"I'm going to get more firewood."

Callum looked up from the last bite of his meal. "But we already have enough." He gestured at the small pile a few feet from the impromptu firepit. This had better not be another attempt by her to mother him and Ethari, who was in fact older than her. Callum both envied Ethari's patience with the girl's hovering and flinched every time he heard her, hoping she didn't turn on him next. They were halfway to their campsite on this side of The Warpath after the day's travels and Rayla's mothering

Had

Not

Stopped.

Not for a single moment.

It probably wouldn't have been as bad if only Ethari was pregnant. The girl seemed to have some measure of respect for her not-father. This showed in the fact that she asked, if incessantly, if he was alright, if he wanted a break, did they need to get more water. Asked being the important distinction here. With Callum, she just threw the water skin at him and glared until he took a drink. On the flipside, since he was just starting out with his…pregnancy, while Ethari was blatantly showing, Rayla's efforts were more concentrated on him.

Rayla scoffed. "You seriously think that's enough to get us through the night? No way am I letting it go out, or leaving you two alone to go hunt for more wood." With a swirl and a scowl, she marched off with her head held high.

Slowly, Ethari got to his feet too, but didn't follow the girl. Instead he walked over to Marcos and said something in a low voice. The soldier nodded and came back to the fire. "I'll take the dishes to the stream to clean, Sire, if you're finished." With a shrug, Callum handed over his shallow bowl and fished the cooking pot out of the coals. Picking up his own plate, Marcos nodded to the prince and walked into the forest in the direction of the stream.

Then Ethari turned to look at him and Callum abruptly became aware of the fact that he was alone with the elf. He walked around the fire and sat next to the prince on the log their two companions had pulled out of the woods for them. "How are you doing," he inquired with a smile.

He tried to brush it off with a hand flap. "Oh well, it's traveling. I'm used to it after the months Ez and I spent out here with Rayla."

It didn't work, if the look on the elf's face was to be believed. "I meant about them." He ran a hand conspicuously over his protruding bump and glanced meaningfully at Callum's middle. The prince resisted the urge to settle his hand in the same area. "You only discovered them a few days ago, but you haven't asked me any more questions."

The prince's shoulders drooped and he let his hand settle at his waist. "I don't know. I mean, there's so much I don't know, so much I have to think about and plan for, and…" he paused and looked Ethari in the eye, then away. "I'm the first human this has ever happened to. What do I say to everyone in Katolis?" His shoulders hunched up around his ears. "Life was complicated enough already."

Ethari blinked. He actually hadn't thought about that. He had a bad tendency to forget that the boy next to him was a prince as well as a mage and Rayla's friend. "Well, the way I see it, it's a good thing for your kingdom." Callum looked at him again and his shoulders relaxed a fraction. "I've heard that the Sky Arcanum is notoriously picky about who it gives children to. I don't know why, though. You'd be better off asking your Sky Mage friend." Callum made a metal note to do just that as soon as they got back to the palace, maybe with a request to stay as well. "But it does mean that you're fully capable of performing magic on all its levels. And if you can do it, other humans can too."

That finally loosened the young man's shoulders all the way, so Ethari continued with his speculation. "Your pregnancy is proof that, with enough effort, humans can be just as good at magic as the races from Xadia. I think that's news that most people would be glad to hear." Callum smiled at that and Ethari returned the gesture. They sat in silence for a moment, looking up at the stars. "Was there anything else you were worried about?"

Surprisingly, Callum blushed to the tips of his ears and stuttered out, "N-no, not at all! Why would you think that!" He wouldn't look at Ethari again.

It was too good an opportunity to pass up. "Come on now, what is it," he gently pestered. "I promise not to tell anyone who doesn't need to know."

"No one needs to know!" the boy burst out, still blushing fiercely. "It's stupid anyway."

"If it's stupid," Ethari continued pestering, "then it should be easy to answer. Come on, out with it."

With his shoulders bunched up around his ears again, but from embarrassment this time, the boy turned his head just enough to peak at Ethari out of the corner of his eye. "Promise not to laugh?" Ethari nodded. Callum took a deep breath and blurted out, "am I going to get breasts?"

With difficulty, the elf suppressed a giggle, only with the knowledge that he'd wondered that himself, enough to ask and get an answer. "No," he said when he had full control of his voice again, "and yes." He quickly went on in the face of Callum's oncoming freakout. "We don't develop a woman's chest, but our bodies do sometimes develop enough in that area that we can feed our baby if we choose to. That's actually why some of us get sore chests."

The boy blanched and his blush vanished. "There is no way I'm doing that."

Ethari shrugged. "You don't have to. Magic just makes it so you can if you choose to."

That peaked his interest. "Are you going to?"

That was a rather personal question, Ethari thought, but decided to answer it anyway. "I don't know. Runaan and I never got a chance to discuss it, or anything, really." He sighed and rubbed a hand over his bump. "I wish he could talk to me." He smiled at Callum, but it was a sad expression. "It's a miracle that you recovered him, and I am grateful, but it's hard. There's so much I want to talk with him about."

The prince shrugged. "Well, you can always use sign language."

The elf's eyes grew. "What?"

Okay, I know it's been a while. I'm just trying to do all my audiobook channel stuff, watch after my daughter, deal with all that Covid is flinging at me, and do not feel very up to writing after a day with all that. I'm still trying, though, don't worry. What did you guys think of Rayla's overprotective streak?