Decorative
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    "Terrible," she murmured in a voice roughened by pain, though her smile reassured. "Just terrible. I thought I heard Ylvar."
    "He went off to arrange the naming ceremony."
    "Always remembering the proprieties, he is." The infant, as if prompted by her voice, wailed. "Oh, dear." She tried to sit up and grimaced; Garald, who could not help feeling that the proprieties didn't include him being in the lying-in chamber of another man's wife, gingerly helped to rearrange the pillows so she could sit comfortably and nurse the babe. "Thank you, that's better—my stars, he's tiny. Sure didn't feel that way."
    Garald decided that a walk over by the windows was exactly what he needed, pretended not to hear the women laughing behind him.
    "You really ought to rest," Brenna advised sternly.
    "I know. I will, when the greedy little creature is finished." She looked around suddenly. "Where did Talir and that sweet little child run off to?"
    "Ah, they had something urgent to attend to," Garald said, and could have kicked himself for such clumsiness.
    "Oh."
    That seemed sufficient, although Brenna gave him an arch glance. But surely, he told himself, this should be a celebratory time? Why rake up the ashes of last winter's quarrels? Sarren, born of an old northern family much like Garald's, if lesser in rank, took healers as a part of life, and a valuable part at that. Magic... well, no one had accused the Sisters of that, but if they had, Sarren would have shrugged a bit, as she was wont to do, and asked where the problem lay. For Ylvar it could never be anything other than a mortal sin against the laws of God.
    "He sent them away, didn't he," she said quietly, breaking into his thoughts so that he started. "Don't get in a knot," she added, "I'm not going to fuss. Yet. There was no real need for them to stay, as I don't believe I'm on the brink of death. But I will not have my friends tossed from the Palace like errant servants. He should know better." Silence fell after her pronouncement.
    "Have you chosen a name yet?" Brenna asked, trying to lighten the tension. Garald used to tease her that he had married a diplomat, not a noble lady. He had quickly realized the value of that diplomacy, and stopped teasing. Sarren smiled and went along with her.
    "Ylvar wanted Brandon, if it was a boy, which this certainly appears to be. It's a good enough old name, in both our families. My great-uncle. What a terror he was." She altered her hold, so that her hand supported the child's head more firmly, and paused. Something about her stillness then caught Garald's attention, her look of—fear? sorrow? resignation? Then nothing at all seemed unusual, and he was left to wonder if the long hours had taken more of a toll than he thought. Must be getting old, if one late night can do this to me. Sarren looked up with her heart-melting smile, and the moment was forgotten.
    "I think he has my eyes. About time someone broke the mold."
    "Time will tell," Brenna replied. Eight centuries since seven ships had sailed in rebellion from island Tias, and the rulers of Tethys had been almost to a one since then tall, stern of face, dark-haired and heavy-boned, like the people they had left behind. The faces that stared down from the paintings in the Hall of Kings bore that stamp, as did Ylvar, and by all indications little Mikal as well.
    "That it will. What's the hour?"
    "Nearly dawn, I fear."
    "What an hour to fall asleep—I'm sorry, my friends, but I must."
    "Not at all," Brenna protested. "You need your rest. Especially if you're to return the favor for me in a few months." She patted her belly.
    "It's an experience, let me tell you. And I really am ready to melt from tiredness. If you catch any servants hanging about, send one in, please. And visit again soon."
    "We will," Brenna promised, and kissed her damp forehead lightly, and then they left. Kiess had gone, no doubt harrying the king about the naming ritual, or the healers, or something equally dear to the man's heart and equally tiresome to everyone else, except perhaps Ylvar himself.

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