Egelric found the house quiet but lit when he arrived home in the twilight. Yet Elfleda was not there – and Iylaine was lying still in the middle of the floor.

Iylaine was lying still in the middle of the floor.

A surge of terror went through him and nearly knocked him off his feet, but then he saw her breathe.

“Baby, you silly girl,” he laughed in relief, waking her. “What are you doing sleeping on the floor?”

Iylaine sat up and stretched her tired arms. “Just sleeping, Da” she mumbled sleepily. “I was waiting for you.”

Iylaine sat up and stretched her tired arms.

“Well, your Da is home now, Baby-​​girl. Where is your Mama, in her bed?”

“No,” Iylaine said, “she’s gone. Pick me up!”

'Where is your Mama, in her bed?'

Egelric picked her up and played with her for a while, waiting for Elfleda to come home. Inside he was fuming – what was the purpose of bringing Baby home early from Gunnilda’s if she was only to go out and leave the tiny child alone? How long had the poor thing waited like this?

But time passed, and the fire ate its way through the logs, and still Elfleda did not come.

He put Baby to bed and sat down with his book, but he could not keep his mind on the words. What was the woman thinking? What if he hadn’t come home until late? Until now? Would the girl still be sleeping alone on the floor? Would the poor mite not be wondering whether she had been abandoned by everybody?

He had tortured himself many times with thoughts of what the child must have felt that night she had sat alone and sobbing in the cold woods as the Duke and Ethelmund waited in the shadows – the mere thought that she could have spent another night like that one brought him to his feet, nearly trembling with anger. He would go out and find that woman and bring her home, dragging her by the hair if he had to, and he would teach her to think about someone besides her own self for once.

He checked on Baby one last time and then headed outside, where the full moon hovered ponderously just above the trees. 

He would saddle the mare and ride down to Gunnilda’s to ask her to come up and sit with Baby. And then he would go to the Ashdowns’ and ask whether they had seen her, and then on from there. 

He walked back to the barn.

He would find her, he thought grimly as he walked back to the barn, and she would be sorry he did.

“Up for a ride, old girl?” he asked the gray mare as she poked her head over her stall door.

'Up for a ride, old girl?'

But the horse tossed her head in agitation, and the other animals anxiously stamped and rustled the straw.

And then he looked up.

And then he looked up.

In the brief instant before he understood what he was seeing he had time to think: “Those are the boots she made me ride to Thorhold to buy, and which she never wore.”

And then he fled outside and howled.

He fled outside and howled.