Iylaine snorted and whipped her head around to stare over her shoulder.

Iylaine snorted and whipped her head around to stare over her shoulder. “What are you doing, Malcolm?” she whispered. Iylaine had a way of making even whispers sound shrill.

Malcolm let his arm go limp, and its own weight dragged it back towards his body until only his hand lay over her waist. He had been trying to wake her all along, but now he felt guilty at having succeeded, as if he had been caught in the act of a crime.

“Only coming to bed.”

'Only coming to bed.'

She was silent, but her eyes darted frantically about, in search of something… perhaps something to say. He waited.

At last she asked, “Were you with my father?”

“Aye, till the end.” He sighed in remembered weariness, though he felt more awake now than he had in an hour. “I think he finally noticed we were all staying up with him and decided to go to bed so we all could sleep.”

“Who was there?”

“Alred and Wyn and Aengus and I.” He lifted his hand enough to trace light circles over the curve of her waist with his fingertips. She did not flinch, but he feared she would if he did not continue talking. “Stein and Sophie decided to go home in the dark. And Sigefrith and Leofric had already gone to bed…”

She did not flinch, but he feared she would if he did not continue talking.

“Finn didn’t stay up?”

Malcolm sighed again in disappointment. “He’s just a boy, Baby.”

“He should have been there, though, if he’s his son.”

Malcolm chose to ignore the “if”. “He’s a boy, Babe.”

She snorted and turned her face back to the fire.

She snorted and turned her face back to the fire.

“He can’t sit with a man who just lost his wife. He’s never even had a sweetheart.”

Malcolm waited for a reply that did not come. Gradually the forms of the room dissolved in the flickering light, and he saw himself again in that fire-​​shadowed half-​​circle of men, all strangely sober in spite of all they had drunk.

He saw himself again in that fire-shadowed half-circle of men.

He and Ethelwyn had been silent and awkward, guilty for having young, healthy wives and children; while Aengus had been miserable and maudlin with thoughts of the wife he had and could not hold. Alred had stared out of himself with the haunted, bloodshot eyes of a man who sees ghosts all about him, cradling his cup between restless hands that seemed to be endlessly clutching at things that were not there.

It was Egelric himself who had been the most noble of the five. He looked older than ever, but his new lines were like traces worn by centuries of rain taking the same paths over the graven face on the tomb of a king. His calm was monumental – not peace, but grim repose. He had laughed at dinner when they had told their stories of Lili’s capers, but even when he laughed, he had the look of a man who would never laugh again. This evening he had not laughed at all.

But now Malcolm was alone with his wife and sweetheart.

But now Malcolm was alone with his wife and sweetheart, and he did not think he needed to feel guilty for loving her and wanting her. He was neither poet nor philosopher, but he had the idea that the best way to honor the memory of Lili was to go on living and loving – a little wildly, as she had, as if she had known she would not have long.

Malcolm slid his hand onto the solid bone of Iylaine’s hip and pressed it down into the mattress as he brought his own hips up against hers.

She gasped again and turned her face up. “What are you doing?” she asked warily.

'What are you doing?'

“Bay-​​beeeee,” he cooed.

She clenched her teeth and thighs and growled, “Malcolm…”

He threw his heavy arm over her and sighed, “Baby…” into her hair.

“Quit it,” she warned.

He was obediently still for a while.

He was obediently still for a while. Then he dared to snuggle himself closer.

She was stronger than he except for her size, and what she could not lift from her cramped position, she could easily dispel with a jab of her sharp little elbow.


“Malcolm!” she hissed in outrage. “How can you – after my father just lost his wife – come in here and – do–that?

He flung himself back onto his side of the bed, since she could not quite do it for him.

He flung himself back onto his side of the bed.

“Perhaps seeing your father makes me want to be with my wife all the more!” he snapped. “Perhaps seeing him lose his wife makes me love my wife all the more! Did you think of that?”

“Perhaps seeing my father lose his wife makes me sad and unhappy,” she retorted. “Perhaps I just want to sleep and don’t want to be bothered with your–that! Did you think of that?”

'Did you think of that?'

“Baby…” he pleaded, softening in spite of her smug little smirk.

“I think you should show a little respect for Lili’s memory,” Iylaine sniffed. She pulled the blankets back up over her body and snuggled her shoulders firmly into the pillow.

“That’s what I was trying to do,” he muttered.

“Then you may try over there.”

He felt a surge of strength swell up with his anger, and it only sharpened his desire. She was his wife, and he was her husband – her master. He thought it would do her good to be reminded of it.

He thought it would do her good to be reminded of it.

But except for her size, she was stronger than he, and he did not think his size alone would allow him to forcibly take her without great violence. He could think of nothing uglier than raping one’s own wife.

In any event – though she came to him at times with overwhelming passion – though she sometimes seemed hopelessly dependent on his presence, falling on him as soon as he walked through the door in the evenings, as if she could scarcely have gone on living without him – he sometimes thought that with her darting eyes she was only looking for a good excuse to hate him.

Thus he had to go on submitting to her and obeying her, like “the loll-​​tongued lap-​​dog of her” as his brother sometimes sneered, until he so despised himself that it no longer came as a surprise when she seemed to despise him.

And still he loved her – madly, wildly, as if he knew he would not have her long.

And still he loved her.