Hetty clapped her little hands together and squealed, “Eadwyn!”

“That only works when ladies pass beneath mistletoe,” Eadwyn corrected her as he strolled in.

Hetty clapped her hands again and laughed breathlessly like chiming bells. “Dreadful rule! I am lady here, so I make a new rule to say Sir Eadwyn must kiss me at once!”

'I am lady here, so I make a new rule.'

Eadwyn smiled to see her so merry. It was always a relief to him when matters repaired themselves, for he was ever a failure at setting anything right. Ana would be so glad to know–

But of course, he would not be able to tell her for months…

“It is so brazen of me,” Hetty said, blushing in spite of her adorable attempt at a naughty smile, “but it is so much to ask of a lady in my condition to be ever walking through doorways if she wishes to have a kiss.”

She laughed a little laugh that she might have meant for wicked, but it jangled like dented bells.

“It hasn’t seemed to slow Cat down,” Paul grumbled.

'It hasn't seemed to slow Cat down.'

“Ach, Paul, you must not be kissing her enough at home if she must go begging for kisses here! Go on now and try to catch her – Eadwyn is here, and he shall keep me company.”

With her left hand she pretended to push an obliging Paul to his feet, and with the right she reached eagerly for Eadwyn.

Eadwyn bent to kiss her, but she turned her face towards his at the last instant, making what he had meant for a gracious kiss upon her silken cheek into an awkward peck on her lips. He dropped onto the cushion beside her, shaken.

“At least we are easy to catch when we are in this condition,” she confided in a sly whisper. “How is dear Ana? She must be slowing down herself,” she giggled.

'How is dear Ana?'

Eadwyn’s smile twisted slightly into a wince of pain, and out of habit his hands nearly laid themselves over the swell of Hetty’s belly, as he rarely failed to lay them over his wife’s when he sat before her.

“She is so very well, and so very happy, Hetty. She wanted me to say.”

“And you?” The sharp points of her smile softened as she gazed at him. “You must be so very happy too, I think, dear.”

“Oh – I am,” he laughed painfully. “And we should be home before the baby comes. But I shall miss all… this,” he said, waving his awkward hands vaguely towards her middle. “The kicks and hiccups and everything. And I shall miss her. I already do.” He laughed again, painfully.

'I already do.'

Hetty’s white face wavered strangely before his, as though it were not attached to her neck but hung like a bead at the end of a long chain.

After a silent moment she asked softly, “But where are you going, dear?”

He stared at her for another silent moment. Her white face turned pink, seeming to reflect the redness of his.

“D-d-d-didn’t anyone t-​​t-​​t-​​tell you?” he stuttered, foolishly wasting his words on a question that held its own answer in the simple fact that it could be asked.

Hetty shook her head. Already tears were swelling at the corners of her lids, and Eadwyn knew his lady’s slanted eyes could hold but two before they overspilled.

He cursed himself and his stupid tongue.

He cursed himself and his stupid tongue, but – unusually for him – he also thought to curse those who had failed to warn him. More than these he cursed whomever had so treated Hetty that she already knew herself overlooked and disregarded – or worse, that the people around her deliberately kept secrets from her.

“W-​​w-​​w-​​w-​​inchester,” he said.

She did not lower her eyes, but she laid her little hands over his to calm his stuttering, as she always had.

“On a pilgrimage. With the Baron.”

“Is not that very far?” she asked timidly.

'Is not that very far?'

“It is three hundred miles, Hetty. But if there is not much snow we should be home in time for the baby. We shall leave in a few days’ time. I ride from here to Thorhold tomorrow.”

“Ach, in the winter!” she whimpered. She picked up one of his hands and stroked it between her silken palms. “I wish someone had told me! Do you have everything you need, dear? Hats and warm gloves?”

He laughed, “Hetty! Do you suppose Ana let me go without?”

“No, she is a good wife,” Hetty murmured absently. “I wonder why no one told me…”

'I wonder why no one told me...'

Eadwyn knew. He looked around desperately, hoping there would be someone near who could explain for him, and at the same time fearing that someone had overheard.

“The Baron is not unwell, I hope?” she asked.

“I’m afraid he is. That is why. W-​​w-​​w-​​why we are going, I mean,” he blurted.

“Oh, dear, that must be why…” she murmured, as though she had just had the idea herself – or another idea entirely. She still stroked her hand over the back of his, slowly, silkily. “Poor Theobald…”

“That’s why I’m going, I mean,” Eadwyn quavered. “It was Brinstan’s idea. So he would have some young men he trusted with him, his son Ethelmer and I. And…”

Her head nodded slowly, in time with her stroking hand. “We shall pray for you all.”

'We shall pray for you all.'


Eadwyn glanced frantically around him. How would she learn, if he did not tell her? Who would tell her, and when, and how?

“And L-​​l-​​l-​​l – ”

Hetty’s eyes returned to his, and her hand grew heavier in its stroking as she turned her full attention back to calming him, as she always had.

“And L-​​l-​​l-​​l-​​lord Hingwar,” he panted.

Her stroking hand clenched over his fingers, but she did not make so much as an audible gasp. Perhaps she had lived long enough among elves to have learned how not to make a sound, no matter her pain. Or perhaps she simply never had.

Her stroking hand clenched over his.

Eadwyn let her sit a moment in silence, but he watched the room warily for any danger to his lady. Awkward idiot though he felt, he was thankful that his hand, at least, was big and strong and thick-​​skinned enough to offer her a mooring place for her sharp little fingernails.

“When… was this decided?” she breathed.

Alred’s heady laughter rang out from the opposite side of the hall, behind the pillar, beyond the mistletoe. It aggravated Eadwyn for no reason he could find – it simply seemed neither the time nor place nor person for laughter.

“A few days ago,” he said. “There wasn’t any time to make plans. There wasn’t even time for goodbyes,” he muttered.

Gradually Hetty’s hand relaxed over his; the fingernails eased themselves out of the grooves they had dug, and soon the shaking fingers returned to stroking.

“That must be why,” she murmured.

'That must be why.'

There was that mysterious phrase again. Eadwyn had not entirely understood the first time, but now he was confounded. Why they were going? Why Leofric was? Why she had not been told?

He waited for her to say more, but the soft finality of her last words made its own sound out of continuing silence, like a velvet-​​gloved hand snuffing out the fading chime of a bell.

The moment was interrupted by the Duke’s triumphant cry of “Leila!” as said lady attempted to sneak beneath the mistletoe to the fireside. His shout was followed by peals of laughter from people out of sight – his own, Leila’s, everyone’s – swelling louder to crescendo at the moment of the kiss, and fading slowly into the distance of the far room.

Hetty closed her eyes.

Hetty closed her eyes.

“We shall pray for you, dear,” Eadwyn said gently, as she would have said – as she had, he remembered then – as she always had.

Her silken lips moved silently around words even elves could not hear. “Pilgrims do,” she seemed to whisper. Or “Pilgrims, do.”

'Pilgrims do.'