Britamund always felt a twinge of guilt when she stepped into the sitting room.

Britamund always felt a twinge of guilt when she stepped into the sitting room on a fair morning.

She was not ungrateful to Dunstan for opening up her old sitting room and making it into their bedchamber. Thus she would find herself in familiar territory, despite the lingering strangeness of sleeping in a man’s broad bed.

She was grateful to Dunstan.

However, the only remaining room suitable for the seated pursuits of a future Duchess and a future Queen was unsuitable in one important way: it lacked a window.

It could have been any hour of the day or night, and the same heavy tapestry of gloom always cloaked the chamber. Nevertheless, it was here Ogive always sat when Britamund did not arrange for her to be otherwise occupied.

It was here Ogive always sat.

“Good morning, Ogive!” she cried with a good cheer she did not feel. “Or did you even know it was morning, in here?”

“Your Highness!” Ogive stood and curtseyed low with bended knees, in the fashion of her royal half-sister’s court. “I know it is morning, and I hope it is good. You see, I had candles lit!” she added, defending herself before Britamund had even accused her of committing her usual crime.

'You see, I had candles lit!'

“Candles don’t tell you whether it’s morning or night.”

“Certainly they do. It was morning when I lit them, and if they have not yet burned far down, then morning it is still.”

“You’re too clever for me,” Britamund laughed.

“No, I am not, which is why I like you so well.”

“I have often said the same of you!”

'I have often said the same of you!'

They shared a smile for a moment before Britamund took a step towards the chair.

But Ogive leaned closer and asked gently, “How are you feeling this morning?”

Britamund stopped with a pointed toe in the air, as in the first step of a dance. Her heart began to pound, beating the blood up into her face.

“I feel very well. Why do you ask?” Her voice purled thickly in her throat, as it did when she cried.

'Why do you ask?'

“You and Dunstan left so early last night. We were a little worried.”

“I asked him to tell you all not to worry. I was only very tired after the day.”

It was the plain truth, and that fact should have made her excuse convincing despite her flaming cheeks.

“I suppose I’ve lost the habit of so much riding,” she added, though this second excuse only seemed to diminish the effect of the first. “We went directly to bed.”

'We went directly to bed.'

“Oh.” Ogive’s freckles paled as her cheeks grew pink. She had misunderstood.

“Went directly to sleep!” Britamund added.

“Oh!” Ogive winced and stepped aside.

Britamund had told the plain truth. She had been so exhausted, she had fallen asleep before Dunstan had crawled into bed beside her.

She had been so exhausted.

And even had she not, she had been wearing the heavy flannel nightgown that – after a first awkward, half-​​blurted and half-​​blushed explanation – had become her signal to him that she was not in a condition to receive his attentions.

Dunstan had let her sleep. He had even let her sleep when he woke in the morning, and had instructed her maid to let her sleep as well, until such a late hour that Ogive’s candles had burned at least half-​​way down.

Ogive's candles had burned at least half-way down.

And still Britamund was feeling groggy.

“What were you doing in here this morning?” she asked her friend. “Your first day without Trudi?”

“Only thinking about certain matters.”

“Oh?” Britamund smiled encouragingly, but when Ogive spoke, she went back to the topic of Edeltrude and not, seemingly, the “certain matters”.

Britamund smiled encouragingly.

“However, I shall see Trudi quite often, and you are a friend to me now, and a more seemly one, I think.”

“Oh, well… it is true…”

“I think Trudi will be lonelier than I. I hope Lady Ana and she will be friends. But neither can ride for much longer, in their… present state of health.” Ogive blushed but smiled knowingly.

'But neither can ride for much longer.'

“That is true…” Britamund murmured.

“But you and I are still free to ride to visit them both. When we are at – ”

Ogive stopped and bit her lips between her teeth.

Britamund hastily looked down to straighten her skirts and settle herself more gracefully upon her chair, but this only reminded her of the small pad of cloth on which she sat. She told herself she must not shift it out of place. She would surely be needing it at any moment.

She would surely be needing it at any moment.

In fact, she had only been up and walking about for a half hour – perhaps she needed it already. She decided she would check when she had a moment of privacy.

“But of course, winter is coming!” Ogive blurted. “We shan’t be able to ride far anyway. I mean – at all. Is it very cold and unpleasant here in the winter?”

'Is it very cold and unpleasant here in the winter?'

Britamund relaxed at the mention of weather. “Perhaps it snows more than in Flanders. Baldwin says so, and he spent several winters at Lille and Bruges.”

“Oh, but I think this is the snuggest little castle ever,” Ogive sighed happily. “I wish I could have such a one when I am married.”

'Caedwulf has the room my father built for my mother.'

“Caedwulf has the room my father built for my mother,” Britamund said, more solemnly than she had intended. “You may be certain that he built it to be warm and comfortable.”

Ogive twisted her hands in her skirt, neither straightening it nor making herself appear more graceful. “Of course, it must be more snug two to a bed, as well,” she mumbled shyly.

'Of course, it must be more snug two to a bed, as well.'

“It… certainly can be. Is, I mean…”

Ogive straightened her shoulders and declared, “I hope it does not snow all the time. I must get out and ride. If I do not, I shall never manage to mount my horse in the spring!”

“Why ever not?” Britamund asked, wondering whether a lady’s legs could grow unaccustomed to such use after a few months away from horses.

'Whyever not?'

Certainly, ever since she was old enough to sit on her little pony without flopping to either side, Princess Britamund had never passed more than a week or two out of the saddle, and then only for illness. Nothing but her health could keep her from her rides. The state of her health…

'I beg your pardon?'

“I beg your pardon?” she gasped. She had entirely missed Ogive’s reply.

Ogive leapt up from the couch, and Britamund felt her face grow hot again with shame.

Ogive did not storm out of the room, however. She merely stood before the fire and turned her profile to the Princess.

She merely stood before the fire and turned her profile to the Princess.

“Look at me!” she cried. “As fat as a pork pie!” She twisted her hips from side to side, laughing awkwardly. Ogive lacked the self-​​confidence or the grace to laugh convincingly at her own faults – even when she did not possess them.

“What – nonsense!” Britamund wailed.

But the thought of a pork pie made her salivate even while it made her feel ill. Her mind’s tongue could taste it: a pork pie, cold and a little stale, with a tough crust, and the spaces between the chunks of gummy meat filled with a pasty white fat…

'Not a pork pie!'

“Not a pork pie!” she groaned.

“A chicken pie?” Ogive giggled. She smacked her thigh and said, “With extra gravy!”

“You are not fat!” Britamund huffed.

Indeed, she had already overheard Caedwulf and Selwyn speculating on the scrawniness of Ogive’s legs, and neither of them – who believed themselves experts on such matters – held out much hope for the fullness of her figure in the future.

But of course Britamund could not mention this to Ogive.

'I shall soon be if we can't go out riding!'

“I shall soon be if we cannot go out riding!” Ogive said. “Because of snow, I mean.”

“Nonsense! If we cannot go out, we shall stay in.” She grabbed Ogive by the shoulder and turned her around to face her. “And dance!”

Britamund lifted her arm and pointed her opposite toe – gracefully, as she tried to always be now, to honor her husband.

Britamund lifted her arm and pointed her opposite toe.

She scowled at Ogive until she did the same, giggling, though the grace lacked. It was perhaps no wonder that Caedwulf remarked her scrawniness: she appeared to be all elbows and knees when she moved.

“I do not think you are even the sort of girl who can grow fat!” Britamund scoffed.

'That is where you err!'

“That is where you err!” Ogive protested. “You have not seen my mother or my sister Bertha! My mother is so fat, she no longer goes down to the hall because it is too difficult for her to go back up the stairs. And Bertha!” Instead of clapping her hands with Britamund at the appointed moment in the dance, she violently smacked her own rear. “She is so fat, Philippe is trying to divorce her for fatness!”

'She is so fat, Philippe is trying to divorce her for fatness!'


“He is! He says it makes her barren, but it is a lie. She has always been fat, but she has had two children already. If she has no more, it is because he does not go in to her chamber. But it is because she is too fat! He cannot bear the sight of her!”

'He cannot bear the sight of her!'


“It is the plain truth! What man will love a woman so fat he cannot put his arms about her?”

Britamund broke out of the dance to pull Ogive close for a hug. “I can put my arms around three of you, or I could if I had the luxury of three Ogives to myself.”

'I can put my arms around three of you.'

Ogive snorted. “You do not understand, Brit,” she grumbled, “but I am glad you do not. But I do wish I could make you understand how lucky you are! You are so beautiful, and so graceful, and so – perfect! And your husband loves you so much!” she concluded in a small, shrill voice.

Britamund released her and stepped away. For a moment they shared a startled stare. Then Ogive lifted her arms and returned to the dance.

Ogive lifted her arms and returned to the dance.

“Besides,” she said coolly, somehow unraveling the conversation back to a distant, less anguished point, “we cannot dance in December, due to Advent.”

“Ah! That is where you err!” Britamund cried. “By decree of Her Grace the Duchess, we residents of Nothelm may dance during Advent, provided we do not lift both feet from the floor at any given time.”

'By decree of the Duchess, we residents of Nothelm may dance during Advent.'

“We may what?” Ogive gasped and laughed.

“Dance but not leap!”

'Dance but not leap!'

“Whatever will Caedwulf do?” Ogive giggled breathlessly. “He does like to leap!”

Britamund flung out her elbows, threw back her head until her nose pointed straight up at the ceiling, and then bent her knees and sprang up with such force that she appeared to intend to plant it there.

Ogive bent double with shrieking laughter at the resemblance. Britamund laughed with her, though the exploit had left her feeling rather dizzy.

Britamund laughed with her.

But they both spun around at the sound of a knock at the open door.

“I always show up just in time to miss the jokes,” Dunstan pretended to grumble.

“There’s another one!” Ogive cried.

“Another one what?” he asked warily.

'Another one what?'

“Who likes to leap!” Britamund said.

“To leap!” he scoffed. “I do not leap, mesdames.

“Don’t you?”

Britamund did a startling thing then, whether out of dizziness, fatigue, or something she had never felt before to name: she reached around her husband’s back to deliver a sharp pinch to his behind.

She reached around her husband's back to deliver a sharp pinch to his behind.

Dunstan yelped and did indeed leap. “I stand corrected!” he gasped.

“I think you will find it easier than ‘sitting corrected’ for the next few minutes,” Britamund said.

Dunstan laughed, but his face was turning red behind his hand.

Dunstan laughed, but his face was turning red behind his hand.

Britamund felt more light-​​headed than ever, and she could hear a throbbing in the veins of her temples and feel it in the veins of her arms and shoulders and breasts. It was not blood, however, but a strange, dizzying power: she had made her husband blush by being forward with him, instead of being made to blush.

She liked the feeling. She wanted to pinch and smack and tickle and prod him all over – to nip his soft earlobe between her teeth, and squeeze the solid muscle of his thigh until her fingernails left dents in his skin, and yank on his ponytail to tip his head back until she could freely run the tip of her tongue from his sharp-​​stubbled chin to his salty collarbone…

She wanted to pinch and smack and tickle and prod him all over.

But he was looking at her strangely. She feared she had been looking at him strangely on her own side. She felt a rush of heat to her cheeks, but it was only blood – only a blush – only embarrassment. What would he think of her if she were to do such things? She, a Princess?

What would he think of her if she were to do such things?

She did not know what had come over her – she did not know why she had even had such thoughts. She hoped he would not guess.

At some point she had leaned back against the wall. The wall was cool, but the air of the room was sweltering hot. His hand too was gratefully cool as it stroked over her cheek.

His hand too was gratefully cool as it stroked over her cheek.

“I think you did not get enough sleep,” he murmured.

“I don’t think it’s possible to get more than I did,” she giggled drunkenly.

“Then you might lie down a while. You are looking pale.”

“How can that be if I feel so hot?”

“Are you?” He stood on his toes to kiss her forehead. “You’re not,” he whispered. “Wait – ” He kissed one cheek and then the other. “Wait a moment…” He kissed the eyelids of both eyes, and when she opened her mouth to sigh he kissed her lips.

When she opened her mouth to sigh he kissed her lips.

She did not think she had a fever: his mouth was hotter than hers. Nevertheless it made her shiver, as did the hands that were kneading the small of her back, pulling her belly tight up against his.

“I have been feeling a little faint,” she admitted when she next had a chance to speak.

“Then let’s lie you down,” he murmured. “Please excuse us, my dear,” he said to Ogive, who continued smiling vaguely.

Britamund relaxed between his body and the wall, until little more than friction and his strong arms held her up.

Britamund relaxed between his body and the wall.

“Can you walk?” he asked her.

For a moment she dreamt she was as tiny as his mother had been, so that he might have carried her. She wished they were already in bed.


Her body stiffened, and her legs clenched around the wad of cloth between them. She had forgotten that. She tried to guess whether it was damp or dry.

But she was almost certain it was dry and clean. She relaxed again into his arms. She was almost certain she had simply counted wrong.

She was almost certain she had simply counted wrong.