“Fred, where are you?” Dauntless searched the palace gardens for his wife. She was always finding parts of the grounds no one knew about and disappearing. When he asked her why, she would say, “I'm only exploring. It's so boring being cooped up in our rooms.”
But even he knew there was more to it than that. There was something else bothering her. It had taken him a long time to figure that out.
“There you are!” On this glorious spring day she sat among the brambles, frowning at the ground, instead of admiring the flowers. “You really have to tell me what's bothering you.”
She looked up at him and smiled wanly. “I'm sorry Dauntless. I just can't take listening to all the babies any more.”
Dauntless blinked. “But I thought you loved children!”
“Oh, I do! I do.” She wrung her hands and sighed. “Everyone has so many. Larken's about to have her third! Doesn't it bother you that we haven't been able to, you know, have any?”
“Oh, Fred! We've been trying.”
“Yes. For more than two years.” Her eyes were filled with anguish. “And still, nothing! I can't stand it anymore.”
“Perhaps we need to try harder.”
She shook her head. “There aren't enough hours in the day or night to try even harder. I think we need a change of scene.”
He sat down beside her and stared ahead. “I know! We can go away somewhere!”
“That's what I just said.”
“That's a very good question.” She sighed again and stood. “I guess we'd better go back to the castle.”
Dauntless stood, too, and took her hand. On their way, they met Harry and Larken, out for a stroll with their son, Jack, who was almost two, and daughter, Jill, who'd just turned one. Larken was visibly pregnant again.
Winnifred swallowed loudly.
“Good morning, you two, or should I say four?” Dauntless smiled at the little family.
“Almost five's more like it,” Winnifred said but no one noticed the bitterness in her voice.
“Where've you two been?” Harry asked.
“Oh, here and there. We're planning a trip.” Dauntless was eager to share the news.
Lady Larken's eyes lit up.“Where are you going?”
“That's the problem. We don't know.”
“Well, I know where I'd go.” Larken grinned. She looked guiltily at Harry. “If I didn't have my babies. Not that I would give them up for anything. But perhaps when they've grown up...”
Winnifred rolled her eyes. “So? Where would you go?”
“Normandy. I hear there's a beach where the peach blossoms grow.”
“That sounds pretty.” Dauntless smiled.
“And a cozy inn, a friendly place, with rows of windows facing the sea.” Larken looked wistful until Jack pulled at the hem of her dress.
“Well, it doesn't sound bad.”
“Oh, c'mon Fred. It sounds great! Let's go.” Dauntless took her hands.
Dauntless and Winnifred entered the inn and looked around. A woman in a flowered dress stood behind the front desk. “Bonjour. Bienvenu.”
Winnifred approached her. “Do you have a room?”
She spoke loudly and slowly. “I asked if you have a room.”
The woman shook her head. “Je ne vous comprends pas.”
Winnifred turned to Dauntless. “I thought they were supposed to be friendly. Guess there are no rooms at the inn.” They started for the door.
“Monsieur, Madame. S'il vous plait.” The woman held out a key to them and smiled.
Dauntless turned back. “Oh, thank you.” He took the key and called to his wife. “Fred, we do have a room after all.”
An older man came to take their bags. Fred eyed him suspiciously but followed him to a room on the first floor of the inn. It was well-appointed with a fourposter bed, chintz curtains framing French doors that led out to the beach, and two arm chairs in the same chintz print. There was even a private lavatory.
Fred went to investigate. “Why are there two toilets?”
“I think ones a bidet.” Dauntless studied them with a puzzled look.
“Of course it is.” She shrugged and went to look out the doors. “I see the beach but where are the trees?”
He shook his head. “That's not why we're here, is it?” He patted the floral quilt covering the bed.
She turned to him and grinned. “Now you're talking.” She walked over and plopped down on it.
“I think we'll have to take off our garments.” He looked at her shyly.
“Of course.” It took a while for her to remove her cloak, dress, petticoats, and corset, but eventually she stood before him, in nothing but her underclothes.
Meanwhile, he struggled to remove his own clothing.
She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “It's cold in here. I thought it was supposed to be warm in Normandy.”
“Get under the covers,” Dauntless suggested. “I'll be there in a minute to warm you, as soon as I can get these tights off.”
And warm her he did. As always, their time together in bed was a little awkward, but it was also quite exhausting.
Afterward, Winnifred lay back with a satisfied grin on her face.“If that didn't do it, I don't know what will.”
Next to her, Dauntless snored away.
Later, much later, hunger called to them and they dressed again. They left their room in search of food. “How are we going to find a restaurant?” Winnifred asked. “I didn't understand a word the woman at the desk said. Why couldn't she speak plain English?”
“I think we're in France. They speak French here.”
“Well, that's silly.”
Dauntless approached the woman anyway and pantomimed eating. He'd watched his father's gestures all those years he couldn't speak.
She looked quite puzzled.
“Let me try.” Winnifred touched her lips with her fingers.
“Voulez-vous manger?” the woman asked.
Fred took a chance and nodded.
“A droit.” She pointed out the door.
Her shoulders slumped as she came out from behind the desk. She motioned for them to follow her as she went outside and pointed to the right, then pointed her fingers to her open mouth the way Winnifred had.
Fred smiled at her as she saw the striped awning of a cafe next to the inn.
Dauntless shook the woman's hand, then he took his wife's arm and they went to have some dinner.
That evening and the next morning, they did all they knew how to do to guarantee that Fred would become pregnant. After a hearty breakfast at the cafe, they sat on the beach in matching striped bathing togs. They basked in the heat of the sun. By lunchtime, they were both red as a beet, every inch that the suits didn't cover.
Back in their room, Dauntless tried to change back into his tights and tunic, but his skin was too tender. “Ouch!”
“Oh, woe,” Winnifred complained. “Remind me to stay away from beaches in the future.”
He watched her struggling with her corset. “We could go home.”
“You do want to be there when Rodrigo is born.” He was finally dressed, but still quite uncomfortable.
“Sir Harry told me that, if it was a boy, they were naming him Rodrigo.”
“Oh. Well, Lady Larken told me that, if it was a girl, they were naming her Ezmiralda.”
“I suppose we'll have to come up with a name.”
She sighed. “I hope we do have to.”
They arrived back at the castle just in time for the birth of Rodrigo and Ezmiralda.
“I guess I was wrong. They're six now, not five, and we're still two.” Winnifred looked down at Jill, who'd fallen asleep in her arms. She couldn't stop the smile that spread across her face. “But maybe...”
Over the next few weeks, Larken needed lots of help with the children, and 'Auntie' Fred was happy to help.
A month after their return from Normandy, she had to report the sad news to Dauntless. “I'm still not expecting.”
The frown on his face was even sadder than her own. “We can't give up hope, you know.”
She nodded, even though her heart wasn't in it.
The look on Dauntless' face suddenly changed. “Winnifred, I know the stork won't bring us a baby, but, but, perhaps we're going about it all wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Father told me about the boy flower, the girl flower, the bees and the seed.”
“Yeah? Dauntless we both know that.”
“Yes, but, but, maybe we're missing something.”
He shrugged. “Well I don't know. But Harry and Larken seem to know the secret. Maybe we should ask them.”
Winnifred's cheeks reddened. “Oh, I don't think I could.”
“Well, I'm going to.” Dauntless stood tall, and straightened his clothes. “I'll be back.”
She shook her head watching him go, but there was hope in her eyes. She didn't have long to wait. Dauntless came running back, his face flushed and his eyes full of excitement. “Oh Fred, wait until I tell you!” He took her in his arms and whispered in her ear.
“No! I can't believe it!”
He nodded vigorously. “It's true.”
“Oh, my. Why didn't anyone tell us before?”
“I don't know but now we must give it a test.”
“I'm all yours, handsome!” And off they went to their bedroom.
Later they lay side-by-side, bug-eyed and open-mouthed.
“Oh, my. Who'd a thunk it?” Fred asked.
“I suppose it stands to reason, that is, I can't believe we were both so wrong!” He looked at his wife. “Of course, this doesn't guarantee anything.”
“At least we have a fighting chance.”
But of course, that's all they needed. The following month, an announcement was made to everyone in the castle that Prince Dauntless and Princess Winnifred were expecting their first child.
“And it won't be the last,” the happy couple proclaimed.