Author's Note: A random piece of fluff. Spoilers for the entire series, takes place after The High King. Taran x Eilonwy
She frowned at the Chief Steward – a well-built, good-hearted man who worried more than was strictly necessary, but was always there when you needed him, at least.
She was fairly certain he was worrying for nothing now, as a matter of fact.
"What do you mean, missing?" she asked pointedly, shifting her baby son higher on her hip. She had so many things to see to this morning, and she most certainly didn't have time for this. How utterly annoying. "Have you checked the stables?"
"Of course, Your Majesty. That was the first place we looked." The Chief Steward sighed and raked a hand through his thick hair. "The Master of Horse checked the lofts as well. Nothing."
"The battlements?" she pressed. Really annoying.
"Yes, Your Majesty."
The baby gurgled and laughed, reached for a handful of his mother's gold-red hair, and pulled. She bit back a snarl of semi-pain and quickly disengaged his fingers from one of their favorite activities.
"The scullery? The courtyard?"
"No sign, Your Majesty."
Her shoulders slumped and her lower back protested against the warm weight snuggling happily into her side; she hitched her son up again and shifted her weight to the other foot. It was the middle of the bloody week and there was nothing pressing taking place – no festivals, no pageants, no war parties, no uprisings, no...nothing. Smoit wasn't due for another four days and harvest wouldn't start until his arrival. So... why...?
"Very well," she conceded, though rather grumpily. "I'll look about myself."
"Thank you, Your Majesty."
It was a mark of her annoyance that she was rather glad the Chief Steward looked as exasperated as she felt.
"Come, then," she said loftily to the baby, who gave her a wide-eyed, innocent expression that she associated mostly with his father, and did absolutely nothing to improve her temper. She even said so: "And don't think that will change my mood."
The child blinked, utterly nonplussed by her stern expression. She sighed and turned to stalk down the vaulted corridor.
She first stuck her head into the enormous great hall – which proved to be completely empty except for the fluttering standards suspended from the high ceiling, and the long table used for discussions and war parties, and the carved throne that was so rarely occupied (the chief complaint was that it was harder than a rock). Next, quick look in the dining hall told her nothing except that the breakfast dishes had been cleared away and the fire had been allowed to burn low; similarly, the scullery was full of only scullery maids who stared in surprise at her appearance, curtsied nervously, and told her they were unable to assist with her quest.
The upper halls were empty, the various chambers and rooms seemed empty, the battlements were void of anyone except guards and she daren't spend too long upon them, for it was chilly and it wouldn't do for the baby to catch a cold.
She was just starting to feel beyond vexed, when, venturing down another of the upper corridors, a young boy darted around a corner and nearly ran head-long into her, for he was looking over his shoulder the whole time. He stumbled, fell backwards, and his mouth fell open like a fish when he saw the Queen of Prydain standing before him.
She recognized him – he was one of the children of the Commot Warriors who were currently living at Caer Dathyl. There were several of these children about, for quite a number of Commot men and women had pledged their lives to the High King and served the royal family well.
"Oh! Please forgive me, Your Majesty!" he blurted, flushing bright pink. "I... I didn't mean to...!"
"It's quite all right," she said, feeling a bit nettled by his sudden, random appearance. Why on earth was he on the upper floors of the castle? Usually the Commot children played in the courtyards and the nearby forest fringe. She held her free hand out to help him back to his feet. "What were you doing?"
"Playing, Your Majesty," he answered promptly, while twisting the end of his tunic about his fingers and looking resolutely at the stone floor.
It was a day for blasted riddles, was it? "Playing what?" she pressed, willing her headache to go away.
He bit his lip, but answered in a small voice, "Hide-n-seek."
Well, that made more sense. "With the other children?"
He nodded, his eyes still firmly on the floor.
"Hmm. Then you'd best hide before you're found. Don't you agree?"
He seemed to cheer at her approval of the game, and looked up at her happily. "Yes, ma'am!"
And without waiting for further questioning, he started to dart off again.
She paused, and then called out curiously, "Brehnan?"
"Yes, ma'am?" He stopped and turned to smile at her.
"Who's 'it' right now?"
"His Maj- –"
He stopped abruptly, almost choking on the word. His face changed from pink to crimson, before he quickly turned and sprinted down the hall away from her, realizing his mistake.
She wrinkled her nose. Of course. She looked at the baby, who shyly buried his face in her shoulder. Sardonically, she said, "I'm not surprised, either."
Turning down a narrow, spiraling staircase – the very one from whence the child had burst out of in his attempts to avoid being caught – she made her way to the floor below and, just as she exited the tight stone passage into a larger one, she nearly ran into her husband. One quick look at his face told her everythingshe needed to know. It went from curious and thoughtful to nervous to wary.
He worried his lower lip for a second, before saying cautiously, "I can explain."
"I'm delighted to hear that, but what on earth should I respond with? Should I say, 'I certainly hope so', or 'The Chief Steward can't wait to hear what you've to say on the matter either', or perhaps, 'Brehnan nearly ran into me a floor above trying to avoid being caught'?"
"Brehnan?" His eyes glittered mischievously, and he glanced towards the spiral staircase she had just come out of. Then he actually made a movement towards it, and she just managed to grab his sleeve and snatch him back.
"Taran of Caer Dall- –!"
"But I hate being 'it'!" he protested.
"What on earth would Dallben think if he could see you thus?"
He looked thoughtful, then said sheepishly, "Well, Coll wouldn't mind, leastways."
Twitching in annoyance, she snapped, "And what would Gwydion say?"
"Fflewddur would play along. Of that I'm certain."
At the exact same time, they both said, "And then write a song about it."
She couldn't help it; her mouth almost twisted into a small smile.
"There's nothing going on today," he said in a small voice, stepping closer to her. "And they asked if I would play with them. Sometimes, I almost think I know how Fflewddur felt. Not all of the time," he added quickly, seeing her narrowed expression. "Just once in a while."
"The Chief Steward is about out of his wits trying to find you. You know how he worries so; it's as bad as dropping something heavy on your foot and then wondering why it hurts so much."
He shifted nervously and ran his hand behind his neck. "So he sent you to find me, did he?"
"As if I don't have enough to do today," she remarked, changing the baby to her other arm and biting back a groan of relief as the blood rushed into her numb fingers.
His eyes widened innocently, just like his one-year-old son's. "You? What've you to do today?" he asked anxiously. "If I'd known you had plans, Eilonwy –"
She glared at him. "Oh, honestly! If you'd stopped to think before running off to play hide-and-seek, you'd remembered that King Smoit is arriving next week for harvest! I've mountains of work to do, and so do you, for that matter! I must plan the dinners for every single day, and heaven knows we must have plenty to eat, because Smoit has a stomach larger than Gurgi's – I never thought that was remotely possible, mind – and then I must see that the guest rooms are prepared properly, the stables cleaned for the horses, the –"
He grinned, leaned in, and kissed her quickly. "Very well," he said. "I asked for that, didn't I?" Then he sighed. "I'll need a guard to ring the bells in the tower; that's the signal for the children that the game's over."
And before she could argue, he took the baby from her and started to walk down the corridor towards the nearest flight of stone steps, and she had no choice but to follow and smile just slightly.
He really was a wonderful king, she thought. No matter how vexing he could be at times.