Abbot Aelfden saw who had left the door open.

There were only two men who had the key to the crypt beneath Saint Catherine’s chapel, but when Abbot Aelfden saw who had left the door open, he could almost wish the lock had been picked.

“I am sorry, Sigefrith. I was called away.”

“Ah!” Sigefrith threw up his arms. “I know it’s a busy time for you, Lord Father. So many children have died. And the good Lord leaves it up to you to explain.”

'The Lord leaves it up to you to explain.'

“I cannot explain, as it is not given me to understand. I can only try to offer comfort.”

Sigefrith had already lit candles on each of the occupied tombs: those of Queen Maud and Prince Harold, who had at last been moved into the crypt in the autumn; and opposite them that of the baby Princess, who had lain below the chapel ever since the chapel was little more than its own foundations.

Now the King paced between them.

Now the King paced between them like the lions Aelfden had seen in Rome, long-​​limbed and lean, mighty-​​headed, outwardly tame and inwardly ravening, walking about, seeking whom he might devour.

The Abbot knew something of the blind fury of strong men snared in the grief of their own hearts, but Sigefrith was a special case. His thrashings could bring down a kingdom.

“Sigefrith…” he began gently.


“It was a gamble, Lord Father,” Sigefrith interrupted. “If I have lost, then I believe I know why.”

He paused. After a moment, Aelfden decided he would ask about the stakes later and, for the moment, only asked, “Why?”

“Babies!” Sigefrith turned away from Maud’s tomb and strode out into the middle of the chamber.



“Who makes babies with the intention of burying them? That’s the problem. But I build in stone, Father. I made a tomb for Harold and a tomb for Catherine, but what was I to do then?”

He spun around and swept his arms out towards the empty niches on either side of him.

'What was I to do then?'

“If I made more tombs the size of babies, then would I not be saying to the Lord that I expect them to die anyway, and will He not take them from me to punish my lack of faith?”


“And if I made no more, then would I not be saying to Him that I expect none of them to die, and will He not take them from me to punish my arrogance?”



“I built no more. But, Father.” Sigefrith rushed back to his side and laid a hand on his shoulder. “It wasn’t out of arrogance,” he murmured, as if making a confession. “It was out of love. If the Lord doesn’t understand that, He and I could never get along.”

'If the Lord doesn't understand that, He and I could never get along.'

“Sigefrith – ”

“How could I build any more?” Sigefrith cried. “When Eadie comes here to light a candle for her little Princess – how could she bear to see an empty tomb beside her, hungry to swallow up another of her children? How could I do that to her?”

'How could I do that to her?'

“Sigefrith,” Aelfden said patiently, “your wife is aware that children may die.”

“Only too aware! You see, I wasn’t thinking of the Lord at all. I was thinking of Eadie. I could either tell her that I expect some of her children to die, or assure her that none of them will. And I chose the latter. But not out of arrogance, Father!” he pleaded. “Out of love.”

“Sigefrith – ”

Sigefrith turned abruptly away from him and stalked over to a broad niche in the corner, nearest the resting place that would one day be own.

“What shall I do if he dies?” he whimpered. “Divide this tomb? Then I must lose three or four babies to fill it.”

'What shall I do if he dies?'

“Sigefrith!” Aelfden gasped, startled out of his own composure. “Is he – does he live?”

“Yes.” Sigefrith turned slowly to him, his eyes widening in fear. “Unless you have heard…”

“No, no! I have not been near the castle. I have been nearly as far as the river today.”

“Did you see Aengus’s daughter?”

“Sadly, she is not improving.”

Sigefrith sniffed and turned away again. Aelfden joined him in the corner. Standing so near the torch made the air of the empty niche seem cold and earthy, as if it had been a tomb since ancient times.

Aelfden joined him in the corner.

“How does the young Prince fare?”

“Sadly, he is not improving,” Sigefrith muttered. “I think I have had more sleep in the past days than that baby. Every time he gets into a nice, relaxing sleep, he forgets to breathe, and then we must wake him up again.”

“Is he eating better?”

Sigefrith shrugged. “There is no more patient creature than a mother. She feeds him drop by drop. God bless her.”

“If he makes it through these days, I think it will soon be better for him. He came early. He must learn to live in the world.”

'I think it will soon be better for him.'


“We are all praying for him, Sigefrith. All of the people are praying for their Prince.”

“They all prayed for Catherine, too, and Harold. That wasn’t enough.”


“What can they do? What can I do? I built a fine chapel in Catherine’s name, and it was not enough. What shall I do? Shall I build a cathedral in Stephan’s name? Will that be enough?”

'Will that be enough?'

“Sigefrith, listen to me.”

“If he dies, what shall I do for the next? Raise an army and liberate Jerusalem?”

“Sigefrith, the Lord does not enter into such contracts.”

'Sigefrith, the Lord does not enter into such contracts.'

“I know! I know! I should build chapels to glorify God, whom I love above all else, and look for my reward in Heaven, et cetera. The tragic thing, Father, is that you and I have had this conversation before, and many others which I fear we shall shortly have again.”

'The tragic thing, Father, is that you and I have had this conversation before.'

“You might have gained in wisdom in the meantime.”

“I’m too old for that. Sadly, my wife is still very young, and she has a whole life of heartache ahead of her. Shall we go up?”


“I don’t like to be away from home too long. Anything might happen.”

'Anything might happen.'

Aelfden watched in silence as Sigefrith extinguished the torches one by one, and then the candles: Harold’s, Maud’s, and finally Catherine’s. They were left a moment in the cold, earthy darkness of the underworld before Sigefrith found his way to the door and opened it to let in a dim light from the chapel above.

“Let us go up,” he said, bowing Aelfden up ahead of him, and locking the door behind him with his key.

'Shall I come with you?'

“Shall I come with you?” Aelfden asked when they stood in the chapel.

Sigefrith did not answer, but stared intently towards the altar.

“Is there another priest there?”

'Is there another priest there?'

He still said nothing, so the Abbot fell silent, thinking that he might have been praying to himself. But something about the way Sigefrith worked his eyebrows made him seem to be rather a man who was making up his mind whether to do something.

Aelfden turned warily towards the altar himself, to see what damage a King might do under the circumstances, and he saw what had caught Sigefrith’s eyes.

“Brother Myrddin!” he gasped, annoyed to find the monk here, and also ashamed that he had been so distracted when he had genuflected that he had not even seen that white head before him.

He had been so distracted when he had genuflected that he had not even seen that white head before him.

Brother Myrddin rose from the bench and came shuffling down the aisle, bowing to the Abbot and the King as he went.

“Forgive me, Lord Father,” he said meekly. “I felt a need to pray.”

'I felt a need to pray.'

Aelfden did not get a chance to scold the monk. Sigefrith fairly pushed him out of the way.

“Brother Myrddin!” he beamed. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen you.”

'It's been a while since we've seen you.'

“I have stayed away to give His little Highness a bit of peace,” Myrddin bowed and smiled. “How is he?”

“Much the same, much the same. A cute little runt, but lazy. Even breathing seems too much work for him, though I don’t doubt his doting mama would do it for him if she could. Mind you, I came away myself to give him a little bit of fresh air. I don’t suppose the angels warned him that putting up with his father’s armpits was part of the deal.”

'I don't suppose the angels warned him that putting up with his father's armpits was part of the deal.'

Myrddin grinned. “And how is my little pupil?”

“Ah! If you want to give the baby some peace, the kindest thing to do would be to come and take that runt off our hands for a few hours. He’s been asking for you.”

Sigefrith glanced over his shoulder at Aelfden, which told Aelfden all he needed to know about this sudden affection for Myrddin. Aelfden had believed he had almost convinced his cousin to find a new tutor for his boy. This was precisely the sort of thrashing that Aelfden feared.

This was precisely the sort of thrashing that Aelfden feared.

“I shall come in the morning if the Abbot permits it,” Myrddin bowed.

“I thank you heartily.” Sigefrith nudged Myrddin’s arm and, Aelfden supposed, winked at the old monk. “I think he’ll allow it, if he doesn’t want my armpits stinking up his chapel two days in a row.”

Myrddin nodded eagerly at Sigefrith and looked up at the Abbot. There was no meek appeal for permission in his eyes. Aelfden still did not understand what he saw in them, but that gaze told him all he needed to know.

That gaze told him all he needed to know.