'I'm not bothering you, am I?'

“I’m not bothering you, am I?”

Gwynn made herself as winsome as she knew how. This, given her natural daintiness and delicacy, was winsome indeed, and Leila smiled.

“Not at all, my lady. I’m so happy to see you.”

'I'm so happy to see you.'

So welcomed, Gwynn felt free to bounce into the room and kiss her friend.

“Godefroy said you might be sleeping, but I promised I would only scratch so very lightly on your door that you would think me a mouse if you were not quite awake. But you are!” she beamed.

“If I had known you would be early, I would have met you in the hall. You haven’t been here long, have you? We were expecting you at supper time.”

Gwynn bounced around the bed to the mirror that hung on the opposite wall. “We only just arrived. We’re early because my brother is in a hurry. He means to ride home tonight, if he thinks he can sneak away early without you thinking him rude.”

'He means to ride home tonight.'

“Oh! I don’t mind, so long as I get a little taste of him before he goes. Is he still here?”

Gwynn rolled her eyes. She was so pleased with the effect in the mirror that she rolled them a second time. “He’s downstairs showing off his French to Godefroy.”

Leila laughed. “He’s a bold or talented young man if he can flaunt his French before a native French-​​speaker.”

He thinks he’s a genius. He’s not bold. He’s simply over-​​confident. Lady Lili says not to ask him how to say things in French, because he makes silly mistakes.”

“Then whom will you ask?” Leila smiled.

'Whom will you ask?'

“I shall ask Lord Britmar. He is so handsome.” Gwynn sighed and was delighted at the brief look of languor that passed over her body. “But I already know all the important things.”

Even Leila’s giggles were mellow and sweet. Gwynn promised herself that she would take advantage of this visit to study Leila’s voice and laughter.

“What are the important things?” Leila asked.

“I asked Lili to tell me those, because I would die if I ever tried to ask Britmar how to say such things. But I’m certain you already know them.” Gwynn leaned back to wink at Leila behind the bed curtains.

Leila laughed. “What things?”

“Embrassez-​​moi!” Gwynn moaned rapturously. “Je vous aime!” To illustrate to herself she puckered up and kissed the air, though the mirror clearly reminded her why people generally closed their eyes when they kissed.


“Oh, Gwynn,” Leila scolded, smiling. “You ought to be careful shouting such things in French around here.”

“I do not think Godefroy wants to kiss me,” Gwynn said primly, “but even if he did, he is too much of a gentleman to do it.”

“Conrad speaks French, too.”

“I think Conrad is too much of a gentleman as well,” Gwynn sniffed, though the mirror told her she was blushing. “I know how to say ‘kiss me’ in eight languages,” she said to slightly redirect the subject, though she found it too delightful to be abandoned entirely. “Including yours!”

“I don’t suppose mine will be of much use in this valley,” Leila sighed. “The only men who speak it are Leofric and Cedric. Aefen and Aeri probably never will…”

'Be of much use!'

“Be of much use!” Gwynn laughed. “Do you suppose I mean to stand on the roof of the tower and shout ‘Kiss me!’ in every language until some passing knight understands? Say, that would be romantic, though…”

Gwynn attempted to sweep gracefully over to the bed, thinking it a better place to dream of passing knights. However, her natural daintiness and delicacy had not yet applied itself to her movements, and she suspected that she was making herself as ridiculous before the graceful Lady Leila as her brother was before Sir Godefroy with his French.

She suspected that she was making herself ridiculous.

“Isn’t the Lady Margaret with you?” Leila asked.

The abruptness of the question at least reassured Gwynn that Leila hadn’t noticed her stumble. However, she was tiny enough that she was obliged to hop gracelessly onto the bed.

“Oh, she wanted to stay with Dunstan and Godefroy. She fancies she speaks French as well.”

“Does she at least know how to say the important things?” Leila giggled.

“She would if she thought them important. Meg does not care about kissing at all. It is impossible to play pretend with her, unless it is pretending we are knights or rogues. Not that I have time to play pretend any longer.”

'Not that I have time to play pretend any longer.'

“Oh, that is a shame. We mean to have the girls come as soon as the ground is clear. Leofric doesn’t let them ride in the snow.”

“Well, I may make an exception for the girls,” Gwynn said reassuringly. “Though I must admit, it is beginning to wear on me, playing pretend with little girls. Maud and Gunnhild at Thorhold, and Alix and Adèle at Acanweald, and now Raegan and Lissa here. And I don’t know where my father will be sending me next.” Gwynn rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically.

Gwynn rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically.


“I simply hope he doesn’t plan to keep me away from home for nine whole months until Flann’s baby is born,” she sighed again.

“What do you mean?” Leila asked weakly.

“Don’t think I don’t know what this is about. My father doesn’t want me home because he doesn’t want me to find out about what happened to Girl-​​Flann.”

'My father doesn't want me home because he doesn't want me to find out.'


“Perhaps I should simply tell him I know. But I hate to trouble him, poor man. He always cries when he thinks that I know things he wishes I didn’t have to know.”

“It’s only because he loves you, dear.”

“I know. And it is only because I love him that I don’t tell him I know all about everything.”

'It is only because I love him that I don't tell him I know all about everything.'

Leila licked her lips delicately. Gwynn told herself she would practice the gesture later before her own mirror. “You mustn’t ever think you know everything about anything, Gwynn. It is a dangerous conceit.”

Almost everything then. Hetty told me most of it when I became a woman. Afterwards Lili told me all the rest.”

“The rest… of what?” Leila breathed.

“All the things my father doesn’t want me to know. You know. Hetty told me that I shall get married, and then…” Gwynn waved her hand as towards a distant vista of matrimony. “But Lili warned me about before.

Leila’s dark eyes were wide. “Before… what?”

'Before... what?'

“All the things the young men will try before I am married. All their tricks, and the things they will say to seduce a girl. And she would know. She married Egelric, and he told her all his tricks.”

Gwynn lifted her head and let it fall back against the headboard with a thump. It was a grim business, and Lili’s help had been somewhat inadvertent, but Gwynn had satisfied herself that she would never be fooled by Egelric’s blandishments. She might die an old maid – she might end up an old woman with dozens of cats as Catan had predicted – but she would not marry that nose. Nor anything else that went with it.

She would not marry that nose.

“So, Gwynn…” Leila rubbed her hands together nervously. “It is perhaps best that you not be entirely unaware of what young men can be, but I hope you will not be entirely cynical either, or you will find it difficult to trust a man who does love you. I know.”

Gwynn sat up. This sounded like the introduction to an interesting tale, but Leila went on.

“But more importantly, as I said, you must never be too confident of your ability to know when a man is being deceitful. Even Sir Egelric does not know all of the ‘tricks’, and I doubt that he has told all he knows to Lili. I believe Sir Egelric has done a few things he would not like to admit to his wife.”

'I believe Sir Egelric has done a few things he would not like to admit to his wife.'

Gwynn’s face crumpled. If Egelric still had a few tricks up his sleeve…

“The best thing is to trust your father, dear. He is a very wise man, and he loves you more than anyone, at least for now. If he thinks it wise to send you away now, you must believe that it is the best thing for you.”

I know. Anyway, even if I already know about Flann, Meggie doesn’t. She doesn’t know anything about such things yet, poor dear. But she’s still a little girl, and wouldn’t understand.”

'But she's still a little girl, and wouldn't understand.'