Prologue:

On a night like any other, King Melbius of Rinveld went out hunting with his favorite pack of hounds. The forest was unusually quiet for a summer's evening, the moon just beginning its ascent to the heavens as the sun filled the sky with the radiant colors of its descent. It was in these twilight hours as the world slowed down that the king delighted to hunt with his chosen party of guests. Not only were the animals slower and easier to catch at this point, but the beauteous nature around him helped him relax and leave the troubles of politics behind him.

On that night, however, Melbius was distracted from his peaceful thoughts by a keening sound coming from the shores of a nearby lake. His dogs cowered at the sound, refusing to go any farther than the lip of the wood. As the King and his guests left the handler and the dogs behind at the forest's edge, the King thought he saw movement at the far shore. Urging his horse to a faster pace, the King rounded the lake. However, he saw nothing.

The keening sound grew quieter, replaced by what sounded remarkably like a child's cry. The king slowed his horse and looked around, almost riding past the small bundle of reeds at the lake's edge. He quickly dismounted in a sudden stillness punctured by the soft plod of horse's hooves on sand. The bundle quivered at his touch, and started to make the odd crying sound.

As the rest of his hunting party gathered around him, King Melbius undid the reeds at one end of the bundle to reveal the pale face of a newborn child, red-cheeked and teary eyed from crying. Mystified, the king looked at the quiet audience around; the only response he received was the restless shifting of the horses and the mystified headshakes of his companions.

The moon cleared the treetops at about this point, signaling the end of the hunt for the day. The party mounted up again, quiet still except for the keening of the child in the king's arms, unwilling at any rate to continue the hunt in the near darkness of the quarter moon, or in the face of the mystery presented by the appearance of the water baby, as the child was now being called.

As the king and his party entered the castle gates, they found the castle to be a hive of activity. The king passed his horse to the hostler and accosted the closest housemaid to find what the matter was.

"'Tis th' queen! Th' child's on its way! Th' midwife's with her now and waitin' on me, savin' yor presence m'lord." King Melbius nodded his absentminded permission to the young maid and watched her scurry away. His companions offered their congratulations to their liege, begging his permission to return to their homes to begin the appropriate preparations for the upcoming celebrations.

The king granted their leave with another nod of his head and, seeming to shake off the state of shock that had rooted him in place, went bounding up the castle steps at a much faster rate than was perhaps appropriate for a man of his political stature. To the first housekeeper that met him on the stairs went the water baby, along with the hurried instructions to find him an appropriate mother. His cloak was shed into the hands of his personal servant, who met him one flight further up. At the scolding of the head maid, his boots were discarded at the top of the next staircase.

Another of his personal servants arrived with slippers and an appropriate over-garment as the king arrived at the door of the birthing room. The poor servants were attempting to talk their king out of bursting into the room to save his fragile wife and wait patiently outside until the birthing process was done. It took another few minutes for Melbius' personal servant to talk him into his slippers and over-robe, as well as into the chair that had been provided just outside the door.

The king, too nervous to sit, had trod the slightest bit of a groove into the stone floor before the midwife came out, sweating but looking pleased. "You may go in, your majesty," she said in a slightly hoarse voice, "it's a girl."

King Melbius strode swiftly into the room, to find his pale wife glowing in happiness at the bundle in her arms. The king quietly ran to her side, enfolding her in a soft embrace as he took his first look at the precious bundle of blankets that surrounded their first child.

"She has so much hair," he whispered to his queen, looking in frank astonishment at the tiny sleeping girl. His wife, also exhausted, smiled and voiced her agreement before the king was chased out of the room by the newly refreshed midwife. The king listened somewhat contritely to her impatient orders to go away and leave his wife alone so she could rest, and then headed off to the practice courts to work off all the extra energy he had accrued at this late hour. The water baby, happily fed and tucked into a basket near the bed of the head housekeeper, was already asleep. It would be a few months before the king remembered about the other child who was brought into the world of the castle that day, and then only in passing, for he now had to attend to much more important things.