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A Season for Every Activity

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Compared to his father, Bergon sleeps his life away. That is to say, he generally gets more than three to four hours in a night. He can usually even manage half-a-night, or so. But there are also those nights, more than Bergon would like, where he wakes after two and a half or three, unmoored, the bed feeling strangely slippery beneath him.

He does not wake Iselle. She has her own share of nightmares, sleepless nights. He will not add to them, no matter how tempted he is to press his palm to the warm skin of her stomach, feel her grip his hair tightly. Neither of them are children anymore, years past their original meeting, that first flush of young infatuation and even younger love. But age has not changed his need for or admiration of her. If anything, the difficult times, the screaming and tears and quiet anger have only strengthened his adoration for and need of her.

He lets her sleep and makes his way to the stables. The cold earth beneath his feet and the heat of horseflesh has a way of grounding him. The too-sweet smell of hay and sharp snap of air help him focus, be the man he is, rather than the boy his dreams pull him back to.

An hour grooming or riding or even just sitting in the loft is enough most of these nights to have him back in bed. Even if he cannot sleep again, he can rest until the dawn breaks. Tonight, however, an hour of exhaustive tack-cleaning passes and he is still wide-awake and restless in his own skin. Giving up on more sleep, he goes in to dress.

There is always work waiting.

*

"Good morning," Iselle says, a faint trace of irony in the words even as she hands him a cup, the pottery warmed through with tea. She knows he has not slept. She knows him.

He wants to lean his head against her stomach, have her run her fingers through his hair. She assures him that soon enough, when he touches her midsection, he will feel the kick of the miracle they seem to have managed. It makes not one whit of difference to Bergon how many have done it before.

She sits down in the chair next to him, her eyes roving over the maps and correspondence spread out in front of him. "None of this appears urgent."

The smile he gives her is rueful. Without even realizing the question has been circling his mind, he finds himself asking, "What was Teidez like?"

Iselle blinks. "Where did that come from?"

Bergon frowns. "I'm not certain." The question is a good one, though, so he tries to follow the pattern of his thoughts to a nexus, an answer. Eventually, he tells her, "I think, perhaps, I have been curious as to what it would be like to have a brother to whom you are something more than a threat."

Iselle's expression is complicated, a kaleidoscope of thoughts Bergon cannot hope to follow. She asks, "Is this about the child?"

Bergon tilts his head. "Perhaps, a bit. My own fears for him or her, particularly when we decide to have another. My fears for that child."

Perceptively—and she is always perceptive—Iselle asks, "And the other part?"

Because she is his wife and because he loves her, he looks at the ground and says softly, "The need of a child who still wakes up alone and on a galley some nights, most likely."

Iselle is silent for a long moment, but he can feel her anger and her compassion. She can hide herself perfectly when she chooses, but she does not with him. It is one of the things that makes him happiest. She breaks her silence with, "Let's walk in the gardens."

Still looking at the ground, he smiles. Despite the chill outside, he doffs his shoes to join her. He needs to feel the sharp grass and solid earth against his skin.

*

The neatly manicured leaves on both the trees and shrubs are shedding away, leaving bare the twisting branches below. Those that cling to life have turned umber and sunset, rust and a dusky rose. They walk the path carved into wall-height shrubs. Bergon got lost in the maze, once, when he'd first arrived.

"Teidez was…" Iselle's expression is a mixture of fondness and longing, "a boy, I suppose. He wanted adventure and to feel grand."

Bergon is of the mind that both are overrated, but he is also self-aware enough to acknowledge his own experiences have shaped that opinion. Teidez had neither the fortune nor misfortune to have it knocked out of his system.

"But he was also noble, in his own way. He wanted to protect what was his, he simply had the tendency to look before leaping." She chewed one side of her lower lip. "For a while, I thought he would be the one to bring about a new Chalion, that he would grow into a better man, but—"

Bergon reaches down and squeezes her hand. He tells her, "When I was a boy, I regularly dreamed my brother would come to peace with the Fox, and that…." He smiles, "That he would teach me how to have adventures and help me to feel grand."

After a moment, she asks, "Would you give this up for that to have been real?"

Never mind Ibra-Chalion, Bergon would not give Iselle up for eternal happiness. "No." Then, "Would you?"

"It feels like a betrayal to say no." The words come slowly. "But it is my truest answer, all the same."

*

Late in the pregnancy, Iselle has trouble sleeping. Bergon does his best to help, trying to take over the most stressful aspects of diplomacy and learning how to rub the worst of the tension from her shoulders and back. The baby, however, is ready to be free and has no compunction about announcing this fact by way of violent and constant kicking.

One night Bergon falls asleep and comes awake to the sound of a lash hitting skin. It takes a moment for him to realize all is silent, that the bed is still beneath him. When he has calmed as much as he will, the first thing he hears is Iselle's soft reassurance, "You are safe." Then, after a moment, "As is Caz, or certainly we would have a frantic Betriz in our chambers already."

Bergon finds it in himself to laugh a bit at this truth. Turning to her, he asks, "Have you slept at all?"

"Some," she murmurs. He suspects she is lying, but does not press.

Instead he says, "I do not want my child to be afraid of water or his own family."

"His," Iselle needles with a smile, but then takes his hand. "Then we shall make sure that he is not. We are, are we not, rulers of the most expansive kingdom to exist?"

He smiles. "That we are."

She kisses his forehead. "Then sleep, and dream of a child as fearless as our combined powers can make her."