This story was previously published by ‘Tria Demens’.
A prologue to Once Upon a Time:
Chronicles of Acharn.
Proud in his new livery, Lord James William Forrest Ellison of the Clan d’Ellison stood sentry outside his Queen’s chambers. He caught his reflection in the suit of armour standing against a far wall. The black and gold livery had been his to wear on his twelfth birthday. As Heir to the house of Ellison, his family served the House of Sandburg and now he waited on Her Majesty, the Queen, herself.
The page admired the crest on his livery. The Wolf rampant danced with the Cat sejant on either side of a sable escutcheon with purpure cinquefoil charges above the scroll with the motto: d’amo. As eldest son of the Clan d’Ellison, James bore the label mark of cadency with his own shield (a reverse of the House of Sandburg, where the Cat rampant guardian stood over the Wolf couchant on a tincture of pure argent) on his right sleeve.
The page knew his position; he served his Queen – that had been impressed upon him in childhood.
“Jamie?” A soft whisper caught his attention.
“Milady?” Jamie hesitated a heartbeat, then opened the door to the queen’s suite of rooms. Several bespelled doors guarded the queen, as a d’Ellison he passed through the spell wards unquestioned. At the threshold to the chambers-proper, he knocked carefully.
“You called, Your Majesty?”
“Jamie! Come in! Now!”
Startled, Jamie pulled open the heavy oak door. The Queen beckoned him into the room. She stood upright, clutching the side of the fireplace with one hand. Her other hand was planted firmly on the small of her back. She breathed in and out like a horse after a good run.
“Your Majesty?” he asked politely. A ripple walked across her enlarged tummy, visible even under her silk nightgown.
Perspiration had twisted her long red hair into spikes and there was a bright quality in her eyes that scared the young page.
“Your Majesty, do you need help?”
“James, my boy,” she said with studied control, “I wonder if you would go and get the physician?”
“Yes, Milady, is the baby coming?” he asked, wide eyed.
“Yes, James, my boy. Will you get Cindy, now?”
“Yes!” Jamie needed no further instruction, he bolted.
Jamie burst into the physician’s apothecary, flinging the door open. Startled, the doctor dropped the flask that she was working on. It fell to the floor and shattered.
“James! I’ve been working on that potion for days.”
“The Queenishavingthebaby! The Queenishavingthe baby!”
“What?” Cindy sat up wide eyed.
The physician leaped away from her worktable in one smooth motion, snatching up her bag of magic she almost bowled Jamie out of the way as she rushed by him. The young laird simply ducked, spun on his heel and ran after her.
He knew why she was worried. She was concerned because the baby was coming too early; and that he knew was dangerous. Jamie’s mama had died when she had delivered his baby brother, Stephen, early.
Jamie wasn’t too sure what he would be able to do, but he was going to help. He ran after the physician. She had already turned the corner at the bottom of the corridor and was out of sight. Jamie ran pell-mell after her. At the bottom of a short staircase, he almost bumped into the Chancellor. Zigzagging, Jamie ducked under The Zeller’s habitual backhand and continued at great speed down the corridor.
“Boy!” The Zeller hollered after him.
“The Queenishavingthe baby.”
Jamie was puffing hard by the time he screeched to a halt outside the Queen’s chambers. Suddenly he found himself in a complete quandary. Should he go in? Heart in his mouth, he planted his ear on the door. What should he do? Wasn’t he supposed to boil water or something?
“Jamie?” The young page jumped away from the door and stood ramrod straight at attention. The Duchess Michelle, resplendent in her court gown of teal silk, peered down at him -- her expression chastising. Jamie blushed, despite the fact that he had been listening for a good reason.
“Duchess Michelle?” he squeaked. “The babe’s coming and it’s too early.”
“What?” The lady-in-waiting flung open the door to the Queen’s suite. “Go get the physician.”
“I did,” Jamie addressed the space where she had been standing. Alone, Jamie went back to his post. He gnawed on his lip, while waiting for instructions.
A sudden low howl made him shudder to his toes. He hadn’t heard anyone make that kind of noise before. He blushed again as he heard a very rude word. Then that reverberating howl rocked through his body.
“It’s a boy!” A voice exulted.
A weak, high pitched -- profoundly disgruntled -- wail brushed his ears.
“Jamie, get in here!” Cindy ordered.
The page did not disobey the physician when she used that tone of voice. Nervously, he tiptoed into the room. He was pretty sure that boys didn’t go into girls’ rooms at this sort of time.
Mage energies swirled about the
Queen’s four poster bed. The Duchess Michelle stood at the Queen’s side, hiding
her from view. She was the source of the magic. Blue-green healing radiance
flowed from the lady-in-waiting to the Queen.
Cindy stood at the base of the bed, head bowed over a tiny wrapped bundle in her arms.
The physician caught sight of him immediately. “Jamie, my boy, come here.”
Well trained, Jamie darted to her side.
“Hold him with care.” She said and set the baby gently in his arms.
Jamie froze stock still as his hands cradled the babe. It was so small, its face wrinkled like an apple. A tiny palm lay lax upon the blanket. The baby was barely breathing.
“Jamie will you help him?”
Jamie was captured by the tiny prince. “Of course.”
A warm hand rested on his forehead and a soft incantation washed over him. Cindy’s other hand rested on the baby’s chest. The physician released him and Jamie held the baby unaided. His heart thrummed and he felt an answering beat in the baby prince’s chest. He breathed and the baby breathed. A rush of warmth filled him. He was helping the baby.
Focussed on his charge, he was barely aware of the physician and the duchess working to heal the Queen. Cindy moved around the Queen, yelling for Aconite and Arnica. A flash of bright red caught his eyes, but he looked away -- back to the baby.
Rosebud lips pursed, searching for comfort. Gingerly, Jamie brushed a soft cheek with his fingertip and, impossibly, sapphire blue eyes latched upon his own.
“Hello,” Jamie whispered.
The prince took all of his strength and he gave it willingly.
“You’re a good boy, Jamie.” A hand brushed his forehead. Startled, the young page stared up at the physician. She had a streak of blood high on her cheek. Jamie squinted as she wavered from side to side. That was not right.
“You have to take the prince, now.” Solemnly, Jamie thrust the babe into Cindy’s arms. He felt very strange. He made sure that the physician had a firm hold on the prince and then he sat – swiftly – on the floor. His legs just gave way. Jamie patted the floor with a shaking hand. It should have stayed still, floors normally just stayed still.
Perhaps if he just curled up on his side, on the floor, he would feel better.
“Come on, Jamie.”
Confused, he peered at the duchess as she easily pulled him to his feet. He didn’t want to stand; he wanted to go to sleep.
“Just a few steps.”
The lady wrapped an arm around his shoulders and caught his hand in a firm grip. He docilely allowed her to conduct him from the Queen’s chambers.
But at the door he balked. “What about the baby?”
“Cindy’s looking after the prince,” she said soothingly. “You need to rest now, Lord James.”
“Just Jamie, am not big enough to be Lord James yet.”
“You’re big enough.” The duchess led him into a bedroom attached to the Queen’s chambers. He unerringly headed straight for the big bed in the centre of the room; he really wanted to lie down. The Duchess Michelle helped him clamber up onto the high mattress, and Jamie gratefully slumped onto the pillows. He fell face first into comforting darkness.
Jamie woke up, but only his thoughts; his bones still slept. It was a delicious feeling, an enchanting lassitude in which he could happily dwell in forever. Slowly, he became aware of soft scents. The heavy quilt wrapped around his body, comforting him. Bird song, elsewhere, lulling him. Irrevocably, he woke -- all the way.
His stomach clamoured; he was absolutely starving. He lifted his head, his face was mashed into a pillow.
“Lord James?” a mocking voice asked.
Jamie scowled at his older friend. Rafe, a fellow page, was leaning across his bed, elbows planted on the mattress.
“What?” Jamie growled.
“You’ve been sleeping forever,” the young duke said.
“I rang for some when you started snuffling into your pillow about a candle mark ago.” Rafe exuded laughter. “Ah!” he shuffled off the bed and out of sight.
Jamie considered moving, and with great effort, he flipped onto his back. He felt as stiff as a tree trunk. Jamie craned his head as Rafe tottered back into the chamber, bowed under a tray piled high with delicacies.
Motivated, Jamie – grunting – struggled to sit upright. Rafe plonked the tray on his lap and then helped him with the mass of pillows.
The scents were driving Jamie insane. He grabbed a handful of crispy bacon and stuffed it in his mouth. It was the best thing he had ever tasted. Rafe retreated to the edge of the big bed and tucking his knees against his chest. The page watched Jamie with an amazed expression pasted over his round face.
“Boy, you’re hungry.”
“Famished.” Jamie said around his full mouth and grabbed a hot buttered bread roll. He was amazed; even the warm milk tasted gorgeous.
“The Queen had a baby,” Rafe announced.
Jamie’s mouth fell open as he remembered. He had forgotten about the wee little babe. Rafe was gagging merrily, and Jamie quickly closed his mouth and swallowed his breakfast
“Is the prince well?”
Rafe pondered. “I dunno, he’s really little--” he held his hands a hairsbreadth apart, “--but aren’t babies supposed to be little?”
“Humf.” Jamie set the tray aside, grabbed a boiled egg, stuffed it in his mouth and then wriggled out from under the heavy quilt. Someone had changed his clothes since he now wore a long night robe. The young laird pondered a moment on who had dressed him and then clambered off the bed. The cold of the wooden floor bit his toes.
“Where are you going?” Rafe scrambled after him.
Jamie padded down the short corridor to the Queen’s chamber. Rafe grabbed the sleeve of Jamie’s nightgown, just before he reached the door.
“You can’t go in there!” he hissed.
“I need to.” Jamie plucked Rafe’s chubby hand from his arm.
“You’re going to be in so much trouble.” Rafe washed his hands of the affair and darted down the corridor. He stuck his tongue out before ducking back into Jamie’s bed chamber.
Jamie stood tall and tapped politely on the door to the Queen’s room.
“Enter,” a soft voice ordered.
Jamie pushed open the oak door. The Queen had centre stage in the room. She reclined in the middle of her grand four poster bed. There wasn’t a drop of colour in her face, which made her hair impossibly red. The royal purple quilt and pillows did not flatter her drained complexion.
“James.” She smiled welcomingly.
The page took a tentative step into her boudoir. Then he couldn’t help himself, he ran to the side of the bed, and peered around the bottom post, half hidden behind the drapes.
Her arm was curled protectively over a crib at her side.
“Come closer, James.”
Jamie needed no second encouragement, he moved closer. The tiny little soul barely filled half the cradle. “Is he all right? He’s very little.”
“Yes, thanks to you.” Queen Naomi gestured regally at the Duchess Michelle and Countess Elizabeth sitting on the sunlit balcony outside the chamber. Their expressions serene; it was obvious that they were meditating. “Shelly and Beth are helping Blair for the moment.”
“Yes.” The Queen carefully lifted her son from his swaddling. Bright, copper curls framed the apple sized face. Blair no longer looked like a disgruntled gnome; the baby’s skin was smooth. Jamie was enchanted by the tiny, perfect fingernails. A little fist opened and closed. Jamie couldn’t resist, he glanced at the Queen, and receiving permission, he let the baby grip his finger.
“Lord James, allow me to introduce you to His Royal Highness, Prince Blair Nechtan Finn of the House of Sandburg-Bran. I thought about calling him James, but that would have made it a bit confusing.”
But James William of the Clan of the House of Ellison was not listening to his liege. He was absorbed by the strong grip that Blair had on his finger. The legacy of Sentinel and Guide began anew, the circle continuing.