“Come on Jack, what’s the gossip?”
Jack smiled to himself at Mirielle’s insistent tone; of all the years he had known her she never ceased to remind him of a young girl. And yet she was not a young girl, though she cared for them in her daily life, Mirielle Tremont was a grown woman. He looked over at her, her belly was heavily swollen with her second child, and she had started wearing her hair up in a unusually technical braid.
“Even if I were privy to the sort of gossip you’re looking for, I wouldn’t have the nerve to use such language in front of a lady,” he replied smugly.
Mirielle of course grinned at him, “And don’t forget Retta.”
Jack sniffed, “In front of a princess! That’s even worse.”
The two year old grinned at him from her wooden seat, where her mother often kept her captive when they had company. It was startling the resemblance between little Retta and the king, and it wasn’t just the eyes that made them similar. They both possessed the same general shape of the face, though Jack guessed Retta would one day develop dimples, and he hadn’t ever seen the king’s shaved cheeks to know if he had dimples.
“Conri would have your head,” Mirielle laughed.
“Yes, I’d rather like to keep my head thanks.” He leaned toward the small princess, “I wouldn’t want to offend the king’s favourite would I?”
The toddler burped.
Mirielle giggled at her daughter’s response, “Let’s list Conri’s favourites, in order” she suggested to him.
She always had him engaging in silly games when he visited, more than often they were regarding the amount of women at court who had bedded Sir Soren.
“Hmm, well I already stated Retta here as the favourite.”
“No, I don’t think so” she shook her head at him. “Siara Corin and Retta are nose to nose for that position.”
Jack nodded, “Okay then. Siara and Retta, and…”
“Garnette and Gwenelle,” Mirielle smiled. “Are you seeing the likeness between those four?”
“Ah, they’re all girls?”
She giggled again, “They all look shockingly like him.” She said, “Haven’t you noticed? He even favours Cohen over the other boys because of his red hair.”
“Strange how Cohen is the only prince with hair like his father,” Jack agreed.
“Oh, little Jacen Agar has red hair,” she winked. “But if you asked me he’s not at all like the king, if you catch my meaning.”
Jack got the feeling he was wading into deep waters, and he cleared his throat decisively. “Where’s my little one?”
Just as he asked, he heard the footsteps padding toward them from a short distance. Jack stood up just in time to catch the lunge of his daughter who clung to him with glee.
“Da!” Payge squealed into his ear, “I missed you!”
Jack scooped his daughter up for the briefest second before releasing her from the hug. “By all that is sacred, you’ve grown,” he told her. “I can hardly hold you in one arm.”
His daughter giggled, staring up at him with her big, brown eyes. If he was afraid of anything, he thought while holding her trusting gaze, it was disappointing his little girl.
“Tell your Da what you’ve been learning Payge,” Mirielle said quietly.
“Oh!” Payge bounced, “Lady Mirielle has been letting me sit in with Felisa and her tutor!”
Jack looked over at Mirielle with a raised brow, she had taken Payge to be trained as a personal maidservant for either Felisa or Retta one day, and Jack didn’t think a maidservant ought to know how to read or write.
“Is that so?” He grinned.
“I can count up to one hundred! Do you want to hear me?”
She began to recite her numbers, and Jack had a feeling they’d be waiting for awhile. And so he did what any rational adult father would do, he began to tickle her.
He mimicked her counting, “Seven, eight, nine.”
“Ten, eleven, ah!” She burst into laughter, struggling away from her father’s attack.
“I have a present for you,” he told her quickly before she continued her numbers. “Close your eyes.”
His daughter stared up at him disbelieving, and with deep sigh she closed her eyes. It took him a moment to unveil the kitten up his sleeve, as the little thing had fallen asleep next to the heat of his arm. He let the newly awoken creature brush itself against his daughter’s cheek, and that was all she needed to open her eyes and snatch the kitten from her father’s hands.
“Oh!” She squealed, bouncing up and down “A kitten!”
All the noise she was making had caught the attention of the Princess Felisa, who waddled over with a stuffed doll under her arm.
“I want a kitten too!” She whined to Jack. “All I have is this stupid doll and I had to stitch it myself.”
“Look Mirielle it’s a kitten!” Payge attempted to shove the kitten’s wriggling body toward Mirielle, “Can we keep it?”
Mirielle dodged the attempt with expert skill, and smiled up at Jack. “You just like to make my life a little more miserable every day, don’t you?”
He winked at her. He knew that if he had asked permission first Mirielle would probably had said no to the kitten, whereas now that the girls had seen it she would break their hearts if she turned the creature away. Retta was squirming to get a closer look at the kitten, so Jack went to lift her from her chair.
It was remarkable to see the little toddler’s face light up as he reached for her, but troubling when he held her up and she gave him a look of utter confusion. Her little hands scoured his chest for something to hold onto, and Jack couldn’t help but wonder if the toddler had ever been held by a man before.