But after a few days, they began to worry.
Jade felt tears prick her eyes. "I'm scared, Jace."
Jace pulled his sister into his arms and hugged her. "Don't be scared, Jade!" he told her. "You're such a worry-wart!" But the truth of the matter was that he was scared, too.
Henna had blinked her tears away, frantically clutching his arm. "I need you to go to the children. Protect them," she had urged him.
It was if he'd just disappeared.
"Don't open it," he heard a young voice whisper. "It might be a bad guy!"
"Well how are we going to know if it's a bad guy if we don't open it?" another young child responded.
The first voice hissed back, "I don't know, but I'm pretty sure he looks like a bad guy."
Stuart rolled his eyes. "I can hear you!" he announced impatiently.
"Are you a bad guy?" one voice asked him loudly.
"I'm not a bad guy! Your mother sent me!" he called loudly. "She wanted me to take care of you while she's away."
"See, Jace, he's a good guy! Mama sent him!" a child whispered furiously.
"Shut up, Jade!" the petulant-sounding child admonished.
"If you know our mother, what's her name?" one of the two called out to the stranger behind the door.
"Oh, Blessed Orb, Jace! Just because he knows her name doesn't mean he's not a bad guy! He might have her tied up somewhere!"
Stuart glanced down at the little girl and didn't have the heart to tell her that the prince had accused her of being the Prince of Thieves which all the peasants spoke of with revered voices.
"Don't eat anything," the little boy said, still distrustful of the strange man. "If he was such a good friend to mama, then why haven't we met him before?"
The truth hurt sometimes, Stuart thought as he winced. Especially when delivered by a mere child.
"You can eat if you want to, there's plenty to go around," he announced unfazed. "I for one am starving."
Jade rolled her eyes. "What? I'm hungry Jace!" she complained. "Our bread has gone stale a few days past and this looks soooo good!"
"Well, I'm not going to eat," Jace said stubbornly, wincing when his stomach rumbled. Petulantly, he stomped his foot and ground out, "Fine!" before storming over to the counter and grabbing a plate for himself.
Jade nodded. "That's right! We're twins!"
Stuart eyed the child's golden locks. "I can see that," he said smoothly. "And it's just you two?" he asked, feeling only slightly guilty about pumping the children for information. "No one else comes to visit?"
Jade laughed and clapped her hands. "A pixie! Oh, I would love it if she was a pixie!"
"There's no such thing," Jace said mulishly, continuing to eat his toast, keeping his eyes trained firmly on the intruder. Apparently it would take more than a few reassurances for the young boy to warm up to him.
"I'm going to go lie down for awhile. Come and get me if you need me," he told the children.
"We're not going to need you," Jace responded quickly.
Stuart shook his head and headed to the bedroom. Wasn't it just like Henna's child to deny any help, even when it was obviously needed? Stupid, stubborn, ornery Henna...
Jace shook his head. His sister was so naive. Nothing was going to ever be the same...
Jade glanced towards the man on the other side of the room. "Do you think he snores?" she asked.
Jace scowled as he thumped his pillow. He was not a worry-wart!
Orb's Year 946
Stuart had strong suspicions about who little Jace's father was, but kept his mouth shut.
"I wonder if he was as hairy as you," Jace added, pointing to Stuart's arms.
Jade giggled. "I don't think anyone is hairier than Stuart!"
And just like that, good cheer resumed at the table as the children took turns teasing him.
Then he'd met Henna, his very own pixie!
"A quick one and then it's off to bed!" Stuart said.
The children groaned in unison.
"What should it be about?" he asked, ignoring their protests.
"Tell us the one about the Ogre under the bridge!" Jace said, naming one of the more blood-thirty stories.
Jade scowled, "That gives you nightmares, Jace! Tell us the one about when you met mama!"
Jace protested fiercely. "It does not give me nightmares!"
In the end, the settled on the story about the Goblin King and the Fairy Princess, one that had romance in it for Jade and a not-too-scary battle-scene in it for Jace.
Stuart ruffled her hair, nearly undone with emotion. "I love you, too," he told her gruffly.
Stuart glanced in surprise to find Jade up and waiting for him. "I just went for a hunt to try to catch some game. What's wrong?"
"Jade! Of course I'd be back! I just went out to get some food for the larder!" Stuart protested, trying to understand her tantrum.
"Mama said she'd be back, too! You never know!" Jade protested. "You shouldn't leave without saying goodbye!"
Stuart nodded, attempting to ease her fears. "I'll be sure to say goodbye before I leave," he assured her. "Come now, lets' get you back to bed."
His heart beat quickly. Who would be in the woods at this hour at night? he thought. Someone up to no good. His fingers tightened on the knife he'd pulled from his boot.
Stuart stared at her, dumb-founded. She had to be the only woman in the kingdom that didn't want to get married.
"Could you put some clothes on?" she asked, waving her hand towards his dangling bits. "I can't argue with you when you're naked!"
Stuart squeezed her, feeling tears in his own eyes. "I know, Jade. I'm sorry. But I have to go," he told her, trying to peel her arms from around his neck.
And that's when she knew that she should marry him.
"Please go into the other room so that Stuart and I can talk," she told the children, then watched them hurry off.
Stuart hesitated, "Can you tell me how you got out?" he asked.
"She?" Stuart asked. "Why do you think it was a woman?"
Henna groaned and dropped her face into her hands. "I can't talk about it," she cried. "Please don't make me!"
The wealth of emotion from the usually calm Henna surprised Stuart.
Orb's Year 948
Stuart rolled his eyes. From what he'd heard of Debbie Diebin, that wasn't that hard. "She should've taken a switch to your backside more often!" he called after her, hearing her snort with indignation. Keeping Henna in line was a full-time job.
"The one about the Haunted Forest!" Jace begged. "I love that one!"
Stuart laughed and clapped Jace on the back. "The last time I told that story, you slept in our bed for a week!"
Jace sheepishly grinned up at his papa. "I thought I heard something at the door," he admitted.
Stuart glanced at his sleepy wife. "No more tonight, let's get to bed," he said, ushering the children out of the room.
Henna's eyes were shut and she appeared to be sleeping soundly. He sighed and headed into the bedroom. The last time he'd tried to move her, she'd given him a black eye, flailing out in her sleep. Sometimes he wasn't so sure it wasn't on purpose.
Stuart seethed. She made him so angry! She was always defensive and turned everything around on him. Somehow, she made everything seem like it was his fault. He threw his hands up in the air. "Great, so I'm the evil villain who forced you to marry me now?!"
"You rushed me when I wasn't ready!" she yelled. "I didn't want to marry you!"
Henna gasped in outrage, her hand flying to her mouth and her other protectively cupping her pregnant belly. "How dare you!"
"It's the truth, isn't it? Did you play the whore for the royal prince when you were in the tower? Is that who...."
There were some things that once said, could never be taken back.