even a napkin for me to use. `
“Are you wishing to burp her?” A woman’s voice said behind me.
I turned around and froze. In front of me seemed to be an exact copy of my deceased wife. Everything matched except for her hair. My wife had had thin curly hair while the woman in front of me had thick straight hair.
“Yes… I just can’t find a napkin so I may burp her. Do you know where one is?” I forced the question out of my throat.
“I do, I will bring it back to you,” she left the table I was sitting at to walk to the other side of the tent.
I tapped Merinda’s shoulder. “Who was that?”
“That was Larina. She takes care of the little ones who are to young to attend our school,” Merinda raised her eyebrow at me.
“She is very nice. She is looking for a napkin for me so that I may burp Ember,” I looked around the tent for Larina. She wasn’t anywhere. When I looked down at Ember to try to calm her soft cries down I was shocked when a soft hand came into my view.
“May I hold her?”
“Oh! Yes, here you go now,” I hadn’t been surprised like that in years. Most people can’t sneak up on me.
“Aren’t you a precious thing? Let’s make you feel better now….” Larina lifted Ember onto her shoulder and started to gently pat her on the back.
I didn’t know whether or not to feel tormented or to feel elated. I didn’t know what Larina was really like, but I wanted to love her.
Before she could notice that I was staring at her I started to eat. The soup was good. Even though it definitely wasn’t like the palace food that I was used to, I enjoyed it.
“Will you give me a tour of the camp?” I asked Larina.
“Of course, I would love to. As long as I can hold this little bundle. I have yet to see a baby with such long lashes,” Larina said smiling down at Ember.
“Thank you Merinda for allowing us to stay here. Where shall I go in the morning to report?”
“Come here for breakfast. Half an hour after the sun rises over the trees. We like to start early here,” Merinda glanced up at Larina and me before turning back to the older woman next to her.
“Sergei, it’s time to leave. Are you done?” I stood from the table.
“I finished everything in my bowl. Where are we going Papa?”
“Larina is going to give us a tour of the camp, and then we are going to go back to our tent and go to sleep,” I gestured for him to get up with me. “Where do we put our bowls?” I asked Larina.
“Over there, by the entrance of the tent. It is right on the way out. Let’s get started before it gets any darker,” Larina walked ahead of us. She was crooning softly to Ember who was wide awake after sleeping most of the day.
There was a soft breeze that was coming from the east side of the camp.
In no time Larina had led us around the camp. The first tent on the right of the Dining Tent was the Schooling Tent. Behind it was the tent where everyone in the tent went to make things such as; clothing, tables, weapons, and other miscellaneous things. On the left of the Dining Tent was the Healing Tent where you would stay if you were sick or injured. Behind the Healing Tent was Ceremonial Tent where they held weddings, Church, and any other big event.
The Ceremonial and the Multi Use Tent were the closest to where we had exited the forest. They were the beginning of the camp.
“How many people live here?” I asked Larina when she had finished explaining in detail what the big tents were for.
“There are about fifty of us here. A lot I know for a travelers group but I believe Merinda has already told you that we like to stay put,” Larina stopped in front of a medium sized tent.
“What tent is this?” This was the only tent that was this size.
“This is what most of the people in the camp like to call Baby Boot Camp. I however like to call it the Nursery Tent. I don’t live here, but I believe you need a cloak for Ember?” Larina’s hair was almost floating around her.
“Yes I do need a cloak for her. The one she had owned was too rich looking for us to bring it without getting caught. She doesn’t have many warm winter clothes. How much will the cloak cost?” I asked trying to make it so I wasn’t starring at her.
“Its of no coast. We don’t like to charge things here. All you have to do is work and everything is supplied for.”
I reached around her to pull open the tent flap of the nursery so she could enter before me. Sergei who had been silent throughout the tour walked into the tent after Larina and looked around the tent. He seemed to be growing bored of our tour.
“All the clothing for the babies, and children under five are kept in this room. Your son is just old enough to go to our school and not have to kept in here, and he doesn‘t have to get his clothes from here,” Larina said smiling at Sergei.
Sergei seemed enlightened to hear that he wouldn’t have to be with the younger kids. With more enthusiasm he started to walk around the tent and began to inspect everything to see if anything was of interest to him.
“I do not mean to pry into your personal life but do you by chance have any children of your own?” It was the only question I could think of that would confirm that she doesn’t have a husband.
“No, I have yet to wed. I guess you could say that is partly why I volunteered to work the nursery. Children are everything to me,” Larina walked over to the back of the tent to a wooden chest. I followed her.
“You have not been wed?”
“No. I’ve been asked a few times by people who are not of the group but I couldn’t leave the camp for some random man who offers me a ring. I would prefer to know the person before they ask me to wed them. Why are you asking this?” Larina asked repositioning Ember into her right arm and kneeling down on the ground to open the chest with her left hand.
“Here, let me hold Ember. She is over a year now, she must be getting heavy to hold onto. I should have taken her sooner. I apologize for that. I just wanted to know if there was a reason behind why you wanted to be the one who ran the nursery,” I added in quickly.
“She isn’t as heavy as some babies I hold. It is not your fault,” now that I had freed her right hand she was shifting through the clothing that was in the chest quickly. “Ah! Here we are. This shall do for a few more months,” Larina stood up from the bare ground. “Hold her up like you are about to toss her in the air. This way I can get the jacket on her more easily. It definitely isn’t her color, this white fleece but it warm,” Larina slipped the coat onto Ember and helped me turn her around so that she could button her up.
“Thank you for helping me. This is more hospitality than I had expected to receive,” I told her holding Ember close to my chest just like I used to do with Sergei when he was a baby.
“Your welcome. What Merinda had said about us earlier is true. We want a better future than what is to come from their new majesties. I am going to go home and get some rest. Tomorrow will be busy.”
“How do you know?” I looked into her eyes.
“I mean for the nursery, the children love it when a new child joins.”
“Do the other children know about how she is royal?” If the younger ones knew of this, this was bad because they might forget and let it slip out on accident.
“Oh no. No one under the age of eight knows of your origins,” Larina started to walk towards the front of the tent. “I wish you all a good night. I will see you all in the morning at the breakfast hall,” she left the tent.
I looked around the tent for Sergei. I spotted him quiet quickly when I glanced to the front of the tent. He was half sitting half laying down on the ground asleep. Sighing I went over to him. I had to bend down to tap him on the shoulder.
“Its time to go back to our tent. You can sleep in there. But you need to get up, I can not carry you with Ember,” I stood up all the way and waited for Sergei to get to his feet. Slowly we made our way to our tent. When we got to the tent Sergei got into is cotton pajamas-barely staying awake-he went to his cot and fell into it and went to sleep almost instantly. Ember took awhile to persuade to fall asleep. Once she was asleep and I knew she was warm in her cradle I left the tent with a small bucket of oats and an old horse blanket.
Walking over to where Windsong was tied up, I opened the bucket so that the smell would waft over to him.
“Here you go boy. Something else to eat than the fresh grass,” Windsong came over to me snuffling at the smell of oats until I held it out for him to eat. I let him eat for a few minutes before closing the lid to the oaks. “Time for bed now,” I pulled the blanket from under my left arm and draped it onto his back. Before I went back into the tent I double checked Windsong’s ties. A yawn seemed to be forcing its way out of my throat. Today had to be one of the longest days of my life. But things would get better.
Thus began our life within the camp.
Five years later
I sat down onto the ground, watching Sergei and Ember play together in front of our tent. I could hear Pavel laughing with Merinda’s husband Gerad. They walked around Cassandra and Markov’s tent. They weren’t in their tent because they were in the Dining Tent preparing a special dinner. Tonight everyone in the camp is getting together to celebrate Ember’s sixth birthday. Gerad waved at me as he turned around and left Pavel to go elsewhere.
I smiled up at Pavel, resting my hand on my heavy stomach.
“How are you doing today Larina?” Pavel asked me helping me to my feet.
“Just like I have for the past few days. Look at them play. They are the only children I know who will sit down for over an hour and play hand games,” I leaned against Pavel, resting my head against his shoulder.
“Yes they are. Hopefully this little one will also be as easy,” Pavel murmured. “How much do you think Ember looks like her parents?”
“Well I have never seen in real life their true Majesties so I am not so sure. From the paintings I have seen though… She looks an awful lot like the Queen.”
It was true, Ember had grown a lot in the past five years. Like Sergei she was tall for her age. Most of six year olds in the camp weren’t up to my hips. Her hair almost mimicked her mother’s hair. It was down to her shoulders now. It was the richest brown color I have ever seen hair be. Her hair wasn’t curly like the queens’ but it was just as thick. Her face still held the factors of a babies face but she was slowly growing out of it.
Sergei was growing up into a strong young man. He followed his father’s footsteps. He protected Ember more fiercely than Pavel had been able to protect the queen. He had his fathers dark hair and his body structure was the same but other than that he looked an awful lot like his mother must of looked like. His eyes were green and brown with semi long brown lashes surrounding them. His face was square and he had a very strong chin for a ten and a half year old. Only every once in a blue moon did Sergei lash out at Ember. Usually it was because he felt slightly jealous of what she got to do.
“What are you thinking about dear?” Pavel’s voice felt like a rumbling movement against my head.
“I am thinking about how the children have grown. Three years I have been with you, and yet you haven’t changed, not even your hair. No one in the camp change much. Once they grow up they stay the same until their bodies start to get sick…” I stopped talking. It still filled me with sadness when I think of my father Romav.
“He was a great man Larina. He is in a better place now. Your father left you knowing that you weren’t to be alone. I am sorry, I know that the death of your father was very hard for you,” he lowered his voice and started to rub my shoulders. “How many months are you again?” Pavel asked suddenly.
“I believe almost eight and a half. The baby will be coming soon. What are you hoping for? A girl or boy? Or maybe both?” I smiled up at him in time to see him shudder.
“Hopefully not both. I’ve gotten used to sleeping full nights. Two little ones would be too much I believe. But I hope for a little boy. That way there is one more man protecting her. She will need all the men she can get,” Pavel looked at Sergei and Ember with a proud smile.
As if they knew that we had been talking about them they came running over to us.
“Larina when is my party going to be?” Ember asked me jumping up and down.
“I already told you hon. Whenever Cassandra comes and gets us, then we can go to your party,” I smiled at her.
“Oh… may we do something else? Sergei and I are tired of playing the hand game over and over again,” she pleaded.
“Well of course. I never said you couldn’t do something else, I just said you can’t go to the bigger tents and you two can’t leave the camp grounds.
“Really? But I thought…. Oh! Now I remember,” Sergei cut in. “Can we go do something in the woods?”
“No I want you guys to stay in within the camp remember. I know, why don’t you guys come to the nursery with us to help pick out a few things for the baby?”
Sergei didn’t seem to excited but agreed anyway. Ember however seemed to enjoy being asked to help out with something that involved the baby.
Together we made our way to the nursery tent. I intertwined my hand with Pavel’s as we walked. Ember and Sergei were running to the nursery. Sergei had won but not by much. I could tell this from the way Ember stood. Usually if she lost by a lot she would slump down, but now she was only scowling at him. I knew that by the time she was a teenager she would be the fastest in the camp because if she could almost beat Sergei now at six, then she will be able to beat almost every runner out there.
“I Almost beat him Pavel! I swear it!” Ember’s face was flushed from their run.
“I know you did. I saw you two running. You did well,” Pavel laughed as ember stuck her tongue out at Sergei. He opened the tent for us, I made Ember go in front of me, Sergei and Pavel were the last to enter.
Since Ember was old enough to speak words Pavel has always made her call him Pavel. Maybe this was for his own good, or maybe it would be better for ember in the end. I have always felt bad though because while Sergei has at least one person to say that Pavel is his father. Ember has no one to tell people they are her parents. She is the only one in the camp besides the younger children she is growing up with that she is the princess.
“Over in the back of the tent Ember is a chest, do you see it?”
“Yes I do.”
“Go start looking through it. Neatly mind you.”
We all went over to the chest to watch Ember go through the clothes. I sat down on the nearest rocking chair to watch. Sergei sat down next to Ember and stared into the chest making the occasional approvals at the things Ember picked out.
“Don’t you think this is a cute sleeper Sergei?” Ember asked holding out a faded pink and brown baby girls jumper.
“No. I would never put that on my child,” Sergei stuck his nose in the air.
“Well it’s a good thing that this isn’t your child then!” Ember sounded hurt.
“it isn’t your baby either,” Sergei spat at her.
“So she is still going to be part of my family too.”
“She is more of my family than yours.”
“Sergei!” Pavel left my side and marched over to Sergei and picked him up by the collar. “Don’t you dare talk to her that way. Ever! Do you hear me?” Pavel shook Sergei in the air for emphasis.
Ember came running to me and hid her face in my stomach. I rubbed her back, trying to soothe her.
“Yes Papa. I hear you,” Sergei looked ashamed. As he should I added quietly.
“Now go apologize to Ember.” Pavel let go of Sergei and stalked back to me.
I grabbed his hand and held onto it.
Sergei came over to Ember with his head hanging down. “I am sorry Ember. I didn’t mean to say such mean words to you. Will you forgive me?” Sergei scuffed his foot against the ground.
Ember sniffled and wiped away her tears with the back of her hand before answering him. “Yes… I forgive you.”
Before Pavel could say anything Cassandra walked in. the great thing about her that I loved is that her personality matched her face. Her face unlike most people was more round than square, giving her a softer appearance. Her long ash brown hair went perfectly along with her freckles. Cassandra wasn’t tall but her size and her soft curves gave her the look of a mother you wish you had.
“Guess what Ember?” Cassandra asked brightly, making her way through the tent to come to us.
“What?” Ember’s voice was still slightly stuffy from crying.
“It is time to celebrate someone’s sixth birthday!”
“Really?” Ember’s eyes began to brighten.
“Yes indeed. Why don’t you all come to the big o’l dinning tent with me?”
“Okay!” Ember jumped up and looked at Pavel and I for permission to go with Cassandra.
I nodded at her and smiled as she skipped to Cassandra. Sergei followed them, only walking a few feet behind them. Pavel and I went slower. Mainly because I had to almost waddle there.
When we reached the dining tent I could see Merinda and her husband, Gerad hugging Ember tightly. For the first two years Ember was here, before Pavel and I had married they had been a huge help in helping Ember become one in our big ‘family’ here.
“How are you doing today? Any pains?” Farah, our head nurse asked coming to stand by us.
“No, everything is good today. I have a feeling it will be soon though,” I rubbed my swollen belly.
“Let me know as soon as that changes,” Flora said walking over to young Clarice to talk to her. Clarice had been her assistant In training to become a nurse for a little over a year.
“Well lets go join the party!” Pavel led me over to where Merinda had sat both Sergei and Ember down .
“Can we open presents first this time Merinda?” Ember pleaded bouncing up and down on the bench.
“No Ember. We must eat first, lest the food get cold. You can open your gifts as soon as everyone is done eating. When that happens we can all head over to the Ceremonial Tent,” Merinda smiled at us as we sat down at the bench.
Ember pouted but sat firmly back down onto the wooden bench which made the table stop shaking. Cassandra came through the back of the tent and pushed a wooden cart over to our table. Ember peered at the cart, trying to see into it. When she saw it her eyes were shining. On top of the cart was Ember’s favorite dessert. They smelled delicious, all piled up together creating a gooey mess that almost looked to good to eat. They were a golden yellow, and were very fluffy. The insides of the pastry was slightly hollow, Cassandra would always pour her sweetest honey into them. On the top was a powder like sugar.
Cassandra had created them but hadn’t given them a name yet. I think she was undecided on a few names.
“I believe we shall be eating dessert first tonight!” Cassandra yelled.
Everyone, especially the children cheered loudly at her proposal. I was about to stand up to help Cassandra plate the desserts when Merinda appeared by my shoulder slightly pushing me back down firmly onto the bench.
“Rest while you can. Trust me. It is a lot more work raising children every minute of the day than just during work hours. Plus, it is a celebration of Pr… Erm. The celebration of Ember’s sixth birthday,” lucky for us, no one else had heard how she had almost let it slip.
Merinda and Cassandra passed around the desserts as quickly as they could, making sure everyone knew to wait for Ember to take the first bite.
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