Iylaine was sleeping in her bed.

Iylaine was sleeping in her bed, with the pale northern light coming in to illuminate her fair hair and the curve of her cheek. To Egelric she looked like his little girl again, and it seemed absurd to believe that there was a baby hiding beneath the tented blankets. She was scarcely more than a baby herself.

“Have a peek!” Malcolm whispered eagerly.

“Won’t it wake her?”

“She won’t mind. She wants to show you.”

'She won't mind.  She wants to show you.'

Egelric leaned over the bed and gingerly lifted a corner of the blanket.

The scene was little like that of Wulf’s birth on the first night of spring. This time the light of winter’s first morning was in the room; the young mother’s hair was sleek and free of twigs, her nightgown was clean; and this baby was not looking up at him with wise eyes, as Wulf had been, but sleeping soundly.

Nevertheless, Egelric saw again with breath-​​stopping clarity that other mother – there was the same protective curve of the arm and of all the rest of her body around the baby. And when she opened her eyes, there was that same startled, doe-​​like confusion.

But Iylaine’s face quickly softened into eager pride, and her blue eyes had even a little of the wisdom of Wulf in them.

“Da, did you see the baby I had?” she asked.

“Baby!” he laughed dazedly, forgetting that he was supposed to call her Iylaine.


She was no more than the little girl who had always liked to show him what she had made when he came to Gunnilda’s to fetch her home in the evenings. She would show him her awkward attempts at sewing, the “dress” she had stitched together for her dolly; she would show him the pie she had helped Gunnilda make, or a “pie” she had made all by herself, with clay for a crust and pebbles for berries.

He often thanked the Lord for Lili and told himself that, since Iylaine had returned home to stay, he was living the happiest time of his life. But if at that moment he had been granted the possibility to walk back up that hill through the trees with his little girl chattering at his side, back to that little wooden house that they had shared, they two alone, he might have gone. He might have gone, and he might have stayed, even if it had meant losing everything that had come to him since.

“He’s beautiful,” Egelric said, though he had scarcely looked at the baby so far.

“Show him, Malcolm,” Iylaine commanded.

Malcolm bent at once to pick the baby up from the bed.

Malcolm bent at once to pick the baby up from the bed.

Egelric had had so much experience slinging babies around by this time that he had forgotten just how awkward they seemed to new fathers. He supposed he had looked just as foolish when Finn had come to him, and just as proud, and just as happy.

He supposed he had looked just as foolish when Finn had come to him, and just as proud, and just as happy.

“Wake him up, Malcolm,” Iylaine said. “I want my father to see his eyes. They shall be dark like yours,” she said proudly.

“As long as they aren’t yellow,” Malcolm said. “Do you remember how you used to make fun of me for having yellow eyes?”

'As long as they aren't yellow.'

“They weren’t yellow,” she sighed.

“That didn’t stop you from saying they were,” he said gleefully.

“Let him hold him, Malcolm. Did you tell him what I want to name him?”

“Donnchad,” Malcolm said sheepishly as Egelric extracted the baby from his arms.


“The devil!” Egelric gasped.

“What would your old grandsire say to that?” Malcolm grinned.

“‘The devil!’” Egelric quoted. “I never dared name my boys after him, but if you think you can bear the curse of Donnchad, you’re welcome to it.”

'I shall call him Duncan, anyway.'

“I shall call him Duncan, anyway,” Iylaine said.

“And I shall call him Little Turtle, as I always have,” Malcolm said.

“Oh, Malcolm!” she groaned.

“Oooh, Baby!” he hooted, and for all her apparent displeasure with him, she reached up her arms to him and let him pull her to her feet.

Egelric had never seen her happier.

Egelric had never seen her happier, and if there were any traces of shadows around her eyes now, they were only due to her sleepless night.

There had been many occasions in the last year and in all the years since he had begun to love her that he had doubted he would ever see this day. He had never known how to make her happy, but somehow he had managed to deliver her unto someone who did.

It was a wonder that he did not fear this happiness too would be yanked away, but he did not.

And as for him, it seemed that again and again what should have been the happiest time of his life had been denied him – with Elfleda, with Finn, with Iylaine herself, with Sela, and even with Lili’s little baby of three days. It was a wonder that he did not fear this happiness too would be yanked away, but he did not.

He had come a long way, laboring under curses, but he had arrived, and their weight was lifted. He had seen his daughter’s head held safe and beloved on Malcolm’s shoulder, and held his grandson’s head safe and beloved on his.

He had seen his daughter's head held safe and beloved on Malcolm's shoulder, and held his grandson's head safe and beloved on his.