'Merry Christmas!'

“Merry Christmas!” Egelric beamed.

Malcolm smiled, but he closed his eyes and lolled his head as if he had recently taken the worst of a fistfight.

“Iylaine awake? Those young animals wanted to come, but I told them she might still be sleeping.”

“She is.”

“Damn! Well, I shall kiss her anyway, and you may tell her that her Da was here. What about you?” Egelric asked with sudden scrutiny. “You look like the devil’s dishrag this morning. Iylaine wouldn’t let you sleep?”

'Iylaine wouldn't let you sleep?'

“No, she did not!”

“And now she’s sleeping, and you’re not!” Egelric laughed. “I like that! Wait – she didn’t…”




“The devil! On Christmas?”

“That’s what I tried to tell her!” Malcolm squeaked.

'That's what I tried to tell her!'

“But is she…”

“She’s well.”

“And the…”

“He’s well.”

He is! He is! And you’re standing here making calf’s eyes at me like a dimwit!” Egelric shoved Malcolm into the house and came in after him, yanking off his cloak as he went.

Malcolm only stood and smiled foolishly at him.

Malcolm only stood and smiled foolishly at him.

“But why didn’t you send to us?” Egelric asked. “Lili wanted to come!”

“She wouldn’t even let me send for Mother Curran!” Malcolm cried, and now, in his indignation, the words poured forth. “Every time I tried to go for her, Baby burned something! I tried to get my cloak; she set it on fire. I tried to get my boots; she burned the laces off. Anything that wasn’t quite as she wanted it, she burned. Once I tried to wipe the sweat off her brow, and she set fire to the towel right in my hand because I ‘did it wrong’!”

'Once I tried to wipe the sweat off her brow, and she set fire to the towel right in my hand.'

“Don’t tell me you were there!”

Malcolm closed his eyes and sighed.

“The devil!” Egelric said in an awed whisper. “Do you have anything to drink in this house?”

'Do you have anything to drink in this house?'

“Not anymore!”

“But what do you know about… that?” Egelric whispered.

“Nothing! I simply did exactly as she said so she wouldn’t burn my hair off. And don’t ask me to do it again! I kept waiting for her to get to the difficult part, where the women start howling, and not a peep did she ever make. And suddenly I realized it was over.”

“And you had a son!”

'He already has eyelashes and fingernails and everything!'

“And you should see him!” Malcolm gabbled. “He already has eyelashes and fingernails and everything!”

“I hope I shall see him, boy! What are we doing standing around in the hall, anyway? Where are you hiding him?”

'Where are you hiding him?'

All the while Mother Curran had been in the kitchen whinnying her distress at being unable to leave her breakfast preparations, but she finally came tottering out to meet them, wailing, “Sir Egelric! Sir Egelric!” as she went.

“Warty! Where are you ever when we need you?”

'Where are you ever when we need you?'

“Oh, Sir Egelric! Have you ever heard anything so scandalous in your life?”

“I could tell you a few stories from my youth that might shock you more, Warty.”

“You never helped no babies come, did you?”

“No, but I got a few started on their way. Where are you hiding this one, Warty?” Egelric laughed wickedly and began patting the old woman down her flanks. “In your dress?”

'Where are you hiding this one, Warty?'

“Oh! You old devil!” she shrieked and pushed him away, but in truth Mother Curran was never happier than when being teased by Sir Egelric, unless it was when she was being kissed and caressed by Sir Malcolm and Lady Iylaine. “He’s back in bed with his mama – where else would he be, the poor lamb!”

“Turtle,” Malcolm corrected.


“A turtle! He’s a perfectly ordinary, perfectly beautiful baby, is all!” she cried. “He doesn’t have no shell. And he has perfectly round ears,” she added smugly.

“The ears come later,” Egelric reminded her. “Perhaps the shell too.”

“Oh!” she gasped, further scandalized. “Heaven help us!”

'Heaven help us!'