'Gloating over his runt like a troll over his gold.'

“Ah, look at him in here,” the King sighed grandly. “Gloating over his runt like a troll over his gold.”

“Do not compare this baby to anything which has a price,” Leofric grumbled.

“But feel free to compare him to a troll,” Caedwulf laughed.

“Shut up, you ninnies, and come look at this baby. Did Eadgith tell you how special he is?” Leofric asked with a foolish grin.

“We haven’t even seen Eadgith yet,” Caedwulf said, “Thank the Lord, you are here to tell us!”

'Thank the Lord, you are here to tell us!'

“Look at his eyes. Wake up, little baby,” he crooned.

Sigefrith looked at his baby brother. The eyes were blue, as all babies’ were, but they were light enough that he supposed they would so remain. Of course, the eyes of all of his mother’s children were either blue like hers or hazel like his father’s, so this was nothing extraordinary.

“Pretty,” he said. He knew that his father found all of his babies extraordinary.

“Not just pretty, runt! Look at them! Look at them closely.”

'Not just pretty, runt!'

Both Sigefriths looked again.

“Look!” Leofric insisted. “You see, there’s a dark ring around the blue of his eyes?”

“Oh!” Sigefrith smiled, relieved to have had the special feature pointed out to him. “That’s pretty.”

“Not just pretty!” Leofric hissed. “Look!

“Wrong again, runt,” the King chuckled.

Sigefrith looked a third time.

“You see?” his father whispered. “How the ring gets thinner as it goes around in this direction and thicker in that direction? And where the ends meet – isn’t it like a snake with his tail in his mouth?”

'Isn't it like a snake with his tail in his mouth?'

“Son of a serpent!” Caedwulf crowed.

“Oh, Leofric,” the King sighed and rolled his eyes. “You and your runts.”

“Look! Isn’t it?” Leofric pleaded.

'One could say it does look rather like a snake...'

“One could say it does look rather like a snake…” Sigefrith said hesitantly.

For this he earned a grateful grin from his father and a congratulatory slap on the back from the King. “Right answer!”

“Two snakes, by God!” Leofric said. “One in each eye!”

“You’ve been saying it for so long your wish finally came true!” Caedwulf laughed. “Will you call him Serpent? Filius serpentis?


“Naedre,” Leofric said sheepishly.

“Naedre!” the King wailed. “Nomine patris! You already have girls named Roe and Gull and a boy named Raven. Do you truly need a boy named Snake?”

“You have a boy named Dragon,” Leofric pouted.

“Whom you named, grandfather!”

'I like even Duck or Chicken better.'

“I like even Duck or Chicken better,” Sigefrith giggled.

“I liked Canute better,” the King said. “I should have known you would change your mind.”

“You can name your next runt Canute if you like,” Leofric grumbled. “This one is to be my last, Inch’Allah, and I shall name him as I please.”

“Poor Eadgith,” the King sighed. “When was the last time you gave a child a proper name?”

“Ah… Cedric, I think. And who says Naedre isn’t a proper name?” he cooed for the baby’s benefit.

'Ah... Cedric, I think.'

Caedwulf coughed. “Speaking of Cedric…”

“He’s out with Conrad, runt,” Leofric said. “He’ll be back for dinner.”

“Ah, but he was not truly speaking of Cedric,” the King said.

“So… where’s Kraaia?” Caedwulf grinned.

“I should have known you wouldn’t come all this way to see a baby,” Leofric sighed.

'I should have known you wouldn't come all this way to see a baby.'

“Where is she? Everyone’s seen her except for me!”

“Well, if you’ve come all this way, you’ve come too far. She’s at Leila’s.”

“What?” Caedwulf wailed.

“I can’t keep her here, runt,” Leofric said softly. He shifted the baby onto his shoulder, as if it was only the baby that was making him uncomfortable. “I don’t know what to do with her. She’s a sweet girl, mind, but… she came all this way alone, on ships with men. Eadgith talked to her, and she claims nothing happened to her, but you can’t make me believe that a girl that pretty made it all the way here unscathed. Even dressed as a boy. Even if she were a boy.”

'Even if she were a boy.'

“God in heaven!” the King laughed. “If I weren’t married, I would have scathed her myself!”

“She’s eleven, Sigefrith,” Leofric frowned.

“If I weren’t married and she weren’t eleven, as long as I’m dreaming,” the King shrugged. “As the father of an eleven-​​year-​​old girl, I must say young Kraaia does not act eleven.”

'I must say young Kraaia does not act eleven.'

“I suppose she had her childhood stolen from her some time ago,” Leofric said miserably, cuddling his newborn for consolation.

“You’re soft on her!” the King accused.

“Not that kind of soft.”

“That kind of hard?” Caedwulf asked.

'That kind of hard?'

“Poor girl,” Leofric pouted, ignoring him. “She needed a father.”

“But Conrad is at Leila’s!” Caedwulf whined.

“Yes, and?” his father snapped. “Is it unfair? Unlike Conrad, you have a betrothed wife, I remind you.”

'Unlike Conrad, you have a betrothed wife, I remind you.'

“I’m not married yet,” Caedwulf grumbled.

“In any case, Conrad is not at Leila’s either,” Leofric said. “He’s here until I dispose of Kraaia properly. Leila can’t keep her either, because of Raegan and Liss. Lili said she would take her, since Jehanne is still tiny, but Egelric’s already sore at her for saying she would take that girl with the elf baby without asking him first.”

The King snorted. “He’s simply afraid he’ll be stuck with the elf baby at the end of it.”

'He's simply afraid he'll be stuck with the elf baby at the end of it.'

“What about Sophie?” Sigefrith asked, thinking that a murderess could hardly turn up her nose at a girl who merely had loose morals.

“She has Astrid there,” Leofric said. “And Stein isn’t there to say her nay, and I think she wouldn’t dare.”

“That’s true,” Sigefrith sighed. “And I certainly can’t take her. And Baldwin has Brit’s girls now. Everyone has girls at home. It’s a shame she didn’t show up before Baldwin and the others left. They could have taken her home.”

“Egelric’s my only hope,” Leofric said.

'Egelric's my only hope.'

“Egelric?” the King asked. “Are you certain you can leave the likes of Kraaia in the care of the likes of Egelric?

“I think she’s safe as long as Lili lives.”

“Then Lili is your only hope,” the King chuckled.

'Then Lili is your only hope.'