by Charles Matthias

Lars’s brewery was warmed both by fire and by laughter. Dusk had come several hours before, so lamps were lit in the scones around the rock walls. The flickering light danced about the dome overhead, casting strange shapes and shadows within its ragged surface. The snapping and popping from the massive hearth in the centre of the far wall was a pleasantly familiar sound. So too were the voices that were laughing.

Charles and Kimberly entered the bear’s cavern turned brewery paw in paw. His eyes took in the room quickly, scanning each of the faces as they sat clustered in the middle of one of the long row tables. His fellow Longs, as well as Lord Avery and Garigan were there. Lady Avery was also there, sitting with Caroline and Danielle. He kept looking then, heart fluttering, but saw only Lars seated behind the bar looking pleased with himself, and the donkey James tending to the fire. She wasn’t here, he mused, not sure whether to be relieved or not.

They had not been out in the night air for very long, but still the cold had settled upon them both. Their afternoon together had been long and slow, filled with many hours of quiet conversation, interspersed with long minutes of few words at all. Kimberly had finally confessed to her great hunger, and so they had come out to Lars’s, as that was where the other Longs would be.

Charles briskly strode over to the bar, the warmth in the air replacing the chill. Kimberly was at his side, her eyes still with contentment. She’d changed into more ordinary green and brown attire, but she still stood as if she were waring her gown. Lars leaned forward, his belly rippling from his girth. “What can I do for such a fine couple as you two?”

“Two of your finest stews, Lars,” Charles said, his voice carrying across the room. “And something to wash it down.”

“What’s your pleasure?” Lars crossed his arms.

Glancing to his lady, Charles asked, “Wine?” She smiled and nodded, and so he glanced back to the bear. “Wine. Red, of course.”

Lars rumbled nd nodded firmly. “Of course! James!” He yelled out to the room.

But the donkey was almost at their side already, his face wide with pleasure. “Charles,” he cried out, as he came to the rat’s side, standing a good foot in height over top of him. “You’re back!”

The rat smiled broadly, wrapping one arm about Kimberly’s shoulder, patting the donkey on the arm wit the other. “And it is good to see you again, James! So what are you doing working for Lars?”

“He’s about to bring you your food and drink, that’s what,” Lars said then, the rumble under his breath not one that any would want to question. “Two stews and red wine.”

James nodded to the bear then and smiled once more back to Charles, his long tail flicking back and forth. “I’ll be right back with your food. We can talk then.” He glanced briefly at the bear, who was now tapping his massive foot. “I hope,” James added, and then darted back around behind the bar to go into the kitchen.

Lars shook his head with a bit of a laugh. He leaned down then, and waggle a finger at Charles. “Just between you and me, that James is a fine worker. But don’t you tell him I said that.”

Smiling, Charles nodded. “I’ll be sure not to, your secret is safe with me. You do seem to have a lot of them.”

The bear’s eyes narrowed some. “Oh?’

“Just hearing things is all,” the rat replied, his grin now mischievous. Kimberly was looking at him uncertainly, not sure what he was saying.

“And what things have you been hearing?”

“I’m sorry, but it’s a secret.”

Lars snorted at tat, and then laughed. “All right you, go sit with your friends.”

Charles and Kimberly turned towards the table and considered. The three women were on one end, chattering amongst themselves. Misha and the others were sitting close by, mazers before each of them. He suspected those mazers were full of quite a bit of beer. “It looks like there is enough room between them, if we sit opposite each other,” Charles suggested.

“I like that,” Kimberly said, smiling. One of her legs brushed against his, her tail tip curling around his own, and then lightly pulling across his flesh. Charles shivered at that, whiskers standing on end.

“Tease,” he chided, tapping her nose with one claw. She blinked at that, her own face scrunching up quite ridiculously. She chortled a bit at that, and then the two of them crossed to the table. Charles went the long way around, letting Kimberly have the nearer of the two spots.

“Well, took you two long enough!” Misha exclaimed in a boisterous manner. “Have you broken that bed of yours yet?”

With the exception of Rickkter, the men all laughed at the reynard’s joke. Charles smiled and shook his head. “We’re still working on it. How many of those there have you been working on?” Charles asked, nodding his head towards the mazers.

“Two,” Misha replied quickly.

“Three,” Caroline corrected, giving her fox a stern look.

Misha’s ear folded back in reproach. “Well, I’ve only finished two,”

Caroline shook her head, sighed, and turned back to talking with the ladies. Kimberly had already joined them, but she caught her husband’s glance. She smiled back to him. Charles lifted his leg, and ran his toes along her own. Her smile grew more beatific at that, and she let him explore.

“What?”Misha asked, his tone burlesque. “Didn’t you get all your hanky-panky done already?”

Charles felt his ears flush with embarrassment, even as the other Long’s all laughed. He pulled his leg back, and smiled once more to his wife. She did the same, and then returned to talking amongst the ladies. A moment later, and two plates full of hot stew were set down before them. Charles glanced back over his shoulder and found James there, his grin plain upon his equine muzzle. “I’ll be right back with your wine.”

Nodding, Charles looked down at his plate. A spoon was set into the broth. Chunks of potato, carrot and beef were stirred up into the meaty sauce. The scent was rich, and not to be denied. Quickly saying grace over his meal, Charles dug into the delightful mix. He’d not eaten so well in quite a long time. The broth melted upon his tongue, soaking into every nook of his maw.

After swallowing his first bite he leaned back and nodded. “Oh, this never tastes so good until you get back from a mission.”

The other Longs nearby all nodded their agreement, but it was Finbar who spoke, “Yes. The best meal ever, right?”

“You bet,” Misha nodded, lifting his mazer to his muzzle. “And the best drink too!” he chimed, a bit loudly. His grey eyes stole over to where the otter was sitting, but she was studiously pretending that she had not heard that.

James came back then with two goblets filled with a tender red wine. “There you are,” he said, smiling to them both.

Charles patted the seat next to him, the ladies were just a bit further over. “Why don’t you sit with us?”

“I’ve got to work,” the donkey protested.

“Not right now you don’t. Sit down.”

“Yes, do sit down,” Edmund said, looking over his shoulder at the equine.

Blushing ever so slightly, James took the seat next to the rat, and folded his hoof-like hands before him over the table. Charles spooned another mouthful of delicious potato into his muzzle, and then sipped at the wine to wash it down. The wine appeared deceptively light, as the taste was so potent Charles nearly spat it out in surprise. But he did manage to get it down, though it would take him a moment to put his eyes back in their sockets.

“That’s the one thing you have to admire about Lars,” James said then, noticing the look of surprise on the rat’s face. “He never waters anything down.”

Charles nodded and wiped his muzzle with the back of one paw. “I noticed! So, you work for Lars now?”

“Only every other night. Both Jurmas and Lars needed an extra hand, so I’m helping them both out. Jurmas lets me sleep in one of his rooms instead of paying me, so all my money I make here. During the day I work with Angus. He’s training me to use a sword.” James rubbed his forearms then. “I never knew how hard that could be!”

Misha nodded a bit, cradling his mazer with both paws. “It does take some practice. You’ll get used to the weight after a while.”

James shook his head, “I don’t think so, he’s making me use a blade that’s nearly twice my size. Maybe I shouldn’t bother.”

Charles laughed and shook his head, swallowing a bit of carrot. “That’s just Angus for you. He’s waiting for you to tell him you need a lighter blade. He does this to everyone, it’s ot just you.”

The donkey blinked in surprise. “Really? He’s just so, intimidating.”

Misha laughed and slapped one knee then. “That’s Angus for you!”

Lord Avery spoke then, his long tail twitching behind him. “Angus will be gruff with you until you ask him for a lighter sword. Once you do, you’ll find him a more pleasant instructor.”

James still looked little spooked, and so Charles patted him on the shoulder. “Tell you what. Tomorrow, after these clowns are gone,” he hooked his thumb over at the Long scouts. Misha narrowed his eye at that, but still looked as if he was one breath away from erupting into laughter. “I’ll walk with you to see Angus so you can ask him for that lighter sword.”

“Thank you, Charles,” James said, smiling then, appearing far more comfortable.

“Oh, it’s my pleasure.”

“Don’t worry about it, James,” Lord Avery said, leaning a bit further over the table. “Last Spring we had a batch of recruits so afraid to ask him anything, that Angus and a friend had to get into a duel so they’d see that they’d need a different weapon.”

“He did?” James asked, long ears perking.

Avery nodded. “Oh yes. In fact, but the part that really drove Angus out of his gourd was that a few of them kept calling him ‘Sir’. He takes quite a lot of pride in the fact that he is of common birth.”

“I’ll remember never to call him that again,” James said, smiling then, a chuckle behind his words.

Avery leaned even closer, “Oh, and he says that you are pretty good. But don’t tell him I told you.’

James smiled even wider then, sitting up straighter in his seat. “Thank you, milord.”

Avery sat back in his seat then, and waggled one finger, his other paw wrapping about his mazer. “Now, about that ‘milord’...” The others around the table all laughed, and James joined in a moment later. After they’d stopped laughing, they all took a drink, including Charles. He was more prepared for the wine this time, so his eyes pressed at their sockets only a little.

Charles glanced over to his wife and smiled to her. She was finishing off the last of her stew, whiskers twitching with every chew. And then she put her spoon back to the plate and found nothing else there. “Still hungry, my sweet?” He asked her. His own plate only had a few carrots and a piece of meat left.

Kimberly nodded and sipped at her wine. She held her plate over to James. “Would you please get me some more stew. I’m feeling very hungry tonight.” Lady Avery’s eyes grew slightly larger at that, but she said nothing.

James nodded at that, and took the plate in his hands. “I hope Lars doesn’t mind.” He stood up and returned to the kitchen. The great bear gave him a questioning glance, but otherwise did nothing.

“So,” Charles said, turning to Misha and the other longs. “Will you be heading back to Metamor tomorrow?”

Misha nodded. “First thing in the morning. There are reports to fill out and other business to attend to.” The fox sipped from his mazer then, one grey eye narrowing. “I also would like to be home again. It has been too long since I’ve just been able to spend a day quietly.” Some of the others nodded their assent at this.

The fox then turned more fully upon his friend. “I am glad that you were able to accompany us on this venture, Charles. I hope I’ll be able to come by this way again before the Equinox.”

“Yes,” Charles said, smiling then. “But either way, we shall have a good time this evening.”

“We shall indeed!” Misha trumpeted delightedly as he held his mazer aloft. “To the Longs!”

Charles held his goblet up, as did Kimberly. The others held whatever they had available and raised them in salute. “To the Longs,” they all repeated, and each took a long draught. Charles had to expend quite a bit of effort to keep from spluttering but he managed to keep his brew down. He smiled to his wife, and ran his foot along her leg again. She smiled in return. Yes, it was wonderful to be home, Charles thought.

He was someplace warm. Charles could feel his dreams still there, fading like a crimson sunset into the violet twilight. His eyes were closed still, body only beginning its climb up from slumber to wakefulness. Layer upon layer of soft warmth covered his insouciant form. Images and sounds and scents coalesced together only slowly, still a blurry image as if he were staring through smoky glass.

Aside from the warmth, the first sensation he could catalogue and understand was the dull throbbing that beat with a sullen rhythm inside of his head. A dim awareness of its origin graced his consciousness, as well as vague recollections of that time. The light pounding, a solemn drum beat to signal the march of pall bearers bringing a much heralded general to rest, brought back to mind one of the last things he could remember before the warmth of sleep had taken him.

He’d been standing upon the table, stein in hand, ale frothing over its edges, and singing badly in his inebriated state. Charles could almost move his lips as the tune and words came back to him then.

And there came great men, brothers three
To see yon lass of Pallowtry.
‘Fore her they fell on bended knee
And she asked them what she might see!

The first of the brothers spoke thus,
“See the eldest, tis I, of us.
And ne’er shall there be any fuss
About filling all of thy lust!”

With that the second stood just then,
“The strongest of all of thy men
Is standing now within your ken
Let me be the cock to thy hen!”

The third arose with a great shout,
“Ignore my kin, two foolish louts!
Neither are as brave, or as stout.
So let me bring my manhood out!”

At that the lass did laugh with glee,
“Three great men before me I see,
Eldest, strongest, stoutest, for me!
Gladly will I take all of thee!”

It was only when he remember to that point, that Charles found enough of his consciousness clear that he was able to remember also that he was now married. An embarrassment gripped him then, even as the throbbing began to extend to other parts of his body. The sound of groaning and strain came to him, as well as that of soft footsteps. His eyes came open, and staring past his whiskers and nose he saw an empty pillow, and rumpled covers turned over.

Glancing his head over, the room still very dark, but his rodent’s eyes sufficient to the task, he could see the vague shape of another rodent reaching for the box of tinder over their hearth. She turned and smiled at him, even as she gripped the flint. “How is your head, my sweet?”

Charles lifted one paw from under the thick blankets that still wrapped him in their warm soporific embrace. The pounding was there, but he had felt worse in his life. He wondered how much he’d had to drink the previous night. Had he been the one to start the ballad of the Lass of Pallowtry? He sincerely hoped not!

“It hurts some,” he said, his voice groggy.

She struck the flint, and his ears winced. He pressed his face back into the pillow as the spark lanced within his eyes. Kimberly let out a self-satisfied chuckle, and proceeded to light the slender white candle. Taking the candle in one paw, she carried it about the room and lit the sconces along the walls. “I’m surprised you are awake this early,” she said, her voice strangely louder than usual.

Charles felt as if each of her words was ringing in his saucer-shaped ears. He struggled to lift his head from the pillow once more, squinting into the well-lit room. “Was I singing last night?”

Kimberly smiled to him, cradling the candle within her paws after lighting the last brazier. “Lady Avery was quite impressed. So impressed in fact that she made sure to give me some of her herbs to make you drink this morning.”

“How bad do they taste?”

Her smile, somehow sadistic in that light, grew wider. “She said they are horrifically revolting. I’ll have a cup made for you in a minute.”

Charles groaned and let his head fall back upon his pillow. He rolled over in the bed, staring at the empty side where Kimberly had slept beside him. His wife was already out their door to retrieve whatever foul concoction that Lady Avery had devised to torment him with in his post-inebriated misery.

Glancing longer still at the empty bedside though, a smile began to creep along his muzzle. He was home at last. After so much time away, here he was, rising next to his wife. His wife! Charles narrowed his eyes a bit as he tried to push himself into a sitting position but failed. The smile remained, as did his sudden good cheer. Though she was about to force down his throat a concoction dreamed up by the vilest of underworld beasts, she did it because she loved him.

That thought was still in his mind – in fact he repeated it to himself in the hopes that it might not taste so bad that way – when Kimberly came back through the door, a small cup filled with a steaming liquid. The odour of it nearly made him wish to crawl back beneath the covers and will all of existence away, but he bravely remained where he was.

“Here you are, my darling husband,” Kimberly said as she pressed the cup to his muzzle. He did his best not to flinch from it, but his flesh curdled at the stench. It was a pungent aroma that made his whiskers shrivel in agony. His tail curled up tightly against the back of his legs as he scooted back further in the bed, his back resting against the ornate headboard.

“Come on, Charles. If you want to be able to say goodbye to Misha and the Longs you need to drink this,” her voice was both pleading and commanding. The gentleness he had seen from the very first in her was still there. It was simply tempered by a motherliness to him as well.

“I suppose,” he finally muttered, and let her tip the cup forward, upending the contents within his muzzle. He gasped and spluttered, his eyes gone wide, tongue pressing outward in distaste, but he did swallow it down. He coughed for several minutes, the pounding within his head intensifying, his vision blurring into creamy smears.

And then, his breathing slowed after a moment, and the world resumed its proper shape. He felt the fire in his belly churning away. Kimberly seemed to feel it too as she pressed her paw to her belly for a moment, a look of discomfort crossing her face. After he found his tongue had not been dissolved by the bitter liquid, he managed to ask, “Are you all right?”

Kimberly nodded, paws grasping the cup once more. “Just a little queasy. What would you like to eat this morn?”

Smiling as best he could, he gripped one of her paws, and pulled her into his lap. She landed with surprise, her arms pressing to his chest to maintain her balance. “I want you to stay in bed with me, just a while longer.”

Her face spread then in a smile. She set the cup on the night stand beside her husband, and leaned forward over him. His tongue darted out and touched her nose gently. Her whiskers twitched, eyes alight. They rolled over together on their sides, heads against pillows, arms pressed against each other, and laid there while the wicks in their sconces guttered and snapped.

The next few days after the Long Scouts had returned to Metamor marked the first signs of the Spring that was soon to come. The cold Northerly winds sweeping down the valley from the Giantdowns were turned around by the strong southwesterly winds coming in off the Sea. Subtle changes in the susurration in the high branches, the creaking of mighty redwoods who’d witnessed hundreds if not thousands of seasons all spoke of the change. It was reflected in the faces and temperaments of the Glenners, from the way they walked – holding their shoulders a little straighter – to the way they spoke when outside – full throated, no longer whispering as if somebody unpleasant was listening.

But the most obvious difference was that while the wintry winds of the north brought nothing but cold air, the breeze that ruffled their furs now carried with it a touch of warmth. The very day that the Longs departed, by noon, the icicles hanging from every branch, and from every lintel had begun to melt. The ice-locked lake down the path just south of the Glen was still covered with ice, and would be until the Spring had come, but the fishers no longer had to chip as deeply to catch their piscine prize.

The most concerted efforts were paid to cleaning some of the snow from the central clearing of the Glen. The children who were old enough did most of the work scooping the snow into wagons. Most were able to use small shovels, but a few, notably the Avery children, much preferred to pick the snow up in their mittens. Regularly one of the children would “miss” the wagon as they tossed their snow within, and an impromptu snowball fight would ensue.

Charles and several other adult Glenners would spend an hour or two every day helping with the clearing effort. He was only too glad to assist of course. When he had first seen the snow being piled into wagons to be carted down to the lake, he’d been confused as to why so much effort was being taken. But when the rat was told that if they did not remove the snow from the clearing, then in a few weeks the melt would turn it into a mud field that would take months to dry.

Often times he would find himself working alongside James in the late mornings. When one of the three carts they used was full, they would ride down together to the lake, taking the winding path amidst heavy trees slowly so as they would not careen headlong into the ice. The horse pulling their cart down the already cleared lane also cast a wary eye about as his hooves skidded on rocks and patches of melting ice. But they never had any accidents, for which they were both grateful.

Charles made sure that he kept his promise to James as well. Shortly after Misha and the others had departed, Charles located James over at Jurmas’s Inn cleaning off the tables, and dragged him away. The donkey was most appreciative of his gesture, and appeared very confidant the entire way. That is until they had knocked on Angus’s door, and Charles mysteriously vanished from sight.

He’d hear from Angus later that day that James had managed to get through his request without stumbling. The very next day, he’d watched as James practised with his thinner blade. The donkey appeared as if he’d been born to it, moving gracefully at times, the sword simply an extension of his arm. He had no difficulty wielding it, and never once lost control of the blade, until Angus started sparring with him of course.

Charles himself, when he wasn’t assisting with carting the snow, spent most of his time with the scouts, learning all that there was to know about the woods surrounding the Glen. Garigan, his own student, would often take him on walks both along the ground and through the treetops, pointing out this or that feature. The area around the Glen was naturally hilly, the huge redwoods that dominated the northwestern corner of the Keep thinning out slightly the further they moved from the Glen. To both the west and north the land rose as they neared the southern extremities of the Dragon mountains. To the east and south it gradually declined, moving closer to Metamor as they were and the heart of the Valley.

The patrols that the Glen operated constantly moved about a mile to a half mile in every direction except towards the Giant’s Dike. There, they were more cautious and more thorough, keeping continuous watch as far as two miles north of the Glen. The forests were quiet, filled only with the sound of woodland animals preparing for the new season that was being whispered upon the southern winds. Regularly Charles would see several pairs of deer at a distance, males beginning to grow a new set of antlers, females hidden behind them. Their ears would perk as they watched from afar, and then they would turn, white tails held aloft, darting nimbly through the rocky crags and wooden spires.

The forest was not empty of man’s touch. A short distance to the north of the Glen was the archery range that Berchem used to train the scouts. It was well hidden, the targets set into clefts within the mighty redwoods, undoubtedly fashioned by Burris the woodpecker mage. They were marred by lines and holes that told of frequent and long use. The centre of each target was in the worst shape, and in need of repair. Some of the targets were designed to appear as a man, with appropriate spots marked as ideal – the head and the chest. A few were sized for Lutins as well.

Once every few days, Charles would also spend some time at the range under the skunk’s supervision. He had never been familiar with the bow, his training as a Sondeckis had not included ranged weapons, but his time as a Long scout had made him decently proficient. Berchem would often set him in a position so that he would have to fire between trees that were very close together. At first he would usually hit one or the other, but as the last days of February were coming to a close, he did manage to hit the target once or twice.

Of course, as Charles learned more and more about the Glen, he spent some time making sure that Garigan learned more and more about the Sondeck, and how to use it properly. The ferret and he would often simply talk of such matters while they were out surveying the land around the Glen. And when they were perched up in the trees, resting with their backs to the broad spires that reaching up to challenge the mountains themselves, Charles would have Garigan continue his meditations.

He also would have Garigan practice his balance, teaching him to use his Sondeck to maintain it despite even the greatest of obstacles. It was never hard to find a narrow branch that rocked and swayed with the wind, making it all the more treacherous for them to step out upon it. Being born in the Glen, Garigan had a natural affinity for being able to stay standing upon them, but could not help but marvel as Charles walked upon them without giving any outward signs of the balancing that occurred with each step.

At first, Garigan would simply stand in one place, while Charles jumped up and down on the branch to shake it, or swat one side or the other of the ferret with the haft of his bow. Several times his student nearly lost his grip, but it was clear too that he understood what the rat wanted to convey. After a week, it took quite a bit of effort on Charles’s part to budge him from his perch.

As the days were growing longer and longer, though the night was still dominant, all of the Glen felt more active and more alive. Each new day brought more activity and more things for each and every one to do. Charles felt this as well, and found that he was becoming more and more involved not only with the activities about the Glen, but also with his wife. Though they did not often share the midday meal together, they would always sup in the evening within their own home. Sitting before the hearth, a fire roaring within, a plate of eggs or of fish would rest upon their laps, each telling the other of what they had done.

They often did their best to enjoy the last of the winter together. Frequently, they would dress in their warmest woolens, mittens upon their paws, and chase each other around through the snow about their home. One time, after Kimberly professed to weakness, they had simply lain back against the tree, pressed firmly together, and watched as the children of the Glen played out in the clearing, some of the snow they were throwing about occasionally being placed within the wagons.

On another day shortly thereafter, they had rolled the snow into mounds and stacked them one atop the other. Three mounts they used, clearing the snow around them away. They took two twigs and set them in the second mound to be the arms. They packed two snowballs and set them on the top of the highest mound, a little off centre to be the ears. Charles did his best to shape the top mound to give it the appearance of a muzzle with two big front teeth. Kimberly pushed the snow together behind their figure to form a long tail dragging behind.

They received compliments from all who passed it by, as well as invitations to come see what figures their neighbours had made. While some were less well defined, having been fashioned before all the snows had stopped, the panoply of figures about the Glen was a pleasure to behold. Angus had even been convinced by somebody, he would not say who, into making one. He’d used some of his wood sculptures to give the appearance of a badger carrying a sword, with knives around his belt. He’d even gone so far as to fashion wooden claws for his hands and feet!

But as the days strolled past, some quick, others leisurely, their romps in the snow grew briefer and briefer. Kimberly often would place her paw to her belly, and would have to go back inside to sit at the fireside. At first, Charles did not think much of it, a passing flu. It did not seem to interfere much with her work, and so they did not speak of it. But as the first days of March were upon them, southern winds trickling warmth through the treetops and the air, it was clear that whatever was ailing her was not going to be so easily dismissed.

So early one morning, Charles, fearing for his wife’s health, tracked down the woodpecker Burris, and asked him to come see Kimberly. Burris was mage, and though his specialty was in working with wood, infusing it and shaping it, he did have some abilities as healer. Kimberly lay upon their bed when Burris saw her, and while she smiled, it was clear she was worried too. Burris’s head bobbed up and down as his wingtips brushed over her body, his eyes scrutinizing her flesh. Charles paced back and forth, paws clenched tightly behind his back while he waited. His whiskers twitched in agitation, and his tail tip flicking back and forth.

After a few minutes, Burris stood up then, his long beak cracking in an avian grin. Coming from the woodpecker’s face as it was, it was quite comical, but Charles had seen it before. Turning upon the rat who had finally stopped pacing and was now rocking back and forth on his toes. “Please sit down for this,” Burris advised.

Charles nodded, feeling his heart clench tightly within his chest. He climbed up onto the side of the bed, his tail curling around is feet. Kimberly smiled to him as she pulled herself into a sitting position, appearing strangely bloated. Nervously, his paws rubbing over each other, claws tracing his flesh painfully even, Charles finally managed to ask, “Well?”

Burris again favoured him with that amused avian grin. “There is nothing wrong with your wife, Master Matthias. This is perfectly natural given her condition.”

Charles blinked. “What condition?”

Burris’s head tilted to one side, his wingtips fluttering slightly. “Why, she’s pregnant.”

Charles promptly fell off the bed.

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