As of this Friday afternoon in mid-December, the lesson had not yet been learnt.

In times to come Angharat would never again attempt to explain away a “bad feeling,” but as of this Friday afternoon in mid-​December, the lesson had not yet been learnt.

There was something grim and foreboding about the day. The dark clouds scarcely seemed to move across the sky, and they pressed down on the valley like a thick blanket meant to muffle her cries, or even simply to smother her where she stood.

Ana told herself that it was but a sky threatening snow, though the threat only seemed to grow more ominous as it held off hour after hour, ever since the afternoon of the day before.

The house too was unnaturally quiet.

The house too was unnaturally quiet: that should have been a clear warning to her. Sophie’s house was always a bedlam of ill-​behaved servants, quarrelsome teenaged siblings, a shrewish mother-​in-​law, a crying baby, a boorish husband, and wild Sophie herself.

Ana did not like to visit there, but it was the only gentleman’s house between her sister’s manor and Bernwald. The house was at a distance of about one hour from her sister’s and a half hour from Bernwald, so she was often tempted to ride on past and finish the trip in one go.

But this afternoon there was that menacing sky.

But this afternoon there was that menacing sky—and besides, she had promised Sophie.

Nevertheless, after waiting for a while by the fire in the empty hall, she began to wonder whether she could find the shifty-​eyed servant who had taken her cloak, and whether she would dare interrupt her groom’s refreshment-​taking in the kitchen. Snow or no snow, promise or no promise…

Snow or no snow, promise or no promise...

Then she heard someone coming at last.

“Ana! Ana!” It was Leofwine. “What a pleasant surprise!” he said with an awkward grin.

'What a pleasant surprise!'

Ana had the idea that Sophie’s husband was somewhat in awe of her for being a true lady and granddaughter of the old Baron, whereas he knew himself for only a wealthy farmer’s son, raised unexpectedly to the rank of knight.

But in her own awe of him, she forgot even to wish him a good afternoon, for her awe was of the more primitive, pulse-​quickening variety. Leofwine was a burly young man, with jaws like a mastiff, a neck like a bull, and arms that were famous for feats of weight-​lifting and stone-​hurling. Leofwine was also rude, foul-​tempered, and often drunk.

'Is it a surprise?'

“Is it a surprise?” she gasped.

Leofwine seemed to take her question as a bit of flirtation on her part, and his awe of her melted away. “Well, now,” he said with a knowing smile. “A pleasant happening, in any case. I’m so glad to see you.”

'A pleasant happening, in any case.'

“But isn’t Sophie here?”

“No, they’re all gone today.” He laughed crudely. “My uncle’s step-​daughter got herself in trouble with a groom, and today’s her wedding day. They all went for that. It’s like Sophie, isn’t it? To want to go see some village slut get hitched. But the girl is Osgyth’s friend.”

Ana was aghast. Though she knew what it meant, never had a gentleman pronounced the word “slut” in her presence.

She had remained seated on the couch.

She had remained seated on the couch, as the difference in their heights imposed some minimal distance between her and Leofwine, but he came then to join her without even asking her leave.

“But did they all go?” she asked. “Even your brother?”

She did not know of what aid Leofwine’s thirteen-​year-​old brother could be to her, but she wanted to have the feeling that she was not alone with Leofwine in this empty house. The winter light in the windows did not serve to brighten the room but only made the shadows deeper. The house was stiller and darker than night.

“They all went,” he agreed. “I don’t know what Thurstan meant to do. Eat, probably. Oh, but the baby’s here!”

“The baby!” Ana felt so senselessly relieved that she gave a queer laugh.

'The baby!'

“We can go see him later, if you want. He’s weaned, you know. That’s Sophie! Couldn’t get him out her arms fast enough. Now she can run around again, just as she likes, and leave him and me at home.”

Angharat did not know what to say, but she was beginning to believe that Leofwine was not only in his usual foul humor but was also drunk.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” he slurred. “I was just feeling sorry for myself ’cause I’m here all alone and they didn’t even care enough to invite me. But now I have you all to myself, and you and I shall have some fun.”

'You and I shall have some fun.'

“But I think perhaps I had better go, if Sophie isn’t here…”

“But I thought you had them take your things up to your room?”

“Yes, but I didn’t know Sophie wasn’t here.”

“So? They weren’t taking your things up to my room,” he laughed. “Unless you gave the order.”

'Unless you gave the order.'

Angharat had seen much of Sophie’s and Lili’s flirtations with all men and sundry, and although it was not in her own nature, she had grown accustomed to the behavior. It seemed that both parties always knew that it was only a game. And so, she told herself, Leofwine was probably simply a masculine version of his wife in that regard.

Still, it was not in Ana’s nature. “I was only supposed to spend the night,” she protested, “and then go on to Nothelm in the morning. So, if Sophie isn’t here, I might as well go all the way today.”

“Nonsense! Have you seen the sky? It could snow any minute.”

“It has been looking like that since yesterday afternoon.”

'It has been looking like that since yesterday afternoon.'

“Which means that when it comes down, it will really come down! There’s no rush, is there? You can stay and sup here tonight, as you had planned, and then I can take you to Nothelm in the morning. If there’s not too much snow, that is. Meanwhile I shall try to provide you with all the entertainment my humble house and my humble person can offer. Since I know how unworthy either of those are, I can assure you that I shall be both grateful to you and in your debt. And I shan’t have to spend another evening alone.”

Ana cringed at his crude gallantry. She knew that he had not begun to move in her circles until he was already a young man, and so he combined the fine words of a gentleman with the vulgar directness of a peasant, and the result was more distasteful to her than either would have been alone, even from Leofwine’s part.

There were ill-​mannered men at her uncle’s court, of course, but Ana had never had to face them alone. There was always her uncle or some other gentleman to defend her. Now she did not know what to do. She needed a man to whisk her away from there, or at least to put Leofwine in his place—for just then he seemed to think his place was steadily moving closer and closer to her on the couch.

Just then he seemed to think his place was steadily moving closer and closer to her on the couch.

His weight on the cushions was tipping her even closer to him, and yet there was something so repulsive about him that she drew instinctively away. She was certain his hands would be hot and sweaty, and she could already tell that his breath stank of ale.

And just as she disliked pigs for their shiny pink skin and intelligent eyes that made them seem uncannily humanlike, so she disliked Leofwine for some unnamable features that made him seem disturbingly piglike—it was perhaps even the small, dark eyes themselves in his broad face, and his shiny pink skin.

She rose abruptly from the couch.

She imagined that his flesh would taste like pork, and at the thought she rose abruptly from the couch, her hand trembling at her mouth against a surge of nausea. She did not even like pork—so pale and yet so chewy—so fatty—

Leofwine had risen after her. “Are you ill?” he asked gently, but his concern seemed to her an excuse to stand close to her, to lean close to her, to hold his face near hers when he spoke.

'Are you ill?'

“I think I should go,” she whispered.

“If you’re feeling ill, you shouldn’t go anywhere,” he said. “Why don’t you come lie down on the couch?”

“Oh, no!” she gasped.

“Now, now, come lie down for a while. You’ll feel better in no time. Don’t be afraid,” he coaxed.

'Now, now, come lie down for a while.'

His command not to be afraid frightened her more than anything. What was there to be afraid of in a couch? He had something else in mind, and meant to convince her he did not.

“I want to go!” she cried.

“Now, you just got here!”

“Please call my groom,” she said, trying to make it sound like an order.

'Please call my groom.'

“He just got here too,” he coaxed. “Come lie down.”

His hands were darting at her, hovering over her like harriers in search of their prey. If she would not come, he meant to lead her, but he still had enough awe of her not to touch her.

Though she had never had occasion to employ the tactic, Ana had some idea that when confronted by the unwelcome advances of a man, a lady was permitted to slap him across the face, and this she attempted.

A lady was permitted to slap him across the face.

It had been many years since she had engaged in slapping matches with her sister, and her slap did not even sting her own palm, much less, she thought, the man’s cheek.

“Now, that was quite unnecessary,” he said.

She had dispelled the last of his awe of her, and now he gripped her shoulders in his big hands.

Now he gripped her shoulders in his big hands.

“Let me go, please, please,” she chittered.

“Let’s go back to the couch,” he said, but the clutch of his hot hands on her shoulders belied the softness of his voice.

Ana had been afraid at various times in her seventeen years, but all of that now seemed a mere intellectual pastime compared to this bodily terror. Nothing in her life had prepared her for this: the manifest helplessness of ladies before warriors was such that the ladies had no choice but to trust the men.

Ana did not know what was happening to her or what to do, but her body knew all of this. Her body began to struggle instinctively and planted her hands on his shoulders to push him away. But Leofwine was massive and sturdy as a pillar, and she only succeeded in pushing herself away from him, losing her balance and falling backwards to dash her shoulder against the sharp corner of the fireplace.

She lost her balance and fell backwards to dash her shoulder against the sharp corner of the fireplace.

But Leofwine caught her before she fell away from him, steadying her with one arm around her back, and with the opposite hand he pulled her hips roughly against his.

With the opposite hand he pulled her hips roughly against his.

Now she could not even stand unaided. Now she was hanging from his arms and from hers, which were clutching his shoulders even as he had been clutching hers only a moment before. Now he had abandoned the pretense of her illness and even of the couch.

She turned her face away from his hot, drunken breath in revulsion, but he came after her with a gloating, grunting laugh and began rooting around her neck and in her hair with his wet mouth.

He began rooting around her neck and in her hair with his wet mouth.

Ana did not know how to scream—she tried, but her screams came out as tiny, helpless squeals. These were the things that never happened to girls she knew. These were the things that even bold girls like Sophie and Lili spoke of in whispered half-​sentences that were completed with nods and met with gasps—but if Sophie and Lili could speak of them, she saw now, they did not know what they were saying.

She could not push herself away from him, but there was one thing she could do, though it was not intentional: her knees folded beneath her and she sank away from his mouth.

Her knees folded beneath her and she sank away from his mouth.

But he pressed her so tightly against him that she was acutely aware as she descended of her breasts being dragged down his chest and waist and down over the buckle of his belt.

When her knees hit the floor, he grabbed a fistful of her hair and pulled her face against his groin; and when at last she was able to turn her face away from the stifling cloth of his tunic, she found the voice to scream.

She found the voice to scream.

“Damn it, be quiet!” he growled and he swiped at her head with one of his big hands.

Angharat was nearly helpless on her knees in her skirts: she could not crawl and she could not stand. He grabbed her arm and jerked her to her feet, so roughly that he spun her body around until her back slammed into the mantle.

He spun her body around until her back slammed into the mantle.

Ana was stunned by the crack of pain across her shoulder blades, but Leofwine too was startled by what he had done, and he let go of her arm. It was the chance she needed, and she ran.

She ran.

“Keep your mouth shut, damn it!” he roared after her. “Don’t you go telling tales!”

But by some miracle he did not follow.

Ana ran for the door that opened onto the rear court and the stables beyond. Her only thoughts were that she had a horse, and that she needed to get away as quickly as possible.

She instinctively screamed and ducked away from the man who was even then coming up the stairs to the door, but after a moment she recognized his face and its hesitant, confused smile.

She recognized his face and its hesitant, confused smile.

“Ana?” It was her cousin Eadwyn.

She ran at him and wrapped her arms around him, holding him as tightly as she had been held a moment before.

She ran at him and wrapped her arms around him.


“Take me home with you!” she sobbed. Eadwyn lived at Nothelm. She was going to Nothelm. God Himself had sent Eadwyn to her.

“Ana, I j-​j-​just got here!” he said. “What’s happening? Where’s Sophie?”

'What's happening?  Where's Sophie?'

“Sophie isn’t here! Only Leofwine is here!”

“What’s this?” he asked suspiciously. But his arms that had been hesitantly patting at her back now began to tighten themselves around her.

“Sophie made me promise, but she wasn’t even here, and only Leof was here, and—take me away!”

“J-​j-​just a moment, now. D-​d-​did something happen here? Did he hurt you?”

“Yes!” she cried, thinking of her bruised back and the throbbing pain in her arm where she had fallen against the sharp corner of the mantle.

“Oh, Ana!” he gasped.

'Oh, Ana!'

“No!” she wailed, thinking of what Eadwyn was thinking, but at the thought she reflexively wiped her hand down her throat where the wet trail left by Leofwine’s mouth had scarcely had the time to dry. “Yes! Oh, please, take me away from here!”

“I shall t-​t-​take you straight to Bernwald,” he said.

“No! Nothelm! Take me home with you! All the way!”

“Nothelm, then, Nothelm,” he soothed, “or anywhere, anywhere you want to go. Do you have a cloak, or…?”

“Inside! And all my things! I don’t care! Just take me away!”

'I don't care!  Just take me away!'

“Ana, it’s c-​c-​cold. I shall only run in and g-​g-​get you your c-​c-​cloak or one of Sophie’s. And then we shall go. And I shall come back later t-t-to—f-f-for your things. Will you stand here a moment? Just a moment while I g-​g-​get you something to wear?”

“Take me now!”

“Hush, Ana. I’ll only be a moment and then we shall go. T-​t-​trust me, now. Only a moment. You’re already on your way, Ana. You’re already gone.”

'You're already on your way, Ana.  You're already gone.'