| Find Chapter 1 here
Chapter 2 is here
Chapter 3 is here
Chapter 4 is here
Chapter 5 is here
Chapter 6 is here
Chapter 7 is here.
Chapter 8: here
Chapter 9: here
Chapter 10: here
Chapter 11 (R-Rated) here
Chapter 12: here
Chapter 13: here
Chapter 14: here
Chapter 15: here
Chapter 16: here
Chapter 17: here
Chapter 18: here
Chapter 19: here
Chapter 20: here
You can skip Chapter 11 without losing the plot.
It was a small thing, but it stuck with Sefton. He chewed on it alongside his breakfast, and pondered it while he did chores.
The youngest husbands and the oldest kids had chores, that’s how it always was. Onter and Callum weren’t lazing around, of course – Onter was helping Lady Taisiya with something and Callum was teaching the young egglings, the ones too young for school. The older kids were off at classes today, so it was up to Jaco and Sefton to do basic cleaning on the house and, on top of that and in many cases before that, to clean up the messes from the bandits.
“What do you think they’ll do about the nursery door?” Sefton scrubbed at the blood on the tiles. The bandit hadn’t even been wounded that badly, but he’d mad quite a mess of the floor.
“The way the bandits just got in? Maybe nothing. I mean, you don’t want a nursery the wife can’t get into.”
“Who would ever lock the nursery from the inside against their wife?” Sefton frowned at the door and then back at Jaco.
Jaco snorted. “Kid, you’re not really that naive, are you?… you are, aren’t you? Look, some husbands don’t want to be married – let me finish. Some men don’t want to be married. Some men accept that that’s their lot in life and adjust. Some do more than adjust, they fall into it with both feet and are over their heads in no time. They end up loving their position, loving their wife, loving their brother-husbands; everything’s fine. They’re great. Some kind of suffer through – some of those take it out on the kids, some are decent fathers but just tolerable husbands. You see where I’m going, right?”
Sefton nodded slowly. “Marriage isn’t for everybody, but almost everybody gets married.” His shell-father had told him that, just before Sefton’s wedding to Lady Taisiya.”
“Exactly. So. Some of those people, they don’t suffer quietly. They don’t sort of tool around being miserable and they don’t adjust.”
Like you? Sefton didn’t say it, because he knew that wasn’t the sort of “not adjusting” Jaco was talking about.
“They get violent,” Jaco continued, “or they get rebellious – and I mean really rebellious, not the sort of half-assed rebellion I put up. And them? They’ll lock themselves in the nursery and hold the egglings hostage. I’ve heard of it happening. Even their own shell-kids.”
Sefton sucked in air. He’d heard it before – fathers turning against the egglings, even against their shell-children, but it seemed more real coming from Jaco. “They wouldn’t…”
“They would. And that’s why a wife always needs a way to get into her own nursery, junior.”
“That’s awful.” Sefton shook his head. “Surely none of us…?”
“No. Onter and Callum are good men. I’m a bad husband, but I’m not a bad father. You, I’ve got faith in you so far. you’re a nice good husband, aren’t you?’
The praise both felt warm and stung. Sefton frowned. “I’m – well, yeah. I don’t want to be – well, I know what happens to bad husbands.”
“Ah. So you’re a good husband because the option is to be bad, and being really bad – not like me, I assume?”
“I’m not sure I could do what you do,” Sefton admitted. The floor under his rag was gleaming. The blood stain was long gone. He moved over another slate and started again. “But I don’t think she’d put you out for anything you do.”
“You could become a bandit. Not you, I mean.” Jaco looked over at him. “Can’t see you stealing daughters. Can’t see you hurting egglings at all.”
The thought made him sick. Sefton stared at the spot on the floor. “No.” He shouldn’t need to say more than that; he wasn’t even sure what he could say other than that. “No, I wouldn’t ever hurt egglings.”
“Yeah. Like I said, I have faith in you. But really, even bad husbands have choices.”
“But once you’re married – no,” Sefton shook his head. “Even before you’re married, making any of those choices means leaving everything. Once you’re married, there’s more chance you’re going to leave an eggling behind. I mean, some of these are your shell-children, right?”
It wasn’t exactly a polite question, but it wasn’t like kids didn’t know who had hatched them, either. Jaco’s voice softened when he answered, too, so Sefton assumed he hadn’t given offense.
“Three of them are mine by shell. And the one in the incubator, of course. You’ll have one of your own soon. She likes to make sure you’ve got something to focus on right from the beginning, you know.”
“That makes sense.” Sefton nodded slowly. An egg… an egg of his own. When he’d been little, he and some of the others had played “tending the egg,” the way they’d played “hunting bandits” and “cooking dinner” and “fighting on the open seas.” He’d watched his fathers, and seen the tender face they got, looking a the eggs. He thought about the children already here. “I think I’ll like that.”
“Takes a hell of a hard, broken man not to like his own egg,” Jaco opined. “Some of them, once it’s out of the shell, it’s different, but I’ve seen you with the kids already. They’re going to be just-hatched forever in your minds, aren’t they?”
“I know they’re not infants,” Sefton protested, but he knew that wasn’t what Jaco meant. “…yeah. I’m going to be cuddling them and patting their backs when they’re ready to go off to their marriage vows.”
“Yep.” Jaco nodded. “You’ve got it in spades.”
“Got what?” Sefton looked up from his cleaning again. Jaco was focusing on the floor, but he was smirking broadly.
“The father thing. The nurturing instinct. Some people don’t – like I said, the bastards who’d kill babies – on the other hand, some people have it in buckets. We’re supposed to, so you, my boy, are a product of very good genetic engineering. Me, on the other hand, I’m okay. But I’ll never be more than okay at it. It’s just the way I was hatched.”
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