'Did you keep this feckless Wyn out of trouble for a while?'

“There, my lady! Did you keep this feckless Wyn out of trouble for a while?” Alred tapped Brunhilde’s nose with his finger, leaving a smudge of dirt that would have horrified the tidy little girl if she had been cross-​​eyed enough to see it.

“He was good,” she sniffed. “Did you win at least?”

'Did you win at least?'

Alred laughed. “Do I usually end up this dirty if I win?”


“Be that as it may, today I most certainly lost, and I have the bootprint on my back and the pebbles between my teeth to prove it. Give me a hundred Sir Pauls, and we would take London as quickly as we could march to it.”

'Give me a hundred Sir Pauls, and we would take London as quickly as we could march to it.'

“Do you mean to knight him?” Ethelwyn asked.

“I think he is too clever to let himself be beholden to me. I already owe him my son’s life. Uh oh!”

'Uh oh!'

Alred’s steward had just stepped through the open door.

“This isn’t about that new priest is it?” Alred asked before he could speak. “Look at me, old man – fighting on a Sunday! I shall have to have a bath before I meet him, or else make up some ridiculous story about… falling in the moat, say.”

Ethelwyn merely licked his thumb and cleaned Brunhilde’s nose while her stepfather’s attention was turned elsewhere.

Ethelwyn merely licked his thumb and cleaned Brunhilde's nose.

“I have not yet seen the priest,” Aldwyn said. “He just went up to the chapel to see the Abbot. I am here on account of his traveling companions, who wish to have an audience with Your Grace if it is convenient.”

Alred winked at Ethelwyn. “His traveling companions don’t happen to be two beautiful young ladies, do they?”

“A young gentleman scholar and his secretary, rather. Remarkably wealthy for a scholar, if outward appearances are an indication, but so he claims to be.”

“A scholar…” Alred said thoughtfully. “A man needn’t bathe for a scholar, need he?” he asked Ethelwyn.

'A man needn't bathe for a scholar, need he?'

“Not if a man is a duke.”

“Very good. Have him brought to the hall, then,” he said to Aldwyn. “No – bring him up here. Might as well meet him where the books are. He’ll be more interested in them than in me, I wager.”

After Aldwyn had stepped out, Alred rubbed his forehead with his palm. “Better?”

“Worse,” Ethelwyn smiled.


“Well, ‘outward appearances’ would seem to indicate he will be offended, but if that’s so, he’s not likely to be a friend of mine. Bruni, on the other hand, likes her men clean…” He winked at her. “I should have asked Aldwyn whether he was handsome.”

Brunhilde did not seem to know what he meant, but she clung more tightly to Ethelwyn just in case.

“You should rather have asked him whether he has violet eyes,” Ethelwyn said.

“Jupiter! Why do I always forget that?”

'Jupiter!  Why do I always forget that?'

Fortunately the young gentleman scholar and his secretary were shown in at that moment.

“What color are your eyes, my good man?” Alred asked at once.

The young man had seemed self-​​confident enough as he strode in, but he was startled out of countenance by the question. “Gray…” he breathed.

The young man was startled out of countenance.

“Very good!”

The man looked at Ethelwyn, for reassurance it seemed. Ethelwyn smiled and shrugged.

“Your… Grace…” he faltered, and then he recovered himself enough to bow – to Ethelwyn. “I thank you for receiving us.” He had a strong accent, but he spoke with the precise English of a scholar of languages. “We are on the road to the abbey, but we stop here because we hear you are some scholar yourself.”

'I thank you for receiving us.'

Ethelwyn opened his mouth to protest, but the man’s rediscovered self-​​assurance gave him sufficient momentum to miss this entirely.

“Is this your daughter?” he smiled and leaned in towards Brunhilde. “She looks very much like you! I love the babies!”

“I am not a baby!” Brunhilde cried. “I am Bruni, and I am a little girl.

'I am Bruni, and I am a little girl.'

Brunhilde’s interruption allowed Ethelwyn to sneak in a protest, but he felt obliged to address the more sensitive of the two misunderstandings first.

“She is most certainly not my daughter,” he said. “She is the child of Her Grace’s late first husband. When Her Grace arrived in this valley, she was already… already…”

“I am very sorry,” the young man said stiffly. “I never before see a man who is offended to be called the father of his wife’s children.”

'I am very sorry.'

“That is not what I mean,” Ethelwyn sighed, struggling beneath a squirming Bruni.

“Normally it is the contrary. Either he is not the father of his wife’s children, or the father of children not his wife’s.” The young man smiled a little wickedly. “So it is with me: the Duke of Burgundy was my father, but my mother was not the Duchess. That is all I say, and do not hold it against me, for it is not my fault.” He winked at Ethelwyn.

Ethelwyn could not reply, for Bruni was fighting to be put down.

The young man bowed again, more grandly this time. “I am called Sebastien Maloisel, but my friends call me Bastien, and I hope you will.”

“How economical of you,” Alred said.

'How economical of you.'

“I am sorry?” Sebastien snapped.

“How economical of you to spare your friends the labor of an entire syllable.”

Sebastien put on a look of highly refined disdain, and nor did he bother to turn his head when he asked, “And who are you?”

'And who are you?'

Alred said, “I am called Ethelwyn Ealstan, but my friends call me Ethel. I hope you will, too.”

Ethelwyn grimaced in despair.

'Ethelwyn grimaced in despair.'

“How economical of you!” Sebastien sneered. “Perhaps I should better ask, what are you?”

“Well,” Alred said, “my mother was a hamster, and my father smelt of elderberries. But don’t hold it against me. Indeed, I think rodent wives charming enough that I married a mouse. And as for me,” he bowed, “I am Sir Egelric’s steward.”

'I am Sir Egelric's steward.'

“A steward! I was not aware that stewardship was a so filthy labor.”

“Ordinarily it is not,” Alred smiled. “However, I do enjoy taking a dip in the moat now and then, for it has always brought me luck. The only disadvantage is that one ends up dirtier afterwards than when one began.”

Sebastien turned back to Ethelwyn. “Do you always let him speak this way before your guests? He did not survive an hour with my father, if he ever saw him.”

'Do you always let him talk this way before your guests?'

“His Grace is a kind, patient, and long-​​suffering man,” Alred said, “not to mention brilliant, gifted, and exceedingly pleasing to ladies in every manner. Your father, on the other hand, was the most prolific robber of pilgrims and pillager of abbeys of this eleventh century of Our Lord, if I do not mistake your age.”

“At least he did not smell of elderberries! Nom de Dieu! Or moats!

'Or moats!'

“Ah, you must forgive me, old man,” Alred sighed and rubbed his forehead, spreading the grime still more thoroughly across his face. “I’ve not been the same since I was bitten by that mad dog last year…”

Sebastien coughed and turned back to Ethelwyn. “As I was saying, this is my secretary, Malo, but you must forgive him if he does not speak, for he has no tongue.”

'This is my secretary, Malo.'

“Why not?” Brunhilde asked shyly from her seat on the floor.

“Ah! Bruni, that I do not know,” Sebastien said, smiling kindly as he only seemed to do to children. “Every time I am asking him, he tells a different story.”

“Did the cat get it?” she asked.

“That might be why!”

Ethelwyn had noticed the scars beside the young man's mouth.

Ethelwyn had noticed the scars beside the young man’s mouth, and he supposed something more like a man had gotten Malo’s tongue. However, he did not like the idea of three-​​year-​​old Brunhilde wondering too much about such things.

He did not like the idea of three-year-old Brunhilde wondering too much about such things.

But Sebastien continued before he could speak. “As I was saying, Malo is a good secretary, and he has a fair and rapid hand. He will copy for me what I like, and also for Your Grace, no? I bring some books which I do not think you have seen here so far from a civilized country.”

'I bring some books which I do not think you have seen here so far from a civilized country.'

“Books!” Alred cried, forgetting himself in his delight.

“Yes, books!” Sebastien snapped. “These things, which have words inside and sometimes pictures? But you are not putting your hands on my books if you are washing them in moats!

'But you are not putting your hands on my books if you are washing them in moats!'

“Never!” Alred gasped. “But, you know, His Grace has a fair collection of books himself, uncivilized country that we are.”

“Yes, and I hear you are writing them, too,” Sebastien said, chuckling indulgently at Ethelwyn. “Of course, I have never read. I think it so… how do you say? Charming? Quaint? To be writing poetry in the vernacular. Of course it cannot interest anyone outside of your little valley…”

“I believe some of it is quite well-​​known as far away as Denmark,” Alred said. “But of course he writes in Latin as well, and he has also written some little things in French.”

'He has also written some little things in French.'

“Charming, I am certain,” Sebastien smiled. “Perhaps we shall have an occasion while I am here, when I may presume to amuse your family and friends, and I may sing to you some of the ‘little things’ the real French poets have been making lately?”

'I may sing to you some of the 'little things'.'

“Tonight!” Alred gasped and clapped his hands. “The King is away at Raegiming, and we were – that is, His Grace was wondering what might be done for amusement.”

“I am sorry?” Sebastien snapped. “Was I speaking to you?” He asked Ethelwyn, “Do you always allow him to invite guests to your castle?”

'Do you always allow him to invite guests to your castle?'

“He may invite whom he likes,” Ethelwyn said wearily.

“I certainly shall not presume to come if you do not invite me yourself.”

'I certainly shall not presume to come if you do not invite me yourself.'

Ethelwyn looked to Alred, who nodded eagerly.

“Therefore I hereby invite you and your secretary to supper,” he sighed. “Though I fear ‘Ethel’ may not be able to attend. ‘Ethel’s’ wife Mouse is expecting to be confined any day now.”

Alred laughed gleefully. “‘Ethel’ would not miss it for anything short of imminent childbirth! Sir Egelric will see to that!”

'Sir Egelric will see to that!'