Hebraun collapsed onto the goose down settee beside Minuet in their private parlour. "I thought you'd already knitted a blanket, sweater, cap and booties for the baby," he said, glancing aside at her.
"You've been paying attention," said Minuet. "And I certainly did, but they were all blue."
"So, you suddenly don't like blue?"
"Oh Hebraun. You know that blue is for newborn boys. What if it turns out to be a girl?"
"Well, she'll no doubt look cute as a button in blue."
"Certainly, but the best dressed newborn baby girls wear pink."
"Do they? Who says so?"
"So, if you give Lukus and Soraya gifts that are blue and they have a girl, whom everyone must see in pink, then they won't let us be grandparents?"
"Stop teasing me," giggled Minuet.
She knew, of course. "I guess it does seem silly, but, this is our very first grandchild," she said as she put aside her knitting. "It doesn't seem possible. Just yesterday I was knitting for Lukus, Hebraun. And the day before that, Rose. I certainly don't feel like a grandmother."
"Nor do you look it my sweet," he said, with admiration in his eyes, before looking away with a sigh. "On the other hand, I'm not only beginning to feel it, I'm beginning to look it. Grandfather that is. Old."
"I've never heard you say such a thing before," she said with wide eyes as she brushed back a strand of hair from his cheek. She knew that the talk flying 'round the kingdom was getting much worse, particularly since it was now fall and no cure had been found for the blight affecting the kingdom's crops. She bit her lip. "Surely everyone knows that if it comes to it, the grain in the crown's bins will be distributed to them to see them through the winter, right?"
"That was today's discovery," he said with a haunted look. "It's all tainted. It has some kind of strange powdery mildew growing on it, every bushel of it."
"That evil, evil woman!" she cried, springing to her feet. "Even Ugleeuh was never so vile."
Hebraun rose and put his arm around her. "We've no proof that Spitemorta has done anything, Minuet. You know that."
"And we're not going to get any, either. Not for magic. There'll be no physical traces at all. She'd had to have been caught in the act. This is a very dry year. There's no way that any granaries could possibly spoil on their own. They checked the wheat?"
"Yes, right after the barley..."
"And the rye?"
"Yes. And the bean stores are the worst of all."
"So, it's been done."
"It looks that way, said Hebraun. "The only option left to us is to purchase enough grain from our allies to survive the winter, it seems."
"And hope that Spitemorta doesn't get wind of it."
"Well, someone with magical abilities could keep watch over the new stuff, now that we know." He sank back onto the settee. "I hope your father returns soon, Minuet. I'm beginning to think Niarg won't survive without his help."
Minuet rubbed his shoulders. "You'll manage, love, you always do. Everyone's upset right now, but when it comes to it, they'll remember how you've always stood by them and seen to their needs even above your own. You'll see."
Minuet always made him feel better. "You know," he said, with a new twinkle in his eye, "you'd make some lucky fellow a mighty fine wife, my lady. Would you marry me?"
"Oh I would, sir," she said with a laugh, "except that I'm already married to the finest man I've ever known."
"Well, he's a lucky fellow."
"Yes, and I'm a lucky woman," she said pulling him onto his feet. "Now, I think it's time you got some rest, love."
Hebraun did not argue. He followed her, certain that if left to his own devices he could sleep for a week.
Ch. 29, Stone Heart
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps