Lot, Bran, and Josef face their greatest challenge yet: nap time.
Hastings – 1844
Edward was doing his I’m-sleepy-but-don’t-want-to-nap wail in the library. I burst through the door. Millie was sitting at the reading table pouring over books looking for information on Field House, Veronica was walking Edward back and forth as she rubbed his back, and Mary was somehow sleeping through it all under her yellow blanket on the couch.
I hugged Millie tightly. ‘You’re wonderful and amazing and haven’t done anything wrong.’
‘Thanks, Mum.’ She patted my arm. ‘Another one of those days?’
‘Definitely a day.’
‘I’m doing what you said, learning from my mistakes,’ she said, making her one up on me.
Bran lifted Edward out of Veronica’s arms and she dropped into a chair at the table as if she was about to deflate.
Bran kissed his forehead. ‘Poor sleepy boy.’
‘Not,’ Edward shouted and rubbed his eyes with one hand.
Millie winched. I kissed the top of Millie’s had and pulled away.
‘Shhh,’ Bran murmured, rocking him. ‘Are you having a bad day?’
‘Yes!’ Edward pushed against Bran’s chest. ‘Want big Muma cuddle.’
‘Don’t you want a Dada cuddle?’ Josef asked coming in from having put his sword stick safely away from children’s reach.
‘No.’ Edward wriggled about trying to escape. ‘Mil-Mil gotted one and Imma more sad.’
I rounded the table and took him from Bran. ‘Oh dear.’ I said, rubbing his back. ‘What’s upset my little fella?’
‘Mean lady made sam’ich wrong an’… an’ tolded got eat crusties.’ The mean lady was the cook who, presumably because no child had ever entered the house before, didn’t have a high tolerance for children’s foibles.
‘Do you want me to make you a sandwich?’
He shook his head. ‘Ronni made one. An’… an’ she cutted the crusties off, an’ maded triangles!’ He put his fingers and thumbs together in the diamond, I assumed that meant all his sandwiches would have to be triangles in future. ‘An’ Ronni tolded mean lady off ‘cause ‘mazing sister.’
‘She is.’ Which twanged my guilt that we still employed her as a governess. Persuading her she had a place in our family as an equal to the rest of the children was difficult, her mother had left some deep wounds in her self-worth it would take time to soothe.
‘Love Ronni.’ Edward rubbed his face on my shoulder.
‘We all love Ronni.’ I wiped his face with a handkerchief but most of it was already down my shoulder.
Veronica picked up one of Millie’s books and started reading. Merry peeked out from under the table and waved, I waved back and she retreated. Josef got down beside the table and Merry invited him into her den to read books and cuddle toys. Bran frowned at the table, he wouldn’t mind joining them but he wouldn’t fit.
‘Shall I pass you back to Pappy for a sleepy cuddle?’ I asked.
Edward nodded. In Bran’s arms was his safe space because that was who Bran was, people felt safe with him, a singular talent. Mostly I made people shit themselves.
I passed Edward over, he grabbed tight onto Bran’s waistcoat with one tiny fist, and Bran grinned at him. ‘Naptime?’
‘Not sleepy’ Edward yawned. ‘Snuggly.’
‘You can snuggle as much as you want.’
‘Papa snuggly like puppy,’ Edward murmured. ‘When get puppy? Is puppy hiding?’
‘What puppy?’ Mary sat up.
‘There isn’t a puppy,’ I said and picked Mary’s blanket up off the floor.
‘Ooooh,’ she replied in her most disappointed tone. ‘How’s a puppy going to be out loyalist follower and fiercest friend if we don’t got one?’
I bent forward and peered at Josef under the table holding a knitted bear and reading a book of fairy tales. He pretended not to notice, it was definitely one of his stories that gave her that idea then.
Edward started crying. ‘Want puppy.’
I sighed. We’d been so close.
Puppies, puppies, puppies, by the end of the day we were knackered from chasing the children around and Edward’s lack of puppy tantrums.
‘A Child of Odin? That used to be quite prestigious,’ Bran said, swirling his whiskey.
‘Used to be?’ I asked. I was lying on the couch considering the ornate plasterwork on the ceiling. I was always amazed the ceiling didn’t collapsed from the weight of it.
‘He counts his life in millennia and he’s a randy old goat,’ he muttered. ‘If all his lovers had wombs we’d be overrun by now.’
I smiled. ‘You’re one to talk.’
He blushed and cleared his throat. ‘How do you feel about that?’ Another of his lovely conversational pirouettes perfectly executed.
I picked my whiskey up off the floor and sipped it rather than laugh. ‘That the man claiming to be my, possibly many times, great-grandfather is a randy old goat?’
‘That you might have some living family?’
‘I have a living family and no interest in whatever he’s trying to sell me.’ I sighed. ‘Assuming he’s telling the truth I very much doubt his interest has anything to do with family.’
‘Morag can’t lie directly, as you well know.’ He sipped his drink, smiling about something. No, that wasn’t true, he was probably smiling about the fact I had trouble lying directly to people. I could tell little lies like that I’d killed the none existent monster under the bed, I much preferred the kind of lie where I told the truth but maybe not all of it.
‘Then I must not be lying when I say I’m feeling like a shag,’ I replied.
‘Avoidance then,’ he said.
Josef came in from tucking the children in and reading them bedtime stories and climbed onto the couch to lie between my legs with his head on my chest. ‘If Bran won’t oblige, I will.’
I grinned. ‘There’s a sensible man.’
Josef exhaled deeply. ‘I might need a nap first.’
Bran gave us a disapproving look.
I sighed. ‘I have no interest in Odin, ancestors, or anything else. I made me, not a tower of people I’ve never known.’
Bran gave me a look that said he knew something more. I was never sure if our bond told him things his greater emotional lexicon let him identify when I couldn’t, or it was simply his annoying ability to know my feelings better than I knew myself. As long as they didn’t relate to him, his mind was very unreliable on that score.
Josef caressed his hand down my thigh.
‘I thought you needed a nap,’ I said.
‘I got my second wind.’
Bran chuckled and shook his head. ‘For two direct people, you can be very indirect.’
‘For an indirect person, you can be very direct,’ Josef countered.
‘Do you two think of anything but sex?’ Bran asked.
I smiled. ‘I’ve seen your sexual fantasies, Brandon.’ I played my fingers through Josef’s hair. ‘It seems to me that if I have a blood family they weren’t interested in me until there was power to be interested in and that’s not family.’ I shrugged. ‘I’m interested in what he’d up to but I’m not going to play his game.’
Bran knelt down beside me and kissed me softly. ‘I love you.’
I caressed his face. ‘I love you. You’re my family.’
He cleared his throat. ‘What do we do now?’
I nuzzled his nose. ‘I don’t know. But I will.’
Josef’s hand went slack and his breathing stopped as he dropped off into sleep.
I eyed him. ‘Looks like I’ll have time to think about it.’
Bran picked up my glass. ‘More whiskey it is.’