'It isn't ladylike to run!'

“Slow down!” Lady Gwynn cried from somewhere still out of sight. “It isn’t ladylike to run!”

Lady Margaret came sliding in, but she stopped neatly when her slippers bumped up against the edge of the heavy rug in what was clearly a practiced maneuver.

Lady Margaret came sliding in.

Conrad tugged on a pair of imaginary reins. “Whoa, Maggie, old girl!”

You’re here!” she gasped.

“Miss me?” Conrad laughed.

'Miss me?'

“Not you! Finn!”

“Good afternoon, Margaret,” Cedric bowed and lifted his hand slightly in a request for hers.

“Oh, bother!” Margaret groaned. “All five of you here, I don’t want to waste the morning kissing hands. Everyone pucker up!” She flung her arms out to her sides. “I shall spin once around, and you may kiss my hand as it goes by.”

Finn laughed. “And afterwards you will slap us with the other. No, thank you!”

'And afterwards you will slap us with the other.'

“That is good thinking!” she cried.

“Don’t believe her,” Conrad warned. “She would as soon knock out your tooth as let you kiss her hand.”

“Is that so?” Margaret huffed.

“Flirt,” he teased softly.



“What?” he gasped.

“Turtle!” she giggled and punched his arm.

“I must be going deaf in my old age!” He punched her back, lightly.

“Your deaf goes well with your dumb and ugly. You’re just jealous because I don’t let you kiss any part of me.”

“Is that it?” he chuckled.

'Is that it?'

It was their favorite joke, and from the outside it appeared to be the usual flirtation of any number of young men and women. What made it funny to the two of them was the fact that she had indeed let him kiss her, extensively, for she had wanted to practice all the sorts of kisses whose existence she suspected.

Unfortunately for Conrad, once she decided she had mastered a particular style, she no longer wished to practice it at all. He was beginning to wonder whether he ought not to hint to her that there existed other pursuits aside from mere kissing. On the other hand, if he did, she would expect him to know them well enough to teach her.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” Gwynn said primly as she came prancing in—too soon!

'Good morning, gentlemen.'

Margaret coughed and straightened her posture, if not her hair. Conrad peered around her to catch a glimpse of Gwynn’s face when she saw Finn. Her simpering smile snapped straight and her eyes went wide. Her face said “You’re here!” as clearly as Margaret’s lips had said it a moment before.

Her face said 'You're here!'

“Look who’s here!” Cynewulf said proudly—as well he might, since it had taken his nine-​year-​old self to coax Finn up to the castle. “I believe you’ve met, but nevertheless I shall introduce you. Finn, these are my sisters, Lady Gwynn and Lady Margaret.”

“Finn?” Margaret snickered. “I thought it was Beowulf.”

“Beowulf to you!” Finn said to her.

“I’ve Grendel right here for you, sir!” She snatched Conrad’s arm. “Strike him while you can!”

'Strike him while you can!'

“Betrayed by my own mother!” Conrad wailed.

She shrieked and smacked his arm, as he had hoped.

“We were about to take our birds out, my lady,” Cedric said politely to Gwynn. “Before the sun is too high. We thought you ladies might like to come.”

'We were about to take our birds out, my lady.'

“Do we?” Margaret squealed. “It’s about time you invited us for a change!”

Gwynn lifted her head and looked down her nose at Finn, but the effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact that she was obliged to lift her head to look him in the eyes in any case, tall as he was.

'Do you hunt with hawks among the elves?'

“Do you hunt with hawks among the elves?” she asked with stiff politeness.

“Of course we do.”

“Oh? What sorts of birds do you use?”

Finn did not hesitate. “Cockerels,” he replied.


Margaret snorted and turned away to hide her face in Conrad’s sleeve and writhe with silent laughter. As agreeable as it was, Conrad did not want to look away from Gwynn. Her face was growing as red as her dress was green.

Her face was growing as red as her dress was green.

“Of course,” Finn drawled, “we don’t catch very much with them. They’re rather silly birds and scare away the game with their crowing and their preening.”

“We don’t hunt with cockerels here,” Gwynn choked.

'We don't hunt with cockerels here.'

“You don’t? Didn’t Cedric just invite you?”

Gwynn did not hesitate. She sobbed and fled from the hall, momentarily forgetting that it was not ladylike to run.

She sobbed and fled from the hall.

Conrad and Margaret laughed to themselves, but everyone else was strangely silent, even unto the Old Man.

At last Cedric barked, “Why did you do that?”

'Why did you do that?'

“Do what?” Finn mumbled.

“The real question is: Why do girls have to be such crybabies?” Olaf sneered. “He was only teasing, like I do my sister every day.”

'He was only teasing, like I do my sister every day.'

“We’re not all crybabies,” Margaret protested. “I am not.”

“Ah…” Conrad tapped her lightly on the shoulder. “I believe that’s because you’re too stupid to know when someone is teasing you, ma très chère,” he suggested.

'Ah... I believe that's because you're too stupid.'

I believe that’s because I give it as good as I get it, pardieu!” she laughed.

Tu ne crois pas si bien dire,” he smiled wickedly, though they immediately glanced around the room in an attempt to guess who might speak French well enough to have understood.

They immediately glanced around the room in an attempt to guess who might speak French.

No one else was paying any attention to the two of them, however.

“I have only met one cockerel today,” Cedric said ominously, “and he hasn’t yet left the room.”

No one answered.

“And as my lady said,” he continued, “we do not hunt with cockerels here.”

'We do not hunt with cockerels here.'

“Oh, that’s right,” Olaf sighed and rolled his eyes. “For every crybaby, the Lord made a crybaby-​lover. Well, I am going out, whether you come or not, gallant sir. Who’s with me?”

'Who's with me?'

Conrad announced, “I am not staying indoors merely because Gwynn is a crybaby and Finn is a cad.”

“Neither am I,” Margaret said, “particularly since I knew that already.”

'Neither am I.'

“I think you should apologize to my sister before we go,” Cynewulf said with unusual meekness.

“Apologize?” Finn snorted. “I think it’s time someone ruffled her tail feathers a bit. What sort of wife is she going to make to some poor man if no one does?”

'What sort of wife is she going to make to some poor man if no one does?'

“A sweet one,” Cedric suggested, “who doesn’t know what it is to be hurt by a man?”

“An unbearable one, if you ask me,” Finn said. “‘Good morning, gentlemen,’” he mocked, lifting his hands and shaking his hips in a ludicrous imitation of Gwynn. “Her husband will be thanking me someday for making her humble.”

Cedric muttered, “I think he will be punching you in the face for making her cry.”

'I think he will be punching you in the face for making her cry.'