'Who is it?'

“Who is it?” Sigefrith found it difficult to growl through a smile. He thought he had heard little boy feet skipping up the stairs, and so he could not manage to even pretend to be annoyed.

“It’s Cubby!”

“Cubby who?”

“That young runt!”

“Oh, in that case…” Sigefrith grumbled.

Cubby laughed and skipped into his study. “Papa, are you busy?”

'Papa, are you busy?'

Colban was nearly eleven, but he still steadfastly called him Papa. Even eight-​​year-​​old Cynewulf had outgrown that appellation, “except when he forgot,” and Cedric, who was precisely Colban’s age, hadn’t called his father Papa in years.

If anything, Cubby was growing more childish over time. Nine-​​year-​​old Cubby had been “too big” for a great many things, but ten-​​year-​​old Cubby was not too big for laps, stories, or even tucking-​​in.

Nor was Sigefrith ready to stop providing these things. He realized how ridiculous he must look to everyone – both to the people who believed he did not know and to the people who knew he did – but if Cubby was brave enough to tolerate the jeers of Lulach or even of “I’m a big boy now” Drage, then Sigefrith was brave enough to withstand the silent mockery of his friends.

Sigefrith was brave enough to withstand the silent mockery of his friends.

It was a game everyone played – he and Cubby, Malcolm and Colban, Alred, and everyone – all to protect a secret that everyone already knew. But as long as they played, he could pretend – no, he could almost believe that Cubby was truly his son.

Anyway, he could not have admitted the truth now. Last year he might have, but this year he did not have the strength to hammer out a new relationship with Malcolm. He was not man enough to laugh about it with him nor man enough to hate him for it. Admitting the truth now would reveal him for the pitiful creature he was. Not only had he not known how to make Maud happy, but he was beginning to believe that he would never know how to make any woman happy.


“Busy?” he shrugged. “If I’m in here at this hour of the night, it can only be because I’m busy, Cub. If I want fun you won’t find me here. And at this hour of the night, aren’t you supposed to be in bed?”

“I know, Papa, but I wanted to have a talk with you.”

“And my secretary would not make an appointment for you in the afternoon?” Sigefrith smiled.

“I don’t have to make an appointment to see you. You’re my Papa.”

Sigefrith sighed. He did not have the heart to tease. “That’s true. So what did you want to talk to me about?”

Cubby put on his most endearing smile, folded his hands, and said, “Well, Papa, I’ve been thinking.”

'Well, Papa, I've been thinking.'

“Uh oh! This sounds expensive.”

“Not at all. Listen! I haven’t broken anything.”

“Listening…” Sigefrith chuckled.

“So, I’ve been thinking. Eadie says that you probably won’t have any more children, and that means you only have Caedwulf and Drageling at home. For sons, I mean.”

'Oh, Cubby...'

“Oh, Cubby…” Sigefrith barely had the heart to smile.

“So, you didn’t know that when I went away. But I think that now, since you do, I should probably stay here with you when Gog and Magog go home.”

Cubby’s smile grew wider, his clasped hands more winsomely pleading, and he even nodded slightly in encouragement.

Cubby's smile grew wider.

Sigefrith’s instinctive reaction was to want to tease. He wanted to make some joke about sending not only Cubby but also “I’m a big boy now” Drage home with Gog and Magog, and Caedwulf directly to Hades.

He could not. For one thing, he wished desperately that he could do as Cubby asked. But more than that, he could not understand how Cubby could ask the question.

Surely, he had thought, Colban or Malcolm would have told him the truth by now. And if they had not, surely someone in that riotous household that was Lord Colban’s would have let it slip. And even if they had not, the truth was, as Alred had once put it, as plain as the nose on the boy’s face. Cubby looked enough like his cousin Lulach to be his brother. Cubby looked enough like Malcolm to be his son.

'He at eleven would have had the worldly wisdom to have figured things out without having been told.'

Over thirty years had passed since Sigefrith had been that age, but he thought that he at eleven would have had the worldly wisdom to have figured things out without having been told.

“Cubby,” he said hoarsely. “Don’t you know?”

“Know what, Papa?”

The boy’s smile was desperately, determinedly innocent. Suddenly Sigefrith understood. Cubby had figured it out. He simply wanted to be told.

Sigefrith rose from his chair and went to sit on the chest against the wall. “Come here, Cub.”

Cubby bounced over to the chest and sat beside him, snuggling his way up beneath Sigefrith’s arm. He sighed happily and announced, “I shall be good every day. Haven’t I been good since I came home?”

'Haven't I been good since I came home?'

“Yes, you have.”

“And you don’t have to give me my own room. You can simply put me in Caedwulf’s room. Or even Drage’s. I don’t mind.”

“Drage’s room! For the love of Christ! That’s what we do to horse thieves – not good boys.”

Cubby laughed. “In any room, then. I don’t care.”

“Cubby…” Sigefrith sighed.

The boy lay limp and warm against him. He already knew what Sigefrith would say, and now he was only waiting for him to say it. He would not present any more arguments, and all of the charm and the winsome had drained out of him.

'The boy lay limp and warm against him.'

Sigefrith, however, did not know quite what Sigefrith would say.

“Cubby…” he began slowly. “You don’t think I love you less because you’re far away, do you? I love you just as much as I do Caedwulf or Drageling.”

“I know. I love you just as much too.”

“But don’t you love Gog and Magog, too? And Lulach, and everyone?”

“Yes,” Cubby peeped.

“So, tell me something. You know Cedric’s sister Leia?”

'So, tell me something.'


“And you know that she’s also Gwynn’s and Meggie’s sister, don’t you? Because Matilda was her mother?”


“And you know Leofric was her father, and not Alred, don’t you? And that’s why she lives with Leofric, since her mother is dead.”

“Yes.” Cubby pulled one of his legs up onto the chest beside him, which caused him to lean even more heavily against Sigefrith’s body.

“Well, Cub, it’s like that with you, too. I thought you knew. You’re Caedwulf’s and Emmie’s and Brit’s brother, because their mother was your mother, too. But your father is Magog. Didn’t you know that?”

Cubby picked at the laces of his boot for a while before mumbling, “I don’t know.”

“Didn’t you know, just a little bit? Didn’t you ever notice how Magog seems to love you more than every boy he knows? Didn’t you ever wonder, ‘How can I be so handsome if that ugly old Sigefrith is my father?’”

“You’re not ugly!” Cubby yelped and squeezed him with both arms.

'But I am old.'

“But I am old,” Sigefrith muttered to himself. That joke was growing less amusing as it became more true, but he never failed to make it when the opportunity presented itself.

Sigefrith hugged the boy and said, “All right, Cub, listen up. No jokes. I shall tell you the plain truth because I think you’re old enough to hear it. When you were born and for a long time afterwards, I thought you were my son, and so I loved you like a son. I can’t stop now, and perhaps you can’t stop loving me either. But we don’t have to. I still love you just exactly as much as my other sons. Do you hear?”

“Yes,” Cubby whispered.


“However, we both have a duty to your father. My duty is letting you go away to live with him, even though I miss you and wish every day that I could have you here. And your duty is to go live with him, and honor and respect him, and grow up to be a good man, because you may be the only son he will ever have. When you’re a man and have sons of your own, you will understand how important that is, but until then you will have to trust me. If you want to make me proud of you, then you have to make him proud of you. Do you understand?”

Cubby nodded his head and shrugged his bony shoulder against Sigefrith’s ribs.

“There’s one more thing you ought to do, too. It may be a little late to start loving him like a father, though I know you already do love him, at least as a big friend. But I think you ought to try to love him as your father as much as you can. Will you try?”

'Will you try?'

Cubby did not respond, so Sigefrith nudged him with his arm.

“You don’t have to love me any less, you know. Will you try?”

Cubby turned his face into Sigefrith’s tunic and mumbled into the fabric, “I suppose I do already. A little bit.”

“That’s a fine place from which to start. And there is one more thing you ought to do. Although perhaps you should wait until you’re home in Gog’s house and I’m home here.” Sigefrith stopped a moment to sigh and rub his hand over his face. “But when you are, you ought to tell Magog that you know he is your father, and you want him to stop pretending he is not. If you love him, even a little bit, you will understand how terribly difficult it must have been to live with you for six years and never call you his son.”

Sigefrith tipped Cubby’s head back and looked down into his face – undeniably Malcolm’s face, with Maud’s eyes.

Undeniably Malcolm's face, with Maud's eyes.

Thirty years had passed since he had been so small, but he knew that at eleven he had not been wise enough to understand what those six years must have been for Malcolm. Colban would not understand until he had sons of his own – and by then, if he loved his wife, he would find it difficult to forgive his father. Colban would have to hammer out his own relationship with Malcolm in the meanwhile, and forge his own love for his father in the few years that remained of his boyhood.

“And I think,” Sigefrith murmured, “that when you have told him that, you ought to start calling him Papa, and not me.”

“No!” Colban pushed himself up with the foot that had remained on the floor and threw himself against Sigefrith’s chest. “No!” He rubbed his face against Sigefrith’s shoulder like a big cat, or perhaps, though Sigefrith would never know, only like a little boy rubbing away tears. “I shall call him Father, but you are my only Papa. Forever.”

'You are my only Papa.  Forever.'