Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

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Airborn Press


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A Proposal of a Different Sort

 Sword Called Kitten Serial    EPISODE 6

Gordon A. Long

 

Published by

Airborn Press

 

Theobald paced his chambers, muttering to himself.

Something wrong, my Lord?

“No, nothing is wrong.”

You sound frustrated.

“I am. Why didn’t she answer my letter?”

I hate to say it, but perhaps she got what she wanted.

“Do you think so?”

She sent him the image of a wide yawn. You got what you wanted.

“Not really. Well, of course the information that came out of our discussion was exactly what my father wanted to hear.”

You call that ‘discussion,’ do you? I believe there are other terms consisting of fewer letters.

“Nonetheless.”

Yes, your father was pleased. So what’s the problem?

“I sent her a letter three days ago. She didn’t even do me the courtesy of a reply. Why not?”

I don’t know that much about it, but Hanflaed did teach me that at the bottom, all young women are searching for a mate.

“Suspicious advice, coming from a confirmed bachelor like Hanflaed.”

Who is also a very sensitive Magician.

“If she sees me as a mate, she’s not acting like it.”

Maybe it’s some kind of courting game.”

“I’m not sure I like this kind of game.”

Well, perhaps you’re about to find out more. We have a visitor.

“Who?”

Lady Cate Reginar, I believe.

“Hah! We haven’t seen her for three days. No word, no message. Now she shows up in person, unannounced? I don’t understand it. And I don’t like it.”

Nonetheless. She is here. Coming along the corridor. Now, stop talking to me out loud, in case she thinks you’re going cuckoo on top of your other faults.

Theobald strode to the door and opened it just as the lady raised her hand to knock, but her appearance set him back a pace. She was dressed far more sedately than the previous time they had met: a full-skirted dress with a high lace collar, her hair confined in a net at the nape of her neck. Her long, slender neck, he couldn’t help but notice.

And much less face paint.

Her demeanour matched her clothing. Formal, a bit distant…

I would go so far as to say ‘demure,’ if I was asked.

Which you weren’t. You stay out of this, or…

I know. Back in the bedchamber with the other baggage.

“Good morning, my Lady. I have not had the pleasure of your company recently.”

To his surprise, she reddened slightly. “Yes, my Lord. That was…advisable. Thank you for the letter.”

“It was advisable, was it? Well, now here we are. What is advisable now?”

She looked down, and he realized that she was in some discomfort.

“What is it, my Lady? What do you have  to say that is so difficult?” Her obvious dismay softened his stance. “Perhaps you should come in.”

She half-turned away. “Would you like to walk?…the garden perhaps?”

He stared at her a moment, then nodded and followed her along the corridor.

This tiny success seemed to give her courage. She glanced over her shoulder at him. “We…we got off on rather the wrong foot the other night.”

He raised his eyebrows and grinned, pacing up beside her. “The wrong foot? I thought it was a very pleasant one.”

Again she blushed. “Yes, I suppose you did. But I think you got a rather skewed impression of me…not that I didn’t do my best to give it to you. But that was…”

“Advisable?”

“Yes. Exactly. I had hoped you would understand.”

“I suppose I do. So now what kind of footing would you like us to be on?”

She stumbled, looked down to recover.

This is honest confusion, my Lord, not a game. She really is embarrassed.”

Thank you, Sword.

And there is something else. I suspect congratulations are in order.

What?

Your actions the other night seem to have attained the desired result.

Already? How can you tell?

I don’t know. But she is pregnant. No doubt about it.

Aha. This changes things.

I thought it might.

This lull gave the woman time to regain her composure. “My Lord Theobald, I asked for permission to be the one to tell you…”

“To tell me…?”

Her head came up, and she stopped, forcing him to face her, her words getting faster as she spoke. “That my father has proposed to your father that you and I be married, in order to create closer relations between our two families, for the good of all, and the benefit of the realm.”

“I see.”

The Cat allowed herself a short purr of satisfaction. It seems Hanflaed was not so insensitive.

Her Hand’s emotions flared. His gaze became stern. “And did he also tell my father that you were pregnant?”

Colour fled from woman’s face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She could have said that part better.

“Wrong response, my Lady.”

Her colour returned and she took a deep breath. “How dare you? How dare you impugn my virtue…”

His upraised finger stopped her. “Too late, for two reasons. If I didn’t already know different, which I do, your first response confirmed everything.”

He sighed and took her arm, turning her through the door into the garden. "Listen, Lady Cate, I don’t hold this against you. When we last met, you acted like someone who had been given a task that was suited to her talents, and was willing to use those talents to their utmost in order to achieve your goal. I didn't mind that. In fact, I enjoyed it very much. I also respected it. I had my own orders as well. As it turned out, we were wasting our time."

"We were?"

"Of course. Once we got through all the games we discovered that both our families have the same objectives and we could be of great use to each other. You need support from the border lords. We need a contact in the Capital. If our fathers had settled down over a flagon they would have quickly come to the same conclusion. They obviously have, or this proposed marriage would not be on the table."

Her face lost its sparkle, and her lower lip protruded, ever so slightly. "But…what about…us?"

A very convincing act, wouldn't you say, my Lord?

You can tell me, Sword. Is it an act?

Only partially. Of course, the rest may only be pique that you have bested her at her own game.

But not completely?

Humans are very complicated, my Lord.

Theobald sighed. "I don't know, Cate. I don't know if there ever was room for an ‘us’ in the middle of all this."

Her head dropped a fraction, and she turned and walked along so that she could look up through her lashes at him. "But perhaps there could be…"

She just doesn't quit, does she? Inside, Theobald was grinning. She’s really quite cute when she does that.

Hanflaed taught me that persistence is a virtue. And I think her ‘cute’ has teeth in it.

Let's see if we can bring her to reality.

This time it was he who stopped. He planted his feet and straightened to full height to look down at her. "My Lady. I have always understood the possibility that I might be asked to marry for political reasons, but I have a certain latitude in the choice. In this case I must consider, apart from the obvious benefits of an alliance with your esteemed family, the fact that I will be joined for life to someone who has exhibited the moral fortitude of an alley cat in heat, who is pregnant with another man's child, and who I can never be sure isn't playing some kind of game for her own benefit," he raised a finger to forestall the outburst she was preparing, “as you may be, even at this moment. Certainly, you have a right to feel insulted, but those are the facts I must consider."

I couldn't have laid it out better myself. Although you were a bit hard on alley cats.

Quiet. This may be my future wife you're talking about.

Your future…?

Of course. The offer remains on the table.

But what about the pregnancy?

Can you tell me more? How long?

I don't know anything about this. I will try.

This interchange had taken a mere heartbeat, but the lady had enough time to string her bow and nock an arrow. Several arrows, from the look on her face.

Theobald shook his head. "Think before you speak, Lady Cate. The fortunes of our two families, and perhaps the people of Inderjorne, hinge on the outcome of this conversation. We both know that our persons are merely pawns on the political board. We know that our fathers have discussed us in terms similar to those I used a moment ago. Think, and give me an argument, not a blast of feminine fury. You owe it to your family, your people."

"I owe them nothing!"

At least you deflected her anger. Well done.

Thank you, Sword. Now we wait.

They strolled a few paces in silence, winding through the garden, a formal setting laid out with gravel walks. They paused at a circular fountain centred by a single statue of a doe with her fawn, allowing the pleasant tinkle of the water to soothe them. The cat could feel the anger drain from her, and sent calmness and warmth to take its place. But something else began to form instead.

Careful, my Lord. She is thinking again.

That's what I asked her to do.

Not like this.

I will be careful, Sword. Keep watch as well.

Together, they awaited the lady’s next move. The Cat took the opportunity to slide into the lady's mind, scanning that small extra spark that glowed there. A spark, but that was all. A spark that told of  another being, but few details.How do you tell the age of a spark?

Cate glanced up at Theobald from the corner of her eye, registered his lack of response. Her shoulders dropped, and she sat on the edge of the fountain. "All right, Theobald. You seem to be holding the loose end of the reins, here. What do you suggest?"

Aha! The 'complete honesty' ploy.

Maybe she believes it.

That's what makes it so powerful. She does. At the moment.

I'll keep that in mind.

He looked down at her and shrugged. "I don't know. I have stated my problem. I believe it is up to you to find a solution."

One corner of her lip lifted. “And if I don’t?”

"We can always wait nine months."

"Six would probably do."

He glanced at her. “Six?”

“Yes, yes, the baby isn’t yours. I was betrothed to Ecmund Coelric.”

“Oh. He was killed in one of those skirmishes with the Leute last month, wasn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you.” She spread her hands. “And it was after that I found out I was pregnant. My father decided that you were the next possibility. He said you were young and inexperienced, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to twist you around. Hah! He’s got some learning to do.”

“Is he going to get the chance?”

She looked up at him. “Theobald, is there any way we can salvage this?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Our fathers are both going to be very disappointed if we don’t. I do believe that an alliance between our families would be beneficial. I just…” he tossed his hands up in a helpless gesture and sat beside her on the rim of the fountain. “…I don’t know.”

“What are your objections? Assuming you could get over the obvious one.”

“I can get over that. It’s not as if I condemn you. You were betrothed, after all. It’s the problem of loyalty. You haven’t exactly presented yourself as someone I could trust implicitly.”

“Is that what you expect from your wife?”

“Isn’t it obvious? The first thing you need from your wife is absolute loyalty.”

"Absolute loyalty would be a pleasant but unrealistic hope for a marriage of this sort."

"What do you mean?"

“Absolute loyalty, he says. But to whom?” She ticked the points off on her fingers. "First loyalty, to my husband. That’s fine. Then to his family. Certainly. However, I will never forget my loyalty to my own family. That is the political reason for this marriage, after all. We will both be forever a link between the two clans. Last, my loyalty to the people of Inderjorne." She paused a moment, then looked straight at him. "That one should be listed first, I think. If you turn into some kind of tyrant and go against the needs of our people, I'll slit your throat."

I think she would.

He grinned. "If I turn against the needs of our people, I should slit it myself first."

"I'm glad we have that straight."

“And the ‘seductive siren’ person I met a few nights ago?”

"Theobald, I have been raised to believe that the greatest aid a daughter can be to her family is to marry well. When Ecmund died and I found I was pregnant, I lost that advantage. The other night was…well, it was an attempt to be useful in another way."

"An attempt."

"That's right. The first, you must understand, and a rather successful one, you must admit." She glanced at him sideways. "And quite a bit of fun, come to think of it."

He suppressed a thrill of agreement. "I suppose."

"You suppose! That's not how it sounded at the time!"

He raised his hands in defence. "No, no, it was wonderful." Then he matched her grin. "I hadn't expected diplomacy to be quite so…entertaining."

She jabbed a finger at him. "So you admit it. You were playing a game, too."

"Yes, but it was your game."

"Oh, certainly, and it was all my idea. You can have your fun, but I'm showing the morals of an alley cat."

I'm with her on this one, Theobald. Impugn a female's virtue at your own risk."

He stared straight into her eyes. "You know, I think I believe you."

"If we're going to be married, you have to."

"So you still think we're going to get married."

"I think so. Look, Theobald. Inderjorne needs this alliance. That's the first point. With our abilities, you and I can make our two families a real power for the good of the realm. You and I and that Sword of yours."

What?

"What about my Sword? What Sword?"

"Hah! Now it’s your response that tells me everything.” She pointed at the Sword. “That Sword. The magic Sword that Hanflaed the Magician made for you. Hanflaed is a friend of my father. We know all about it."

"So you're marrying me for my Sword."

A lady of discretion and taste, obviously.

"Don't be stupid. I have told you why I'm marrying you. For the good of my family. Also for the good of my child. I have some latitude in the matter of my marriage as well, you know. If I read you right, I think you'll treat him or her fairly, in spite of the situation. It helps that I like you. You're smart, you're thoughtful. So unlike the other duty-bound clods that have been paraded in front of me. I always wondered why Hanflaed gave the Sword to you, and now I’m beginning to find out.”

Him.

What?

Him. The child is male.

He shrugged. "She's a very different Sword. I guess if we get married, you'll figure it out."

"So are we getting married?"

"I suppose so. It seems the right thing to do."

"Well, don't sound so enthusiastic."

"Give me some time to get used to the idea."

She ran a fingernail down his cheek. A fingernail now devoid of red lacquer, the Cat noted. "Perhaps we can find a way to make it more pleasant."

He trapped her hand. "It might take me a while to get used to that, as well." He noted her shoulders stiffening. "But you are right about one thing. I will treat your child fairly. There can be no illusion that he will be an heir of mine, but he will be treated with all due respect as your son."

She frowned up at him, and her hand went to her stomach. "Why do you say, 'him?' I wouldn't have expected such an obvious male assumption from you. She might be a girl.”

He grinned. "Did Hanflaed mention that my Sword has many talents?"

"What? You mean it can tell that my baby is a boy?"

"She."

"She? I thought you said the baby was a boy."

"The Sword. She is most definitely female."

"I see. The Sword is female, the baby is male."

"Correct."

"I'm glad we got that straight." She shook her head. "Living with you two is going to be complicated, I can tell."

"You'll get used to it."

She shrugged. "At least I'll never be bored."

He made a face. “That’s the least of your problems, with this Sword around.”

Her body froze, and she stared at him. “She can read my mind, can’t she?”

“Not really. She feels emotions, sometimes gets pictures.”

“Will she talk to me?”

“No.” His head came up in pride. “Only to me. The connection between the Hand and the Sword is a special bond.”

The Cat wondered at that, but kept her council.

Cate stood and reached out her hand. “Let’s go and tell our fathers the good news.” He stood, and she glanced up at him. “You know, I think I’m going to have to loosen you up a bit.”

I could get to like this lady.

“I don’t need loosening.”

“Oh, yes, you do.” She pulled his arm close against the warmth of her body, and a gush of emotion ran through both of them.

This marriage business could be all sorts of fun.


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