Sigefrith threw down his quill and threw up his arms.

Sigefrith threw down his quill and threw up his arms. “At last! Let’s eat! I don’t know how it is that every time I go away for three days, I come home to find six days’ worth of work awaiting me.”

“Leave two days’ work alone together and they breed,” Cenwulf chuckled.

'Leave two days' work alone together and they breed.'

“What does the third one do?”

“He watches.”

Sigefrith laughed and reached across the table to smack his old friend on the arm as they all rose from their chairs.

But their stewards exchanged a quick glance, and Ralf asked, “Your Majesty?”

'Your Majesty?'

Sigefrith froze. “After dinner! I beg you!”

“It’s only a little matter…”

“How little?” Sigefrith whimpered.

“Very little!” Wynn said.

'Very little!'

Sigefrith pressed his finger and thumb tightly together and squeaked, “This little? Damn it, I’m hungry!”

“It’s merely a little…” Ralf began and looked at Wynn for assistance.

“Favor we would presume to ask Your Majesty,” Wynn continued.

“Little little?” Sigefrith asked hopefully, again indicating the size of nothing with his fingers.

'Little little?'

“It’s about His Grace’s last decree,” Ralf blurted.

“Oh, that!” Sigefrith tipped up his beardless chin and laughed. “By God’s green teeth! He got you there!”

“He got us all,” Cenwulf sighed.

'He got you there!'

“But we have the advantage of possessing wives and daughters who will kiss us no matter the state of our chins, and even without the excuse of mistletoe. These gentlemen are reduced to kissing each other, at best.”

“We do not!” Wynn protested.

'We do not!'

Sigefrith tapped Cenwulf’s arm with the back of his hand. “If we leave two stewards alone together for three days, don’t they breed?”

Cenwulf cocked his head and said, “If they did, it might keep the work population in check…”

“We do not!” Ralf said.

“So you want my help in acquiring breeding partners,” Sigefrith sighed.

'So you want my help in acquiring breeding partners.'

“We can acquire them ourselves,” Wynn said. “We simply need permission to approach them.”

“You know, gentlemen, in the interest of maintaining peace and stability in my kingdom, I cannot be arbitrarily overturning the decrees of my loyal servant the Duke of Nothelm.”

“We don’t need you to overturn them…” Ralf said.

“We simply need them to be…” Wynn waved his hands in an attempt to summon up the right word.

'We simply need them to be...'

“Superceded,” Ralf supplied. “A little.”

Sigefrith pinched his finger and thumb together and studied the resulting measurement. “A little…” he whispered.

'A little...'

“If Your Majesty could simply append a little royal decree to the end of the day’s business…” Wynn grinned.

“Three days’ business,” Sigefrith corrected and walked between the two men to the table. “Very well, gentlemen,” he sighed. “I shall append a little decree. Where’s my pen?”

Sigefrith bent over the table and immediately began writing. “Mnah mnah mnah…” he mumbled. “Mnah mnah…”

'Mnah mnah mnah...'

“What are you writing there?” Wynn laughed nervously after a while.

“Mnah mnah mnah,” Sigefrith said aloud. “Mnah mnah… blah blah blah…”

Cenwulf began to chuckle, and the stewards looked anxiously at one another.

“There! That does it!” Sigefrith tossed down his pen and dusted off his hands. “Let’s eat!”

'Let's eat!'

“Let’s!” Cenwulf agreed.

“What does it say?” Wynn asked weakly.

“I have to read it to you babies, too?” Sigefrith sighed and snatched up the parchment. “‘Know that we have decreed and by this present writ confirmed, et cetera, that notwithstanding any prior decree, writ, charter, or law, we will that from this day until the Epiphany, any man shall be permitted to kiss any maid he finds beneath the mistletoe, provided that the man and the maiden have eyes of the same color. Sigefrith, by grace of God, et cetera.’”


“What?” Ralf moaned and hid his face in his hand.

“What what?” Sigefrith turned and flipped the parchment back onto the table. “I couldn’t overturn the Duke’s decrees outright! You said so yourselves.”

“But a man can’t do anything about his eyes!

'But a man can't do anything about his eyes!'

“What color eyes does Flann have?” Wynn asked.

“No!” Ralf howled and stomped his foot in outrage. “You say you’re in love with her and you don’t even know what color eyes she has?”

“I take that for brown?” Wynn laughed and danced a step in the corner.

Wynn laughed and danced a step in the corner.

“How could you do this to me?” Ralf whimpered. “Your own steward?”

“God’s wounds!” Sigefrith laughed. “You don’t think I know what color eyes anyone has around here, do you? I would have to sit and think a while to tell you what color eyes my children have. They do all have eyes, don’t they?” he murmured to Cenwulf.

“I believe so,” Cenwulf nodded.

“I simply spit in the air and take a step back, gentlemen! Looks like it landed on you, this time. Now come along. You two can witness that little decree later. Let’s eat!”

'Let's eat!'