Malcolm saw what he had interrupted.

In that first instant after the door was opened, Malcolm saw what he had interrupted: a joke, apparently, in that last Malcolm-​less moment, for the Prince was laughing, his young cousin Malcolm was chuckling, and even sober Cenwulf was smiling.

Only Alred was ready and waiting for him, already staring at him with such a look that even the door must have been nervous before it was opened.

Sigefrith himself was standing behind the door, so Malcolm had the disadvantage of not yet knowing what he was about to face. His only comfort was the thought that Caedwulf, Cenwulf, and Malcolm appeared to be laughing in the King’s direction.

“Greetings, gentlemen,” he smiled, master at least of his teeth.

He stepped inside and found the King smiling too, likewise in control of his mouth.

He stepped inside and found the King.

“Greetings and good morning, on behalf of these gentlemen here assembled,” Sigefrith said. And that was all. He did not even call him Magog.

Fortunately there was kin and countryman in the room. He turned and punched his cousin on the shoulder. “Your boy is far prettier than ever you were, young Malcolm. And cannier than ever you will be.”

“Did you see him already?” the doting father grinned.

“He has your father’s head under one arm and your brother’s under the other, and was about to bang them together, or so was he when I left them there.”

“Gog’s here?” Sigefrith cried gleefully.

'Gog's here?'

“Aye. And young Colban and my uncle Flann.”

“And Cubby?”

“No young boys did we bring. We’re here on serious business.”

Sigefrith stood tall, master of his back and shoulders, though his disappointment was plain on his face. “What is it? Did you need to speak to me?”

“Ach, not about that. That’s a family matter.”

'Ach, not about that.'

“Ah… a family matter.”

“But I would like to speak to you… Your Majesty.” Malcolm was not losing control of his tongue; he simply did not know what to say.

“May I go home?” his cousin asked the King, still smiling.

“May I go, too?” Caedwulf added.

“You may all go home or to hell or to where have you,” Sigefrith said, though his eyes did not leave Malcolm’s face.

Malcolm held Sigefrith’s gaze, but as the men filed out the door, he saw enough out of the corner of his eye to know that Alred, at least, was wishing he too would go home or to hell.

Alred, at least, was wishing he too would go home or to hell.

Sigefrith closed the door himself.

“Colban will be along after he has his fill of his grandson,” Malcolm said.

“I never thought I would stoop so low as to be jealous of that little pagan runt.”

'I never thought I would stoop so low as to be jealous of that little pagan runt.'

“It’s plain to see he’s king of that household, at least.”

“Plain to see there will soon be a pretender to his throne, as well.”

“Aye,” Malcolm chuckled. “It was the first Colban knew of it. It’s sorry young Malcolm will be when he realizes he missed the sight of his father’s face.”

“I have a new son, myself. Have you heard? Shall we go see him?”

There was a pleading note in the King’s voice that revealed he had no more desire to be there than Malcolm did.

Malcolm's face may have been more pleading still.

But Malcolm’s face may have been more pleading still, for Sigefrith generously provided him an opening. “Was there something you wanted to say to me first?”

“Something I wanted to ask of you.”

“Name it.”

“Your forgiveness.”

“Ah.” Sigefrith lifted his head and nodded slowly, like a diplomat considering the proposal of a foreign prince.

Sigefrith lifted his head and nodded slowly.

“Cubby told me what you said to him last year.”

“I asked him to.”

That too had been a generous act, and Malcolm was briefly bewildered by his own shame.

“What does he call you now?” Sigefrith asked.

“His father.”

'His father.'

Sigefrith nodded thoughtfully again.

“He said he had known it for a long time, but he wanted to hear you say it. And now there is no longer this thing between him and me. This thing unsaid. And it’s easier now. I thank you for that.”

“And now the only remaining ‘thing unsaid’ stands between you and me.”


Sigefrith’s lips smiled handsomely, generously, but in the slanting light of morning the tendons in his neck stood out in high relief, and Malcolm knew Sigefrith was smiling over clenched teeth.

Sigefrith was smiling over clenched teeth.

“And now I beg your forgiveness. It’s a dog I am to betray a man I called my brother for nothing more than a woman.”

“She was not ‘nothing more than a woman’ to me,” Sigefrith interrupted. The chill in his voice immediately froze Malcolm’s ardent apology.

“That’s… that isn’t what I meant…” he fumbled.

“She was more than a woman to me. I would have traded any man or any men I called my brothers for her love.”

Malcolm found himself letting his hair droop down over his face, as his son did when he was being scolded.

Malcolm found himself letting his hair droop down over his face.

“So would you, evidently,” Sigefrith chuckled grimly.

“I don’t think a man can help whom he loves,” Malcolm murmured.

“He is nevertheless responsible for what he does.”

“It is for what I did that I ask forgiveness.”

'It is for what I did that I ask forgiveness.'

“I see.”

“If it matters, I don’t think she loved me in the end.”

Sigefrith closed his eyes and smiled strangely. “What did Alred say to me?” he sighed. “‘Should it matter? I think it is worse if she did not.’”

Malcolm found—to his surprise and his shame—that he was not willing to renounce her love entirely. “At the end, I mean. When I went to her at the abbey she did not want to—”

“At the abbey?” Sigefrith gasped.

'At the abbey?'


“That was you?

Sigefrith was panting, and the morning sunlight illuminated the inside of his open mouth with disturbing clarity. It was wet and shockingly pink, like a bloodless wound. Malcolm could not look away.

Malcolm could not look away.

“That was after I met you in the woods with young Sigefrith.” Sigefrith blinked rapidly in stupefaction. “And you promised to come back for him. And you called me your brother! And that is where you went!”

Sigefrith’s eyes were wide open like his mouth, and Malcolm could clearly see the wormy red veins all around the edges of the whites.

He could not speak until Sigefrith turned away from him himself.

“I thought you knew…”

'I thought you knew...'

“She never told me.”

Malcolm knew that his young cousin knew, but he decided he would not tell Sigefrith that now. He did not want Sigefrith to doubt Malcolm’s loyalty. Indeed, it was possible that the greater loyalty had been in not telling Sigefrith the truth.

“I don’t think she even knew,” Sigefrith murmured. “She was never the same after that day. She thought it was Satan himself who had met her in that garden.”

Sigefrith turned back to Malcolm, livid now with shock and outrage.

Sigefrith turned back to him, livid with shock and outrage.

“If she was sometimes cruel to Cubby, it was because she believed Satan was his father. You!

“She may not have greatly erred,” Malcolm muttered.

“If only! You’re only a man. Such wickedness on the part of the devil I could understand, but you! Do you understand what you did? She was never the same after that day. She might have become ill like her mother someday, but perhaps not so soon, perhaps not so utterly. Do you understand what you did to all of us? To her children? You killed their mother with your folly!”

The thing was said, but it stood between them now, gaping wider than any silence.

Malcolm had known it for years.

Malcolm had known it for years, but like his son, he had to hear it from Sigefrith’s own mouth to feel the terrible truth of it. If he had felt it before, he would never have found the courage to come before him now.

“Perhaps I should not have told you. For your own sake.”

“No. No, I am glad you told me.” Sigefrith laughed bitterly. “Now I shall never again have to smile and pretend to be pleased to hear you call me your brother. I think the Lord Himself will strike you dead if you say it again, and if He won’t, I shall be sorely tempted.”

'If He won't, I shall be sorely tempted.'

Malcolm hung his head.

“But this is one ‘thing unsaid’ that had better so remain. I warn you: never let Caedwulf learn of this. If there is anyone who hates the man that met his mother in the abbey more than I, it is he. I don’t doubt he dreams of killing you for what he already does know about you.”

Malcolm nodded.

“Now. Let us go and see my newborn son. I am told he has my chin.”

'Let us go and see my newborn son.'