'Your Grace!'

“Your Grace!”

He had run, he had dodged the startled servants, but as always, always, he was prevented from joining his wife.

Alred could not imagine what horrors could possibly lie behind that ominous door that would be too much for a man to bear – and not only a man, but a soldier, who had seen men hacked to pieces, who knew what was on the inside of every part of a man’s body.

Alred could not imagine what horrors could possibly lie behind that ominous door.

Of course this was a woman’s body, but it was his wife’s, and he knew it well. And Malcolm had caught his own son in his hands, and Malcolm had neither turned to stone nor been struck mad or blind.

If he could have been at Hetty’s side, he would have known how to be strong for Hetty. He did not know how to be strong alone – and he did not even have Sigefrith or Cenwulf or Egelric tonight.

But it was Gunnilda who had met him in the corridor. She would scold him, but she would be some comfort too.

She would be some comfort too.

She stopped him in his dash for the door by planting her little body directly in his path. He grabbed her by the arms and found the sleeves of her dress wet. The front of her dress was wet, too, as if she had been holding something wet against her body. His child?


But first there was Hetty.

“How is she?” he asked.

Gunnilda hesitated. “Can’t you hear her?”

'Can't you hear her?'

Now that he took a moment to listen, he realized he could hear his wife moaning like the north wind behind the door.

“Is it so bad?” he squeaked.

Alred could not imagine why women had been imposed this burden and not men. Eve might have sinned, but if Adam had been a gentleman he would have lied for her sake, even to the Lord.

“I mean,” Gunnilda said, “she’s all right. She did fine.”

'She did fine.'

“But – ”

Alred began fumbling amongst the possibilities in his mind. Gunnilda spoke as if the thing were done, and she was wet as if she had held something wet in her arms.

But did not the women take a towel for that? In truth, he had no idea what happened behind the ominous door.

And why did she look so wary? Only because she wanted to prevent him from running inside?

'She had a son.'

“She had a son,” Gunnilda said slowly. “David.”

“David?” he repeated. The poet of the Bible?

But why had Hetty not waited for him before naming the baby? Or at least chosen one of the names they had discussed? If she was “all right”? Unless…?

And had Gunnilda said “had” instead of “has”?


“Please…” he whimpered. Gunnilda would not hurt him. Gunnilda would not tell him a cruel thing.

“Alred,” she murmured.

He knew it would be a cruel thing if she preceded it by his Christian name.

Then, above the somber psalmody of his wife’s moans, came the clear, high voice of an infant singing unto the Lord a new song.


“Ha!” Alred laughed, mocking Gunnilda who had thought she had a cruel thing to tell. Blind, birthmarked, limbless – he did not care. His child was alive.

He walked boldly past Gunnilda to the ominous door, and Gunnilda, stunned, let him pass.

He walked boldly past Gunnilda, and Gunnilda, stunned, let him pass.