Dunstan was startled, but he was far from shocked.

Dunstan was startled, but he was far from shocked. The eldest son of Matilda was well-​aware that even great ladies did occasionally find the contents of their stomach objectionable upon awakening.

He had not noticed that Britamund had drunk more than usual at supper, but on the other hand, she had been startlingly affectionate as soon as they were alone, pulling him down onto the bed with her before he had finished undressing, kneading the muscles of his arms with her thin fingers as he held himself above her, and even occasionally opening her eyes and meeting his gaze for several seconds at a time.

It pained him now to realize that it had only been due to the wine, but it was not a pain he dared show.

“Now, Brit,” he scolded gently, “why didn’t you simply tell us you were feeling ill? We could have brought the basin for you.”

'Why didn't you simply tell us were feeling ill?'

Britamund’s only response was a blaring moan that choked off into hideous sobs. Dunstan could scarcely believe his pretty, polite wife was even capable of making such a bestial sound, but it was only the second surprising thing to have issued from her mouth this morning.

“It’s not so bad, dear,” he soothed. “Don’t you feel better already? It happens to all of us, sometimes, you know.”

“Surely not to you, my lord,” her maid giggled.

“Well… not recently,” he said after a thoughtful moment. Those wild nights and their wretched mornings-​after were no more than memories since Bertie had become a father and Dunstan a husband. Still, memory alone was enough to reawaken the old queasiness in him… either memory, or the faint, familiar smell arising from the floor.

“Oh, I don’t think it has ever happened to you,” Adwen laughed. “And God help us if it ever does!”

'Oh, I don't think it has ever happened to you.'

“I beg your pardon?” Dunstan snapped.

He had a private but profound dislike for the young woman, but the matter of a lady’s maid was one in which a man could not meddle. Britamund was fond of her. That was enough.

“Oh my, oh my,” she clucked. “I think your lordship may be needing that basin any minute now for your own self…”

His wife’s maid or not, there was some impertinence to which Dunstan was not inclined to submit. However, his mind was quicker than his mouth, and before he could remind Adwen of her place, he thought of another explanation for his wife’s malaise.

“I do not need a basin,” he said curtly. “What I need is for you to clean this up and leave the two of us in peace.” He then turned back to his wife and timidly asked, “Would you like a drink?”

'Would you like a drink?'

Britamund threw back her head and howled, “No!”

“Very well, very well, no drink then…”

“I told Her Highness not to drink so quickly…” Adwen muttered.

“And I told you to clean that up! Her Highness does not have to follow your orders, but you do mine!”

He concluded his outburst with a rather equine snort, and he realized with a distracted horror that he was beginning to sound very much like his father.

“Brit…” he began.

At last she spoke. “Don’t look at me!

“Very well…”

She lifted the hem of her shift as if it were a heavy gown and stomped past him to fling herself onto the couch. Then she began to cry: not the racking sobs of before, but only a nearly soundless weeping that crumpled her face and wrung Dunstan’s heart. She looked frail and meek and truly unhappy—not childish, but childlike.

Then she began to cry.

With careful scooting, careful tugging, careful lifting, he was able to coax his wife onto his lap. That was some relief: if she could come to him to be comforted, unhappy as she was, at least it proved she was not unhappy with him. Sometimes he wondered. But if she cried for the reason he believed, the relief was only small.

He was desperate to ask her, but that infernal Adwen was still there, sullenly scrubbing the floor with the towel and the perfumed water meant for the Princess’s face.

It might have been obvious—all men but the greatest idiots knew what a woman’s morning sickness likely meant—but Dunstan had been silently observing Britamund’s habits for over two months now. The recent week-​long reappearance of the plainest of her nightgowns had convinced him that he would have at least another month to wait before he was likely to see any change in them.

He held her just tightly enough to make her feel snug.

Now he realized he should have been watching anyway. There had been signs.

He held her just tightly enough to make her feel snug, and soon her tears trickled off into sniffles, and her warm body went quite limp.

At last Adwen went out, swishing her basin of water loudly as she went in protest of these indignities. Now Dunstan could speak, and now he had to, but Britamund spoke before he had a chance to find sufficiently sacred words.

“I have something to confess to you,” she mumbled.

'I have something to confess to you.'

Dunstan’s heart began to pound. It was absurd—a moment before he had been perfectly aware of what she was about to tell him, but merely hearing her voice preparing to say it sent him into a panic.

He had often thought of the possibility, but he had never considered the reality until now. This was not some vague future son to whom he would teach some vaguely useful things, or some vague future daughter to whom he would tell vague stories, but one particular child, who would have a very particular color of hair and eyes, a particular name, a particular personality, particular needs…

It was a particular child, and he was holding it in his lap for the first time.

It was a particular child, and he was holding it in his lap for the first time. There was no use telling himself he had held it yesterday and the day before when he had held his wife. That had been a possible, barely-​considered child. This one was real. He even understood why she cried. He was very near to it himself—he was not unhappy, but unready and unworthy.

“I put the spoon in your boot,” she said softly. “That’s why I didn’t want to let you leave. I didn’t want Adwen to see.”

'I put the spoon in your boot.'

Dunstan was speechless. His heart stopped pounding and began to pant.

“But now I want you to stay with me. Won’t you, please?”


“I know I’m not supposed to ask!” she gasped, fighting back a sob. “I know you’re busy…”

“I’m never too busy for you, if you need me.”

“I need you,” she squeaked.

“I’m here, beloved.”

At once she relaxed and gratefully draped the curves of her long body over his.

At once she relaxed and gratefully draped the curves of her long body over his. Her head was heavy and warm on his shoulder like a baby. He had never felt such utter trust from anyone, such comfort taken in his simple presence, and his heart resumed its steady pounding.

Again he had thought he could not possibly love his wife more, and again she had proven him wrong. Had she not? Did she not seem more fragile, more precious, more magical than ever?

And even if he had been mistaken—if she revealed it had only been the wine after all, or a bad egg she had eaten—would he love her less? Would these new torrents of love turn back like a tide and leave him no wetter than before? He did not think they would. That was the most mysterious, most magical thing.

That was the most mysterious, most magical thing.