Bertram woke with a jolt. According to his nightmare, he was late for school. If he didn’t get a move on, he was sure to miss the bus. He didn’t face a grilling by his geography teacher Miss Petrenko. The last thing that any child, let alone an 11 year old boy needed, was to be in the bad books of the worst teacher in the world.
Bertram rubbed the crusty sleep from his eyes. His pyjamas soaked with sweat and anxiety. He hated nightmares. Thankfully, he didn’t have them very often, but when he did, they were terrifying and in full-colour. His nightmares always had the same theme; Miss Petrenko out to destroy him in some painfully slow process she had cooked up for his demise.
Bertram looked at his wrist watch. It was 6 O’clock in the morning. He didn’t have to be at school for ages yet. OR DID HE?
Bertram smiled, suddenly remembering that there was NO SCHOOL TODAY. It was the best fact ever! School had been cancelled for a staff training day, and tomorrow would be the weekend. Three WHOLE days off from school.
Feeling quite relaxed and back to his usual happy self, it didn’t take Bertram long to doze off, this time to more pleasant dreams of magic and epic adventures.
‘Alllllaaaaahhhhh. Allaaaahhhaaaaa’. A baby screamed in the room next door. A horrible loud noise, and quite incredible that a sound so ear splitting could come from such a tiny baby. It was swaddled up in a blanket inside its Moses basket. There was nothing wrong with the baby’s lungs, that was for sure!
Bertram woke with a start, rudely awoken by the baby’s screams. His heart now racing so fast he thought it might just jump out of his chest. His mum had only brought the new baby home from hospital last night and already it felt like the house had been turned upside down.
Bertram had a number of siblings, most of them older than him, and he had hoped that JUST FOR ONCE the newest addition to the family might be a sister, rather than another smelly and competitive brother.
Yes, he wasn’t especially fond of the sisters he had, but it was different with them. They were older sisters and annoying ones at that. Always complaining about boys and make up, but he thought that a YOUNGER sister might be a nice change. A baby sister that he could spend time with, and might grow up to be more like his best friend, and only child Molly. She was kind and caring, and very smart and interesting. Bertram would love to have a sister like that, one that could enjoy the same things as him. But fate had other plans, and instead of a sweet little sister, Bertram was landed with another brother. This one the noisiest of them all when it came to crying.
Bertram climbed out of bed, and folded back the duvet, careful not to wake his three older brothers snoring away in the bunk beds beside him. The baby was still crying but his mum had not woken up, nor had any of his brothers and sisters. Unless of course they were just pretending to be asleep so that none of them would have to deal with it, which he suspected might be the case with his older siblings.
Bertram crept very quietly into his mum’s bedroom, pushing her door ajar slowly so as not to startle her if she was woke. The floorboards were creaky in mum’s room, and it was tricky not to bump into anything, what with mum’s room being the smallest room in the house.
Bertram leant over the Moses basket, and tucked his warm hands underneath the baby, making sure that the head was supported, just like mum had shown him. The baby was as hot and sweaty as Bertram was, only the baby was hot from crying loudly, rather than from any nightmares about Miss Petrenko. The baby was lucky not to have those nightmares!
Bertram peered in his mum’s direction. She was fast asleep, and looked exhausted. She could really use a good rest right now, and since Bertram was awake anyway there was no need to disturb her.
Bertram held the baby close, it had that smell that all new-born babies have about them, kind of sweet like talcum powder.
The baby looked so perfect and yet so small. Bertram held the infant’s tiny fingers in his own. His hands looked like the hands of a giant compared to the baby’s perfectly formed teeny-weeny fingers and fingernails.
Bertram hadn’t much liked the name that his mum had chosen for the baby, it was a bit old fashioned, but in a funny way, now that he looked closely at the baby’s face, it did seem to suit him. Clarence Verne Bile. But it was a bit of mouthful. Bertram decided to shorten it to Lar. That way, when it came to the baby learning his name and trying to speak for the first time, it would be much easier for him to say ‘Lar’ than ‘Clarence’.
‘There there Lar. It’s OK. Shush now’. Bertram held the baby close and rocked his own body from side to side in an attempt to soothe the bay’s cries. From the smell of him, Bertram was pretty sure the baby needed a nappy change, and luckily for baby Lar, his big brother Bertram was very experienced with babies, what with having so many siblings already.
The baby opened its mouth as it tried to eat Bertram’s t-shirt. It was ready for a feed by the look of things. Not surprising with all the growing ahead of it.
Bertram carried the baby downstairs to the living room, and pulled out the changing mat. Mum was very organised with these things, and all of her children had been changed on this same mat as babies and toddlers. Mum had thought it a waste of money to throw things out for new ones, even though the mat was shabby and torn. Mum had bought it for her first child when he was a baby, and he was now 20 years old and away at university. Mum was so efficient when it came to organising things for the baby, everything needed for a nappy change or a feed was always close to hand and ready and waiting.
Bertram was a pro at changing nappies, and it didn’t take long to make the baby more comfortable. Baby Lar smiled up at Bertram. At least, Bertram THOUGHT it was a smile, but it might have just been wind? Either way, the baby already seemed happier. He was definitely hungry and he was trying to grab and pull anything within his grasp, into his mouth, including the baby wipes and dirty nappy which Bertram had thankfully placed just out of the baby’s reach. Good job too otherwise things could have got very messy!
Bertram gently placed the baby in his bouncy chair, careful to make sure the straps were fastened, and gave it a little push to start the rocking motion. The baby kicked his legs out and waved his bare arms, apparently delighted with his seat. He looked so sweet and content now. Very different to the baby that had been screaming its head off just a few moments ago.
Bertram walked into the kitchen and took one of the bottles of baby milk that mum had prepared the night before. He took great care, and heated it up, splashing drops of milk on his arm to check the temperature was just right.
Baby Lar sucked hard on the bottle, making loud slurping noises as he filled up his belly. He must have been starving. He obviously took after Bertram in the food department!
Bertram picked up the baby, and with a white cloth strategically placed on his shoulder to collect any baby sick, he tenderly patted the palm of his hand on the baby’s back.
The baby let out several VERY LOUD, air filled BURPS. If there was a prize for baby winding, then it would definitely go to Bertram. He was a super hero when it came to babies and was often praised by his mum and her friends for being so great with the little ones.
It didn’t look like the baby was going to go back to sleep any time soon. His eyes were wide open as he tried hard to focus on his surroundings and the face of his new big brother Bertram.
If it had been a school day, Bertram would have been tired and ready to return to his bed, but for some reason he was wide awake today, and decided to sit with the baby on the floor of the living room telling him stories. The baby listened closely to every word Bertram told him and moved his arms and legs in great delight, hiccoughing every few moments, and startling himself in the process. The world must have seemed very strange to the baby having only been in it for a matter of days. How weird it would be to see things for the very first time and not knowing who or what they were.
Bertram had so much he wanted to teach baby Lar about the magical world, and he hoped that one day he might be able to introduce the baby to their aunty Hester; a kindly witch who lived deep inside the roots of a beautiful old ash tree. Bertram would have to ask Hester’s advice on how to transport the baby through time first. In case it hurt him somehow. He’d have trouble explaining a lost baby to his mum, that was for sure!
The baby stared intensely as Bertram told him all about Eagle Hawk the heron who lived at the top of the tree, and of Niddy the worm who thought he was a dragon, and Ratty Ratto the rude squirrel with the leather jacket and pierced nose and ears.
Bertram told Lar about the other aunties; triplets, Wryd, Verdandi, and Skuld. They were the guardians of the past, present, and future. He told the baby about aunty Hester’s yummy cakes and of the magical golden goggles that transported him and his best friend Molly through time.
Hester had given Bertram and Molly cloaks to wear that changed their clothing to whatever was right for the time they were in, and had presented Bertram with his very own wand made from the wood of the old ash tree. Hester had even taught him his first spell, and promised to teach him more as he got used to being the last norn (user of magic) in the whole world.
Bertram told the little baby about his responsibility to make sure that the old ash tree; the tree of all life, and the protector of the River Thames never EVER died. He told him the baby that one day, he would show him this magic world.
As Bertram chatted away to the baby who seemed to be listening closely to his every word, Bertram began to feel that JUST MAYBE having a baby brother instead of the sister he had hoped for, wasn’t so bad after all. This little brother would be different to the others. Bertram could just sense it. There was something about him that was different to the other babies.