Cedric flung a hand up over his eyes.

“Oh!” Cedric flung a hand up over his eyes.

“Is that any way to greet a lady?” his father laughed.


He wanted to protest that it was not a lady – it was a girl’s head on a boy’s body. But it could not have been a boy’s body. That was a girl’s body. He had just seen the shape of a girl’s legs, hidden only by a snug pair of hose and a tunic that was shorter than his.

“Don’t you know who it is?” Sigefrith asked.

Oh, he knew who it was! His effortless and even unintentional conquest of this girl’s heart had been an unending source of mirth for his father and his father’s friends the entire time they spent in Flanders. But he had thought never to see that devilish grin again.

Cedric looked desparately up at his father.

Cedric looked desperately up at his father, hoping that some explanation could be found there… but he should have known that his father would be red-​​faced and choking with suppressed laughter.

And then she stood – upon those slender legs – and spoke to him.

“So! You don’t get rid of this girl so easily, Cedric.”

'But, Kraaia.'

“But, Kraaia,” he squeaked.

“He never tried to get rid of you, runt!” his father cried. “Never say so! I forced him to come home with me.”

“So, I came too,” she grinned. “I follow you everywhere, na?”

'I follow you everywhere, na?'

He had already been astounded and dismayed by her appearance at Bruges when he had thought her safely left behind at Ghent, but at least that voyage could have been explained by other means than divine.

“But who brought you here?” he asked.

“Many things!” she laughed. “A horse, and before that a mule, and before that a ship, and – oh! I had so many interesting adventures, but now I am here!”

“I see that, Kraaia, but who accompanied you?” he pleaded.

'I see that, Kraaia, but who accompanied you?'

“No one! I am a boy! I go where I like, na?” She laughed. “I think I shall stay a boy now. What do you think, Leofric?”

“Well, now…” his father chuckled awkwardly.

So – his father knew that it was not right to allow a young lady to scamper around dressed as a boy. Now Cedric wondered – desperately – what his father was going to do about it.

'I think that would be a shameful waste of a pretty girl.'

“I think that would be a shameful waste of a pretty girl,” his father finally said.

“I let you decide, Cedric,” she said. “Would you like a boy to play and fight with you, or a girl to play and…”

“Play with,” his father tittered.

“A girl, Kraaia!” Cedric cried.

His father snorted and his brother laughed.

“Stop laughing!” Cedric commanded. “You are a girl, and – and you need a gown! And you can’t stay here! You have – ”

'You have--'

In fact, she had no one. The elderly widow who had raised her from a baby had died shortly before their arrival in Ghent. The lingering aura of that great lady’s rank had allowed her to remain in the periphery of the Flemish court, but it had never been clear to Cedric how she was supported or even where she slept at night – except for the one night when he had awoken and found her curled up in the big chair in the room he shared with Conrad.

'Does anyone know you're here?'

“Does anyone know you’re here?” Sigefrith asked. At least Sigefrith sounded like he was taking matters somewhat seriously.

“Does anyone know you’re gone?” Leofric countered.

“I think not!” she laughed. “Unless they wonder why it’s so quiet around there lately.”

'I think not!'

“Well, you can’t – ” Cedric began again. “You can’t– I shall go tell Lady Eadgith you’re here,” he blurted, relieved to have finally hit upon a solution to this most imminent problem. Lady Eadgith would certainly not allow a young lady to scamper around dressed as a boy, no matter where or to whom she belonged.

“Don’t take it hard, my dear,” his father chuckled as Cedric scurried for the door. “It simply proves that he prefers girls to boys.”

'Don't take it hard, my dear.'