He had to think of a way to extract himself from Ralf's company.

Ethelwyn stuffed his hand beneath the collar of his shirt and rubbed his collarbone thoughtfully. He had just spent an agreeable half hour watching the King and the Duke pound on one another’s shields with their heavy swords, but the sky was threatening snow, and he had to think of a way to extract himself from Ralf’s company so he could return home.

First he tried the snow. “Was sunny this morning, but if I had known the sky was going to look like this, I might have stayed home.”

“On the contrary,” Ralf said, “it’s a good reason to get out and take advantage of the sun while it lasts. Non semper erit aestas. Especially in the winter.”

Ethelwyn did like Ralf. When he was not wallowing in his melancholy, he was a brilliant man, and amusing both intentionally and unintentionally.

Unfortunately he did not know how to dilute his brilliance and wit for feminine consumption, and only an equally brilliant woman such as Lady Luitgarde could appreciate him, or even comprehend him. Ralf had a Latin epigram for every occasion, but he could scarcely stumble through a good English “Pleased to meet you” or “How do you do?” where ladies were concerned.

'Well, we've outlasted it, haven't we?'

“Well, we’ve outlasted it, haven’t we?” Ethelwyn chuckled. “Now it’s time to get home and take advantage of a warm fire and a warm wife.”

“Or a warm cat,” Ralf sighed.

Ethelwyn rolled his eyes. “Or three.”

“Or three. But Aelia and Chloe don’t like to share my lap at the same time.”

“You’ll find wives are the same way.”

“I would be content with just one,” Ralf mumbled.

'I would be content with just one.'

“Sometimes I think that’s more than you deserve!”

Ethelwyn did not remember the beginnings of his friendship with Ralf, but Egelric had told him that the initial attraction as far as Ralf was concerned had been Ethelwyn’s ability to pick up several women at a time as easily as one. When someone was around to do the talking for him, Ralf was handsome and wealthy enough to profit fully from Ethelwyn’s surplus.

When an honest occasion presented itself, Ethelwyn was not above helping out his friend as before, but most of the fun had gone out of it for him, and furthermore he did not think his wife would appreciate such flirtations, even by proxy.

'That reminds me.'

“That reminds me – my one wife wanted me to ask her sister for a dress pattern next time I came, and I had better hurry…”

“Oh! I’m going that way. I shall come with you.”

“Well… perhaps you could go for me. You might just save me a scalpful of snow.”



“Simply ask Lady Wynflaed to send a pattern for that dress she made for Aeren with the wide sleeves. She’ll know the one.”

“Wait – isn’t Aeren her new baby’s name?”

“That’s right. It’s a new pattern she got from her mother-​​in-​​law.”

“You want me to ask Lady Wynflaed for a pattern for a baby dress?

Ethelwyn grinned and nudged him with his elbow. “Don’t tell Mousie I told you. She’s been sick as a lord on Saint Stephan’s morn, but she thinks no one has noticed.”

'She thinks no one has noticed.'

“No, but – you want me to ask Lady Wynflaed about a baby dress?” Ralf squeaked.

“Why not? She knows where babies come from.”

“But I don’t want her to know I know!”

“Ralf!” Ethelwyn groaned. “I’m not asking for a pattern for making babies! Baby dresses! If you go on thinking fine ladies don’t know anything about baby-​​making, you’ll end up like Egelric with a lady for a wife and not quite knowing how it happened.”

'You'll end up like Egelric with a lady for a wife and not quite knowing how it happened.'

“I don’t think I would mind,” Ralf said mournfully.

“Ralf! I think you might. They’re not all like Lady Lili. You’ve met my sister-in-law’s sister. Lady Egelfride? How would you like to find that in your bed when you get home?”

“She’s prettier than Lady Fist and her five daughters,” Ralf snickered.

“Perhaps if you’re blind!”

Ethelwyn winced as soon as he said it, for he realized too late that they were passing directly in front of the old barracks, wherein dwelled Cat’s elf. Ethelwyn knew the power of half-​​elf ears well enough already.

“Spend enough time with Lady Fist and blind you soon will be,” Ralf drawled. “So said my granny.”

“Shhh!” Ethelwyn let his elbow fly, but more forcefully this time. “Not here!” he whispered and nodded at the door.

To his horror, the door immediately flew open and a shrieking blur came barreling towards them. However, at the last it swerved and dashed past them, followed by another blur that was roaring.

It swerved and dashed past.

Ethelwyn realized too late that the first blur had been Flann, but the second blur appeared to be a wicked-​​looking man in pursuit of her.

Ralf shouted, “Stop!” but Ethelwyn was already running, and after a moment’s hesitation Ralf went with him.

The man had the head start granted by their initial astonishment, but he was not as fast as the two young men. Even Flann in her skirts outpaced him, and she galloped across the broad court and up the hill towards the chapel.

Still, they had almost reached the chapel by the time Ethelwyn got a grip on the man’s clothing and swung him around, nearly pulling him down on top of himself in the process.

Ethelwyn got a grip on the man's clothing and swung him around.

“What do you think you’re – Oh my God!”

Ethelwyn and Ralf could have held him, but Ralf alone could not, and the man struggled away as soon as Ethelwyn released him.

“I’m her father! Flann!” the man shouted, though Ethelwyn already knew it.

'I'm her father!'

“Sir, I beg your pardon…”

Ralf had not yet made up his mind to let him go, so Flann cracked his elbow into Ralf’s ribs and swore at both of them in Gaelic.

“Sir!” Ethelwyn huffed. “I know what that means, and my mother… never…”

Flann had already run off to follow his daughter into the chapel.

“Come on!” Ralf cried.

“Oh my God,” Ethelwyn groaned. “I believe I have, as my wife would say, ‘done it again.’”

'I believe I have, as my wife would say, 'done it again.''

“But we can’t simply let him go in there!” Ralf protested.

“Yes, we can!”

“Well, I can’t!” Ralf proved this assertion by running into the chapel himself.

Ethelwyn was privy to Ralf’s hopeless affection for Flann, and shy and tongue-​​tied as he knew him to be, Ethelwyn feared the result of leaving him to mediate between the girl and her furious father, particularly in a church. After a moment’s hesitation, Ethelwyn was forced to follow.

The young lady had already taken refuge behind the altar, and her father was standing in the aisle, still roaring.

The young lady had already taken refuge behind the altar.

Ralf had stopped meekly in the entry, and he seemed relieved to see Ethelwyn arrive.

“Do you understand what he’s saying?” Ralf whispered to him.

“All the Gaelic I know I learned from Egelric. And he’s not swearing just now.”

'So no?'

“So no?”

“So no.”

“But what is he – ”

“Shhh!” Ethelwyn jabbed him into silence with his elbow, for the Abbot was just stepping out of his office.

The Abbot was just stepping out of his office.

“What is happening in this chapel?” The priest had the habit of making his voice fill the church. His psalmodic intonation was so grave and otherworldly that the two Scots fell silent and turned meekly to him.

“Father!” the girl cried when the echoes had died. “I seek sanctuary!”

“Are you an outlaw, my child?”

“She is my child!” her father shouted. “And I shall take her where I please!”

'I shall take her where I please!'

The priest said nothing for an achingly long moment. At last he stepped forward and genuflected slowly and deliberately in the aisle.

Ethelwyn dropped to his knee at once, mortified, blushing like an eight-​​year-​​old who had misbehaved in church. He had not even checked his hair before coming inside, and it did not seem quite right to straighten one’s curls in a church.

Ethelwyn dropped to his knee at once.

However, everyone else seemed likewise embarrassed, excepting the concerns about their hair. But Ethelwyn realized this had probably been the Abbot’s intent.

“Now.” The Abbot rose and kicked his long robes straight. “What is happening in this church?”

“It’s her father I am, and I am here to take her home.”

“Never!” Flann sobbed. “I shall stay with my sister!”

Her father began scolding her in Gaelic.

Her father began scolding her in Gaelic, though he had now limited his voice to a strange hushed roar that he must have thought suitable for the interior of a church.

“Do you understand what he’s saying?” Ralf whispered.

Ethelwyn shook his head. “No,” he said grimly, “but I can guess.”


Ethelwyn looked at Ralf in alarm. Had he not heard?

Ethelwyn looked at Ralf in alarm.

Before he could ask, the priest barked a single Gaelic word that silenced the raging father at once.

“He just told him to shut up,” Ethelwyn whispered to Ralf. “Egelric says that all the time.”

“Does the Abbot speak Gaelic too?”

The Abbot inadvertently answered the question himself by beginning to speak angrily to Flann’s father in that very language.

'Speaking in tongues is the least of that priest's peculiarities.'

“Speaking in tongues is the least of that priest’s peculiarities,” Ethelwyn whispered.

“But what is he saying?”

“I don’t know! Do you think the Abbot swears like Sir Egelric?”

“But you said you could guess.”

'But you said you could guess.'

“Ralf…” Ethelwyn sighed.


“Don’t you know about Girl-​​Flann?”

“What about her?”

'What about her?'

“Oh my – good – good heav – ” Ethelwyn could not think of any oaths mild enough for even the entry of a church, so he simply went ahead with what he had to say. “She got herself in trouble. Sir Egelric sent for her father.”

Ralf was briefly speechless. The queer cantering cadence of Gaelic rang out from the front of the church, arguments and answers, like an unholy responsory.

Ethelwyn shrugged helplessly. “I thought you must have heard…”

“I punched Osfrid in the mouth for telling lies about her.”

'I punched Osfrid in the mouth for telling lies about her.'

Ethelwyn winced. “I suppose they weren’t lies.”

Ralf turned and looked mournfully at Flann, who still stood behind the altar, oblivious to him as ever.

“She didn’t ‘get herself into trouble’, Wyn,” he whispered. “Some man did it to her.”

Ethelwyn shrugged again.

“Who would do such a thing?” Ralf’s face was painful to see. “Who would do that to such a girl?”

Ethelwyn sighed. He had his own opinion about “such girls” – her sister had been caught kissing Leofric, after all, and Flann was an even more practiced flirt – but he did not care to be punched in the mouth himself.

Ethelwyn sighed.

“Don’t they know who did it?” Ralf asked.

“She isn’t saying. He had better hope no one learns. That’s a man will be castrated several times over, if the truth ever gets out.”

“He had better hope I never find out,” Ralf whispered softly. He looked a while down the aisle at Flann, but she never looked up at him. “Why didn’t she…”

Ethelwyn waited for him to finish his question.

Ethelwyn waited for him to finish his question, but after a time it became clear he would not.

“Well… her father won’t dare hurt her in a church,” Ethelwyn whispered. “Before the Abbot. I suppose we should leave.”

Ralf did not say a word, but he was already walking out, and after a moment’s hesitation Ethelwyn went with him.

He was already walking out.