'Spit it out, Ralf.'

“Spit it out, Ralf,” Emma said.

“Or swallow it,” Margaret added, “but you’ve been chewing on it long enough.”

Emma and Margaret both pretended to collapse with giggles, but Gwynn lifted her nose and refused to smile. She sometimes thought her little sister and her little friend were both possessed of an exceedingly unladylike sense of humor.

Gwynn lifted her nose and refused to smile.

“What is it, Ralf?” the Queen asked. “Has something happened to Sigefrith?”

“No!” he gasped, startled into speech by his desire to quell her fear. “No trouble. I simply… don’t quite believe I am saying what I am about to say.”

'I simply... don't quite believe I am saying what I am about to say.'

“You haven’t convinced us yet, either,” Margaret murmured. Gwynn glared a reproach at the back of her head, but Margaret did not look up.

“Oh, dear!” Eadgith whimpered. “Is it bad news? My father?”

“No! Your Majesty… I hope I say this correctly…” Ralf stood to his full height—which was rather impressive, especially to so tiny a girl as Gwynn—and coughed politely into his hand. “Your Majesty,” he began again, “I am come to announce the arrival of Her Serene Highness Irene Kamatera Angelina, Princess of Zakynthos, who begs the indulgence of an audience with you in the hall.”

'I am come to announce the arrival of Her Serene Highness Irene Kamatera Angelina.'

His eyes went wide as he concluded, as if he still did not believe what he had just said.

“Oh, dear!” Eadgith gasped. “And Sigefrith away!”

As for Gwynn, she forgot her manners to the point of letting her mouth hang open.

'Where on earth is Zakynthos?'

“Where on earth is Zakynthos?” Margaret asked.

“Well,” Ralf said, suddenly at ease now that he could fall back on scholarship, “to be brief, it is one of the Ionian islands. As we know from Homer, both from the Iliad and the Odyssey, it was first settled—”

'As we know from Homer...'

“Byzantium?” Margaret interrupted.

“Ah… yes.”

“A Byzantine princess!” Gwynn murmured in wonder. “Is she very beautiful?”

'A Byzantine princess!'

“If I may presume to judge the beauty of princesses,” Ralf said, “I think she is, though your ladyship is likely to be more beautiful still.”

“Is she married?” Gwynn was already considering the romantic possibilities even before he answered.

Fortunately—to her mind—Ralf said, “Unfortunately, she is no longer. In fact, she is no longer a princess of anything, and her island is no longer part of Byzantium, for it was captured by Normans last year, and the Prince her husband put to death.”

'In fact, she is no longer a princess of anything.'

“Normans!” Emma snarled.

“So sad… so romantic…” Gwynn whispered.

“Is she for real?” Margaret asked suspiciously.

'Is she for real?'

“Margaret!” Gwynn gasped. “Must you speak in such a vulgar fashion?”

Ralf said, “I… think she may be. She speaks only Greek, and she has a Roman priest with her as interpreter. And… she has a servant… that is to say…”

Ralf looked around the room in search of someone to whom he could, with propriety, impart this last bit of information. At last he settled on Prince Stephan, as the only other male in the room.

At last he settled on Prince Stephan.

He looked deliberately at the baby and said, “A eunuch.”

Eadgith whimpered, “Oh, dear!” and Margaret and Emma exchanged a wicked smile.

Gwynn felt herself blush.

Gwynn felt herself blush, though it was at her own stupidity, for she did not quite know what a eunuch was. She had some idea that it was a sort of lower-​class servant, for men became dramatically insulted when they were threatened with eunuch-​hood. But suddenly she wished she had bothered to inform herself.

“What’s that?” she asked softly.

She immediately regretted it. Margaret and Emma laughed at her folly.

“Don’t you know?” Emma asked.

Margaret rolled her eyes and said, “Do you know the difference between an ox and a bull? That’s the difference between a eunuch and a man.”

Margaret rolled her eyes.

Gwynn was speechless, both with embarrassment for having been so enlightened before a tall and handsome man, and with shock at learning such things were possible.

“Oh, dear!” Eadgith cried.

“It’s better she learned now, isn’t it?” Margaret asked. “She might have asked him whether he was married.

“Oh, dear! I know, honey, but—oh, dear! Please don’t tell Hetty I told you girls about that!”

'Please don't tell Hetty I told you about that!'

“You didn’t,” Margaret pointed out. “I did. So,” she said to Ralf. “Does a eunuch look different from other men?”

“Why don’t we simply go see for ourselves?” Emma proposed.

“Oh, dear…” Eadgith said. “Ralf, do you suppose it’s…” She looked around at the girls. “Safe?”

'She is accompanied by a priest and a eunuch.'

“She is accompanied by a priest and a eunuch,” Ralf said gravely. “I think it rather more safe than usual. Though they were accompanied to this valley by a young gentleman and a second priest, both of whom are at your ladyships’ castle at the moment.”

Sooooo romantic,” Margaret moaned, mocking Gwynn’s usual raptures. “Is the young gentleman handsome? Does he have violet eyes?”

'Does he have violet eyes?'

“Is he the Princess’s lover?” Emma asked wickedly.

“Emma!” Eadgith cried. “Oh, dear!”

'Oh, dear!'