By morning Leanne’s grumpiness had returned. She crabbed at Jerryck for not doing anything right. She complained about being too tired to do everything for him. Then she started throwing up. He checked her for the flu. Nothing. Perhaps she had eaten something the day before that had disagreed with her. Either that or she had to be fighting some sort of illness. But with all the checking done the day before with no result, there wasn’t much more he could do for her until more symptoms appeared. He used magic to ease her nausea and suggested she take the day off to rest. She swore she was fine, and went to work anyway. He finished the first ward and spent the next few days testing it. He took it out to a nearby field and planted it. A short distance away, he opened a tiny portal to the corner in his tower he kept clear. The ward tolled as sharp and loud as any warning bell. Once that first test was successful, he played with the range. Since it only worked as an alert, not preventative, he got it to where he could extend the range to about a 10 mile radius without expending too much extra power. If he made it right it shouldn’t require any maintenance for at least a couple of years. And if he made no more than one a day he wouldn’t wear himself too thin. Nothing went as planned. Leanne went completely crazy, distracting him from his work. She’d act happy and giddy one moment, then start crying and sobbing the next. She kept accusing him of not listening. He repeated back the last thing she’d said, proving that he was listening. Then she would stand there staring at him, or tapping her foot, or holding out her hand, as if she expected him to hear more in her words than what she’d said. Then she always got mad at him for no reason. He tried asking his sister to talk some sense into his wife. Kendra only got mad. She told him he was stupid and needed to listen better. Other distractions abounded as well. Tajor kept coming up to the tower and insisting he do his aural exercises and practices. Zev still had lessons to learn. A lot of people in the palace still came to him for all the ailments that compounded with the onset of early winter. On top of all that, he still had the maintenance chores and other tasks required of him as court magician. # The weather predictors said that in a few days, the palace would get its first snowfall of the year. Everyone dashed around in mad excitement, preparing for the Winter Festival. Jerryck hadn’t made near the progress on the wards that he should have. A few of them he botched when people barged in on him in the middle of powering them up. He’d had to scratch them and start over. Then Tajor asked if the wards were going to travel to their locations while active, or if someone would activate them once they had been planted. Jerryck ruined several more trying unsuccessfully to attach a trigger that any layman could operate. Tajor and Zev were both there for Leanne’s outburst the evening before the predicted snowfall. They watched as she went on a tirade, and then stomped out of the workroom. “Why does she talk about babies so much all of a sudden?” Zev asked. “I think she wants one,” Jerryck said. “I wouldn’t have thought she’d be so eager after all the pain she’s seen other women go through during pregnancy and birthing.” Tajor threw back his head in laughter. “You are one of the most inept people I’ve ever met when it comes to understanding hints and innuendos. She’s not even trying to hide it. She’s all but come right out and said it.” “Said what?” “Good night, Jerryck.” Tajor got up and left. He called back as he started down the stairs. “You’ll figure it out sooner or later.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” Zev asked. “I don’t know,” Jerryck growled. “And I don’t want to talk about it anymore tonight. Go to bed.” “What?” Zev slumped. “I can’t sleep now! It’s supposed to snow tonight. I want to see it.” “You’ll see it when you get up in the morning.” “Then it’ll be time for the festival.” “Stop whining,” Jerryck said. “Almost everyone else is already in bed. Go on. I have more work I’d like to do. Alone.” “Fine.” Zev pouted and shuffled his feet, taking twice the normal amount of time to walk the short distance through the curtain. Jerryck worked on his current ward. With everyone in bed anticipating the Winter Festival the next day, he got several hours of uninterrupted time. His lamp nearly burned through all its oil before he finally sat back from his work and breathed a satisfied sigh at a job well done. A flicker of movement out the window caught his attention. Snowflakes drifted lazily to the ground. He smiled. Perhaps this would cheer Leanne out of whatever malaise had taken hold of her. He went down one flight to his bedroom. He undressed as quietly as he could and crawled into bed. She was awake. She clicked her tongue and rolled away from him. “It’s snowing,” he said. “Happy Winter Festival, love.” “Are you going to make the announcement in the morning?” There was bitterness in her voice. He sat up. He never made announcements. And even if he did, it wouldn’t be on the day of the Winter Festival. Not even the king made announcements then, unless he had a pregnant wife, or a child that had become engaged to marry. Pregnancies and wedding engagements were announced by everyone on that day. “What announcement?” he asked. “I’m getting really tired of that.” She threw off the blanket and got up. Illumination from somewhere outside reflected off the falling snow just enough to shed light on her where she stood. She grabbed her robe and yanked it over her nightdress. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m finding somewhere else to sleep.” She jammed her arms into the sleeves of the robe. “Why?” “You keep acting like nothing has changed.” She flailed her arms around while she spoke, her open robe flapping about. “It matters so little to you that you don’t even care.” “What you talking about?” “I’m talking about the baby.” She folded her arms over her stomach. “What baby?” “Our baby.” “We don’t have a baby!” “We will!” “Someday! Yes! Absolutely we will!” “Next summer we will!” Jerryck leaned back, absorbing. She might as well have slapped him upside the head with a brick. “Are you… We… We’re pregnant? Now?” “Don’t ask so surprised.” She closed the front of her robe with her hands and didn’t let go. She squeezed and twisted the edges. “The shamaness figured it out. I’ve been telling you since she left.” “I thought you were talking about how much you loved being a midwife,” Jerryck said. “You talked a lot about making arrangements for if and when we have a baby. You didn’t say anything about one already here and growing.” “Are you so thickheaded that you really didn’t understand that?” Jerryck slumped. “I guess so. Look, I’m not so good at picking up on hints. You have to tell me something outright if you want me to know it. Or show me evidence if I can’t see it.” “I thought magicians that can heal could also figure out when a woman is pregnant.” “If we’re looking for that, yes,” Jerryck said. “I checked you for illness, not pregnancy.” “So you don’t believe me until you do whatever magic it is that tells you?” “I believe you.” Jerryck smiled, even though she wouldn’t be able to see in the dark. “You’re a midwife. The best one in the palace. You know what you’re doing. I trust you.” “You don’t sound upset.” She slipped the robe back off. “Why would I be upset?” He reached out and took her hand, drawing her back to bed. “You were upset before.” She lay down beside him. “I couldn’t figure out what was going on,” he said. “I don’t like being confused. It happens too often.” She giggled, and snuggled under the blankets. Within a couple of heartbeats, she had dropped into sleep. Jerryck lay awake, his mind racing in circles. There were so many things he would need to provide for another member of the family. They should make the second floor of the tower, the room below the bedroom, into a nursery. They would need a cradle, a rocking chair, clothes, blankets, diapers… lots and lots of diapers. His wife and sister would think of all kinds of details he wouldn’t. So he stuck to the basics. And the most basic of all, the baby would need a name. A lot of people in Brend followed the tradition of the royal family. They gave the first son a name similar to his father, and the first daughter a name similar to her mother. Thus, Princess Nita was the first born daughter of Queen Rita. Terrance was the firstborn son of old King Clarence. Would Leanne want to follow that tradition? There were a few people who didn’t, claiming it must bring a curse. The last several generations of royal family had only one child. People refused to let go of that myth no matter how many magicians told them there was no curse. Kendra had been named for their mother Lindra. Jerryck had been named for their father Jerryld. Leanne wasn’t her mother’s oldest daughter, so they wouldn’t have to worry about repeating a grandmother’s name. If the baby was a girl, they could name her Breann, or Lena, or something like that. Jerryck’s father was dead, so they could repeat that name if the baby was a boy. Or maybe Derrick, or Erick. They would eventually come up with something. He hugged his wife closer and drifted to sleep happy.