'I really did it!'

“You really did it!” one of the guards laughed.

“I really did it!” Ethelwyn agreed.

“And?” another called.

“And I wish I had at least enough memories intact beforehand to remind me how disgusting this water is!”

“It’s not just pond water!”

“No, gentlemen, it is not!”

'No, gentlemen, it is not!'

The leap had reminded Ethelwyn that the moat was filthy, and that even underwater he was heavy enough for his boots to sink into the not-​just-​mud at the bottom. But it had reminded him of nothing more. There had been no flash of recall—he had no more insight than before to the man whose body he inhabited.

He knew from what he had been told that Ethelwyn Ealstan would have been mortified to find himself here again, wet and bedraggled beneath the laughter of the guards. He himself could only laugh—with them, at himself, and most of all at the poor, pompous man he had been, who had reacted so childishly the last time.

It had been a sort of experiment, and it had failed. It had been one last mad hope—a situation so absurd it might have worked—but he knew now that there never would be a flash of recall. Hope had been a chain, and now he was free. He would build a new and better city on these foundations, and if from time to time the plows turned up a shard of the old, he would kick it aside and keep plowing.

'He had decided.'

He had decided. He would go where there would be no prior trace of him, and he would change his name to something that these kind strangers would never know. He could never be that other man, and so he would let him die, liberating them both. Ethelwyn Ealstan was dead, and he, the nameless one, was no more than a bubble among solid men. Until he took shape himself, he could float free and float away.

The moat, however, was not deep enough for floating. He began to tramp towards the slippery bank, but before he could reach it, a pair of bare feet came slapping across the flagstones of the court at a run, and pulled up just at the water’s edge.

There was something not quite right about that, but before Ethelwyn could figure out what it was, their owner cried, “Jupiter! You truly jumped in!”

'Jupiter!  You truly jumped in!'

“Old Man! You are supposed to be in bed!”

“I knew you would do it!” Cynewulf babbled through his breathless laughter. “I knew it! I knew it! I saw you from my window! I should have come at once! Jupiter! This is fun!”

'Jupiter!  This is fun!'

“Old Man!”

By this time a pajama-​clad Cynewulf had already joined Ethelwyn in the water, and at no time had Ethelwyn seen anything that could have been done to prevent it. Therefore the only thing to do was laugh.

“Do you have any idea how filthy this water is?”

“I know! I already fell in before when I was catching frogs. I think there’s probably leeches in here too!”

“Oh my God! What will your stepmother say when she hears of this?”

“Jupiter! I don’t know!” he squealed and dropped suddenly beneath the water.

“Old Man!”

When he came bursting up above the surface again, Cynewulf cried, “I shall tell her it was your idea! Jupiter!”

'I shall tell her it was your idea!'

The little boy was nearly convulsing with laughter of the most infectious sort. Ethelwyn could laugh with him, but he was aware that there were other infectious agents in the water, and he did not like to think of what would happen if the young lord cut his foot.

Ethelwyn picked him up by the waist and lifted him off the bottom. “What do you suppose would happen if you stepped on something sharp in here?” he asked ominously.

“I don’t know,” Cynewulf giggled, “but I’m certain it will have been worth it!”

“Your stepmother might disagree!”

Ethelwyn carried him to the shore and then climbed out himself. Cynewulf seemed to find the wetness more amusing than the moat itself, for he continued his squirming and his giggling even once his feet were on dry land.

“That was the most fun I ever had since… a whole week! At least!”

'That was the most fun I ever had since... a whole week!  At least!'

“I could say the same! Oh my God!”

Ethelwyn laughed in despair at the sight of himself. In his case the moat seemed more amusing than the wetness—clothes that floated in the water only hung like weights from his shoulders and clung like plasters to his skin. Nor did the thought of leeches please him overmuch, and he began to undress where he stood. There would be no ladies abroad so late—he had heard midnight sound at Saint Margaret’s while he was still standing on the bridge.

“But, say!” Cynewulf stopped laughing and scowled in outrage. “How come when your hair gets wet the curls come out? Do you curl your hair like Sophie?”

'Do you curl your hair like Sophie?'

“I most certainly do not!” Ethelwyn huffed from within the tangled tent of the wet shirt he was attempting to pull over his head.

“It’s not fair!”

Ethelwyn tossed his shirt on the ground and let himself fall back against the wall so he could lift his foot and remove a boot. “The trick is in letting your hair grow long, my lord.”

“I’m trying,” Cynewulf sighed.

“Once it’s long enough, it straightens beneath its own weight. Then only the ends curl. But why don’t you like your hair to curl?”

'But why don't you like your hair to curl?'

Cynewulf crossed his eyes and cooed, “Because then everyone says how cuuuute I am!”

“All the ladies say that about me, too. But I like it!”

I don’t! Because they always come and play with my hair. Do they do that to you?”

“The naughty ones do. But I like that too!”

'The naughty ones do.  But I like that too!'

“Does Mouse do that?”

“Ah—no,” Ethelwyn said. “She’s… shy.”

Mouse?” Cynewulf squeaked in disbelief.

“Here—hold this, son.” Ethelwyn dropped the entire dripping bundle of his clothes, minus the boots, onto the boy’s head. “That ought to flatten them for you.”

Cynewulf laughed and tossed them onto the flagstones. “I like you better now than the old Wyn! I liked him, too, but you’re ever so much more fun!”

'You're ever so much more fun!'

Ethelwyn picked up his clothes and slowly bundled them up again. “You’re not the first to say that to me, Old Man. Though you are the first to say it in so many words.”

“I should wager Mouse never said it. I think she liked you better before.”

“She may be the only one.”

'She may be the only one.'

“Probably. Probably because you used to kiss her before. You should kiss her now and then she would like you better, too.”

“Old Man, you’re about to get another pile of wet clothes on your head unless you run up to bed. I shan’t stand around nearly naked in the court merely to get romantic advice from an eight-​year-​old.”

“I’m almost nine! In November!”

'I'm almost nine!  In November!'

“We shall chat again in November.” Ethelwyn reached out with his free hand and tousled the boy’s wet curls. Though it was something he himself could scarcely stand to have done to him, there was no denying the boy was cuuuute. It made him feel oddly lonely—empty, like a bubble.

“All right. But I shall tell everyone in the morning! Won’t Heaf and Haakon be jealous! And Mouse too! We should do it again!”

Ethelwyn lifted his bundle of clothes menacingly.

“I’m going!” Cynewulf squealed and darted away, his wet feet slapping across the flagstones as far as the tower door.

'I'm going!'