There would be rain for Anna's wedding.

There would be rain for Anna’s wedding. The sky had cleared late yesterday afternoon, but during the night a westerly wind had blown up a low pall of clouds from the sea. At dawn the sky was sluggish and dull: a gray-​​wooled beast straddling the valley, dragging its leaden underbelly across the peaks before and behind, leaving tufts of cloud and fog as it passed. Sir Egelric’s castle was blotted out, and the bright mirror of the lake was fogged over as from the breath of some low-​​leaning god of the sky.

The bright mirror of the lake was fogged over as from the breath of some low-leaning god of the sky.

Dunstan had not intended to sleep. He had made a point of sitting up all night, though no one would ever ask him how he slept, and he had meant to write a poem worthy of the occasion: The girl he loved most was marrying another man on the morrow.

He had awoken to find the ink dry in the quill, his forehead embossed with the imprint of the embroidery on his sleeve, and the parchment stained where he had drooled on it. The lines he had written were not a complete poem, but it was just as well: they were so maudlin as they stood that any heart-​​stirring conclusion he might have attempted would have made him cry – from humiliation.

He knew better than to try to write when the words would not come, but he had desperately wanted to write that poem. He had tried to stir up all the passion he had ever felt for Anna, but it was like blowing on dead coals. Try as he might to torture himself with thoughts of Anna so that he could write down his anguish – so that he would have anguish to write down – he could only think of Bertie.

He could only think of Bertie.

Dunstan knew that he would still see Bertie nearly every day, but it would never be the same. They would no longer sit up half the night in the hall, watching the fire burn to embers between the two pairs of boots propped up on the table, drinking and laughing and groaning at one another’s stupidity. Dunstan would never again drag Bertie from his bed after such a night, nor would Dunstan ever again so be dragged.

Dunstan saw too late that these eleven months had been – and perhaps would always remain – the best time of his life. He was ashamed now that he had not appreciated them while they lasted, and he was most ashamed of these last weeks. Precisely when he knew Bertie was leaving, precisely when he should have been making the most of their last days alone together, he had been too busy sulking over a girl he hadn’t seen in half a year.

He had been too busy sulking over a girl he hadn't seen in half a year.

Bertie Hogge had been his best friend ever since they were toddlers making messes in Gunnilda’s kitchen. They had learned to read and ride and fight together. They had been sick together and scared together, and they had mourned together when each had lost a parent. Bertie had always taken every insult against Dunstan personally, and if he sometimes called him an annoying little shit, no one else was allowed to so call him. It was Dunstan who had told Bertie what to say to a girl to win her, and Bertie who had told Dunstan what to do with a girl once he won her.

In the end it was Bertie who had won her. It did not seem ironic to Dunstan. He loved Bertie enough that he thought it no surprise that Anna loved him.

He loved Bertie enough that he thought it no surprise that Anna loved him.

Throughout these last weeks, he had been angry at Bertie for taking Anna away from him. Now he thought, if anything, he should be angry at Anna for taking Bertie away. But he was not angry at anyone. Those coals had gone cold.

There was still a strip of sky visible beneath the clouds, far off to the east where the sun was rising. The rosy light pooled like pale wine in the basin of the valley, but the pall of clouds advanced, drinking up the light, and the mottled clouds it pushed ahead of it were dark in its shadow like dregs.

It was already beginning to rain.

It was already beginning to rain. In the south, where Dunstan’s parents had been born, rain on one’s wedding day was an evil omen. Here in the borderlands the people said that it guaranteed a fruitful marriage. This was Bertie’s country, and it was Dunstan’s country too. It was an excellent sign.

Dunstan turned away from the darkening dawn and walked back into the tower – not because it was raining, but because he had to dress and be off. The friend he loved most was getting married today.

Dunstan turned away from the darkening dawn and walked back into the tower.