Britamund had not been expecting a hug.

Britamund had not been expecting a hug. She was nevertheless glad that her father was home, for at least she would no longer bear the shame of knowing she dreaded her own father’s return.

Nor did he hug her. He closed the door very carefully behind him, and then they were alone together.

For a while he only looked her over, as if he was surprised to find her the same – or as if he had not.

For a while he only looked her over.

“I had a conversation with your brother that greatly displeased me.”

He was not shouting; this was not his temper talking, which would soon die down, but the chilly voice of deep anger. She also knew his tendency to exaggeration and his brazen blasphemies. This “greatly displeased me” – this understatement on the part of her father – she knew for a very bad sign.

“Then I had another with Eadie that displeased me almost as much, though she at least reassured me that matters were not as grave as I had first believed.”

There was an emphasis on the last words that demanded a reply. However, he had not asked a question, and she did not know what to say. She hesitated, open-​​mouthed.

She hesitated, open-mouthed.

“Are they?” he barked.


He shook his head grimly. “I keep thinking I should not have gone away, but it wouldn’t have mattered, would it? Shall I understand you met him here in this castle even while I was in it?”

She did not deny it, but this was not enough for him.

“Shall I?” he cried.


“Shall I understand you wrote coded letters to one another, which you took from my hand, and kissed me, and thanked me for teaching you to read?”

'Shall I understand you wrote coded letters to one another?'

His voice was high and shaking – not from temper, but from outrage and even pain.

She could not speak. She limited herself to a nod, and the tears spilled over anyway.

He snorted. “Eadie tells me I am not permitted to say that you don’t know what love is yet, because she loved me when she was your age. But tell me: if you two were so in love, why didn’t you say anything to me?”

His voice had not softened. She had no hope that he himself was softening.

“Because I was already betrothed to Dunstan,” she whispered.

'Because I was already betrothed to Dunstan.'

“That is correct,” he said coldly. “And you must have known that I would have refused to break that contract, mustn’t you?”

She nodded.

“And with your own childish, selfish logic, you decided that meant not that you should give him up, but that you should lie to your father and sneak around and shame yourself.”

It was undeniably true, and yet it did not express the truth of the matter. She refused to nod, but her father went on regardless.

“You and Eadie both must forgive me if I do not dignify this affair with the name of love. Certainly you do not dignify the name of love by applying it to what you did.”

'Certainly you do not dignify the name of love by applying it to what you did.'

Britamund closed her eyes. Her lashes were fat with tears, and another slipped down her cheek.

“Don’t waste your tears on me, Britamund. I shall not change my mind. We must only hope that Alred will not. But don’t get any ideas that you will be permitted to marry Brinstan if he does,” he warned.

“Does Dunstan know?”

“I shall leave that decision to Alred. I think he will not tell him. I fear that Dunstan will either be dangerously angry or dangerously heartbroken if he is told.”

“I don’t see why he should be!” she cried, suddenly furious.

'I don't see why he should be!'

“Do you not?” her father gasped.

“He did the same thing! He did worse! Far worse!”

“Did what? With whom?”

“Girls! I don’t know whom!”

“With girls!” he groaned. “Name of God! They all do that, Britamund! Young men – they all do that! Didn’t Eadie tell you? Do you think Brinstan never did?”

'Do you think Brinstan never did?'

She wailed a wordless protest. She could not even bear to think of it: Brinstan! She had never asked him, but…

“Forgive me if I offend your innocence,” he snapped, “but it is by no means clear to me that you have much left to offend! The difference, in case you are wondering, is that the young men do not fancy themselves in love! The difference is that they do not ordinarily molest the daughters of their lords!”

'Molest them!'

“Molest them!”

“Yes, Britamund, molest them! You must at least allow your poor father to cling to the belief that you did not fully understand nor desire what that red-​​headed reptile was doing to you!”

'Yes, Britamund, molest them!'

If she had answered honestly, she might have admitted that there had been times when she had found herself in certain situations with Brinstan with no clear idea how she had come to be there and no assurance that the situation would not get more serious still.

But more than anything she could not bear to hear Brinstan’s intentions insulted. More than anything she could not bear to hear him called a “red-​​headed reptile”.

Thus she answered defiantly instead.

“I did so!”

'I did so!'

“Well!” Her father’s face was turning a darkly dangerous shade of red. “It’s another matter entirely if you like it so much that you can’t even wait to be married!”

“Married to Dunstan!” she sneered. “I don’t want Dunstan to touch me! Do you think I want to be touched by a man I don’t love? Do you think I want to be married to a man I don’t love? Just like my mother?”

Even before the words were out of her mouth she knew she had said the wrong thing.

Even before the words were out of her mouth she knew she had said the wrong thing. But it could not be helped – the words had been in her mouth for so long that they were bound to slip out in some moment of great emotion.

Now at least she would know.

He sat on the edge of her bed, just as slowly and as carefully as he had closed the door.

He sat on the edge of her bed.

“I remember when you were born,” he said at last. “She loved me in those days, Britamund. She was shy among our friends, but I know what she was when we were alone together. How she…”

His voice broke, and he stopped and pressed his fingers against his eyes – her father. Now she knew.

When he had satisfied himself that he would not cry, he asked, “Who are you to say she did not love me, O my daughter?”

“I simply meant she didn’t choose to marry you,” Britamund mumbled.

'I simply meant she didn't choose to marry you.'

“You know that and I know that, but I never thought I would live to hear one of my children cast it in my face. You would not even be here to do it if I had not married her.”

He paused, but Britamund could find nothing to say. When he spoke again, it seemed to be in reply to his own thoughts.

“I do not regret it. If she had been well in her mind, perhaps she would not either. You are young and do not yet realize how rarely we know what is best for us, or even what will make us happy. That is why young ladies have fathers.”

'That is why young ladies have fathers.'

She still said nothing, but this time when he spoke, it was as if he had read her own thoughts.

“I know you don’t think your happiness has even entered into my considerations, but I assure you, it has. There is nothing wrong with Dunstan that would prevent you from being happy with him, though the happiness will be up to the two of you. I hope you will get over your stubbornness and be as happy as you can with him.”

She wanted to tell him that there was more to falling in love than making up one’s mind to do it, but she did not dare – not after what she had said about her mother.

She wanted to tell him that there was more to falling in love than making up one's mind to do it.

“Allow me to tell you something you might not know,” he said. “You know that I want an alliance with Alred’s family, but there’s more to it than that. Dunstan will be Duke here someday. He’s a remarkable young man, but he has inherited a few of Alred’s weaknesses. Dunstan will need a strong, capable, no-​​nonsense sort of wife to help him over the rough patches in life. With this marriage I am providing not only for you, but for the futures of slightly more than one third of the inhabitants of this valley, and indirectly all of us. Do you understand?”

'Do you understand?'

Britamund nodded.

“What I did not realize was that I needed to provide an honest, honorable husband to my daughter, who has lost her honesty, lost her honor, and lost my respect and pride.”

She turned her face away so he would not repeat that horrible, humiliating phrase: “Don’t waste your tears on me.”

She turned her face away.

“How old are you, Britamund?” he asked softly.

“Fourteen,” she whispered.


“Fourteen,” she said aloud, though her voice was as distorted as her face.

“My mother was married at fourteen…”

'My mother was married at fourteen...'

Britamund stood so still that the very tears seemed frozen on her cheeks.

“Your birthday is in August, isn’t it? Of course! You were to be married next year at sixteen.” He clapped his hands down on his thighs and stood. “You shall be married a year early.”

'You shall be married a year early.'

“What?” she wailed.

“Let us say on Lady Day. Two months should be enough time to organize a royal wedding.”

“Father, no!”

'Father, no!'

“Let us hope Alred will not change his mind. But if he does, the good Abbot has been nagging me to endow a convent. Your dowry would make an excellent foundation.”

“No!” she sobbed.

“Britamund, I shall never forget that you would kiss me even as you betrayed my trust. I shall only begin to forgive you once I have seen you kiss your new husband before the altar. I shall only begin to respect you again if you can get that far without letting Dunstan know you did not wish to marry him. And I shall only begin to be proud of you again when you have laid my dark-​​haired grandchild in my arms.”

'And I shall only begin to be proud of you again when you have laid my dark-haired grandchild in my arms.'