Kraaia did not think her heart would ever stop pounding.

In the life of a young lord, there were few sounds more gratifying than pages of parchment cracking on the table as they were scooped together and definitively straightened and stacked. It was the sound that marked the end of tedium, whether of lessons, letter-​writing, or business; and just as his belly grumbled at the first whiff of dinner, the sound made a young lord’s feet itch to run away.

Cynewulf sighed in contented anticipation and tended to the other sounds he liked: the creaking of a dying fire, the popping of his father’s knees as he stretched his cramped legs to rouse them. There only lacked Aldwyn’s gruff and grudging admission that there was no work left in the day, and then Cynewulf would hear the lovely sound of his father telling Wulsy to have their horses saddled.

Cynewulf turned his ear to the door.

Cynewulf turned his ear to the door as the steward came in from what ought to have been his last foray to the warming room in the guard house.

His father asked, “That’s all there is?” with the breezy carelessness of a man who already believed he knew the answer and found it good. Cynewulf suspected that when it came to work, the life of an old lord was not so different from the life of a young.

“No, my lord,” Aldwyn said, “that is not all.”

'That is not all.'

He paused as he always did when delivering bad news, as though he liked to savor its effect. Three chairs squeaked as three seated men squirmed nervously.

“It is a rather inconvenient matter for so late in the afternoon,” Aldwyn continued with a scowl surpassing dour. “There is a man—all out of breath—who claims to be a silversmith and wishes to install himself in our town. I told him he must come again on Wednesday, promptly at noon, but he begs Your Grace’s indulgence, for he is in a hurry…” He paused again. “On account of Christmas.

Cynewulf peeked pityingly up at Aldwyn’s son, who had been taking notes for his father that afternoon. Aldwyn did not admit that the celebration of Christmas required anything more than the attendance of three Masses, and Cynewulf could imagine no more sober childhood than one that lacked Christmas presents, Christmas candy, Christmas geese, and Christmas games.

Cynewulf peeked pityingly up at Aldwyn's son.

Cynewulf’s father groaned, “Christmas!” and wiped his hand wearily down his face. “I was prepared to send him out till Wednesday until you mentioned Christmas. How uncharitable to deny a man the best chance of the year to sell his work!”

“I asked him whether he is selling gold, frankincense, or myrrh,” Aldwyn replied tartly, “and whether he believes the three wise men are passing this way, but his English was too poor for him to understand my question.”

“Or appreciate your sense of humor,” Wulsy chortled.

Aldwyn huffed and pretended not to hear. Cynewulf looked up at Waehlheard and saw him slightly smiling.

“Doesn’t speak English?” Cynewulf’s father asked. “From what country does this panting personage hail?”

“I did not inquire. However, he is wearing a… a…” Aldwyn scowled and wrinkled his face as though he found the word painful to pronounce.

“A diaper?” Wulsy guessed.

'A diaper!'

“No!” Aldwyn bellowed. “A kilt!”

Cynewulf laughed until his belly ached, and to his secret delight he saw his father laughing so hard he had to wipe away a tear. Waehlheard’s face had turned an unhealthy shade of red, but he twisted his mouth up into such knots that he managed not to laugh.

“One thing’s for sure,” Cynewulf crowed, “if he’s wearing a kilt he’s definitely not wearing a diaper!”

Wulsy and Addonwy laughed aloud, but though Cynewulf’s father smiled, he managed to send him a scolding with no more than a lifting of his eyebrows and a nod of his head towards Waehlheard.

Too late Cynewulf clapped his hand over his mouth. Wulsy sent him a sympathetic wink. Both had forgotten that mouths were to be watched in the presence of Aldwyn’s children, for there were many words and expressions—as well as the activities they described—whose existence they did not suspect. Perhaps, Cynewulf realized, Waehlheard did not even know what kilted gentlemen wore beneath their kilts.

But Waehlheard sent him a sheepish grin that made Cynewulf suspect he at least suspected.

Waehlheard did not even know what kilted gentlemen wore beneath their kilts.

“A Gaelic silversmith who won’t understand my jokes,” the Duke said drearily. He turned to his secretary and pleaded, “Save us, old man. We need a technicality.”

Addonwy shrugged and straightened his papers. “Easily. He must have a commission and stamp from the Treasurer before he applies here. He won’t get that till Wednesday either.”

Cynewulf’s father sighed in relief, but before he could speak Aldwyn muttered, “I tried that. He already has them. He got them this morning, he said.”

“This morning?” Cynewulf’s father whined. “Why didn’t Ralf say anything when he was here?”

'Why didn't Ralf say anything when he was here?'

“Perhaps he meant to apply at Bernwald,” Cynewulf suggested slyly, “but Edris took one look at his kilt and tossed him out on his—his—ear.”

His father sent him another warning stare.

“What?” he pleaded. “I didn’t say it!”

His father turned back to the steward. “Very well,” he groaned. “Send him in. We shall waste more time thinking of reasons not to admit him than we would have spent with him.”

Addonwy sighed and picked up his pen. “What was his name again?”

“I did not inquire,” Aldwyn huffed, red-​faced at this second lapse of duty.

Addonwy shook his head and snorted. “Kilt-​ed…” he droned as he wrote or pretended to write. “Mac Sil-​ver-​smith…

Cynewulf giggled. Aldwyn huffed a last time before going out.

Wulsy watched him go. “I was in a hurry to get home, but now…” He scratched his head and shrugged.

'I was in a hurry, but now...'

“I think you ought to stick around, old man,” Cynewulf’s father advised. “I’m certain there’s nothing Frida would like better for Christmas than a new silver mirror.”

“I think you may be right!” Wulsy grinned. “I’m staying!”

When the steward returned his face was as gray and expressionless as a weathered plank. Behind him came no swarthy Scot, but a remarkable fire-​colored man, all the more glorious beside Aldwyn’s pallor. He was so red-​golden from head to kilt that it was a wonder silver did not run screaming at the sight of him.

“My lord,” Aldwyn said hoarsely. “This is… the person…”

“Kuntigern,” the man interrupted in a deep voice that boomed like a drum.


Not one man disturbed the silence that followed. Addonwy looked at Wulsy, and Cynewulf at his father, and his father at Addonwy, and so on around the room. Only Aldwyn stood back, tall and grim and staring off over their heads in defiance.

“It is not woman’s name,” the man added darkly.

Cynewulf’s father stroked his beard. “Quite right,” he quavered.

'Quite right.'

Suddenly Wulsy clapped the man on his shoulder and shoved his hand into the man’s fist to shake it wildly up and down.

“Glad to meet you!” he beamed. “I’m the Master of His Grace’s stables—Ballsy!” He choked and yanked his hand back to stifle a fit of coughing or pretend coughing. “Sorry! Wulsy!” he spluttered.

Cynewulf fell back onto the rug to squirm with silent laughter.

Kuntigern smiled in relief. “Glad to meet too. Woolies you say?”

“Close enough, friend!” Wulsy agreed.

“So, you call me Kunt.”

“Will do!”

Desperately Cynewulf tried to think of something indecent he could do with his name. Cynewulf Cynewulf Cynewulf…

“And that’s His Grace’s son,” Wulsy generously said. “Name’s Cynewulf, but we call him the Little Man.”

Cynewulf sat up and squealed, “And that’s my father Ball—!”

'And that's my father Ball--!'

His father spoiled his joke by clanging his iron ruler down onto the table at the critical moment.

“Gentlemen!” he thundered.

He waited until his secretary had settled into muffled tittering and Wulsy flung himself carelessly down on the bench to chortle behind the range of the steward’s and the silversmith’s eyes.

“We are proceeding all out of order,” the Duke sniffed. “Now, my good man.” He leaned forward and folded his hands neatly before him. “Kentigern, you said?” he asked hopefully.

Kuntigern bowed. “Glad to meet too Your Grace. So, my name is Kuntigern, but I am called Kunt.”

Cynewulf’s father bit his lip and looked pleadingly up at his steward, as though it had all been Aldwyn’s invention, and what Aldwyn had wrought Aldwyn could yet unwork.

Cynewulf's father bit his lip and looked pleadingly up at his steward.

Aldwyn only lifted his nose higher.

“And it is not woman’s name,” Kuntigern repeated. “I did saw your Kuntigern chapel. We Manxmen call her Kuntigerna. She was called for Saint Kuntigern who came first.” He held up his fist conclusively. “And he was man.”

'He was a man.'

Addonwy bent over his book and murmured, “A Manxman, you said?” He seemed relieved to have at last have something he dared write.

Cynewulf’s father coughed politely. “We know that, old man, but you know, around these parts, the saintly man named Kentigern is called by his Gaelic nickname Mungo, and it’s the woman who is called Kentigern. Perhaps you would like to go by Mungo?”

“Kunt,” the man said stubbornly.

Cynewulf snickered before he remembered Waehlheard. The boy was red-​faced and teary-​eyed as though he had taken a bite of something hot in polite company and only dared sit silently and suffer.

The boy was red-faced and teary-eyed.

Surely, Cynewulf thought, in spite of his father’s best efforts, Waehlheard had somehow learned the proper meaning of the term. But his father was glaring up at the crack where the wall met the ceiling and did not see.

The secretary lifted his pen and murmured, “So, Kentigern…”

Kuntigern pointed his finger menacingly at the parchment. “Kunt-​i-​gern,” he intoned.


Addonwy lowered his pen and looked at the Duke in despair.

Cynewulf’s father gestured for him to put the pen down. “Never mind, old man,” he sighed. “So many are the formalities attendant upon the installation of a worker of precious metal that I doubt we shall arrange anything today. I am told you already have your stamp from the Royal Treasury?”

'I am told you already have your stamp from the Royal Treasury?'

Kuntigern opened his purse and withdrew a crisply-​folded yellow parchment and the little iron die that would allow him to stamp his work as Lotherian silver.

“Ah, you don’t work gold, do you?” Cynewulf’s father asked hopefully. “You’ll need a second stamp for that, you know.”

“No gold. Silver, copper, brass only.”

'No gold.  Silver, copper, brass only.'

The Duke rubbed his nose briskly. “Well, then we shall need to see your letter of release from your master…”

Patiently Kuntigern extracted a second parchment, much dirtier and more softly folded, and laid it beside the first.

“Ah!” Addonwy said gleefully. “That’s Gaelic. You’ll have to have that translated.”

'That's Gaelic.  You'll have to have that translated.'

Kuntigern leaned over the table, flipped the page over, and clapped it back down upon the wood.

“Sir Malcolm he translate this morning.”

“You met Sir Malcolm?” Wulsy laughed. “No wonder Ralf didn’t say anything!”

Kuntigern stiffened. “What he should say?”

'What he should say?'

“How fortunate we are!” Wulsy replied, undaunted. “I was just hoping I could give my Frida a little mirror for Christmas.”

Kuntigern nodded gravely. “You see me after, Woolies.”

“Will do, Kunt!”

Cynewulf rocked himself wildly on the rug, squeaking into his hand.

Addonwy picked up his pen and gasped triumphantly, “Knut!”

Kunt!” Kuntigern howled at him. “You tell me your name, I tell you change it too!”

“Addonwy,” Addonwy said meekly.

“Woman name!” Kuntigern accused.

“It is not! It’s a Welsh name!”

'It is not!  It's a Welsh name!'

“All Welsh are women!”

Addonwy leapt as far out of his chair as his proximity to the table would allow. “Who’s wearing the skirt?”

The Duke shouted “Gentlemen!” and pounded his ruler on the table. He waited until his secretary had settled back into his chair, muttering Welsh blasphemies.

“Aldwyn,” Cynewulf’s father asked gently, “perhaps you would…”

'Perhaps you would...'

Aldwyn finally lowered his head enough to glare at his lord.

“…care to explain?” He nodded meaningfully at Waehlheard, much to the latter’s horror.

Aldwyn, however, did not even look at his son. “No, I would not,” he said stiffly.

“You will have to explain someday, you know.”

'You will have to explain someday, you know.'

“Not necessarily,” Aldwyn said.

“What explain?” Kuntigern asked warily.

Wulsy immediately replied, “Just explain that he still hasn’t found a tenant for that shop below his house! I think it would just fit you, friend! Right on the finest street.”

My house?” Aldwyn gasped.

“Just the thing!” the Duke agreed, with that slight shrillness to his voice that his jokes took when he was hiding annoyance. “You haven’t found a house yet, have you?” he asked the smith.


“Married? Children?”


“Perfect! Let’s wrap this up and Little Man and Woolies and I shall take you down to see it.”

Cynewulf choked with laughter. Such a trip was easily worth a slight delay.

My house?” Aldwyn wailed. “But—a smith!

'But--a smith!'

The Duke waved his hand dismissively. “Just a silversmith, old man. He won’t be shoeing ponies down there. Just making spoons and things.” He leaned over to his secretary’s book and flipped a page. “You won’t complain about a little banging downstairs during the day,” he said idly, “if he won’t complain about all the banging upstairs during the night.”

Wulsy coughed and bit his fist to stop a laugh, and Addonwy hid his mouth behind his hand. Cynewulf giggled at this proof of joke, though he could not guess what Aldwyn might have been banging on during the night. He supposed the man spent the better part of it praying.

He supposed the man spent the better part of it praying.

Aldwyn himself, however, immediately hinted otherwise. “Not—not during Advent!” he gasped.

Wulsy choked behind his fist and pounded on his thigh. Kuntigern looked uneasily around the room in search of a sane man.

At last Aldwyn looked at his son, and his face went white with panic. “That is—it’s the cats. Chasing the rats. At night.”

“Rats?” Kuntigern asked uneasily.

The Duke picked up a pen and scribbled to test the nib.

“Never fear, old man. They’re good ratters, are those cats of Aldwyn’s. Or so I suppose, since the lady of the house is one of the most contented-​looking housewives I ever saw. Now.” He gestured at his secretary with the pen. “Take note.”

'Take note.'

Addonwy abruptly stopped giggling. “Just a moment, my lord,” he said hoarsely. “We haven’t seen his mark.”

Cynewulf’s father sighed in exasperation, but Kuntigern promptly opened his purse and pulled out something small and silver.

“For your lady.” He bowed to the Duke and set it on the table.

“What is it?” Cynewulf asked.

“A little silver box, finely made,” his father replied after a quick examination. Cynewulf heard a tiny lid clink shut. “With his mark upon it. I am quite satisfied.”

“His mark isn’t his name, is it?” Wulsy asked hopefully.

“No, it is too long,” Kuntigern said. “It is ring, like the story of my saint, with K inside.” He nodded proudly and snorted in conclusion.

He nodded proudly and snorted in conclusion.

“Well, that settles it,” Cynewulf’s father began.

“Just a moment!” Aldwyn protested.

“He has to have his scales checked!” Addonwy added.


“Technicalities, gentlemen!” the Duke groaned.

'Technicalities, gentlemen!'

Cynewulf and Wulsy laughed gleefully together.

“Technicalities, my lord,” Addonwy agreed sourly.

Cynewulf’s father snorted and slid the book over to own his side of the table.

“We shall see to his scales tomorrow,” he announced. “So do I will and decree.” He bent his head and began to write. “In any event…” he murmured, “he’s bound to take more of my silver than he… renders back to me, by the mysterious transmutations worked by silversmiths, goldsmiths, and purveyors of precious objects everywhere.”

He sat up and held out the pen. “Good sir, if you would kindly make a cross here.”

“I know how to write my name,” Kuntigern offered.

Cynewulf’s father pulled the pen back again and tapped the tuft of feathers worriedly against his chin.

“Dear me, I had not thought of that…”

'Dear me, I had not thought of that...'

Just then they heard a distant bang as the door at the top of the stairs swung open beneath a careless hand. They all fell silent, listening. Even Kuntigern seemed to catch their concern, and he looked anxiously up at the ceiling without even a clue as to what he was supposed to hear.

Cynewulf was the first to guess the sound that followed, for it was that distinctive blend of whine and wail that was the hallmark of his supremely annoying baby brother.

“It’s David!” he groaned.

“Nap time,” his father whispered hoarsely. He put down his pen and crossed himself. “Please, Lord, let it be Dunstan!”

'Please, Lord, let it be Dunstan!'

It was not Dunstan.

Gwynn cooed, “We’re so sorry, Father, but—”

She saw Kuntigern and seemed to promptly forget what she was in the middle of saying.

She saw Kuntigern and seemed to promptly forget what she was in the middle of saying.

Cynewulf rolled his eyes. “But David was bawling and he had to see Papa now.”

David held out his arms and wailed, “Papa!” in agreement.

“But Hetty was having her quiet time,” Gwynn continued dazedly, “and we did not want to trouble her…”

If her eyes were any indication, Cynewulf thought, it seemed she could not decide whether she was speaking to their father or to the stranger.

Cynewulf thought it seemed she could not decide whether she was speaking to their father or to the stranger.

“Thank you, my dear, you were quite right,” their father sighed. “I shall take him. We were just finished in here.”

She hesitated, smiling at the smith, and obliging her father to introduce them.

“This is our new silversmith. And this is my eldest daughter, Lady Gwynn, and youngest son, David.”

Kuntigern bowed and fumbled in his purse.

Kuntigern bowed and fumbled in his purse.

Cynewulf’s father put his arm out and tried to shuffle Gwynn back onto the stairs. “Now…”

“Wait!” Kuntigern protested. He pulled out a shiny something on the end of a long, silver chain. He bowed again and passed it to Gwynn. “For you, my lady.”

Gwynn’s dazed smile brightened like a shooting star, and then chilled into her most gracious simper. “Thank you, good man. It is very lovely, and very kind of you. We shall certainly be pleased to patronize your work, and welcome you to Lothere.”

'It is very lovely, and very kind of you.'

Their father said dryly, “We shall certainly repay your kindness with fistfuls of our father’s coin. Now, Gwynn…”

“What was your name, good man?” Gwynn asked.

“Kunt!” the smith said.

Their father winced painfully, but Gwynn’s pretty face was unperturbed. She held out two fingers for him to kiss.

'It is not woman's name, my lady.'

“It is not woman’s name, my lady,” Kuntigern mumbled before bowing until merely his forehead touched the backs of her fingers.

Gwynn blushed at this unexpected gesture. “Certainly not,” she agreed.

“This Welshman he say yes,” Kuntigern pouted.

Addonwy wailed, “I never did!”

'I never did!'

“Gwynn!” their father gasped.

He turned and grabbed the little box from the table, and in shoving it into Gwynn’s hands he all but shoved her back into the stairway with the breadth of his shoulders.

He all but shoved her back into the stairway.

“I want you to take this directly up to Hetty, with our friend’s compliments, and tell her we have a new silversmith who will be taking up residence in the shop below Aldwyn’s house—”

“I never said he might!” Aldwyn gasped.

'I never said he might!'

“And, Gwynn, I want you to go directly to Hetty, and tell her all of that, and tell her his name. And then listen to what she says.”

“But her quiet time!” Gwynn squeaked.

“Notwithstanding! And do not speak to anyone along the way. Is that clear?”

Gwynn stopped a moment at the foot of the stairs and turned to smile dreamily at the smith.

“Kunt, you said? What a handsome name.”

Gwynn stopped and turned to smile dreamily at the smith.