Have you ever seen a day go from beautiful to disastrous in the course of an hour? I have, and while I can laugh about it now, it wasn’t fun at all while it was happening. We had been out and about all day in the backwoods of the Kingdom of Cups on the day of the storm. My wife Alexandra and I, and our two twin girls were going on their first camping trip. I chuckled as I corrected myself. This was the first camping trip the girls would remember. They had been out a few times, but they were too young to form lasting memories. I grunted as I lifted my eldest daughter up on a stump and smiled at her. I was still fighting fit, but I could tell my body was not as spry as it had been when I was younger. Still, I had more than enough energy for my children, and I would show it.
“What do you think of this place, my darling child? Does it meet with your approval?”
I’ve never met anyone as observant as Alethea. I knew she would have something brilliant to say, and I was not disappointed. Her eyes took in the clearing where we had stopped for the day as she noted seemingly every blade of grace and leaf on all the trees. Finally, she nodded her approval.
“There’s an ant hill over there, but it’s far. They’ll leave us alone if we leave them alone.”
I smiled at her and agreed. “Do you see anything else, sweet girl?”
“We should pitch the tent in the center of the clearing and have the fire a bit away. The rocks will make the heat come back.”
“How do you know that?”
“Lord Steam told me. He called it a re..re..ref…”
I smiled anew as she struggled and finally looked at me for help.
“Yeah! It makes the heat come back.”
“It sure does.” I reached for my daughter as though I was going to give her a hug, but at the last second I moved and tickled her sides. She dissolved into giggles instantly and started squirming to get away. I noticed she kept her feet well away from the edges of the stump she was on so she would not fall.
After a while, I allowed her to escape and made a big show of how she had won our contest. “Daddy?” she tugged my sleeve as she turned her head toward her sister.
“Felicia is hungry.”
In any other child, I would have expected that to be a ploy to get some food for herself, but the twins had an amazing bond I never really understood. If Alethea said Felicia was hungry, then it was her sister who needed food.
“Is she now? We better fix that. And what about you?”
“Well, a little.” Alethea blushed as her stomach grumbled. From a few feet away where she was unpacking lunch, my wife laughed out loud.
“Why don’t you two come over here and have a snack. We can set the tent up in a little while. It’s a beautiful day.”
Felicia piped up before her sister could as she sat down next to her mother. “Yaaaaay!”
We had spoiled the girls a little, so our snack was tea and bread pudding, a treat both of them loved. Felicia started digging into hers immediately, taking huge bites.
“Felicia, slow down or you’re going to choke.” Alexandra was gentle, but firm. Felicia took smaller bites after muttering an apology to her mother, but I noticed she finished her pudding in record time and sipped her tea while the rest of us ate at a more reasonable pace.
Once the crumbs vanished and the last of the tea had disappeared, I grabbed the tent. Alethea was busying playing with her mother, but Felicia was right at my side to help me put it up.
“How does it work?” she wanted to know.
“It’s pretty easy. It doesn’t even need poles. You drag the corners out so it’s square, and then you put the steamer in the valve on the side and push the button. The steamer does the rest.”
“Can I try?”
“Of course, Leelee.” She giggled and gave me a hug. I felt a special pride in being the only one who could call her that. We pulled the corners of the tent out, and then I held her hand as she put the steamer into the valve and pressed the red button attached to it. Almost instantly it whirred and pulled in air. In moments, hot air had filled the tent, and it was standing upright.
“How come steam doesn’t melt the tent?”
“It’s not really steam. It’s just hot air.”
“Oh. Why does the tent stand up?”
“It has some tubes that get filled up and make it stand up straight.”
“That’s neat, Daddy.”
“I think so too.”
With that, Felicia darted into the tent to look around, leaving me to put in the stakes. Her mother and Alethea brought pillow and sleeping bags from our vehicle, and Felicia came back out of the tent a moment later to help set them up. The girls put our sleeping bags on the outside, and theirs were on the inside. Felicia put hers next to me, while Alethea’s was next to her mother. Once everyone had their bedding the way they wanted it, we went for a hike. I’d spent quite a lot of time in this area as a boy, so I took us on what I would call a medium length hike, but with the girls’ shorter legs, it took quite a long time. By the time we finished the hike, I was carrying Felicia, and Alethea was fast asleep being carried by Alexandra. I smiled at my wife as I noticed, and her face blossomed into a huge grin.
“We have amazing children.”
“They didn’t complain once. We did something right, didn’t we, Sterling?”
“Of course. They take after their mother, and she was the best decision of my life.”
“Guilty as charged.”
We allowed the girls to nap as I prepared dinner. Tonight we would have a wild stew my father taught me about. I brought the beef from the castle, but this place was full of mushrooms and tubers I could cut up and add to it. I smiled momentarily as I remembered the first time I made it for Alexandra. She clearly remembered too since she grinned at me once she realized what I was making.
“Only the best for my family.”
“I can’t wait.”
“You always loved this.”
“Too right I do.”
Dinner was an animated affair as the girls talked our ears off about the things they’d seen on the hike. I loved hearing them talk about their experiences, and I would make sure they had a lot of them. If things went the way I hoped, my girls would never think they were any better than anyone else, and could identify with our people because of common experiences. For now, though, I was content to just let them enjoy their time away from the various pressures of Royal life. As we finished dinner, I noticed the sky was a lot darker than I thought it should be for late afternoon. I was still considering the clouds when a tremendous clap of thunder made both of my daughters scream.
“Right. Into the tent with the lot of you. I’ll clean this up.”
Alexandra followed the girls and I could hear her distracting them with a story from her reader as I put things away. I had just finished when the first fat drop splattered against the side of my face.
“Thank all the cards for timing.” I muttered to myself as I zipped the tent shut behind me. The storm intensified enough to make Felicia curl up close to me, and I noticed Alethea sitting closer to her mother than she normally would. I sang them a song about the Fool’s Journey to help them calm down, and soon both were fast asleep. I fiddled with the dials on the side of Felicia’s sleeping bag to regulate the temperature so she wouldn’t get too hot, and I could see Alexandra doing the same thing for Alethea. I loved camping, and the sleeping tech was an enormous benefit. Sometimes, I felt I slept better out here than I did in the castle.
Alexandra drifted off not too long afterward, but I could not sleep. My mind was too full of all the things I wanted to show them and teach them how to do. We would keep going camping, and they would need to learn to sword fight. Both of them would need to know how to prepare food for themselves, and a myriad of other things, I could not wait to show them. My mind was running merrily along when a gigantic crash of thunder startled Alethea awake. She screamed silently, and it amazed me that even in her fear she was careful not to wake her sister. She climbed out of her sleeping bag and curled up with me, her green eyes clearly afraid, but not terrified. The wind picked up, and I could see the rain outside was torrential. I did not mention any of that to Alethea and focused on the noise that woke her up.
“It’s just the thunder. It will go away soon.”
“What makes it thunder?”
“Oh. Do you know what it sounds like?”
“What’s that, sweetie?”
“Someone shuffling their tarot deck.”
“I… suppose it does. I never thought of that. You’re a smart girl.”
“And so modest too.” I ruffled her hair. Alethea said nothing, choosing instead to close her eyes. A moment later, she opened them.
“Maybe someday I’ll marry an Arcana and we can take the Fool’s Journey, just like in the song.”
“There’s time enough for that later, sweetheart. You just focus on being the best Knight you can be.”
“Okay. I’ll make you proud, Daddy.”
“You always do. Get some sleep, okay?”
She was already fast asleep and did not answer. I gently tucked her into her sleeping bag and then settled into my own. When I woke again, it was morning and I could tell by the way the birds were singing the weather had cleared. The rest of my family woke up as I rustled my sleeping bag trying to get out of it. Alexandra stretched and complained about it being morning already, which made our children laugh. Soon enough, we were out of the tent, and had polished off a simple breakfast. The girls complained about how wet and muddy everything was, but Alexandra explained that was just how things were after a huge storm. Since Felicia helped me put up the tent, Alethea was the one who would help me take it down.
“Daddy?” she called as she was removing the stakes.
“A stake bent.”
I walked over and took it from her. The wind had been bad enough to bend it almost to a ninety-degree angle.
“That’s the power of nature.”
“It’s scary sometimes, isn’t it?”
“It can be, but just remember that if you keep your head about you and don’t give into panic, you can think your way though anything.”
“I’ll remember Daddy.”
With that, we finished collapsing the tent and putting it away, before we stowed everything and were on our way toward home.
“Daddy?” Alethea spoke up.
“This was a wonderful trip.”
“I think so too. I’m glad you had fun.”
My eldest daughter never ceased to amaze me. Observant and optimistic. She would make a fine companion for someone someday, Arcana or not. My thoughts drifted off as I started planning our next trip. Maybe Jules and his family would like to join us on the next one. I knew he had a daughter about the same age as mine, though his son was already old enough to be away most of the time.