Friday, August 27, 2010

In Which Our Heroes Arrive Home

From the diary of Dulcie, Crown Princess of Bentlefay:

I have always gotten on well with my parents but I don’t believe I have ever been more delighted to see them than I was when we got home yesterday. After much head-scratching in the matter of logistics, I was finally able to arrive at court just in time for the receiving like everyone else seems to. Thus, our reunion turned out to be embarrassingly public as I found myself haring up the room at a full run, hurling myself on Mother and bursting into tears in front of the entire court.

“There, now,” she murmured, with a tenderness in her voice which I haven’t heard since I was in short skirts, “such a fuss.”

It was a familiar phrase, and it had never before failed to convince me that any childish fancies of fear or hurt were just that, but this was altogether different. I found myself stammering out the story from the very beginning, complete with backtracks and interjections when I forgot something.

I suppose I must have been growing rather hysterical – an unfortunate tendency of late; I’ve never had it before – because by the time I was done with the thing I found myself in my own room with Mother and Father and Lynde, without being quite sure how we got there.

“Heavens!” Father sputtered when I had dithered to a close. “Head in a basket! What damned infernal … impudence. I never wanted to send our daughter to sea with pirates, Christina. I knew something like this would happen.”

“Oh, nonsense,” Mother retorted. “You see they took excellent care of her – she came home without a scratch. I told you we could trust Long Bob.”

I felt that she was not taking my great adventure seriously enough and could not resist a dig.

“He asked to be remembered to you, by the way – for the sake of old times.”

“Well, yes,” Mother said equably. “I told you we once knew each other quite well.”

“Not as much as he told me,” I rejoined, and had the pleasure of seeing Mother look disconcerted.

“I shall certainly have to write him a line or two in gratitude,” she said in the manner of one to whom the subject was closed. “Now, you clearly need a good night’s rest if the performance you gave is any indication. I will have a tray sent up. And, Lynde, if you are not too tired to come with me and give me your briefing, I would be very grateful.”

She swept grandly from the room with Lynde in her wake, but Father lingered for a moment.

“I’m glad you’re all right, little girl,” he said gruffly, and then his face squinched up and his voice wavered. “I can’t spare you, you know.”

He swept me up in an enormous bear hug, planted a kiss on my cheek so firmly that I can feel it yet, and trotted hurriedly after Mother. I slept the whole night like I’d been hit on the head with a hammer, and I had no dreams at all.

Lynde horrified me deeply this morning by appearing at my bedside at dawn dressed in her fighting leathers, and informing me that it was time to go out and drill.

What?” I croaked with all the strength I could muster. “That’s the maddest thing I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard Mortimer Bleake. Can’t I sleep in for one morning after the time we’ve had?”

“We might not get many more chances,” Lynde said somberly, “and I’d like to think you can take care of yourself once I’ve left.”

“Once you’ve –” I began, but she feigned deafness and I was forced to dress hurriedly and trail after her to the practice ring, snatching up a handful of bread from the dining hall as we passed through.

I had hoped we would become embroiled in girlish talk and forget about drill altogether, but to my disgust, it wasn’t until we had run through the whole practice and were walking around the ring to cool down that she deigned to elaborate.

“Tom wants to get married soon,” she said abruptly out of nowhere.

I was thoroughly exhausted and inclined to be uncaring. “Well, of course he does. Don’t you?” I snapped.

But then I realized what she meant. “Oh. That means you’re going to leave me and go play at farming in Dumcruckle, doesn’t it?” I sighed. “I told you that you should have let me sleep.”

Lynde wrung her hands. “It isn’t as though I want to,” she said. “You know I’ll never be as good a farm wife as I am a royal bodyguard – it feels like early death when I think about it. I’ve always been rather a freak in Dumcruckle and even Tom complained that they had gone back to taking him for granted. I don’t imagine I’ll ever do so much good for anyone as I’ve been able to do here.

“But I love him, and he’s right – we can’t just live our whole lives apart.”

There seemed to be no answer to this, and I was preparing a very bad mood indeed, when an idea struck me.

“I say, Lynde,” I said diffidently, “you don’t suppose he’d want to come and live here? I’m sure we could find him a post of some sort that’s more in his line than teaching school in Dumcruckle. The archives are getting out of control, for instance – we could use someone who knows what they’re doing, and it sounds like he enjoys that sort of thing. Why don’t the two of you get married and then stay on here? Tom could be the archivist, and you could go on being my bodyguard. I’m sure we’d appreciate both of you more than they would back home.”

Lynde stopped in her tracks and looked dazed. “I never thought of that. We don’t have to live in Dumcruckle at all, do we?”

“Do you think he’d consider it?”

“I don’t know. It’s worth a try though, isn’t it? Oh!” she exclaimed, and leaped over the rail of the practice ring in a single bound. “I’m going to write to him right now!”

And she was off with the speed of wind, leaving me to hobble back to the castle under my own motive power. With Lynde off duty, I didn’t think anyone would notice if I went back to bed.

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