'Have a look at it, runt.'

Sigefrith grunted. “Have a look at it, runt. But it’s nothing but what Njal told Baldwin. Lacking the trivial detail of a massacre, of course.”

He tapped his knuckles against the edge of the desk and turned. Malcolm struck out at just that moment, and they passed precisely halfway, heads bowed in thought, like partners in an old dance. Sigefrith stopped as soon as Malcolm did, and he tapped his toe in time with a melody only he could hear.

'Don't suppose Njal simply made that part up, do you?'

“Don’t suppose Njal simply made that part up, do you?” he grumbled out of the side of his mouth that was closer to Baldwin.

“Absolutely not,” Baldwin said. “I know a man in shock when I see one. Gibbers like a monkey when he talks about it.”

“Raving from his head injury, perchance?” Sigefrith wondered.

Something must have happened,” Malcolm interrupted. “This letter is nothing but a bit of interesting news.”

“Nothing worth tanning poor Njal’s hairless ass over, I agree,” Sigefrith said.

'Don't suppose Njal simply made that part up, do you, runt?'

“It isn’t even like Eirik to crow over his victories,” Malcolm mused. 

“So that makes this a defeat?”

Malcolm rapped his knuckles upon the table and turned, as Sigefrith had. “I don’t know what it makes it. This news is days old. The devil knows what’s happened since. But Eirik obviously wants you to do something about it.”

Do something about it!” Sigefrith sneered. “And when did I become the doting pater of the West, always at the ready to swoop in and save the chestnuts of a lot of idiot boys from the fires of their own incompetence!”

'And when did I become the doting pater of the West?'

Malcolm was unruffled, but Baldwin could not help but laugh – not so much at the vivid metaphor as at the living image of his gangly cousin himself, flailing his arms and stomping about as if wading through knee-​​deep mud.

When Sigefrith turned on him in mid-​​snarl, however, he hastened to point out, “It was a rather clever ruse. With the sails…”

'It was a rather clever ruse.'

“There is nothing clever about taking a town that one has no idea what to do with afterwards! Name of God! Eochaid is the only one of those three tar-​​headed gabies with any experience at all leading common men and women and not a pack of slavering pirates! And I wouldn’t trust that strutting cockerel to lead anything more important than a May Day parade!”

'I wouldn't trust that strutting cockerel to lead anything more important.'

Sigefrith concluded this outburst with the blind swipe of a fist that thankfully only thudded against a row of calf-​​bound books behind him. He folded his arms and subsided into a childish, sullen-​​looking pout, but his toe went on tapping softly to the cadence of a dance that few could follow.

“And thus I must choose after all,” he muttered from the depths of some inscrutable thought.

Malcolm laid a hand on his arm and asked him softly, “Choose what?”

'Choose what?'

He seemed more interested in drawing Sigefrith out than in having that particular question answered. He looked almost startled when Sigefrith lifted his head and replied.

“An Aed.”

Malcolm lowered his arm and stepped slightly back, nodding.

“I’ve half a mind to take that letter down and show him!” Sigefrith cried. “Name of God! News like that! He’ll not soon forget the favor. Do you see what this means?”

Malcolm took another step back. “What?”

By now he had moved far enough away that Sigefrith had room to swing his arms, and he did not waste the opportunity.

Sigefrith had room to swing his arms.

“If Eirik’s begging me not to tell Young Aed, it means Ramsaa’s out there free for the taking! You think that bed-​​wetter Diarmait’s going to have the balls to turn Lord Aed away? Aed’s going to stroll in there and toss that puling twit out onto his ear, if Whitehand hasn’t already. And I’m supposed to do something about it?

He pounded the side of his fist down onto one of the shelves behind him and began backing slowly away from Malcolm, as if trying to evade capture.

He began backing slowly away from Malcolm.

“I warned him,” he said softly. “Old Aed. Year after year I warned him not to neglect the sea. And he simply laughed at me and called me an old Viking. Now I have a joke for him.”

He turned suddenly on Baldwin, who had fancied himself inconspicuous thus far.

“That’s what I like about that boy,” Sigefrith announced. “He knows he can’t beat Aed at his own game, so he picks a game Aed doesn’t play.”

He snorted and folded his arms, subsiding into another scowling calm, but he went on staring at Baldwin until Baldwin thought he was expected to make a comment. He was not acquainted with Young Aed, but Sigefrith’s intent seemed obvious enough.

“So… you’re going to tell him?”

'So... you're going to tell him?'


Sigefrith’s forehead crinkled as he tried to recall the words he had just heard. He had not been paying attention to Baldwin at all.

“Of course I shan’t tell him,” he muttered. “Old Aed’s the best ally I have in these parts.”

“But – you just – ”

'But--you just--'

Baldwin looked to Malcolm, hoping to find an ally for his confusion, but no emotion was visible on the young knight’s face. His eyes revealed only an intense concentration on the back of Sigefrith’s head, as if he were trying to will some thought into being within.

Baldwin protested, “Will he still be your best ally when he learns what’s happened with Maire?”

Sigefrith tossed his head, either at the absurdity of the question or out of simple impatience at being asked.

'Of course he will.'

“Of course he will. I’ve not had her hanged, for Christ’s sake. His son’s in more danger than his daughter this morning, if he’s not already dead. Heaven forfend.”

He lifted his hand and pointed at a spot somewhere on Baldwin’s forehead, his long arm so straight that Baldwin could see past his elbow up his sleeve.

“But Eirik’s the ally I can’t afford to lose right now, runt – God damn his hide. Without his ships I’m not going anywhere this spring. And this Earl Eirik character is one quarter solid man and three quarters blood-​​curdling reputation. If word gets out that he tried and failed to win Ramsaa, then he’s seventy-​​five percent through.”

'He's seventy-five percent through.'

He backed slowly away from Baldwin, too, like a man surrounded by a pack of growling dogs. He tensed suddenly, as if about to run, but instead whirled around and slammed both fists down on one of the shelves. The entire bookcase tipped away from the wall and fell back again with a crack against the stones.

“God damn his hide!” he shouted. “He knew I had to help him! He knows he has me by the balls!”

Malcolm soothed, “Sigefrith…”

“And just how am I supposed to get anyone out of here with Young Aed none the wiser? That Gaethine creature has more eyes than a sackful of spiders!”

'That Gaethine creature has more eyes than a sackful of spiders!'

Baldwin sat up. He did not think he had been spotted by Young Aed or Gaethine thus far, and moreover the road out of the valley passed directly before his manor. He had only to go home and keep on riding, and Aed none the wiser…

“Will you send someone, then?” he asked coolly.

“What else would you have me do?” Sigefrith snapped. “Send my navy? Of course I’ll send someone! The only thing that fortress has lost in the last week is a few good men to command it – and from the sound of it, the men it lost weren’t all that good to begin with! That town can’t be taken – it can only be won by ruse. Whitehand did it, and now Eirik – ” He slapped the back of one hand into the palm of the other and stalked for the door. 

When he was not flailing around in imaginary quicksand, Baldwin’s cousin had a stride that few men could match. The door sprang open at his touch, in a hurry to get out of his way.


The giggling of the young pages at the end of the corridor was cut off into a breathless silence.

'Have a man sent for Brede at once!'

“Have a man sent for Brede at once! And no dilly-​​dallying on the way! That goes for you, and for him too!”

He pulled the door shut with a slam and scratched his hair into a tangle as he strode head-​​down and scowling back into the center of the room.

“You can’t send Brede,” Malcolm said. “He’s a Norseman!”

“He’s a Dane!”

“It’s the same thing!”

'That's the same thing!'

“Runt,” Sigefrith sighed, “My esteemed grandsire would have disemboweled you for that remark.”

He lolled his head in exaggerated weariness, but he lifted his hand and began ticking points off on his fingers.

“One, Brede is Eirik’s brother-​​in-​​law twice over, and his friend. Two, he was at Sky Hill with Whitehand – he knows that fort better than any man here. Three, Diarmait owes him his freedom, if not his life. And four… if I don’t give that runt something to do, he’s going to chew off his own fur out of sheer boredom. And now you say…?”

“But he’s a Norseman!” Malcolm cried.

“Name of God!” Sigefrith spluttered. “You want me to send a Gael? Who am I supposed to send? Aengus? Now?” He paused and let his flailing arms fall. “Do you suppose I could?”

Do you suppose I could?

“No, you cannot send Aengus,” Malcolm muttered.

“Who then?” Sigefrith demanded, lifting his arms again for another round of grand gestures. “Domnall? He isn’t even here…”

Baldwin cleared his throat and sat up straight upon the chest, looking conspicuous with all his might. He was no Gael, of course, but neither was he a Norseman. Indeed, he thought a neutral party might be just the thing…

Baldwin cleared his throat and sat up straight upon the chest.

After a moment, however, it became clear that no one would even look at him. Sigefrith and Malcolm were locked in an unblinking, unbreakable stare. Malcolm’s breath was coming faster, and faster, and faster. Finally his shoulders shook and he was forced to breathe through his mouth, as if Sigefrith were whirling him round and around in a frantic dance. 

Then Sigefrith dissolved the entire illusion by saying softly, “I need you here, runt.”

Malcolm caught his breath in a sob. “You always say that!”

Sigefrith patted Malcolm’s shoulder with his big hand. “It’s always true,” he murmured.

“You always say that too! You know you would send me if you could! You know you wouldn’t think twice about it! You know – ”

“Have you finished?” Sigefrith barked.

'Have you finished?'

Malcolm went still, his arms still flung wide in a very Sigefrith-​​like gesture of temper.

“You can feel sorry for yourself later,” Sigefrith snapped, “if you’re still in the mood. These are the shortest days of the year, and Njal has an hour’s head start on us already! God knows where we’ll get a ship if Njal’s gone by the time our men reach the coast.”

Malcolm let his arms drop. Sigefrith snapped his fingers and dashed for the door.

“Runt!” he shouted down the corridor. “Send the Captain in to me straightaway! He’s not on duty, is he?”

The little boy made a peeping reply that Baldwin could not quite hear.

“Check out on the wall!” Sigefrith ordered, and he slammed the door again.

Malcolm asked, “The Captain?”

'The Captain?'

“What now?” Sigefrith demanded. “If Brede’s too Norse for you, then the Captain ought to be Scot enough for you. He knows a thing or two about ships and the sea, and more importantly he knows how to talk to idiot young men and make them mind!”

“He is far less Scot than Brede is Norse,” Malcolm said sourly.

“Then whom would you have me send, Malcolm? Your friend Cearball? God knows I’ve been looking for a way to get rid of him!”

“What?” Malcolm spluttered. “What has Cearball ever done – ?”

Baldwin lifted his finger and discreetly suggested, “I could go.”

'I could go.'

“Absolutely not!” Sigefrith shouted. “That’s all we need! Have word get out that the Normans are getting involved!”

“I am not a Norman!” Baldwin protested.

“Those people killed babies because their grandfathers were Norsemen – they don’t seem like the sort to make fine distinctions! All it will take is for you to bark your shin and have someone overhear you say Merde!

'All it will take is for you to bark your shin!'

Baldwin huffed and let his shoulders fall back against the wall. He did not swear in French when he bruised his shin, but there were a few French expressions he would have liked to pronounce at that moment.

There were a few French expressions he would have liked to pronounce.

“What about Egelric?” Malcolm asked softly.

Sigefrith threw up his arms and whirled around to face him – but he stopped short of a roar, and stood teetering on the edge of a tantrum.

“Egelric,” he said.


Then he laughed. It was not Sigefrith’s hearty, baritone laughter that made men glad for as far around as it carried. This was the cold, cruel, tight-​​lipped chuckling of other lords Baldwin had known – men who were more terrifying when they chortled with pleasure than when they howled with rage.

“He’s a man of our own clan,” Malcolm said in the even tone one might take to calm a snarling dog. “It wouldn’t be at all odd for him to go where our kin are adventuring. His Gaelic’s good enough to convince a Manxman. He’s – ”

“Egelric,” Sigefrith repeated thoughtfully, as though he had heard nothing Malcolm had said. “Does he still know a bit about castles and fortifications?”

“Certainly,” Malcolm said. “I’m certain he – ”


“And he always did have a rare talent for leading a dangerous crowd,” Sigefrith mused. “It would be a pity if the last mob he led were to be the one following him to the gallows.”

Malcolm swallowed, and his thin lips pressed themselves into a thinner line.

Baldwin had not had the latest news of this affair, and he had no idea whether this was an idle threat or the ugly truth. The men who laughed that way could even say such things in jest.

“Malcolm, Malcolm,” Sigefrith smiled. “If only I could be certain you were suggesting this out of loyalty to me and not to your father-​​in-​​law.”

'If only I could be certain you were suggesting this out of loyalty to me.'

Malcolm did not smile. “A man may be loyal to kith without betraying his king.”

“Then how am I to know?” Sigefrith asked himself. “Hmm hmm.”

He turned slowly, swaying his weight from foot to foot, and headed a third time for the door – fairly sauntering. Malcolm was unnerved enough by this un-​​Sigefrith-​​like gait to betray his unease with a glance at Baldwin.

“Runt!” Sigefrith shouted down the hall. “Oh – you’re back, are you? Didn’t I tell you to send for Brede?”

“I already did!” the page wailed. “You told me no dilly-​​dallying! Sire!”

Baldwin smiled slightly – he recognized the whine of a young Leofricsson – but only until the King spoke again.

“Excellent! Then you may go find Saeward, and tell him to drop whatever or whomever he’s doing and come to me at once! And no lollygagging!”

'And no lollygagging!'

He slammed the door and shuffled back into the room, already lost in thought, his head bowed over the big hands he was rubbing slowly together.

Malcolm was panting with impatience or with dread. Even his golden stare was not keen enough to pierce Sigefrith’s concentration, or else he was being deliberately ignored. Baldwin was tempted to propose himself again, if only to snap the bands of tension that were tightening around them all.

Malcolm broke first. “Saeward doesn’t even speak a word of Gaelic!”

'Saeward doesn't even speak a word of Gaelic!'

Sigefrith’s head jerked up. “I am not sending Saeward to Ramsaa,” he replied coolly. “I am sending him to bring Egelric to me.”

“You don’t need Saeward for that! I can go.”

The corner of Sigefrith’s mouth twitched. “No, you can not, sir,” he said, cruelly wry. “I believe I told you I need you here.”

'I believe I told you I need you here.'

Malcolm gasped, and then he was simply gasping for breath.

At that moment someone tapped on the door.

Sigefrith threw out his arms like a sorcerer summoning a storm. “Enter!” he bellowed.

Eadred’s curly red head peeked inside, followed by the rest of him, pink-​​cheeked and shivering from more than the mere winter cold.


“Sire?” he quavered. He added a half-​​bow for Baldwin and said, “Good day, sir.”

Baldwin gave him his widest, most encouraging smile.

“Captain!” Sigefrith said. “What have you eaten today?”

“Uh… like everyone else – sausage and cheese and porridge for breakfast. It isn’t – Good God, we haven’t been poisoned, have we?” he gasped.

Baldwin choked back a laugh at his look of wide-​​eyed terror.

“No, God help us, we haven’t been poisoned,” Sigefrith said impatiently. “You haven’t had dinner yet, or have you?”

“No, Sire, I’m supposed to be fasting ever since after breakfast.” He took a gulping breath and admitted, “I know I’m not supposed to be on duty any longer, but Arcil’s coming down with a little something, and I said – ”

“Never mind that!” Sigefrith groaned. “That will have to do. Listen – do you own a kilt?”

“A kilt?” Eadred squawked.

Another set of knuckles rapped lightly on the door, but Saeward let himself in, apparently well-​​accustomed to being summoned to this chamber.

Saeward let himself in.

“Sire,” he said gravely. “Sirs.”

“No, I do not have a kilt!” Eadred wailed. “I haven’t worn a skirt since I was three!” He tossed a disdainful glance over his shoulder at Saeward and demanded, “Why don’t you ask him?

“What?” Saeward cried. “Just what are you trying to imply?”

“You seem to understand me,” Eadred grinned.

“Which eye is it going to be this time?”

“Gentlemen!” Sigefrith barked.

Saeward gasped, “Did you hear – ”

'Did you hear--'

“I don’t care who started it! You – nobody spreads more gossip about you than you do yourself – and you – it would serve you right if he busted your nose and mopped up the blood with your hair!”

He smacked the back of Eadred’s head with one hand, and shoved Saeward off with the other.

“You – you go sit in that chair until I ask for you!”

“I was told Your Majesty did ask for me,” Saeward said, unmoving.

Sigefrith roared, “Sit down!”

Eadred cringed, and Baldwin flattened his back against the wall, but Saeward still boldly met the King’s eyes.

Saeward still boldly met the King's eyes.

“I shall say this one time, gentlemen,” Sigefrith panted. “Kingdoms are at stake today. If you two cannot follow my orders, within the hour I will have replaced you with men who can. And their first duty shall be to lock you both up in the stocks, cheek to cheek!”

Eadred murmured, “I’m sorry, Sire, I had no idea…”

Saeward only bowed and went to the chair, neither defiant nor humble, neither stomping like a sullen child nor slinking off in defeat – only tall and dignified from behind.

Saeward only bowed and went to the chair.

Baldwin could develop a remarkable affection for the man whenever he had five minutes to chat with him, but he seemed chillingly alien from afar. Baldwin never managed to explain to Affrais what it was about him. Like certain subtle words of French, Saeward’s strangeness eluded definition faster than it could be defined.

“So,” Sigefrith muttered, “you’ll have to lend him one of your own kilts, runt. He’s a little small – ”

Malcolm said, “Certainly not!”

'This is not the time!'

“Malcolm…” Sigefrith growled. “This is not the time!”

“No! That isn’t what I mean! Look at him! If he goes out all in black with his red hair, my cousins will take one look at him and wonder which of our clansmen he killed and robbed.”

Eadred made a weak smile that wrinkled up his forehead more than it crinkled the corners of his eyes.

“Then where,” Sigefrith demanded, “in Jesus Shit-​​eating God’s name, am I going to get a kilt in one hour’s time?”

“Can’t you simply make one?” Baldwin asked. “How difficult can it be?”

'Can't you simply make one?'

Malcolm’s shoulders stiffened.

“Just wrap a length of cloth around your waist and belt it,” Baldwin shrugged.

Malcolm said, “No.”

“But isn’t it – ”


Sigefrith blinked at Baldwin in astonishment. “Thank God I’m not sending you, runt.”

“Sending him where?” Eadred tittered.

“What about Shirtless K?” Saeward asked.

Sigefrith took a fortifying breath. “What about who or what?”

“He’s the new silversmith at Nothelm,” Malcolm explained, hurrying to interrupt Eadred’s imminent snide remark. “He’s a Manxman – a Norse Manxman. But he always wears a kilt.”

“And no shirt, I gather?” Sigefrith sighed.

'And no shirt, I gather?'

“Aye, but the important thing is that his kilts are mostly yellow. And he and Eadred are about the same size.”

Sigefrith clapped his fingertips together. “Excellent. So, Captain, first thing, I want you to ride to Nothelm and go buy a nice yellow kilt off this nice shirtless silversmith fellow – ”

“But what if he doesn’t want to sell his – his kilts?” Eadred demanded with evident disgust. “That he wore!

“Name of God! He’s a merchant! He’ll sell his own mother’s maidenhead for the right price! Give him what he asks, and then give him more to keep him quiet. I don’t want anyone finding out about this.”

“Neither do I,” Eadred pouted.

“I doubt he’ll be bragging about it,” Malcolm said.

'I doubt he'll be bragging about it.'

“Second,” Sigefrith continued, “I want you to find a priest and confess everything you’ve done lately and everything you’re likely to do in the next few hours.”

“But I was supposed to do that tonight?” Eadred quavered.

“Do it now. Find Father Matthew, and if you can’t find him, go up to see Father Brandt, or up to the abbey if you must. And don’t eat anything, and don’t tell anyone anything, and don’t ask anyone anything. You’re simply out… Christmas shopping, or something. Understood?” Sigefrith clapped him on the shoulder and shook him until he nodded. “You have an hour. Two at most. Go.”

Sigefrith turned him around and pointed him at the door. As Eadred staggered off, Sigefrith added, “And tell Arcil the hangover is officially over, and if I don’t see him on the wall when I step out of here, he’ll be catching a little something from me.”

“Yes, Sire…”

As soon as the door to the stairs clicked shut, Sigefrith snapped his fingers and pointed at Saeward. “You.”

Saeward rose from the chair in the corner and stepped up to the King, neither hurrying nor dawdling. He bowed.

“Forget everything you just heard in here,” Sigefrith said. “You haven’t seen the Captain since breakfast.”

'Forget everything you just heard in here.'

“Him I shall gladly forget,” Saeward muttered.

“Excellent. Now, I want you to ride out to the lake and arrest Egelric.”

In his disbelief, Saeward’s head dropped until his beard nearly brushed his chest, and his wide eyes stared up at Sigefrith through wisps of dark hair. 

Before he could speak, Malcolm cried, “No, you can’t! That isn’t necessary!”

Sigefrith took a deep breath and slowly turned. Malcolm’s hands were clenched into fists, and his chin was quivering. Sigefrith took another breath. 

“Yes, Malcolm, it is.”

“No! He will come if you send for him!”

Sigefrith wiped one big hand down his face, and rubbed it over and over the bristles of his chin. The gesture was surely meant to calm him, but when his hand dropped, Baldwin saw by the unwiped half of his face that he truly was beginning to sweat.

He truly was beginning to sweat.

“That is not how such matters are customarily arranged,” Sigefrith said coldly. “You have my sympathies, Malcolm. Don’t forget what I have for a father-​​in-​​law. And verily, it was beautifully done – your comforting little chats with Cousin Aengus about forgiveness and forbearance – ”

Malcolm gasped, “What?”

“And how you cunningly reminded Cubby to cunningly remind me about what Maire did to his father… Oh, and the little lessons on Scots law that you slipped into our conversations…”

Malcolm was subtly backing away, and Sigefrith was cruelly following.

“And how you kept Cearball safely on a leash with threats of what Condal will think if he kills her cousin…”

Malcolm whispered, “Sigefrith…”


“And all, all, all the excellent ideas you’ve quietly been giving me the last week – beautifully, magnificently done, Malcolm! By God, you’re right – I wish I could use your talents for something besides gnawing away at me! But now – now you have to decide. If your loyalty lies with your father-​​in-​​law rather than with what this affair means for me, then you have my sympathies, but I shall be obliged to lock you up until Egelric is safely in my jail, and then I shall send you home to your wife.”

Sigefrith paused, apparently awaiting a reply. Malcolm only managed to swallow thickly and shake his head.

“Otherwise, we expect you to do as we command, and to cease telling us what we can and cannot do.”

This extraordinarily un-​​Sigefrith-​​like departure into the majestic plural startled even Saeward into glancing uneasily down at Baldwin. Sigefrith turned before Baldwin could do more than shrug, and Saeward hurriedly looked up to catch his eye.

Saeward hurriedly looked up to catch his eye.

“And do not forget what we are doing here,” Sigefrith muttered over his shoulder at Malcolm. He coughed and straightened his shirt. To Saeward he said, “As I was saying…”

Saeward pinched his chin, delicately cupping his hand over his beard. “So… did she talk?”

“No.” Sigefrith tossed his head. “Even if she did, it’s her word against his, and they’re both likely to lie.”

Saeward’s glance flickered between Baldwin’s and Malcolm’s faces, but enlightenment was nowhere to be found. Baldwin was less and less certain he could have even explained what was going on in words.

“But then… what are the charges?” Saeward asked.

'What would you suggest?'

Sigefrith clapped him on the back. “I don’t know. What would you suggest, if I meant to make him take as much of the blame as possible?”

Baldwin glanced up at Malcolm. Malcolm had already turned his back.

“So,” Saeward began. His fingers nervously danced down the sides of his beard again. “Incitement to commit murder, with menace, certainly.”

'Incitement with menace to commit murder, certainly.'

“Certainly,” Sigefrith agreed.

“And arson.”

“While we’re at it.”

Saeward let his arms drop and fixed his eyes on the shield on the wall. “Rape with battery…”

“Don’t forget sodomy,” Sigefrith said. “He admitted to that.”

Baldwin closed his eyes. A chill coursed through his body from his head down to his fingers and feet, like icy water trickling between his layers of flesh and bone. His stomach sloshed with nausea. He decided he did not want to hear the latest news. Maire had been a lovely lady, and his friend.

Baldwin closed his eyes.

“Altogether a threat to the King’s Peace, wouldn’t you say, runt?”

Malcolm would not say anything.

“I shall need a warrant,” Saeward said quietly.

“Indeed you will.” Sigefrith lifted his arm and looked beneath and behind. “Where’s Aldwin when I need him? Oh, well.” He snapped his fingers just behind Malcolm’s ear. “You have a fair hand, Malcolm. Have a seat.”

Malcolm spun around, gasping like a fish. “You want me to write it?”

'You want me to write it?'

Sigefrith did not answer. Instead he caught Malcolm in another taut stare, less like arms linked in a wild dance than like a hand squeezed tight around a throat.

Malcolm whipped himself around, pulled out the chair with a military smartness, and sat. His body was stiff as a soldier’s for a moment, but abruptly he set himself to work, briskly straightening the scattered books and parchments under Sigefrith’s keen gaze, tucking everything away until only a single clean sheet was left before him. He lifted a quill and bowed his head.

Sigefrith patted Saeward on the shoulder and pushed him towards the table.

“See whether you can’t think of anything else to add,” he advised. He looked down at Baldwin and said, “Alred should be told. You can go after you’ve witnessed this warrant. Joseph should be back there by now – you can get that medicine for your wife.”

Baldwin squinted up at him. “What – ”


“I mean the tonic. For your wife. That you wanted.”

Baldwin opened his mouth, finally understood, and nodded.

Sigefrith strolled to the far end of the room and back while Saeward watched Malcolm scribbling out the formulaic preamble.

“And what about Finn?” Sigefrith asked suddenly. “Where’s Finn today, Malcolm?”

Malcolm lifted his head. His shoulders rose and fell with a deep breath. “I believe he went to Dunellen with Dunstan.”

'I believe he went to Dunellen with Dunstan.'

“Damn! Well, Dunellen’s no farther than Sceadwung-​​clif. Baldwin, when you get to Nothelm, send someone on a fast horse to Dunellen, and get that runt here.”

He lifted his arm and rubbed his sleeve over the sweat of his forehead. His lips were as pale as his face when he lowered it, but Baldwin noticed only their ugly scowl.

“I’ve been looking for a way to get rid of him, too.”

'I've been looking for a way to get rid of him, too.'