That night Sean woke to the sound of Jenny crying. It might have been a dream, but it sounded so real. “Jenny, can you hear me,” he called softly in case she was sleeping.
He felt her startled surprise as soon as he spoke. “Sean, is that you?” she said. He could hear the tears in her voice.
“What’s the matter, Jenny? Why are you crying?”
“How did you know I was crying? I’m not crying.” Then she broke down again. “I’ll never see him again. I just know it. When I kissed him goodbye the other day, I knew it would be the last time I would see him.”
“That’s nonsense, Jenny. You know I would never let anything happen to Larry.”
“I know that. And I know he won’t let anything happen to you either. I can say the words and I can believe them with the front of my brain, but in the dark, this cold hard dread wells up from the back of my brain and I’m afraid, Sean, I’m terrified.”
“Jenny, I’d let you come along, but this is going to be one long, brutal trip.”
“I did it before, when you took off on your wild ride. We all rode real hard trying to keep up with you. Mattie should come too; she was the one who was able to keep you in our sights.”
“Mattie’s there too, isn’t she,” he said, feeling the rug being pulled out from under him.
After a short hesitation, she said, “Yeah. So isn’t Armelle; she wants to come too.” Did he detect a little humor?
“No.” Sean sat up abruptly and Charles muttered in his sleep. He had taken to sneaking onto the foot of his cot. Fortunately, he hadn’t kicked him. “I need someone there with some authority.” He knew that Elias and Ferris would be running things, but the thought of putting his little Armelle through what he was considering letting Jenny and Mattie do, was just beyond him, but Jenny was giggling now.
“Armelle has absolutely no desire to put that much time in the saddle, besides – you’re going to be a father in nine months. She says that you better be back here by then.”
Sean flopped back down. He was going to be a father. His Armelle was pregnant. He couldn’t think. His brides were all pregnant too, but this was just – different.
“Aren’t you even going to ask what it’s going to be?”
“I don’t care,” he said, and meant it. His wife was having his baby; He was ecstatic. Then his euphoria was dampened by the echo of an old woman’s dying words, ‘Keep these two close to you. If you send them away from you…and there will be many reasons, good reasons to send them somewhere safe, somewhere you are not… But you must keep them close to you, for if you are separated, all will be lost. You will be lost. They will be lost. Everything will fail.’ “You’re not pregnant too, are you?” asked Sean, afraid that he already knew the answer.
“What? Do you really think I could keep something like that from you?” she said incredulously.
Yes, he did, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. For all he knew, Larry had been afraid to touch her since her miscarriage. Sean was reminded that there would be a reckoning when they reached Loire. He knew that Larry hadn’t forgotten either; he had seen him gazing off south a couple times when he thought no one was looking.
“All right, I’m going to regret this, but at least you know what you’re in for; pack up and have Mattie get the white stone from Elias; I suppose we should have some kind of healer along.” He broke the connection as he felt Jenny’s excitement. He was sorry for taking Armelle’s only friends, but he figured that he would call her often to make sure that his brides weren’t giving her any more hassles.
Sean’s night was shot, so he gave up and dressed as quietly as he could. Outside, he found Cordan stoking the watch fire; he was watch commander tonight. He waved to him and walked to the edge of camp to water a bush then he checked on the sentry posts. The cloud cover was thin enough for him to pick out the lights that were the moons, but they weren’t bright enough to cast any but the vaguest shadows.
Seth had the horses picketed all around and Cordan had a half dozen men riding casually among them and another dozen walking a foot patrol outside of that. The rest of the men were sleeping under small pup tents big enough for two bodies and little else.
Just as the sun was lighting the eastern horizon, he called Jenny again. By now, he was standing by Larry’s tent. Just as he completed the connection, he felt the turmoil.
“Jenny? What’s the matter? What’s happened?”
“You happened,” she said harshly. “I thought you weren’t going to get us. What took you so long?”
“Nothing, I was just giving you time to pack a bag. Are you ready?”
“Of course we’re ready. We’ve been ready for hours.”
“It hasn’t been ‘hours’, not very many anyway.”
“Oh, just hurry up.”
As soon as they appeared Sean put his finger to his lips and whispered, “This is Larry’s tent. I didn’t want to startle him.”
Jenny snickered quietly behind her fingers and peeked inside then she crawled the rest of the way out of sight while Sean glowered at Hélène who had come with them.
Sean led Mattie and Hélène back to the watch fire at the center of camp. Cordan watched their approach without recognizing them until they were quite close. When he identified Mattie, he did a stunned double take then said, “What are you doing here?”
“I brought them. They had an irrefutable argument for coming,” said Sean.
Cordan looked at Mattie for a moment longer then his eyes bore holes in Sean. “You sure make it hard for a man to have a family.”
Sean turned on Mattie; his frown was in high relief in the light of the campfire. “Are you pregnant too?” he asked.
She smiled sheepishly and nodded.
“Mattie…” Sean started, but she interrupted him. “My lord, riding a horse won’t hurt the baby; it’s not due for a long time. Besides, if I start to have problems, you can always send me back.”
“I’m going to send you back right now. We aren’t on a ‘ride’. What we will be doing can only be called a pounding.”
She stepped up to him and touched his lips with her fingertips. “I’ll be fine. I won’t slow you down.”
Sean looked at Cordan. “Your decision, man,” he said, and waited for the signal for him to send her back.
He just shrugged and shook his head then he pulled her to him and gave her the kind of hug that said he missed her a lot.
Sean stepped away and almost ran into Hélène. “What are you doing here? Who’s taking care of things back at the palace?” he asked. He was more than a little peeved that she was here. Though she didn’t quite fall into his definition of ‘old’, she was no spring chicken.
“Mattie said you thought you should have a healer along.”
“I intended that to be Mattie’s reason for being here, not yours,” said Sean.
“And if you get hurt again?”
“You said yourself that you weren’t strong enough to put me down, so what’s the point? I need you at the palace to help those people get well and go home.”
“Those people are in the hands of some of the finest healers in the land and I’m the only one I know who stands a chance of ‘putting you down’ as you say it.”
“I won’t wait for you; if you can’t keep up, I’ll leave you behind and you better stay out of my way; if you’re going to be the healer here, that’s what you’ll do, nothing else.”
She shrugged then pointed to his forehead. “Where’s your crown?”
“It’s the middle of the night. Everyone’s asleep.”
“Not everyone,” she said.
“Oh give it a rest. Next you’ll be checking to see if I wear it in my bed.”
It was fortunate that the sun was rising because their shouting match was rousing the rest of the camp just in time for a quick breakfast before they hit the trail again.
Sean strode past the fire on his way to his own tent giving Cordan a meaningful look as he passed. The slightest cramp, the smallest problem, and Mattie would go back to the palace. He didn’t have time for old women or pregnant girls. Even if one of the men fell ill, they would be left behind at the closest village or farmhouse, or sent back to the palace.