The Baby in the Palace of Elfhame
a few weeks ago, i mentioned how there aren't enough uncle cardan fics. so i decided to write my own, and here it is! 3k words.
read on ao3 here!
Every day, Taryn says she’ll be heading back to her own place soon, and every day is a test for Cardan to not pop a blood vessel at the screeching child.
Don’t get him wrong, the kid is cute. He’s barely three months now, a small little thing with a very healthy pair of lungs. Thankfully, he isn’t showing much resemblance to his father. He has dark hair, long eyelashes, and a perfectly crafted nose that could easily be accredited to his mother and her twin sister.
But it’s been weeks now. Cardan doesn’t mind having Taryn over, yet he also prefers to sleep at night and not nearly nod off every day while sitting on the dais. He’s caught herself falling asleep twice while listening to the laments of the fae and that simply cannot happen anymore. He doesn’t tolerate weakness, and definitely not as King. Laziness? Well, maybe.
The tight-lipped polite smile he gives to Taryn every morning while rubbing his eyes is pitiful. Jude would laugh at his attempt at being nice if she weren’t about to knock into him, coming out of their bedroom after him.
Cardan always wakes up first. He always has, yet these days, it’s been a feat getting him up. There’s been a lot of shin kicking and muttered swears in the morning, all things that he simply clenches his teeth and tolerates. He gets up, his hair unruly and falling into his eyes, barely getting dressed properly in his doublet and breeches.
When Taryn gave birth, Jude and Cardan were more than happy to lend a few rooms to her and the child. Cardan easily assigned a large amount of servants for Taryn specifically. Everything was provided for her. Vivi even came by to drop off a rather obnoxious box of earplugs. Little did she know that they'd done nothing to help.
This morning, Cardan’s at the table, holding his goblet of (what should be juice) wine to his lips, eyes fluttering shut. His entire head is resting dependently on his palm, elbow digging into the table. Jude is next to him, looking equally as fatigued, the dark circles haunting her fierce face. She’s struggling to keep her eyes open.
Taryn’s across the table, cradling the baby in her arms, a bottle pressed into his mouth to keep him quiet. She glances guiltily at her sister and brother-in-law. It takes her some time to notice that the servants are extra slow too, their own eyes puffy with a lack of sleep. Cardan drinks all his wine and asks for more.
“It’s a little early for a drink,” Jude mutters as a servant steps up and pours more into his goblet. Cardan slides the cup over to her wordlessly and gives her a pointed look.
“We need coffee,” she argues.
Cardan winces at the word. Last time Jude tried to get him to try some coffee, he nearly hurled. It was amusing to watch, but she never offered it again. Occasionally when she still has coffee, he has to stay out of the room because he recalls the bitter, ashy taste on his tongue. She insists that part of the experience with coffee is the smell, but Cardan can name a hundred other things that smell better than coffee beans.
“We need alcohol. Drink it. We have a long day ahead of us.”
Taryn’s silently looking between them still. “Only a few more days, I promise.”
“Take your time,” Jude says quietly and Cardan tries his best not to kick her under the table.
Cardan doesn’t hate Taryn. But between her and the rest of Jude’s… unfortunate family, he definitely prefers Oriana, Oak, and Vivienne. Taryn hasn’t done anything to him personally, however, he feels that she takes advantage of Jude’s kindness. He’s never brought this up to his wife before, wanting to be on good terms with her family because not only does he not want to divide them, but since their marriage, Jude’s family has become his family. He’s never had a healthy relationship with family members, so it’s all a learning process. What he has learned is that Jude’s weakness is her family, and he’d rather not provoke something that will make her defensive. He’s seen the anger in her eyes at Taryn’s trial when she impersonated her and it still makes her shudder when he recalls it.
He’s never cared much for family, but the idea of ruining Jude’s makes him shut his mouth.
He does, however, open his eyes and shoot her an icy glare. She dodges it skillfully and takes a large gulp of the wine, grimacing at the sour taste.
The baby in Taryn’s arms expels the bottle’s nipple from his mouth and opens his mouth, immediately fussing. Cardan slants Jude another look, this one received.
The baby begins to cry immediately and Taryn quickly gets up, excusing herself from the table to save herself from any piercing gazes of frustration.
Jude takes another large gulp of the wine. “Stop looking at me like that.”
“I believe that I am dying Jude.”
“Don’t be dramatic. She’ll leave soon.”
“I just wish to sleep. How can I rule a kingdom without sleeping? Have you seen the garden recently? All the flowers are dead because you and I cannot sleep! This is not how a King and Queen are supposed to appear.”
Jude rubs her temple. “She’s just had the baby. She wants to be near her family. We can’t give her the boot.”
“I’m not suggesting we kick her out. We simply need to get the kid a nanny or a personal servant so he can be … absent for a while. Especially when we sleep. Taken to a different part of the palace.” He sighs deeply. “Preferably the dungeons.”
“We don’t have dungeons.”
“Well, we should. Not for prisoners, but for children who refuse to stop crying.”
Jude opens her mouth to say something scathing to him, but she watches him lay a hand over his face, slumping in his seat a bit. She stops herself from speaking, suddenly remembering how Cardan’s childhood went. She’s seen it in the way Cardan looks at Taryn and the baby when he’s fussing, and how Taryn immediately tends to his needs. She’s been unable to decipher what that look means, but it hits her suddenly as he’s going on and on with awful parenting advice that he’s unsure what a mother is supposed to look like. The baby is supposed to be coddled and loved.
Cardan doesn’t know that since he never had that.
He stops talking, peeking at her. “I wasn’t serious about the dungeon part. But the nanny part, yes. Taryn needs a break too. Look at her.”
“That’s what happens when you have a child,” she tells him, finishing the rest of the wine. Nobody calls for more. “You’re supposed to devote all your time to them, give them everything they need. And Taryn was prepared for that.”
“This castle was not prepared for that. I was not prepared for that because I never needed to be.”
“And when you have children of your own, will you be prepared?”
Cardan narrows his dark eyes at her, removing his hand from his face. He leans in towards her and says, “That will not be for a long, long time.”
Jude suppresses a smile. “I wholeheartedly agree. All I’m saying is that motherhood is difficult, and Taryn is really young so she’s just figuring it out too. Give her some credit.”
“I’m giving her credit, Jude. I also would like my brain to rest.”
They continue to bicker back and forth, but it’s less negatively charged from Jude’s end. She enjoys talking with him like this, and she’s giving him the benefit of the doubt. He wasn’t raised by his mother. He was sent away, just as he describes should be considered with Taryn’s child, though she’s sure he’s only half kidding. There’s something in his eye that tells her a lot of the words he’s blurting are coming from a place of insecurity and fatigue. He wants to deal with the matter and be done with it, just like his mother had done with him for years and years of his life.
He doesn’t need to comment on the father’s role because the child has no father. Jude would argue that being a single mother requires an even stronger support system, yet how is Cardan supposed to know about that, when the man who gave him half of his life was absent and cruel to him? He knows nothing about a mother's role, and even less about a father's.
And his siblings were just as cruel, if not more. He may not understand how Taryn needs Jude, despite it being unfair because Taryn has never been there for Jude. She understands his apprehension for helping Taryn, but also for helping a sibling when he never experienced a relationship with his siblings.
As she listens to him, she can’t help but bite away a smile. He really doesn’t know anything about parenthood.
Cardan wakes at 3 in the morning that night to the sharp cries of the baby. He’s visibly annoyed, a permanent frown etched onto his features. His undereyes are darker than before, jaw tight.
“He’s been crying for some time now,” Jude mutters from beside him, wrapping her arm around his when he sits up. She nuzzles her face into his soft skin. “Stay. You’re warm.”
“Let go, dear wife. I must glamour him. It is our only choice.”
“Cardan,” Jude sighs.
It takes a lot of tugging, but then Jude lets him go and sits up tiredly. She pushes him back down onto the bed and tells him to stay there. Then she heads off to the nursery where the baby is crying.
Cardan waits impatiently, placing his hands over his ears to prevent the sounds of the child, but it does little to nothing to ease him. He stares at the door vehemently, waiting for his wife to return so he can tell her that they will never be having children. Ever. Not if he has to do something about it. So what if there will be no heirs? At least he’ll get to sleep.
Jude returns, but not empty handed. She slips into their room with the baby cradled in her arms, softly swaying him as she closes the door behind her. “Taryn’s just getting up now. She’s coming to get him. I think he’s hungry.”
She sits besides him and then laughs. “Why do you look like that?”
“If it starts crying, I’m banishing you from this bedroom.”
“He,” she corrects, amused. “And no, he’s calm right now. I think he just likes to be held also.”
Cardan peers at the two of them properly, relaxing his features when he indeed sees that the baby is completely calm, staring up at his aunt wordlessly. His mouth is open though. For some time, Cardan simply watches his wife sway the bundle in her arms.
“Right? You like being cuddled, right? Such a cute baby.”
Cardan frowns because she’s never used that voice before. If only the kingdom could see her fearless queen talking to a baby like this. After some staring, he decides he likes the slightly high pitched baby voice she’s doing. It’s interesting to keep finding out things about her. It makes his heart flip-flop in his chest, a prick of longing beginning in his chest.
“How do you know he’s hungry?” Cardan quietly asks.
“Look.” She presses her knuckle to the baby’s mouth, and the small thing latches on immediately. “He’s a hungry little guy. You just want some milk, right?”
Taryn arrives a few moments later, fixing her hair as she reaches them. “Hi, I’m so sorry. Is he okay?”
“Yes,” Jude says, smiling. “Do you want me to warm the milk?”
“I’ll do that. Just hold onto him for a moment, please?” She departs without a glance over her shoulder. Jude stands up and holds the baby out towards Cardan.
“I should go help her.”
Cardan glances at her and then the baby. “What are you doing?”
Her eyes are shining, a smile pulling on her lips despite the way she’s clearly trying to hide it. “Hold your nephew.”
He frowns, clearly not wanting to, and then holds his arms out for the baby to be placed in them. He’s careful, (Jude’s taught him how to hold a child, but that doesn’t mean he likes to), and pulls him to his chest, glancing pointedly at his wife.
“Yes. This is quite the sight. I wish I had a camera.”
“Don’t annoy me further.”
Jude endearingly caresses her husband’s cheek and then tells him, “I’ll be right back.” She leaves quietly, clearly not trying to alarm the baby.
The room is so quiet when she's gone, and Cardan’s becoming tired again, so he sits against the headboard, careful about maneuvering the baby properly. His arm supports the baby’s neck, his hand under the baby’s diapered bottom. He’s still not crying, which is a good sign, but it also makes Cardan nervous because he won’t know what to do when he does start.
Cardan looks down at the bundle, his jaw tight as he examines the baby. He’s a cute thing, of course, and he stares up at Cardan with the same unblinking eyes he receives. Cardan wonders how such a small thing could have such powerful lungs. And how could he have the strength to do it so often? When he was a baby, did he cry so much? There was no way. He recalls being neglected and left out in the cold, but he rarely recalls crying for help.
“Mortals are weak,” he mutters to himself, tilting his head back and closing his eyes. “Getting hungry so often, desperate so often. Cold so often.” His eyes open suddenly and he looks back at the baby. “Are you cold?”
When he was forced to sleep out in the barn, he often became sick due to the cold. He remembers that feeling very well, and a shiver runs through his spine at the thought of anyone else suffering through the same experience. The baby is in warm clothing, but do mortal children get colder than fae children?
He doesn’t want to risk it. Balancing the baby in the crook of his arm, he pulls the duvet around him, covering both him and the baby.
“Is that better?” The baby’s eyes are closing slowly. The odd feeling in his chest returns. Perhaps it’s satisfaction. “Good.”
He tilts his own head back, closing his eyes. The warmth is pulling him back into sleep, so he gives in easily, his shoulders relaxing, still wary of the baby in his arms. He finds sleep quickly. He should care that he’s showing weakness. As the King, he must always show fierceness, not…whatever this is. He should care that Jude will enter and take the baby from him and perhaps ridicule him for being so soft. He should care that this is the same child that has taken away his sleep numerous times.
But in this particular moment, surrounded by warmth, both outside and inside him, he doesn’t care.
Jude enters just two minutes later, jerking to a stop at the sight in front of her. Cardan’s peaceful face matches the baby’s, both of their mouths slightly open as they sleep. Cardan's curls are in his eyes, a stark difference from his pale skin adorned by the moonlight. His chest rises and falls gently, lips puffy when he releases air from his mouth. He doesn't look like the intimidating once Prince and now King that she's accustomed to. He shows his vulnerable side in private, keeping his guard up at all other times. But now?
The baby looks small in his arms, smaller than usual. His hands are splayed around against the baby's swaddled back to ensure his safety, holding him gently to his chest. She could stare at the two of them all day long. There are many moments where her breath hitches at the sight of Cardan's unbelievable beauty, but this is just cruel. How could someone be so flawless? She really wishes she had a camera. She wants this burned into her brain forever, or tattooed behind her eyelids.
Her heart tugs as she forces herself to move. She doesn’t wish to, but she slowly takes the baby out of Cardan’s arms, and steps back. Taryn comes up behind her and softly laughs.
“Seems like they're getting along.”
“I knew they would,” Jude says, giving the baby to her sister. She doesn’t turn to watch Taryn leave the room, instead heading to her side of the bed and tucking herself in. She can't help but run his hand over his thigh gently to get his attention, rousing him softly. He's near deep sleep, but his fingers twitch and then she shuffles closer to his body, unable to hold herself back from seeking her husband's warmth.
Cardan wakes at the movement, blinking his eyes open, glancing down at his wife. He looks at his arms next. There's a slight glimmer of panic in them at the absence of the child. It makes her heart hurt even more, watching his lips thin as he glances around him. “Where is he?”
“I gave him to Taryn. Come here, my love. It's time to sleep.”
He’s too tired to argue, relief flooding his features. He slides down onto the mattress and lets Jude bring him closer, tucking his head into her neck. He inhales softly. “You smell like him.”
“Is that bad?”
“No. It’s nice.”
“You smell like him too.”
Cardan hums, his eyelashes fluttering against her neck as his eyes close. His weak arms wrap around her waist, a heavy sigh leaving him. He’s asleep before he’s able to say anything about how he never wants to smell like a mortal, and Jude lightly scratches his head, her own eyes closing.
Thankfully, they don’t wake up again until morning.