Britamund woke suddenly.

Britamund woke suddenly. She felt sick and achy and still very tired, but the room was red with dawn. What room was this?

Then she remembered everything.

“Britamund,” Dunstan murmured and stroked a hand down her side. It was Dunstan who had awoken her. “I believe we have visitors.”

'I believe we have visitors.'

She heard men’s boots and men’s voices in the corridor behind the wall. Voices she knew. She heard her father. They passed by and continued down the hallway, which only meant that they were coming closer.

“Tell them to wait!” she squeaked in panic. “My maid… my gown…”

“They must find us in bed,” he reminded her gently.

Of course. Her body went limp, but her heart was pounding wildly in her breast. She imagined herself a tiny baby rabbit held tightly in a big hand.

They did not knock. They coughed and scuffled a bit in the entry, but they soon stepped through the curtain: her father, Dunstan’s father, and her brother, all of them eerily sober after having been so drunk the day before.

Her father, Dunstan's father, and her brother.

It seemed cruel to have brought her brother. If he had not told her the night before that he was proud of her, she would have thought him impossibly hard-​​hearted to have hounded her as far as her bridal bed.

But of course, he was not only her brother; he was the Crown Prince, and she and Dunstan and their children would be his subjects someday.

But of course, he was not only her brother.

No one spoke and no one smiled. Their eyes sparkled in their dim faces like the eyes of wolves, waiting for a sign of weakness.

Dunstan laid a hand on the curve of her hip and pulled her towards him. “Come,” he whispered.

She slid back against him gratefully. His bare skin was so warm! It was strange to feel the front of him with the back of herself, but they fit together nicely this way.

However, this did not seem to be what he wanted. He squirmed away from her and clasped his hand around her upper arm to tug on it. “Come,” he repeated.


She understood then that he wanted her to get out of the bed with him.

“Oh!” she whimpered in fright.

She had known something like this would happen, but she had not thought through the logistics of it. Father Aelfden had prepared her for the wedding, and Eadie had prepared her for the wedding night, but no one had prepared her for the following morning.

“They won’t look at you, Brit,” Dunstan whispered. “They’re not here for that. Come out with me on my side and we shall hide you behind me. They will never know you’re here,” he winked.

Like her tiny baby rabbit, she was too terrified to move.

“Trust me,” he whispered.

'Trust me.'

That was what Ana had told her to do last night. She feared she had not followed the advice well enough, and she thought she might have hurt her husband because of it. She would trust him now.

She slid awkwardly backwards across the bed, trying to keep the sheets over her body while not taking them with her. It never occurred to her to roll over and go face-​​first.

There was a mad scramble of limbs once she slipped free, but he quickly maneuvered her against the wall and put his body between hers and the other men.

'Immediately they both froze like startled deer.'

Immediately they both froze like startled deer. Then Dunstan began chuckling soundlessly against her neck, which was not only amusing but also tickled. She giggled. It was strange to feel all the front of him with all the front of herself; they had not been able to lie together quite this way in the bed.

It was so dark across the room that she could scarcely see the other men. She realized that her father and Alred must have left while the sky was still dark if they could arrive at Dunellen while the dawn was yet so dim. Perhaps that was why.

For a moment, she could almost believe she was alone with her husband. Then Alred stepped forward, silent and grim as he so rarely was, and stopped beside the bed.

Alred stepped forward.

She could not see in him the gentle, wistfully smiling man who called her his beauty and who so desired her happiness. He was simply the Duke, and these were the politics behind her marriage. Her firstborn son would be his heir. He had to be certain it would be his grandson.

Britamund stopped smiling, and her stomach seemed to spin slowly inside of her, awaiting the sign telling it whether to sink or to stay where it was. Dunstan was lightly kissing her neck up and down, trying to distract her, but she was a Princess, her father’s daughter, and she wanted to see.

She still feared that somehow, through some accident, some misunderstanding, some flaw in her construction, it had not worked.

Alred lifted the edge of the blankets high.

Alred lifted the edge of the blankets high, like a tent, and looked beneath. Then he threw them back so all could see. With that gesture, she understood that he had been prepared to lie for her, and had found it unnecessary.

She also saw the look of relief that her father and her brother exchanged. She sent them a look of scorn and then peered over Dunstan’s shoulder at the bed. She had a greater right to see than they.

She had a greater right to see than they.

Dunstan had made her sit up afterwards to be certain she would bleed onto the sheets, but even so there were only a few tiny spots. She had bled more for wounds that hurt less. It seemed nothing more than a ritual stain, as all the rest of her wedding had been ritualized symbols of grimmer things. And yet without it, Dunstan or even Dunstan’s father could have sent her away in shame.

She caught Alred's eye.

She caught Alred’s eye, and she understood that he had been waiting for her to stop looking so that he could pull the blankets up again. She winced in embarrassment and hid her face in Dunstan’s neck, and so she only heard the sheets snap tight and settle again.

'Good morning, my children.'

“Good morning, my children.” Alred’s voice was as soft was the light was dim. “We shall see you in the hall at breakfast, at a more civilized hour.”

She looked up to see him going away smiling and her father and brother already gone.

Then Dunstan kissed her, and she did not open her eyes again for a while.

Then Dunstan kissed her, and she did not open her eyes again for a while.