Chapter Five

Finding A Name


During this era, only those of the noble houses could afford cutlery. The peasants would eat with their fingers.

The Noble Court – Prof. A.J.K Merryspoon


Holding a large feast in the great hall after a battle was a noble tradition. Preparations for the feast had begun before the army had even left that morning. The feast was a celebration of victory over the forces of evil. It was held in recognition of the bravery of the soldiers who had fought. It was to honour those who had made it back and to remember those who had fallen.

Unfortunately the army was far too large for there to be room for everyone in the great hall. The guests were limited to the noble family itself and the Duke’s small contingent of knights, about a hundred strong, and their families. Mangloss, the Duke’s mage-advisor, was also on the guest list despite the fact that he came from peasant stock. No feast was complete without Mangloss taking a turn on the floor and showing off some of his more entertaining illusions.

Jenni had been forced to change her clothing again for the feast.

‘You should wear something more befitting a lady!’ the Duchess had insisted.

The dress Jenni was wearing was beautiful. It really brought out some of Jenni’s better features. Jenni hated it. Like all dresses that were made for her, she felt it was far too restrictive.

The Duke and Duchess sat at the centre point of the main table, the main focus of the celebration. The Duke’s sons sat next to the Duke with Greyforth, the eldest, gaining pride of place in the seat next to his father. Jenni sat on the other half of the table, next to her mother.

Jenni tried to enjoy the celebration. It wasn’t easy; her mind kept wandering to a small study in another part of the castle, and a little baby harpy that she had left there. She worried greatly about the fate of the baby. She feared that a servant might happen upon the child by accident and then all hell would break loose.

Jenni played with her food. She kept glancing at the great pendulum clock on the wall opposite the main table and tried to will its hands to move a little faster and for the feast to come to an end.

The feast wasn’t likely to end anytime soon. Normally, celebrations such as this would creep on well into the night. Sometimes such a feast wouldn’t end until dawn of the next day.

Jenni could tell that the Duke was having a good time. There wasn’t much chance that he was going to call an end to the feast early.

‘Father!’ Jenni whispered insistently. They had been at the feast for a couple of hours before she said anything.

The Duke looked towards Jenni, having to lean forwards so as not to disturb his wife too much. ‘Yes, sweetie?’

Jenni didn’t say anything; she didn’t want to attract her mother’s attention. Instead she made a few head bobbing movements towards the main doors of the great hall.

‘What is it, sweetie?’ the Duke persisted.

Jenni quickly mimed herself holding a baby.

The Duke nodded.

If Briademe had noticed anything, she made no show of it, though she did give her husband a quizzical look as he pushed his chair back and rose from the table.

‘Husband?’ the Duchess inquired.

‘We have business to conduct,’ the Duke replied.

‘Business?’ Briademe said, sounding a little confused. ‘Now?’

‘Now!’ the Duke insisted. ‘You should come along as well, my love. There is something we are all going to have to decide!’

This was it, Jenni thought to herself. Now we decide on the fate of a baby. She got up to follow. Her two brothers, obviously thinking along the same lines, did likewise.

With the Duke and his family getting up to leave in the middle of the celebration, the room suddenly became deathly silent. The Duke, feeling he ought to say something, turned to face the gathered multitude.

‘I regret that we must take our leave of you for a short while. There is a small detail of today’s battle that my family and I have to sort out. Please feel free to stay and have a great time. I expect we will be back shortly.’

There was a soft answering babble about the room; no one seemed all that certain of what was happening. Then someone evidently made a funny comment that caused another to laugh. A moment later the feast was back in full swing.

‘Do you need my help with anything?’ Mangloss asked as they passed his table.

‘Thank you, Mangloss,’ the Duke replied, ‘I don’t think we need your help with this one.’

Mangloss had a knowing gleam in his eye. After all, he had seen Jenni holding the baby and had been a party to most of the discussion concerning the child before they had started to head for home. ‘I understand. Call me if you need me!’

The Duke led his family out of the great hall and along the corridors of the residency towards his study.

Jenni wanted to press on ahead. She wanted to lead the way and get there quickly, but she knew that she wasn’t supposed to know anything about the child waiting for them in the Duke’s study, and so she did her best to control herself and bring up the rear of the group.

The little baby harpy was still in the study. He was lying on his back on the Duke’s desk where Jenni had left him earlier. As well as feeding him, Jenni had gotten him a small cushion to rest his head on from the Duke’s guest chair.

The baby wriggled on the desk a little as the Duke and his family entered the study, but he didn’t seem to have any fear of them.

Jenni hurried to the baby’s side. She picked him up and snuggled him to her. She sounded surprised as she said, ‘Oh, baby, you’re all wet!’

There was a wet patch on the Duke’s desk where the baby had been lying. The Duke eyed it with more than a little disdain. Then he said, ‘The child has been left in here since this morning. We should probably be glad that that is all he’s done.’

‘What is that?’ the Duchess exclaimed. This was the first time she had seen the child. No one had even mentioned his existence to her.

‘Can’t you tell?’ Jenni replied. ‘It’s a baby harpy.’ She rocked the baby gently in her arms, despite the fact that the baby was damp.

‘It’s why we’re here,’ Greyforth said calmly. ‘It’s a harpy, and it should be killed. It will grow up to be a threat to us and our people. However, my lovely sister over there seems to think that far from killing it, we should adopt it.’

‘Really?’ the Duchess turned to Jenni. ‘How long have you known about this child?’

‘Er,’ Tir interjected quickly, ‘I told her about it. I told her just after we returned home.’ He glanced across the room to his father for moral support. Clearly Tir didn’t like to lie to his mother.

Jenni looked pleadingly at her mother. ‘Horse and tiger, do you really think we could adopt him?’

‘I don’t think adoption is an option.’ This came from the Duke.

‘If you weren’t planning to adopt it,’ the Duchess spoke up, ‘then why did you bring it home with you?’ She then looked at the child. ‘You know, they do look cute at that age.’

‘Yes, babies are cute,’ Greyforth said tersely, ‘but then it grows up and it kills. We should kill it now before it has the chance!’

‘I’m still waiting to hear why you brought it home,’ the Duchess said. ‘Now Jenni seems to be attached to it. If you had dealt with him at the harpy village instead of bringing him home, then Jenni needn’t even be aware of his existence.’

Tir started laughing. ‘Well played, Jenni.’

‘Did I miss something?’ the Duchess asked.

‘No, no,’ Tir replied. ‘Something just struck me as amusing. So I take it we no longer plan to kill the baby and are going to adopt him instead? Just think, a harpy, living in a human family; a harpy being taught what it means to be human. Who knows, maybe we can rehabilitate the beast.’

‘Don’t you dare hurt him!’ Jenni yelled.

‘Hurt him?’ Tir sounded confused. ‘I’m not going to hurt him.’

‘I heard you,’ Jenni cried. ‘You want to re-ha-bil-i-tate him!’

‘Tir means he wants to teach the harpy to think like a human, dear,’ Briademe cut in.

‘What about the King?’ Greyforth put forward. ‘The second the King discovers what we’re doing he’d be up in arms. We’d be lucky if Father isn’t immediately executed for treason!’

‘Well, I’m not about to tell him,’ Jenni insisted. She didn’t like the idea of putting her father at risk. Nor could she bring herself to turn her back on the child. She continued to swing back and forth a little, rocking the baby gently in her arms.

‘Look at him, Jenni,’ Greyforth told her. ‘He’s a harpy. I think it might be noticeable that he’s not human.’

‘He’s right,’ the Duke agreed sadly, ‘and although I doubt the King would go so far as to execute me, I really can’t afford to get on his wrong side.’

‘So, can I kill him now?’ Greyforth requested.

‘No!’ Jenni blurted out. She turned her back on Greyforth, shielding the baby with her own body.

‘It’s okay, Jenni,’ Briademe said. ‘No one is going to hurt your child.’

‘But Briademe, my dear…’ the Duke said.

‘You can be very dim at times, my love,’ Briademe commented. ‘Here in the castle we have one of the greatest mages in the land. Only the King himself has more capable magicians. I suggest you take the baby to Mangloss tomorrow morning and see if he can create some kind of trinket that will make our new child appear to be human, at least on the outside.’

Greyforth looked doubtful as he said, ‘You do realise that half the army saw the child.’

‘I doubt it was that many,’ the Duke replied, ‘and besides, the average soldier doesn’t normally get to speak to the King.’ Then he nodded. ‘Maybe Mangloss can do something.’

‘Fine!’ Greyforth exclaimed unhappily. ‘I see Father’s mind has changed. Looks like I’m the only one left on the side of good sense.’

‘I’m just trying to be even-handed,’ the Duke replied. ‘As head of the family, that’s my job.’

‘Sure! Even-handedly voting to stick your own head in the noose,’ Greyforth grumbled. ‘I’m going back to the party!’ He strode out of the study, slamming the door behind him.

‘I hope he doesn’t do anything silly, like telling anyone what we’re doing,’ the Duke muttered.

‘Well, Pest,’ Tir commented, looking directly at Jenni with a genuinely friendly smile, ‘It looks like you won.’

Jenni was looking at the door to the study that Greyforth had just passed through. ‘If I won, then why do I feel so guilty about it?’

‘Don’t feel guilty about it, dear,’ the Duchess said, taking the young harpy from Jenni. ‘I think you just saved your new brother’s life.’

‘Brother?’ Jenni said, surprised. It hadn’t occurred to her that adopting the child would make him her brother.

‘You did want your father and me to adopt him, didn’t you?’ the Duchess asked. Then, more as a comment to herself, she added, ‘I’ll need to find him some fresh clothing. If only someone had told me earlier that a child was in here, I would have made sure he was properly clothed and fed.’

‘And changed,’ the Duke muttered, eyeing the wet spot on his desk.

‘Should I go and fetch Mangloss, Father?’ Tir asked.

The Duke looked at Tir and shook his head. ‘I think it would be best if I leave it until tomorrow, as your mother suggested. Let him enjoy the feast.’

‘What if Mangloss can’t do anything?’ Jenni asked.

‘Then I’m afraid I’ll have to give the baby to Greyforth. I can’t allow a harpy to run around the castle free. The King would soon hear about it, I’m sure,’ the Duke told her honestly.

Jenni swallowed deeply and said, ‘Then I want to come with you to see Mangloss tomorrow.’

‘Don’t worry, Jenni,’ the Duchess assured her, ‘I’m sure Mangloss will be able to do something for him.’

‘Yes,’ Jenni agreed. ‘I’m sure he will too.’

‘In the meantime it’ll give us a chance to think of a name for him,’ Tir offered.

‘Indeed,’ the Duchess said gaily. ‘This cute little bundle of joy will need a name.’

‘We should get back to the feast before the others wonder what’s happened to us,’ the Duke put in. ‘Feel free to think of a name for him, but try not to get too attached to him until we know whether or not Mangloss can do anything for him.’

‘I think that warning might be a bit late for Jenni,’ the Duchess suggested.

‘Actually,’ Tir volunteered, ‘I think Pest should be the one to select his name. After all, she seems to be the one that is really attached to him. You can always veto it if she wants to call him something silly or too girlie.’

‘I’m good with that,’ the Duchess added. ‘Jenni, you name him, but keep it sensible.’

‘I think I know what I want to call him,’ Jenni said. She was careful how she worded her next sentence. ‘There was a soldier in the army that I got on quite well with. He didn’t come back with the rest of the army today. I will miss him and the chats we often had together.’ The thought of him made her eyes water.

‘What was his name?’ the Duke asked.

‘I only knew him by his surname. It was Solby,’ Jenni said calmly.

‘I think I know the man you mean….’ the Duke commented.

‘You do?’ the Duchess intoned, surprised.

‘Solby was one of my bodyguards, love, one of my best men. He died today saving my life. Yes, I knew him,’ the Duke answered, playing along with his daughter. ‘I think naming the baby after him would make a nice tribute.’

‘What was his name, his first name?’ the Duchess asked. ‘I’m not calling a child Solby!’

‘Reyes!’ the Duke said.

‘Reyes Damothe,’ Jenni said, trying it out for size. ‘I think that will work.’

‘Good,’ the Duke commented. ‘I hope we get the chance to use it. Anyway, now that we’ve named the child, can we return to the feast?’

‘You and Tir go ahead, dear,’ the Duchess told him as she held little Reyes tightly to her. ‘Jenni and I have a baby to attend to.’

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