Pike arrived almost instantly—Scanlan and Grog at her side—just as she had for their first child, and their son after that, and then the twins, almost five years old now, after that. After all, her husband was one of the most powerful arcane casters in the world, and holder of the other half of the gatestone Vox Machina had acquired all those years ago. It was simple for Percy to send Jarett to the Trickfoot-Strongjaw residence, miles away, to deliver the news that the fifth and likely final de Rolo child was on its way.
They teleported into the middle of the largely unused throne room in a swirl of purple and gold, and Pike quickly rushed off to the room where Vex was waiting. Scanlan occupied himself with waving hello to Percy, and then sending off a Message spell to Keyleth, in Zephrah, to hurry over.
Grog ventured out into the garden to round up the other four de Rolo children. They were delighted to see their aunts and uncles and brimming with anticipation at the news that finally, finally, their other sibling was almost here.
“If it’s a boy it’s gunna get called Percival too,” said Olivia from up on the massive Goliath’s shoulder.
“After Dad,” Jonathan added, sitting on the opposite side as his twin.
Grog thought about this for a moment. “It’ll be confusing,” he pointed out, “if they both have the same name. How will they know which one people wanna talk to, if they just say ‘Percy’ out loud?”
Julius nodded enthusiastically. “That’s what I told Mum, but nobody ever listens to me. Even though I’m gonna be eight soon.”
Elaina sighed. “We don’t have to call him Percival,” she said. “We can call him whatever we like. Percival is just his official name.”
“So I could call him ‘stinky-poo,’ then!” Julius grinned, and Grog snickered.
“No,” Elaina frowned, “I mean we can call him by another name. Like how sometimes Mum calls you Vax.”
The children, and Grog, considered this proposal.
“Then what’s the point of having the first name, then, if you’re not gonna be called it? Why not just name him something else?” Julius asked.
Grog nodded his agreement, and the twins giggled as his large beard bristled against their legs. Elaina tried, and failed, come up with an answer.
“I don’t know,” she said, giving up. “We can ask Mum and Dad when it’s over, I suppose.”
“She’s basically the Sun Tree at this point, right?” Scanlan said as Percy continued to walk back and forth. “Wide enough to fit a goliath, only takes six seconds to travel?”
Percy shot him a tired glare. “You still really know nothing about child birth, do you?”
The gnome shrugged. “Not a thing,” he admitted. “Pikey and I have talked about maybe having a couple of our own a few times, and Ioun knows Grog would go crazy with happiness, but we’re gnomes. Our, er, biological clocks aren’t ticking quite as fast they would for humans and half-elves. Besides, I still haven’t asked Kaylie about it.”
“Well, believe me when I say that I’d rather face the Chroma Conclave all over again, by myself with only one bullet, than stand out here not knowing if Vex—”
The noise in the room grew to a hush. For a long minute, there was soft whispering, then padding footsteps, and then the door opened and Keyleth poked her head out.
“Percy?” she called. Almost fifteen years later, she looked exactly the same. “You…uh…you can come in now.”
Both men instantly zeroed in on her familiar, profoundly awkward expression. She was worried—but not exactly afraid, more…uneasy.
“Is everything alright, Keyleth?” Percy asked. “Are Vex and the baby—”
“Vex is fine,” she quickly reassured him. “The baby…the baby…well, he’s healthy and strong, but you’d better come and see for yourself.”
“I mean, it does make sense, right?” Keyleth tried. “It happens in the Ashari all the time, with genasi kids. I could name, like, six, right now, off the top of my head. There’s Oren, he’s almost nine now and really great at finding berries, and there’s Illianna, she’s actually younger, but amazing at elemental magic, and there’s—”
Pike put a gentle hand on Keyleth’s arm, and the druid trailed off, looking mildly embarrassed. “Sorry,” she said. “I just meant that this sort of thing is natural, especially for people who galivanted the planes as much as we did.”
Percy, sitting on the side of the bed, ran a hand through his hair. “But…but…but why this particular, particular kind? Why not, why not a genasi, as Keyleth said, or even an aasimar, I mean, you’re the Champion of Pelor, why…why did…”
“He looks just like you,” Scanlan said, in what could have been an effort to soothe, antagonize, or explain. “He’s got your eyes, and hair.”
Percy put his head in his hands. “Yes, alright, but even I never quite made it to having horns and red skin.”
“That might just be because he’s a newborn,” said Pike. “The skin part, I mean. And the horns are quite small.”
“And you can’t really see now, but he also has a widdle tail,” said Keyleth. “It’s very cute.”
Percy turned towards his wife.
“I know the appearance of our child might not exactly be…cause for celebration,” she said slowly, “especially given our history with trouble. But today we are supposed to be welcoming our fifth child into our family. And that is cause for celebration. And make no mistake, Percival, he is our fifth child, Infernal heritage or not, mixed…mixed blood or not, he is just a child. Our child. And I will sooner leave this castle and take the other four with me than sit here any longer discussing the physical characteristics of our fifth any longer. Do I make myself clear?”
Percy, instantly mollified, nodded.
“I spent long enough as a girl worried about what the other children would say and do to me when they saw the way I looked. I spent long enough wondering why my father hated me, just because of how I was born. That will not happen to this boy. His experiences will be much harder than mine and…mine and his uncle’s ever were, unless we show him that there is never any need to fear.”
“I’m sorry, dear,” said Percy. “I…I just…I just know that this is my fault.”
Vex shook her head. “There is nothing here that needs faulting, Percival. There is just our new, lovely son.”
“I…I know. And, er, I should add that you are absolutely wonderful, and radiant, and I don’t deserve you, right?”
Vex allowed herself a small smile. “I thought that would be implied, but I appreciate the gesture.”
“Is he still going to be named Percy also?” Pike asked.
Vex studied her husband’s face, then nodded. “But we’ll call him Freddie outside of legal documents," she said, "to make things less confusing.”
“Is it a boy or a girl?” Olivia asked as she was hoisted up onto Percy’s shoulders. “Have you named it?”
“Yes, dearest, it is a boy, and his name is Percival as well. But your Mum says it’ll be easier if we just call him Freddie.”
“But what’s the point of that?” Elaina asked. “Why not just name him Freddie, then?”
“It has to do with…with legacy, and things like that,” Percy sighed. “It’ll make sense when you’re older.”
“We’re almost five,” said Jonathan helpfully. “Me and Olivia.”
“That’s true, Jon, very good.”
“Can we go meet Freddie soon?” Julius asked, and hearing the name spoken by the lithe, raven-haired boy, all dark eyes and pale skin and ears slightly too pointed for a quarter-elf’s, made Percy’s heart ache.
“Soon, Julius, very soon. But first…first we need to have a little talk, about your new brother.”
He let Olivia climb off his shoulders, and then he settled each of the children down on the grass of the western courtyard, before taking a seat himself. When Jonathan started squirming on the ground, Percy allowed the boy to climb into his lap. Then he began to speak.
“Freddie is going to look a bit…different from the rest of you. From me, as well.”
“Are his ears gunna be more pointy?” Olivia asked.
Percy chuckled. “No, no. His ears are just as pointy as all of yours. No, er…Freddie is…special. Not that any of you aren’t,” he quickly added, before there could be a chorus of protests from the quarter-elves. “You see, your mother and I, as you know, did quite a bit of adventuring when we were younger, and visited many strange places. And sometimes, when you spend too long outside of where you’re supposed to be, those other words leave a mark on you. And…it happens that the mark it left on me was strong enough to be passed down to your brother.”
“But, Dad,” Jonathan said, “you look normal.”
“Yes, I know, but I was already a grown-up when it happened. It’s…different for babies.”
“So what does Freddie look like?” Elaina asked. “Is he…is he okay?”
“Absolutely,” Percy said quickly. “And all of you, all of you must remember that there is nothing wrong with your brother, alright? He’s exactly the same as the rest of you. He just has some differences, that’s all. Promise me, promise me that you understand.”
There was a chorus of agreements.
“Alright,” Percy sighed. “Well, Freddie has very, very small horns…”
The children, and Percy behind them, were now clustered around Vex where she sat in bed, leaning against the headboard and holding the still-sleeping Percival IV in her arms. Elaina and Julius both stood at her side, and Olivia and Jonathan had climbed onto the sheets on Vex’s left and were leaning over her with immense curiosity written across their faces.
“No, but be extremely gentle,” Vex said. “I don’t want to wake him up.”
“Does it hurt that his skin is so red?” Julius asked.
“Does he have a tail?” Jonathan asked. “Only, ‘cause Dad said he had a tail.”
“He does, dearest, but it’s not for you to look at right now.”
“Will the other children be nice to him?” Elaina asked quietly, and Vex sighed.
“They had better be,” their mother said sternly. “If not, it’s up to the rest of you to defend him. He’s your littlest brother, and a lord of this castle, exactly the same as the rest of you. Understood?”
There was a series of nods. Olivia brushed her finger against one of Percival IV’s horns.
“It’s not skin,” she said, curious. “It’s hard.”
“Yes,” sighed Percy, “it is.”
“I was thinking an elegant cloak, for age five, just so he can get used to the Winter’s Crest attire Cassandra will definitely—”
His eyes widened. “Oh, Gods, did we send word to Cassandra about all this yet? She knew it would happen soon, but did we actually send out messages yet? Does she know, yet?”
Vex sighed. “I certainly haven’t been able to get up and write a letter, yet, if that’s what you’re asking. All of these pillows rather restrain my movement, and there’s been a baby in my arms all afternoon.”
Percy swore. “I’ll get to it right away,” he said. “Pike is still here, I can ask her to send it along, and if Cassandra wants to maybe pop over and see her nephew now, maybe there’s still a Treestride in Keyleth, or something, but…but what do I say?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…well…Cassandra is the one in charge of the actual running of this city. That’s why she’s in Emon now, talking about the bridge. But that also means she’s going to have to announce the boy officially to the rest of Tal’Dorei.”
“Well…well…he’s a tiefling, Vex. Is that…there’s no precedent for anything of that sort. Will the people accept him? What happens if they don’t? And what…what are we supposed to do?”
“Nothing different,” Vex said firmly. “He is our son, he is a de Rolo, and for gods’ sakes, we’re the damn saviors of this entire plane. If they don’t like it, if they wan't to gossip about it, they can find a new city, and the next time a crazed demi-lich wants to ascend to godhood and subjugate the masses, somebody else can deal with it. Now, go find Pike. I want Cassandra to come and meet our boy as soon as possible.”
“He’s Percival Frederickstein Ludwig Maximillian de Rolo the Fourth,” said Vex.
“Dad’s fourth brother,” shrugged Percy. “Vex liked the name.”
“I did,” she smiled. “And there was no way I was letting Klossowski be in there, I mean nobody ever knows if it’s pronounced—”
Percy coughed, red-faced, and Vex grinned at him.
“We’ve never had a tiefling in the recent family before,” Cassandra mused, “although I’m certain our history is strange and long enough that there’s been something of that nature before. How did the other little monsters take it?”
“Wonderfully,” said Vex. “They love their brother.”
Cassandra nodded. “Good,” she said. “That means their parents are doing a good job.”
“How have you been?” Percy asked. “Now that I think about it, didn’t the meetings in Emon end a few days ago? Unless, of course, you happened to be staying longer for a certain Lady of—”
It was Cassandra’s turn to quickly cut him off. “Perhaps we can discuss this later, brother,” she said to a cheeky grin. “Away from a child trying to sleep.”
Vex nodded. “He has been sleeping rather long,” she sighed. “Although Pike said that this was normal, and his breathing was alright. I just want him to wake up and see his whole family, all his brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and oh, Trinket still hasn’t gotten to meet him either, we should fix that tomorrow."
“Two more to add to the list, I suppose,” sighed Percy.
Vex gave him a look. “You’re not allowed to talk about lists,” she said, only half-joking. “Bring the rocking chair over, please? I think he might be hungry.
Percy nodded, and just as he finished moving the large wooden chair, there was a soft tap-tap-tap at the window. He glanced over. Outlined in the moonlight was an impossibly large, keen-eyed raven.
Vex looked over as well, and her expression softened. “Well, let him in,” she said. “It’s about time he came to meet his nephew. I half-expected Keyleth to bring him over, but I suppose he would want to make this journey himself.”
“We’re idiots!” she declared. “Why didn’t we think of this sooner?”
Percy rubbed his eyes. “What? What didn’t we think of?”
Vex practically leapt out of bed, heading straight for the desk by the large window in their room. “I’m sending a letter to Zahra,” she said. “If anybody else should be told about this, it’s her.”
“He’s so loud, Mum,” Olivia complained at the breakfast table, Jonathan seated at her side and their hands over their ears. “Why does he keep crying so much?”
“You cried all the time,” said Elaina smugly, “both of you. And Julius. I cried the least, right, Mum? Didn’t you and Dad say that once?”
“Yes, dear, yes,” sighed Vex, “but you still did cry quite a bit. Now eat your eggs, they’re getting cold.”
There had only been one slightly-troubling disturbance to the peace so far, and it had arrived in a swirl of bright lights and a flowing green cloak in the middle of the largely-unused throne room, where the teleportation circle to and from Syngorn was located.
And standing above it was Syldor Vessar, long dark hair and sharp cheekbones, with a now older and more poised, though still rather rowdy, Velora Vessar close behind him.
“I wish to see my daughter and my grandson,” he said.”
“Please,” Velora added.
He was stopped just outside the door the bedroom by Percy, looking like he had dressed in a hurry, with hair slightly ruffled.
“Ah, Ambassador. I admit, we weren’t quite expecting you at this time,” he said.
Syldor nodded. “Well, I would have thought you would have sent a message spell on the day he was born, like you did for the other four. But no matter, I am here now to see him.”
Percy paled. He was not equipped to handle this situation. He tried diplomacy. The real kind, not the weapon.
“I’ll go see if they’re awake,” he said, and slipped back into the room.”
When he told Vex who was there to see her, she bit her lip. “Bring them in, and then stand outside,” she said .
“Shouldn’t I stay in here with you?”
“No,” she said. “I would rather do this part alone. I’ll let you know when to come back inside.”
Percy allowed them through, and then stood in the hallway with his ear to the door. He winced at the initial gasp of disbelief, and his shoulders sagged when he heard a long, low stream of Elvish from Syldor, all reprimanding sighs and expressions of incredulity, then heard a dark laugh and the bewildered question of—why not an aasimar, that would have been incomparably better—and then there was an angry cry from Velora, and some hushed, furious words from Vex, and Percy narrowly missed getting hit by the door as the ambassador stormed through.
“This is your fault,” he said, either knowing that Percy spoke Elvish or not, and not caring. “This never would have happened if she hadn’t married you, Lord or not.”
Percy couldn’t argue that one. "I trust you know the way out,” he returned coldly, and watched Syldor stiffen but continue to walk away.
“He’s beautiful,” Velora tried as she watched her father leave. “You and Vex must be very proud.”
“We are,” said Percy, though he certainly didn’t feel it at the moment.
“I’m honored to have him as a nephew,” she said. “He really does have your eyes.”
“Would you like to stay the evening?” Percy asked. “I’m sure Vex would love to have you around.”
Velora considered this for a moment. “Sure,” she said, and grinned. “Those other dumb meetings can wait. And besides, I want to see how the rest of my favorite nieces and nephews are doing.
“I heard what happened with your dad,” he said softly, beret in hand. “I…um…I’m sorry.”
Vex nodded. “It’s alright,” she said. “I knew something like that would happen.”
“Look…er…look,” and his speech was so broken and uncharacteristically uncharismatic that they instantly felt the weight of what he was about to say. “I know…I know this is going to sound awful, and I feel like even more of a shit than usual for bringing it up, but, but I feel like I have to make sure you know this is an option.”
Percy and Vex exchanged looks. “Alright?” Percy said. “What do you mean?”
Scanlan looked wretched. “It…it really is gonna sound terrible,” he said. “But this sort of thing is going to happen to little Freddie all the time. It’s…it’s going to be pretty rough for him.”
“We know,” said Vex.
“Right,” said Scanlan. “So…uh…please don’t attack me, but I just want you two to know that if you ever think it’s a good idea, or if you ever want me to, I can…um…I can true polymorph him.”
In the silence that followed, Percy IV continued to make small, gurgling noises. He had discovered, last week, a specific mouth arrangement that would produce bubbles when mixed with spit. He was delighted.
“No, thank you,” said Vex. Her words were strained, and her face had turned red. “I appreciate the offer, but we’ll have to pass.”
Scanlan nodded quickly. “Good choice,” he said, and darted out of the room.
“He meant well,” Percy said as Vex began to cry. “He had good intentions.”
“I know,” she said, taking a shaky breath, “but he shouldn’t need to. I won’t…I won’t magic my baby into something else, just because other people are unsettled by him. That’s not…that’s not fair.”
“It isn’t,” Percy said, sighing and putting his forehead against hers. “It isn’t.”
“As far as tieflings go, he really isn’t that obvious of one,” Zahra said. “He’s got enough hair that his horns are almost unnoticeable, and his skin is really more of a reddish than an actual red. I’m also not exactly an authority on my kind.”
Vex nodded quickly. “We know, we do. It’s just…you and your cousin are the only ones we’ve ever really met. So…we wanted to reach out and make sure we were doing everything right. Or ask if there was anything we should expect.”
“The tieflings I know are fire resistant,” Keyleth suggested. “Though I don’t recommend setting him on fire.”
“Zahra likes chocolates,” Kashaw shrugged. “And her teeth are sharp.”
“Oh, yes, watch out for that,” Zahra nodded. “Sharp teeth can be a bit of a pain. Oh, and put holes in his trousers for the tail. And when he gets older, he might accidentally speak Infernal once or twice. But other than that, he’s just a normal boy. No need for special treatment.”
Vex nodded, mildly relieved. “Thank you,” she said. “We just…we just weren’t sure.”
“Is Percy the father, then?” Kashaw asked. “He looks too normal. Your other rugrats are mostly-human.”
As Scanlan snickered and Pike flicked him on the arm, Percy sighed and Vex laughed. “He is,” she said. “He’s also the likely cause of all this, what with his frequent trysts with demons back in the day.”
Kashaw raised an impressed eyebrow, and Percy’s face colored. “Not like that,” he rushed to say. “Not…no, not like that.”
“He wishes it was like that,” Scanlan grinned, and Pike couldn’t help but chuckle along.
“Is it the demon from your guns, then?” Zahra asked. “Or…?”
Percy shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know,” he said. “I hope not, because we banished that one to the abyss. The alternative would be the other devil I almost bound my soul to, Ipkesh, in the Nine Hells.”
“We spent a lot of time around demons,” Keyleth said helpfully.
“What was Ipkesh, then?” Zahra asked.
Percy shrugged. “Maybe a cambion? I honestly have no idea. It was quite some time ago.”
“That sounds sexy as hell,” Scanlan said, then glanced at Pike and added, “but not the otherworldly being for me. I’m a holy man, now.”
“I hate myself,” he said quietly.
“Oh, darling,” she breathed softly.
“When I look at our son, I see my own mistakes.”
“It’s damn truth,” he sobbed. “I don’t care that he doesn’t look like the others, and it doesn’t matter at all what his bloodline looks like. It’s just the knowledge that the things I did, the idiotic decisions I’ve made, are going to hurt him. Every time somebody calls him a demon, every time someone treats him poorly, it’ll be because of me. And of what I’ve done.”
Vex rubbed his back and whispered soothing noises into his ear. She wasn’t sure what else to do.
“Luckily,” said Cassandra one morning at breakfast, “you two are beloved enough that nobody will really say anything about it, even if they are bothered. You’ve earned this city's, hell, this continent’s respect, tenfold.”
Vex had a troubled expression on her face. “I am glad for that,” she said, “but it makes me think about all the other kids out there whose parents aren’t nobility, or saviors of the land.”
Percy looked helplessly at his sister. Then he nodded. “Freddie will do great things,” he said, “he’ll be able to prove to everybody else that your birth doesn’t mean anything about who you are. His mother did it. So will he. And that will help.”
"Nobody has ever told him he is anything different," added Cassandra. "I've made sure of that. He'll never think he's something to be feared, and as long as I'm alive, he'll never have to face any sort of prejudice from others."
And Vex smiled, but the slight-frown still hung in her eyes.
“You’re special, darling,” she said. “All of you are. Like how Elaina has very good aim and Julius is very good at building things and Jonathan can talk to the birds and Olivia likes to read about magic.”
“But they all look the same,” he pressed. “None of them look like me.”
Vex tapped him on the nose and gave him a soft smile. “Now, that’s not true, is it? You’ve all got pointy ears like me, and you have the same eyes as Daddy and Olivia, and your nose is just like mine and Julius’s. Your hair is white too, like Daddy and some of Auntie Cassandra’s. And we all have differences, right? It’s like that.”
Freddie did not seem entirely convinced, but was satisfied for now. “Alright, Mummy,” he said. “Okay.”
“Good, darling,” said Vex, and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Good night, now. Sleep tight.”
“Wait, wait,” said Freddie, “can I have Trinket tonight? The twins got him last night.”
“Of course, darling, I’ll send that silly bear in.”
This was also Freddie’s first night in this public of an area, at five years old, and the first time he would be seen by high society.
“You don’t have to wear these,” said Vex, leaning down and handing him a small cap and cape. “But if you think people are looking at you too much, and you feel uncomfortable, put them on, alright? But only if you want to.”
Freddie nodded, and Elaina ruffled his hair. “He’ll be fine, Mother,” she reassured. “If anybody so much as looks at him wrong, I’ll shoot them.”
Julius snickered, and the twins nodded.
“Perhaps not that drastic, dear,” Percy said. “You can just fling food at them instead.”
“We’re sitting real high up,” he whispered to Jonathan. “Lots of people can see me.”
“It’s okay,” his brother reassured him. “It’s always like this.”
This was not reassuring. “Do I gotta be here?” Freddie asked.
“Yeah,” said Olivia. “It’s El’s birthday, and there are fancy people here. We’ve all gotta be here.”
He sank lower in his chair. “I want to go home,” he said softly. “I don’t wanna be here.”
Olivia slid her cake over to him. “Ignore them,” she said. “Those people are just butts that don’t get it when there’s other different people.”
He nodded mournfully and picked at the frosting. “I wish they weren’t,” he said. “I wish they would stop looking at me.”
“If that bloody Duchess ever sets foot in this castle again, I’m feeding her to Trinket,” Vex snarled. Trinket, who had been dozing on the carpet, looked up with a mildly confused expression on his face. His muzzle was grey, but his eyes still as sharp as ever. Which was to say, not all that sharp.
“Good,” sighed Percy, “I’ll help you do it.”
And every time he asked his parents why he had a tail, or why he looked different than his siblings, or why he had red skin and yellow eyes and dreamed dreams of brimstone and smoke, they shook their heads and told them he was just special. That he was still normal. That there was nothing wrong.
Their words, and refusal to answer his questions with anything but a calm smile, burned most of all.
She looked up from her bed, where she was polishing her bow. “Oh, Freddie. What’s up?”
He walked in and climbed onto her bed, like he’d done hundreds of times before.
“One of the serving boys told me today that I’m a tiefling,” he said. “And that tieflings are made when their parents are demons or owe something to demons."
Elaina stiffened, though tried not to show it. “I see,” she said. “Did he say anything else?”
“Not really,” said Freddie. “He left after that. Am I a tiefling?”
She hesitated, then sighed. “Yes,” she said.
“Why didn’t Mum and Dad tell me that?”
She bit her lip. “They probably didn’t think it was important.”
“Why isn’t it important for me to know I’m not human?”
“Why is it important to be human?” she asked. “And besides, none of us are, anyways. We’re all one-quarter elf.”
He shook his head. “You guys are one-quarter elf. I’m all tiefling.”
She raised an eyebrow. “How do you know? What if you’re one-quarter elf, one-quarter human, and one-half tiefling?”
He tried to count this on his fingers to follow her and frowned at his hands. “I guess…I guess that could happen.”
“You don’t look much like other tieflings anyways,” Elaina shrugged, not sure what else to say. “Your horns are little and your skin is more pink than red.”
Freddie considered this. “Auntie Zahra does look different than me,” he agreed. “But I also look different from the rest of you.”
Elaina shook her head. “You don’t look that different,” she said firmly. “There’s just a few things that aren’t the same. Mother tells you that all the time.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know if I believe her anymore, though.”
“I’m a tiefling,” he said.
“We know,” they all said, all at once.
He pulled at his tail in exasperation. “Well, why didn’t any of you tell me that?”
“We thought you knew,” Julius said. “It’s not exactly hard to tell.”
“You’ve got a tail,” said Olivia.
“And horns,” added Jonathan.
“Well…well…yeah,” said Freddie. “It’s weird and wrong.”
“No way,” said Olivia, but there was a hesitation in her voice. “It’s just the way you are.”
“But why?!" Freddie demanded. “Why am I like this?! And why doesn’t anybody say anything about it? Why don’t people ever talk about it, and why does everybody just ignore me and tell me that it’s normal?! It’s not normal! I look nothing like you all! I’m a freak! I hate this stupid family, and I wish you all would stop hiding the things you know about me!”
The last sentence was visceral, and rough, and in a language none of the others could understand, and as Freddie screamed, a hedge in the courtyard burst into flames.
“Get Dad,” said Julius to the twins. “Quick, go get Dad!”
They were seated next to each other, both at the edge of the bed, Percy’s hands clasped together and Freddie’s feet swinging slowly in the air. Past the grand glass window on the western wall, Vex’ahlia was in the courtyard, rounding up the other children and speaking to them quietly as they all watched the bush being put out.
“It’s okay,” said Freddie. “I just want to know why.”
Percy ran a hand through his hair. “I did a lot of adventuring when I was younger,” he sighed, “and in those adventures I had dealings with…creatures from outside this plane.”
“Demons,” said Freddie calmly. “It’s alright. I know.”
Percy sighed again. “Right. Demons. One of them was named Orthax, a shadow demon I made a pact with to show me how to make the guns you see the Riflemen using around the castle, sometimes. The other was named Ipkesh, a resident of the City of Dis. He ran a tavern, actually.”
“Did you buy too many beers?” Freddie asked.
“No, not quite. I almost sold my soul to him, in exchange for the power to kill another demon.”
“Indeed. And I still have my soul, if that’s what you were going to ask next. But, well, I did leave both of those instances…marked, in a way. And though I don't entirely know why, when you were born, that mark was passed along to you.”
“And that’s why I’m the way I am.”
“Yes. I’m sorry we never actually told you. We wanted you to grow up normally.”
Freddie was silent for a moment. Then he gave his father a smile. “I think it would be more normal if you let people talk about me,” he said. “I didn’t like it when they said things behind my back, or worried about making me upset. That’s not normal. I’d rather they just know.”
Percy ran a hand through his hair. “I guess I just didn’t want them to know I was the reason why you’re like this,” he said softly. "I didn't want you to know that this was my fault."
Freddie shrugged, and gave his father a smile that was slightly unsure, but completely genuine. “I don’t care," he said. "Neither does Mum or Elaina or Julius or Olivia or Jonathan or the rest of our family. Isn’t that enough?”
Percy chuckled. “You’re quite wise, aren’t you?” he asked softly.
“Thanks, Dad,” Freddie grinned. “Mum says I get it from you.”
“I dunno,” said Freddie, “I never tried.”
The children were seated in a small clearing that Julius had found one day, where the trees gave way to a strange little bench in the woods. Snowdrops blanketed the ground around them, and Trinket kept vigil from the side, as he always did when the kids went exploring the forest on their own.
“I’m glad they’re letting us do this now,” said Elaina, childish curiosity overtaking her desire to be the poised older sister, “because I’ve always wanted to ask you also if your horns get cold when you don’t wear a hat in the winter. Do they feel things? Or are they just sort of there?”
Freddie, trying and failing to fully grasp the twig with his tail, nodded. “They feel stuff,” he said. “I don’t like it when they’re cold.”
“How did you do that magic on the bush?” Olivia asked. “Because I can only do a Mage Hand and a Message spell, right now, and I’d really like to know.”
“I got sort of mad,” Freddie said, “and then it just happened. It was sort of scary, though.”
Julius nodded. “I was afraid a little too,” he admitted. “But it was also pretty cool. Do you think I could do it?”
“Maybe,” said Freddie. “Do you think I could talk to birds?”
They continued to pelt one another with questions, finally able to speak freely without the weight of unspoken knowledge. And unseen by all except for one, a raven fluttered down and perched itself on Trinket’s shoulder. The bear gave a grunt of acknowledgement, and together they watched peacefully over the five children smiling in the clearing, the oldest leaning against the smooth bench, the first son sitting among the snowdrops, the twins and the youngest boy running through the grass, barefoot under the mid-morning sun.
The bird cawed softly, and Trinket gave a rumbling reply.
“I’m glad we told him,” he said to Vex as she combed her hair at the dresser. “It wasn’t right of us to pretend like there was nothing different about him.”
Vex nodded, and put her brush down. “I didn’t realize how badly it hurt him,” she said.
Percy gave a small smile. “He’s smarter than I ever was.”
Vex nodded sagely. “The second generation is always better than the first,” she said, and when she turned around there was a playful expression on her face. “Although, I think you’re pretty wonderful as is, darling.”
Percy grinned. “Come to bed,” he said, “and please say that again? I couldn’t quite hear you from over there.”
But for now, he was a little boy, a little part-elf, part-human, part-tiefling boy, relieved at finally getting answers and gently asleep in his bedroom, where the moon peeked in through the open window and a raven perched quietly on the wooden ledge.
It considered his soft snores, and slowly-rising chest. Then it ruffled its feathers, shook its tail, and took off into the night.