This was supposed to be a Father's Day prompt, but look how well that turned out. It was also supposed to be much shorter, but that didn't happen either. However, it does tie in vaguely with the last chapter of Night Watch, and centers around something I had pitched to the PDST forum a while back, so enjoy. :D
It was rare for Doom to be back in town—any town—unless it was seriously important. Births or celebrations thereof, mainly. So his sudden appearance in Del, all on a winter's evening, was surprising and overwhelmingly exciting for his grandchildren.
He had just come marching into the forge yard as if it were nothing unusual, as if he were expected. After all, Anna had to remind herself many times since his arrival, it was once his home, too. Happily, the twins had been playing in the yard, hitting each other with sticks like the little boys they were, and had sounded an alarm. Squeals of childish delight had filled the crisp evening air; surely everyone nearby had known that a visitor had come to the forge.
Anna and her parents—the king and queen—had rushed to the door, only to peer out and find Doom tackled to the ground, all but crawling with grandsons. Unable to help herself, Anna had run to join her brothers in killing the man with affection; and she was hardly surprised that her mother and father were right behind her.
And so for a few minutes the whole lot of them sat in a heap in the forge yard, laughing and smiling and even crying a bit to be together once more. Like a real family should be. It was one of those rare, shining moments where everything aligned and was just right. One of those moments that Anna would never forget, and carry close to her heart for the rest of her life.
But the moment passed in time. The king and queen began hauling their children off their wayward father, and Doom had climbed to his feet on his own. He had brushed himself off as his family shooed him inside, toward light and warmth and food. The three adults were walking, but the three children bounced the whole way, giddy with excitement.
"You always just pop by when we are least expecting it," Jasmine scolded her father as she poured him tea. "And you always promise to warn us next time, and then you never do! It drives me mad."
"It must have escaped my mind," Doom answered in his dry way. "It was a busy morning."
"Indeed, if its brought you back so suddenly," Leif agreed, his tone even and gentle as always. "I understood through friends that you were in Amethyst territory lately. Has something happened?"
Doom let his eyes slide sideways, to where Anna, Jarred, and Endon were all sitting on the floor, hanging in his every word and movement. The twin boys were still little, and mostly just amazed that their grandfather was sitting in their home. But Anna was now 11, and aware enough to be interested if something important was going on. She hoped her grandfather would say more about it; but from the way he glanced at her and her brothers, she suddenly doubted that.
"A small concern," Doom answered warily. "Nothing the children need to hear about."
"Well, we need to hear about it," Jasmine interrupted, planting her fists on her hips in annoyance and nodding sharply toward her husband. "You haven't really come all this way just to tease us, have you?"
"Yeah, that's right," Anna added from the floor. "Besides, I'm not little anymore, I'm big now! I want to know, too!"
The corners of Doom's mouth twitched into a faint smile as he looked down at her. "And perhaps you shall, my beautiful little girl. It won't do to keep things hidden from you, now will it?"
Anna beamed back up at him, feeling awfully important and very good about herself.
"In the meantime," he said to her father, "Zeean will be on her way here in the morning, with quite a merry band in tow. They should be arriving by mid-day, if I am right, which I usually am. I believe she means to meet you up there." He pointed vaguely toward a window, where the silhouette of the palace could be seen in the distance. Lief saw this at once and sat back heavily in his chair, groaning unhappily.
"Oh, but we were all having so much fun," he nearly whined. It was late, and the whole thing had happened so suddenly, and he clearly didn't want to go. Jasmine, on the other hand, lightly smacked his head and marched off to their bedroom.
"Stop your complaining and get your coat," she told him firmly. "You and I will be going, whether you like it or not."
As Lief stood up and went to cross the room, Anna ran to his side and grabbed is hand.
"Father, I want to go with you," she pleaded. "I want to see what's going on, and I want to help. Pease take me with you, please?"
"Not this time, princess," he told her, smiling at her enthusiasm. "I need you to stay here, and help your grandfather look after the boys."
"But that's boring! I don't want to," she complained, looking over her shoulder for Doom's help. As it was, he didn't look pleased about this arrangement, either.
"I had thought we would go together," he pointed out right away.
Lief shrugged at him as he tore himself away from his child. "Well, we can't just leave the children here alone. And I doubt you want to drag them all the way up to the palace and back this late at night in the middle of winter. Besides, you hardly ever get to see them, and they miss you terribly. Spending a little time with your own grandchildren will be good for you."
Neither Doom nor Anna had been wholly at peace with it; but neither of them bothered arguing more about it. In short minutes, Lief and Jasmine had hurried out of the house, bundled up in coats and scarves and heavy boots, to make their way up the hill beyond. Anna didn't like it, but she had to agree with her father. She didn't want to hike up that steep hill in the dark, freezing in spite of wearing so many layers.
Jarred and Endon thought nothing of it. The pair stood on their tiptoes at the window, watching their parents until they had closed the forge gate behind them and disappeared into the darkness. Once they had gone, the two boys began jumping up and down and laughing in triumph.
"Alright! They're gone!" Jarred cried with a mischievous grin.
"Now we get to stay awake forever!" Endon proclaimed, as if they had been waiting for this moment for some time. His fist act as victor was to tag his twin and then race away through the house, betting that Jared would never catch him. Jarred tore after him, betting that Endon would probably trip and fall on his face, then cry when he got tagged.
Doom looked flabbergasted, perhaps wondering how he was supposed to look after the boys when they wouldn't sit still long enough to be watched.
"Don't worry," Anna told him helpfully. "They're always like this. They'll get tired in a few minutes and fall asleep wherever they fall down. Mother found them piled up under the kitchen table the other day, you know."
Doom crossed his arms and shook his head, laughing in amusement. "They sound like another pair of little boys by the exact same names I once knew. They're turning seven soon, am I correct?"
"Yes. And I hope they'll turn quieter, too."
"Not likely," he answered, pulling her into a hug that was hers and hers alone. "You've gotten taller, perhaps, but certainly not quieter, my beautiful little girl."
Anan grinned and snuggled into his arms as he kissed her golden hair. "I wish you would come back more, grandfather. I always miss you so much when you go away."
"You don't have to call me that, Anna. Just call me Doom, like everyone else."
Anna looked up at him with shock in her young face. "I think grandmother would march down here and pop me on the mouth if I did that. She would just know, and she would do it."
He laughed lightly at that, as he laughed at most things. He had always laughed like that, like maybe he was still learning how and was surprised whenever he managed it. But he laughed often when he was home; most of Anna's memories of him were of him at least smiling. She wondered how often he laughed while he was away.
For while, the grandfather and daughter sat together by the fire, talking about all the things they had been up to recently. He asked about her studies, and she proudly pointed out a familiar but faded blue book on a bookshelf among her other school things.
"I'm halfway through it now," Anna told him, puffing out her chest a bit. "I like it, and I've learned a whole lot already."
She asked about his travels, and if he had met all the land's remaining dragons yet. And she surprised him by knowing some of them, herself.
"I believe the dragon of the Ruby will be laying an egg in the springtime," he said with a wink, as if imparting a great secret.
Anna's eyes went wide and she clapped her hands. "Joyeu is having a baby? That's wonderful! Maybe I can go and see her when it gets warmer. I think she'd like that."
"…You know her name…?"
"Of course," Anna answered with a shrug, and then began to count on her fingers. "I know Fidelis, Forta, and Fortuna, too. They're all very nice, aren't they? I haven't met the others yet, though. I've never been that far away before."
Doom decided not to be overly surprised by this. It only made sense that the dragons meet the next ruler of their land as soon as possible, and that the princess should know and respect them from her earliest days. Still, he wondered when those meetings had happened, and how much time had passed since then. He had seen Fortuna not terribly long ago, and Forta had accosted him on his way to Del; but neither dragon had mentioned the little princess at all.
Perhaps she was just so different from him that the dragons had been unable to connect them, and so had seen no reason to mention it. Most of them were unaware that the queen was his only child, anyway. Discovering the relation probably would have tickled some of them; but he could see Honora narrowing her great green eyes in suspicion. She wouldn't believe it… Or she would believe it, and have severe doubts about how she would like the next queen.
Hopian would probably shrug and make a very vague comment – that it was inevitable, perhaps, or obvious to a keen eye such as his own. As for Veritas… Doom could only imagine the dragon of the Amethyst was waiting in his patient way for the day when he would finally meet the princess, instead of living off of stories and news of her growing up. He had always held a certain affection for this family.
A while passed in conversation like this, until the two paused for a moment and realized that it was quiet. Too quiet. Anna sighed in annoyance and hopped to her feet.
"I guess it's time to go find them," she decided, marching off to look for her brothers. Doom got up and followed her, wondering where exactly the boys gotten to. It wasn't exactly a big house, after all…
Except, as he followed Anna through the house, he immediately saw a door he didn't recognize at the end of the short hallway. That, and that it was open slightly.
"Where does this got to?" he asked, pointing toward it. Seeing the door ajar, Anna stamped her foot angrily.
"That's my room," she snapped. "Papa had it built just for me, but my dumb brothers keep going in there! They always mess up my things and jump on my bed and leave the window open and mama gets mad at me! It's not fair!"
She flung the door open to a room that must have been perfectly tidy a while ago, but was now in disarray. There was an open, empty trunk surrounded by piles of clothing; a painted desk with its drawers half open, its top covered with scattered books and papers; and a bed with a patterned quilt sliding off the side, pillows thrown to the floor, where the twins were sleeping in a heap.
The whole room was a wreck, and it was clearly the work of the two boys. It was going to take some time putting the place back in order. Doom stared dumbfounded at the mess, wondering where to even begin with it. Beside him, Anna was muttering under her breath and running her fingers anxiously through her golden hair.
"They can't come home and see my room like this," she grumbled. "Mama won't let me go to sleep until it's cleaned up, and it's going to take forever! She won't make the boys help me, either…"
Doom patted her head, while doubting that Jasmine could be as soft as Anna claimed. "That's fine. I'll help you, instead. But first, let's get these two out of your bed. That seems a sensible place to start."
Anna sighed wearily and nodded her head. The two tiptoed over the mess to the bed, each of them scooping up one of the twins. At first, Doom was surprised that Anna could carry one of her brothers so easily; and then he remembered that she was 11, and the boys were only six. She would probably be able to carry them like this for a long time.
"So, you have your very own room?" he asked. "That must be very nice."
"It is. My room was built in time for my birthday. They said it was only fair that I have my own space, now that I'm bigger. Did you know the first king and queen had five children and raised them all here in this house? With only one room for them all? I don't know how they did it!"
Doom laughed shortly. "Evidently, neither do the current king and queen."
Anna laughed too, kicking open the door to one of the rooms that had always been there. It certainly felt like a boy's room—cluttered and untidy, and likely with scribbles all over the walls. Anna fearlessly shuffled her way through the mess to gracelessly dump Endon into his bed, making it seem like she did so often. Following her example, Doom shuffled to the other bed and laid Jarred down more gently than his sister would have.
His hands free at last, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an emergency candle and a match, lighting it to see the room better. It was all as he had expected, down to childish scrawls in colored ink on the walls. There was even a crude, lopsided blanket fort in one corner – which explained why there was no blanket on Jarred's bed.
At first, he smiled at the mess. Then he turned a bit and noticed a framed picture, hanging on the wall between the two beds. It was a faded, crumpled scrap of paper, with a painfully familiar drawing and beautifully destined message:
Wake the bear, do not fear.
Scurry, mouse, inside your house.
Lift the lid, be glad you did.
The sight took him back farther than he would have liked. Memories of this house, of this very room, crammed into his mind in a rush, until he felt dizzy. It was so jarring, he nearly had to sit down. That silly, coded note—the first of many—had changed everything. And somehow it had survived all these years, and all the troubles and adventures that had come with them.
Anna looked up, saw him staring a little too hard at the picture, and frowned in puzzlement. "Are you alright?" she asked.
The sound of her voice brought him back to the present, and he looked down at her in puzzlement of his own. "They really kept that thing?" he asked, back to his normal, dry tone of voice.
"Oh, yeah, I guess so," Anna agreed. "It's very important to everyone. Mama said she really wanted it in here. Right here, right in between them. She said it's how it should be, and father agreed."
"Do you know what it is?" Doom asked, though half of him couldn't bear to hear her answer. So he was unsure if he was hurt or not when Anna simply shrugged.
"I guess so," she said. "It's the secret way into the palace. Father showed me last year, but it's only for emergencies, he says."
Doom sighed vaguely and turned to look at the framed picture once again.
"Anna, do you know the rest of the story?"
The girl gasped in surprise. "There's a story?"
Apparently, she did not. On an impulse, Doom took the picture down from the wall, and then took Anna's hand and led her out of the room.
"I suppose I have quite a tale to tell you now. Your mother and father might not like you knowing it just yet, but its their own fault for leaving us alone together, now isn't it?"
Anna giggled in delight, clearly thrilled to be breaking a few rules. "I do like stories," she agreed. "And yours are always so exciting!"
"Let's go back in the living room, then, my beautiful little girl. I'm going to tell you a story about your grandfathers…"
Thusly, it turned into a sort of Christmas prompt. Oh well, better late than never. I meant for this to foreshadow Night Watch, but I was just too busy and it never got done, so oh well. :D