'Oh dear God in heaven!'

“Oh dear God in heaven!” Egelric said reverently.

He had opened the bedroom door to find the couch pulled into the center of the floor and his wife standing upon it, entirely naked but for her long hair.

“Ach, no!” she laughed.

“Is this what you do in here when I stay up late talking to Wyn?”

'Is this what you do in here when I stay up late talking to Wyn?'

“Not usually. Look!” she whined. “I was trying to see myself in the mirror. I’m too short to see anything but my face.”

“Henny, I put that mirror in here so I could trim my beard. Since I don’t usually trim anything lower than my neck, I hung it high. Now tell me, clever one, why you moved Lili up high rather than moving the mirror down low?”

'Now tell me, clever one, why you moved Lili up high rather than moving the mirror down low?'

“I thought of that!” she laughed. “Don’t look so smug. But the mirror is so heavy, and I was afraid I would drop it and break it, and that’s bad luck.”

“Instead you climb up on the couch and risk breaking this Lili, and that would be bad luck indeed.”

“I didn’t fall!”

“And that proves you couldn’t have?”

He held up his arms to help her down, but she took it as an invitation to leap into them.

She took it as an invitation to leap into them.

“Ach, Lili!” he groaned. “Every time my back starts feeling better, I do something it regrets.”

“I’m not heavy,” she mumbled into his neck.

“And I’ve been telling the boys Da can’t pick them up, and that goes three times as much for you. Down you go.”

“Na ja!” she sighed.

'Na ja!'

“And next time please ask me to move the mirror for you. No more climbing on the furniture for you, girlie,” he scolded.

“I was careful,” she pouted, but he could see how keen was the glance she sent up at him. She was wondering whether he knew, he thought. He winked at her, and she tried to hide a smile.

He winked at her, and she tried to hide a smile.

Together they dragged the couch back into the corner, and then he said, “Now that we’ve returned this room and my back to the state they were in three nights ago, would you happen to have the kindness to unlace the old man’s boots?”

“That’s a fine excuse,” she giggled, but she pushed him over to the chair and got down on the floor before him.

“Now what were you trying to see in that mirror?” he asked her. “If you were only wondering how beautiful you are, you could have asked me or any man.”

'Now what were you trying to see in that mirror?'

He supposed she had been trying to see the profile of her belly, but he was curious to see whether she would admit it.

“I only wanted to see whether all the candy and cake we ate at Freya’s made me fat.”

“You are looking a little fat lately,” he nodded.

“I am?” she gasped.

“I thought you were looking distinctly plumper when you came home.”

“I was?” she asked, squinting suspiciously.

'I was?'

“Your little dresses are definitely tighter. So much so that I think you had better start fasting for Advent a little earlier this year. I shall tell Cook to stop making cake.”

“Ach, no!” she cried. “It’s not for almost another week!”

He wondered whether her love of sweets would be enough to tease her secret out of her, but it seemed not. She planted her hands rather too firmly on his knees and pushed herself up. “All done! You may take them off yourself, sir. I don’t want my nose to be too close to your feet when the boots come off.”

“A sage precaution.”

'A sage precaution.'

She sauntered over to the fireside and asked, feigning carelessness, “What were you talking about with Wyn?”

“Business,” he chuckled.

“The sort of business unfit for ladies’ ears?”

“Some of that sort, it’s true. Mostly the boring sort.”

“Does he have a lover?” she asked with a directness startling even for Lili.

'Does he have a lover?'

“Wyn?” he asked. “What do you mean, Lil? He has engaged in ‘business’ before, if that’s what you’re wondering. He’s thirty years old, for Christ’s sake.”

“I know, but is there someone he loves?”

“Lili,” he sighed.

He pulled off his tunic to stall for time. He wondered how much he could tell her. She was his wife, but Ethelwyn was his friend, and a man. Also, Lili was Hetty’s sister.

“Not anymore,” he finally said.

“So, does he want to get married?” she asked with a brightness that showed she had not detected the sad story behind his words.

'So, does he want to get married?'

“Why? Do you have someone in mind for him?”

“I think he should marry Ana! She is looking for a husband, and her uncle wants her to marry this dreadful man who lives far away, and she wants to stay here with her friends. And I think Wyn needs a wife. He’s thirty, as you say, and he does like children, and I think he ought to have those too.”

'I think he ought to have those too.'

“He likes the boys, Lili, but it might be that he likes other men’s children better than he would like his own. And I truly do not think that he’s looking for a wife. There are some advantages to bachelorhood, you know. I think Wyn’s the sort who likes to engage in a little ‘business’ on the side, but doesn’t want to set up shop for himself, if you see what I mean.”

'Wyn's the sort who likes to engage in a little 'business' on the side.'

“But you like being married.”

I like being married to Lili, but Wyn won’t have that chance. And, anyway, he’s so strict and set in his ways that he couldn’t bear to have his routine altered by any woman. What if he got married, and then he found out that his wife tucked the blankets under the pillows rather than over? He would die of a stopped heart.”

'He would die of a stopped heart.'

“Don’t make fun! If he has a wife as pretty as Ana, he will only hope that she tucks the blankets in such a way that he can get into bed with her as quickly as possible.”

Egelric laughed. “Poor innocent! You think all men are like your husband!”

“Aren’t they?”

“Aye, but less so.”

'Aye, but less so.'

“Well, I wish you would tell him he should get married, Egelric,” she pouted. “You simply give him the idea, and then I shall find a way to throw him and Ana together until they fall in love and he wants to marry her.”

Egelric was about to warn her against attempting to play matchmaker, but she spoke first.

“Then she could come and live with us, and I wouldn’t be alone anymore.”

“Are you lonely, henny?”

'A little bit.'

“A little bit. Sometimes. You’re so busy during the day.”

“Poor wee hen,” he sighed. “It will be a lonely winter for you, won’t it?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Just an idea I have,” he winked.

“Do you know?” she asked, beginning to smile in spite of herself.

'Do you know?'

“I can only guess.”

“Did you guess?”

“You make it easy if I catch you climbing on the furniture trying to get a look at your belly.”

She giggled briefly, but then she let her face fall against his shoulder. “I thought it would make me happy to have you know, but it only makes me sad.”

'I thought it would make me happy to have you know, but it only makes me sad.'

Egelric cradled her closer. “Why, then?”

“Because now you know, and you will start loving him. I wish I could wait to tell you after he comes. A week or a month after. So I know.”

“But, Lili, if you could do that, then I wouldn’t have had those three days.”

“But then you wouldn’t be sad now.”

“Would you have me never be happy so that I might never be sad?”

She thought about this for a moment. “I don’t know.”

'I don't know.'

“I do not regret having known that funny little person, even if I am a more sorrowful man for it now. And besides, if the Lord is truly as all-​forgiving as Father Brandt says, and I do make it to Paradise after all, I would feel like an ass if some handsome young man comes up to me and says, ‘Hallo, Da,’ and I say, ‘Who the devil are you, and why do you have my nose?’”

Lili giggled against his neck. “I thought you said he was handsome.”

“Very funny.”

She lifted her head and reached up to touch his nose and mouth and chin, thoughtfully, and he stood quietly and let her.

She lifted her head and reached up to touch his nose and mouth and chin.

“Do you know what I think?” she asked.

“That I’m handsome.”

“That too,” she smiled. “But I think that we should try and try to be happy whenever we can and however we can, even if there is a risk that we will be made unhappy. I think we must keep trying.”

“It took me forty years to come to that conclusion, Lili.”

“That is because you didn’t have me until then!”

“That is precisely why.”

'That is precisely why.'