The Day the Earth Stood Still

Will, Gilan, Alyss and Horace sat in silence in a small chamber below Cranmore's infirmary. It was a month after the attempted robbery, and they were all far more tense than they had been on that occasion.

"It's been a while," murmured Will.

"It takes a while," Alyss repeated for the fourth time that night.

Horace, who had never gotten around to leaving Redmont after the attack, looked up. "You know, I never thought Pauline would have children. I thought she was too old."

"You're the first person brave enough to say that," Will commented.

"I'm not brave enough to say it to her or Halt," Horace said reasonably. "I train as hard as I do precisely so I don't die painfully."

Gilan barked out a laugh. "It seems unreal, doesn't it? After nine months…"

"I know," Will agreed. "It seems like a lifetime."

They fell back into silence. Gilan continued to pace, glancing from time to time at the door.

"It's almost midnight," he said suddenly.

"So?" Horace asked obligingly when it became clear that Will and Alyss would not do so.

"So tomorrow is the first day of summer."

"So?" Horace repeated.

"So…" Gilan shrugged. "It just seemed significant, that the child could be born on the first day of summer."

"It's a coincidence. I'm born on the last day of winter," Alyss told him, raising her head.

"That explains your colouring," Gilan told her with a smile. Alyss tossed an elegant sneer at him and put her head back on her folded arms.

The sound of footsteps approaching caused them all to tense. The noise swelled, peaked, and died away as the owner passed them. Horace blew out a deep sigh.

"I'm kind of glad Cranmore didn't let any of us in, actually," he announced. "Can you imagine Halt right now?"

"I'm trying, but the closest image I'm getting is a berserk Ragnak," Will said drily.

"Exactly."

They were interrupted at that moment by one of the servants who worked in the infirmary. The woman knocked, opened the door, and announced, "Cranmore's respects and would you like to come and see them now?"

"It's over?" Will blurted.

"About time!" Gilan was already striding towards the door, trailed closely by Alyss and Horace. Will scrambled to catch up.

The infirmary gave Will the same impression he received from the aftermath of battles: peace, but only because everybody was too tired or dead to keep fighting. Pauline was lying in bed, sitting up and clasping a bundle to her chest. Halt was talking to Cranmore and… clasping a bundle to his chest?

"There's two of them?" Will exclaimed.

"You had twins?" Gilan said at the same time.

Halt turned to look at them, and beamed. "Good to know you can both still count."

"Halt, don't tease them," Pauline chastised. "You were just as shocked."

Alyss came over and peered at Halt's little bundle. A pair of sleepy blue eyes glared back. "Oh my god," she breathed. "Halt, it looks like you. It's looking at me like you do."

"It looks a bit angry," Gilan decided, coming over to have a look too.

"Precisely."

"Well how would you feel if you just wanted to go to sleep and two giants were staring at you?" Horace asked reasonably.

"If they were as good-looking as us, I think I might enjoy it," Gilan retorted.

"What did you have?" Will demanded, ignoring them.

"Twins," Halt said annoyingly. He was giddy with relief, and that was causing him to tease Will more than he normally would.

"Halt," Pauline said warningly.

"They're fraternal," Cranmore said briskly. "One boy one girl. Two for the price of one, in fact. Bit small, but good health otherwise. Have you thought about names?"

"Of course," Pauline said, rocking her bundle as it began to make slightly fretful noises.

"Well?" Alyss asked, for once goaded beyond her sense of patience.

"This," Halt said, tilting the baby he held, "is Wren. That," he nodded at Pauline, "Is Collin."

"Wren and Collin," Alyss murmured. "What lovely names."

Halt seemed to struggle with himself for a moment before he abruptly said, "Would you like to hold her?"

Alyss was too much of a diplomat to say yes. "I'm sure I'll have lots of opportunities," she said soothingly. "You keep her for now."

"Congratulations," Horace said happily, clapping Halt carefully on the shoulder. "Now people will have to send another gift!"

"Yes, Horace, because that's the most important thing about having twins," Halt said sarcastically. Wren yawned in his arms as if in agreement.

"We were hoping to talk to you all about godparents," Pauline said from the bed. "We decided that Will and Gilan were automatically disqualified, as the nature of the Corps dictates that they'll be uncles." Will and Gilan, whose faces had fallen, perked up quite a bit at this. It was true: both children now automatically had forty-nine uncles who were completely unrelated by blood. "Alyss, I know I said you would be a godmother, but Will is an uncle, so you'll be an aunt."

Gilan blushed. "Jenny, too," he mumbled to his feet.

Horace patted Gilan's back with considerably more force than he had used on the baby-wielding Halt. "The good news keeps on coming!"

"Because that's such surprising news," Alyss teased gently. It was a running joke in their circle of friends that Jenny was the only woman Gilan could stand to marry because she was the only person who could turn food into weapons.

"We were hoping you and Cassandra would be Wren's godparents," Pauline continued, looking at Horace. "And we're going to ask Arald and Sandra to be Collin's."

"Of course!" Horace exclaimed. "Cassandra will be thrilled. She's probably already asked for a little sling to be created as we speak."

"I'm a little worried at how many weapons people seem to think our children need," Pauline murmured in amusement.

"I'm more worried about what will happen when they get old enough to use them," Halt replied in the same tone.

Alyss overheard them, and laughed. "We all are, Halt. Tonight, the future trembles."