The first thing Britamund heard upon waking was her maid chanting.

The first thing Britamund heard upon waking was her maid chanting, “Good morning, Your Highness! Rise and shine!”

Beneath her outward good manners and good cheer, Adwen had a slyly mocking way with her. Britamund often believed that every awkward day of her married life was a source of private amusement to her servants.

The first thing she saw when she opened her eyes was a glint of silver on her husband’s pillow. She slipped her hand out from beneath the sheets and slid it slowly across the bed, hoping to avoid attracting Adwen’s attention.

She slipped her hand out from beneath the sheets.

When she slid it back inside, the pillow was bare of all but a strand or two of Dunstan’s dark hair, and her maid was still bustling wordlessly among her gowns.

Britamund had retrieved nothing more than a spoon – the very bluntest sort of weapon – but to her it had seemed a glaring danger. She could not begin to imagine what the servants would say if they learned that their lord and lady had spent the night in bed with a spoon, and not a bowl in sight. She did not doubt they would make something up, however.

“How are you feeling?” her maid chirped. “Still fine?

'Still fine?'

Her “fine” was heavy with all the things she dared not say aloud before a princess. “Fine” meant “still free of those nagging monthly pains”. “Fine” meant “still unbleeding”.

Britamund now sorely regretted having snapped “Fine!” to her maid’s first slyly impertinent queries all those weeks ago. But even had she kept her calm – a task she was finding increasingly difficult these days – her maid was the one person from whom she could not hide her condition.

Nevertheless she refused to admit it.

“In fact, I feel quite well,” she said haughtily.

But as soon as she sat up, she realized she did not feel well at all.

She realized she did not feel well at all.

Aside from her usual morning fuzzy-​​headedness, she had a fuzzy-​​belliedness as well, and her mouth and throat felt absolutely furry.

“Except that I am rather thirsty. Please bring me a cup of water.”

Her maid curtseyed and tramped around the bed to the pitcher. Britamund tried to rush to hide the spoon before Adwen returned, but she was startled to find that her stomach was slow to follow where her body moved, and she had to stop and stand a moment to wait for it to catch up with her.

Her stomach was slow to follow where her body moved.

“I’m surprised how cold it is,” her maid said, peeking slyly up at Britamund while pretending to stare into the cup. “I thought it must have been warm in here last night…”

She lifted her nose to stare across the room at the nightgown that still lay folded on the chair. On the nights when Dunstan dismissed her maid and undressed her himself, the nightgown very seldom left the spot. And Adwen very seldom failed to notice it the next day.

Britamund snatched the cup with one hand, even while trying to hide the spoon in the other. “It is always cold in the morning, regardless.”

Britamund snatched the cup with one hand.

“Better drink it slowly…” her maid suggested.

Britamund tipped back her head and drank it down in a few gulps. The water did freshen her mouth, but by the sheer coldness of it she could feel it slithering down into her like an icy snake, and once it was in her stomach it began to coil and uncoil itself in frigid agitation.

Meanwhile Adwen nodded and smiled, impressed, but still certain she was right.

Meanwhile Adwen nodded and smiled.

Britamund handed back the cup. “Put this away.”

As soon as her maid’s back was turned, she leaned over and dropped the spoon into Dunstan’s boot. It would serve him right for leaving it out in plain sight.

It was not merely a spoon, of course. It was The Princess’s Spoon, reserved by the fond kitchen staff at Nothelm for her exclusive use ever since she had been tiny enough to have found it big. Though blunt, time had proven it a formidable weapon: it was, as Dunstan liked to tease, “the spoon that launched a thousand peas”.

She had never yet seen his face in it.

He swore it was a special spoon, for he claimed it permanently held the upside-​​down image of her face in its bowl. Nothing could make him admit that he saw his own face when he gazed into it, and he submitted as proof the fact that she had never yet seen his face in it but only ever seen her own.

It had become such a joke between them that she had begun hiding it where he would find it in the course of his busy day so that he might look at her even when she was not near. He always dutifully brought it back again like a dog his stick, all but wagging his tail in his desire to play the game again, but lately he had begun hiding it as well.

Hiding it in their bed, however, she thought was taking the joke a little too far. At least when one had a maid like Adwen.

'Oh my, oh my.'

“Oh my, oh my,” Adwen clucked when she noticed Britamund uneasily rubbing her shift over her stomach. “We haven’t even begun to lace you up yet.”

“I was only smoothing the wrinkles,” Britamund muttered.

“Oh my, and if I’m not mistaken, here comes his lordship to wrinkle you up again!”

“Oh!” Britamund squeaked.

'I am not coming to wrinkle anybody up.'

“I am not coming to wrinkle anybody up,” Dunstan sighed.

Britamund was beginning to panic. The water in her stomach was not getting warmer, and she had the impression that it was still swirling around inside of her.

Fortunately Dunstan seldom offered to dress her up again. Perhaps he would not stay long. But if he were to dismiss the maid and take her back to bed again…? At that moment she did not think she could bear to be jostled – even only to lie down.

'I am only coming to get my other boots.'

“I am only coming to get my other boots,” he said. “It looks like rain.”

Britamund squealed, “No!” and swung herself around to put herself between him and his boots.

“No?” Then he smiled foolishly and lifted a hand to brush back her hair. “Good morning, Your Sleepiness. I tried to wake you.”

'Good morning, Your Sleepiness.'

Britamund grabbed him by the shoulders and shuffled him back into the corner by the fire – away from his boots. The water in her stomach splashed like a stream fattened by melting ice and snow, but that was not her greatest concern. If Adwen saw him pull a spoon from the boots he had left standing against the wall near the bed, it might lead to stranger gossip than even a spoon abandoned on his pillow.

“I know,” he laughed. “Blundering in here to interrupt your morning ablutions, or whatever you do to keep yourself beautiful.”

'I know.'

“Dunstan…” she whispered.

She did not know what to do. Dunstan alone or Adwen alone she might have handled, but together they were too much: by dealing with one she would reveal too much to the other.

And meanwhile, though her stomach still gurgled around its burden of icy water, a feverish heat mounted up from her belly into her shoulders and neck and head, and her ears began to buzz ever louder as the sound of voices faded away into the distance. She felt queerly stranded in her own body.

The sound of voices faded away into the distance.

She only reacted when she saw Dunstan’s lips form the word “boots”.

She leapt at him, sacrificing the tenuous control she had of her own body to in order to stop his. “No!”

He gasped, “Brit!” in surprise. Then his body relaxed and his arms tightened around her. “You don’t want me to go?” he asked in a voice that quaked with sweetness.

'You don't want me to go?'

“No,” she mumbled into his shoulder.

It was true, though perhaps not for the reason he believed. His arms held her, and his body was stable and strong enough to lean upon. She knew she only needed time… if she could be quite still for a little while, her body would settle, the water would quiet, her stomach would warm. If only Adwen would go away!

His shoulder was stable and his arms were strong.

But Dunstan slipped away from her, murmuring something about “leave you to your maid” and “after dinner”. The mild warmth he had lent her slipped off her like a gown, leaving her face in a fever and her arms and legs frigid. Deep inside of her, her stomach continued churning the cold water into curds of ice.

Dunstan slipped away from her.

She watched her husband’s retreat helplessly. As soon as he let go of her, his voice faded into the soundless distance. The ringing in her ears was like a call to focus her attention inward, to forget the others, to forget she was a Princess. There were far more urgent matters underway inside her.

All her fifteen years of good breeding were swept away by a flood of icy water, at the last leaving her only the bare instinct to turn her face aside.

All her fifteen years of good breeding were swept away by a flood of icy water.